Baku: The City of Winds

Baku: The City of Winds
Photo by Lloyd Alozie / Unsplash

Baku (bɑːˈku:)

Location

Baku, the capital and the largest city of Azerbaijan, also known as “The City of Winds”, is located on the western shore of the Caspian Sea and the southern side of the Absheron Peninsula, around the wide curving sweep of the Bay of Baku. The official currency of Azerbaijan is known as Manat (₼) where $100 USD is equivalent to 170₼ AZN. The official language of Azerbaijan is Azerbaijani, a Turkish language, which is widely spoken all over the country. However, we can also hear fluent Russian, Ukrainian and other languages since citizens of many CIS countries reside in Baku. 

In restaurants and cafes, particularly in downtown Baku, most of the menus are in English. The waiters and servers are usually proficient in English, likewise, in the city’s large shopping centers, offices and local shops English language is widely used.

Baku has a cold semi- arid climate with hot and humid summers, cool and occasionally wet winters and strong winds all year long. It does not see extremely hot summers and substantial sunshine hours unlike many other cities with such climate features. It is largely because of its northerly latitude and the fact that it is located on a peninsula on the shore of the Caspian Sea.

How to get there?

There are four modes of transportations to reach Baku city.

  1. Plane

Heydar Aliyev International Airport (GYD) is situated 15 miles out of the town. One should take the express bus to reach Baku which costs ₼1.30 or take a taxi for around ₼60.

  1. Train

Baku has rain connections to Moscow and other Russian cities, as well as Kiev in Ukraine.

  1. Car

If you are driving north from Bilasuvar, take the E119. If you are driving from Mingecevir and the west, take the E60 all the way to Baku.

  1. Bus

Buses run from all of Azerbaijan's major cities into Baku and there are international bus services from Russia and Iran as well.

Visa Conditions

Citizens from Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan do not need a visa to enter Azerbaijan and can stay for 90 days whereas citizens from Turkey can stay visa- free for up to 30 days.

On the other hand, citizens from Bahrain, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, Macau, Malaysia, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates can obtain a visa-on-arrival which will be valid for 30 days.

As for the citizens of the United States, they can also obtain a 30-days-valid visa-on-arrival in case they are arriving on a direct flight of Azerbaijan Airlines from New York City.

Other countries’ citizens can apply for and get an e- visa which will be valid for 90 days. The visa costs around $20- $35 for single entry and $350 for multi entry depending on which country we are applying from. 

Places to Visit in Baku

  1. Palace of the ShirvanShahs: The Pearl of Azerbaijan

One of the must-see places is the Palace of the ShirvanShahs located in the inner city of Baku. It is a medieval palace and a highlight of the old city which also includes a bathhouse. Listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the palace is the biggest monument of the Azerbaijan architecture which is made up of breathtaking mausoleums, gran stone pavilions, intricate stone carvings and mosque spires. Still standing tall and majestic, the 15th century palace shows the marking of the presence of Shirvanshah dynasty although a little dusty and characteristically worn with age but visible from a distance, this place is a must visit in Baku.

  1. Maiden Tower: Place of Mystery and Legends

Another one on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List, Maiden Tower is a historic monument dating back to the 12th century. This iconic tower also appears on the Azeri currency notes,stamps and official letterheads which may have served as a fire beacon, defensive fortification, astronomical observatory or Zoroastrian Temple making it a mysterious and eccentric tower. From the top of this stalwart stone figure,visitors can see a unique and panoramic view of the Old City,Baku Boulevard and the sparkling waters of the Baku Bay. Maiden Tower also has its own mini museum which showcases the historical evolution of the city.

  1. Fountain Square: The Heart of the City

The real downtown of Baku, Fountain Square, is a place where the city hosts large public gatherings, cultural festivals and outdoor events. It is a place to mingle with the locals and get enchanted by the beauty of multiple fountains while spending quality time at restaurants and designer shops. 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.

  1. Gobustan National Park: A Natural Wonder

It is better known as Gobustan Rock Art Cultural Landscape as the 40,000 years old drawings landed this park a place in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The petroglyphs carved into the rockfaces date back at least to 10,000 B.C. There are more than 6,000 markings made by early civilizations depicting primitive people, animals, battle pieces, bullfights,dances and many more. Walking through its deeply- etched ravines and travelling up its rocky hills is an exploration in itself.  

While you are in Gobustan, don’t forget to visit the famous mud volcanoes of Azerbaijan. These volcanoes spread through Azerbaijan and local people call them “Yanardagh” (burning mountain), “Gaynacha” (boiling water) and “Bozdag” (Grey Mountain).

  1. Heydar Aliyev Center: Modern Curves

This masterpiece of Architecture designed by the late British- Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid is one of the must visit places in Baku. The Heydar Aliyev Center has three distinctly different places, an auditorium, a gallery and a museum. Its fluid and flowing form marks a rapidly modernizing and prosperous Baku which is also a center point of attraction for visitors and locals. 

  1. Carpet Museum: A World Full of Carpets

This museum is a heaven for all carpet lovers and admirers. Carpet museum has a collection of over 10,000 items of ceramics, metal works of the 14th century, different jewelry from the Bronze Age, the largest collection of Azerbaijani carpets in the world, carpets and carpet items from the 17th to 20th centuries,national garments and embroidery and applied art works from the Modern Age. The ages- old rug weaving techniques and materials from different times in the history of Azerbaijan can also be viewed in this museum.

Apart from all these maleficent places, there are other places such as Flame Towers, Seaside National Park, Ateshgah Temple of Fire, Baku’s Hammams (Bath Houses), or just take a stroll on the shore of Caspian Sea. 

When to Visit 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.

Customs and Traditions

In Azerbaijani traditions, guests are treated with utmost respect which can be experienced in the homestays. Serving tea to guests is also one of the ancient traditions. Serving tea just before the main meal with different kinds of jam, sweets and fruit desserts is considered to be a symbol of hospitality. The tea is then served in cups or Armudi Glass which is a symbol of tea ceremony. 

Novruz is the biggest holiday in Azerbaijan which continues for almost a whole month. If you want to visit and experience the most traditions in Azerbaijan, this is the perfect time to book a trip. Gulesh is another important part of Azerbaijani culture. This type of wrestling includes music and dances. The wrestling gyms are all around the country.

Another most energetic and vivid part of traditions in Azerbaijan are dances. These dances are created to tell different stories. They are performed at ceremonies to impress the audiences. These dances are full of life and energy and will remain one of the most vivid memories of your lifetime in this country.

Traveling around Baku

  1. Public Transportation

There are many buses and subways in Baku. A single way ticket for a bus costs around 0.20₼ which is an excellent value. If you ride a subway, you will need to buy a BakiKart for 2₼.

  1. Taxi

To get around in general, Taxis are also a good option which charge around 1.30₼ per mile.

  1. Car

There are different Car rental options available which includes AvtoRent, AzRent and Aznur which costs around 35₼ per day.

Places to Stay in Baku

There are many hotels in Baku ranging from 5 star hotels to 2 star hotels. But if you want to make the most out of your trip, search for a hotel near Khutor. It is another old part of Baku which is full of flower-decorated lanes and buzzes with street life. It is safe and charming and a great place to explore. There is a busy market known as Yaşıl Bazar - Baku's major market. It is the place to go to find fresh, juicy pomegranates and locally made quince jam. There are many hotels near the market which gives you the chance to roam around until late. The price for a night starts from $23.

https://www.booking.com/city/az/baku.html

Places to Eat 

There are so many restaurants in Baku city where you can enjoy the best food and drinks. Popular restaurants like Dolma, Sultan’s, Sehrli Tandir and Firuza are the places where you can get almost anything your taste bud desires. There are vegans and vegetarian restaurants as well with plenty of options available. The traditional food of Azerbaijan has vibrant flavors with a delicate combination of ingredients including beef,lamb, poultry and fish plus locally grown fruits and vegetables. Don’t miss out on bozbash minced meatballs served in broth, dovga sour- milk soup,mouth- watering Baku baklava and shah- pilaf, a flavored rice dish cooked in a paper- thin flatbread. There are plenty of Chinese, Japanese,Italian and French places as well. Good Kebabs can cost around 5₼ to 10₼ but gourmet meals can cost up to 40₼ to 50₼ or more. 

There are many online food delivery services available as well so that you can enjoy the same delicacy in your cozy space.

https://wolt.com/en/aze/baku

https://food.bolt.eu/en-US/335-baku

https://www.foodchow.com/Azerbaijan/Azerbaijan/Baku-restaurants

https://www.fooderos.com/en/aze/baku/restaurants

Conclusion

Beyond its architectural attraction, the warm hospitality of the local people and the energetic atmosphere around the bustling bazaars, Baku is also a hub for the oil industry which has contributed to the city’s wealth. Whether you are a gastronome explorer, a history buff or simply someone in search of a vibrant city with dynamic nightlife, Baku provides an unforgettable experience to every wandering soul.