In the centre of Icheri Sheher, Baku’s walled Inner City, stands a dominating 29-metre (95.1 feet) tall cylindrical tower. Maiden’s Tower could be more than a millennium old, dating back to sometime between the 7th and 12th centuries. Today, it’s a symbol of the old town. Mysteriously, experts are unsure of Maiden Tower’s purpose.
Most believe it was once a Zoroastrian temple, a religion based on fire, before becoming a modified watchtower centuries later. Many stories and legends surround it. Inside, there’s a museum and a spiral staircase to the top.
Qiz Qalasi, Baku, Azerbaijan, +994 12 492 32 61
Opening hours: 9:00am to 6:00pm. Admission: AZN10 ($5.90)
Visiting Icheri Sheher, like many other historical centres around the world, is one of the top things to do in Baku. The historical and fortified core houses Maiden Tower, the Palace of the Shirvanshahs and Murad’s Gate. Other attractions include the ruins of former bathhouses, mosques and caravanserais, an early type of hotel for travelling traders.
In the 15th century, after a devastating earthquake in Shemakha, the former capital, the ruling Shirvanshahs moved to Baku. They expanded Icheri Sheher and fortified the walls. Most people lived within its walls until Baku’s first oil boom in the 19th century funded the city’s expansion.
The Flame Towers
The Flame Towers, three skyscrapers in Baku’s city centre, curve into the sky forming the shape of flickering flames. Azerbaijan identity has strong links to fire, from underground gas chambers producing endless flames to the Zoroastrian religions once dominating the region. The tallest reaches 182 metres (597 feet).
After dark, the Flame Towers light up to produce a captivating show. The colours change between flickering orange and yellow and the blue, red and green of the Azerbaijani flag. Head down to Baku Boulevard for the best views.
Towards the Inner City’s eastern wall lies another intriguing structure: Murad’s Gate. Murad’s Gate may not appear to be significant or on the typical list of things to do in Baku, but it represents a different era of regional history. In the 16th century, the Shirvanshahs fell to the Persians who were later involved in a three-way battle with the Ottomans and Russians over control of Baku. The gate’s name comes from Turkish Sultan Murad III who took control of Baku from the Persians.
The Baku Funicular first opened in 1960 during the Soviet Era. It’s the first and only one in Azerbaijan. From Neftchilar Avenue to the southwest of Icheri Sheher, Baku Funicular covers 455 meters (1492.8 feet) to the top. Admission costs less than $1. The other option is to climb the 200+ steps to reach Martyrs’ Alley and the Eternal Flame. You’ll get some of the best views of Baku from here.
Visiting Martyrs’ Alley and the Eternal Flame Memorial are some of the top things to do in Baku for both the view and to appreciate an important part of recent history. Tombstones commemorate more than 100 Azerbaijan demonstrators shot by Soviet Troops in the infamous Black January. Formerly, Martyrs’ Alley was a Muslim cemetery from World War One before bizarrely transforming into a Soviet amusement park.
Baku Boulevard stretches for 3.5 kilometres (2.2 miles) along the Caspian Sea from Freedom Square, opposite House of Government, to Flag Square in the west. Apart from the views, the promenade has an amusement park, mini-Venice, the Baku Eye and several bars and cafés. You’ll also pass DALGA Plaza and the Caspian Waterfront Mall in the midsections, providing air conditioning during the hot summers. The area gets active with young families after dark.
Another recent addition to Baku Boulevard, Baku Eye resembles the giant wheels found in cities around the world. Baku Eye reaches 60 metres (197 feet) and takes approximately 30 minutes to complete a full rotation. Tickets are just AZN5 ($3) per person, making it a bargain compared to others such as the London Eye. At this price, ride during both the day and night for the different experience and views.
The Palace of the Shirvanshahs
The Palace of the Shirvanshahs, a 15th-century UNESCO World Heritage Site in Baku’s Icheri Sheher, was built after the capital moved from Shemakha to Baku. The Shirvan were Persianised Arabs ruling parts of modern-day Azerbaijan between the 9th and 16th centuries. Visit the complex, and see the main palace, two mosques, a mausoleum and burial vaults as well as a bathhouse. After suffering centuries of neglect, vital restoration work saved the building, which is now on the back of the 10 manat banknote.
Sirvansahlar Sarayı, Baku, Azerbaijan, +994 12 492 10 73
Opening hours: 10:00am to 6:00pm. Admission: AZN10 ($5.90)
Baku Museum of Miniature Books
One of the more unique attractions in Baku is the Museum of Miniature Books. Once Zarifa Salahova’s private collection, it’s now the only museum of its kind in the world. Displays include a selection of Soviet books, a Koran dating back to 1672 and the three items that are in the Guinness Book of Records, measuring just 2 millimetres by 2 millimetres.
Museum of Miniature Books, Baku, Azerbaijan, +994 12 492 94 64
Opening hours: 11:00am to 5:00pm. Closed on Monday and Thursday. Admission: Free