Baku’s historical core, or Icheri Sheher, has the ancient cylindrical Maiden Tower, the medieval Palace of Shirvanshahs and stalls selling traditional Azerbaijan carpets. Head further from the centre, and you’re walking along Nizami Street’s pedestrianised shopping district. Gothic and Baroque styles from the Russian Empire and Baku’s first oil boom, both in the late 19th-century, line the long and straight streets of Azerbaijan’s capital.
Littering is a major problem in some parts of the world including the Caucasus and rural Azerbaijan—a sad fact of life. But Baku is clean. Visit Baku and you’ll find hardly any litter or dust in the city centre. People tend to use the bin.
Baku’s promenade, or Baku Boulevard, officially starts at National Flag Square, extending a few kilometres to Freedom Square. But, pass the docks, and a further section heads east towards Baku White City. Strolling along gives views of the city centre, endless swarms of fish in the Caspian Sea as well as an amusement park, cafés, the Baku Eye Ferris Wheel and a shopping mall. Come back after dark and watch the Flame Towers perform their magical light show.
Compared to other capital cities, Baku feels safe. Sure, crime does exist, and you still need to be cautious. But, you’ll feel safe walking around after dark and won’t have to hug your backpack. Everyone feels at ease when the sun goes down, and you will too.
Anyone who travels in Eastern Europe and other parts of the Caucasus like Georgia or Armenia will undoubtedly notice certain unsavoury characters. Homelessness, alcoholism, beggars and gypsies are part of life. Regardless of your stance towards them, they do make tourists uncomfortable. In Baku, drunks don’t pass out in the streets, and very few people beg for money.
Women walk chatting away, and families enjoy their attractive surroundings at all hours of the day and night. Young children run and play while their parents watch nearby, despite the clock chiming 11:00pm. Locals usually don’t stare, give you unwanted attention or make women feel uncomfortable—another great reason to visit Baku.
Azerbaijan, once dubbed the Dubai of the Caucasus, rose on its second oil boom. Endless construction and development in the capital followed. Baku was expensive. Oil prices began to fall and since 2015, the value of Azerbaijan’s manat has almost halved against the USD. Today, Baku isn’t expensive in the same way that Iceland recently became affordable. Hearty meals in local restaurants washed down with Azerbaijan beer or wine rarely exceed $30 for two people. And you’ll get a few rides on the bus and metro for $1. If you visit Baku today, you’ll find the city to be a very affordable destination.
Long straight roads divide Baku into large blocks along the Caspian Sea. Getting around on foot usually involves walking straight and turning either left or right before continuing to go forward. Getting lost is almost impossible. And if you do use public transport, like mentioned above, a single journey on the metro costs AZN0.20 or a whopping 12 cents.
Here’s why the ladies should visit Baku: Azerbaijani men give women a lot of respect. Don’t be surprised when someone holds the door open for you or offers you his seat on the bus. And if you’re having a coffee or a meal with a local male, you won’t have to reach for your purse. And foreign men, Azeri ladies expect you to do the same for them too! The roots of this culture date back to almost 200 years of Russian influence.
Baku’s fire temple Ateshgah, or House of Fire, dates back to pre-Islamic Zoroastrianism, one of the oldest monotheistic religions. Underground gas rises to the surface burning endlessly. The castle-like shrine encompassing the flame dates back to either the 17th or 18th centuries. But the first records of Ateshgah date to the 2nd-century BC. If you visit Baku, take a day trip to the House of Fire in Surakhany District, which is 30 kilometres (18.6 miles) from the city centre.
Baku’s Flame Towers dominate the skyline. Three curved triangular buildings resembling three flames represent Azerbaijan’s cultural identity with fire. The tallest reaches 182 metres (597 feet) with offices, apartment blocks and a hotel inside. By day, the reflective blue surface shines in the bright sunshine. After dark, the towers light up to make alternating images of shimmering flames and the Azerbaijan flag.