If you decide to travel to Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, you’re in for a treat. Baku has lots of architectural wonders to explore.
If you decide to travel to Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, you’re in for a treat.
Travelling to a new country is often like Kinder Surprise because you never know what you’re going to get.
But if you decide to visit Baku, then rest assured, no unwanted travel surprises are coming your way. It’s quite the contrary. Baku is a wonderful palace to discover, with stunning architecture and history. It is super safe and the kind of place you might want to come back to in the future.
As a digital nomad, I have already placed Baku on my shortlist of cities where I would like to spend a month in the future, and I don’t usually get convinced so fast.
So here is all you need to know about travelling to Baku, Azerbaijan, for the first time.
Important information for travelling to Baku, Azerbaijan
The first thing you need to know BEFORE travelling to Azerbaijan is that you need to APPLY FOR AN ONLINE VISA!
- Time: The standard time to issue this visa is 3 (THREE) working days (not counting the day you apply). So if you apply today, your visa will be valid starting today + 5 days.
- Cost: 25 USD (20 USD visa fee + 5 USD service fee).
- Travel conditions: This is a single-entry visa. You are granted a visa for 90 days, starting with 5 days after you apply for your visa. You can also choose the starting day of your visa. You can only stay up to 30 days after you enter Azerbaijan.
There is also an option to get an emergency visa (Ugent e-Visa), in case you forget to apply to the visa in a timely manner.
- Time: The urgent e-Visa is issued within 3 hours.
- Cost: 60 USD (20 USD visa fee + 40 USD service fee)
- Travel conditions: Same as for the normal visa.
You can apply for the Azerbaijan e-Visa here.
Of course, I planned the most spontaneous trip to the Caucasus in October 2023. But the order of visiting these countries, as the last few in my quest to visit all European countries, was Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan.
Obviously, I had plenty of time to apply for the Azerbaijan visa. But then it was cold in Georgia, I caught a cold, and 3 days before arriving in Azerbaijan (I already had a plane ticket), I realized that I needed 5 days to apply for the standard visa.
I got super annoyed with myself (I call myself a travel expert) and cried for a bit. Then, I decided it was my own stupidity that got me into this situation and that I was lucky it was all solvable with money. So I got the emergency e-visa and paid an extra $35 (per person, as I was with my boyfriend). I can say for sure I got the Azerbaijan urgent e-visa in just 3 hours!
The lesson here: The system works! Also, always check entry conditions when travelling to a new country and apply for an Azerbaijan visa in a timely manner. You know, I put myself in these situations so that you know what to do when you get in trouble. You’re welcome! Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk.
Now, let’s get to the good part.
Safety in Azerbaijan
Baku, as in all parts that I’ve seen in Azerbaijan, is super safe.
I didn’t know what to expect, and the internet wasn’t offering much info on the safety issue in Azerbaijan.
But now I know why – because there isn’t any issue with the safety. I honestly felt completely safe, and much safer than in other much popular European cities (*wink wink* Barcelona, Paris, London).
Getting around in Baku
Baku has public transport and a metro system, which is super cool.
But if you’re not planning on crossing the city at peak hours, then you should also consider a taxi. Locals use Bolt or Uber, as both car-sharing services work in Azerbaijan. It’s also super affordable.
However, the only big issue I encountered with getting a taxi was when I arrived at the airport.
Because local taxi drivers know foreigners have no way to get to the city from the airport, they overcharge you. This is a common issue everywhere in the world, so be prepared for it.
At the airport, no BOLT or UBER will come to pick you up if they see you’re a foreigner and want to pay with a card. So make sure to get some cash from the ATM before you get out of the airport. There are ATMs in both Terminal 1 and Terminal 2 (they’re both within walking distance of each other, and T2 is for shorter flights, such as the flight to Georgia).
Then, prepare to negotiate.
Internet data in Azerbaijan
It worked really well. Just remember to install the eSim while you have a Wifi connection and then activate it. When you land in Azerbaijan, just switch over to the Azerbaijan eSim, and you’re online. So easy to use.
How to get to Baku, Azerbaijan
You can drive from Georgia, or get there by plane.
I arrive in Baku by plane from Tbilisi, Georgia. If you plan the same trip, and it’s not a road trip, then I recommend you do the same. The border between Georgia and Azerbaijan can get congested, and you could spend a few hours there.
However, if you decide to drive from Georgia to Azerbaijan, use the Red Bridge border crossing.
Make sure you have your Visa before getting to Azerbaijan. The visa is a formality, but you need it.
From the airport, you’ll need to get a taxi or a bus to get to Baku.
Trip from the airport to Baku city centre
How much is a trip from the Heydar Aliyev International Airport (Baku airport) to the city centre?
I was in Baku in October 2023, so these were the prices then. But this is half of what other big travel websites will tell you, which is a sign that most travel websites know nothing about real-life experiences from the locations they advertise. I was there, so who are you going to believe?
Well, the taxi app will ask for about 10 AZN (Manat) (about $6). If you have some promo or there isn’t a lot of demand, it can even be around 6-8 AZN (Manat). Please note that all locals will refer to their money as “Manat”.
But the taxies, after they arrive, the driver will ask for 50 Manat or more. Watch out for the London-style cabs, known as the pink cabs, which have a flat fee of 50 Manat or more.
Some will simply call you in broken English (not making fun of anyone, just explaining a real-life situation so that you know what to expect in Azerbaijan). On the phone, they will ask you if you have cash! And then ask for how much (as in, how much you want to pay).
Those more experienced taxi drivers speak English and will say this 10 manat is peanuts and that it doesn’t even pay for the gas (don’t be fooled, gas is very cheap in Azerbaijan) and will ask for 10 USD or more.
There is also a bus you can take from the airport to the city centre; there is a frequent schedule during the day. But for that, you will also need cash.
As I didn’t have any cash and didn’t want to pay, I got lucky that my Airbnb host was waiting for me and was able to car a taxi for me at the airport. Her request got through for only 10 Manat, because she was local.
Where to stay in Baku, Azerbaijan?
Baku has plenty of nice hotels and apartments available for rent at very affordable prices. Here are some hotels I would choose based on location, price and amenities:
- Luxury hotels – Four Seasons Hotel Baku, Luxary Home VIP Grayton, Sapphire City Hotel
- Apartment for family – 3 -bedroom Centre apartment
- Mid-range hotel – Art Hotel, Shirvanshan Hotel
- Budget hotel – Center Hotel Baku, Liman Hotel Baku, City Inn Nizami Boutique Hotel
I stayed in an apartment, super close to the old centre, and it was super nice.
Tourism in Baku is flourishing. And that’s all to thank to their national effort to increase the percentage of the GDP coming from from non-oil activities, including tourism. The Azerbaijan government aims to increase the tourism industry’s contribution to the GDP by up to 10% by 2040.
To be honest, I love that, and it’s clear that everyone puts in some effort to bring in more tourists.
Azerbaijan’s cuisine is known for its diverse flavours and rich traditions, offering a variety of unique dishes. Here’s a list of some must-try Azerbaijani dishes with concise descriptions:
- Plov (Pilaf): A staple Azerbaijani dish made with saffron-flavoured rice, often cooked with meats, dried fruits, eggs, and various herbs.
- Dolma: Vine leaves or vegetables stuffed with a mix of minced meat, rice, herbs, and spices, typically served with yoghurt.
- Kebab: Grilled meat, usually lamb or beef, marinated with spices and onions, often served with grilled vegetables.
- Qutab: A thin, crescent-shaped flatbread filled with ingredients like minced meat, greens, or cheese, then grilled or fried.
- Dushbara: Small dumplings filled with minced meat and herbs, served in a clear broth.
- Baliq (Fish): Fresh fish from the Caspian Sea, commonly grilled or fried, and seasoned with local herbs and spices.
- Lavangi: A tantalizing stuffed chicken or fish dish, filled with a mix of walnuts, onions, and aromatic herbs.
- Kuku: A type of omelette made with eggs and a variety of ingredients like herbs, potatoes, or meat.
- Sheki Halva: A sweet, multi-layered pastry filled with nuts and syrup, originating from the town of Sheki.
- Pakhlava (Baklava): A sweet dessert made of layers of filo pastry, filled with chopped nuts and sweetened with honey or syrup.
- Shashlik: Skewered and grilled cubes of marinated meat, similar to kebabs, often served with onions and bread.
- Saj Ichi: Meat, vegetables, and sometimes potatoes cooked in a unique way on a large, flat metal disc called a saj.
- Badimjan Dolmasi: Eggplants stuffed with minced meat and cooked with tomatoes and bell peppers.
- Choban Salati: A fresh salad made with tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and herbs, dressed with vinegar or sour cream.
- Tendir Bread: Traditional Azerbaijani bread baked in a clay oven called a tendir, known for its crisp crust and soft interior.
These dishes reflect the rich culinary heritage of Azerbaijan, offering an array of tastes from savory and hearty to sweet and delicate.
Most restaurants in the centre of Baku have great options and can accommodate all tastes.
There, I found plenty of traditional restaurants but also an abundance of places with international cuisine and even Western places such as Starbucks, McDonalds, and Cinnabon. I usually don’t like the centre of the cities too much, but Baku has a nice selection.
I just want to mention this really cool place for brunch – La Mia Colazione.
What to see in Baku, Azerbaijan?
Baku is surprisingly touristy, but just the right amount.
Locals are friendly, carpet shop vendors are nice but not pushy (unbelievable, I know), and attractions are all around. So, where do you start exploring Baku, Azerbaijan?
Well, here’s a list of must-see attractions and places in Baku just to get you started and bring in that appetite for more exploring on your own.
- Old City (Icherisheher). This UNESCO World Heritage site is Baku’s historical core, featuring medieval architecture, the Palace of the Shirvanshahs, and the iconic Maiden Tower.
- Flame Towers. These three skyscrapers, shaped like flames, are a modern symbol of Baku, offering stunning views of the city, especially when lit up at night. You can get there via the funicular.
- Baku Boulevard. A promenade along the Caspian Sea, perfect for leisurely walks, with parks, a Ferris wheel, and splendid views of the city skyline. This was the first thing I did in Baku, as I arrived, and it totally blew me away. I mean, what a view for sunset!!!
- Heydar Aliyev Center. Designed by Zaha Hadid, this building is an architectural marvel known for its flowing, wave-like design, housing a museum and exhibition halls. This is the perfect spot for a photoshoot. It’s better in real life than what you see in pictures. But note that it is closed on Mondays.
- Maiden Tower (Qiz Qalasi). A mysterious and ancient tower located in the Old City, offering panoramic views of Baku and the Caspian Sea from the top. You’ll discover this as you walk around the old town of Baku.
- Azerbaijan Carpet Museum. Shaped like a rolled-up carpet, this museum showcases the rich history and artistry of Azerbaijani carpet weaving.
- Fountain Square. A lively public square in the heart of Baku, surrounded by shops, cafes, and restaurants, popular for its relaxed atmosphere.
- Palace of the Shirvanshahs. A 15th-century palace complex in the Old City, an excellent example of medieval Azerbaijani architecture.
- Baku Crystal Hall. An indoor arena built for the Eurovision Song Contest, it’s an architectural highlight and hosts various cultural and sporting events.
- National Museum of History of Azerbaijan. The largest museum in Azerbaijan, it offers extensive displays of Azerbaijani history and culture.
- Nizami Street. A central street in Baku known for shopping, dining, and its bustling atmosphere, especially in the evenings.
- Baku Eye. A large Ferris wheel on Baku Boulevard, offers breathtaking views of the city and the sea. It wasn’t working in October, but locals told me it’s open during summer.
What to see around Baku, Azerbaijan?
- Gobustan Rock Art Cultural Landscape. A UNESCO World Heritage site located just outside of Baku, famous for its ancient rock carvings and mud volcanoes. This is more of a half-day trip from Baku, but a must-see if you’re in the city.
- Yanar Dag (Burning Mountain). A natural gas fire that blazes continuously on a hillside is a unique natural phenomenon not far from Baku.
- Ateshgah – Fire Temple. Located in the suburb of Surakhani, this temple was a place of worship for Zoroastrians, Hindus, and Sikhs, known for its natural eternal flame.
To visit these places around Baku, you’ll need to rent a car for a day or join a guided tour offering this trip. I chose this guided tour and it was really good value and I didn’t have to worry about driving.
Note that I’ve mentioned a few different places because only after seeing all these different sides of Baku, you’ll get a unique glimpse into the rich history, culture, and modern development of Baku.
Day trips from Baku (Places to see in Azerbaijan)
Taking day trips from Baku is a great way to explore the diverse landscapes and rich history of Azerbaijan. Here are some recommended destinations for day trips:
- Gobustan National Park: Famous for its ancient rock carvings, mud volcanoes, and unique geological formations. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site and provides insight into early human history.
- Qobustan Mud Volcanoes: Located close to Gobustan National Park, these mud volcanoes offer a unique natural phenomenon, with bubbling pools and lunar landscapes.
- Ateshgah – The Fire Temple: Situated in the village of Surakhani, this historic temple was a place of worship for Zoroastrians and Hindus, known for its natural eternal flame.
- Yanar Dag (Burning Mountain): A natural gas fire that blazes continuously on a hillside near Baku, offering a unique sight, especially striking at night.
Luckily, you can see all these places in just one day trip from Baku – Full-Day Gobustan & Absheron Tour w/ Entrance Fees (I also did this day trip and was really nice)
- Quba: A picturesque town known for its apple orchards, colorful houses, and the nearby Qechresh forest, offering a refreshing escape from the city.
- Shamakhi: An ancient city with a rich history, famous for its historical Juma Mosque and the nearby Seven Tombs. Don’t miss the alpaca farm.
- Ismailli: A region with beautiful landscapes, offering opportunities for hiking and visiting traditional villages nestled in the mountains. You can combine this day trip with a stop in Shamakhi too.
- Naftalan: Known for its unique naphthalene oil spas, offering therapeutic treatments and a unique wellness experience.
- Lahij: A charming ancient mountain village famous for its cobbled streets, copper craftsmanship, and traditional architecture.
- Sheki: A city with a rich cultural heritage, known for its magnificent Palace of Sheki Khans, traditional Sheki Halva, and beautiful handicrafts.
- Candy Cane Mountains: Located near Altiaghaj, these uniquely striped hills are a result of natural mineral deposits, creating a striking landscape.
- Khinalug (Khinaliq): One of the highest and most ancient mountain villages in the Caucasus, offering breathtaking views and unique cultural experiences.
- Gabala (Qabala): A popular tourist destination with attractions like the Tufandag Mountain Resort, Gabaland amusement park, and beautiful nature.
Each of these destinations offers a different aspect of Azerbaijan’s rich culture, history, and natural beauty, making them perfect for day trips from Baku.
Note that most of these locations can be visited all year long, but note that it can be snowy during winter.
Baku 3-day itinerary (if you’re visiting the first time)
Day 1: Explore the Heart of Baku
- Icherisheher (Old City): Start your day exploring the ancient streets of the Old City. Visit landmarks like the Maiden Tower and the Palace of the Shirvanshahs.
- Miniature Book Museum: If time permits, check out this unique museum in the Old City.
- Lunch at a local restaurant, trying traditional Azerbaijani cuisine.
- Baku Boulevard: Walk along this promenade by the Caspian Sea. Visit the Baku Eye (Ferris wheel) for panoramic views.
- Fountain Square: Enjoy the lively atmosphere, perfect for dining and people-watching.
- Dinner at a restaurant near Fountain Square.
Day 2: Modern Baku and Cultural Insights
- Heydar Aliyev Center: Marvel at this architectural wonder and explore its exhibitions.
- Baku Museum of Modern Art: For art enthusiasts, this is a must-visit.
- Lunch at a contemporary Azerbaijani restaurant.
- Nizami Street: Stroll down this shopping street, known for its boutiques and cafes.
- Flame Towers: View the city from the observation deck.
- Dinner at a restaurant with a view of the illuminated city.
Day 3: Leisure and Historical Exploration
- Gobustan National Park: Take a short trip to see ancient rock carvings and mud volcanoes. (Note: This requires a few hours, so start early.)
- Late lunch back in Baku.
- Azerbaijan Carpet Museum: Discover the art of Azerbaijani carpet weaving in this uniquely designed museum.
- Baku Crystal Hall area: Enjoy a leisurely evening by the Caspian Sea.
- Farewell dinner at a seaside restaurant, savouring local flavours.
Ready to visit Baku?
When I planned this trip to the Caucasus, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t do a lot of research and only had some basic ideas about what to expect in each of these countries.
But somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew Baku would impress me, and it sure did.
To be honest, Baku is the most European-looking of the three capitals in the Caucasus area (the other two are Yerevan and Tbilisi). And that has a lot to do with the government and the effort put into the city since the local economy started flourishing in the 19th century, thanks to the oil industry.
Today, the government of Azerbaijan is realizing that the oil era will come to an end, and they are putting a lot of effort into creating a lovely and liveable city, that will attract tourists for years to come. And I believe that the plan might work. I liked Baku very much, and it is one of the cities I would go back to.