Why it’s time to Discover Baku, Azerbaijan?

Angela Wood

Senior Contributor

Baku, Azerbaijan is a city bursting with character. A fusion of ancient and modern with waterfront boulevards, museums designed by Zaha Hadid and ancient palaces flanked by towering skyscrapers in the shape of flickering flames. Whilst the city evolves into a modern metropolis, it still retains an old-world atmosphere where you can lose yourself in labyrinth streets or sip tea and feast on mezze with locals. It takes just 6 hours to fly from London to Azerbaijan, so pack your bags and get ready to discover Baku, this fascinating city on the Caspian Sea.

Explore Baku’s Modern and Ancient Architecture

Baku’s ancient walled city Icheri Sheher is a 15th century UNESCO World Heritage Site, home to Maiden’s Tower, Palace of the Shirvanshahs and Murad’s Gate. Wander the streets and imagine the vibrant Old City when traders would pass through from Asia to Europe. Merchants would break from their travels at a caravanserai – a type of inn with a central courtyard which offered food and shelter. 

One of these, Bukhara Caravanserai still exists today and can be visited whilst in Icheri Sheher. The nearby Maiden’s Tower offers some of the best views of Baku. As you climb the stairs and glance across the skyline, you’ll notice the city’s more contemporary additions. The Flame Towers curve into the sky as a testimony to the country’s subterranean natural gas fires and a short distance away at Heydar Aliyev Centre - Zaha Hadid’s undulating fluid architecture gives insight into how the city plans to move forward. The magnificent award-winning exhibition centre invites you to delve deeper into Azerbaijan’s art and history showcasing a range of exhibitions throughout the year.

Shirvanshahs Palace and Flame Towers

Credit: Boris Stroujko

Wander through Markets of the Old City

Colourful markets are sprinkled throughout the Old City of Baku. Some sell fresh produce, some clothing and some bric-a-brac. To immerse yourself in local life, head for the famous bazaars of Yasil and Taza. For it’s in these two markets that the people of Baku shop for spices, fish, Beluga caviar and fresh fruit and vegetables. The inner walled city of Icheri Sheher caters more to wealthy tourists. Historic streets are peppered with shop fronts displaying hand-woven rugs and crafts, and inside, mosaic lanterns are alight with a kaleidoscope of colour. If you’re a collector interested in military history, you may even find some rare memorabilia from the old days of Soviet occupation.

Traditional Coloured Lanterns, Baku Old City

Credit: Elena Odareeva

Sample Traditional Cuisine

Azerbaijan’s location at the crossroads between Europe and Asia makes for an exciting culinary journey. Therefore, it’s no surprise that in a country once on the Silk Road trade route, food is a blend of Mediterranean, Turkish, Iranian, Middle Eastern, Indian and Chinese! One dish you should try is Pilaf. Akin to spiced Moroccan rice or Indian Biryani, it’s sprinkled with nuts and dried fruits giving a sweet and fruity flavour. It’s usually served with chicken or lamb and encased in a fine pitta style bread. Another common staple is the deliciously rich Qutab – a savoury pancake filled with cheese, vegetables or meat with accompanying dips of spiced yoghurt.

For dessert, try Pakhlava - a sweet, filling pastry dish with layers of honeyed walnuts and hazelnuts infused with saffron, cardamom and cloves. You can even create the dishes yourself if you book an authentic Azerbaijani Cuisine Workshop. The 4-hour group tour includes shopping for produce, preparation, cooking the recipes, and the best bit…feasting on your delicious dishes with new friends!

Traditional Cuisine, Azerbaijan

Credit: Zu Kamilov

Browse the Shops on Nizami Street

Baku’s main shopping area is Nizami Street or Torgovaya as locals know it. It's home to high-end fashion boutiques and stylish restaurants. Visit bookstores, sample mouthwatering handmade chocolates or take your credit card on a spree to TsUM – the largest department store in Azerbaijan. As captivating as the stores may be, Nizami Street isn’t just about shopping. European embassies stand on the street in a fusion of Renaissance, Neo-Gothic and Baroque styles. There’s even a Hard Rock Café if you fancy dining on dishes more familiar.

During the evenings, the street becomes a magical wonderland, draped with glistening chandeliers, so if you’re all shopped out, you can always browse the windows and plan for your next trip!

Shopping in Baku, Nizami Street

Credit: ET1972

Take a Sunset Walk along the Boulevard

Stretching for just over 2 miles along the Caspian seafront, Baku Boulevard is the second-largest promenade in Europe. A favourite gathering point for city dwellers and tourists, it’s home to a mini-Venice amusement park, air-conditioned shopping malls, cafes and bars. One highlight is the Baku Eye. The giant ferris wheel which reaches 60 metres in height is a fraction of the price of the London Eye. At night it’s the best place from which to view the illuminated waterfront and the Flame Towers light show, so don’t forget your camera!

Boulevard Evening in Baku

Credit: Gfarique

Take a Day Trip to the Caucasus Mountains

The Caucasus Mountains of Azerbaijan are remote and uncharted, appealing to those of adventurous spirit. The village of Khinalig or Xinaliq as its locally known is one of the oldest Caucasus villages. Located high in the mountains, 3.5 hours northwest of Baku, it is an endangered site dating back around 5000 years. Home to only a handful of families, residents uphold ancient traditions like Tikmes – a type of Azerbaijani embroidery where ornamental designs are stitched in vibrant colours onto white linen. Their homes are minimal with no furniture and inhabitants tend to sit on the floor on cushions and woollen blankets.

The village is also steeped in history and mystical religions. You can learn more about its Zoroastrian heritage at 9th century Atashgah Fire Temple and discover old coins, photographs and pottery at Khinalig Museum. Day trips to Khinalig are available from Baku making it easy to discover this picturesque region of Azerbaijan where time has stood still.

Mountain village in the Caucasus, Xinaliq (Khinalug)

Credit: Tenkl

Stay in a Luxury City Hotel

Four Seasons Baku is a Beaux-Arts style hotel with views across the waterfront and medieval walls of the Old City. The décor sums up the city perfectly - a mix of European, Asian and Middle Eastern. Beautifully furnished guest rooms are ensconced in pale greys, ivories and whites with natural light flooding through the windows. Breakfast and dinner are taken in Zafferano’s, the hotel’s main restaurant, and on clear evenings, Italian cuisine is served on the terrace offering spectacular vistas over the city and Caspian Sea. Following dinner, a Cigar Lounge tempts you to pick from a selection of Montecristo’s and Cohibas, or if you wish to put on your dancing shoes, Bentley’s bar introduces live swing bands. If that’s not enough, Four Seasons Baku also has its own spa, indoor pool and fitness room, so should you wish to relax, pamper yourself or stay in shape during your stay, you can do it all.

Four Seasons Hotel, Baku

Credit: Saiko3p

Become a member to join the conversation!

Become part of the world's leading travel & lifestyle community!