The eternal flames of Baku

As Baku revs up for the 6th Formula 1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix, to take place from June 10 to 12, here’s an introduction to what you can see, do and experience in Azerbaijan’s eclectic capital city.

From the modern elegance of the Flame Towers standing proudly above to the medieval UNESCO-listed Old City at its core, there is something for everyone in Azerbaijan’s stunning capital.

Baku’s Old City is a UNESCO-protected site surrounded by 12th-century walls, having witnessed centuries of history and formidable architecture with Shirvanshahs’ Palace occupying the highest spot in the citadel and mysterious Maiden Tower.

Beyond its main attractions, the ‘Inner City,’ as it’s called by the locals, is a labyrinth of narrow alleyways home to some of Baku’s oldest residents, as well as artists’ workshops, souvenir stalls and traditional restaurants serving classic Azerbaijani dishes. A traditional breakfast in this part of the city is highly recommended.

On the other side of these walls is a completely modern skyline with a number of architectural landmarks, such as the Heydar Aliyev Centre, Carpet Museum, Deniz Mall – the largest mall in the Caucasus region with a line of entertainment options for adults and children alike, as well as the Flame Towers, which can be seen from many points of the city, while completing the mesmerising panoramic view from the Highland Park.

Baku Boulevard is where you can feel the Caspian breeze and vibe at its best. It is also a great destination for bicycle rides. Stop for a ride on the Baku Eye, to float along the canals of “Little Venice” or take a short cruise across the Baku Bay. And, of course, a myriad of dining options at one of several contemporary restaurants serving great national cuisine, often accompanied by local folk music, and drink tea at a classic Azerbaijani teahouse.

The world’s first oil tanker museum is also located on the Baku Boulevard.

Baku city has a great network of buses connecting different parts of the city as well as taxis with digital accessibility. A wide range of accommodation exists in the city – from luxury hotels to affordable hostels and everything in between.

New international hotels are expected to open in the third quarter of this year – notable among them are the Ritz Carlton, Hotel Indigo and Wyndham Garden.

A gastronome’s haven, Baku offers a wide selection of mouth-watering treats. Together with delicious local dishes made from organic produce, many restaurants offer international cuisine as well. Yashil Bazaar offers organic and fresh produce right in the heart of the city. It is Baku’s largest food bazaar packed with organic fruit and vegetables, herbs and spices, nuts and dried fruits, juices, compotes and jams, as well as local delicacies like caviar and saffron. Another soon-to-open food market in Baku is Sharg Bazari, which will offer patrons a total area of 9,000 square metres of gastronomic retail.

Venturing a bit further afield from Baku’s city centre, there are several interesting outings under an hour’s drive from the city centre that serve as perfect day trips.

The UNESCO-listed Gobustan State Historical and Cultural Reserve, for instance, is a collection of over 6,000 ancient petroglyphs, which provide a glimpse into prehistoric life, dating back as far as 40,000 years. Just a short drive away from Gobustan Rock Art, are the majestic and unique mud volcanoes. This is also the site of the much-anticipated Mud Volcanoes Tourism Complex, set to open to public by the end of this year.

Located only 30km from Baku’s city centre, Ateshgah and Yanardag are also two unique places to visit for natural history enthusiasts. In Ateshgah, you can see traces of ancient fire worshippers, while in Yanardag (or the Burning Mountain), you can observe one of Azerbaijan’s most famous sights, home to natural flames that have been burning for thousands of years. You can even hop on an electric off-road scooter to explore this place.

Baku Tourism Information Centre (BTIC) arranges tours to the Gobustan reserve, Yanardag and Ateshgah reserves. Baku City Tour Hop-on/Hop-off buses are also available with tours that last 1 hour and 30 minutes. The BTIC currently helps tourists with access to 16 destinations, so they can explore these in a short period of time from Baku.

The BTIC is also working on new tours to historical places in Absheron Penisula, such as the 12th century Quadrangular castle, Gala State Historical and Ethnographic Reserve, Bibi-Heybat mosque and Absheron National Park, so watch this space for more.