After visiting Tbilisi, Georgia and Yerevan, Armenia numerous times I finally managed to visit Baku, Azerbaijan too. But unlike other Caucasus capital, I didn’t really know what to expect from visiting Baku.
Since I wasn’t 100% sure I will be let into the country (I blame all the Armenian stamps in my passport) I bothered to research only a few major things to do in Baku. I had no Azerbaijan itinerary planned (which is very unusual for me in a new place) and all in all my trip to Azerbaijan was rather spontaneous. All I saw before my trip were a few random Baku pictures.
It turned out only for good. Azerbaijan enchanted me and Baku was nothing I expected, it was so much better!
Where is Baku, Azerbaijan
Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, is located in the very east of the country, at the shore of the Caspian Sea, on Absheron Peninsula. It is the largest city on the Caspian Sea and the lowest laying capital of the world, with an altitude of 28 meters below the sea level.
You can easily get here by plane, numerous airlines, including low-cost Wizzair flights from Budapest, serve the Baku airport. There is also a convenient night train from Tbilisi, Georgia (I took it).
Baku is often referred to as “the city of winds” and this name is very accurate as the place often deals with harsh winds.
A short history of Baku
Baku was first mentioned in the 2nd century and already in the 8th century the city was the capital of the realm of the Shirvanshahs. In 1509 it was incorporated into the Persian state, ruled by the Safavid dynasty.After the Russian-Persian war at the beginning of the 19th century, Baku fell under the Russian rule.
In the mid-1800s the oil drilling started in the area, shaping the future of the city. Very quickly Baku and surroundings became the most important oil producers in the world. By the beginning of the 20th century the population of the city grew rapidly, even faster than London’s or New York’s.
After being part of the Soviet Union, in 1991 Azerbaijan regained its independence with Baku as the capital city.
What to see in Baku
I spent only one day in Baku but that was enough to fell under the city’s spell.
The capital of Azerbaijan is where the tradition and modern architecture mingle, creating one of a kind place. To achieve this new kind of capital many of the buildings from the Soviet times had to be demolished but the final effect is really impressive.
If you are short on time, like I was, there are a few things to see in Baku you can’t miss.
Be sure to visit the walled old town, wander around the narrow streets and maybe get lost in the maze of winding lanes.
Once you are in the neighborhood go up to the top of Maiden Tower for some nice views of the old town and beyond. You can see here a very clear contrast between the old part of the city and the modern Flame Towers – the symbol of the new Baku.
There is a really nice part of the city close to the old town, at the Fountains Square and surrounding streets. This area is much more lively than the older part of the city, with numerous restaurants and shops.
From near the old town, you can take the funicular up to near the Flame Towers and see the city from another perspective. Keep in mind the funicular doesn’t work on Mondays, which is exactly when I was there.
But even if you have to walk up it’s worth all the effort as the view from up there is really lovely, with the Caspian Sea and the city in front of you. You can also admire Flame Towers from the close.
The Caspian Sea promenade is a perfect place to stroll around, watch the life goes by and see some more examples of modern architecture in Baku, such as Baku Crystal Hall or the Carpet Museum. This area is especially nice in the evening, when it’s busy with people.
Be sure to take the metro (which is really beautiful anyway) to Heydar Aliyev Centre – the real masterpiece of modern architecture, designed by the famous Zaha Hadid. The building is incredible through and through! It is possible to visit it inside too but again, not on Mondays when I was in Baku.
If you still have time there are two spectacular mosques you should visit – Bibi-Heybat Mosque and Heydar Mosque, however they are both a bit outside of the center (although easily reachable by metro).
Tips for best Baku pictures
Baku is one of the most picturesque cities I’ve been to, offering a wide variety of themes. Even if you are an amateur photographer, like me, I’m sure you will find your Baku pictures very rewarding.
Below are some tips for the best Baku photos.
You don’t need to be in the old town very early in the morning to take pictures without people. I was there between 8 and 9 in the morning and there was almost no one around. However, since it was July, the sun was already up high and a bit too strong for my taste so aim for the morning golden hour or shortly after it.
While the view from the Maiden Tower is really great, the viewing platform on top is surrounded by the glass that disturbs the pictures a bit.
I was at the Heydar Aliyev Centre in the afternoon, when the golden hour was just starting and it was the most perfect timing for pictures of this spectacular building.
I would recommend going to the viewing terrace next to the Flame Towers in the morning or an hour or so before the sunset. I was there around the sunset time and it was a bit too late for my taste, even if at some point the sky had a nice pink look.
The Caspian Sea promenade is the best in the early evening when there is so much going on but you can still take nice pictures of the view.
It is strongly prohibited to take pictures in Baku metro hence I don’t have any, after my encounter with police in Kharkiv (Ukraine) metro I didn’t want to repeat it in Azerbaijan. You can, of course, try to sneak a shot or two but I would look carefully around first.
The so-called golden hour is usually the best time for taking pictures, it usually lasts from the sunrise for one hour and from one hour before the sunset to the sunset. I use the app “PhotoTime” on my phone for the exact golden hour times but there are plenty of other apps you can choose from.
And here is a small collection of Baku pictures that will show you the beauty of the city and will hopefully inspire you to visit Baku soon.
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