A Unique Cultural Guide to Baku

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When thinking about my Baku trip, I wanted to create an interesting itinerary in advance. That said, I began my journey to Azerbaijan with mixed emotions.

On one hand, I felt energized and exhilarated by the time I’d spent in Georgia. Tbilisi proved as worthy a destination as most places I’d been in mainland Europe, while Kazbegi allowed me to have the experience someone at my income level never could in more exclusive mountain ranges around the world. My itinerary was a bit lacking, however.

Indeed, I wasn’t really headed to Azerbaijan—I was just headed to Baku, on account of both poor infrastructure in the Caucasus and my failure to admit just how poor it was as I planned my over-ambitious trip. No Qax, no Sheki, just a short itinerary—two days—which to be fair would prove to be showcase one of the most interesting places I’d ever visited.

Baku

Where to Stay in Baku

Another thing that deflated my excitement about visiting Azerbaijan was its anticipated cost. To be sure, if you’re wondering “is Baku expensive or not?”, you needn’t look further than prices of accommodation.

Hotels will generally run you prices commensurate with mainland Europe, from simple properties like Two Seasons Boutique Hotel Baku to legitimately five-star ones such as Winter Park Hotel Baku. Two days in Baku cost me as much as a week in Georgia—and I can’t lie that accommodations costs were a big part of why.

My Bizarre Baku Itinerary 

Whether you don’t have time to read this entire post, or are simply looking for information on attractions on the go, here are the most popular things to do here:

  • Enjoy the view from Maiden Tower
  • Walk along the Caspian Sea
  • Watch sunset behind the Flame Towers
  • Admire Baku Fortress Wall
  • Pray inside the Juma Mosque
  • Discover the Hindu/Zoroastrian Ateshgah of Baku

Staying longer? There’s plenty more Baku sightseeing to enjoy, some of which I’ll discuss in the next few paragraphs.

Day One: Of Flames and Maidens

It didn’t take a lot of travel advice for me to realize that the city’s Flame Towers should be a top priority during my 48 hours in the city. I traveled on an overnight train, however, which meant that I arrived early in the morning.

After checking in to my hotel, I thus headed straight toward a Baku tower less-dependent on lighting to look amazing: Maiden Tower, a 12th-century monument that’s the de-facto entrance to the Old City. (NOTE: If you’r here during the summer, prepare to roast thanks to how hot the Baku climate tends to be!)

Other highlights during my City Tour included a lunchtime stroll through Baku Seaside Park (a.k.a. The Boulevard) and a pre-sunset walk along the Caspian Sea, which eventually led me back to the aforementioned Flame Tower.

They looked incredibly beautiful at night, surreal even, in spite of the fact that they’re not so tall (about 200 meters or 600 feet), much shorter than the now-canceled Azerbaijan Tower, which would’ve been among my favorite images if I’d ever had the opportunity to photograph it.

Baku
Baku
Baku
Baku
Baku
Baku

Day Two: Looking for a Savior

As you work through your own itinerary, one thing you’re certain to hear about Azerbaijan’s capital is that much of it has been re-constructed with tourists in mind, from the Old Town I described above, to the picturesque Baku Fortress Wall, to some of the important places of worship you find inside it. With this being said, Juma Mosque is one of the best examples of sightseeing.

I also recommend a visit to the Hindu/Zoroastrian Ateshgah of Baku, which is not to say it is only as spiritual as its holy sites—quite the opposite, in fact. One of my favorite things and indeed one of my biggest surprises, was how much certain parts of the city center reminded me of Paris, a likeness that’s also rumored to have been engineered after the fact.

Azerbaijan—and the Caucasus—Beyond Baku

This article makes it pretty clear how many days I think you should spend—the answer is two—but what about the rest of Azerbaijan?

Had my Caucasus trip gone as planned, I would have spent a night each in the cities of Qax and Sheki (which I mentioned in the introduction to this sample Baku itinerary) in addition to my two day itinerary. Depending on how flexible and long your own Caucasus itinerary is, I think this is a pretty good place to start from as you plan.

The Bottom Line

I can’t really speak about Azerbaijan as a whole, but Baku is an interesting city to visit, at least if you’re going to be in the Caucasus anyway. Spend your first day exploring the area between the city’s most famous towers—Maiden and Flame—and the second of your two days dissecting the diverse spirituality that will make you want to see more of Azerbaijan. I certainly wish I’d extended my itinerary instead of continuing on to Armenia.

Robert Schrader
Robert Schrader is a travel writer and photographer who's been roaming the world independently since 2005, writing for publications such as "CNNGo" and "Shanghaiist" along the way. His blog, Leave Your Daily Hell, provides a mix of travel advice, destination guides and personal essays covering the more esoteric aspects of life as a traveler.
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