Aleida Strowger rounds up the top sights, the finest food and more in the Azerbaijani capital.
Be moved by martyrs
Once an amusement park (and before that, a cemetery), Martyrs’ Alley is a moving and tastefully conceived memorial to the 130-plus victims who died as a result of Black January, the massacre in Baku by Soviet troops of demonstrators seeking Azeri independence in early 1990.
See the city’s arty side
Baku’s Museum of Contemporary Art (Yusuf Safarov Street 5, 012 490 8404) consists of 900 works of fine art, graphics and sculpture covering the period 1943 to 2009. Its concept, as well the museum’s impressive design, can be accredited to Baku-based artist Altay Sadigzadeh, whose work made waves at the Azerbaijan Pavilion of the 2011 Venice Biennale. Two storeys of stark white, connected by a see-through lift, feature the finest work to emerge from Azerbaijan, or from Azeri artists, over the past seven decades.
Face a famous spy
As if in keeping with his reputation and achievements, the sculpture of super-spy Richard Sorge in the park named after him in the embassy district of Nasimi gives you the impression that he’s observing you, even now, nearly 70 years after his death. A curved slab of concrete dotted with fake bullet holes depicts a narrow cross-section of Sorge’s facial features.
Visit the home of a musical maestro
There’s something very personal about a visit to the Museum of Vagif Mustafa-Zadeh (Vagif Mustafa-Zadeh Street), the remarkably modest flat where the master of mugham-jazz once resided and practised. It’s not just the piano in the corner that is fascinating, it’s the photographs of his mother, who worked in music and theatre, and of his daughter, the current jazz star Aziza.
See some fiery architecture
It’s an architectural undertaking that would beggar belief in Las Vegas or Dubai. Stand on Baku’s downtown seafront or in the Old City, and you’ll see them rising in the distance, three tapering towers reaching up, combining to form the shape of a vast fire. Started in 2008, at an initial cost of Dhs1.2 billion, the Flame Towers comprise a trio of buildings, each with a different function.
Cruise the Caspian
Every hour in summer, a robust passenger boat leaves the quay just outside Baku’s main harbour terminal to take tourists around the Caspian Sea for half an hour. There’s no commentary, no bar or restaurant
and nothing by way of any safety demonstration, but your chain-smoking captain will assuredly point the General Kerimov or the Salatin Asgarova towards Bayil. Tickets cost about Dhs9 (Dhs4.5 for kids aged five to 12) and are available from the quay.
Eat a superior kebab
With an open-plan grill for cooking kebabs along one wall and bread ovens along another, Sultan’s (Khagani Street 10, 598 0555) produces mouthwatering dishes and also provides ample people-watching potential. Order a selection of wonderful mezze dishes by pointing at the trolley, but be aware: they are accompanied by hot, fluffy bread straight from the oven, which is delicious but invites serious over-indulgence. Follow this with a kebab from the main menu – liver kebab threaded with lamb-tail fat is particularly good and a well-known local delicacy.
Try the local brew
A short walk from the Old City’s metro station, the Brewery (Istiglaliyyat Street 27, 012 437 2868) is a good starting point. Three varieties of hops – light, dark and medium – are brewed on the premises, a first for Baku. An Austrian firm had the good sense to set up this operation, a dark basement warren of sleek copper vats and piping.
Haggle for veg
The Yashil Bazaar, (or ‘Green’ Bazaar) on Khatai Prospekt, sells mostly fruit and vegetables, transported from the countryside in the back of whatever vehicle happens to be to hand. An old Lada full to the brim with apples, with only just enough space for the driver, jostles for space with an ancient lady perched on a motorbike.
Shoot some pool
Nearly every bar in Baku has a pool table. As well as providing easy entertainment, pool is taken seriously in key bars around the city. The Baku Pool League involves some two dozen teams who play in games of singles and doubles. Try pirate-themed Tortuga (Tarlan Aliyarbeyov Street 9, 050 405 0778) for a game in a lively atmosphere.
Qatar Airways flies from Dubai to Baku from Dhs1,111 (www.qatarairways.com). For more info and hotel details, see www.bakutourism.az.
Dubai to azerbaijan
Flight time: About three hours
Time difference: One hour ahead of Dubai.
Dhs1 = 0.21 Azerbaijani manat.