Azerbaijan Travel Guide
Renowned as the land of fire, Azerbaijan has suddenly exploded on to the global travel scene and it’s no surprise why! This East-meets-West destination is home to an extraordinary array of natural wonders. From spectacular mud volcanoes to breath-taking snow-capped mountains, Azerbaijan is a country full of contrasts, natural beauty and culture.
Acting as a crossroad between Europe and Asia, Azerbaijan’s diversity is most obvious in the capital city of Baku. Here, the contrasting developments of major events such as the Formula 1, and Europa League Finals has led to the capital being renamed as the “New Dubai”. However, amongst the growing number of high rise buildings, Baku still retains its ancient culture and architecture that has been influenced over many centuries and empires.
While the bustling city of Baku attracts many travellers from across the world, it is not the only draw card to this spectacular destination. You see, Azerbaijan has many natural wonders and historical landmarks on offer. Close to the city, you can explore the highest collection of mud volcanoes that sit beside the largest lake in the world, the Caspian Sea. Just a few hours’ drive from the city you can find timeless local villages nestled high up in the beautiful Caucasus Mountains. And to add to the nature, you can also discover the historic fire temples that are worshiped by the Zoroastrians as well as intriguing palaces like the one of Shaki Khans.
Azerbaijan has a rich cultural heritage as evident in the many sacred shrines and temples dotted around the country. Zoroastrians have had a direct influence on Azerbaijan, which can be seen throughout the architecture, cuisine and culture of this incredible country.
After freeing itself from the brutal Soviet Union regime, Azerbaijan has burst into an incredible period of transformation. Fuelled by new found oil refineries and the initiative of the government, Azerbaijan is now opening its door to foreign investment and tourism.
There’s no better time to visit Azerbaijan. See this incredible destination for yourself before the tourist storm and rapid developments take away from Azerbaijan’s compelling culture and traditions.
How to travel to Azerbaijan
Getting to Azerbaijan is simple and straightforward thanks to a great range of flights from Azerbaijan Airlines and British Airways. Regular flights depart from London, Paris, Milan, Moscow, New York, Tel Aviv, Dubai and Tehran. Alternatively you can also travel to Azerbaijan by train. Travelling from Tbilisi in Georgia, an overnight sleeper train will take approximately 18 hours.
Azerbaijani is the national language of Azerbaijan and is spoken by 90% of the population. Azerbaijani is closely related to Turkish and many people can understand both languages. Many also speak Armenian and Georgian, owing to the fact that many people originate from the two countries. Russian is also known and spoken especially in Baku by many locals, since Azerbaijan was part of the Soviet Union. The use of English, treated as a foreign language in Azerbaijan, however, it is steadily increasing in the country. Although, outside the capital, you may have problems communicating as very few people know the language.
Islam is the main religion of Azerbaijan. 97% of the country’s population are Muslims. About 85% of Azerbaijani Muslims profess Shia Islam while 15% are Sunni Muslims. The rest of the population are mainly Christians as a result of the Armenians and Georgians living in the country.
Azerbaijan is a crossroad of cultures and was once part of the Silk Route and more recently, the Soviet Union, which has led to intriguing and diverse cuisine that has influence from Central Asia, Iran, Turkey and Russia. Despite the richness of the cuisine, vegetarians may have a hard time finding food in the area as the options are limited.
Some of the top local dishes that you must try are listed below
The favourite dish amongst travelers and locals alike, dolmas are grape leaves stuffed with rice and meat (generally lamb). Vegetarians have many options to try including rice with cabbage, eggplant, zucchini or tomatoes and onions. The dolmas are generally served with yogurt or tahini.
In 2017, dolma making in Azerbaijan was included into the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists. The tradition is widely known throughout the Republic of Azerbaijan, and is perceived as a central culinary practice in all of its regions.
Made in a similar way to Indian paratha, Qutob is another popular local dish. The flat bread can be stuffed with fresh herbs, butternut squash, ground lamb of beef, pumpkin or cottage cheese and spinach, depending on the region.
Central Asian influences can be seen in the dish of Pilaf, which is essentially the same combination of spiced rice with dry fruits, vegetables and lamb, chicken or mutton served with yogurt.
Now onto the dish influenced by Russians, Dushabaras are tiny little dumplings that can be stuffed with meat, cheese, potato, cabbage, pumpkin or mushroom generally served in a vegetable broth.
Kebab and kofta are Turkish influenced dishes that are commonly found in Azerbaijan.
At the time of writing 1 AZN (Azerbaijani Manat) is worth $1.70 USD. You must carry enough dollars with you and exchange them at the airport or another currency exchange in Baku. You may be able to book some tours and pay at hotels with dollars or euros, however everything else is paid in AZN.
In Baku you will find many ATM machines, and credit cards are accepted almost everywhere. However you will need to carry enough cash with you if you are venturing outside the city, due to the lack of ATMs and places that accept credit cards.
Safety in Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan is a very safe country and you should never feel scared of walking around in Baku, even during the night. Only petty crimes like theft and pickpocketing may take place in crowded places such as the metro. Just exert some common sense and you will not face any problems in Azerbaijan.
AzerCell is the leading provider of internet and offers 4G speed in Baku, however outside of the capital, internet is 3G or 2G speed depending on the area. Despite this, the connectivity is very good as AzerCell covers 99% of the country. The other main company providing the internet is BakCell.
1GB, 5GB and 10GB costs 5, 10 and 15 AZN respectively on both AzerCell and BakCell.
Make sure you carry your passport for registration when buying a sim card.
Azerbaijan released an e-visa portal through which people from 93 countries can apply, including India. You can only apply for a single entry visa and if you need to enter Azerbaijan again you would need to re-apply for the e-visa. The processing time is 3 business days and the visa costs $25.
Beware that if you visit Armenia before Azerbaijan, the passport control officers could ask you various questions and may even reject you an entry because of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, which is officially Azerbaijan territory, essentially controlled by Armenia . If you visit Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenia then you will certainly not be allowed to enter.
Best time to visit Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan is a great destination to visit all year round, but it’s better to avoid the summer months when the temperature can reach up to 40 degrees and the winter months when it can go down to -20 degrees. The best months to visit Azerbaijan are therefore October, April and May, when the temperature is pleasant.
Places to visit in Azerbaijan
Sitting on the fault line between the East and the West, Baku is a city unlike anywhere you’ve ever visited before. This thriving metropolis is in a world of its own and is a must-visit destination for all.
The name ‘Baku’ can be translated to the ‘city of winds’ and after a wander through the city streets, you’ll quickly understand why. Sitting on the western side of the Caspian Sea, Baku’s strong sea breezes swirl across the streets and create tunnels of wind throughout the streets. Offering fascinating sights, breathtaking scenery and a fascinating cultural history, Baku offers something for all kinds of travellers.
The rapid influx of high rise buildings including marvels of architecture like the $350 million Flame Towers, a thriving events scene, together with a great range of restaurants, bars and nightlife makes it easy to see why Baku is dubbed as the new Dubai.
You may call Dubai a concrete jungle, but Baku is far from being one. The incredible transformation of the city has not affected its ancient culture, architectural heritage and communist past as amongst the modern buildings there is an UNESCO listed old town. This ancient palace is as charming as ever and feels like a city within a city. The ever present grey buildings of the communism era still remind us of the inglorious past and the stunning mosques glittered around the city shine from past centuries. Add to that the beautiful promenade overlooking the Caspian Sea and you have an intriguing mix of architecture from the past and present all competing for visitors’ attention. No one does East-meets-West quite like Baku all the while preserving its cultural heritage even with the ever-changing fortunes of the country.
Places to visit in Baku
Not too long ago, the old town constituted the whole city of Baku, whereas in the new era, the Acheri Seri is at the heart of the ever growing and expanding city. Time seems to have stopped here long ago and just a peek outside the walls of the old town, you’ll see a completely different world. Time seems to have stood still for the people still living inside the old town and the contrasts between the two worlds are intriguing.
Getting lost on the cobbled streets of the old town is the best way to look into the fascinating past of Baku and see how far the country has come. Some of the best sights of the old town are listed below.
The Shirvanshahs ruled the area of Azerbaijan for almost 700 years and for some part of their rule, Baku was their home. They fortified the town of Baku and built a palace for themselves that also included a bathhouse, mosque and mausoleums. Today the Palace is converted into a museum that showcases various artefacts and items that would have been worn by Azerbaijani people in the middle ages.
Timings 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM. Entrance fee-15 AZN
One of the symbols of Baku, this beautiful tower is shrouded in mystery. The loss of written records meant that no one quite knows when it was built or why it was built. Nevertheless tourists can enjoy amazing views of Baku from the top.
Entrance fee- adult/student – AZN15/6
Multani Caravanserai was established in the 14th century. It is opposite to the Bukhara Caravanserai. Now Multan is the name of the city in Pakistan. The merchants and Zoroastrians from India harnessed this caravanserai as a stop.
Heydar Aliyev Center
The stunning centre is one of the marvels of architecture and the most beautiful building in Azerbaijan. Designed by Zaha Hadid, the centre is named after the ex-president of Azerbaijan who governed the country from 1993 to 2003. The wave-like design is meant to represent Azerbaijan’s to remember the past as they usher into the future.
Inside the centre you can find museums dedicated to Heydar Aliyev life and work, Azerbaijan history, art galleries and rare car model collection, just to name a few.
Tue – Fri
11:00 AM – 7:00 PM
Sat – Sun
11:00 AM – 6:00 PM
Heydar Aliyev centre is located 15 mins walk from Nariman Narimanov metro station
The Flame Towers are three blue skyscrapers that were built in 2012 and are another incredible example of modern architecture of Baku. Azerbaijan is called the land of fire and since completion, the towers have become the country’s major symbol.
The best time to see the towers is in the night when they put on a light show displaying the national flag, pouring water and fire effects interchangeably. The Three Flame Towers have separate uses: residential, hotel and office.
You can see the Flame Towers dominating the horizon from almost everywhere in the city. However, the best view can be found by taking the funicular connecting Neftchilar Avenue and Martyrs’ Lane.
Museum of Miniature books
An Azeri woman collected miniature books from all around the world and eventually managed to create the largest collection of such books and opened a museum to showcase her collections. The collection has some of the smallest books in the world, including a miniature version of the Quran.
The museum is open from: 11:00am to 5:00pm. Closed on Monday and Thursday. Admission: Free
Azerbaijan Carpet Museum
The museum is shaped as a rolled up carpet and shows a collection of various types of carpets from the past and present. Carpet weaving is still an important tradition for many Azeri families and different regions have their own unique design and style.
The museum is open from: 10:00am to 6:00pm Tuesday to Sunday. Admission: 7AZN
Teze Pir Mosque
Three years after the completion of Central Baku’s sandstone Teze Pir, the mosque with gold plated minarets fell victim to the 1917 October Revolution. Bolshevik-ruled Baku turned the mosque into a cinema and later a barn. It reopened as a mosque again in 1943.
The 3.5 km boulevard runs adjacent to the beautiful Caspian Sea and offers panoramic views of the city, including some of the best views of the Flame Tower. The boulevard also has an amusement park, some bars and restaurants, Baku Eye and the third largest flagpole.
The heartbeat of the city with its many restaurants, bars and shops. Local’s favourite meeting point, walking around the Fountain Square is a great way to see the local life.
Where to eat
A lovely restaurant in the city centre with very reasonable prices. Serving delicious local food including vegetarian options. Service was excellent as well.
Cay Bagi 145
Cay Bagi is located in the heart of the old town and offers amazing views of the Caspian Sea and Maiden Tower. The menu has a variety of options including delicious Azeri food. The atmosphere is quite nice and people even come here for their shishas and various drinks.
If you’re looking for real Azeri food, this is your place. This restaurant offers the typical local cuisine and is nicely decorated with traditional items. The menu is varied and caters to vegetarians as well.
Maharani Indian Restaurant
Perfect ambiance, very good service, and friendly staff. Best Indian restaurant in Baku serving authentic dishes.
As the name suggests, the bar serves a wide variety of great beers to choose from along with wines and spirits. Pivnaya Apteka is a great place to hang out or watch any big sporting event.
A favourite among the expats living here, the bar offers many international beers on tap and also serves delicious food. On weekends they sometimes have a live band performing.
Camel Pub and Cafe
The cheap prices, pool tables and live music makes it one of the local’s favourite bars to enjoy a night out.
Where to stay
The team here are extremely helpful and friendly. The lounge area offers a great place to meet other travellers. The Wi-Fi is very strong when you are in range. Plenty of showers spread throughout the hostel. Great location, two minutes from the subway station. Comfortable beds.
A night in a 6-bed dorm costs $10. You can also get breakfast for an additional $5
KAHA hotel & hostel
Clean and comfortable. Bathrooms were spotless. Big comfy beds with new linen, nice decor, nice and functional small kitchen, comfortable common area. Location is perfect.
A night in a 6-bed dorm costs $8. You can get breakfast for an additional $6
Places to visit Baku
Shri Ganeshaya Namah and inscription in Punjabi and Sanskrit is not an incantation you’d expect to see etched in the heart of Azerbaijan, however, that’s exactly what you find at the Ateshgah or the Fire Temple. The burning earth and the eternal flames of Ateshgah in the Absheron Peninsula led to many Indian pilgrimages to arrive here. Eventually, they created the current Fire Temple to worship the sacred flames alongside gods like Shiva and Ganesha. However, the history of Ateshgah runs far deeper as the Zoroastrians have been known to make pilgrimages as early as the 7th century. Even today the influence of Zoroastrians is deeply rooted in Azerbaijan.
Atesgah is located only 20 km from Baku and is a must-visit to witness its multicultural past. To get there by public transport, you can take the Bus no. 184 from Koroglu metro station for 0.20azn until you reach the last stop. The Fire Temple is right next to it. The entry is 2 AZN and the timings are 9 am to 530 pm.
Mud Volcanoes & Petroglyphs
One-third of all mud volcanoes are present in Azerbaijan. This unique phenomenon happens when a pocket of gas finds gaps to escape the surface, which in turn leads to an eruption of mud or slurries. Mud volcanoes may range in size from merely 1 or 2 meters high and 1 or 2 meters wide to 700 meters high and 10 kilometres wide. Seeing the many volcanoes of different sizes oozing mud in the background of the azure waters of the Caspian Sea is an incredible sight.
Close to the mud volcanoes is another top attraction of Gobustan National Park. As many as 6,000 petroglyphs are found here and some of them are around 40,000 years old. The petroglyphs depict various things like dance ceremonies, hunting and prehistoric wildlife.
Located 70 km from Baku, this incredible natural phenomena and the petroglyphs should not be missed. However, doing it on your own is not practically possible as you may need 4×4 to pass the terrain. You can check out GetYourGuide to get a knowledgeable tour guide that will take you here.
Azerbaijan is called the land of fire for its enormous gas reserves that sometimes even spills out to the surface which can often lead to natural fire and Yanar Dag is one such example. Yanar Dag is a hill that has constantly been on fire since the 13th century. No one knows how the fire started and nothing seemingly can stop it. The unique phenomena translated as the “burning mountain” is located 30 mins away from Baku.
This small village is located high up in mountains and was once an important stopover on the silk route. The terrain makes it difficult to grow much here and hence the people of the town enhanced their craftsmanship by developing skills in crafting stunning copper-ware. Caravans from all over would come to get the copper-ware in exchange for food and fabric which ultimately led to the growth of the town. Even today walking on the cobblestone streets of Lahic is like travelling back in time as this town wonderfully holds the old charm that keeps the Silk Road magic alive.
Places to see in Lahic
Heydar Aliyev Center
Boasting incredible architecture that is mesmerising from all angles, the Heydar Aliyev Center is a must-visit in Lahic. This iconic building plays host to concerts, art exhibitions and cultural performances that showcase Azerbaijan’s alluring culture. The building is open from 11 am – 6 pm Monday – Friday, and 11 am – 5 pm Saturday & Sunday. Entry costs begin at $14.31 USD.
Sitting atop a majestic mountain, the Alinja Castle is an amazing sight to see while in Azerbaijan. That’s if you’re willing to climb the 1500 steps to the top. Renowned as Azerbaijan’s Machu Picchu, this hike is challenging, but the views are so worth it! At the top, you will discover the amazing medieval ruins of Alinja Castle as well as the panoramic views of the surrounding landscapes.
How to get to Lahic
Baku is connected by public transport to Ismailli with buses running every hour. Ismailli is about 45 mins away from Lahic and there are marshrutka running at irregular times between the two.
Where to stay in Lahic
Beautiful house in a lovely old town. Large room with garden and mountain views. Very helpful and informative staff. A good and personalised breakfast. The owner could not have been more helpful.
A night in a double room costs $47 with breakfast included.
Located on the picturesque foothills of the Greater Caucasus mountain range, Sheki is Azerbaijan’s travel gem. The years of rule by Persians, Romans and Russians have had a great impact on the city, which can be seen from the varied architecture of the town, from the grey buildings to beautiful mosques and palaces.
Sheki was also a major trading hub at the crossroads of the historic silk route and famous for its craftsmen and merchants. As a result, many caravanserais were built in the 18th and 19th century and you can even stay in some of them.
Sheki is the top attraction in Azerbaijan with the immense history of the town and the many influences you can still see and feel. Recently the historic centre of Sheki was added to the UNESCO world heritage list.
What to see in Sheki
Palace of Shaki Khan
Azerbaijan was ruled by the Shaki Khanate for 75 years in the 18th and 19th century. Sheki was the capital and the palace was their summer residence. The stunning Palace is known for its magnificent interior and exterior intricately decorated with frescoes and exquisite stained glass work. The palace was also included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
If you want to visit the Khan‘s (Summer) Palace, you must join a guided tour. Photography is prohibited within the palace. The Palace is open to visit from 10 am to 6 pm.
In the villages of Sheki region, there are several Christian architectural monuments of Caucasian Albania, the most famous of which is the Albanian church in the village of Kish, which is about 30 minutes from Sheki.
Sheki Museum of Folk and Applied Arts
Discover a world of artistic beauty inside the Sheki Museum of Folk and Applied Arts. Here you can find a beautiful array of textiles, embroidery, carpets and elaborate costumes from Sheki and its surrounding towns. If you’re into handicrafts and want to learn more about the culture, this is a must-visit place on your Azerbaijan itinerary.
Where to stay
Sheki Adventure hostel
Musviq is a great host and has opened a really lovely hostel. It has a calm and friendly atmosphere where I felt right at home. The rooms are big and clean. The owner also knows a lot about hiking and climbing in Azerbaijan which is great if you are looking for that.
A night in the dorm room costs $5. You can get breakfast for an additional $2.
Excellent blend of history and comfort. The rooms are small but enough for a good night’s sleep. You are transported into a different world once inside the gates as you can feel the history of the Caravanserai and its century’s old existence.
A night in a double room costs 30 AZN or 40 USD.
Where to eat
Sheki is a small town and there are very few good options to eat out.
Serin lies a bit away from the Sheki town centre but it is worth the while to go there. The waiters were friendly. The local food was delicious and the plants in the courtyard contributed to this pleasant atmosphere.
How to get to Sheki
There are several buses and marshrutka running from Baku to Sheki. The bus takes about 6 hours and the Marshrutka takes about 5 hours to reach. The ticket can cost 8 AZN to 10 AZN.
One of the highest villages in Europe, Xinaliq is located high up in the Greater Caucasus mountain range close to the border with Russia.
Xinaliq is an incredibly picturesque village with its green pastures, snow-capped mountains and stone houses. The village sheds light into the other side of Azerbaijan, far from the riches of Baku. People here are self-sufficient and produce clothes, food and energy with the resources they have.
Xinaliq is a village shrouded in mystery with its ancient culture and language. Archaeological studies show that the village has been inhabited for an incredible 5000 years. The language of Khinaliq is also very different from Azeri and in fact, it is not similar to any other language. The people of the village believe in a combination of their traditional beliefs and Islam.
Visiting Xinaliq is a truly fascinating experience and a great chance to get a glimpse of this ancient culture along with the immense beauty of the Caucasus Mountains.
How to get to Xinaliq
There are minivans and buses that run frequently from Baku to Quba, taking around 3 hours. From there you can take shared taxis for 10 AZN but they do not leave until they are full. You can negotiate with a taxi driver and they can take you to Xinaliq for about 40 AZN. The journey from Quba takes 2 hours.
Places to see
The Road to Xinaliq
Taking approximately 3 hours, this scenic drive travels from Quba to Xinaliq. Winding through narrow passageways and striking mountains, this road is one of the most picturesque journeys in the world. Be sure to pack your camera, because you’re not going to want to miss capturing the incredible scenery on this journey.
Wander the Xinaliq village
A visit to the Xinaliq Village is like taking a step back in time. Here you can discover the ancient cobblestone buildings, traditional houses and expansive pastures within the historic Xinaliq village. You can spend time mingling with the locals and learning some of the languages.
Take a scenic hike through the Khinalug Valley and be prepared for some of the most spectacular views of your life. From rolling mountains to picturesque waterfalls and spooky caves, there is so much to discover on a hiking journey in Xinaliq. Whether you want to embark on a short hike or a multi-day journey, there is a great range of tours on offer.
Budget for Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan is the most expensive country to travel to in Caucasus region. Meals at restaurants tend to be expensive. Day tours from Baku are also quite expensive and cost at least $50 to see the closest attraction. Using public transport or busses is the way to go to discover Azerbaijan on a budget, however, some places like the mud volcanoes can only be seen by a tour.
You can expect to spend $30-35 per day if you are on a budget, staying in hostels, using public transport and dining at cheap restaurants.
Here is a list of cost for some of the things
Hostel- $8-$10 per night
Food at a good restaurant- $7-$10
Cheap restaurant- $2-$4
Beer at a bar- $3-$4
Stay at a budget hotel- $35-$50
Expensive hotel- >$75
Transportation to other cities- $5-$7
Transportation within a city- $1 or lesser (not including taxis)