We visited Azerbaijan in August 2018, departing from Tbilisi, Georgia, due to the convenient night train route Tbilisi-Baku-Tbilisi.
The train departs from the Tbilisi main train station at 20:35 and arrives in Baku at 09:00 in the next morning and the trip costs 48 Gel/person in the 2nd class. We bought the tickets one day before the trip from the Kutaisi train station and then from the Baku train station for the return trip. There are 2 stops during the journey: the first one after around 2 hours at the Georgian border, where the train will have a 1h break for passport check, and the second one at the Azerbaijan border for another 1h passport check and luggage check-up (if you are not lucky). They are mainly interested in the books and expensive objects you carry.
The first journey was pleasant, and we ended up being just the two of us in a 4-persons bunk. However, it was extremely hot during the journey breaks, when we were not allowed to get out, and you could see soldiers with dogs patrolling near the train at the border. The return trip was similar, just that the train was more crowded (it was a Sunday night), there were 2 similar luggage checks, and the departure arrival times were 21:50-10:30 in the next day.
We used the first day to get accustomed with Baku, the people, places and dishes. I will include below our itinerary for the day:
- City center: as our hotel was located exactly in the city center we simply walked down the street to the Caspian seafront, passing by a crowded square, shops, cafes;
- Maiden tower (09:00-18:00, to go up you need to pay 10 AZN. We decided not to do it, as it was not that impressive and there was also a big que);
- The old city and its hidden gems: on the Asef Zeynally str. you will find a hidden caravansary, currently transformed into a bazaar;
- Shirvanshahs’ Palace (10:00-18:00, 10 AZN);
After checking the offers of many tour operators in Baku we decided to book the day trip to Sheki (300 km away from Baku) from Azterra. This was not a group trip and the price we paid was 160 $/2 persons. We had two non-English speaking drivers, and this was itself the most interesting experience of the entire trip because somehow, we managed to communicate, share info about each other and have fun during the trip while feeling like travelling with friends/family and not with an organized tour. Below you can find the itinerary of the trip:
- Diri Baba mausoleum in Gobustan;
- Juma Mosque;
- Nokhur Lake in Gabala;
- Sheki: Sheki Khan’s Palace and Caravan Sarais.
- We had an additional stop at Manolya Café in Seki in order to have a tea and sweets. This was something unexpected, as it was not included in the itinerary, but amazing. This small bar had very few customers (in fact it was only us and another 2-3 persons) but there was live local music sang by 2 young singers, which made us feel less like tourists.
However, there was also a not so pleasant event during the trip. We stopped for a lunch break in a small village at a “restaurant” chosen by our drivers (it was actually somebody’s yard filled with tables, chairs and wooden fences to divide the space and offer some privacy). There were no menus, only a board with some pictures at the main gate. We chose the Kebap for 4 persons and ended up paying 60 Euros (!!!!) (120 AZN) for this lunch. The price was unbelievable, considering the fact that the set-up was exactly like a lunch at home in the countryside, the “waiter” was a young boy dressed in shorts, dirty t-shirt and slippers, and the prices we paid for a similar meal in a central restaurant in Baku were very different.
But in the end, it was a cultural experience to remember and an opportunity to socialize with our local drivers.
For the third day we decided to continue exploring the city, with some of the points included below:
- The Carpet Museum: the ticket price is 7 AZN/adult and 3 AZN/student. In order to take pictures with a camera you need to pay a fee of 10 AZN. We consider this a must-see place of Baku, which will show you more about the culture and history of Azerbaijan, their famous carpets and Shebeke technique;
- The Funicular to the Upland/Highland Park: the one-way cost of the trips is 1 AZN/person and you can enjoy a beautiful panorama above Baku, see the Flame Towers from their base and visit Martyr’s Lane;
- Tusi-Bohn Planetarium: located in Mall Park Bulvar, it offers projections in English for the price of 8 AZN/Person. We were lucky to be the only customers at that time, so we were the only ones in the room and they could start the projections at the time of our arrival, although it was not in the schedule;
- At night we walked along the Neftchilar Ave., the Fountain Square, enjoyed the city vibe and the show offered by the Flame Towers projections.
As we still had some places left on our list, we decided to leave the luggage at the hotel and continue exploring the city. This time we chose another part of it and visited the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Centre and its surroundings. Although there were a lot of exhibitions available at the time of our visit, we chose the Classic Cars Exhibition located at -3 parking floor and have no regrets. The price is 10 AZN and you will not get bored for several hours!!! There are some amazing models, some very old, some very rare, but all of them very well preserved.
Additional places to visit:
- Sabayil Castle;
- Double Gates;
- Nargin Island;
- Nizami Museum;
- White City (near Xetai metro station);
- Gobustan National Park (bus 195 towards Alat);
- Ateshgah & Yanardag;
- National Museum of the History of Azerbaijan;
- Heydar Mosque;
- Bibi Heybat Mosque (Bibi Heybat bus stop);
- Taza Pir Mosque (near Nizami metro station);
- Baku Zoo;
- Muhammad Mosque.
Accommodation costs (per 2 persons): 115 Eur/3 nights/double room with breakfast in a central hotel (via Booking.com): Booking link here
Transportation costs: Tbilisi-Baku-Tbilisi train: 48 Gel/person + 34 AZN/person = 33 Euros/person/roundtrip.
- 2 courses meal for 2 persons in a restaurant in the city centre: 25 AZN;
- One way metro ticket: 0.2 AZN.
Good to know:
- Azeri people are very nice and helpful. One evening we went to a small food cart on the main boulevard to buy a bottle of water and we saw that we had only 0.5 AZN instead of 0.7 AZN, the cost of a bottle. However, the guy selling them refused to let us go and gave us 2 bottles instead of 1 for the 0.5 AZN we had in our pockets;
- We would advise to rent a car instead of paying for organized tours, because the costs will be much lower;
- We had a pleasant surprise and found here the cleanest and most modern train stations among the ones we visited until now.
- Azerbaijan Online Visa: https://evisa.gov.az/en/ ;
- Azterra Trips : www.azterra.az ;