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Ask someone to point out Azerbaijan on a map, and you’ll probably get a blank expression. Most have heard of the country after they won the 2011 Eurovision Song Content but few know much else – making The Land of Fire an alluring destination. Here’s where to go in Baku and how to spend 48 hours in Azerbaijan’s modern capital.
Most of the hotels in Baku tend to be near the Inner City, or Icheri Sheher. Wake up early and explore the historical core on foot before grabbing a coffee or Azerbaijan tea at one of the many cafés. Tea plays an important role in Azerbaijan culture.
At 10 am, join Azerbaijan Traveller for a free walking tour beginning outside Ichari Shahar Metro Station near the western walls of Icheri Sheher. Plan and reserve a place the night before.
The tour, lasting a few hours, takes you to the old town’s main sights, explains how the first oil boom contributed to the European styles of architecture in Baku, and recommends bars, cafés and restaurants. You’ll learn about Baku’s evolution from a small, fortified settlement within Icheri Sheher’s walls to the sprawling modern city it is today.
Knowing where to go in Baku to experience its modernity is easy. The Flame Towers, a trio of skyscrapers designed to resemble flames, dominate the western skyline. Snap a few photographs before jumping on the metro and heading to Nariman Narimanov on either the red or green line.
Walk five minutes to the ultramodern architectural masterpiece Heydar Aliyev Centre. The building has flowing curved shapes without angles. Heyday Aliyev, named after the former president, symbolises Baku’s modernity and prosperous future.
Take either the red or green line to 28 May Station or head west two blocks to the attractive Heydar Aliyev Park and Heydar Aliyev Palace. The second is a Soviet-style concert hall once hosting most of the city’s main events. Continue heading west along the straight Fizuli Park and snap a few photos.
Take a taxi (or walk) to the Baku Funicular near the Flame Towers. The funicular, Azerbaijan’s first and only, costs next to nothing to ride to the top of the hill towards Martyrs Alley and the Eternal Flame. Martyrs Alley commemorates the demonstrators who lost their lives after Soviet troops opened fire in 1990. A sombre experience and a reminder of the horrors that took place just a generation ago.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Ask any local where to go in Baku for the best views, and they’ll tell you to come here. The Caspian Sea expands to the east, and the city evolves from historical to modern as you move your eyes into the distance.
Next stop is Nizami Street, Baku’s shopping district that stretches 3.5 kilometres (2.2 miles). Either go down on the funicular and take a taxi or pass through Martyrs Alley and around the Flame Towers on foot. Head through Fountain Square and walk through the pedestrianised street. Keep your eyes open for the changing architectural styles from 20th-century European-style façades to the more mundane Soviet ones. Several stylish cafés and restaurants line the street.
As it starts to get dark, head south to Baku Boulevard, a long promenade alongside the Caspian Sea. Stroll along and go on the Baku Eye or ride the gondolas in Mini-Venice. Relish in the attractiveness and reflect on how fortunate you are to be in such a beautiful environment. And be sure to catch the Flame Towers as they light up after dark.
Visiting Baku and missing out on one of its 30 museums is like going to Paris and skipping the Eiffel Tower. Head to Icheri Sheher and first visit the Palace of the Shirvanshahs. The 15th century medieval palace was the seat of former rulers. Today, it’s a UNESCO-listed building with a palace, mausoleum, and a museum. Admission is AZN10 ($5.90). Expect to spend two hours.
Next, head to Maiden Tower, the large cylindrical structure on the opposite side of the old town. Inside, there’s a museum and spiral staircase to the top of the 29.5 metre-building (96.8 feet). Admission is AZN10 ($5.90). Or, check out the Baku Museum of Miniature Books, the Azerbaijan Carpet Museum, or the National Museum of History.
Ateshgah, Baku’s Fire Temple, dates back millennia to early Zoroastrians. The underground natural gas ignited, creating an eternal flame. Fire plays a vital role in Zoroastrianism. The current temple, 20 kilometres (12.4 miles) east of Icheri Sheher, was built between the 16th and 17th centuries. Today, it’s a historical monument of Azerbaijan and a symbol of Baku.
There are three ways to visit the Fire Temple depending on your budget. Either take bus number 184 from Narimanov Metro Station (red or green lines), hire a taxi, or join a tour. Taxis shouldn’t cost more than AZN40 ($23.50). If you take a cab, try to visit both the Fire Temple and Yanar Dag, the burning mountain. Most tours visit both the Fire Temple and the Burning Mountain.
When you return, before or after dinner, head back to the Boulevard. The Caspian Sea Cruise, a one-hour trip around the bay, is the perfect end to your 48 hours in Baku. Sit back and enjoy the light show on the capital’s modern skyline as you reflect on the city’s beauty.