Baku is referred to as the “Dubai of the Caucasus” for its impressively modern and ambitious architecture. Yet, in addition to this increasingly creative skyline, Baku proudly embraces and preserves its past.
This article gives you an idea of what to expect in Baku, the capital city of Azerbaijan, and the stories its city design can tell.
“Baku has layers, and a uniquely concerted effort to both preserve the Old World while embracing the New.”
When arriving into Baku by plane- you might get a glimpse of the infamous Flame Towers (shown in the image above), or the Heydar Aliyev Centre:
but what lacks overt shine and attention from a distance is the heart and warmth of the city- the Walled City. This is more commonly known as the Old City.
At the Center of Baku: the Old City
With inhabitants dating back to the 12th century, this original part of town constructed of warm sandy bricks is the treasured root of Baku. It is home to 2 UNESCO World Heritage sites and proudly preserved and embraced.
Here in the Old City you can easily find yourself wandering around narrow to wide brick pathways between buildings. Along the way you can discover quaint tea shops selling local sweet delicacies like shekerbura and restaurants adorned in rich burgundy carpets serving authentic Azerbaijani food.
Because the Old City is an attraction for tourists and visitors, there are conveniently many stands here selling pomegranate juice, Turkish Ice Cream, and authentic food in both traditional and modern atmospheres. Here’s an example of a grapevine-shaded outdoor restaurant in the Old City that serves local food and wine:
Tip- if you’re a wine lover and don’t see it listed on the menu, you should ask a server because they very well could offer it. There are many tourists from Dubai/places that don’t drink. So a restaurant might not loudly advertise to everyone they serve alcohol at risk of turning some people away.
See the designs in the pastry above? These designs are made by hand with a special tool and vary from pastry to pastry. Shekerbura is one of the most popular and special Azerbaijani desserts- and most beautiful (in our opinion). The pastry is filled with a walnut and sugar combo. It’s sweet but also substantial with the walnuts- perfectly paired with one (or a few) cups of hot Azerbaijani tea.
The Modern Baku Along the Caspian Coast
After spending some time in the Old City, you can venture out of the walls to see the modern part of Baku. This is where most the city resides and spends time. We recommend taking a stroll along the Caspian coast. Walking towards the water you’ll notice many ornate Soviet Union-era buildings. Once you get to the water you can continue onto the bricked path lined with shade-giving trees. Here you’ll walk by a few of Baku’s most distinguishing pieces of architecture.
Along the way there will be many benches and stands serving refreshments and frozen ice cream you can relax at. In addition there are a few sit-down tea shops open to all.
Did you know Baku has a Little Venice? No, it’s not in the Old City. It’s a tourist-inspired novelty restaurant where paying guests ride around a man-made channel in a guided boat:
However, reading reviews, this attraction seems best served for photography since the gondola rides are inconsistently open!
From this view you’ll definitely see one of the more unique concepts for a building- the Azerbaijan Carpet Museum. This building is appropriately shaped in one giant rolled-up rug:
Azerbaijan Carpet Museum
If you have the time, the Azerbaijan Carpet Museum is worth a visit and fairly priced. When we visited, tickets were 7 AZN, so about 4 USD. It’s a comfortable air conditioned museum with plenty of benches to rest as you could spend a few hours learning about the various carpet patterns and history of the carpet trade in Azerbaijan as part of the Silk Road trading route and beyond. There’s even several women weaving carpets live so you can see and appreciate the process.
Tram ride to the Flame Towers
If you’re at the Carpet Museum you are now close to the tram you which can be taken for 1USD to ride to the top of the hill to the Flame Towers and city overlook. You can definitely choose to climb the stairs instead of taking the tram if you are looking for some exercise or don’t have any cash on you. People enjoy the experience of the tram, especially because it drops you off right at the base of the towers.
Once you reach the top, you can check out the Flame Towers. Then, walk past the sobering memorial, Alley of Martyrs, dedicated to those that lost their lives from the Soviet troop invasion of January 1990, as well as those who lost their lives part of the Nagorno-Karabakh war with Armenia.
Then you’ll reach an outlook of the city.
Fountain Park: the Hub of Baku
Between the coast and the train station is Fountain Park. There’s a variety of different fountain designs in this park, but the purpose of the area is more of a square and general central hub of Baku with many shops and open area of local events.
One time while walking through there was an Indonesian Tourism Festival, and the space was lined with interactive booths, several stages for live music and cultural dancing.
If you’re looking for a bite to eat, there’s many options here.
Our favorite place to go for a casual, delicious and affordable meal is Bir Iki / Bir Ichi (which translates to simply One Two).
It’s a modern, fresh and playful place to eat that is friendly to vegetarians since they serve falafel wraps for 2.50AZN (shown below). (Note- falafels aren’t Azerbaijani, they just serve them here 😉
If you’re looking for a cultural experience dining, we recommend checking out Nargiz Restaurant (or nearby Firuze). Both are in the basement, with stone interior and decorated with ornate Azerbaijani rugs and tapestries.
What should you order? We recommend Shakh Plov! It takes a bit long to cook. But, if you have the time it’s a very special Azerbaijani rice-based meal with a pastry-style crust. This video of travel vloggers Kara and Nate does a good job explaining (the second dish they order):
(it should start when they sit down to order food, but feel free to watch the whole video for their time in Baku!)
Also we really enjoyed this video of Indigo Traveller perusing Baku:
There really is a handful more we could write about Baku. We plan to write more in-depth about all there is to do here.
We hope you enjoyed this city profile of Baku, Azerbaijan and that it helps paint a picture of what to expect when training or flying in to this city!
Maybe you are intrigued or inspired to see the interesting and beautiful city for yourself!
As always, let us know if you have questions or feel there’s something we should add.
—Go Travel Azerbaijan (your indie guide to the Land of Fire)