Baku is the city of contrasts. You can find modern architecture pearls in crazy futurist shapes in the center. On the other hand, on suburbs there are plenty of old soviet buildings that make you feel back in time. Undercrossings made of marble coexist with historical monuments. Need more? Mud volcanos, ancient rock engravings and nature wonders are waiting for you in Azerbaijan. And all these things are around the sky-blue Caspian Sea… If you dream about adventurous and unforgettable destination, check out our post how to easily organize your trip and visit Baku on your next holidays!
How To Get In Baku
Before you set off on a journey, you must apply for an Azeri visa beforehand. In the past, this process used to be extremely difficult and people had to deal with tons of formal procedures to visit Baku and its wonders. Fortunately, since 2017 they run the system that enable to make everything online and now the whole process of getting the visa is super easy. ASAN Visa, as it’s called, must be proceed on the specifically designated for this purpose governmental website. The portal is well-designed and intuitive to use. Basically, all you need to do is to write down your personal data and make a payment.
Citizens of almost 100 countries are eligible to apply for ASAN Visa. Only citizens of the most of African countries must get the visa at the Embassy. Other continents (with some exceptions) are fine for online visa.
You should know the exact date when you will enter the country as you must specify it in your visa application. You won’t be allowed to cross the border before the date you planned, but you are free to visit the country after this date as the validity period is 30 days.
Also, you need to write the address of the hotel you intent to stay in Azerbaijan. However, it’s not verified at all by officials, so if you don’t know where you’re going to stay, you can write in the address of any hotel in Azerbaijan.
Have your passport photo on your computer, because you need to load it as a file to the visa application.
The bare price of the visa is $20 and there’s a service fee of $3 added to the visa price. You can make the payment with your debit or credit card.
Fill in the form very carefully. Otherwise, you can have your visa application refused, because of some stupid little mistake and in any case your money won’t be refunded.
The visa should be sent on your e-mail within 3 working days. Then just print it and have it with you when you will be entering and leaving Azerbaijan.
AZERBAIJAN-ARMENIA CONFLICT – ESSENTIAL INFORMATION
It’s a very important issue for all tourists visiting this region. During your visa application, you will be asked if you have ever visited occupied territories of Azerbaijan. It’s related to the land of Nagorno-Karabakh, which officially belongs to Azerbaijan, but in fact is controlled by their enemy – Armenia. Visiting this region is illegal according to the Azeri law, so if you did, you will be denied the entry to Azerbaijan. The conflict between these countries is very severe and lasts over 30 years. Systematically, when the diplomacy doesn’t manage to calm the situation down, they restart the war and open fire on the lands of the disputed territory. That’s why if you have ever visited Karabakh before, you can’t admit it to the officials. Also, you can’t have any evidence of staying there in your passport. Custom officers may ask you about it. In addition, officials won’t be glad when they’ll see your passport stamps from Armenia as well. It’s legal to enter Azerbaijan with Armenian border stamps in your passport, but expect lots of detailed questions about your staying in Armenia and what your thoughts are about the conflict.
Our tip: If you plan to visit Azerbaijan and Armenia together on your trip, you’d better go to Azerbaijan first. Armenian custom officers are more relaxed about Azeri passport stamps than officials from Azerbaijan about Armenian ones. By choosing the direction Azerbaijan-Armenia, you’ll arrive in Azerbaijan with no problematic stamps and later you won’t have big trouble with Armenians as well. Picking the opposite way may cause more problems at Azeri border crossing.
Moreover, keep in mind that direct traveling between Azerbaijan and Armenia is not possible. All border crossings are closed. There are no air or overland connections at all. Even phone calls or post services between these countries are cut off. For this reason, you must use some other country for transit. The best option of visiting the South Caucasus region is to visit Georgia in between conflicted countries, as the capital city of Georgia – Tbilisi, has good railway connections with both Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Heydar Aliyev International Airport in Baku is very modern, clean and comfortable. It’s among top 5 airports in Western Asia. Also, it has well-developed network of connections with various destinations in Europe and Asia. The cheapest international flights to Azerbaijan are run by Wizz Air from Budapest, Hungary. Tickets for this route are sold from €78 RT. You can also find budget offers to Baku from Kiev, Ukraine that is served by AZAL. Other low-cost carriers let you visit Baku without large expenses when departing from Istanbul, Dubai or Moscow.
FROM AIRPORT TO THE CITY
The best and basically the only reasonable option to get to the city center from Baku airport is taking the airport shuttle bus Aero Express. It goes to 28 May Metro Station in the city center with a short stop on the way at Koroglu Metro Station on the suburbs. A bus runs 24 hours and departs every 30 minutes during the day and every hour at night. It takes about 40 minutes to reach the terminus. The ride costs 1.30 AZN (approx. $0.75) and you must pay only with BakiKART.
Don’t take taxi from the airport. They tend to rip-off foreigners and it’s very hard to get a good price. If you must have a car ride to the city, it’s much better to try Uber app and end up paying reasonable rate. It’s very easy to use it as there is free and fast WiFi inside the airport terminal.
To arrive in Baku, you can catch very long trains from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. Unfortunately, they don’t run frequent and what makes things even worse, they take even 70 – 80 hours. However, the most popular railway route among tourists is Baku-Tbilisi. The overnight train between the capital cities of Azerbaijan and Georgia goes every day and takes 14 hours. You can choose between 3 types of carriages: 1st class is a 2-berth cabin, 2nd class is a 4-berth cabin and 3rd class called “platzkart” is an open carriage with 54 beds and it looks like hostel dorm onboard the train. Of course, the last option is the cheapest one and despite being the least comfortable, it’s the most adventurous. This type of carriage is picked mostly by locals and you can meet lots of interesting people there and get to know their culture and habits. However, you should speak at least basics of Russian to communicate with them, because English is rarely understood in this part of the world.
When you make an online booking for train between Baku and Tbilisi the conditions depend on what direction you choose. When you pick the train departing from Baku and arriving in Tbilisi you can book your berth up to 10 days in advance on the official website of Azeri railways. However, keep in mind that this is just an online booking and you will need to collect the proper ticket at the station before your departure. The ticket in platzkart costs 23.32 AZN. On the other hand, if you plan to start your journey from Tbilisi and get to Baku, the only way you can get a ticket is buying it at the station in Tbilisi. No online booking for international connections starting from Georgia is possible. Fortunately, apart from periods around public holidays, tickets for this route (in both directions) don’t run out so quickly, so usually you can buy them at the counter a day before the departure date or even the same day. To buy tickets, passports of all passengers are necessary. When buying the ticket at the station, only cash is accepted, but there’s an ATM available. The price of 3rd class berth is 41 GEL. There’s no dining service onboard in all trains in this region, so prepare all your food and drinks before the ride and bring them with you.
If you are really on extremely tight budget, you can split the route between Baku and Tbilisi into two parts and have a transfer in some Azeri town like Ganja. It would be more problematic way than the direct one, but a lot cheaper too.
You can also get to Baku from neighbor countries by bus. However, it’s the least convenient option, so it’s not worth to deeply describe it.
How To Get Around Baku
The fastest, easiest and simply the best mean of transport in Baku is metro. The system has just 3 lines, but it connects all important sites within the city. Metro ride has a flat rate of 0.20 AZN and must be paid only with BakiKART. This plastic contactless card can be bought by cash for 2 AZN from ticket machines at the airport, metro stations and bus stops. You can top up this card unlimited times with any amount, but keep in mind that BakiKART is non-refundable.
Maybe it sounds weird, but keep in mind that it’s not allowed to take any photos inside the metro station. Don’t ask us why :)
Most important metro stations:
28 May – airport shuttle bus & railway station
Nariman Narimanov – Heydar Aliyev Center
Icherisheher – Palace of the Shirvanshahs
Koroglu – airport shuttle bus & bus no. 217 to Yanar Dag
As the metro is sufficient to get around Baku, public buses are useful to visit great attractions located out of the city, like Gobustan National Park or Yanar Dag. More info about these places in a paragraph below.
What To See In Baku
The most known landmark of Baku and the architecture pearl of Azerbaijan. It’s 3 modern skyscrapers that resemble flames. They stand next to each other on a hill close to the city center. Unfortunately, there’s no view point in any of the towers. You can reach this spot on foot or by funicular. You’ll find the bottom station of funicular on Neftchilar Avenue. The ride takes just 4 minutes and goes every 10 minutes. And the nice information about that is the fact it costs only 1 AZN one-way. The walk uphill is a bit tiring and tricky, because the way to the top is twisted and not convenient for pedestrians.
HEYDAR ALIYEV CENTER
Another unique example of crazy Azeri architecture. The shape of this building is truly unbelievable. What’s more and it may sound surreal, but you can even step through the curved roof of this building and take incredible pictures!
PALACE OF THE SHIRVANSHAHS
Unlike attractions mentioned above, it’s a place that presents a bit of history of Azerbaijan. This medieval palace along with Maidan Tower is a main historical monument in the Inner City of Baku. Entrance fee is 10 AZN and there’s a discount for students.
GOBUSTAN NATIONAL PARK
This site is the most popular attraction in the area of Baku and probably in the whole Azerbaijan. Despite the fact it’s located almost 70 km from the capital city all toursits who visit Baku always go on one day tour to Gobustan. The National Park includes unbelievable and unique views: mud volcanos and prehistoric petroglyphs. As it’s pretty difficult to organize the trip to Gobustan on your own, we wrote a separate article GOBUSTAN NATIONAL PARK – NATURE WONDERS FOR $16! where we described all details step by step.
BIBI HEYBAT MOSQUE
Bibi Heybat Mosque is a really nice example of tremendous Muslim architecture. It’s a modern recreation of the medieval mosque, which stayed there in the past. It looks different than classic mosques you can see in other Muslim countries. The mosque is located in the suburbs of Baku on the way to mentioned above Gobustan National Park, so it’s worth to visit those places on the same day.
Yanar Dag, which means “burning mountain”, is a natural fire caused by methane gas coming off the ground. It blazes continuously for about 60 years! Flames reach the height of 3 meters. Yanar Dag is located outside Baku, but it’s very easy to get there. You need to take bus no. 217 from Koroglu bus station, just next to the metro station of the same name. The bus goes every 20 minutes, costs 0.30 AZN and it takes 35 minutes to reach the terminus, which is Yanar Dag. The bus arrives in front of the gateway. They charge 2 AZN to enter Yanar Dag, but students pay 1 AZN.
If you have visited the modern, fairy-tale center of Baku, it would be high time to see the real face of the city. In fact, the downtown is just a representative area that is supposed to impress tourists. While it’s full of marble architecture pearls, the suburbs are a complete opposite. If you go to the residential area of Baku, you’ll spot old Soviet buildings. They make the feeling of going back in time. Everything is non-renovated there and you will feel like in Soviet Union in 80’s. It’s worth to have a walk through these districts and see how local people live in Azerbaijan to have a clear image of both, good and bad sides of the country.
Sleeping, Eating & Safety
Azerbaijan is a very cheap country. Even travelers with super-tight budget can easily find an inexpensive sleeping place. In Baku dorm beds start from $6-$8 and double rooms in hotels go for as little as $11-$12. As you see, you shouldn’t worry about your expenses, because lodging is affordable for everyone in this city.
Eating is pretty cheap in Baku as well. Prices of food are lower than in neighbor countries of Azerbaijan. The country can offer wide range of traditional dishes. However, we spot that street food and especially Shawarma is the most popular among travelers and even locals. Shawarma is very similar to commonly known rolled kebab, so it contains the meat of your choice, vegetables and sauce. Basically, we noticed that the only difference is the fact that shawarma seems to be “lighter” than standard kebab. It’s tasty, quick to order and very cheap – usually just 3 or 4 manats, so you can have a dinner for only two dollars!
Is Baku safe to visit? Absolutely! You can wander around the streets without concern even after dark. Local people are rather friendly and you always find someone that is willing to help you. You need to look out for taxi driver as they may try to rip you off. But the biggest danger in Azerbaijan is the giant heat. The temperature can break 40°C in summer, so it’s not advised to stay outdoors for too long, especially at midday. That’s why, summer holidays may not be the best time to visit Baku Azerbaijan.
How Much Does It Cost To Visit Baku? (per person)
Flight Tehran-Baku OW (promotion of AZAL airlines): $55
Train Baku-Tbilisi: 23.32 AZN (approx. $14)
Accommodation: FREE – Couchsurfing
airport shuttle bus: 1.30 AZN (approx. $1)
metro and buses: 6.30 AZN (approx. $4)
Gobustan National Park tour: 20 AZN / people = 10 AZN (approx. $6)
Gobustan National Park entrance fee (student discount): 1 AZN (approx. $0.50)
Yanar Dag entrance fee (student discount): 1 AZN (approx. $0.50)
Food: 50 AZN (approx. $30)
TOTAL for 3 days: $111