Major Tourist Attractions: Heydar Aliyev Center, Maiden Tower, Gobustan National Park, Palace of the Shirvanshs, Ansche Chesed
Visitors to Azerbaijan will be among the first to discover this up and coming tourist destination that sits on the shores of the Caspian Sea. Formerly part of the Soviet republic, Azerbaijan presents an intriguing mix of old and new, with sights ranging from modern architecture in Baku to the capital’s walled Old City to centuries-old ruins elsewhere in the country.
Azerbaijan shares close ties with Turkey in terms of language, culture, and cuisine, but long periods of Persian and Russian occupation have left strong imprints as well. Traditional Azeri cuisine is a mix of Turkish and Central Asian favorites. While the majority of Azeris are Muslims, the country is firmly secular and most do not consider themselves religious. Remnants of the country’s Christian past can still be seen in church ruins around Qax and Sheki.
Azeris are generally welcoming and very helpful; while language may be an issue, don’t hesitate to ask for directions and someone will certainly try to assist. The government is determined to make Azerbaijan a top high-end tourist destination and has worked hard to develop the tourist infrastructure in Baku. Unfortunately, the Soviet era visa regime remains, requiring most visitors to obtain a letter of invitation before applying for a pricey visa.
Lodging in Baku includes a decent range of hotels and a few hostels, but elsewhere in the country accommodations may be harder to come by. Azerbaijan’s community-based tourism organization is a great option for arranging homestays, transport, and guides throughout the country.
Most visitors arrive in Baku and don’t venture much further, but it is well worth it to head up to the mountains in northern Azerbaijan or spend some time in the towns and villages in the northwest. Buses and mini-buses run between most major cities on a regular basis, although buses can be quite slow.
Here is a look at the many things to see and do on a trip to Azerbaijan:
- Climb up the Maiden Tower for a panoramic view of Baku.
- Get lost in the streets of Baku’s Old City.
- Watch copper smiths at work in the mountain village of Lahic.
- Hike up to the ruined Albanian churches above Kish.
- Spend the night in a restored caravanseray in Sheki.
- Visit the Ateshgah Temple, a Zoroastrian fire temple outside of Baku.
- Go hiking in Xinaliq.
- Discover the thousands of rock engravings at Gobustan.
- Have a glass of black tea, the national beverage.
- Try the traditional dish of bozbash, a soup made of lamb and vegetables.
- Tour the Palace of the Sheki Khans.
- Buy a traditional Azeri carpet.
- Arrange a homestay with a local family.
Address: 111 Azadlig Prospect
Baku, AZ 1007
Phone: (+99412) 488-3300