Since opening up an easy e-visa system in 2017, the previously difficult-to-visit Caucasian nation of Azerbaijan has been attracting more and more intrigued tourists. Though a small country, Azerbaijan boasts an incredibly diverse climate and a very interesting history dating back thousands upon thousands of years, however, most visitors to this oil-rich nation choose to visit the glitzy capital of Baku. Because Azerbaijan is something of an “off the beaten path” destination, finding the ideal information on how to plan a Baku itinerary can be difficult.
Not a lot is known about Baku and you would be forgiven for not knowing what there is to do in this glitzy, grand, and bizarre city. However, spending a couple of days in Azerbaijan’s capital is sure to be an experience you will look back upon for years to come. So if you’re wondering how to put together the perfect Baku itinerary, then follow this route to ensure you have the best time ever in the Azeri capital.
Is Baku Worth Visiting?
If you’re embarking on a longer route through the Caucasus and are wondering about whether you should add Baku onto your itinerary, then take this into consideration.
When we were first looking into visiting Baku, we were wondering if it was worth it. We weren’t sure what to expect from the oil capital of the Caspian and were very much wondering if Baku was worth it when we were first planning our trip. Though there isn’t a lot of information out there on Baku, curiosity eventually won and we applied for our e-visas and booked a spot on the Tbilisi to Baku night train.
In the end, we were immensely glad that we made the decision to visit Baku. The city has a lot to offer tourists and, even though it is trying to market itself as a luxury getaway similar to Dubai, it is just as appealing for backpackers or those visiting on a budget.
Sure, you can spend an entire week or more in Baku just hopping from one designer shop to another while admiring the ultra-modern architecture. However, you can just as easily spend a few days wandering through the UNESCO-listed Old City, learning about Baku’s long and complex history, and being charmed by the grand avenues filled with beautiful baroque architecture.
Baku is an incredibly grand city and there are so many sides to it that the sheer complexity of it is enough to draw any traveller there. So, is Baku worth visiting? Our resounding answer is “yes.”
If you’ve decided to take the leap and visit Baku (and you should!), then there are a few things you need to keep in mind when it comes to entering this glitzy city.
First things first, it is very much worth knowing that it is most likely that you will need to apply for an e-visa in advance before visiting Azerbaijan. Only citizens of Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan can enter Azerbaijan completely visa-free.
As of 2018, there are a handful of countries that can enter Azerbaijan with a visa on arrival, however, these are only available at an international airport, not at a land border. Some of these countries include Israel, South Korea, Japan, and Singapore.
Almost everyone else is going to need to apply for an e-visa prior to travelling to Azerbaijan. Over 90 nationalities are eligible for an e-visa, some of which include citizens of all EU nations, the United States, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. A typical e-visa takes about 3 full days to process (though you may get it approved sooner) and costs $24 USD. You will need to make sure that all of your information is entered in correctly and you must upload a copy of your passport.
Once your visa is approved, you will need to print it out and then present it to immigration along with your passport while at the border. While we have heard conflicting stories of “highly vigilant” border guards in the past, when we crossed the border into Azerbaijan in April of 2019, we were barely questioned by immigration and none of our luggage was searched.
While you may encounter some more questioning if you have previously travelled to Armenia when entering Azerbaijan (the two have closed borders), we have also heard conflicting stories regarding this. One woman we met from New Zealand who had previously travelled to Armenia was asked one or two questions about the nature of her trip there. Another man from Lebanon was not asked about his trip to Armenia at all.
One thing that will prevent you from obtaining an e-visa or from entering Azerbaijan at all will be if you’ve travelled to the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh). If you have travelled here, you are barred from entering Azerbaijan for life — or until the dispute is resolved.
Azerbaijan is a Muslim-majority country, however, it has been incredibly secular for some time and there is no state religion declared. Therefore, you will not see many local women wearing hijabs, consumption of alcohol is at a level consistent with Christian-majority countries, and in Baku, loudspeakers announcing the call to prayer are banned, though over 90% of the population identifies as Muslim.
Though there isn’t much religious adherence in Azerbaijan, the country is still quite culturally conservative, and traditional gender norms reign supreme, especially in more local joints in Baku. There are, for instance, cafes and bars where women might feel unwelcome and it may be unwise to wear anything too revealing.
It is also very much a more male-dominated society and it is rare to see many women working in most establishments, except for the more European-style cafes and shops.
Even the idea of men wearing shorts is a controversial topic in Azerbaijan. While the general consensus among locals is that it is okay for foreigners to wear what they will, you still might get some uncomfortable looks and glances.
I would also say it would be unwise to wear short skirts or shorts as a woman in Baku, no matter what time of year it is. Men can be a bit less cautious with their clothing choices.
How Many Days in Baku?
When planning your Baku itinerary, it can be difficult to figure out just how many days you should devote to exploring the city. As a major capital and the biggest city in the Caucasus region, Baku is massive and has quite a lot to keep visitors occupied for at least a few days.
However, if you’re short on time or want to make sure you get the most out of the Azeri capital, I would say that it is worth spending 3 days in Baku. This amount of time will allow you to see all of the highlights of the city in the downtown and Old City areas. It will also allow you to go on a day trip to some of the amazing sites surrounding the city.
If you’re short on time, spending two days in Baku is possible and worth it as well, it is just unlikely that you will be able to fit as much as you might like into your Baku itinerary. It is possible to pack the main sites of the Old City and downtown into the first day and then devote the second day to a day tour. Alternatively, you could spend two full days in Baku proper and really dig as deep as possible into the city (follow the first two days of this itinerary!)
Regardless if you have 2 or 3 days in Baku, you are sure to be charmed by the cosmopolitan and modern vibes that this city of contrasts has to offer.
3 Days in Baku Itinerary
Though Baku is quite a large city, the majority of its main tourist sites are actually within very easy reach of each other on foot. If you’re not keen to walk all over the place while in Baku, the city is well-serviced by a great metro system that will get you where you need to go. You can purchase a single ticket from machines at every station for 0.50 AZN.
Taxis are also affordable in Baku, but be sure to be aware of scams. To avoid being overcharged, it is best to call a taxi in advance. You can do this either using the Bolt app or Uber Azerbaijan, which is separate from the normal Uber app and requires an Azeri phone number to use. Because of this, we stuck with the Bolt app while in Baku and had good experiences.
Baku Itinerary: Day One
The first day of this Baku itinerary sees you exploring the lovely UNESCO-listed Old City. This area of Baku sets it apart from the likes of other oil-rich cities like Dubai as the history here dates back centuries.
Baku Original Free Walking Tour
Arguably the best way to get started on you Baku itinerary is with a free walking tour of the Old City and the surrounding monuments. Though the free walking tour craze hasn’t quite taken off here as much as it has in other European cities, the Baku Free Tour, run by the incredibly knowledgeable Gani, is an excellent way to get your bearings and learn about Baku.
The Baku Original Free Walking tour meets every day at 11 AM in front of the Pizza Hut/KFC in Fountain Square. Though the tour is free, because demand isn’t super high, you need to make sure to book in advance online.
The tour will take you all over the old city and explain all of the histories of the area along with some nuances of Azerbaijani culture that you may have not been aware of. Some of the highlights include learning about the disputed history of the Maiden Tower, stopping by the thousand-year-old Muhammad Mosque, and even seeing the smallest book in the world in the Miniature Book Museum, which holds the Guinness World Record for the largest collection of miniature books (who knew that was even a thing?).
The tour will also take you by the Shirvanshahs Palace and allow you to admire the beautiful architecture Azerbaijan State Philharmonic Hall, which is modelled off of the Monte Carlo Casino in Monaco.
While we always recommend free walking tours in most cities that offer them, this one was easily one of the best we’ve been on and it will give you some invaluable information on the history and culture of Baku that you will not get from simply reading a guide — including this one!
After the free walking tour, head to lunch at Dolma, which will give you a great introduction to Azerbaijani cuisine and agreeable prices.
Though you will go by this on the free walking tour, it can be worth visiting one of Baku’s most famous monuments on its own.
The Maiden Tower, which was built sometime between the 4th and 12th centuries (a lot is unknown about this structure), is one of the most defining structures in Azerbaijan’s capital. Though the true purpose of the building is not completely known and there are over twenty legends and mysteries surrounding it, there is no doubt that is is an iconic part of the Baku cityscape.
Entry into the Maiden Tower costs 15 AZN per person and it includes a small museum about Baku and the tower within. The views from the top are fine, however, it may not be worth the entry fee to get in. It is also surrounded by glass, which makes it difficult to take good photos from the top.
Palace of the Shirvanshahs
Constructed in the 15th Century by the former king, Ibrahim I of Shirvanshah, this beautiful palace complex is one of the top places to visit on any Baku itinerary.
Surrounded by a lot of fascinating history, it is worth going in to see the beautiful Persian architecture and learning about how upper classes lived in Baku centuries ago. The view of the city from the entrance to the palace is also one of the best in Baku, as it expertly combines the antique architecture of the old city combined with sights of the ultra-modern Flame Towers.
The back door is also one of the only examples of Ottoman architecture in the city, but here you can also find an interesting addition to Baku: the cat house. These houses are scattered around the city to provide shelter and a place for food and water to the city’s many stray cats. When we were there, there was a mother with four adorable kittens who had taken up residence there.
Entry into the palace is 15 AZN per person, with significant discounts for students with a vald ID.
Baku Itinerary: Day Two
Day two of this Baku itinerary sees you getting outside of the old city and exploring the grand downtown area. Today is where you will get a better idea about how Baku has evolved over time and the influences it has had over the centuries.
Start your day at the local marketplace, the Taza Bazaar. Located only about a fifteen-minute walk from Fountain Square, few tourists really venture this way, however, it can be worth checking out, especially to see where locals shop and to sample some local produce from native producers.
Though not as lively and bustling as some other marketplaces in the Caucasus like Kutaisi’s Green Bazaar, it is still an interesting stop on your Baku itinerary and it is likely you won’t encounter another tourist while you are there.
If you’re interested in Soviet architecture, there is also a unique building across the street that is home to the Baku State Circus. Downtown Baku isn’t full of Soviet-style architecture and the city-scape is changing so rapidly that it is unknown whether this building will be around for much longer.
Azerbaijan Carpet Museum
After spending time at the Taza Bazaar, head over to the seaside and visit the intriguing Azerbaijan Carpet Museum. Though this may sound like a peculiar concept for a well-curated museum, it is worth the 7 AZN entry fee to see.
Azerbaijan has an incredible history of carpet-making and this museum excellent displays some beautiful carpets, which are wonderful works of art, over three floors. It also includes local artisans who will demonstrate how these carpets are made by hand.
Our favourite part of the museum was on the top floor, which included carpets depicting images of stories and landmarks from Azerbaijan. It is truly amazing to see the amount of skill and detail that goes into these carpets and plan to spend at least 1-2 hours exploring all of this museum.
Caspian Seaside Promenade
After learning about Azeri carpet making, it’s time to take a stroll along the lovely park lining the beautiful Caspian sea
If the weather is fine, you will see lots of people out and about enjoying the sea breeze and the pleasant vibes of this area of the city. There are a few cafes along the promenade and there is also a bizarre area known as Little Venice that is full of man-made canals and bridges.
After enjoying the views of the Caspian, head to lunch at Cezar, a local restaurant close to the gate of the old city.
Explore Downtown Baku
After spending some time along the Caspian, it’s time to head inland and explore a bit more of the city’s downtown area.
If you want to have some great historical context, we recommend going on the Baku Downtown Free Tour, which starts at 4 PM every day and meets in the same place as the old city tour (it is also necessary to book in advance for this one).
This tour will take you through Fountain Square, where you will learn its history, and along the pedestrianised and luxury-filled Nizami Street. You will also go past the ruins of the Armenian Church where the guide will explain, to the best of his ability, a great unbiased history of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh). He will also take you to the Sahil Garden, where you will learn about why this lovely park is so controversial among locals.
The tour will also take you by a number of other sites and areas where you will learn about famous residents of Baku and some more history of this beautiful city.
Baku Itinerary: Day Three
If you are spending 3 days in Baku, then your last day should be spent exploring some sites outside of the city proper, along with one of the city’s most famous buildings.
Though it is possible to take a taxi to all of these places yourself or to hire a car a drive there on your own, getting there by public transport is nearly impossible. This is why we recommend taking an organised day tour. We opted to book through Tes Tours, who have an office in the old city, and was well worth the 50 AZN per person price.
We had a friendly and knowledgeable guide who was able to give us a lot of context and information about the things we were seeing and offered great insight into life in Azerbaijan today.
As one of the most popular sites to visit as a day trip from Baku, the mud volcanoes are located about 80 kilometres outside of the Baku city centre and are a truly fascinating place to see.
As some of the only mud volcanoes that are powered from natural gas rather than geyser forces, these mounds of bubbling mud are reached by a bumpy dirt road. The landscape surrounding them will make you feel as you’ve left Earth altogether and they are certainly worth the journey out there.
There is also no entry fee for the mud volcanoes, so you can enjoy this bizarre natural phenomenon completely free of charge.
Gobustan Rock Art
Located not far from the mud volcanoes is another one of Azerbaijan’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the ancient petroglyphs of Gobustan are a fascinating place to visit on any Baku itinerary.
This historic site is filled with remnants of the prehistoric man, as evidenced by the thousands of years old cave drawings on the rock faces. Some of the petroglyphs are more than 15,000 years old and the area contains more than 6,000 rock paintings dating through tens of thousands of years.
The paintings depict the life and culture of the prehistoric humans who lived in cave areas and have provided archaeologists and anthropologists with much historical insight into the first humans.
Entry into the rock art area costs 10 AZN for adults and 1 AZN for students.
Ateshgah Fire Temple
If you are curious to learn about religion in Azerbaijan before the country became predominantly Muslim, then visiting the Fire Temple of Baku is one of the best places to see in Azerbaijan.
This Zoroastrian temple has been in its place since the 17th or 18th centuries, however, it is an excellent place to learn about the worlds first monotheistic religion. This temple is equipped with a few flames that are powered by natural gas, so they will never be extinguished.
Zoroastrians believe that fire is the physical manifestation of God on Earth and therefore it is incredibly sacred for them. It is also the basis for the followers of the Lord of Light from Game of Thrones.
Entry into the Fire Temple costs 4 AZN for adults and 1 AZN for students.
Azerbaijan is known as the “land of fire” and nowhere does that become more evident than the fire mountain. This small bit of a hillside just outside of Baku is the sight of a natural gas fire that has been burning for decades.
While it might sound kind of cool to go see a burning mountainside — I was very excited to see this for myself — it might be worth it to lower your expectations and, honestly, it can be worth skipping altogether. Because of how much Azerbaijan has drained its natural resources, the fire isn’t nearly as big as it used to be. It takes up about one metre of a hillside and, in all honesty, I have seen more impressive fires while camping.
If you do end up visiting, they do charge a 2 AZN entry fee. They are doing significant renovations around the area of the fire mountain that also includes very clean, western-style toilets. So, if anything, it is worth the stop to avoid a squatter!
Heydar Aliyev Centre
As one of the most iconic buildings in Azerbaijan today, no visit to Baku is complete without a visit to the incredible Heydar Aliyev Centre.
Officially opened in 2012, this beautiful modern building designed by British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid is one of the most mesmerising works of contemporary architecture in the world today. The building won the 2014 Design Museum’s Design of the Year award, making Hadid the first woman in history to win.
The main enjoyment of the Aliyev centre is outside of the building, where you can very much enjoy the gorgeous architecture and some of the outdoor temporary exhibitions. Inside, the centre boasts a massive auditorium, a museum, and conference rooms.
Where to Eat & Drink in Baku
Azeri cuisine takes influences from many of its neighbours and friends, including Iran, Turkey, Georgia, and Russia, making a diverse cuisine that is worth sampling. Though it is possible to get some vegetable dishes, the cuisine is meat-heavy so it may prove difficult to be a vegetarian here.
Dolma — Though tourist-friendly, this restaurant serves a range of traditional Azeri fare at agreeable prices. The service is quite good as well.
Xezer Kafe — Located close to the old city gates, this local place has a wide menu with Azeri favourites including delicious soups, dolma, and salads. They also have an English menu to make ordering easier.
Bir Iki — This is a great option if you’re after a quick but tasty doner or shwarma after a long day of sightseeing in Baku. They offer both eat-in and takeaway options.
Coffee Moffie — This is a fantastic cafe if you are looking for a good espresso drink, a cup of Azeri tea, or a glass of local wine. Set with a trendy vibe, this cafe also acts as something of a coworking space for Baku’s freelancers and has a great wifi connection as well.
Where to Stay in Baku
Baku is trying to distinguish itself as a luxury destination, with ample choice for high-end hotels that will set you back a month’s salary. Despite this, however, there are a number of great budget and mid-range accommodation options available in the city as well. These are some of our suggestions:
Cth Hostel Baku — This small guesthouse offers a number of private single or double rooms at very affordable prices. There is a fantastic and hearty breakfast included and it is well-located within walking distance of most main sights. The staff only speaks limited English. Click here to see their latest prices
Sahil Hostel — A popular choice amongst backpackers and solo travellers in Baku, this hostel is a great choice in the city. Located closed to Sahil Metro and within easy walking distance of all the main sites, they have a range of private and dorm rooms available. Click here to see their latest prices
Seven Boutique Hotel — This boutique hotel is an excellent option for those looking for a little more comfort during their Baku itinerary. Well located, they have a range of clean and comfortable rooms available and a helpful staff to make your stay a great one. Click here to see their latest prices
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Baku hotels!
Spending two or three days in Baku is an excellent way to see Azerbaijan’s capital and enjoy the fascinating history and unique culture of this rapidly developing city.
When travelling in Baku, it’s always a good idea to make sure you have a travel insurance policy so you’re covered for any unfortunate events! We like WorldNomads and always use them for our trips – click here to get a quote from WorldNomads
Are you planning a Baku itinerary? Have you been to Baku? Let us know in the comments!