Sumqayit (otherwise spelt Sumgait) is the third biggest city in Azerbaijan and is uniquely very ‘new’. Contrary to Baku’s history dating to ancient times, the city of Sumqayit as we know today didn’t actually exist until the 1950’s.
It was more or less a small town until the USSR decided to transform it into an industry hub, founding it in 1949. They built factories and many apartment buildings for the workers of those factories. Workers from all over the country, often rural areas quickly moved in here to establish secure jobs for supporting their families.
The growth hasn’t stopped- what used to be a humble coastline of sand and a few shops is now a completely bricked pathway lined with ornate lamps and green tree canopies. Currently there’s continuing construction to revamp the coast into a destination beach city that could be easily accessed by train from Baku.
Why you’d visit:
Sumqayit is a very accessible city if you are interested in an authentic Soviet-influenced city in Azerbaijan. While Baku has many beautiful attractions, much of the glam and sparkle is built and curated for tourists. You might spend a few days in Baku curious about more of the typical Azerbaijani experience. Since Sumqayit was built intentionally as a Soviet industrial city, there are endless stretches of colorful and uniquely decorated apartment blocks mixed in with stoic pristine government plazas and buildings. If you are a photographer, or interested in Soviet history amongst the different states, this is a great place to visit, and you might be seeing it before many locals in Baku do.
If you speak with a local from Baku about wanting to visit Sumqayit, in all honesty they might ask you why! Many people from Baku have never been. This is partly because there’s not much going on in terms of entertainment, however also it at one point had a bad reputation of being industrial, perhaps even unsafe around the 1980’s depending on the neighborhood. However now much of the industry no longer exists (actually there are rows of empty decommissioned factories if you travel north out of the city) and with all the construction on the seaside with new museums and beautiful palace-like buildings popping up every day, it is becoming quite an endearing city.
Actually, because of the industrial setting Sumqayit in the 1990’s was known for being where several rock bands were from. It’s sort of like the DIYers practicing in abandoned cement buildings along the Caspian Sea. Pretty authentic, right?
If you are looking for a relaxing stroll along the water where you can actually walk on the sand and smell the salt in the sea, we reccomend the 2.5km long (1.5 mile) seaside park/walkway! It begins at the most famous statue in Sumqayit, Göyərçin (Juh-yair-sin), which means dove. There’s many restaurants, tea shops, Turkish ice cream stands, and even a couple different areas with rides for the kids.
For this reason, Sumgayit is definitely a great option for a day trip if you are staying in Baku and wishing to see what another city is like.
How to get there:
If you are staying in Baku, it is very easy to get to Sumgayit via train. In the morning and evening there are trains that run approximately every 20-35 minutes with Sumgayit as its final destination. The ride, about 35 min, costs approximately $1 USD each way ($1.10 as of 2020, $2.20 for business class) and tickets can be swiftly purchased by card at the handful of ticket machines. Currently the machines allow you to refill your card if you take the train on an ongoing basis, or you can buy single tickets.
If you are buying single tickets, note that the machines only accept full bills, so you’ll get a lot of change back if buying a single ticket for $1.10. There is also a ticket counter where you can purchase tickets from a person. Just let them know your end destination and you’re good to go. *Remember to keep your ticket with you, as you will need it to exit the station once you’ve reached your final destination!* This is how the tickets are managed rather than having a person hand check tickets. Just scan the barcode on your ticket and you will be let in and out of the train platform.
This Baku <—> Sumgayit train is a relatively and double-decker train that is very comfortable and clean.
The ride will let you see more of the outskirts of Baku, the ‘real’ more rugged Azerbaijan not carefully curated for tourists. You are sure to see many animals along the path such as lamb, ducks, geese, and many flocks of birds on the rolling hills. You’ll get a preview of some more oil-based cities along the way with many trains, some brand new and some vintage from Soviet times.
Once you arrive at the newly remodeled train station in Sumgayit, you will be still on the north side of the city a bit and will probably want to either taxi or bus towards the center. The 10A will take you towards the center/seaside walk. You are free to take a bus- just pay the driver $0.30 per person- though we recommend a taxi if you don’t speak the language and want to make sure you get to the right place. There are taxi drivers waiting for you outside the station- their rates will be 2-4 manat to go to the city. Otherwise the popular app in Sumqayit is Maxim Taxi, and the cost could be around 1.2 manat but this method will work only if you speak Azerbaijani (or a close Turkic language) or Russian because usually the driver calls.
Ask to go to Göyərçin (Juh-yair-sin) Park. Göyərçin translates to dove, which is the symbol of Sumgayit. You’ll know you’re in the right place when you see a big abstract statue of a peace dove: