Time Out LA guide
Just because you're not a film star doesn't mean you can't hang out like one – at least for a few days
Time Out Buenos Aires guide
Matt Chesterton and Daniel Neilson share the secrets of a city with a sad soul, but a typical Argentine party spirit
Travel ideas: Bangkok
Time Out takes a break in Thailand and finds holiday heaven. We select our favourite things to do and places to see
Time Out Qinghai guide
Meeting monks and exploring space in one of China's least populated provinces
Bali travel guide
Fancy a break? Bali could be for you, here's what the experts say you really must do, from those in the know
Holidays in Cyprus
We head to the Greek side of the island of Cyprus and find a glorious and simple paradise
48 hours in Rovinj, Croatia
What to do in Croatia's quaintest, cutest and most westerly coastal town
Dubai is home to thousands of Filipinos, but we always forget the Philippines as a potential holiday hot spot. Not anymore
Time Out Italy Guide
Go beyond Italy's big three to find enchanting countryside and beautiful beaches
Time Out Milan city guide
Long-time resident Roberta Kedzierski talks fashion, furniture and football in Italy's most surprising city
Time Out Belgrade city guide
Slobodan Obradovic´ introduces us to his Serbian home city: a centuries-old survivor that's looking to the future
Barcelona area guide
Barrio by barrio, a quick orientation guide to Barcelona's diverse destination districts
Baku travel guide
We visit bubbling Azerbaijani city Discuss this article
- Picture 1 of 2
At the time it felt like a leftfield mini-break choice: Baku, in Azerbaijan, to see the Eurovision Song Contest. Yes – I’ve said it in print and, following the expectation-busting weekend I had, I’m actually not ashamed (yes, really).
The welcome I receive at the visa desk on arrival is friendly, and the gracious curiosity of the locals soon becomes a running theme. At one point, driver after driver toots and waves at my bus tour – and no,
I don’t think anything naughty was written in Azerbaijani along the side.
Indeed, I may well have seen the largest city on the Caspian Sea at its apex. A reported Dhs2.9 billion was spenton the lights for the Eurovision show alone; I can only imagine how much was doled out to ensure the rest of the city looked its best.
Once the visual shock of the omnipresent Eurovision marketing and the people’s hospitality wore off, the third most overwhelming thing about Baku is that, to borrow F Scott Fitzgerald’s phrase, its ‘voice is full of money’. While the sound of oil being pumped may not be instantly discernable, the effects certainly are, whether it’s the predominance of Mercedes on the roads, the number of people with gold teeth or the skyscrapers shooting up like daffodils across the landscape, including the beginnings of the city’s own Trump Tower.
What to see
In May this year the outer shell of these three residential structures – which reportedly cost Dhs1.2 billion to create – were just about complete, ready for images (mainly of flames) to be projected across them. Sat atop the city, they make quite the spectacle.
This 23,000-capacity venue was built amid some controversy in just eight months, ready for the arrival of the Eurovision whirlwind, along with the 2km concrete road leading up to it. While it looks like a flan from the outside, lasers matching the colours of the national flag of the country performing on stage shot into the night sky during Eurovision. Expect similar displays for the Jennifer Lopez, Shakira and Rihanna gigs this autumn, announced just last month.
Head to Yanar Dag, just outside the city, to this self-explanatory site. Yes, flames burn constantly on the natural gas seeping from the ground. Become mesmerised from the nearby teahouse.
Things to do
Fountain Square and The Boulevard
Mooch around the city’s main pedestrian square, boasting a hub of restaurants and shops within well-kept 19th-century architecture. Then enjoy a wander along the seaside Boulevard, currently being extended to become the longest boulevard in the world, at 26km. Sound familiar?
Marked by the Maiden’s Tower (a 12th-century fortress that you can climb for a photo opp), the Old Town is all cobbled streets, alleys and markets. Stop at the courtyard ‘caravanserai’ for a drink (try Mugham Club,
9 Rzayeva Street, +994 12 492 4085).
It’s cheaper when purchased locally, and apparently Baku offers some of the best in the world. Head to Taza Bazaar, a block south of the Blue Mosque on Vurgun.
While Baku has a busy nightlife scene (see www.azerbaijan.com for more), my preferred cuppa came from the faded Victorian Fantasia Hammam, with jam and not a word of English. (From the state of the treatment rooms, I’d avoid having an actual hammam). You’ll find it on 114 Dilara Aliyeva Street (no number).
Time Out Dubai,