Baku is increasingly becoming a famous tourist destination. Recent international sports events such as Formula 1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix, or 2019 UEFA Europa League Final in Baku, and UEFA EURO 2020 will bring more popularity with more tourists visiting the city. Therefore, here we list the top mainstream things to do and see in downtown Baku.
Reclaim the Hammam traditions of Baku
The most historic quarter of modern cosmopolitan Baku is called Icherisheher (aka Inner City or Old Town). It used to have dozen of quarters. Each quarter had its population with different various socio-economic and political backgrounds as well as its own mosque and hammams, the bath-houses. Hammams occupied an important place to organize social interactions: men would discuss politics and solve problems of any level whether personal or society; women would use hammams as a platform to exchange gossip, trade rumours or choose their son’s future wives. Although it is not as common as it used to be, however they still retain their oriental charm.
Visit eighteenth-century-old Aga Mikayil Hamami for an oriental experience of hammam traditions. And read more about how to hammam like a local on CNN insight. facebook.com/meshediibadhamami/
Have your Ali and Nino moment at Governors Garden
There are many intriguing love stories of Baku, among them, the most famous are Ali and Nino, even the book of their love story became New York Times Bestseller. In the book, a passage goes as:
I had not spoken to Nino for two weeks. A wise rule demands that a man should keep away from women when he stands at life’s crossroads. Now I lifted the grip of the unwieldy apparatus, turned the bell and shouted into the mouthpiece: “3381!”
Nino’s voice replied: “Passed, Ali?”
-“When and where, Nino?”
-“Five o’clock at the lake in the Governor’s Garden, Ali.”
When they met at the Governor’s Garden… “My hand glided over her hair. She lifted her head. The last ray of the setting sun was in her eyes. I bent towards her. Her lips opened tenderly and submissively. I kissed her for a very long time, and very improperly. She breathed heavily.
“Then she tore herself away. We were silent and stared into the twilight. After awhile, we got up, a little shamefacedly. Hand in hand, we left the gardens.
The Governors Garden is now officially called Philharmonic Garden, however, it still looks pretty much the same as Ali described it. You, too, can have your Ali and Nino moment there.
Drink tea in Chaykhana (Çayxana)
A recent Euromonitor survey portrayed Azerbaijan as the second most tea-drinking society with an absolute majority of the population, 99.1%. So this is a tea-drinking society. In this society, tea (çay) is a solution to everything. Literally. One of the best ways to experience tea culture is to visit chaykhanas (tea houses). However, there is a truth that most chaykhanas are stereotypical places where usually macho guys gather around to discuss “manly” issues over a ridiculous number of cups of tea. Nonetheless, chaykhanas is one of the most visited family places in Baku. In chaykhana, they would usually order two teapots: thyme tea and black tea. Of course, do not forget about jam as they are inseparable. There are many types of jams you can choose to arrange a set of the tea-jam duo: such as tea with walnut jam.
Eat kebab (kabab)
Kebab (aka barbecue or shashlik) is various kinds of slow and usually outdoor cooked meat dishes using skewers and a fire pan. In Azerbaijan, kebab is food that must be served for your most respected guests or during most feasts, celebrations and holidays. Even an Azerbaijani proverb goes saying that “Kabab qanlı, igid canlı” meaning that kebab must be undone, but a hero vigorous. Most popular kinds of kebabs are tike kebab, lulah kebab, basdirma kebab. Your ultimate kebab feast would be ordering sebet kebab, a complete rib cage of lamb for four people. You can treat yourselves to sebet kebab in Qedim Qebele (open: 10am to 12am) for 50-70 AZN.
See options of what to do in the evenings in Baku.
Stroll through the narrow streets of Icharisheher (Inner City – Old Town)
Icharisheher, which translates as inner city, is the most historic part of the city and is mostly known as Old Town. It houses four UNESCO World heritage sites. Icharisheher used to be a Muslim quarter of Baku until mid 20th century and the streets, settlements, houses and public places were designed in accordance with acceptable behaviour of social interactions in an oriental city. Icharisheher, now, with three thousand population and still retains some of its oriental qualities in a city of 2.5 million population as the population of Icharisheher would call themselves as native Bakuvians. Strolling through the narrow streets of Icharisheher will allude you to the idea of you being locked in a labyrinth of historic attractions of XI to XV centuries.
Related: Join our Baku Old Town Private Walking Tour to explore the best of the Icharisheher.
Climb up the mysterious Maiden Tower (UNESCO World Heritage site)
Maiden Tower (Qiz Qalasi) is the most iconic landmark of Baku. However, it is shrouded in complete mystery. This is to say that we do not know when it has been constructed, who the architect is, what use or purpose it served or why it is called Maiden Tower. It is also a sophisticated construction of the 8-floor and 29.5 metre tall cylinder-shaped structure built on huge rock sliding towards the Caspian Sea, 5 metre-thick wall with a water well on the third floor, ceramic tubes from ground floor to top, a sewage system presumably, and all the windows facing towards the south-east, wide and tall buttress many other qualities contributes to secrecy to the most obvious and visible monument in the Old Town.
Locates in Icherisheher. Open everyday 9am-6pm. Entry fee 15 AZN.
Visit the Palace of the Shirvanshahs Dynasty (UNESCO World Heritage site)
Shirvanshah Ibrahim, the first, and his son Shirvanshah Khalilullah, the first moved the capital to Baku after a devastating earthquake levelling Shamakhi, the main capital city, in the XV century. They built a Palace Complex of a burial-vault, a courtroom (divanhane), a shah’s mosque, Seyid Yahya Bakuvi’s Mausoleum and bathhouse that survived up today. Although Shirvanshahs were modest and minimalistic in their approach to construction, the Palace Complex represents one of the best examples of the Abhseron-Shirvan Architecture School.
Locates in Icherisheher. Open everyday 10am-6pm. Entry fee 10 AZN.
See the tinniest book of the world at Miniature Book Museum
Zarifa Salahova, sister of Tahir Salahov, is a formidable woman. As one of the residents of the Old Town, she privately owns one of the most unique and strangest museums in the World that took over 30 years of her life to build it. Even the museum itself is a world of its kind regardless of its scale. That world is dedicated to teeny-tiny books known as miniature books. Although Guinness World Records certified 2.937 books as the largest collection of miniature books, she actually owns 8,500 of miniature books. Visit to see the tiniest book in the world exhibited behind the glasses of the second shelf in a blue case within a white-background circular container: it 0.75 mm microscopic book published in Tokyo, Japan in 2012. The 22-page book is titled Flowers of Four Seasons.
Locates in Qasr street 67 . Open 11am-5pm; Tue-Sun. Closed Mon-Thu. No entry fee.
Ride Funicular for a Panoramic View of the City
The funicular is a popular sightseeing attraction built in the 1960s. It is a transport system connecting the lowest part of Baku, the Seaside promenade, with the highest point, Highland Park. You see emerging beautiful scenic Baku and the bay, meanwhile the ascending funicular takes you up to the park. At night time in the park you observe and enjoy the view we’d like you to see, however, you can see the city silhouette with all the ugly and beautiful, dark and bright, dirty and clear sides of the city.
Locates in Shovkat Alakbarova street. Open 10am-10pm; Tue-Sun. Closed Mon; Lunch break 1pm-2-m. Entry fee 1 AZN.
Enter into another dimension at Zaha Hadid’s architecture
Completed in 2013 the Heydar Aliyev Center became an iconic landmark of modern Baku to shape and influence ideas and movements in an era of redeveloping Baku. Built by Zaha Hadid, the British-Iraqi architect, it represents an architecture of fluid and infinite patterns, form, shape, grid, column, surface and structure by applying a futuristic understanding of local culture and historic Islamic architecture. It loses its essence and purpose with more words you put down on paper. Better you give a visit and eyewitness it yourselves.
Alternatively, you arrange a self-guided architecture tour of Baku.
Locates in Heydar Aliyev Ave 1. Open 11am-5pm; Tue-Sun. Closed Mon. Entry fee 15 AZN.
Hope on Metro for sightseeing of underground city
A 50-year-old Baku Metro is labelled as a national wealth of Azerbaijani people. Besides it is used as one of the cheapest and fastest transport means, every metro station carries a heavy burden of symbolism: Nizami metro station is dedicated to 12th poet Nizami Ganjavi, the Greatest of all Greatest; 20 Yanvar (January) dedicated to a day when Soviet army peaceful protestors to crack down independence movement in Baku, or Neftçilər (Oilmen) is honouring oil workers for bravery and hard work. Therefore every metro station would be designed with a particular theme and the carriage arrival announcement would be accompanied by a 10-second musical tone to dramatize the presentation of a station.
Locates in 28 May, Central Station. Open 6am-midnight. Entry free 0.30 AZN.
Related: Join our Baku Soviet and Modern Pop-Culture Private Tour to discover Baku in Soviet and modern times.