Baku is the capital of the Republic of Azerbaijan and sits on the western shore of the Caspian Sea. With a stark mixture of ancient and ultra-modern architecture, a vibrant coffee culture and welcoming locals, the city is quickly establishing itself as a destination worth going the extra mile to see.
10 Things To Do & Attractions in Baku
1# Icheri Sheher
Baku, like many cities, is split between old and new towns. Icheri Sheher (Old Town) is the oldest inhabited area, lying within the ancient stone walls in the center of the city.
With its cobbled streets, blonde limestone buildings, and some of the most important historical buildings in Azerbaijan, it’s a great place to explore on foot.
It’s here you can find the city gates, Maiden Tower, and the Palace of the Shirvanshahs. Baku’s Icheri Sheher is a designated UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site.
2# Maiden Tower
Contained within the walls of the Old City, Maiden Tower features heavily in Azeri culture and folklore. Although confirmed as one of the oldest buildings in Baku, its origins are largely shrouded in mystery and no one can really pinpoint its exact timeline or purpose.
What is known about the structure is that it’s now home to Baku History Museum. Maiden Tower stands 29 meters high and tapers as it rises. Climbing to the top of the narrow peak offers excellent views out across the city.
3# Palace of the Shivranshahs
Based within Icheri Sheher, the 15th Century Palace was built by the ruling Shahs of Shivran (modern Azerbaijan). The Palace is one of the most important architectural sites in the city and the complex includes an ancient mosque, bathhouse and mausoleum.
Its unique cultural and historical importance to Azerbaijan led to its inclusion in UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2000. To appreciate it fully, leave at least two hours to properly explore.
4# Flame Towers
Azerbaijan is known as the Land of Fire, so it’s no real surprise that the most iconic buildings in the city were designed to represent flames.
Flame Towers is a complex of three high-rise buildings measuring 162, 165 and 182 meters tall. While one houses the 5-star Fairmont Hotel and Conference Centre, the others are a mix of plush apartments and office space.
Flame Towers opened in 2012 and have quickly become the symbol of Baku. Each night, when the sun goes down, the towers come alive with the power of 10,000 color LED lights.
The light show, which last around two minutes, repeats for around two hours after dark. The dazzling array of lights and colors illuminate the night sky and can’t be missed when visiting Baku.
The best views are from hopping the funicular to Martyrs’ Square or grabbing a spot near Mini Venice. If you want to go inside Flame Towers, the Fairmont has a restaurant and cafe bar which non-residents can access.
5# Mini Venice
It may seem odd place to have a miniature version of the Italian city in the middle of Baku, but Mini Venice blends well with the mix of ancient and modern surroundings. Based along the waterfront on Baku Boulevard, Mini Venice is several tiny ‘islands’ connected by a chain of canals and beautiful ornate bridges.
During peak season, you can hire a gondola and take a trip around the waterways. In winter, although there are no boats, you can explore on foot using the bridges and paths. The area is lush and green, with trees and colorful flowers adorning the landscaped islands.
6# Teze Pir Mosque
Although Teze Pir has been standing in place for more than 100 years, it can be quite challenging to find. It’s located to the west of the city center and the surroundings streets are a maze.
However, it’s well worth making the effort to locate as its gold dome and minarets are truly striking. In order to venture inside, there are separate entrances for men and women and shoes must be removed.
The interior is beautifully decorated in golds and blues, with intricate tiling design decorating the interior of the huge dome and surrounding limestone arches.
7# Martyrs’ Lane
Martyrs’ Lane is a national memorial and graveyard in the Highland Park neighborhood. It’s dedicated to the men and women who lost their lives fighting for Azerbaijan’s freedom in two armed conflicts between 1998-1994.
Although somber, Martyrs’ Lane is a serene spot, high on a hill overlooking the Caspian Sea. There are around 15,000 graves in the cemetery and rows of marble headstones line the alley.
Each end of the long walkway is flanked by a memorial. At the western end is the Turkish Martyrs’ Memorial, which represents the Turkish nationals who died fighting on behalf of Azerbaijan. Baku’s Eternal Flame marks the eastern end.
8# Palace of Happiness
Sitting in the center of Baku, the Palace of Happiness was designed and built by Azeri oil baron, Murtuza Mukhtarov, for his beloved wife, Liza.
Completed in 1912, the residential home was designed in a French Gothic style and is widely thought of as the most beautiful building in the city. Unfortunately, despite what its name implies, the building has a less than happy history.
After Soviet forces invaded Baku in 1920, Mukhtarov shot troops who stormed his property before turning his gun on himself. Liza was forced to live in the basement of the home until she was able to flee to the safety of neighboring Turkey.
Today, the building functions as the office of marriage registration, allowing the Palace of Happiness to finally fulfil its intended purpose as a space for love and celebration.
9# Fountain Square
The public square in the heart of Baku is a popular place to eat, drink and relax. Surrounded by bars and cafes, it’s always buzzing with people and very much feels like the epicenter of the city. As Fountain Square is a large, central space, it tends to be the location of festivals and celebrations.
Even if there are no events during your visit, it’s still well worth taking time to check out the fountains, sculptures and public art on display. Grabbing a coffee and doing a spot of people watching in Fountain Square is a great insight into Azeri culture.
10# Heydar Aliyev Centre
Baku is no stranger to ultra-modern design. The city has been rebelling against some of its most brutal Soviet architecture for some time and shows no sign of stopping.
The Flame Towers are proof of this on their own, but the Zaha Hadid designed Heydar Aliyev Centre (named after a former Prime Minister) is further proof of Baku’s desire to break free from the darker days of its history and forge a new path.
The futuristic curved design stands on the sea front and has won several awards for its design. The Centre is home to a museum, auditorium, conference center, and various workshop and exhibition space. Heydar Aliyev is equally impressive from the inside and there’s always something on worth checking out.
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Author Bio: Suzanne Tam is a freelance writer and travel blogger from Scotland, UK. She runs travel blog Sightseeing Shoes and is obsessed with trip planning, dogs and crochet.