Baku is a bizarre place. A mash-up of fascinating historical architecture and Islamic influences combined with a modern and thriving city center that feels more like Western Europe make it a bit confusing to get used to — at least for me. But it’s an awesome city and well worth spending at least a few days in. Here are some recommendations for how to spend a weekend in Baku… as if you need any more reasons to travel to Azerbaijan!
You have a beautiful country, beautiful people. I witnessed this during my visit to Azerbaijan.Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum
Walk the Streets of Old Baku
Baku’s Old City (Içərişəhər) is an odd change from the pristine newness of the rest of downtown. Surrounded by a fortress wall and full of narrow streets just begging to be explored, it’s a perception-shifting plunge into Baku’s relatively recent history as the nation’s capital (the original capital of Azerbaijan was destroyed by an earthquake in the 12th century).
Visit One of Baku’s Many Parks
One of the things I loved about Baku is the abundance of green spaces in the city center. The most extensive of these is Milli Park, which takes up an almost 6 kilometer-long stretch of the city’s shoreline. It’s the perfect place to walk, ride a bike, or read a book, whichever your preference may be.
Check Out the Maiden’s Tower
A Zoroastrian tower dating back to the 7th century (disputed), the Maiden’s Tower stands nearly 30 meters tall and is the source of many legends. One involves a fiery-haired girl emerging from the flames to fight in defense of the city and save it. Now, the UNESCO-protected site is a must-visit while you’re exploring the Old Town of Baku.
Visit the Eternal Flame and the Flame Towers
Baku’s Flame Towers are one of the city’s most distinctive landmarks and were built from 2007 to 2012. They dominate the skyscape of the city and are usually lit up in different colors at night. They share the hilltop with a number of other buildings, including a mosque and a memorial containing plaques of martyrs killed in battles with the Soviets and, later, Armenians. The Lane of Martyrs, as it’s called, ends with a shrine containing an eternal flame.
Enjoy the Modern Architecture of the City
Baku is home to a number of great examples of modern architecture, perhaps the most distinctive of which is the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center. Designed by the Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, the center is also the site of a huge park filled with intriguing sculptures and art. It’s a popular spot for families to hang out and well worth a visit!
Dip Your Finger in the Cool Mud Volcanoes
Azerbaijan is home to about one-third of all mud volcanoes in the world, most of them clustered around Baku. The bubbling mud is caused by gas — not magma — trapped beneath the surface, so it’s cold to the touch instead of hot. While the volcanoes can reach heights of 700 meters, most of the ones tourists go see are much shorter. Some people I met expressed their disappointment with the volcanoes, but I loved them!
Visit the Flaming Mountain of Yanardag
As mentioned above, Baku sits above large amounts of gas trapped in the ground. Nowhere is this more evident than at Yanardag, a name which literally means ‘fire mountain’. After being accidentally lit in the 1950s(?), the hillside continues to burn as gas slowly seeps out from the ground below. Similar to the mud volcanoes above, Yanardag isn’t as impressive as its name sounds, but is still worth a visit! Just temper your expectations 😉
Visit the Ateshgah of Baku
Before Azerbaijan was predominantly Muslim, it was predominantly Zoroastrian — one of the world’s oldest religions still in practice today. The Zoroastrians saw fire as sacred and built fire temples in which to worship their deity, Ahura Mazda. The Ateshgah of Baku is one such site and is a pilgrimage site for not only Zoroastrians but Hindus and Sikhs as well. It’s a cool little spot just outside the city, easily worked into a day trip with several of these other recommendations.
Make Some New Friends
I’d initially planned on staying in Baku for only two days but had such a good time at Sahil Hostel that I ended up staying nearly a week in total. Sahil is among the best hostels I’ve ever stayed in and almost certainly the cleanest. I’d definitely recommend it if you want to link up with some cool travelers with whom to explore the Land of Fire!
Pro Tip: Some of these recommendations (Yanardag, Ateshgah, and the Mud Volcanoes especially) can be seen during a day tour led by one of many companies. I went with a company called Tez Tours, who I wouldn’t recommend. There are others, however, so check with your hostel or hotel and get their recommendation!
There you have it! These are my tips on how to spend a weekend in Baku. Do you have any recommendations of your own? Share them with us in the comments below! Thanks for reading 🙂