Baku is the capital of Azerbaijan, and was the first stop on my quick trip around the Caucasus region (Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia). Just like Dubai, it was once a desert, and now it is full of a mix of old and modern buildings.
Some facts about Azerbaijan:
- Baku is the lowest lying capital city
- They have a lot of gas / oil and is the location of the first modern oil drill. Due to this wealth, there is certainly no lack in 5 star hotels and designer clothing stores and car show rooms
- They host a Formula 1 race
- Population of (only) 2.3million
Read on to find out what you can see and do in Baku, my thoughts on the city and helpful tips you should bare in mind during your visit.
What to do in Baku
Try and book a hotel located within the old town, which makes it a lot easier to walk to the main sites located here. Strolling through the old town without a set route was one of my highlights for my first day in Baku. The windy streets lead to beautiful buildings or view points over the city or of the Flame Towers.
Maiden Tower (wouldn’t bother walking up it, there are better views around the city), Icherisheher, Palace of The Shirvanshahs are popular attractions within the old town.
Free walking Tour
I booked on the old town free walking tour covered the oldest part (and my personal favourite part) of Baku over a 2.5 hour period. You will learn about the history and culture of the country and also visit the Guinness World Record winning tiny book shop!
Heydar Aliyev Centre
Designed by Zaha Hadid, this modern building is located just a bit out of the city and can fill a few hours of your day. The ticket was 15AZN (circa £8), and I would say it was worth it, even just admiring the beautiful building is worth the entry fee alone.
There is a wide range of exhibitions included with the ticket including my favourite – a miniature Baku world, carpet exhibition, history of the country and information and clothes / music associated with Azerbaijan. Be sure to check out all the exhibitions, as some are hidden up stairs and around corners.
You will also get a great up-close view of the 3 Flame Tower buildings which are perched above the city. There is a funicular that provides a quick way to reach the top, but if you don’t mind a few steps, you can also just climb your way up.
The Flame Towers are a set of 3 flame shaped skyscrapers which represent the large stores of natural gas present in Azerbaijan. They are lit up beautifully at night – something worth watching, however at present only one of the towers is currently occupied – with a Fairmount Hotel, whilst the other 2 remain empty!
Walking along the tree-lined promenade which sits in-between the city and Caspian Sea is a pleasant thing to do first thing in the morning (when it was empty) or in the evening, when the city is certainly more lively. You will find the mini Venice (which I thought was pointless), Carpet Museum and one of the worlds tallest flag pole located along the walk.
However the city should get a nickname of windy city, because it really was windy, so be prepared it may get a little chilly at night. The old town is built on a hill and the windy streets get narrower the higher up you go to protect the buildings from these winds.
Baku Book Centre
An aesthetically pleasing book store that also has a load of space for you to study or just relax. You can of course buy books and souvenirs and gifts for your friends. Unfortunately it is pretty noisy and there is no wifi available.
Find the Formula 1 track
Despite the F1 race being held in April, the garages and some stands were still up during my visit in November – maybe its something the city is proud about and want to show it off as much as possible.
Where to Eat in Baku
Aside from Qaynana , all these recommendations are for restaurants located outside the old town, and some were also suggested from my free walking tour guide
Chaplin Coffee Shop – I only popped in due to visiting a bar in Lebanon in the previous month called Chaplin’s, which was amazing. This coffee shop was equally amazing & I visited twice in a single day. The staff are lovely and it is beautifully decorated inside with an extensive beverage menu
Qaynana Restaurant – busy throughout the day as they serve a great breakfast and have a good dinner menu. The best part is the bread it made freshly instore for when you order it. Decoration is lovely and they serve traditional food with good service
Dolma Restaurant – the restaurant is located within a basement and is decorated pretty nicely. However I found the food pretty normal and the staff seemed a bit bored
Fisincan – a restaurant recommended by my walking tour guide. However this was my least favourite restaurant I visited in Baku. The food was mediocre, staff were not attentive and the live music was really too loud
Firuze and Nargiz were other restaurants recommended by other blogs and my walking tour guide.
Authentic foods you should try include dolma, plov, Levengi, kutab, pomegranate wine and baklava. There is an influence from neighbouring countries, so you may have come across similar dishes in other countries.
My Experience of Baku
How did I find Baku? It was so-so, and in all fairness it was probably my least favourite city I visited during my 2022 travels. I found the locals pretty cold, and it reminded me of Dubai – a lot of modern buildings, perfectly clean streets and gardens, but hugely lacking character. Moreover, knowing what is happening between Azerbaijan and Armenia did impact my underlying thoughts on the country. Also, the wealth of the country is only centred in Baku, outside of the capital, there is real poverty and a huge disparity between rich and poor.
Luckily my next stop on my trip was one of my top places I visited in 2022!
Travel Tips for Baku
Sim Card – you really don’t need one, as the city is small enough to explore on foot, so you can just download Google Maps offline and follow it along. All cafes, restaurants and bars I went to offer free wifi – just make sure to ask for the password when you are seated, and most of the time they just take your phone and enter it, which I find a lot easier.
Money – my Monzo and Halifax Clarity Credit Card worked both fine, and cash was not needed during my trip. Taxis use Bolt (and is super cheap) and you do not need cash for Bolt either!
Language – You can get away with just speaking English. Aside from English, Azerbaijani (sounds similar to Turkish) or Russian are the main languages spoken in Baku, so if you can brush up on your Russian skills – especially if you are like me and travelling to neighbouring countries in the region
Solo Travelling & Safety – As someone who has now visited over 60 countries, Baku was one of the easier cities to navigate, and I felt completely safe during my 2 day visit. Maybe because of my skin colour, I had a few people ask if I was Pakistani, but in my opinion, this was probably out of curiosity. At the time of my visit, the border clashes between Azerbaijan and Armenia were still ongoing, following a war only 2 years ago. However the border is miles away from the capital, so you’ll be safe. I do urge you to read what is happening at the border, and why the ‘western world’ has been pretty quiet on this situation, due to the oil stores within Azerbaijan, despite innocent people being killed.
Visa – As a British passport holder, I had to obtain an e-visa before my visit. This just took a few minutes to fill in an online form, and it was approved within 48hours. It cost me $26, which I guess helps to continue to fund the weird Azeri government.