Baku is the capital city of Azerbaijan, and is a city of many tales. A coastal city, the name Baku is derived from the Persian, باد-کوبه ‘meaning ‘wind-pounded city’. Persian and Zoroastrian culture has had a profound influence on Azerbaijan, alongside many other cultural influences.
Located central to Eastern Europe and Western Asia, Azerbaijan has seen Persian, Ottoman and Soviet Russian invasion giving it a unique cultural heritage. This is reflected today in Islamic, Soviet and contemporary architectural design.
Baku is a city that reflects and respects its unique history and cultural heritage, but one that is designing a modern future.
If you’re planning to visit here are 10 things to do in Baku, Azerbaijan to will help you enjoy your trip and also to understand the city’s past, present and future:
Things to do in Baku, Azerbaijan
Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid
VISIT AN ARCHITECTURAL MASTERPIECE
No guide of things to do in Baku is complete without the Heydar Aliyev Center. It was designed by British-Iraqi architect, the late Zaha Hadid and is a marvel of modern design. Not one straight line is used in its design. Its bright white interiors and exteriors are to showcase Baku’s ‘bright future’. Inside you’ll find exhibitions showcasing traditional and contemporary Azerbaijani art, music, fashion and design. There’s also a spectacular concert hall, so keep an eye on their event listings.
Maiden Tower Baku
CLIMB THE STAIRCASE TO THE ROOFTOP
Located inside Icherisheher, Baku’s old town, Baku’s Maiden Tower was once used as a look-out point. Today it educates visitors on Baku’s history and evolution, as you climb the inside spiral staircase from bottom to top. Once you reach the top, step outside onto the rooftop viewing platform to see Baku in full glory. From the old town to the boulevard, to the Bay and most spectacularly – a view of Baku’s Flame Towers. Tickets can be purchased at the tower and cost around 10 Manat (USD 5.90).
Baku’s Flame Towers
DISCOVER MODERN DESIGN
The modern design of these towers is striking against the historical architecture seen in most of the city. Azerbaijan has a strong Zoroastrian heritage, and the flame design represents a link to this. The Flame Towers are used as residential, office and hotel space. We suggest you view them during the day – and at night, when they are lit up with a clever and colourful animated light show.
Ateshgah of Baku
LEARN ABOUT PERSIAN CULTURE
Speaking of Azerbaijan’s Zoroastrian heritage; don’t miss the Ateshgah of Baku(the ‘Fire temple of Baku’). ‘Atash’ (آتش) is the Persian word for ‘fire’ and the elements of fire and water sit at the centre of Zoroastrian beliefs – both are believed to represent purity. This temple was originally built on the site of a natural flame, but today the flame is given a little man-made help to continue burning.
Little Venice Baku
RELAX ON A GONDALA
Take respite in Little Venice, Baku’s tribute to the Italian city’s waterways. Take a boat around Baku Boulevard, and stop off for lunch or a snack in one of the water-side restaurants. We can’t promise the boat ride will live up to your Italian-dream expectations.
Nizami Museum of Azerbaijani Literature
WALK WITH THE ACADEMICS OF OLD
With such rich cultural influence from Eastern Europe and Western Asia, Azerbaijani literature is both wide and diverse. The Nizami Museum of Azerbaijani Literature is named after one of the country’s most well-known poets, Nizami Ganjavi. You may know some of his works, including Khamsa. It’s well worth delving beyond the facade of this beautiful building to walk amongst perhaps the largest collection of Azerbaijan’s literary masters.
Azerbaijan Carpet Museum
LEARN CULTURAL CARPET-WEAVING TECHNIQUES
Until you’ve visited a carpet museum, anywhere in the world, it’s easy to overlook just how much time, effort and expertise goes into the weaving of one. At the Azerbaijan Carpet Museum you’ll learn about varied weaving techniques, and quickly understand the sometimes hefty price-tag that goes with hand-weaved carpets. And yes, the museum, designed by Austrian architect Franz Janz, is supposed to look like a carpet. It took 6 years to build after the collection inside had to be moved from its former home.
EXPLORE BAKU OLD TOWN
Baku’s architecture is a mix of many cultures including Persian, Ottoman and Imperial Russian. But UNESCO World Heritage Site, Icherisheher (Baku Old Town), built in the 12th Century remains largely Islamic. Visit the Palace of the Shirvanshahs, haggle with vendors for carpets, and eat at one of the many restaurants. The restaurants are touristy but still serve some delicious food (we recommend a breakfast of freshly baked bread, cream, honey and kuku – a typical egg-based Azeri food). Don’t miss the Old Baku Tea House; you’ll find it near to the Qoşa Qala Qapısı gate.With its with many nooks and crannies, it makes a wonderful place to hide away for an hour or two with traditional tea and board games. You’re not in Starbucks anymore.
SEE THE CITY FROM ABOVE
Hop in an air-conditioned capsule for a bird’s eye view over Baku’s old town, modern architecture, green parks and the harbour (Bay of Baku). The Baku Eye doesn’t take long to spin full circle, but is a worthwhile attraction that will enable you to understand the city’s layout. You can purchase a ticket on arrival.
Han Restaurant Baku
EAT AZERI AND TURKISH CUISINE
Another fantastic place to refresh and regenerate is Han Restaurant, Baku. Settle in for a few hours over lunch or dinner to experience traditional food and hospitality.