Azerbaijan won the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest, putting the country on the map. With recent drives to increase tourism and the introduction of an e-Visa, visiting this relatively unknown Caucasus destination is now easier than ever. Here’s how to travel to Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital, and get the most out of 24 hours.
If you travel to Baku and only have 24 hours, you won’t have enough time to experience the city’s wonders. Not everyone has the flexibility. Or perhaps you want a single day sightseeing in the city before taking a day trip to nearby Gobustan, Ateshgah Fire Temple and to see the burning mountain Yanar Dag.
Baku tempts intrigue. The Icheri Sheher, or Inner City, forms the fortified medieval core. Most people lived inside the walls for centuries until the first oil boom in the second half of the 19th century. Wealthy oil barons and magnates paid Europe’s top architects handfuls of black gold money, creating the old city’s elegance today. Modern Baku features skyscrapers, including the iconic Flame Towers and futuristic Heydar Aliyev Centre.
Visit Baku, and follow a journey from the medieval Islamic influences through two oil booms, almost 200 years of Russian rule, both Imperial and Soviet, and experience the city’s transformation today. And don’t forget to use the Baku Funicular to the Eternal Flame for views, walk along the promenade hugging the Caspian Sea and watch the Flame Towers at night.
Most of the must-see attractions in Baku are near Icheri Sheher. The 15th-century historical core features Maiden Tower, Palace of the Shirvanshahs, mosques, baths and the world’s only Miniature Book Museum. Alleys twist and branch along the gently rising cobblestone streets. Get lost in the labyrinth of historical buildings, walk around the fortified walls and inspect the traditional carpets on sale. Expect to spend two or three hours experiencing the Inner City’s attractions. Several cafés are nearby for a cup of coffee.
Exit Icheri Sheher on the northeast side, and you’ll reach the Nizami Museum of Azerbaijan Literature. The Nizami Monument, named after 12th-century Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi, is outside. The building’s exterior has six life-size statues of famous poets, making it a favourite attraction in Baku. Head through Fountain Square, and explore pedestrianised Nizami Street, Baku’s shopping district on foot.
If you want to experience 19th-century architecture when you travel to Baku, check out the different styles and façades of the early buildings along Nizami. Several bars, cafés and restaurants line the shopping street too. Grab lunch here.
After lunch and a drink, walk south towards the Caspian Sea to Baku Boulevard. The 3.5-kilometres (2.2 miles) promenade stretches alongside the sea. Walk along, enjoy the views and ride the Baku Eye, the city’s version of the London Eye. You’ll find some of the best bars in Baku with sea views here.
Ride the Baku Funicular to the Eternal Flame and Martyrs’ Alley, perched on a large rocky outcrop. Enjoy the views of the nearby Flame Towers, and the city’s historical expansion from Icheri Sheher to modern skyscrapers below. Savour the views of Baku Bay, and the Caspian Sea stretching endlessly towards the horizon. A hilltop café serving coffee and beer are a must when you travel to Baku.
Walk through Martyrs’ Alley, and show your respect to the victims of Black January in 1990. More than 100 Azerbaijanis died, and hundreds more were injured as Soviet troops shot demonstrators.
From here, walk past the Flame Towers and through the old city. Some of the best bars in Baku are in this district. Either head for a drink or catch a taxi back to Baku Boulevard, and go on the Caspian Sea Cruise. The cruise lasts approximately one hour, costing no more than a few dollars and taking you on a loop around the bay to experience the skyline’s magical light show.