When I booked my trip to Tbilisi, I had two options: either spend five days in Georgia, exploring in and around the capital, or fly over to Azerbaijan.
Always up for exploring new countries, I obviously picked the second option! I didn’t know much about Baku, other than it hosted the Eurovision Song Contest in 2012 and was home to the flame towers. I didn’t need to know anything else to convince me though – I’d have time to explore the city when I was there.
After spending three action-packed days in Georgia, we caught an overnight flight to Baku. The flight between the two cities was only 45 minutes, and we touched down in the capital of Azerbaijan at 2.30am on a Friday morning.
A driver picked us up, and dropped us off at our hotel, the Winter Park Hotel Baku. From the second we entered the airport, there was such a different feel compared to Georgia.
Georgia felt very European, with Tbilisi home to a traditional old town, and old-fashioned buildings. In Baku, however… you could tell they had a lot of money. Everywhere was so modern – the airport looked futuristic, the streets were open and wide, and skyscrapers loomed high in the distance.
We seriously lucked out with our hotel. It was beautiful, and in a great location – if you’re staying in Baku, I’d definitely recommend booking the Winter Park Hotel!
We crashed as soon as we got there, at 3.30am. We’d set an early alarm so we could go on a walking tour at 10.30am, but we were just way too tired. Repeatedly hitting snooze, we didn’t get up until 10.30am, but felt so much better for it.
From the Old Town, to the Caspian Sea… and Céline!
The sun was shining, and despite being the middle of October, it was a warm 21 degrees. We headed straight down Azerbaijan Avenue, until we hit the Old Town walls (known as Icherisheher).
The Old Town was really pretty, with intricately designed buildings, traditional restaurants and souvenir sellers. It was clear we were no longer in Europe: it looked distinctly Middle Eastern, but with a Western feel.
We climbed to the top of the Maiden Tower, and I got my first glimpse of the flame towers, and the Caspian Sea. We then stopped off at Sweet Memories to sample some traditional Azerbaijani pastries (they were pretty nice, FYI).
Venturing out of the Old Town, we wandered through Filarmoniya Park, and went to National Flag Square, where… you guessed it! The flag of Azerbaijan was proudly fluttering in the breeze. Measuring 70 metres by 35 metres, it’s thought to be the world’s largest flag, and it certainly looked big.
I really liked walking through Milli Park, where you had the city of Baku on one side, and the Caspian Sea on the other. It seemed to be a very popular meeting place with the locals, too.
It was getting close to lunchtime, so we crossed back over to the city and what did I see other than a Céline store?!
As we grabbed a burger and milkshake at Coffee Station, I was confirming if Azerbaijan had tax-free shopping (they did), and how much that would make my Céline bag. I’d made up my mind: I was going to head straight to Céline after lunch, and buy the Luggage Tote.
It was all planned: I opened the door and headed towards the bag… except it was navy. As if. They didn’t have black, so unfortunately my plans were shattered. I guess it just wasn’t meant to be this time. Maybe I’m destined to buy Céline in its birthplace of Paris?
The weather was beginning to cool down, but we couldn’t resist checking out some more shops, and I bought some trousers from Bershka (slightly more affordable than Céline!).
It was safe to say that just after just half a day in Baku, it had made a hugely good impression on us all.
Finding the flame towers
As the flame towers were the only thing any of us knew about Baku, we’d booked to go to the jazz bar inside.
We got the taxi to drop us off outside the towers an hour early, as we’d been advised to head to the mosque opposite first. We weren’t entirely sure why to begin with, but after climbing up and down several flights of stairs in the darkness, it became clear why. Once you’d reached a clearing, if you looked one way, you could see the bright lights of Baku from above, against a backdrop of the Caspian Sea. If you looked the other way, you could see the flame towers in all of their glory: one minute they were lighting up like fire, the next they were flashing the colours of the Azerbaijan flag.
I think that was my favourite part about all of Baku. The flame towers looked so impressive, and whilst we took lots of pictures, it didn’t do them any justice!
The jazz bar in the flame towers was pretty touristy, but we just had to go inside… because flame towers! The cocktails were really good – I had the Garota de Iponema, which was strawberry liquor, peach liquor and melon liquor, with pineapple juice, cranberry syrup and egg white.
The other cocktails we tried were New Orleans, which consisted of bourbon, thyme syrup, aperol, cherry bitters and lemon juice; and the Golden Dream, with vanilla liqueur, triple sec, orange juice and fresh cream.
If I went back to Baku again, whilst I wouldn’t go back inside the flame towers, it was something that needed to be done on my first trip!
Final few hours in Baku
On the Saturday, by the time we’d checked out of the hotel, we only had three hours to see the rest of Baku. It took us 45 minutes alone to walk to the Wheel of Baku by the Caspian Sea. To our horror we thought it was shut, but luckily it wasn’t, so we managed to go on it (not quite as impressive as the Chernobyl-esque wheel at Mtatsminda Park in Tbilisi, but it felt a lot safer!).
After that, we headed back to the Old Town for lunch, as we all felt pretty hungry. We picked some traditional Azerbaijani dishes to share between the three of us.
Sadly for us, it was time to head back to the hotel, collect our cases and catch our six hour flight back to the UK.
Why I liked Baku so much
I genuinely had no idea what to expect when I first landed in Baku… but it was so much better than what I could possibly have imagine. Everywhere was so modern, clean and nice. The people were very friendly, and it was easy getting around.
Whilst you could tell that you weren’t in Europe; despite the buildings of the Old Town looking Middle Eastern, there was still a very Westernised feel. Having been to Morocco when I was 14 and hating it, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to think of Baku… but I really liked it!
Only being in Baku for a day and a half, we had nowhere near enough time to see it all. For that reason, I’d love to go back at some point and spend some more time there. I just hope that when I do, there’s still a huge lack of English and American tourists… it’s nice to go somewhere that not many other people visit.