There is no shortage of interesting things to do in Baku, Azerbaijan – by any measure, it's a fascinating place.
Some people like to say that Baku is “the new Dubai”. I'm here to tell you it's not. Thankfully, Baku couldn't be the new Dubai – it has too much history.
While you will see many sleek new skyscrapers in Baku (courtesy of Azerbaijan's oil wealth), they're intermixed with medieval walls and centuries-old carpet shops. The past is still very much alive.
Here are some ideas on what to do in Baku, Azerbaijan's quirky capital:
Walk Baku's Old City
My favorite part of Baku is the Old City. Baku's historical core, the Old City is surrounded by sand-colored medieval walls and filled with restaurants, shops, and traditional carpet weavers. It's a wonderful place to take a stroll, have lunch, and visit a few attractions.
Climb the Maiden Tower
While you're in the Old City, climb the Maiden Tower, a UNESCO world heritage site.
Interestingly, no one knows why the Maiden Tower was built. Some speculate it was originally a Zoroastrian temple, but the reason is still unknown. In any case, it's worth the six-story climb, and has beautiful views from the top.
Visit the Carpet Museum
Azerbaijan has a rich tradition of carpet weaving, which you can learn about at the Azerbaijan Carpet Museum. The Carpet Museum, which resembles a rolled-up carpet, showcases a stunning collection of carpets from Azerbaijan and Iran. I especially fell in love with the extraordinarily intricate carpets from Tabriz, Iran. (Now I just need to go to Iran, ha.)
Try black tea with jam
You can't visit to Baku without trying black tea with jam. Azeris (who are actually a Turkic ethnic group) drink tea like the Turks: black, sweetened with sugar, and served in a small glass. The twist is that they prefer theirs with a dollop of fruit jam.
You can order tea at almost any restaurant in Baku — jam will be included free of charge.
Ride the subway
One quirky thing to do in Baku is riding the subway. It was constructed by the Soviet Union, and looks like it belongs in a Wes Anderson film. It's clean, safe, and inexpensive, so is a great way to get around town. (Though Ubers are extremely cheap, too!)
Sample Azerbaijani wines
Did you know Azerbaijan produces wine? This may be a little surprising, considering Azerbaijan is a predominantly Muslim country.
If you want to try some, head to KEFLI, a small, cozy wine bar in the city's downtown. KEFLI boasts 100% Azerbaijani wine list, so it's the perfect place to sample a few varietals. They also serve snacks, so you can enjoy a mezze plate along with your glass of red.
Want to sample some traditional Azerbaijani food? (You should — it's fantastic). Start with dyushbara, a traditional soup. Dyushbara are tiny, meat-filled dumplings served in a broth made from mutton bones.
Try dyushbara at Sehril Tendir, an excellent restaurant in the Old City. They feature a bevy of traditional Azerbaijani dishes, as well as the some of the best bread I've ever tried, which is baked on-site in a tandoor oven.
Pay a visit to the Fire Temple (Ateshgah of Baku)
If you do one day trip from Baku, make it the Fire Temple, a former Zoroastrian place of worship. This temple was abandoned in the late 19th century, but still remains popular as a museum. I loved learning about Zoroastrianism, which is one of the world's oldest religions. Their followers are often called fire-worshippers, which is why they have so many places of worship in Azerbaijan, a country that is rich in natural gases.
Experience the mud volcanoes of Gobustan
Another interesting day trip from Baku is the mud volcanoes in Gobustan. Though they aren't true volcanoes (no lava), they bubble up similar to volcanoes, forming dirt mounds.
If you're super into geology or… mud, the mud volcanoes may be worth visiting. I was a little perplexed as to why everyone seemed to be so enthralled by them (Aren't they just… dirt?). But as they say, to each their own.
See Yanar Dag (Fire Mountain)
Another popular day trip option is Yanar Dag. Yanar Dag is a naturally occurring flame that burns continuously on a hillside.
To be honest, I was a little underwhelmed. I may have even said, “Is that it?” at one point. That being said, Yanar Dag is supposedly much more impressive at night, so that's when I'd recommend visiting.
Drive past the James Bond oil fields
On your way back to Baku from Yanar Dag, you will drive past the oil fields made famous by James Bond. Fun fact – Baku produced 72 percent of Soviet oil during WWII, so Hitler wanted to capture the city. Fortunately, the battle of Stalingrad defeated the advancing German army, thereby killing Hitler's dream.
Where to stay in Baku:
Sahil Hostel is an excellent hostel. It has comfortable beds with private lockers, curtains, and sockets and lights in each bunk. It also had a common area where they serve beer and wine. Prices start at $6.50 USD per night for a bunk in a ten-bed dorm. You can check current rates here.
If you have a little wiggle room in your budget, the Baku Hilton is a wonderful choice – it's a super luxurious hotel with excellent amenities. We loved the 360 Bar, which has views of the whole city. Rates start at $155 per night. You can check current rates here.
Note – I wouldn't recommend staying at Zion Hostel. It didn't seem clean and only had one massive dorm in which everyone slept. We left soon after we arrived.
Have you ever visited Azerbaijan? What were your favorite things to do in Baku?
The Carpet Museum costs 10 AZN ($5.80 USD) to enter. If you want to bring your camera, conceal it, otherwise they will charge you extra to bring it in the museum.
The Baku subway costs 0.20 AZN ($0.12) for a single ride. You can take the subway to the Fire Temple.
It costs 5 AZN ($3 USD) to enter the Fire Temple, but 1 AZN ($0.60 USD) if you're a student. Bring your ID!
If you want to take a day trip from Baku, you can arrange it with Baku Tours, which is located in the Old City. We did a day trip with them to the mud volcanoes, the Fire Temple, and Yanar Dag. It cost $21 USD per person. You can book the same one we did here.
Make sure to purchase travel insurance before your trip to Azerbaijan. I've used World Nomads for years and highly recommend it.