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Things to do in Baku

Things to do in Baku

If someone tells you that there are just a few things to do in Baku, just show him/her this article.

 

Maiden’s Tower

This tapering 29m stone tower is Baku’s foremost historical icon with rooftop views surveying Baku Bay and the Old City. Possibly millennia old, its original date of construction is the subject of much debate, though much of the present structure appears to be 12th century. The Azeri name, Qız Qalası, is usually rendered ‘Maiden’s Tower’ in English, leading to plenty of patently fictitious fairy tales. Various versions are considered in the imaginative little multimedia installations that adorn several floors of the tower's interior.

A better translation of Qız Qalası would be ‘Virgin Tower’, alluding to military impenetrability rather than any association with tragic females. It was certainly an incredibly massive structure for its era, with walls 5m thick at the base and an unusual projecting buttress.

 

Heydar Әliyev Cultural Centre

Vast and jaw-droppingly original, this Zaha Hadid building is a majestic statement of fluid 21st-century architecture forming abstract waves and peaks that seem to melt together. The real delight is simply pondering and photographing the extraordinary exterior from ever-changing angles. The interior hosts concerts and several exhibition spaces including a permanent collection featuring the gifts received by Azerbaijan's presidents.

The entrance is from near the western corner. Bus 11 stops near both southwestern and east sides, bus 24 passes a block west of the main entrance.

Palace of the Shirvanshahs

This sandstone palace complex was the seat of northeastern Azerbaijan’s ruling dynasty during the Middle Ages. Mostly 15th century in essence, it was painstakingly (over)restored in 2003 with museum items added since, including one or two entertaining audio-visual surprises. 

Enter via the main ceremonial courtyard. A small gateway on the left leads into the courtyard of the 1428 Divanxanə, an open-sided, octagonal rotunda where Shirvanshah Khalilullah I once assembled his court: a decidedly small court it would seem, judging from the structure’s diminutive size.

 

Fountains Square

Endlessly popular with strollers, this leafy piazza forms Central Baku’s natural focus. The fountains for which it is named include one topped by shiny silvered spheres giving fish-eye reflections of the trees and stone facades.

Don't miss the beautiful statue-inlayed facade of the Nizami Literature Museum, best photographed at night. And outside the large McDonald’s notice the bronze statue of a young lady with umbrella, bare midriff and mobile phone. Very Baku.

 

Bulvar

Full of cafes, fountains and fairground rides, the central sweep of seafront park is eternally popular with families, amateur musicians and courting couples. Striking modernist buildings here include the International Muğam Centre, the Baku Business Centre and the four-storey Park Bulvar Mall. Crossing the main road to reach the promenade area can be awkward but there's a handy underpass in front of the photogenic old Puppet Theatre.

 

Flame Towers

Completed in 2012, this trio of sinuous blue-glass skyscrapers forms contemporary Baku's architectural signature. The three towers range from 28 to 33 storeys – so huge that they're most impressive seen from a considerable distance, especially at night when they form a vast palate for a light show which interchanges between fire effect, pouring water and the national flag.  

 

Historical Museum

Well-presented exhibits on Azerbaijan’s history and culture might miss the odd century here and there, but there’s more than enough to fill several hours if you’re really interested. If not, it’s still worth a brief trot through to admire the opulent 1895–1901 mansion of HZ Tağiyev, one of Baku’s greatest late-19th-century oil barons. Don't miss the dazzling neo-Moorish ‘Oriental Hall’ and Tağiyev's rebuilt art nouveau bedroom.

 

Carpet Museum

Displaying and explaining a superb collection of Azerbaijani rugs, this 2014 museum building is itself designed like a stylised roll of carpet. An idea that probably looked great on paper but does create certain presentation difficulties with some exhibits awkwardly placed on sloping or curving surfaces.

 

Mangal

The main section is a vast hall steakhouse designed to feel like an outdoor village square. Hidden behind is a second stone-walled restaurant serving Azerbaijani cuisine and playing live Muğam music nightly. There's also a 'secret' terrace facing the giant flagmast. Top-notch but pricey.

 

Port Baku

A series of modern semi-chic cafes are ranged along a pedestrianised strip between the high-rise glass towers of Port Baku. Locals consider the development fashionable, but in reality the setting forms an unpleasantly impersonal wind tunnel that's rather lacking in personality.