Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku, is the architectural love child of Paris and Dubai - albeit with plenty of Soviet genes floating half-hidden in the background. Few cities in the world are changing as quickly, and nowhere else in the Caucasus do East and West blend as seamlessly or as chaotically. At its heart, the Unesco-listed İçəri Şəhər (Old City) lies within an exotically crenellated arc of a fortress wall. Around this are gracefully illuminated stone mansions and pedestrianised tree-lined streets filled with exclusive boutiques.
The second oil boom, which started around 2006, has turned the city into a crucible of architectural experimentation and some of the finest new buildings are jaw-dropping masterpieces.
Check out our list of things to do in Baku which make it such a fantastic event destination:
This unique place is located just outside Baku and has been established a historical landmark of Azerbaijan in an attempt to preserve the ancient carvings, mud volcanoes and gas-stones in the region. Azerbaijan has more mud volcanoes than any other country on Earth – more than 400 in total.
Azerbaijan has numerous winery’s and a large array of excellent locally made wines can be found in restaurants and bars across the city.
Heydar Aliyev Center
Vast and jaw-droppingly original, this Zaha Hadid building is a majestic statement of fluid 21st-century architecture forming abstract waves and peaks that seem to melt together. The real delight is simply pondering and photographing the extraordinary exterior from ever-changing angles. The interior is impressive, too, and hosts concerts and several exhibition spaces. Arguably the best part of the permanent collection is 'Treasures of Azerbaijan', which walks you through the nation's cultural highlights.
This tapering 29m stone tower is Baku’s foremost historical icon, with rooftop views surveying Baku Bay and the Old City. Possibly millennia old, its construction date is the subject of much debate, though much of the present structure appears to be 12th century. The Azeri name, Qız Qalası, is usually rendered ‘Maiden’s Tower’ in English, leading to plenty of patently fictitious fairy tales. Various versions are considered in the imaginative little multimedia installations that adorn several floors of the tower's interior.
Completed in 2012, this trio of sinuous blue-glass skyscrapers forms contemporary Baku's architectural signature. The three towers range from 28 to 33 storeys – so huge that they're most impressive seen from a considerable distance, especially at night when they form a vast palette for a light show which interchanges between fire effects, pouring water and the national flag.
Palace of the Shirvanshahs
This splendid confection of sandstone walls and domes was the seat of northeastern Azerbaijan’s ruling dynasty during the Middle Ages. Mostly 15th century, it was painstakingly (over)restored in 2003 with artefacts adding interest plus one or two entertaining audiovisual surprises.
Ever-popular with strollers, this leafy piazza forms Central Baku’s natural focus. The fountains for which it is named include one topped by shiny silvered spheres giving fish-eye reflections of the trees and stone facades.
Another recent addition to Baku Boulevard, Baku Eye resembles the giant wheels found in cities around the world. Baku Eye reaches 60 metres (197 feet) and takes approximately 30 minutes to complete a full rotation. Tickets are just AZN5 ($3) per person, making it a bargain compared to others such as the London Eye. At this price, ride during both the day and night for the different experience and views.
From historic flatweaves to modernist picture-rugs, this tailor-made museum displays and explains a superb collection of Azerbaijani carpets. It's housed in a 2014 building by Austrian architect Franz Janz, designed like a stylised roll of carpet.
The Yanar Dag
This is a natural gas fire that burns continuously. Located near Baku, on a hillside in the Absheron Peninsula, underground natural gas keeps the fire continuously burning.
Baku is therefore an incredibly diverse place with a lot of things to see and do, making it absolutely perfect as an event destination!
Are you ready to start exploring Baku, Azerbaijan?