10 Things to do in Azerbaijan – & My 5 Day Azerbaijan Itinerary
You want to know the main things to do in Azerbaijan? Don’t worry, I’ll try to keep it simple and not talk too much, you can scroll down to top 10 things to see in Azerbaijan, or my 5 day Azerbaijan itinerary and ignore the rest! Anyway, I love travelling in Caucasus region, home to Georgia, Armenia, South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Azerbaijan. The region is full of unique cultures, beautiful landscapes and has yet to be bombarded with tourists in the same way most of Europe has. Although Georgia is my favourite country in the region, Azerbaijan is the country most full of fascinating contradictions, and there is a lot of things to do in Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan holidays are suddenly on the up and it’s easy to see why Wedged in the beautifully scenic Caucasus mountains (where you can climb Mt Elbrus, Europe’s highest mountain), between the semi-desert and the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan is still carrying the memories of a difficult 20th century. Yet now awash with new optimism, Azerbaijan is buoyed by its newly minted status as a major player in oil. Suddenly it’s rich, and it’s not afraid to show it. Check out my Azerbaijan 5 day itinerary, full of Things to do in Azerbaijan, I hope it helps when you reach the country!
THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU VISIT AZERBAIJAN
How long should you spend in Azerbaijan?
You can get away with 3 days if you’re in a rush, you would be able to visit Baku, and the Gobustan Natinal park (the UNESCO world heritage site home to the mud volcanoes). You could also spend 2 weeks and see the whole country! Personally, though, I think 5 nights is the perfect amount of time to spend in Azerbaijan.
Is Azerbaijan expensive?
It’s certainly not cheap. You could squeeze by on $50 a day staying in the few hostels they have in Baku and eating street food. I spent about $100 a day in a decent hotel and not worrying too much about money.
Is it safe to visit Azerbaijan?
Very safe. The only thing to note is to not talk about the relationship they have with Armenia or the disputed territory of Nagorno Karabakh (and certainly don’t visit it from the Azerbaijan side, but you can visit it from the Armenian side if you visit there).
Do I need a visa to visit Azerbaijan?
The Caucasus is a wonderful, ancient region to travel in. If you do travel to Azerbaijan, I’d really, really, really recommend making it at least a 2-week trip and doing an overland Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia trip (in that order, if you go to Armenia first, you can’t go to Azerbaijan due to their break down in relations). You can also then visit the 3 disputed territories of South Ossetia (accessible only via Russia though), Abkhazia (accessible from Georgia) and Nagorno-Karabakh (accessible from Armenia). It’s a true travel adventure.
Top 10 Things to do in Azerbaijan
Before I go through my Azerbaijan 5 days itinerary, let me list the Top 10 things to do in Azerbaijan. If you visit Azerbaijan, regardless of your itinerary, try not to miss out on these, especially numbers 1-7!
- Baku Old City – the Unesco World Heritage site includes the City Walls, the Maiden Tower, and the Palace of the Shirvanshahs
- The Flame Towers – Baku, and Azerbaijan’s new modern icon
- Bibi Heybat Mosque – Home to one of the descendants of the Prophet Mohammed
- Ateshgah Fire Temple – A fascinating insight into Zoroastrianism and their worship of fire
- Sheki – Gorgeous traditional town on the former Silk Road perched on a hilltop 5 hours West of Baku
- Lahij – A culturally diverse settlement focused on local handicrafts and cobblestone alleyways, really cool.
- Gobustan Mud Volcanoes – Azerbaijan’s 2nd UNESCO World Heritage Site
- Mardakan or Buzovna beach – if you’re there in the summer, join the locals on the beach
- Quba and Tenghi Canyon – If you have time to kill, head north and go hiking in Caucasus mountain foothills in Azerbaijan
- Tufandag or Shahdag ski resorts – If you’re here in December, January or February go skiing for less than $12 a day!
Things to do in Azerbaijan; A 5 Day Azerbaijan Itinerary
5 nights is the perfect amount of time to get to grips with Azerbaijan and its main highlights, so let’s get started
Day 1 on your Azerbaijan itinerary: Baku Old City, UNESCO World Heritage Site
Baku is where it all starts. Spending two days in a city, which boasts arguably the world’s most awe-inspiring skyscrapers alongside a UNESCO listed old city, is a great introduction to the contrasts that Azerbaijan holds. The flashy capital, Baku, boasts architecture that even the Emiratis in Dubai would cast a jealous eye over.
Baku Old City: Take a local breakfast on the city’s waterfront promenade, Azeri cheese and bread, and, head by foot to the old town and immerse yourself in what Baku used to be. You can take a free walking tour of the Old City, or spend the next few hours with your guidebook wandering the beautiful haze of cobbled, winding alleys and medieval architecture. Just make sure to spend some time in the sandstone Palace of the Shirvanshahs, home to the Azeri dynasties who led during the middle ages.
Next up is the imposing 29m Maiden’s Tower, the icon of Baku’s old town and well worth the knee-jerking climb for unparalleled views of Baku Bay and the old town.
Once you’ve had your fill of culture, venture back to the waterfront where you can stroll along the Bulvar, sampling all the national drinks ranging from the wonderful Azeri sherbert (a home-grown fruit juice with a generous helping of sugar and a touch of rose water) to the flavorful local teas, and maybe grab yourself a beer for sunset.
Day 2 on your Azerbaijan itinerary: Baku
Wake yourself up with a wonderful local coffee at one of the endless coffee shops west of Fountain Sq. Then move on to the venue that Azerbaijan hoped would be their introduction to the Western world – the Crystal Hall. Built exclusively for the 2012 Eurovision song contest, the hall never fails to impress. Shining like a diamond snowflake on Baku bay, the venue truly is a sight to behold. The Crystal Hall spared no expense; the project (controversially) cost millions and is as lavish as it is expensive. The hall was built entirely on recaptured land from the Caspian Sea and basks in the glory of the world’s second tallest flag pole. It’s another site that is worth getting up close and personal within its own right.
After lunch by the hall, venture to the rickety funicular railway and take the free ride all the way to the top of Martyrs’ Alley. The sombre graveyard pays tributes to those who fell in World War II. After paying your respects you’re rewarded with the most breathtaking views of the entire city. Spin around and you’ll see Baku’s and Azerbaijan’s newest icons in all their glory – the Flame Towers.
After strolling back down to the city, pulling on your glad rags, it’s time to party in the Caucasus’ most cosmopolitan city. With both ex-pats bars and local hangouts aplenty, everyone is spoiled for choice when wanting to cut loose in Baku.
Day 3 on your Azerbaijan itinerary: Gobustan National Park, UNESCO World Heritage Site
Jump in a taxi, book a tour or from Maiden Tower hop on Bus 88 or 120 to take bus number 88 or 120 to the ‘Field of 20’ stop, then Bus 195 to the National Park. Today is two of the best half-day trips Azerbaijan has to offer. The Petroglyphs at Gobustan are another UNESCO listed site and date back as far as 12TH century BCE. The museum attached to the rock carvings will whet your appetite just enough before you go searching for the carvings. As you walk around the barren, semi-desert landscape of Gobustan you’ll be catapulted back in time amongst the cave paintings themselves, a true highlight of any trip to Azerbaijan.
Just another 10km or so beyond Qobustan is one of the more obscure destinations to be found in Azerbaijan or the surrounding region. The mud volcanoes are definitely worth adding to your itinerary. The ugly 10-foot tall mounds aggressively spout thick mud 24 hours a day, just don’t get too close or you’ll be wearing a nice little reminder of your time here (like the author). The volcanoes can be tricky to locate, so make sure your driver either knows the route personally or chat to some locals at Qobustan to get the lowdown on how to find them. And be prepared to tip a few extra dollars at the end, he may be required to do some minor off-roading!
NOTE: If you’re a fast tourist or super-pushed for time, you could squeeze Day 1, Day 2 and Day 3 into just 2 days. An early start to get to Gobustan, back for late lunch then a dash around Baku.
That night, depending on your level of adventure, you can either stay in Baku once more, or take the slow 11pm nighttrain to Sheki, which will get you to Sheki around 6am in the following morning (that’s what I did). Luxury ticket, with a bed, is about $12!
GOOGLE MAP FOR DAYS 1, 2 AND 3 ON YOUR AZERBAIJAN ITINERARY
Day 3 or 4 on your Azerbaijan itinerary: Sheki
If you didn’t take the night train, you can take a four-hour taxi from Baku to Sheki.
First things first.
1. You have to visit Sheki when you visit Azerbaijan. It’s amazing, and often people consider it the highlight of there trip here.
And 2. Stay in the famous Caravansarai regardless of your budget ($30 or so per night). It’s an ancient hotel which was home to traders, poets and merchants in the Silk Road days, pretty cool! After that, Sheki is a place where you will just wander around and soak up the gorgeous views and beautiful architecture. Have brekki at the Sheki Bazaar, check out the Friday Mosque, the tea house inside the Palace of the Sheki Khans. If you have time, head out to see the church at Kish, and think about dinner ar the Karavan Palace.
Day 4 or 5 on your Azerbaijan itinerary: Lahich
I wouldn’t be surprised if Sheki stole your heart, so if you’re travelling on a long trip, you may well spend another day and night there. But, if you live in the real world, and your holiday time is set-in-stone, then it’s time to get moving. Your last stop on the 5 night itinerary, Lahich.
Lahich is kind of like Sheki before Sheki realised how beautiful it was. In Lahich, you may be the only tourist there, now that is a trip worth making! To get here, you have to get from Sheki to Ismaili, then Ismaili to Lahich. A taxi is your best bet (about 3 hours and $30), failing that you’re on the minibuses for most of the morning, on perhaps longer.
Lahich, or Lahij, is set in the valleys of the Caucasus mountains.You’ll be back in modern Baku tomorrow, so this is the last true taste of Azerbaijan culture. Walk the cobblestone nooks and crannies, or go for a little hike.
NOTE: If you only have 3 or 4 days in Azerbaijan, you can skip Lahich and go straight back to Baku.
Day 5 or 6 on your Azerbaijan itinerary: Back to Baku
A 4 hour winding mini-bus ride from Lahich to Baku, or a 2.5 hour taxi journey and you’re back in the Capital just in time for your flight. I hope you guys will share the love I have for this region after your week or so in Azerbaijan. Countries like this are in short supply these days. Beautiful, cultural, friendly and yet to be overwhelmed with tourism. You made it, and you can tell your grandkids you did before everyone else!
Google map for your 5 day Azerbaijan Itinerary, including Quba as an optional hiking addition
AZERBAIJAN 3 DAY ITINERARY? 4 DAY? 1 WEEK?
3 DAYS: I would spend Day 1 in Baku and do the Old city, take the night train to Sheki. Spend Day 2 in Sheki, sleep there. Morning taxi back to Baku for half-day in Baku and sleep there.
4 DAYS: I would spend Day 1 in Baku and do the Old city, take the night train to Sheki. Spend Day 2 in Sheki, sleep there. Morning taxi back to Baku, but go via Gobustan and the mud volcanoes, sleep in Baku.
1 WEEK+: I would follow the 5 day itinerary above, but after Lahich head north to Quba for a night or 2 hiking, and check the Tengealti canyon. Also, if it’s summer hit the beaches at Mardakan or Buzovna, and if it’s winer hit the slops at Tufandag or Shahdag resorts. Perfect!
Overlanding to Georgia, and on to Armenia: If you’re going to Georgia, you can take a night train directly from Baku to Tblisi (Georgia’s Capital) but that means skipping Sheki, don’t do that, Sheki is so lovely. I’d do Baku (and then north to Quba if you want to hike, then back to Baku), then on to Lahich, then Sheki, then Tblisi. Done.
Writing this blog post has brought back so many amazing memories from my time in Azerbaijan. I overlanded from Iran, and then on through the Georgia, Armenia, Nagorno-Karabkh, back to Armenia, back to Georgia, into Turkey and all the way across Turkey. A brilliant, brilliant trip, and a route I’d recommend so highly. And now, with this blog post, I’m going to take my mum back to Azerbaijan next year I think, I just haven’t told her yet!
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