From exploring the 12th century fortifications of Old City to enjoying the sight of the world famous Flame Towers, these are just some of the best things to do in Baku.
Azerbaijan’s capital, dubbed by Lonely Planet as “the architectural love child of Paris and Dubai”, is one of the fastest changing cities in the world.
Dilapidated alleyways are now bustling with hipster cafes and international restaurants. The Flame Towers are a marvel of modern architecture. Millennials wander the streets dressed in the latest high-end fashion.
Yet Baku is not without its charm either.
At the centre of Baku lies the Old City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Surrounding this time capsule are stone mansions and luxury boutiques. The blend of the old and new works effortlessly.
There are a lot of tourist attractions around the city. The city is rapidly expanding and you will find many things to do in Baku to keep yourself busy and entertained.
Our Guide for the Best Things to Do in Baku
We spent a few days in the capital of Azerbaijan after travelling across the Caspian Sea by cargo ship, and after so much time spent in Central Asia, the step into European style was quite dramatic.
If you’re planning on taking a trip to Azerbaijan, don’t miss these amazing things to do in Baku.
Do A Walking Tour Of The Baku Old City
Old City or “Icharishahar”, is one of Azerbaijan’s two UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It’s truly a unique, historical part of Azerbaijan and is located within the heart of Baku.
The Old City is very clean and recently renovated. It’s a very beautiful and very artful town, surrounded by fortressed walls, adding to the character.
Walk through its cobblestone streets, see and touch the stones of the ancient walls, zigzag through narrow corridors and admire the intricate art on the doors.
The Old City of Baku has a lot to offer. The town has a lot of aged buildings, a palace complex, mosques and the iconic Maiden Tower.
Across from the Maiden Tower you can book an audio tour that will elaborate on the main sightseeing points of Old City.
We always suggest a guided tour because we prefer to ask locals questions and hear the story of their hometown through their eyes.
It’s a great place to wander around. There are a lot of souvenir vendors, great tea shops and restaurants. With a beautiful view of the boulevard, picturesque moments of merchants playing chess or backgammon, interesting trinkets being sold – you won’t get tired even after hours of exploring.
It’s truly a place where time seems to have stopped.
See The Bibi Heybat Mosque
The Bibi Heybat Mosque is one of the most interesting things to do in Baku, and even non-Muslims will enjoy exploring this wonderful piece of architecture.
The present day structure is from July, 1998, and is a recreation of the mosque that was built in the 13th century by Shirvanshah Farrukhzad II Ibn Ahsitan II.
Today’s restored mosque is a classic example of the Shirvan architectural school. Interestingly enough, it is the only religious building that was completely destroyed by Stalin in 1936.
It has three domes, which follows the traditional iron shape of the old mosque and two minarets. The domes are decorated with turquoise and green mirrors, that are bordered with gilded inscriptions from the Qur’an.
The mosque includes the tomb of Ukeyma Khanum (Prophet Muhammad’s descendant), and present day serves as a spiritual centre for and a major monument of Azerbaijan’s Islamic architecture.
You are welcome to visit outside of prayer times.
Climb Up The Maiden Tower
While in Baku you cannot miss climbing on top of Azerbaijan’s most recognised landmark, and the centre of the city’s historical importance.
The Maiden Tower, or as locals call it Giz Galasi, is located in the Old City and is constantly surrounded by a hive of activity from locals and tourists alike.
It was built in the 12th century as part of the walled city of Baku. The name Giz Galasi is better translated as “Virgin Tower”, so named because of its impenetrability.
The Maiden Tower is part of UNESCO’s world heritage listing, looped in with the Old City and the Shirvanshahs’ Palace.
Climb the Maiden’s Tower just before sunset and enjoy the view over Baku and its Old City.
Visit The Mud Volcanoes At Gobustan National Park
The other of Azerbaijan’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites is the Gobustan National Park, that attracts thousands of tourists annually.
This otherworldly site is a sprawling field speckled with bubbling mud volcanos, anthropological sites and sizzling lakes.
In Azerbaijan there are around 300 mud volcanoes to be found at the shore, in the sea and on islands. That’s about 30% of the world’s total, and is a main reason people choose to visit Azerbaijan.
Grab the opportunity to visit the Gobustan National Museum and learn all about the history of petroglyphs, see ancient human bones or work tools from the Mesolithic period.
To get to Gobustan National Park from Baku head to the Maiden Tower and take bus number 88 or 120 to the ‘Field of 20’ stop, then change for bus number 195 the rest of the way.
Alternatively you can book a day tour with Viator, which is actually quite a good way to see the the mud volcanos.
Check Out The Flame Towers
The Flame Towers are located on a hill overlooking Baku Bay and the Old City. It’s an iconic trio of buildings that transformed the image of the city from a forgotten place to modern day Baku.
Not only does it transforms the city’s skyline, but it also pays respect to Baku’s history and predicts its strong future.
The design of the towers was inspired by Azerbaijan’s historical past of fire worship amongst locals. The buildings are shaped in a form of a flame, and are completely covered with LED screens that present movements of a fire.
From almost anywhere in the city you can see the Flame Towers, which dominate the new skyline.
Our tip is to visit the TV tower that is situated above – you will encounter the most stunning view!
Wander Through The Azerbaijan Carpet Museum
In Azerbaijan and nearby Central Asia, carpet weaving occupies a special place in the history of its national culture.
Definitively the most widespread folk art is carpet weaving. It was a part of everyday life of Azerbaijanis and turned into a national symbol.
The carpets have a high aesthetic and historic importance, so they’re also used to cover the walls and floors of homes, nomads’ tents, mosques and government buildings as well.
The Azerbaijan Carpet Museum was set up in 1967. Besides the obvious carpets, it also holds in possession over 10,000 objects such as ceramics, metal works, and jewellery dating from the Bronze Age etc.
The museum is primarily used for research, keeping and displaying carpets and carpet items, as well as applied art works.
Don’t Miss The Palace Of The Shirvanshahs
An important piece of Azerbaijani history is Shirvanhahs’ Palace, which was built in 15th century by the Shirvanshah kingdom.
The Shirvanshahs were the rulers of Shirvan, the name of the land that now occupies modern-day Azerbaijan. Being the leaders, they of course had to build an epic palace to call home.
Their Palace, alongside the Maiden Tower and the Old City, is bunched together in Baku’s UNESCO World Heritage listing.
The sandstone complex is significant for the situation inside the Old City, which is located behind the fortress walls that were built by the same kingdom in the 12th century, right around the time Baku became the capital.
That is the main reason why the architecture of the Old City is similar in emphasising the art of medieval Islamic civilisation.
The Palace consists of a palace building, the mausoleum of the King Khalilullah buried with his mother and sons, two mosques, east gate (Murad’s Gate), bath house (“hammam”) and Sufi philosopher and scientist Sayid Yahya Bakuvi’s mausoleum.
It was restored in 2003, and now you can enjoy couple of entertaining audio-visual surprises.
Admire The Ateshgah Fire Temple
Zoroastrianism and their belief in fire worship is a fascinating religion that can be found all over Asia, and their Temples of Eternal Fire are quite well known.
In a small suburb of Baku, one of their temples still exists today and is one of Azerbaijan’s most popular tourist attractions.
The temple in its present state was constructed around the 17th-18th centuries, and was built by the Baku-based Hindu community.
The area is known for a unique natural phenomenon – burning natural gas outlets. That means that the underground gas coming up to the surface lights up as it makes contact with oxygen.
For that reason the temple quickly became the holy place of Zoroastrians – the fire worshipers. They thought that the inextinguishable fire had mystic properties so they flocked to the temple to worship the relic.
In the early 19th century the Temple acquired its present-day appearance.
The Fire Temple has a pentagonal structure with a castellation and entrance portal. The altar is situated right at the natural gas vent, a well from which beat eternally burning gas accompanied by four smaller flames on the rooftop corners of the pavilion.
See The Old City Walls
The Old City Walls are built on a site that has been inhabited since the Palaeolithic period. The Old City of Baku reveals traces of Sasanian, Arabic, Zoroastrian, Persian, Ottoman, Russian and Shirvani presence in cultural continuity, making it one of the most culturally fascinating places in the region.
Today the walls still stand, and it’s very impressive to see how much of the Inner City’s 12th century defensive walls have remained.
Boasting a triple row of fortress walls, the Maiden Tower and other fortification facilities, the Old City was a magnificent stronghold.
It’s very impressive to navigate within its walls and see how the urban pattern of the city acts as a maze.
The large squares and wide length streets gradually narrow and shrink into a geometric design which in the past, allowed full involvement of residents in defensive activities.
Pop In To The Miniature Book Museum
The only one of its kind in the world, the Miniature Book Museum was opened in 2002 by Zarifa Saahova. The dedicated bibliophile opened the museum in hopes to inspire young generations to read more, and he’s doing a great job.
The museum holds thousands of miniature-sized books, including editions of works of Dostoyevsky, Pushkin, Chukovsky and Gogol.
The books are from all parts of the world, and are written in numerous languages, including Russian, Azeri, German and English.
The oldest book in the museum is a copy of the Quran, dating to the 17th century, while the smallest tome (6mm x 9mm) is the Russian book “The Most Miraculous Thing,” which can only be read by using a magnifying glass.
You can find the museum at number 1 Gala Lane in Baku.
Where To Stay In Baku
For many affluent visitors to the city, the best place to stay in Baku is the iconic Flame Towers, which is under the famous Fairmont umbrella.
It’s luxurious, unique, and if it fits in your budget well worth to stay, although they are a bit far from the centre of town. Still if you’re happy taking taxis, this is an excellent place to stay. Book it on Booking.com
If you want the absolute best accommodation in Baku then check out the Four Seasons for unparalleled service and quality in the city.
More of a hostel kind of person? Then don’t miss the options on HostelWorld.