Merci Bakou #2 – Where to go on a one-day trip outside Baku

Living in Baku is quite confortable. The city is clean, there are shops and fancy restaurants everywhere in the center & a nice boulevard by the Caspian sea-lake whenever you feel like having a walk and some fresh air. But Baku is also a capital city, which doesn’t come without some drawbacks: it is impossible to circulate by car in rush hourS, the air is sometimes polluted and of course it can be stressful. Which is why, every now and then, it feels really good to get out of the city for a day and see something else! So, here is a list of places I have visited and enjoyed so far to give you a couple of ideas when organizing your next adventure! Don’t hesitate to share your favorite adresses too in the comments!

  • Balaxanı district

I will start with probably the less well-known one: the Balaxanı district. At the end of the 19th century and throughout the oil boom in Azerbaijan, Balaxanı was the place where the first oil raffinery was built and one of the center of the oil production. Probably, if you tell Azerbaijanis that you’re going there for the day, they will look at you a bit suspiciously like « why on earth would you go to Balaxanı? ». Indeed, the neighborhood doesn’t have a good reputation because a waste incineration plant is constructed nearby: as we can all agree, it’s not a really plus when discussing tourism attributes. But to be honest, when visiting Balaxanı, you won’t feel like you are in an industrial district. The neighborhood was recently renovated and with great taste. Houses are cute, roads are paved, walls are decorated… If you don’t believe me, just visit their instagram page and see how much effort is done to make the city attractive!

  • Gobustan & the mud volcanoes

Whether you are just a tourist or currently living here, there is no way you haven’t heard about two of the most popular attraction in Azerbaijan: Gobustan and the mud volcanoes. Well, good news, you can do both of them in one day -or even half a day!– : isn’t it convenient? Visit first the museum in Gobustan National Park to learn more about this archeological site with various multimedia installation (do make a stop in the gift shop, it’s modest but the ceramic bowls are nice and I haven’t found them anywhere else). Then, take a walk around the park and look around for petroglyphs, old drawings which are between 5000 and 20000 years old and describe the life of our ancestors. Try to spot horses, bulls, shamans, and even viking boats. Wait a sec, viking boats? Yup. Viking boats. Apparently, there is a chance that vikings come from Azerbaijan! At least it is the theory of Norvegian anthropologist Mr. Thor Heyerdahl. From there, it is a short trip to see the famous and awesome mud volcanoes! Something quite unique in the middle of, well, nowhere – no roads around, the trip is an experience in itself – that will make you feel like you are on the moon.

  • The fire moutain (Yanardağ) & Fire temple (Atəşgah)

Again, two of the most popular attractions that can be visited in one day – or half a day! And this time it even has a theme: FIRE! I like the fact that both those excursions (Gobustan one and Fire things one) include somewhat a « monument » and a natural phenomenon, so depending on the taste, everybody will be happy. Visit first the Fire temple, which have originally been buildt by Zoroastrians believers. Zoroastrism is the first monotheist religion, it comes from Iran and revolves around the four elements, among them, fire. So, when « fire-worshippers » heard about the never ending fire in a far away land, they travelled all the way to nowadays Azerbaijan and thought it must be sacred. Step by step, the place became more and more structured, giving it the shape we can currently visit. The fire actually came from a natural gas leak which has disappeared after industrial gaz exploitation started in the region: the fire we can see there is now artificial. But, no despair, because the Fire mountain is still on and is not going to stop anytime soon! Haters will say it is not much to see, well, to be honest it may be true but it is still nice to see especially to warm up after a cold visit of Atəşgah. I went there twice and with this experience I can now really recommend you to go 1) when it’s not raining and 2) at sunset when the colors get really beautiful. There is also a small museum there, a café and a small souvenir shop.

  • A hike with Camping Azerbaijan

Does it happen to you sometimes that you feel like going on an adventure but 1) all your friends have plans already 2) you have no energy to organize something by yourself? Well dear reader, I have exactly the solution you need: go with Camping Azerbaijan! No worries, you don’t need to actually go camping, as they mostly organize day-trips to the mountains, waterfalls, parks, and basically all the cool natural spots you can reach within a day from Baku! It is a very good opportunity to meet new friends and discover a new area of Azerbaijan. How does it work? Well first you register for the trip (you have to pay in advance), then you wake up very early (like 6am or something, brrr), meet the group at a departure point, hop on the mini-van and off you go to your adventure. Included in the trip is a confortable transportation, an experienced tour guide, amazing landscapes, a good workout and also (the best part) tea breaks and dinner at locals’ house, usually in very small and remote villages. The experience can’t get more authentic, the food is good plus you’re helping the local economy: yes, indeed, it is a win-win situation. Oh, and if you have a Bakou Francophones card, you get 10% off 🙂 !

  • Taking the train to Sumqayıt 

If you are, like me, a train lover, you will be very disappointed when visiting Azerbaijan in a pandemic/post-pandemic time. There are almost no more trains in Azerbaijan! Before Covid, people were able to go to Ganja, Sheki, even Tbilissi in Georgia by train. Awesome, right? But for some reasons, most of the train lines haven’t reopened yet*. Only one is still working: the line to Sumqayıt, third city of Azerbaijan, one hour away from Baku approximately. I mean, you could technically also go there by taxi or bolt very easily and maybe even for a cheaper price. But the train trip is somehow at least half the fun of going to Sumqayıt so I would not advise that. Actually, I would also not advise to go to Sumqayıt on a windy day of november, unless you are a fan of post-apocalyptic landscapes. When I think about it, it reminded me of our visit to the sea resort area next to Varna in Bulgaria just after the first lockdown: empty streets, empty hotels, empty everything. But I have heard that in the summer it was more exciting there, so I can’t wait to visit again 🙂 Do you confirm? Do you have recommendation on what to visit in the city?

*since writing this article, the line Baku-Ganja re-opened too!

  • Mardakan: its botanical garden, its castle and its tower

Going to Mardakan is an interesting trip you can take if the weather is nice. The Botanical garden -more precisely an « arboretum »- is nice place to enjoy a walk among tall and beautiful trees. The Russian poet Sergeï Yesenin used to live there and apparently you can now visit his house (but for some reason we haven’t? Maybe it was closed?). Not far from the garden, you can visit (or should I say, explore) the Mardakan castle. If you are brave enough to climb the stairs or at least what is left of them, you will be able to enjoy a quite nice view of the city. Local curiosity: an oil pit right inside the Mosque garden nearby. Finally, have a look at the tower, I guess (somehow we didn’t go I think? what happened to us that day?).

  • Shikh Beach & the fish restaurant

In Baku and in Azerbaijan in general, as you may have understood, oil is kind of everywhere. Sometimes, even going to the beach can be oil-related. Luckily, it’s not because there would be some oil in the Caspian sea itself (oh no!) but because of the offshore platforms one can admire while bathing in the wave-free water. And the perfect place to do that is the Shikh Beach (very chic!), one of the public beach really near Baku and, therefore, easy to access by taxi for example. Even if you don’t want to swim, you will not be disappointed by the view: it is like being in a Star Wars movie. But hurry up to visit: they are dismantling the platform quite fast and it might not be there anymore next summer! After a swim, take the opportunity to stop and eat some fish in one of the restaurants along the shore: you will be impressed by the service and will appreciate the family atmosphere there. I usually go to Derya Fish House but I have heard that all restaurants were similar in price and quality so, let me know which one you go to!

  • The Candy Cane mountains

If you grew up in the 90’s you probably know this video about Charlie and the Candy Mountain. But this Candy Mountain is different and I promise you will be able to visit it and keep all your organs (I think)! The Candy Cane Mountain takes this nickname from the British travel writer Mark Elliott who was inspired by its original colorful stripes. You should probably not expect something as impressive as the photos we can see on the internet, but the area is still worth a visit in my opinion. You will also find a small museum dedicated to Mikayil Mushfig, an Azerbaijani poet who was executed at the age of 30. He was a defender of Azerbaijani traditional music instrument such as the « tar » which apparently were forbidden during Soviet union. This fact explaining why there is a giant tar on the moutain with the inscription « oxu », from one of Mushfig poem : « Oxu, tar! » translated as « Sing, tar! ».

I hope you now have a lot of inspiration to go and explore Azerbaijan! Do you have other recommendation for one-day trips outisde of Baku? Let us know in the comment section! 🙂

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