Introducing guest blogger Sina Jones, gap year consultant based in Azerbaijan
From the cobblestone streets and Turkish balconies that define established neighborhoods, to the contemporary curvature and elegance of the Heydar Aliyev Center that eschews sharp angles, Baku is a city where the juxtaposition between antiquity and modernity is beautifully displayed.
This post is part of our Explore My City series – come and visit cities around the world through the eyes of local parents
Our family loves spending time along the Caspian. The Baku Bulvar is a 10km stretch directly on the city’s coastline. It’s a pedestrian-friendly area with a variety of restaurants and playgrounds, a few carnival-style rides for younger kids and a giant Ferris wheel.
We take our scooters and bikes out to the Bulvar, especially on summer evenings, when the breeze from the sea offers relief from the heat. If you’ve never tried traditional plombir ice cream, make sure to stop at any of the snack kiosks along the way. It’s milky, creamy deliciousness and you’ll understand why during the Soviet era people said there were three reasons to visit the USSR: the circus, the ballet– and plombir ice cream.
Our kids enjoy the country’s carpet museum, located right on the Bulvar, as much for it’s rolled carpet architecture, as for the displays inside. It’s a great place to learn about the history and regions of Azerbaijan and is a manageable size that holds the attention span of our three kids.
At the main entrance, there are looms on display with women demonstrating how to make the carpets, which inspired my kids to get their own mini looms to create art at home.
Right next to the Carpet Museum is a quirky, but pretty, water feature known as Little Venice. My youngest especially enjoys the chance to slow down and loves taking the short (5-7 minute) boat ride.
Yesil and Meyveli are the two markets we visit most often. If you are lucky enough to visit during pomegranate season (late September-October), the market will be overflowing, literally, vendors press liters of fresh juice for you while you wait.
Farmers from the regions pile their produce into their Ladas and sell right out of their cars along the highways and in some markets. We never get tired of spotting what is being transported inside these compact cars: produce, carpets, furniture– and even livestock.
The Old City is known as the home of Azerbaijan’s iconic Maiden Tower. It’s maze of cobblestone streets and Turkish balconies maintain that old world charm in a city that’s embracing modernity in its bold architectural choices.
And while there is so much history to enjoy, we go for brunch at Qaynana restaurant. There are plenty of items on the menu and they are all good, but trust me, you have to have the pomidor chighirtmasi. It’s a simple dish, just tomatoes and eggs, but it’s absolute perfection. My kids call it pizza eggs. Order it with hot tendir bread and fresh mint tea. I’m hungry just thinking about it.
While in the Old City, we do a little treasure hunting in antique shops, stop in for a look at a couple of carpets (Brothers Carpets is our favorite), and quickly see what new and unique items are available at Folk Art Baku a souvenir shop featuring handicrafts and jewelry made by local artisans.
The kids always want to get a little Turkish ice cream before we leave, not only because it’s tasty, but the vendor is a showman, adding a bit of flare into preparing and serving your cone, which delights toddlers and teens.
Just Beyond the City Limits
I wouldn’t recommend swimming in the Caspian right in town, but a 45-minute drive outside the city leads you to some lovely beaches. There are several water parks and resorts you can visit during the summer months. The water is shallow, the beaches sandy, and the waves just calm enough for little ones to jump over for hours. But even in winter, we go out to public beaches in this area to gather shells and sea glass.
Gobustan & Mud Volcanoes
If I ask my kids where their favorite thing is in Azerbaijan, every one of them will tell you it is going to the Mud Volcanoes and the Gobustan National Park. These are 45-minutes outside of town, in the opposite direction of the beaches, and make for one of the more unique and fun activities you’ll find.
Gobustan Rock Art is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with over 6,000 prehistoric rock carvings, caves, and settlements. It’s a fun walk and you can get right up close to all the carvings. The kids get really into finding new images and interpreting their meaning. There are hunters, fishers and even dancers– it inevitably turns into a treasure hunt. The museum on-site is really well done and gives you the historic context of a really special piece of human history.
Just a few kilometers down the road from the rock carvings are the mud volcanoes. I will never forget the first time we drove up to the volcanoes, our family audibly gasped. It was so unexpected. When you come over the top of the hill it’s otherworldly, like a scene from a sci-fi movie.
The mud is cool to the touch, and locals believe it has healing properties. My kids all end up elbow deep playing in the bubbling mud, so we take lots of water to wash off, extra baby wipes, and a change of clothes. There is something about the tactile feel of the mud, and probably the feeling that you are on the set of a Star Wars movie, but my kids would spend the entire day out there if I let them.
About the Blogger
Sina Jones is an Independent Education Consultant with 15 years of experience raising a family overseas – six countries and counting! Sina uses her expertise with international NGOs to help guide parents and their high school graduates through the process of planning a global gap year before college.
You can learn more at www.sinajones.com
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