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Situated on the western edge of the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan’s capital enjoys an original and unique appearance that seamlessly blends the ancient with the modern - factors which have contributed to some nicknaming the city ‘the Paris of the East’.
Hosting a round of the FIA Formula One World Championship - the 2016 Formula 1 Grand Prix of Europe on June 17-19 - is another sign of Baku’s emergence as a major sporting destination - the city hosted the first ever European Games in early 2015 and has been named as one of several host venues for UEFA Euro 2020.
Many of Baku’s most impressive features - including its charming Old City (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) - will feature prominently around the brand-new 6 km street track, which promises to be one of the fastest and most spectacular in the world.
“We have created a challenging street circuit, in terms of engineering and design,” says Hermann Tilke, architect of Baku City Circuit, “and one that thrives on Baku’s very attractive urban atmosphere and its great combination of the historic city centre, the beautiful seaside promenade and the city’s impressive modern style.”
Did you know?
Located 28m below sea level, Baku is the lowest lying national capital in the world and also the largest city in the world located below sea level. The world’s very first oil well was drilled just south of Baku and by the beginning of the 20th century Azerbaijan was supplying almost half of the world’s oil.
Baku is served by Heydar Aliyev International Airport, which is located 20km northeast of the capital, but upon arrival the best way to get around is by road. Buses are most certainly the cheapest means of transport, but taking a cab with the government-run Baku Taxi Company (which operates purple London-style cabs, known locally as ‘eggplants’) is also a viable option for those not hiring a car.
In better restaurants, a tip is often added to the bill (around 5-10%), although in general, tipping in Azerbaijan isn’t particularly common or expected. It’s worth noting that non-residents must have an international driving permit to hire a car, and this must be kept on their person along with their passport/visa as the police often do spot checks.
Where to go?
Baku prides itself on offering something for everyone. Amongst other things, visitors can explore the historic delights of the Old City (Icheri Sheher), and in particular the Palace of the Shirvanshahs and Maiden Tower enclosed within it walls; take in the plethora of boutiques along Nizami Street (one of the most expensive streets in the world); marvel at the multitude of water features in Fountain Square; visit Megafon, Europe’s largest indoor amusement arcade; take the funicular to Upland Park to enjoy clear views of the city; or simply stroll along Baku’s picturesque seaside boulevard, where you’re flanked on one side by the Caspian Sea and on the other by the city’s modern skyline, including the distinctive Flame Towers.
Where to stay?
Baku has a wide range of hotels, many of them from popular chains and the majority of them situated around the seafront, which will be in the thick of the action come the race weekend.
Those staying on in Baku would be well advised to take a trip out of town to the Ateshgah or ‘Fire Temple’ which is an ancient religious temple in a suburb of the city called Surakhani. The site was once a place of Zoroastrian fire worship as natural fires used to spontaneously burn there as gas emerged from seven (now-exhausted) natural surface vents. A little further out of the city is Qobustan, another UNESCO site, which is home to famous rock paintings and mud volcanoes - another must see for culture vultures.
For three years, from 2012 to 2014, Baku hosted an international GT race on an alternative street track, but that event has since disappeared. However, fans with a need for speed should note that Russia’s Sochi Autodrom is a mere 900km northwest of Baku…
Baku City Circuit
93 Zarifa Aliyeva Street