The Weekly Getaway: Exploring Baku
When I landed on a cloudy, fall day in Azerbaijan’s capital city of Baku, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It was described by Lonely Planet as a cross between Paris and Dubai, which is right up my alley. I braced myself though, as a city’s charm can sometimes be different online versus in person.
My first day in the city did not disappoint. There were gardens mixed with beautiful architecture, rustic city relics, and shiny high rises. A walkable city with a sense of tranquility emanating from the friendly locals. Even the Caspian Sea is a calming force as you walk the city’s waterfront.
It didn’t take long for me to see that the cityscape is a mix of modern and classic. There are wide boulevards, well maintained green spaces, and newly tiled promenades. But the history of ancient civilizations whispers through the walled Icheri Sheher, otherwise known as the old city. Vendors and tasty restaurants surviving hearty kebabs are located throughout. Walking through its steep streets and alleyways while going from Shirvanshak’s palace to the Maiden’s Tower let you appreciate Baku's history.
Vendors and tasty restaurants are located throughout. It was a picturesque experience walking through its steep streets and alleyways while going from Shirvanshah’s palace to the Maiden’s Tower.
The Maiden Tower is one of the city’s oldest structures and a symbol of its strength and resilience. Climbing to the top not only gives you a panoramic view of the city and sea, but an interesting multi-media tour of the medieval civilization that once use the tower for protection and safety.
Azerbaijan gained its independence in 1991 after seventy years of Soviet rule. Since then it has made strides in becoming an international city, though there are signs of previous ruling empires especially in the cuisine.
Our best meals were at cozy restaurants serving kebabs and dumplings revealing a mix of the Russian and Persian influences on the city. We frequented the cozy MariVanna where our waiter Nouman highlighted the best of the Russian, Georgian and Azeri cuisine at each visit. Some restaurants like Firuze and Dolma had their own charm as they were underneath the city’s streets and had local offerings.
Though Baku may be described as a mix of Paris and Dubai, it has a sense of charm and character that it can proudly call its own.
- Baku Boulevard - or Milli Park goes along the city’s coast is a wide promenade with locals and tourists alike enjoying the views of the Caspian sea and the skyline.
- Maiden Tower - also known as Qiz Qalasi, is the symbol of the city. This historic landmark is worth going to see just for the panoramic views. Adjacent to it is an open air museum with archaeological discoveries.
- Shirvanshah’s Palace - located in the old city, this UNESCO heritage site is home to relics from the city’s past.
- Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center - a Zaha Hadid designed building, it is a center with many exhibits inside, though the star of the show is the building itself.
- Fountain Square - also known as Fevvareler Meydani, it's a pedestrian walking area adjacent to the Old City and leading to the Nizami Street shopping District.
- Four Seasons Baku - centrally located with views of the Caspian sea, it is walking distance to the Old City and Flame towers.
- Hilton Baku - with some good restaurants on site, and the Baku Boulevard close by, it’s a great hotel for families.
- JW Marriott Absheron Baku - in the business district and also along the Baku Boulevard, enjoy the tasty breakfast offered at Zest Lifestyle Café.
- MariVanna - try the Siberian beef dumplings, cabbage wraps, and don’t forget to finish off with apple pie and Russian tea.
- Dolma - known for their kebabs, this is the perfect place to stop in the middle of the day for an authentic meal.
- Firuze - an underground restaurant close to Fountain square with traditional Azeri food. Not a place for fast food, but it’s worth the wait.
- BURC Qala - located in the old city, you feel like you’re in an Azeri castle. The Saj platter and eggplant and pomegranate seed rolls, a Georgian favorite, are delicious.