Best Places to Visit in Baku
Baku is the capital city of Azerbaijan. It has an upscale, modern appeal especially near the waterfront overlooking the Caspian Sea. There are layers to the city though, with an old city that is a step back in time, and the gritty neighborhoods further inland that contrast the pristine buildings in other areas.
Baku was a pleasant surprise for us. I don’t think my husband or I knew what to expect, but we certainly didn’t expect a place so clean, modern, and beautiful! We arrived at night and there were so many buildings lit up in neon lights, the only place we could compare it to was Las Vegas.
Baku is a stark contrast from our home base of Tbilisi. Even though these cities aren’t very far apart, they feel completely different. I highly recommend visiting both places on a trip to the Caucasus. We spent several days in Baku with our 3 kids and ventured out of the city for a day trip. Here are the best places to visit in Baku along with other helpful tips for visiting Baku with kids.
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PLACES TO VISIT IN BAKU
Stretching along Baku’s waterfront is an immaculate boulevard. It is wide, flat, full of manicured green spaces, fountains, cafes, rides, and ice cream stands. The Baku boulevard is nearly empty during a summer’s day (when the weather is too hot) but bustling and alive at night. If you are traveling to Baku with kids this is a great place to let kids burn energy. Many activities in Baku are on the boulevard.
To get to the boulevard you must cross a busy street via underground pedestrian tunnel. The staircases to get underground either had stroller ramps or escalators. I was helped several times by strangers who helped me carry the stroller up and down the stairs when the escalators were not working.
We enjoyed walking here day and night and walked up and down it several times. The kids loved doing the rides, which cost a few manat each. I loved the beautiful green spaces. On a summer Baku night, this is the perfect place to go!
AZERBAIJAN NATIONAL CARPET MUSEUM
This museum houses an impressive collection of carpets all made in Azerbaijan at different times and in different styles. Each description was translated into English, so it was easy to read about the carpets and historical photos. There were also several places showing short videos of different carpet weaving techniques, my son particularly enjoyed these. On each floor of the museum you will find someone sitting at a carpet loom working on tying knots to construct a carpet. We loved seeing how they are made in real time. My daughter commented that it looked easy but I couldn’t disagree more! It was truly impressive to see their work and how much they have to do to make one rug.
I knew I wanted to visit the carpet museum during our time in Baku, but I also knew my children would not be as entertained as I was. I made a point to visit first thing after breakfast when moods are typically at their best. I kept it short and sweet while we were there, tried to engage them by looking for animals or particular elements in the designs. There was an elevator which made getting floor to floor easy with a stroller.
Entry to the museum was 7 manat for me and free for my children. The museum is closed on Mondays.There is a cafe outside where you could stop for a snack and cold drink. On the ground floor of the museum near the entrance there was a “family table” with children’s activities. Each one of the art activities was 5-7 manat.
Heydar Aliyev Center
You MUST visit the Heydar Aliyev Center when you make a Baku holiday! Even if you only go to see it from the outside, it is one of the best Baku tourist attractions. This building is an architectural masterpiece and is so interesting to look at. Kids will also enjoy the giant colorful snails and bunnies spread throughout the grass outside the museum. There’s plenty of room to run and play outside, but on a hot and sunny day could be uncomfortable as there is no shade and all that white is bright on your eyes. It also makes a really great place for family photos-bring your tripod!
Inside the center is an art museum with different types of exhibits as well as the Heydar Aliyev museum which details the life of the beloved Azerbaijani president from whom the center gets its name. When we visited there was a classic car exhibit my husband really wanted to see. It was a separate ticket from the museum itself. It took us a few conversations and some mistakes of which ticket(s) to buy before we got it right. The ticket to the main museum was 15 manat ($9) per adult and the car exhibit was a separate ticket that cost an additional 10 manat ($6) per adult. Kids were free.
The museum is huge and compartmentalized is interesting ways. We got lost several times, did a lot of backtracking, used wrong elevators, and accidentally ended up in a closed off area. So do your best to examine the map and know that everything is not as connected as you might think.
Our kids genuinely enjoyed the exhibits we saw which included a miniature Azerbaijan exhibit with small scale models of different buildings from Baku, a doll exhibit, and the cars.
Sirvansah Museum Restaurant
I can not take credit for finding this restaurant, our dinner here was set up by colleagues of my husband’s and I’m so glad they brought us here! This restaurant was so unique! It’s actually a former museum taking you on an Azerbaijan tour through history. Each room is decorated down to every inch and there is so much to look at.
There’s everything from large dining areas to small dining rooms that fit 8-10 people. We got there relatively early so we could walk around and look at all the different rooms without disturbing many people’s meals. The menu serves traditional Azerbaijani food. We ordered appetizers of bread, cheese, and vegetables and had main courses of a variety of grilled meats. It is traditional after the meal to drink tea with jam. This was a new experience for us. You don’t mix the jam in the tea, you just put some on a side plate and eat little spoonfuls of it in between sips of tea.
I’d recommend making a reservation in advance if you’d like to eat here.
This is a quick activity but my kids loved it. Right outside the Carpet Museum, you will find a small canal system known as “Mini-Venice.” I think I paid 7 manat ($4 USD) for me and the two big kids to go on a motorized gondola ride. The water is pretty, you go through a tunnel and by a couple replicas of the Bridge of Sighs from Venice. From here you can get a good view of the Flame Towers, another of the best places to see in Baku. It was quick, cheap, and hot but a crowd pleaser for the kids!
Old City Baku
Most of the time when visiting European cities, the old town is the most picturesque (and touristy) place. Old City Baku is certainly both of those. The old city still has a wall surrounding parts of it and inside the walls you find tiny alleyways, uneven cobblestones, carpet shops, trinkets galore, and many tour guides offering up Baku tours and Azerbaijan tours.
I enjoyed walking around and getting a feel for it, but high pressure sales environments are not my jam. I would’ve liked to spend some time shopping for carpets but the kids were already tired and the timing just wasn’t right for it. I encourage you to go enjoy the atmosphere for what it is and also try to get off some of the main tourist streets to some of the quieter ones.
What we would do if we had more time:
-Baku Eye: a ferris wheel similar to the London Eye. Check the weather before you go, as it does not operate if it is windy.
-Funicular to Park: you can take a funicular ride to Upland Park for a magnificent view of the Flame Towers and over the rest of the city.
Best Day Trip from Baku-Gobustan & Mud Volcanoes
The best day trip from Baku is to visit the cave paintings at Gobustan and then see the Mud Volcanoes nearby. Gobustan is about a 45 minute drive from Baku. First you will arrive to the museum where you can buy a ticket for 10 manat (under $6 USD) per adult that includes entry to the museum and to the site of the actual cave paintings as well.
The museum is small but does a good job of explaining the site and its historical significance. Each plaque is translated into English. There is also a small cafe, and restrooms here which I recommend you make sure to use before leaving, especially when you have kids in tow. There aren’t any facilities at the cave paintings or at the mud volcanoes.
After you visit the museum you will get back in the car to drive a short distance up the mountain. Make sure to bring your tickets with you as they will be checked up here as well. Then you can walk on a path up to several different rocks where there are cave drawings. It is a very cool thing to see. It’s amazing how old they are (40,000 years) and to think about the people who lived here and made them. In addition to cave drawings you can see some remnants of their dwellings including some holes in the ground that were possibly used for grinding down food and a prehistoric xylophone.
If you are traveling with a baby, I would use a baby carrier here and at the mud volcanoes. It isn’t very stroller friendly.
It isn’t a strenuous hike but I would recommend wearing good walking shoes as sometimes the ground is uneven and you will have to climb up over rocks at times. The view is also great from here but be careful when taking pictures that no one gets too close to the edge!
From here it is another 20 minutes or so to drive to the mud volcanoes. This is one of the bigger tourist attractions in Azerbaijan, but there aren’t any signs telling you where to go. What we did is use the app Waze and typed in “Gobustan Mud Volcanoes” and followed the directions. There are several different areas of mud volcanoes you can visit, this one was pretty easy to get to and did not require a 4x4 vehicle.
You will see many taxi drivers on the side of the road trying to get you to hire them to drive you out there. They told us we would not be able to make it in the Mercedes van we were in because it was too low but the clearance on their vehicles weren’t any higher so we suspect that was just a sales tactic.
The road to get here was very bumpy and full of potholes. We drove slow but we didn’t have any trouble getting there. It’s all part of the adventure! When you make the final climb up the hill you will see other cars and tourists walking around. It’s definitely not a secret location but it also wasn’t completely overrun with people. There’s no admission fee or tourist infrastructure except for a couple trash bins. Make sure to be a good visitor and dispose of any waste properly in the bins.
The volcanoes range in size from tiny to one that was big enough for several adult men to sit in. You can touch the mud, it isn’t hot at all. The kids loved getting their hands dirty and being encouraged to play in the mud. Some people there were claiming the mud was good for your skin and health but our driver said, “no, it’s just dirty mud” so the jury is out on this one!
I put my kids in their Native shoes because they are easily washed off. Bring some extra bottles of water to rinse off before getting back in the car.
The landscape around the volcanoes looks like another world, it is a very unique place to visit. Our kids said this was their favorite day of our trip, so it’s definitely one of the best places to visit in Azerbaijan!
How to Get to Baku?
Baku has a very nice international airport. You can get here on a one hour flight from Tbilisi. Other easy connections are Doha, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Istanbul. We flew on Buta Airlines, a budget carrier that operates similarly to Ryan Air. The base ticket is cheap but everything is an add on including baggage, reserving seats, food, and failing to check in online and print a boarding pass.
You can also take an overnight train from Tbilisi to Baku. You will get stopped at the border to check documents and the train takes all night. Because the train is so much longer and has the stop at the border, I would always opt for the one hour flight. Especially with being able to fly inexpensively on a budget airlines.
How Long Should I Stay in Baku?
Plan at least three days for your Baku Itinerary. Two days to explore the city and one day to do the drive to Gobustan and the mud volcanoes. You could even make that day trip a half a day and use the other half to continue to explore Baku.
When is the Best Time to Visit Baku?
The best time to visit Baku depends on what you want to do. We visited in early August, arguably not the ideal time to go because of the heat. It was hot during the day, some days were more mild, but the evenings were great! In summer you can also enjoy a beach resort just outside the city, so I wouldn’t rule out a summer holiday in Baku.
If you want to avoid the heat, I would suggest visiting in the early fall or late spring when the weather is most likely warm but the heat is not suffocating. You should also know Baku is very windy. Sometimes attractions like the Baku Eye will close if the wind is too strong. There was one day where I could not walk outside because of the wind, it was literally blowing my stroller over. Luckily, our hotel had an indoor pool to entertain the kids. Something to consider when booking your accommodation.
Do I Need a Visa for Azerbaijan?
It is necessary to obtain a visa to travel to Azerbaijan. You can apply for a 90 day single entry visa online at https://evisa.gov.az/en Make sure to use this government website and not a .com one. There are businesses who will apply for the visa for you but tack on a fee of about $60 USD. The visa through the government website should cost $23. Not all countries are eligible for e-visas, you can find the list of eligible countries here.
***A note here if you have previously visited Nagorno-Karabakh, a disputed territory between Armenia and Azerbaijan: if you have entered and have a stamp in your passport, you will not be permitted to enter Azerbaijan. If you have visited Armenia but not this disputed territory, you will be fine to enter.***
Where is the Best Place to Stay in Baku?
I recommend staying within close walking distance to the Boulevard. Here are some suggestions:
JW Marriott Absheron This is a beautiful hotel with first class service. There is an indoor pool at the top of the hotel with views out over the whole city. The hotel also has 3 on site restaurants, a spa, gym, and in close proximity of the boulevard, Port Baku Mall, and Starbucks!
Hilton The Hilton is located very near the JW Marriott, so the location is wonderful. It also boasts many of the same amenities as the JW with a pool, spa, gym, and top notch service.
ART Gallery Boutique Hotel This hotel is an art lover’s cup of tea. It is located very near the Old City and close to the Boulevard. The hotel is decorated with art made by local artists and it is smaller than such big chains as Marriott and Hilton.
Sahil Hostel & Hotel This hostel also has private family rooms including bathrooms. It looks to be clean and comfortable with excellent ratings. The location is also convenient to a metro station and the boulevard.
Promenade Hotel Baku located in the old town but still close to the waterfront. It includes breakfast and offers triple rooms that would work for small families. The hotel has good reviews and a great location.
How TO Get Around Baku?
Getting around Baku by taxi is very easy and cheap. You can download the app Bolt which functions exactly like Uber. Enter in your destination, select the type of ride you want, and wait to be picked up.
There are also London cabs available for hire. If you get a SIM card you can just dial 1848 to order a cab. There was enough room for our family of 5, everyone got a seatbelt and we put the stroller in the front seat. We would often use the Bolt app to see how much the London cab should be charging and use it to negotiate a fare before getting in the car. They will try to charge you more but you can show them the price using Bolt and get the fare down.
Hiring a private driver for a day trip should not be difficult. Many times your hotel can help arrange a driver for you.
What Language is Spoken in Azerbaijan?
In Azerbaijan there are two predominant languages: Azerbaijani and Russian. My husband speaks Russian and honestly it was a big help for us with the taxis and a few other places around town. At nicer hotels and restaurants you will find people who speak English but at the mall, grocery stores, taxi drivers, etc. it is much more limited. However, I found that people were mostly kind with my limited ability to communicate and we were able to make do.
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