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A cultural guide to Baku, Azerbaijan

Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, is one of the fastest-growing and evolving cities in the world. Located on the Caspian Sea, it’s a city that charmingly blends the ancient and the contemporary, with Old City alleyways alongside postmodern skyscrapers. Here, we outline the best sights to visit during your trip.

The Flame Towers

The Flame Towers light up the sky at night

The Flame Towers light up the sky at night

Azerbaijan’s economic growth is driving the construction of mighty skyscrapers in Baku, the country’s commercial centre. And the Flame Towers are the city’s most iconic building yet. This ultra-modern skyscraper trio is shaped like a set of flames. The design was inspired by the country’s history of fire worship and each of the buildings is covered with coloured LED lights that light up the sky at night. And even from afar, you can see the Flame Towers licking the skyline. Get the best view of these impressive buildings from the TV Tower. Or you can stay in the Flame Towers at Fairmont Baku.

Icheri Sheher (The Old City)

Wander down the ancient alleyways of the Old City

Wander down the ancient alleyways of the Old City

Icheri Sheher (The Old City) is located in the heart of Baku and was Azerbaijan’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site. Hidden within tall stone walls, this fortress complex is home to stone mansions, tea houses and luxury boutiques. Wander down the ancient alleyways and marvel at intricate door carvings, pet the friendly street cats basking on stone ledges and watch merchants taking a moment to play chess or backgammon together on the street. Stay at Old Castle Boutique Hotel, just 1km from the 15th-century Palace of The Shirvanshahs.

The Bibi-Heybat mosque

Marvel at the opulent emerald walls and large dome ceilings

Marvel at the opulent emerald walls and large dome ceilings

For a spot of peaceful and spiritual reflection, visit the BIbi-Heybat mosque. The existing structure was built in the 1990s as a homage to the 13th-century original commissioned by Shirvanshah Farrukhzad II Ibn Ahsitan II, which was tragically destroyed by the Bolsheviks in 1936. It’s heralded as one of the world’s most beautiful mosques, thanks to slender minarets, tall windows casting chequered light and domes decorated with mirror mosaics and gilded inscriptions. But the interior is just as splendid (BIbi- Heybat welcomes people from all religions through its doors) – with opulent emerald walls and large dome ceilings. You’ll find the mosque on the outskirts Baku, so you can either head back into the city for more sightseeing after visiting it or stay 500 metres away at the Lux Hollyday house.

Philharmonic Garden

Take a moment to soak up the sun and the baroque fountain

Take a moment to soak up the sun and the baroque fountain

Just a 10-minute walk from the walls of the Old City is Philharmonia Garden, also known as Filarmoniya Bağı and one of the oldest parks in Baku. Take a seat underneath the marble arch that borders the baroque fountain complete with gold detailing. It’s an ideal place to take a moment to soak up the sun, listen to the parrots living in the park and watch the world go by. When you’re well rested, walk down the sloping park towards the Philharmonic Hall, built in 1912. The choice is yours as to what time of day to visit – it’s tranquil in the early morning and lit up beautifully in the evening. But as for time of year, the fountain’s water is turned off during the winter, so the warmer months are definitely the best option. Then come home to Bul-Bul.

Gobustan National Park

Find ancient petroglyphs just an hour outside of Baku

Find ancient petroglyphs just an hour outside of Baku

Take a local tour or drive yourself an hour outside Baku to the Gobustan National Park, located on Absheron peninsula. This UNESCO-listed region is known for its ancient petroglyphs depicting animals, chasing scenes, ritual dances, bullfights, battle scenes (try to spot the boats with armed oarsmen and warriors) and pictures of the sun and the stars. It is estimated that these petroglyphs are between 5,000 and 20,000 years old. You can also pop into the on-site museum to find out more about the area. Head back to Baku or stay locally at Armada Villa Hotel.