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Things to do in Baku

Whether you want to visit ancient monuments, shop for Azeri crafts, gawp at striking modern architecture or just chat in a traditional teahouse, you’ll find plenty to do in Baku.

Baku’s Old City is a web of narrow streets lined with medieval mosques and small boutiques, while neighbouring Nizami Street’s pavements and cafés act as a parade ground for the city’s residents. Fans of high culture will love the city’s contemporary Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre and the Art Nouveau Azerbaijan State Academic Opera and Ballet Theater, while people who enjoy seeing and being seen will enjoy glossy meeting spots like restaurant and nightclub Chinar or traditional music in the old courtyard at Mugham Club. Beyond the suburban oil wells that feed the city are the sandy, clean beaches of the Absheron Peninsula, where the dunes of the Absheron National Park provide a welcome break from the city.

Baku sightseeing.

Baku sightseeing

Among Baku Old City’s narrow streets and small mosques, visit the beautifully carved 15th century Shirvanshah Palace and the medieval Maiden Tower, a city icon that appears on Azerbaijan’s banknotes. Further out is the Ateshgah Fire Temple, a 17th century religions complex still used by Baku’s Zoroastrian community. For contemporary monuments, the city’s unmistakable modern signatures are the dramatic Flame Towers, three flame-shaped skyscrapers that dominate the city’s skyline. Elsewhere, the Zaha Hadid-designed Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre, somewhat resembling a melted spacecraft, is just as impressive.

Baku beaches.

Baku beaches

The Absheron Peninsula, on which Baku is built, has some good sandy beaches at its far Eastern end. The most popular spots, such as the popular Amburan Beach Club and the huge Jumeirah Bilgah Beach Hotel, charge entry and attract wealthy Bakuites to their poolside bars and loungers. For longer beach breaks from Baku, it’s advisable to head north to pristine Nabran, a beach resort three hours drive north of the city.

Baku shopping.

Baku shopping

Azerbaijan makes some of the world’s most beautiful carpets, which can be found at the Old City’s Brothers Carpets (be aware that carpets over 30 years old will need an export licence). Further out, the Teze Bazar is a market for locals rather than visitors, selling delicious dried fruit and caviar to anyone prepared to haggle. To find where Baku’s new rich get their designer clothes, head for one of Emporium’s three branches, selling gear from the likes of Stella McCartney, Diane Von Furstenberg and Michael Kors.

Baku restaurants.

Baku restaurants

Housed in a beautiful arcaded caravanserai (a form of inn), Mugham Club serves Azeri charcoal grills and has traditional music shows in its courtyard nightly. For something more modern try “contemporary Caspian” restaurant Sahil, which serves unusual dishes like charcoal roast sturgeon with saffron butter, in a chic modern pavilion. For a cheap but authentically Azeri meal, try Firuza, a good place to try Azeri mezze such as stuffed vine leaves or lürma bogçada pies stuffed with dried fruit and mince.

Baku nightlife.

Baku nightlife

For culture buffs, it’s worth attending a performance at the Art Nouveau Azerbaijan State Academic Opera and Ballet Theater just to see the stunning building. Later on, Baku’s beautiful people head for Chinar, an opulent, dressy bar, restaurant and lounge that plays smooth house and disco until late. For something more down to earth, the simply named Brewery in the Old City is the only bar in Baku to brew its own beer on the premises.

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