On the fault line between East and West, Baku is unlike anywhere else on earth. Azerbaijan's capital offers a fascinating Soviet legacy, soaring towers that could have been transplanted from Shanghai, along with a beautiful ancient center. Contradictory it may be, but Baku is always a delight.
Baku's Old City dates back almost a thousand years. Ringed with an impressive set of walls, it sits atop a maze of tunnels and features countless historic sights, including the Maiden Tower.
Baku sits on the Caspian Sea, the world's largest inland sea. Take cruises across the sea, explore beaches like Bilgəh or stroll along Baku's elegant seafront promenade.
Baku is rich with museums, including a recently opened Carpet Museum, the National Museum of Azerbaijan History, and the Museum of Modern Art, which includes works by Picasso and Dalí.
Baku's hinterland is well worth visiting, from the Ateshgah Fire Temple to the spectacular natural gas vents of Yanar Dag.
If you are a kebab fan, Baku is the place to head. For a treat, try the liver kebabs from Sultan's, a local favorite.
A historical monument that is breathtaking in its scale, the Palace of the Shirvanshahs is made up of stunning mausoleums, gran stone pavilions, intricate stone carvings, and mosque spires. It also includes a bathhouse. These are all the markings of the presence of the 15th-century Shirvanshah dynasty and the beautiful palace still stands tall and majestic, if a little dusty and characteristically worn with age, rising and visible from a distance. Anointed by UNESCO as a World Heritage site, an afternoon roaming its beautiful steps and terraces would be an afternoon spent whisked back in time.
So iconic and central to the Azerbaijani culture is it that the Miden Tower appears on the Azeri currency notes, stamps, and official letterheads. The Maiden Tower stands alongside the Palace of the Shirvanshahs and is also on UNESCO's World Heritage list. Once you look past its imposing and stalwart stone facade and climb up its stairs to the very top, it's easy to see why: besides being a monument dating back to the 12th century, the Maiden Tower gives visitors a unique, panoramic view of the Old City, Baku Boulevard and the sparkling waters of the Baku Bay. And what about when you're done delighting in the view? Head down to its mini museum, which marks the historical evolution of the city.
Comprised of multiple fountains encapsulated within the main square, this area has an instantly calming effect on all those who gather at her steps. And, yet, it is also the place where the city hosts large public gatherings, cultural festivals and outdoor events. Once you've strolled around and taken in the beauty of the Fountain "Balls" at night or the glint of sunset off the fountain in the Governor's Garden, it's easy to see why. The modern passages and stylistic cobblestone streets create a distinctly mixed cultural experience: there are flourishes from Soviet rule, Mediterranean influences, Persian and Balkan remnants, and Arabian palm trees.
Lady Luck has blessed Baku with the history, culture and the desert beauty of the natural world. The Gobustan National Park is better known as Gobustan Rock Art Cultural Landscape and, unsurprisingly, its historical significance along with its unique landscape has catapulted it to yet another UNESCO World Heritage site. The petroglyphs carved into the rockfaces date back at least to 10,000 B.C. and there are more than 6,000 of these markings made by early civilizations. Walking through its deeply-etched ravines and traveling up its rocky hills is an exploration in itself.
Designed by the late, incomparable British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid, the Heydar Aliyev Center is a cultural point of attraction for visitors and locals alike. It houses an auditorium, a gallery, and a museum. It's fluid and flowing form are the mark of a rapidly modernizing and prosperous Baku.
High summer can be a little intense for some, so visit between April and June or September to October for the best weather. Winters tend to be chilly, and many attractions close for the season.
Heydar Aliyev International Airport (GYD) is 15 miles out of town. To reach Baku, take the express bus, which costs ₼1.30 or take a taxi for around ₼60.
Baku has rail connections to Moscow and other Russian cities, as well as Kiev in Ukraine.
If you are driving north from Bilasuvar, take the E119. From Mingecevir and the west, take the E60 all the way to Baku.
Buses run into Baku from all of Azerbaijan's major cities, and there are international services from Russia and Iran as well.
Baku has some incredible hotel options, including the lavish Fairmont Baku, Flame Towers with its rooftop pool, and the Sheraton Baku, which is handy for the airport.
İçərişəhər - Baku's old town, İçərişəhər is a UNESCO-listed gem. Don't miss the views from the 95-foot-high Maiden Tower.
Khutor - another old part of Baku, Khutor is full of flower-decorated lanes and buzzes with street life. Safe and charming, it's a great place to explore on foot.
Yaşıl Bazar - Baku's major market, Yaşıl Bazar is the place to go to find fresh, juicy pomegranates and locally made quince jam.
NIIM runs buses and the subway in Baku. A single ticket costs just ₼0.20, so they represent excellent value. If you ride the subway, you'll need to buy a BakiKart for ₼2 before traveling.
Taxis are a cheap way to get around in general, charging about ₼1.30 for every mile.
Car rental options in Baku include AvtoRent, AzRent, and Aznur. Expect to pay about ₼35 per day.
Baku's bazaars include Yaşıl and Taza, and both are great places to shop for bargains. There are also huge malls at Park Bulvar and Port Baku, which are crammed with international brands.
Supermarket options include Makromart, Bizim, and Neptun, where you can expect to pay around ₼2.50 for 12 eggs.
If you want to enjoy some of the finest kebabs on earth, head to restaurants like Sultan's, Sehrli Tandir, or Şəki. There are also plenty of Chinese, Japanese, Italian, and French places as well. Expect good kebabs to cost around ₼5-10, but gourmet meals to come to far more, around ₼40-50.