Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, is a beautiful historical city which lies on the Absheron peninsula in the Caspian Sea. In addition to its increasingly creative and modern skyline, Baku proudly embraces and preserves its ancient past. We love Baku for its layers of experiences that tell a story.
This article is a general overview of Baku, noting some interesting aspects.
“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 Zaha Hadid-designed 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 see one of the more unique architectural 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. (A Student discount was available with ID). It’s a comfortable air conditioned museum with plenty of benches to rest, which is good because you could very well spend a few hours winding through the museum. Rugs are a very big part of the culture in Azerbaijan, and each region is their own very distinct style which you will learn about if you go. There’s even several women weaving carpets live so you can see and appreciate the process. Once at the top floor you see the modern exhibit, which includes some of the amazing Faig Ahmed’s work.
Tram ride to the Flame Towers
If you’re at the Carpet Museum you are now close to the tram 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 (located to the left, towards the water) 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 and in front of a beautiful mosque.
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. It’s common to take the tram going up, then the stairs coming down. The stairs provide some beautiful views and photos with the Flame Towers as the backdrop.
Fountain Park and Nizami: The Pedestrian Hub of Baku
Between the coast and the train station is Fountain Park. There’s a variety of different fountain designs in this park, and it works as a great central meeting point close to many things. You might get lucky and stumble upon an event taking place, like for Nowruz, New Year, or this Indonesian Festival below.
If you’re looking for a bite to eat, there’s many options here.
We personally really enjoyed the experience taking our family to Firuze, which is in a a beautiful stone basement of arches covered with tapestries and traditional art. We made sure to order the Shah Plov. If you are in a group of 4 or more, we highly recommend ordering this dish at a restaurant in Azerbaijan! It takes a little longer to cook. But, if you have the time it’s a very special Azerbaijani rice dish filled with lamb, chestnuts and fruit with a pastry-style crust.
Our favorite place to go for a casual, delicious and affordable meal is Bir Iki (which translates to simply One Two).
It’s a hip and comfortable place to eat that has really fresh and delicious doner, and as a bonus it is also friendly to vegetarians since they make falafel as well (shown below). Note- falafels are not Azerbaijani, they just happen to serve them here. And they’re delicious!
We have also heard great things about Nargiz Restaurant, which is similar to Firuze mentioned above.
This video of travel vloggers Kara and Nate shows their experience ordering Shah Plov:
Also we really enjoyed this video of Indigo Traveller perusing Baku:
There really is a handful more we could write about Baku, but hope that this quick write up helps you get an idea of the different layers and experiences this city has to offer. It’s quite a unique city that embraces its history while also looking to the future.
Maybe you are intrigued or inspired to see the interesting and beautiful city for yourself! Remember to check out our tips for flying in to this city.
Thank for reading!
—Go Travel Azerbaijan