A Culture-Lover's Guide to Baku, Azerbaijan

Inside the Baku Carpet Museum | © RAndrei/Shutterstock
Inside the Baku Carpet Museum | © RAndrei/Shutterstock
Photo of Sam Bedford
9 February 2018

Azerbaijan proclaims a long tradition of culture, from medieval scholars and poets moving towards the performance and theatrical styles of the Soviet Union. Check out our selection of the best spots in Baku to savour the local Azeri culture that’s often masked by the city’s rapid development and modernisation.

Baku Museum of Modern Art

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The Museum of Modern Art, located almost 3 kilometres (1.9 miles) east of Icheri Sheher, displays a variety of avant-garde styles. Inside the modern museum, over 800 masterpieces from Azerbaijani artists who lived under the Soviet Union decorate the walls. In addition, contemporary styles from both Dali and Picasso feature in their comprehensive collection. Strolling through the exhibits gives visitors a sense of the meaning behind Azerbaijan’s modern art scene in the 1960s and 1970s. Because of its proximity to New City Park, consider visiting both on the same excursion.
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday 11:00am to 8:00pm. Closed on Mondays.

Azerbaijan State Museum of Art

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A few minutes on foot from the western wall of Icheri Sheher and most of Baku’s hotels lies the capital’s most extensive art collection. After opening its doors in 1936, the Azerbaijan State Museum of Art today includes exhibits from local and international artists. More than 3000 pieces of art are displayed inside two buildings and 60 rooms. Visitors will find a mixture of local influences along with several masterpieces from Russia, Turkey and Europe. Expect to spend approximately two hours inside.
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday 10:00am to 6:00pm. Admission fee: AZN5 ($3).

YAY Gallery

Art Gallery
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YAY Gallery, on the opposite corner of Icheri Sheher to Maiden Tower, promotes the work of local artists. Throughout the year, a total of six exhibitions displaying the work of budding artists fill the rooms inside this gallery. After opening its doors in 2012, YAY contributed to the recognition of several Azerbaijanis on the international art scene.
Opening hours: From 12:00pm to 8:00pm Tuesday to Sunday. Closed on Monday.

Azerbaijan Carpet Museum

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Doesn't it look like a rolled up carpet?
Doesn't it look like a rolled up carpet? | © Sam Bedford
What can be a better cultural experience than immersing in a local tradition practised for millennia? Azerbaijan has produced carpets for almost 3000 years. Each region designs its own motifs and styles. The Azerbaijan Carpet Museum captures the essence of this tradition with thousands of displays on the techniques, patterns and heritage. Some exhibitions include antique and rare rugs, as others teach of the various weaving techniques while honouring the expert craftsmanship. Spend at least an hour or two to learn and appreciate the reasons why this ancient tradition lives on in Azerbaijan today.
Opening hours: From 10:00am to 6:00pm Tuesday to Sunday. Admission: 7AZN ($4.10).

Catch a Show

Azerbaijan has always had a vibrant interest in culture. From the early poets to the emphasis on opera and ballet under the Russians, the nation provides a rich heritage that remains today. The State Opera and Ballet Theater hosts local operas including Asli and Karem, inspired by Azerbaijan’s most successful novel. Visitors can get a unique experience at the Puppet Theatre on Neftchilar Avenue or spend an evening of sophistication in the Philharmonic Hall. Check the Citylife’s schedule for upcoming shows, performances and events in Baku.

Heydar Aliyev Center

Building, Museum
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The futuristic-looking building in the eastern suburbs of Baku is as much of a symbol of the city as the former president it’s named after. Designed by Zaha Hadid, a celebrated Iraqi-British architect and completed in 2012, the modern landmark houses a museum, exhibition hall and a gallery. The exhibitions showcase hundreds of high-profile masterpieces from around the world. The cultural centre is worth visiting to both marvel at the architectural beauty and soak up some of the best art in Baku.

Taza Bazaar

Bazaar, Market
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Experience the markets of Taza Bazaar
Experience the markets of Taza Bazaar | © Shmuliko/WikiCommons
Experiencing the city’s culture doesn’t always mean walking through art galleries or attending traditional shows. For a more hands-on experience, visitors can head to Baku’s largest market to see the city’s heart and soul. Taza Bazaar near 28 May Metro Station contains stalls selling fresh produce, oriental spices and the famous Beluga caviar. Stroll through and buy snacks or an unusual trinket for a souvenir while savouring the sights, smells and sounds of the real Baku.
Opening hours: Daily from 8:00am to 7:00pm

Old School - Cafe & Shop

Cafe, Coffee Shop, Coffee, Azerbaijani, $$$
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For a cultural experience of being transported back in time to the days of communism, head to Old School Café & Shop. Located a short walk northeast from Icheri Sheher, the interior resembles a miniature museum. Various decorations from knick-knacks to antiques create an atmosphere of stepping back in time. Not only does the café provide a unique cultural experience and a window into the former Soviet Republic, it also serves up some of the best coffee in Baku and hosts regular live music.
Opening hours: From 12:00pm to 2:00am Monday to Saturday. From 12:00pm to 12:00am on Sunday.