Baku is getting a lot of attention at the moment. The Azerbaijani capital has thrown itself onto the world stage in recent years, staging its first Grand Prix in 2017 and hosting the UEFA Europa League final in 2019. Baku’s stock has never been higher, and – with Azerbaijan massively relaxing its visa process – there has never been a better time to book a ticket and explore this wonderful city.
48 hours can fly by in a place as huge as Baku, but there are a few things that all visitors should try to see and experience before they leave.
1: Set yourself up with a traditional breakfast
Azeri meals are feasts fit for a king. From breakfast right through to dinner, you are in for an absolute treat.
We’d recommend taking a leisurely breakfast in one of the classic restaurants nestled among the streets of the Old Town, enjoying platters of freshly baked bread, honey, butter and cheeses; all homemade and all delicious. Supplement your breakfast with some eggs and tea, and you are on to a winner. We’d recommend Sehirli Tendir and Qazmag Cafe – both within a stone’s throw of each other in the Old Town.
2: Take a walking tour of the Old Town and visit the Palace of the Shirvanshahs
After setting yourself up for the day with a hearty breakfast, you may want to join a free walking tour to get a feel for the historical centre of Baku. The history of Baku and Azerbaijan is complex and varied, and it’s well worth hearing from the experts to understand the context of the buildings and streets you’re walking through. Azerbaijan Traveller and Baku Explorer both offer popular free tours through the Old Town and beyond.
The Palace of the Shirvanshahs is nestled amongst the streets of the Old Town, and should be on everyone’s list when visiting Baku. The Palace dates back to the 15th century, and is one of Azerbaijan’s most important monuments – the architecture and history are not to be missed.
3: Take in the views from the Maiden Tower
The Maiden Tower is an absolutely iconic fixture on Baku’s skyline. A UNESCO World Heritage site, it is famous throughout Azerbaijan and remains shrouded in mystery. Nobody knows for sure when or why it was built, or even what the name ‘Maiden Tower’ is referring to. One thing is for certain – the views from the top are certainly worth trekking up its narrow spiral staircase for!
4: Stroll along the Boulevard
The snappily named Baku Boulevard is a monumental promenade and park, stretching for literally miles along the seafront. The Boulevard forms a focal point for families, friends and couples who want to enjoy the wide open spaces and views over the Caspian Sea. Encompassing everything from cafes and ice cream stalls to a Ferris Wheel, and even a mini-Venetian canal (complete with gondolas!), the Boulevard has a bit of everything for all ages – it’s the perfect spot to take a step back, relax, and maybe even watch the sun setting over the city.
Look out for groups of all ages playing chess on the giant boards up and down the Boulevard, completing the laid back atmosphere.
5: Check out the stunning Carpet Museum
As you stroll along the promenade, you cannot fail to spot the Azerbaijan Carpet Museum, helpfully shaped like a huge rolled-up carpet. The museum houses the largest collection of Azerbaijani carpets in the world and is a gateway into discovering more of the cultural history of Azerbaijan, through the regional techniques, colours and patterns used in carpets. Just one warning – the museum is closed on Mondays, check out opening times here.
6: Watch the sun set over the Flame Towers
The three Flame Towers are icons of the Baku skyline, and possibly the most famous structures in the city. Impressively dominant during the day, it’s as the sun begins to set that the trio really come into their own, with over 10,000 LED bulbs creating impressive light displays. Whether it’s the Azerbaijan Flag or figures playing golf, it’s hard not to be mesmerised as the towers cycle through their light shows. Great views can be had from the piers along the Baku Boulevard.
7: Visit the mud volcanoes and Petroglyphs at Gobustan
If you’ve got a spare morning or afternoon, it’s well worth exploring beyond Baku and checking out Gobustan – home to an amazing collection of Petroglyphs, dating back thousands of years, and the bizarre natural phenomena which are mud volcanoes.
There is a well established museum at the site of the Petroglyphs, which will talk visitors though the history and meaning of the ancient drawings, whilst the mud volcanoes are in a far less formal setting – indeed, many taxi drivers will look at your blankly if you ask to be taken there. An excellent post on Wander-Lush gives you the overview of both sites.
8: Pay tribute to fire
Azerbaijan is, of course, known as the Land of Fire – and for those who want to embrace all things ‘flame’, the possibilities are endless. As well as the unmissable Flame Towers, there are a plenty of other sights where you can get your fix – most notably, the Fire Temple and Yanar Dag (‘burning mountain’ in the Azerbaijani).
The Fire Temple is an eternal flame, appropriately fuelled by Baku’s main gas pipeline, with a history stretching back centuries. It’s a little out of the city centre, but is another classic option for those with a bit more time on their hands.
Yanar Dag, meanwhile, is an (almost) entirely natural phenomenon – a section of hillside which has been burning for decades. Rumour has it that is was accidentally lit by a shepherd’s stray cigarette, but no human intervention has been required since to maintain the flame. It’s reasonably small – we’re talking less than 5 meters – so it’s worth heading there after dark to get the full effect.
Baku is a colossal city, with enough to keep anyone busy for weeks, but it’s certainly possible to get a good feel for the place in a couple of days – just be prepared for a busy itinerary!