10 things to do in Baku, Azerbaijan
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’. Indeed, 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 - reflected today in Islamic, Soviet and contemporary architectural design.
Baku is a city that both reflects and respects its unique history and cultural heritage, and that is designing a modern future.
If you’re planning to visit Baku, Azerbaijan, here are 10 things to do that, together, will help you understand the city’s past, present and future:
Visit aN architectural masterpiece:
the Heydar Aliyev Center by Zaha Hadid
Designed by British-Iraqi architect, the late Zaha Hadid, the Heydar Aliyev Center is a marvel of modern design. Not one straight line was used in its design, and its bright white interiors and exteriors were chosen 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.
Climb the staircase to the roof of the
12th century Maiden Tower
Located inside the 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).
Discover Modern design at
Baku’s Flame Towers
The modern design of these towers may seem striking against the historical architecture seen in most of the city, but 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.
Learn about Persian culture at
the Ateshgah of Baku
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.
Relax on a gondala at
Take respite in Little Venice, Baku’s tribute to the Italian city’s waterways. Here you can 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.
Walk with academics of old at
the Nizami Museum of Azerbaijani Literature
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.
Learn cultural carpet-weaving techniques at the
Azerbaijan Carpet Museum
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 the old town, know as
Baku’s architecture is a mix of many cultures including Persian, Ottoman and Imperial Russian. But Icherisheher (Baku Old Town), built in the 12th Century remains largely Islamic. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, visit the Palace of the Shirvanshahs, haggle with vendors for carpets, and eat at one of the many restaurants which, while touristy, 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 and, 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.
See the city from above at
the Baku Eye
Hop in an air-conditioned capsule for a birds’ 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.