Hotspot volcanoes

From mud volcanoes to bustling bazaars, here’s why you should visit Azerbaijan

Located at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Western Asia, lies Azerbaijan, a patchwork of cultures, traditions and influences. Bordering the Caspian Sea to the east, its neighbors include Iran, Turkey, Georgia and Russia, all of which have helped make Azerbaijan the unique country it is today.

Once a member of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan declared independence in 1991. It is one of the only secular countries in the region, with thriving Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities within its borders.

This melting pot of different cultures and religions makes it an exciting and varied country. Besides ancient monuments, you’ll find neoclassical, baroque and Islamic architecture, as well as an award-winning building by the late architect Zaha Hadid.

The country is also rich in natural wonders, with rolling mountains and bubbling mud volcanoes.

But Azerbaijan’s abundant cultural heritage isn’t the only thing that makes this Caucasian country such a popular destination. There’s plenty on offer, whether you’re looking for a summer getaway or a place to hit the slopes during the winter months.

Tourism has boomed since the introduction of the e-visa in 2017, and you can find a wide range of places to stay, from hostels to high-end hotels.

If you visit in the spring, be sure to attend the Novruz New Year festival to get a taste of traditional Azerbaijani culture. Or if you fancy a winter ski holiday, explore the hill stations of Shahdag and Tufandag between December and March for the best seasonal snow.

There are also plenty of international events here, from the capital’s Formula 1 Grand Prix to the Gabala International Music Festival.

Here are our favorite places to explore no matter what time of year you visit.

What can I do in Baku?

The coastal city of Baku is an original mix of old and new. Iconic flame towers representing the importance of fire in Azerbaijani culture – the name Azerbaijan means “protector of fire” – dominate the skyline.

The old town – locally known as Icherisheher – is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is surrounded by 12th century defensive walls and houses the Museum of Miniature Books, which houses the smallest tome in the world, measuring just 2x2mm.

To get your dose of culture, be sure to visit the Museum of Modern Art, where you can explore the work of local Azerbaijani artists from as far back as the 2nd century to the present day.

If you want to get to the heart of the capital, you have to head to the bazaars. The Yashil bazaar is the biggest in the city. Filled with spices, juices and exotic fruits, Yashil is the perfect place to stock up on delicious snacks. If you want to avoid the crowds, arrive early and soak up the fragrant aromas and colorful displays.

Teze Bazaar is also a great option for the highly prized Beluga caviar, local honey and herbs. Bazaars are also a good place to try classic Azerbaijani dishes, including plov, a rice dish flavored with saffron and aromatic herbs, and piti, a traditional lamb stew with vegetables.

Hiking in Azerbaijan

One of the best ways to explore Azerbaijan is to travel its roads and hiking trails. If you don’t know where to start, the Azerbaijan Tourist Board has created four routes across the country, which will take you through some of its most scenic locations.

To the north, be sure to visit Khinalig, the highest and most remote village in the country. Dating back to the Bronze Age around 4,000 years ago, it is home to the Khinalig people who live a traditional nomadic lifestyle. With panoramic views and green valleys, it is the perfect place to visit during the hot summer months.

For a taste of the south, stop in the village of Sim in the heart of the Talysh Mountains. The village is full of moss-covered rocks and thousand-year-old trees, giving it a magical atmosphere.

Surrounded by tangerine orchards, you can gaze out over the distant Caspian Sea while tasting local tea, jam and honey. Village tour guides will accompany you to nearby Sim Waterfalls, tumbling from the mossy rocks above.

National parks

To make the most of your stay, be sure to visit some of the national parks scattered across the country. Shirvan National Park covers 55 hectares and is a hotspot for birdwatching. There are 34 species of birds here and during the winter months majestic flocks of flamingos can be seen. It is also a great place to visit some of Azerbaijan’s impressive mud volcanoes. The park has three in total, from which liquid mud and oil spurt out, a real treat for nature lovers.

If you prefer fish, be sure to visit the Zagatala Trout Fish Farm. Located in the northwest of the country, this unique agro-tourism site is surrounded by lush forests. Take a tour of the farm to learn about trout farming and taste the fresh produce at the Zagatala Forel restaurant. Or if you’re feeling lucky, you can even try to catch your own dinner.