Where: Baku, capital of Azerbaijan
When: June 2018
Why: We visited Baku as part of a trip to the Caucus region. Aso on this trip we visited Sofia in Bulgaria, Baku in Azerbaijan, Tbilisi, Bojoumi, Batumi and Kutaisi in Georgia, and Yerevan in Armenia.
We were inspired to visit the Caucus after watching Levison Wood‘s amazing From Russia to Iran programme on Channel 4, where he travelled through the Caucus.
Why did we go to Baku? Because we could. Azerbaijan is opening up and for the first time in our lifetimes we could get there relatively easily and cheaply. Recently the country has made it possible to get visas online and a new budget airline called Buta, Azeri Airway’s budget division, started flying from Sofia to Baku really cheaply.
I love Baku. It so totally blew away all of my expectations. Perhaps this is partly because my expectations were so low: I thought the city was going to be polluted from traffic and the oil industry, be made up of ex-Soviet tenements, run down, very conservative, dusty and hot. Instead, we found Baku to be an elegant, well-loved city of stone edifices, wide-boulevards, clean streets, parks, great cafes and garden bars, life and laughter, friendly people, with a cool breeze constantly blowing in from the Caspian so the city could keep its cool. Baku is well looked after, the infrastructure is pretty good and it’s an easy city to be in.
We stayed in Baku for three days and three nights. We arrived from Sofia on the Tuesday and then departed for Tbilisi on the sleeper train on Friday night (not the midnight train for Georgia, but the 10 p.m. train for Georgia). This gave us enough time to explore the main sights in the city and to do a tour of some of the surrounding attractions. We probably could have spent a week here and not have been bored.
I know that Azeri politics are not the best, that there is a lot of corruption and problems for journalists and dissenters, but on a day-to-day level we saw no evidence of this being an oppressive state. We found everyone we spoke to to be open and friendly, and seemingly pretty happy too.
Out of everywhere that we visited on our Caucus trip Baku was one of my favourite places. It was a delightful surprise; what I love to travel for. Whilst we were in Baku we bumped into Joanna Lumley, filming a TV programme – so it is appearing on people’s radars as somewhere to visit. And that can only be a good thing.
Getting there and visa
We went to Azerbaijan because this year it has become much easier to get there. Recently the country has made it possible to get visas online and a new budget airline called Buta, Azeri Airway’s budget division, started flying from Sofia in Bulgaria to Baku really cheaply.
Buta is Azeri Airways new low cost carrier airline. They currently only fly to Sofia in Europe, but I suspect that they will start to expand their network further soon. We paid 40€ to fly to Sofia and then 76€ to fly from Sofia to Baku.
The plane we travelled on was lovely and comfy, the staff really friendly and the onboard menu was extremely cheap – cheaper than drinks and snacks in Azerbaijan.
Flying into Baku was extremely cool. As we came in we saw deserts and volcanic craters, the Caspian and lots of interesting oil fields.
Baku Heydar Aliyev International Airport is a snazzy, cool, new airport located out on the Absheron peninsula. Getting through the airport was really easy and the customs staff were all really friendly (and mostly female, which was cool).
In the baggage area there was an ATM and exchange shop. In the arrivals area there were lots of restaurants and an ATM.
Baku Heydar Aliyev International Airport to the City
Again, getting from the airport to the city was extremely, delightfully easy. There is an airport shuttle bus which departs about every half an hour. This leaves from by the exit doors, right next to where you emerge into the arrivals area.
You have to buy a Baku Card for your payment; this is the Baku equivalent to an Oyster Card. The machine to buy the Baku Card is on the right hand side of the doors. The card costs 2 Manat (90p/1€) and the bus fare was 1.60 Manat (about 70p/80c). Be careful as whatever note you put into the machine they will add this to the card as credit. We used a 5 Manat note and this was sufficient credit for our whole stay in Baku. We got a smaller note by buying a bottle of water in MacDonalds.
The bus took about 40 minutes to get to the city centre. It stopped at Koroğlu, which is on the green and red subway lines, and 28 May Subway Station, which is next to Baku Railways Station – which is where we got off.
The airport website has information about the shuttle bus and other forms of transport to the city.
Incidentally, we had very little hassle from taxi drivers at the airport. A few did approach us, but once we said no they drifted off. We went to sit in an outdoor cafe by the bus stop to wait for the bus and no one approached us there either, which was lovely. I hate having to be on my guard as soon as I arrive in a new place, so this was refreshing.
Baku to Tbilisi by sleeper train
We travelled from Baku to Tbilisi on the sleeper train. The Man at Seat 61 website has more information about this service, including how to book tickets. I’ll write more about this on the Tbilisi page, which I plan to write next.
Jeff organised our e-visas and he bought them online from evisa.gov.az/en. They cost US$25 each (£19/21€) and took about three days to process. There are a lot of very similar websites that look official and come up in the search results. However, these website are fake: you can tell because they charge more than the $25 fee.
We took the subway to get from the central train station (28 May station) to the old city (Içariseher station). The subway was clean and efficient and they announced the stops in English. We used our Baku Card on the subway, which we had bought at the airport. The card cost 2 Manat and each journey cost us 0.2 Manat (that’s 8p/10c!).
The Metro has two main lines and then two off-shoot lines. 28 May is the main interchange station. You can see a map on the Baku Metro website.
Incidentally, we had heard that security was quite strict on the metro and that they would get angry if you took photos of the trains. I don’t know if this is true but we did have to get our back packs checked by security guards when we took them onto the trains. They were very friendly though.
Google Maps has bus route information embedded and so we used this to find out how to get the buses around the city. Again we used our Baku Card and each journey cost 0.2 Manat (8p/10c). The buses were pretty modern and in good condition. One or two we went on did get extremely packed though, especially around rush hour.
What we did on our holiday
Walled Old Town (Icherisheher)
The Old Town of Baku is a wonderful, atmospheric area of tiny alleyways, caravanserai, palaces, mosques, restaurants and galleries, all enclosed by the twelfth century, golden walls. We were very lucky to be able to stay in the old city.
The key sites within the old city are the Shah’s Palace and the Maiden Tower (see below), though there are many other museums and sights in this area. The Old City is one of those places where it’s lovely to just get lost, to wander about and to see what hidden delights you come across.
All around the old city are the twelfth century walls and on the southern side of the city there is a park area that runs around the walls. In this park there were many garden cafes, fairy lit and showing the World Cup when we were there. They were very pretty, relaxed, atmospheric palaces – and not too expensive.
Maiden Tower (Qis Qalasi) (UNESCO)
Maiden Tower is an eight story tower located at the sea-side entrance of Baku Old City. It is probably the most famous site in Azerbaijan.
The 30 meter tower apparently has great views over the old city and downtown Baku. Most of the tower is from the 12th century, though the foundations date from 4th – 6th century, so it’s thought that it is a much older site.
Our guide told us that the Maiden Tower was a Zoroastrian Temple and may have been used as a Tower of Silence, a funeral site. Zoroastrians neither bury or cremate their dead, but instead leave them in high places for scavenger birds, such as vultures, to clean the bodies. However, there’s a lot of debate and myth surrounding the tower – so this might not be the case at all. Some people think that because of its orientation that it is an astronomical tower. Wikipedia can tell you more.
We really wanted to climb the tower but it cost 12 Manat each (£5.50 / 6€), which we felt was a little pricey. Also, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to climb up the tiny spiral staircase whilst pregnant (okay, I was being lazy), so we didn’t climb it – we just admired it from outside. If you do want to climb it then tickets are available from the small ticket office located by the bridge over the market remains, close to the main entrance. The entrance guard can point it out to you.
Just behind Maiden Tower are some excavations, which are believed to be of a market square, the site where Jesus’ disciple St Bartholomew was martyred. There are bridges over this area so you can look down on what they have found.
Shirvanshah’s Palace (UNESCO)
Our hotel room overlooked the Shirvanshah’s palace, and so we didn’t feel the immediate need to actually go inside. I think we might have had a view of a closed area, the ruined bath house, as we never saw any visitors at the section we overlooked.
The Shah’s Palace was built in the 15th century, though it wasn’t completed and then much of it was destroyed during the Russian invasion in the 18th century. However, you can still visit the palace mosque, the mausoleum of the Shirvanshahs and the tomb of Seyyid Yəhya Bakuvi, the court astrologer.
I was going to go visit the palace on our last day, but I was hot and tired and so decided not to. I regret not going in, though the complex didn’t appear to be that large to me.
The palace, along with Maiden Tower, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Entrance to the palace was 10 Manat (£4.40/5€). You can find out more about the history of the palace at Wikipedia.
Miniature Book Museum
Just outside the entrance to the Shah’s Palace is the fun, free miniature book museum. We wandered in and had a fab fifteen minutes looking at all of the tiny books – trying to find the smallest (there’s three and they measure 2mm x 2mm).
The museum appears to have a facebook page and you can find out more about it in Atlas Obscura.
Lonely Planet’s Walking Tour of Baku
We quite like the Lonely Planet’s walking tours, and we decided to follow the one in the guide-book for Baku as it was only 4km long and it would allow us to see some of the key sites.
We started off by walking down the grand boulevard of Istiqlaliyyet kuc, past the ornate City Hall, the Institute of Manuscripts and Ismailiya Palace, down to Fountain Square. This area of the city is so elegant, grand and pretty.
Fountain Square is a nice modern space, surrounded by shops, with some cool fountains and statues (look out for the girl in a crop top on her mobile phone). There were lots of cafes and restaurants here, and benches under trees to relax on. I popped into Zara here. We particularly liked the Jules Verne themed roundabout.
Running north from Fountain Square are pedestrianised shopping streets, with chandeliers. We weaved our way through this area until we came to the temple like, colonnaded Museum Centre, located on the sea front. This used to be the Lenin Museum and now is the Independence Museum.
By this point we were hot and hungry so we went for bagels. In the afternoon we continued the tour by walking down the bay-front park and then we went up the funicular to the Flame Towers, which I’ve written about below.
Baku Boulevard (Bulvar)
Twice we ended up walking along the lovely promenade park, that runs around Baku Bay. On our first night we took an evening stroll here and then on our second day we walked to the end of the park, to the funicular.
At night, the promenade was a great place to get a view of the lights of the city, in particular the Flame Towers which have three different films projected onto them: fire flames, blue flames and the Azerbaijani flag. Although this is the most famous projection in the city (and the best) a couple of other skyscrapers also have projections of flames and water on their sides.
There’re loads of cool things inside the park including a puppet museum, a miniature Venice and the carpet museum. Little Venice is basically a big pond with some bridges and some gondolas on. There’s a restaurant on an island in the middle of the pond. You can have a ride in a gondola, though I don’t think they are pushed by pole, like real gondolas.
The Carpet Museum is in an amazing building, shaped like an unrolling carpet (azcarpetmuseum.az).
You can’t really get into the Caspian from the promenade, but it’s lovely to walk along, especially in the cool of the evening, with a breeze blowing in from the sea. It was a busy, popular, happy place – full of families and strolling couples.
To get to the promenade area was a little tricky as you have to cross a major road to access it and there are no crosswalks. You need to go via one of the underpasses. We located three of these: one by the funicular, one by the Four Seasons Hotel (which had a chandelier – see photo above) and one by the Puppet Theatre (by the small park, to the left of Maiden Tower, by Tom Ford).
At the end of Baku Boulevard, just behind the Carpet Museum, there is a funicular which takes people up to the base of the Flame Towers. The funicular takes four minutes to get to the top. It’s pretty steep. There are chairs on board. I’m not sure if they let people stand as we all got a seat.
The funicular is supposed to run about every twenty minutes and is closed on Mondays. It cost 1 Manat (60p/50c). When it opened everyone rushed for the entrance and it was a bit of a free-for-all, which I bet wouldn’t be fun at busy times, though when we were there everyone was able to get on.
We wanted to watch the sunset by the Flame Towers, so from the upper funicular station we made our way into Dagustu Park – which is a wonderful park overlooking all of Baku.. The views from here were astounding – so good that we saw three film crews up here, including Joanna Lumley, who was filming a very romantic drone shot of her overlooking Baku. (If you see her in Baku on the tele, you can see Jeff and I sat on a bench in the background).
Dagustu Park is quite extensive. It has lots of platforms and balconies overlooking the sea and Baku, some restaurants and lots of shady trees to relax under. It was a pretty, relaxing place to take a romantic stroll or to cool down at the end of a hot day.
We didn’t stay for sunset but the golden hour views over Baku were magnificent.
The only downside about Dagustu Park was that the concession stands were very expensive – charging us four times the normal price for a bottle of water.
To get back to town from Flame Towers / Dagustu Park we caught bus 18 from the bus stop opposite the Flame Towers, which dropped us off next to Fountain Square.
Day trip to Petroglyphs, mud volcanoes, a fire temple and a burning hill
Being pregnant and wanting to make things extra easy, I leaned towards arranged tours on this holiday – rather than trying to navigate sights by ourselves. And I’m so glad that we did this, as navigating to these out of the way places, on hot, dusty days, would have been difficult, if not near impossible. The Lonely Planet guidebook described how to get to each of these sights alone, but it usually involved catching lots of random mashrukas from dusty highway sides – so of course we decided to book a tour which would take us to all of these key places in an air-conditioned bus, with a guide. And it wasn’t hugely expensive.
We booked to visit all of the above sights with TES Tour, whose office is in the old city of Baku, close to the double gates. We booked this excursion (Day Trip Baku) online, in advance, and the trip cost us £23/26€ each. This didn’t include entrance fees and lunch, which added up to about another 21 Manat (£9.50/10.70€).
We met the tour at their office, next to the Double Gates in the old town, and from here they loaded us up into an air-conditioned mini-bus and drove us south out of the city. Our guide, Sahir, gave us loads of information about the city and told us a little more about Azerbaijan.
Our first stop was at a roadside mini-market so that everyone could stock up on water. The temperatures were in the high-30s and we were going to very exposed places, so this was needed.
The bus then drove us along a fast highway to the south, towards Iran, and our first stop was at the mud volcanoes, at Dasgil Hill, close to Qobustan. Getting to the mud volcanoes was extremely difficult, even on a tour. Our bus had to navigate dirt roads, almost crumbling away off hillsides. Because of the state of the roads, if it has been raining you can’t visit the site. It’s too dangerous to get there.
The site of the mud volcanoes is really strange and if a guide did not bring you here you wouldn’t know this was the location of the mud volcanoes: it just looked like a rocky hillside, quarry like, on top of a random hill – it’s just when we got up close that we saw that the random peaks were actually mud peaks, spluttering out mud. There’s no infrastructure here or anything to indicate that here be mud volcanoes.
I always think of volcanoes as huge things, but the mud volcanoes are not big at all – the highest was about two meters – but there are about ten of them in this one place.
We spent about 20 minutes here, watching the mud bubble up and pop. A guide on another tour actually lit the gas coming off one of the volcanoes.
Atlas Obscura has more information about the Azerbaijan mud volcanoes and Trip Advisor has more information about these particular mud volcanoes.
Our next stop was at the Gobustan/Qobustan petroglyphs. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is an open rocky area with about 600 pieces of rock art, some of which are 40,000 years old. This art includes images of animals, people dancing, fighting, hunting and fishing. They are interesting as they show how life was in this region at a time when the environment, the flora and fauna were very different to how they are now.
The bouldered, cliff side site is very open and on an exposed hillside. There were paths and steps laid out, though without a guide I’m not sure we would have known where to go and look to find the art. From what I recall, there weren’t any information boards by the art to explain what they were.
Sometimes the art is a little hard to make out. I found I got a better view if I waited for the rest of my group to move on and then tried to look at the scratchings from different angles. I particularly liked the boat, almost like a long-ship, and the donkey. Norwegian anthropologist Thor Heyerdahl, who extensively excavated the site, thought that there was a link between the people here and Scandinavia, and that the people from here might have settled in Scandinavia.
There were toilets at the site and an air-conditioned museum, which explains more about the history of the site, though we didn’t go in here.
Entrance was 5 Manat (£2.20/2.50€) and this wasn’t included in our tour.
Incidentally, I’ve also read that there is Roman graffiti on a rock just outside the site and also inscriptions from Alexander the Great’s soldiers, though we didn’t see these.
After our visit to the sites in the Qobustan region our bus drove us back up to Baku and then to the north of the city (most of us had a snooze at this point). We then went for an amazing buffet lunch at a restaurant close to the Zoroastrian temple. Lunch only cost us 10 Manat (£4.40 /5€) and as well as being able to sample a huge array of Azerbaijani food, the price also included our drinks, ice-creams and fresh fruit, which they bought to our table. There were lots of options for my vegetarian husband. It was one of the nicest meals we had on this part of our trip.
After lunch we went to the Ateshgah Zoroastrian Temple at Surakhani. This is a Zoroastrian fire temple. I’m personally really fascinated by Zoroastrianism, which is one of the oldest religions in the world, with connections to Hinduism and Sikhism, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
This incarnation of the Ateshgah Temple was actually built in the 17th century, possibly by Indian merchants based in this area, though there is some evidence to say that this was a religious site as far back as the 7th century. Wikipedia has extensive information about the history of the site.
The temple is castle like, with a large outer wall containing rooms and then a large plaza area in the centre, with the central fire in a small edifice here. The flame used to be an eternal flame, fired by natural gas reserves under the temple, but this went out in 1969 and now the gas is piped in from central Baku.
Our guide took us to the rooms in the exterior wall and explained about the relics found on the site, which were exhibited here. The exhibits were well-labelled in English, and as the rooms were quite small I often went in after our group to look at things individually.
We ended our tour by taking photos by the holy flames. I think we spent about 40 minutes here in total.
The ticket price for the temple was 4 Manat (£1.80/2€).
The Absheron Pensinsula on which the temple is located is full of natural resources, especially oil and gas. We drove across the peninsula to get to our next site, past fields of bobbing oil wells and through dusty Baku suburbs, to Yanar Dag – to a place where the hillside is on fire.
Yanar Dag (2 Manat / 90p / 1€) is a small complex with some stalls and toilets, with a hillside at the back which is on fire. This is a natural gas fire which burns continuously. It was rumoured to have been lit by a shepherd’s stray cigarette butt in the 1980s.
To be honest, the fire is not that big and the flames not that visible in daytime – and I wasn’t that impressed. This is partly because I’ve been to see the chimera at Olympos in Turkey, which is also a place where natural gas fires burn on the hillside. That site is much more extensive and impressive. Here, I saw the fire, went ‘oooo. cool’ and then had a sit down in the shade for half an hour. There wasn’t much to it really. Apparently though, the flames can get as high as ten meters, which is pretty cool, and also looks much better at night. Also, according to Wikipedia, you can set the local streams on fire – which is also pretty cool. I wish we’d been able to do that.
Our final stop at the end of our hot, tiring day was at the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre, a cool conference / arts hall designed by the architect Zaha Hadid. This wonderful, unique, white, curved building is located to the north of the city, on a hillside overlooking downtown. We didn’t go inside the building, as we didn’t have enough time, instead we went to have a look at the cool art on the tiered, grassy area in front of the centre. Here there were giant plastic snail and rabbit families and statues that you could walk through.
The centre contains a museum, art gallery, concert and conference hall. I think the museum is about Azerbaijani history. According to Lonely Planet entrance is 5 Manat (£2.20/2.50€), though I did see a review that said it was 10 Manat (£.4.40/5€).
Overall, our one day tour lasted about eight to nine hours and was well worth the money. It was tiring seeing everything on one day, but being chauffeured to the key sites with a guide made it well worth it.
Movie inside the Flame Towers
One thing that Jeff and I really miss doing in Spain is going to the movies. Most movies over here are in Spanish and to be honest our language is not yet up to going to see a film – so if we get the opportunity to go watch a film in English, even though we’re on holiday, we like to do this. Although it’s not a natural touristy thing to do, I think going to see a movie on holiday is such a good thing to do as it’s very relaxing. It’s great to run around and see things, but after a while this can get really tiring and going to see a film is a good way to take some time out. Cinemas are also usually air-conditioned and in a hot country like Azerbaijan, being able to sit in an air-conditioned room for a few hours is a real treat.
On our last day in Baku, we were sort of hanging around as we had checked out of our hotel and we were waiting to get the sleeper train to Tbilisi. So we decided that we would take this opportunity to go see a film. We looked at all the cinemas in Baku and found that the Flame Towers movie theatre was playing Ocean’s 8 in English, in the middle of the afternoon – so we went here.
Going to see a movie in Baku was preposterously cheap: our tickets cost us 4.80 Manat each (2.40€ / £2.10). The movie had virtually no trailers and the cinema was quiet. Also, it was extra cool that we were doing this in the famous flame towers.
The cinema at the Flame Towers is a Park Cinema. You can get the movie times and buy tickets from their website. Most films are in Russian, but if you click buy tickets and then select the English tab, I think this shows you all of the English language showings.
What we didn’t do
Tallest Flag Pole in the World
We didn’t see this as it was being fixed. In fact, they had taken it down so that they could make it a little higher, after neighbouring Turkmenistan built a flagpole which was few meters higher. The flagpole, when it is there, is located on a man made platform, pushing out from the sea front to the south of Baku.
In this area there is also a big wheel (Baku Eye) and the Crystal Hall, where Eurovision took place. However, these sights are all a little away from the main drag and so it wasn’t easy to go visit them.
From c100AD – c600AD, Baku Bay was dry but then over the next 300 years the water level in the Caspian Sea rose over 10 meters and the bay was flooded. It is believed that there is a submerged city underneath the bay. What is certainly known is that Sabayil Castle used to sit on an island out in the bay, until a major earthquake in 1306 submerged the island and the castle. In recent years, the water level in the bay has dropped again and the island has reemerged.
The remains of the castle and the island can be seen at the end of Baku Bay, just before the Crystal Hall. Stones from the castle can be seen in the courtyard of Shirvanshah’s Palace.
Boat trip on the Bay
To get a unique perspective on Baku, a good way to see the city from another angle would be by taking a boat trip out into the bay; especially at night when many of the skyscrapers are lit up. Many companies run boat trips. The one mentioned in the Lonely Planet is the Mirvari, which takes people out on 30 minute cruises.
Bath houses and oil baths
Baku has a number of bath houses (hamams). Unfortunately, one of the downsides of being pregnant is that you’re not allowed to visit bath houses in case the baby gets too hot – even though a spa would be lovely when pregnant.
One of the most famous Hamams in Baku is Hamam Mehellesi, which is in the old town. This is a hammam for both men and women. Wikitravel has information on how to get here (it’s in the do section), though sadly I haven’t been able to find a website for the actual bath house.
Tazebey Hamman (men only) is another hammam, located just outside the old city (tazebey.az).
In every TV programme I have watched about Azerbaijan the presenter always ends up going to have an oil bath, where old Soviet ladies bathe them in crude oil. The people who administer these baths believe that they are very good for a range of medical complaints; however it should be noted that the oil is carcinogenic, so they might not be that good for your health.
These oil baths originated at Naftalan, a city 320km/160m from Baku, and Naftalan has a few spas and health centres where you can have this ‘treatment’, for example at the Chinar Hotel and Spa Resort.
I’m pretty certain that you can also have this treatment at Naftalan Hotel in Baku (bookable on booking.com), though I can’t find any specific links for the oil treatments. Wikivoyage’s Baku page suggests that the treatment is 20 Manat (£9, 10€).
Where we stayed
Floors, the Housing Space
Jeff gets the hotel award this trip for finding this absolute bargain of a place. We stayed in a private room, overlooking the Shah’s Palace, in the old walled city of Baku, for 108 Manat for three nights (that’s £50/54€) plus 16 Manat city tax (£7.20/8.10€).
Floors was a beautiful space. It had a cool bar on the ground floor, a kitchen and living area on the second, rooms with shared bathroom on the third floor and then a roof terrace. The whole complex was so well-designed and covered in really cool art work. They offered free clothes washing and tea/coffee, which was great, and the staff were really friendly and helpful.
Our room was simple, but pretty. The bed wasn’t that comfy but the room had air-conditioning, so we were happy.
The only downsides to this place was that we had a bit of confusion with some other guests, as the hotel had told them that we were in their room and that we would be checking out soon so they could have our room, both of which weren’t true. Also, their little puppy bit me. It was only a nip, but it scared me a bit, being pregnant.
For location and price though, I would highly recommend this place.
We booked our stay through Booking.com. They also have a facebook page.
Where we ate and drank
Çay Bağı 145
On our first night, we went to the most touristy restaurant we could possibly find, which was Çay Bağı 145, which is located on a terrace overlooking the Maiden Tower. Part of the restaurant’s terrace is on the roof of the ancient baths (Banu Haman), the domes popping up between tables. It was so atmospheric: there were candle lit tables, people smoking shisha pipes and drinking pots of tea.
Although this was a great place, I don’t think it was a place for eating. Most customers seemed to just be smoking and drinking tea – their specialty. The food was fine (I had a kebab and Jeff had Plov), but nothing special. We might have just arrived late, after their main food service had finished, us still on Spanish food time – the place felt more like a bar/night club than a restaurant when we were there.
However, despite the lackluster food, the views and location were wonderful and I’d definitely return here for a late night pot of tea.
Incidentally, tea seems to be a specialty of Azerbaijan. Restaurants would charge up to 15 Manat (£7/8€) for a tea, but I think that might be for an endless pot with extras on the side. Being pregnant, I’m a bit careful with teas as I don’t know what herbs and flowers are in them. If we return though, I’d love to have a proper tea service.
Ciz Biz Resturant
We liked Ciz Biz so much that we ate there twice.
On Qichik Kala, the road that runs around the interior of the north city walls, between the double gates and Ismailiya Palace, there is a row of traditional restaurants. This was the only area in Baku that we had waiters approaching us to invite us into their establishments. We chose to go to Ciz Biz because we liked their vine-covered terrace, they weren’t expensive and they were one of the only restaurants whose staff didn’t approach us as we walked past.
Here I experimented with lamb and pomegranate, which I didn’t really like as the pomegranate sauce was just too rich. But the place was so cheap that I didn’t feel like I’d wasted my money trying this and I was able to fill up on yummy flat breads instead. We later returned for breakfast which was also really good value.
Gloria Jean’s Coffee Shop
One of the things about being pregnant is that it’s often hard to find foods that you need, such as decaffeinated coffee. When you are travelling and you know very little of the language, it’s hard to ask about food specifics. The nice thing about ubiquitous international chains is that you know you can ask for things like decaf coffee and they will probably have it, without having to try to explain yourself.
That’s the only reason we went here. It was more pricey than the Azerbaijani shops, but it was nice to be able to have a coffee.
There were a number of international coffee chains in Baku. This particular branch of Gloria Jean’s was opposite Ismailiya Palace.
The Bagel Bar
There’s certain foods that we can’t get in Spain and so when we have the opportunity to eat them we jump at the chance. Bagels are really hard to find in Pamplona, and I love bagels, so when we saw the Bagel Bar we decided to pop in for lunch. Yes, it’s not traditionally Azeri food – but they were just what we wanted.
Here we had huge smoothies and bagels. The service was by a very friendly Kazakh man who wanted to talk to us extensively – which was nice. We spent quite a while here, literally chilling out, using their wifi and relaxing. It was yum.
Taksim Kebap, Fountain Square
Taksim Kebap is an upmarket kebab place on Fountain Square. There’re loads of chain franchises on Fountain Square and because we just wanted something quick and easy we went here. The food was nice, the service good and the compot (stewed cherry juice) was delicious.
Supermarket, 28 May Mall
The 28 May Mall is located next to 28 May subway station and the central train station. We went in here when we arrived to get snacks and supplies and then again before we went to board our train.
There is a great food court on the top floor, with stalls selling western food and Azerbaijani food, including loads of delicious fresh salads.
In the basement is Bazar Store, a medium sized, upmarket supermarket. It was a little pricey but had a huge range of products. We loved their cheese breads.
Most of the clothes shops in the mall were high street, western brands, including a Next. There was also a cinema here.
The Independent newspaper published a 10 things to do in Baku article and The Telegraph published a guide to the ten weirdest things to do in Baku (most of which we did and I’ve written about above).
Please note, some, if not much of this information may not be correct, or may be out of date. All these articles show is how we found these places when we visited and what we personally thought of each place. Where possible I will include links to site which will contain more up-to-date info. All of this is our own work and any opinion expressed is that of the author only.
All photos copyright of J Clemo-Halpenny, unless otherwise stated. If you would like to copy or reproduce any of these images, please email me to ask permission.