Things to see and do in Azerbaijan
Azerbaijan Republic Ministry of Youth, Sport & TourismAddress: 1072, Baku City, Olimpiya str. 4, Baku City,
Telephone: (12) 465 6442.
Attractions in Azerbaijan
Admire the wares at Lahic
Shop for exquisite copper products in the Persian mountain town of Lahic, where great hiking, charming architecture and natural beauty combine for the ultimate mountain escape. Workshops, smithies and craft shops line the cobbled streets and the tourist office can help arrange homestays with local families.
Climb Beshbarmaq Dag
Join mystic-minded Azeris on a climb up Beshbarmaq Dag (Five Finger Mountain), which rises dramatically 520m (1,706ft) above the coast just north of Baku and is one of Azerbaijan's most holy animist sites. Rock has been worn smooth by devout kisses and Tibetan-style prayer flags festoon the bushes. Prayers are led by mullahs but the mountain was considered sacred long before the advent of Islam.
Don your hiking boots in Xinaliq
Discover the remote mountain village of Xinaliq, where you can find a unique ethnic group of proto-Caucasians who have inhabited this part of the mountains since the Bronze Age and have preserved their original language, customs and traditions. The drive from Guba is spectacular and there are great hiking opportunities. Look out for Imperial eagles. Near Guba, northeast Azerbaijan
Get close, but not too close to the mud volcanoes
Bubbling out of the lonely hills of Gobustan, these enchanting mud volcanoes are just an hour's drive from Baku and offer the chance to witness geology in action. The mud is reputed to have therapeutic properties, but don't get too close: it is boiling and from time to time splutters out in a great ball of fire.
Get your binoculars out at Sirvan National Park
Due south of Gobustan, this little-visited slice of coastal wilderness is well worth exploring. The birdlife is outstanding, particularly during the spring and autumn migrations, and is easily viewed from lakeside platforms. Also on display are Azerbaijan's last goitered gazelles and their antagonists: wolves. Wild boar and jungle cats are also common.
Imbibe Azerbaijani heritage at National History Museum
Housed in an oil baron's sumptuous Belle Époque mansion in central Baku, this informative museum provides a detailed overview of Azerbaijan's history with plenty of striking exhibits from Bronze Age jewellery to Ruritanian military costumes, all with English-language explanations. The no-expense-spared interior design and plush furnishings of the old house are also of interest.
Marvel at Shirvanshah Palace
This is the largest monument in Baku's Old City and dates from the 15th century. Painstaking restoration and imaginative new displays give a flavour of the rich and cultured lifestyle of the Persian Sufi ruling dynasty – the music, the paradise gardens, the lovely art and sumptuous costumes. The upper stories were blown away by an early Russian naval bombardment in the 18th century.
Pilgrimage to Zoroastrianism
Uncover glimpses of the ancient Persian religion of Zoroastrianism at the Ateshgah Fire Temple in Surakhany. Flames lick from torches on the roof of the temple, which was established by the Indian Parsee fire-worshippers who lived in Baku in the 18th century. Zoroastrians still occasionally stage ritual dances here.
Stroll along Park Bulvar
Take a stroll along Baku's tree-lined promenade for sea breezes, manicured gardens and soothing water fountains. A Ferris wheel offers fine panoramas of the Caspian Sea, while inviting garden cafés can be found scattered along the leafy prom. Typically, the evening is the best time to visit, when locals go to walk off dinner.
Take a hike up to Kis
High on a hillside above Sheki, this tiny village serves up a traditional slice of Azeri life. It’s also home to a charming 12th century church, which captivated the late Norwegian explorer, Thor Heyerdahl, who believed the original Norse gods were Azerbaijanis who migrated to Scandinavia during the Roman period.
Take in the views from Maiden's Tower
Climb the spiral staircases inside Maiden's Tower, which overlooks the Caspian in the Içeri Seher, and marvel at the stunning 360-degree view of the city from 30m up. Informative multi-lingual touch-screen installations provide a fascinating overview of the building's history, from 500BC onwards. It was rebuilt as a fortress in the 12th century.
Travel back to the Stone Age at Gobustan Petroglyphs
The area has been inhabited continuously for at least 20,000 years and early inhabitants have left striking petroglyphs of giraffes, elephants, aurochs, lions, shamans and tattooed dancers. Archaeologists believe that the first humans to migrate out of Africa also stopped here. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and contains the earliest known representation of a boat.
Walk around Baku’s UNESCO old town
Explore the fabulous Içeri Seher, the walled old city of Baku and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The narrow streets, honey-coloured city walls, caravanserais, quaint houses and mosques provide a nostalgic glimpse of old Baku before the oil boom of the 20th century created the modern city. Stop for tea in one of many atmospheric cafes and drink in the views.
Wander around the enchanting streets of Sheki
Discover Sheki, one of Azerbaijan's most beautiful towns, which nestles in the foothills of the Caucasus Mountains. Highlights include Khan's Palace, which is set in ornamental Persian gardens and contains stunning murals and stained glass, and the Karavansarai Hotel, whose faded charm captures the once thriving days of the Silk Road.
Watch the spectacle at Fire Mountain
Watch the flames dance at Yanar Dag (fire mountain), a short distance from Baku, where a 10m (33ft) wall of fire blazes day and night thanks to underground natural gas. Pull up a chair at the nearby chaikhana (teahouse) at sunset for the best effect. The spectacle is even more impressive after dark.