I booked my trip using AFC Holidays online booking option on their website which was very user-friendly and had the entire Itinerary so it was easy to book online. The best thing about booking with AFC Holidays was the fact that I didn’t have to stress about my flight bookings or hotel bookings. The Baku Deal was a steal at only AED 1,399 for 3 nights and 4 days stay. I like to travel alone rather than in a group, so this package suited me as I only had to go with the group to my hotel from the airport and vice versa. The rest of the trip I had the liberty of traveling on my own.
AFC Holidays arranged an early morning 8 a.m Fly Dubai Flight which departs from Dubai International Airport Terminal 2. It was almost a 3-hour long flight. We landed in Baku at 11 a.m. UAE residents can enter Azerbaijan on a visa-on-arrival status. There was a slight confusion regarding the charges of visa. I was told that the visa would cost me around $10 but it was only at the immigration counter that I found out that the visa cost $26 per person. The visa process was fairly quick and simple and the airport staff was very helpful.
Baku is the capital of Azerbaijan which is in Central Asia. Russia to the north. Iran to the south. The Caspian Sea to the east, Armenia and Georgia to the west. Azerbaijan is a little bit weird. It’s not really old, it’s not really new, it’s not really Islamic, it’s not really secular, it’s not European, it’s not Asian, it’s not beautiful and it’s not ugly. Although sometimes it’s all of those things. And sometimes it’s none.
What is this place, I wonder, as I stroll around town? Thankfully, my hotel was in the center of Baku, which was 15 minutes walk to the Baku Boulevard. Therefore, as soon as I checked into my hotel room, I went for my first journey and elected to walk. What better way to get to know a new city than striding its avenues and breathing its air. The city is very pedestrian friendly and they have a lot of subways and Zebra crossings across the city. They even have an underground metro line that can take you possibly anywhere and everywhere around Baku. But I explored all the nearby places on foot.
And then I arrived in the center of the city, down by the shore of the Caspian Sea, and the appeal of Baku reveals itself. It’s Rome, it’s Paris, it’s London. Back in the early 20th century, Azerbaijan went through its first oil boom, and architects from all over Western Europe were commissioned to design buildings for the expanding city. The result is a charming mix of architectural styles, genuinely beautiful buildings that line the city’s traffic-choked streets. I visited the Baku Boulevard, Park Bulvar (Mall next to Baku Boulevard, downtown Baku), 28 Mall and basically checked out the streets of downtown Baku.
Icheri Sheher (Baku’s Old City)
The next day I took a tour of the Old City by car with a tour guide. The Baku Old City is one of the only two UNESCO Heritage Sites in the country so it’s worth a visit if you take an interest in historical legacy and surely it represents an important past of Baku which now seems modern and developed. A very beautiful and picturesque area of the city. Streets breathe history. Suitable for photography. The whole coloring of Baku is in the old city. Here, the future and the past seem to intertwine with each other. The wall divides the city into two parts, into two worlds. One is modern, fast, fussy, the second is unhurried, benevolent, keeping all the traditions of the medieval East, with all its fabulous colors.
I loved wandering around the maze of streets in Old City. Just head off and randomly take turns and see where you pop out! Some of the views you discover are beautiful and everywhere there are vines trailing up the stones and fat lazy cats sunbathing. There’s plenty of shops and restaurants but it doesn’t feel overdone and it’s still very much a residential area. It’s a history galore. Better to go with a Tour Guide to save time and good walking shoes are a must.
The cylindrical tower has many mysterious stories associated with it. Dating back to more than 1000 years, experts believe the UNESCO-listed Maiden Tower served as a Zoroastrian temple before becoming a watchtower in the 18th century. Follow the spiral staircase to the top of the 29 meter-structure (95.1 feet) for the best views of Icheri Sheher.
My favorite fairytale story about the Maiden Tower is the legendary tale of the king willing to force his daughter to marry a man she doesn’t love, which she escapes by asking her father to first build a tower for her, and when it is finished committing suicide by jumping from the top of it has been the subject of many Azerbaijani poems and plays. According to the modified version of the Ballet, the king on his return from his war campaign found that his wife had given birth to a daughter instead of a son. He became furious and ordered the killing of his baby daughter. However, the baby’s nanny took her away to a secret place where she grew up to a beautiful lady. At age seventeen she got engaged to a lover. At this juncture, the king chanced to see her, wanted to marry her and therefore took her away and kept her in the Maiden Tower. The girl’s lover was furious with this turn of events and he managed to kill the king. He then ran to the Maiden Tower to rescue his lover. However, when the girl heard the sound of footsteps approaching towards the tower, she thought that it was the king coming to see her and she immediately committed suicide by jumping down from the tower.
Nevertheless, the Maiden Tower is a must see and the architecture is outstanding. There is a fee to get a car to drop you inside so the top tip is get dropped off outside and walk the last 50m yourself!!
Towering above them all is perhaps Baku’s most impressive sight, the Flame Towers. Inspired by Azerbaijan’s nickname, the “Land of Fires”, these three flame-shaped towers dominate the skyline, and have become something of a national symbol since they appeared in 2012. By night, huge LED displays give the appearance of flames licking the sides of the buildings.
“Little Venice” in Baku Boulevard is a small town built in 1960. It was expanded up to 10.000 sq.m. in 2012. The town has two large and several small islands, which are connected by decorative stone bridges, and gondolas can be seen traveling in the channels full of still and clean water.
Located nearby the Caspian seashore you will feel as if you’re in Venice by visiting ‘Small Town of Venice’. The restaurants located in the ‘islands’ offer various meals of the different cuisine, including Azerbaijanian tasty dishes. It will be interesting firstly to observe around in gondola, later to have a great lunch or dinner in the ‘islands’. Note – It will cost you 3 Manat for a 10-minute ride.
Azerbaijan Carpet Museum displays Azerbaijani carpets and rug items of various weaving techniques and materials from various periods. It has the largest collection of Azerbaijani carpets in the world. If you’re visiting Baku for a short trip then I would personally advise not to waste your time going inside the museum. You can take pictures from outside unless you are crazy about carpets.
Highland Park & Alley of Martyrs
This is a very moving place set on the highest spot in Baku, just across the Flame Towers, where’s the entrance.
You walk an alley of those who gave their lives in the Nagorno-Karabach conflict and those killed by the Soviet oppression forces (Black January 1990) when getting Azer independence from the Soviet Union.
At the end of the alley is an eternal flame with spectacular views of all Baku and the Caspian Sea.
My local liaison saw to it that everyone went to the Alley of Martyrs during their time in Baku — so they could pay their respects to those who gave their lives during Azerbaijan’s fight for independence. This is one of my favorite places in Baku. The story behind this and how well maintained it is, just stuns me! Respect too for the wonderful work they do in the gardens to keep the lane extremely clean and tidy. Other cities could learn a lot from this city.
Named after former Azerbaijani poet, Nizami Ganjavi, the 3.5 kilometre-street (2 miles) forms the main shopping district. As you stroll through, pay close attention as the architecture changes from the baroque, neo-gothic, and neo-renaissance façades and to more mundane Stalinesque styles.
Nizami street is one of the main streets in Baku. Locals love to do shopping in fancy and glamorous brand shops, have dinner in fast food or local/international cuisine restaurant located in Nizami street, finally just walk. And during this walking time take photos. There are quite a lot things that can attract everyone.
Heyder Aliv Center
Heydar Aliyev Center is considered as is one of the main attractions for tourists and has also become a symbol of modern Azerbaijan and modern Baku.
Zaha Hadid, the author of the building’s design, is a worldwide recognized architect and the winner of the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize and Design of the Year award for her design of Heydar Aliyev Center. The overall shape of the building resembles a wave-like ascension from the ground towards the sky followed by the gradual descent down to the earth.
If you want to spend more interesting and unforgettable time in Baku, you should visit Heydar Aliyev Center. You can get a ticket for 15 Manat to explore the 7 story museum. However, I didnt’ visit the Museum since my tour Guide warned me that there’s nothing inside that you haven’t already seen in Old City. So if you have an hour and a half to spare then you can go inside. I opted not to.
This is the best place to visit in Azerbaijan. It’s a four-hour drive from Baku. It’s a very comfortable drive but I would still advise you to take Motion Sickness Tablet right before the journey if you have Motion Sickness like me. But I didn’t feel sick at all. Please don’t sleep on your way because the entire drive is a visual delight that’s not to be missed. There’s so much of natural beauty that your eye can capture while you drive from Baku to Qabala. There are four main attractions that one must visit. The first stop is a Historical Mosque called Jumah Mosque of Shamakhi which is an architectural Marvel, both from the outside and the inside. It’s one of the oldest Mosques in Azerbaijan.
Then comes the second stop which is a lake called Nohur Lake. This place is so mesmerizing that you almost forget to blink! The quality of air is so fresh and the greenery so lush. It almost feels like you’ve stepped inside a fairytale.
There are small stalls that sell fresh fruits and souvenirs which are definitely a bit more pricey than usual. There are paddle boats there too but I feel that one must silently enjoy breathing the fresh air and wondering at the dazzling views of the mountains rather than focusing on paddling. We spent almost 30 minutes taking photos and admiring the place. There is an old man who’s playing a musical instrument and singing songs in the local language for tourists. It makes the whole atmosphere so magical and unforgettable. I’d advise you not to use the public toilets over here as they are very dirty. You should rather use the toilets in the restaurants which are at a 10-minutes drive from the lake.
Our third and the most beautiful stop was the Cable Cars Ride at the Tufandag Resort Station. This place is worth visiting just to travel in the cable cars. The views are so rustic and breathtaking. You have the option for buying tickets for 2 or 4 stops. We didn’t know how much time it would take so we opted for 2 stops which was for 10 manat per person. The ride was fast and we came back within 20 minutes, although we were told that it would take 40 minutes. I wish we had taken the 4 stops ticket which was for 20 manat and it’s an hour long. Since the way to the cable cars is from a 5 star resort, if you need to use clean washrooms, this is the place where you will find the best washrooms of your trip.
The last stop was the Yeddi Gozel Waterfall. There are 7 stages of these waterfalls. Please keep in mind that this place isn’t for the elderly or people who have trouble walking or climbing stairs. Your cars will drop you outside the village. Then either a 4×4 or a small car will take you through the village to the waterfall area. It’s a 10 minutes drive. I’d recommend you to wear sport shoes with a good grip because the waterfall area gets slippery due to rains and I saw many people slipping. We decided to stop at the 4th stage of the waterfall because the stair climb keeps getting steeper and they look very dangerous. This place wasn’t as exciting as I had anticipated. Reason being that the spot where we had to stand to take pictures at the 4th stage of the waterfall was slippery due to rains and mud and I was about to slip twice from there so I got really scared as there was lack of security measures and decided not to go up.
On the whole, I was highly impressed by the culture and the hospitality of the Azerbaijani people. Everyone is very helpful and they go out of their way to explain the directions. The people of Azerbaijan are very honest, real and are very content with their lives. They have a very healthy lifestyle since their food is fresh and non-oily. Also because they walk a lot. They have an amazing sense of fashion. I didn’t see a single man or woman on the streets who wasn’t well-dressed. The skin of the ladies is flawless. They don’t wear so much makeup because they don’t need to. I did spot many girls wearing bold lipsticks during daytime and nighttime. Another thing that I noticed about Baku is that their women work equally as men. I spotted women running mobile phone shops and even working as Municipality Workers in Parks collecting garbage which according to me is commendable.
Azerbaijani food, with its mix of influences from Iran, Turkey and Georgia, is unfairly anonymous on the world scene, but here you get to try it in all its comforting glory. There are plenty of street food stalls and small roadside cafeterias which will have reasonable prices yet authentic food. Baku has its own version of Shawarma which is served in a tandoori naan kind of bread and is more of a doner that has cucumbers and tomatoes inside along with chicken/beef. It’s fairly dry without any sauces and very bland in flavor. The local food is very simple yet flavorful and non-spicy.
Don’t hesitate to ask me for my advice if you are planning on visiting Azerbaijan. You could comment below or message me on Instagram if you need contacts of my Tour Guide or Driver which gave us the most reasonable rates and were reliable and trustworthy.