From a burning hillside to glorious vistas along the shores of the Caspian Sea, the capital of Azerbaijan is full of surprises
East meets west in the capital of Azerbaijan, where a heady blend of influences makes for a beguiling travel destination. Baku manages to combine Islamic culture, a Soviet past and a dynamic thirst for modern development fuelled by the growth of its oil and gas industries – all coexisting in a city of dazzling architecture and lush green spaces overlooking the Caspian Sea. The easternmost final venue in the competition’s history is home to just over two million inhabitants and attracts a similar number of tourists each year, drawn by its growing reputation as a jewel of the Caucasus.
The Baku cityscape has changed considerably in recent years, but the Old Town – known locally as İçǝri Şǝhǝr (Inner City) – has retained its medieval charm. Take a stroll through its atmospheric streets and make sure to check out the Palace of the Shirvanshahs and Maiden Tower.
Azerbaijan’s capital is known as the ‘City of Winds’, but don’t let that put you off a walk down Baku Boulevard facing the Caspian Sea. The seafront promenade offers great views and will also host the Fan Festival at Dinamo Square from Saturday 25 to Wednesday 29 May. Get your photo taken with the UEFA Europa League trophy, test your football skills and try out the Virtual Reality zone.
Fans of Formula 1 will already be well acquainted with Baku’s three Flame Towers, opened in 2013 and designed to reflect Azerbaijan’s fiery reputation. Lit up at night, they have already become an iconic addition to the city skyline, along with the award-winning Heydar Aliyev Center designed by architect Zaha Hadid.
Located around 25km north of Baku, the ‘Burning Mountain’ is more of a hill – but no less impressive for that. If you’re wondering why Azerbaijan is nicknamed the ‘Land of Fire’, come here at night for the best views of a hillside blazing continuously on natural gas reserves.
The Flame Towers have already become an iconic addition to the city's skyline
Meat lovers will find much to savour in the food of Azerbaijan, where local specialities include Lǝvǝngi – roasted chicken stuffed with walnuts and onions – and the almost endless variations of Qutab, a fried flatbread often filled with beef, pumpkin or greens, and Dolma, with meat, vine leaves, tomatoes, aubergines, peppers or potatoes.
A trip to Baku is not complete without visiting one of the city’s many tea houses (Çay Evi), where locals gather to chat, play board games and drink tea with sweet treats. Try also the spinning 360 Bar at the Hilton hotel for great views of the city and the Caspian Sea beyond.
Six of the eight teams in the Azerbaijani Premier League are based in Baku. While Neftçi remain the record title winners with their eight championship wins, Qarabağ are closing fast after securing their sixth consecutive crown and seventh overall this season.