The capital and largest city in the country is Baku, which should be your first stop. The city is low-lying and has a coastline along the Caspian Sea, as well as a stunning medieval walled old city. Start off by strolling within the walls of the historic centre where you'll pass many monuments, head to the top of Maiden Tower, check out the unique Carpet Museum, then walk to Highland Park and Martyrs' Lane for panoramic views of the city. You can spend the afternoon at the stunning Heydar Aliyev Centre. The architecture inside and out is superb!
Gobustan Mud Volcanoes
Spread across the whole of Azerbaijan, you'll find more mud volcanoes than any other country. Within a 90 minute drive from Baku, you can reach a huge number of these in Qobustan, where you can get up close to this natural phenomenon. The mud bubbles make what can only be described as a "blub" sound before mini eruptions take place every few minutes. Even the landscape with its desolate appearance is impressive, as well as having the nearby UNESCO site of Gobustan Rock Art within a 15 minute drive.
Candy Cane Mountains
I've been to Azerbaijan multiple times, but only found out about Candy Cane Mountains during my 2022 visit. Also a 90 minute drive from the capital, towards Altiaghaj, sits this beautiful landscape, literally on the side of the road. The swirls differ in colour, but they're prominent throughout the whole year, so no specific timing is required. The scientific explanation... the colours are said to be due to groundwater that’s altered the oxidation state of iron compounds within the rock.
Nakhchivan Whilst you're in Azerbaijan, you can reach the Autonomous Republic of Nakhchivan (3 daily flights). Obviously depends how much time you have in Azerbaijan, but Nakhchivan really is something completely different. The top sight not to be missed is the 2,656 steps up to Alinja Fortress, which is often referred to as "The Machu Picchu of the Caucasus". Other notable spots are Noah's Mausoleum, The Duzdag Salt Mine, and The Residence of Nakhchivan Khanates. Here's a separate article all about Nakhchivan.
Yanar Dagh Another Azerbaijan phenomenon is the natural gas fire of Yanar Dagh, which blazes continuously on a small hilll side on the Absheron Peninsula. An easy to reach spot in under 30 minutes from Baku, but won't require too much time to be allocated. There's an official site and a ticket office that's open daily until 7pm, which also includes a small museum and a coffee shop. Depending on the time of year, my advice would be to visit towards the end of the day, just before sunset, as the fire is much more impressive. There's records in the museum that indicate this place has been burning for at least seven centuries.
For a more traditional Azerbaijan experience, you can escape modern Baku and head to the village of Lahic, which has a population of under one thousand. The road trip also offers some stunning landscape vistas as you pass through mountain roads and flocks of sheep. You can't drive directly into Lahic, as it's a pedestrian zone, but there's a parking lot at the entrance. You can then walk the cobbled streets, seeing local copper craftsmen in action, as well as beautiful rugs and carpets. Even if you're not a souvenir collector, Lahic definitely offers a dive into traditional Azerbaijan culture.
An easy combo alongside Lahic is Shamakhi, which is also a top centre for Azerbaijani wine growing. The lush green rolling hills as you head towards Shamakhi is beautiful in itself, as well as multiple vineyards (Shirvan Vineyard) on the outskirts of the town. The main highlights in the centre is the architectural beauty of Juma Mosque, followed by the Yeddi Gumbaz Mausoleum where you can get a great view of Shamakhi town. The Mausoleum in itself is interesting, with a combination of ancient tombs and modern crypts. I would've loved the chance to visit Shamakhi Astrophysical Observatory, but sadly this was closed.
Depending on your budget, I'd recommend Courtyard by Marriott Baku, which is approx $100 USD a night. The location is central to explore everything Baku has to offer, but it's also strategically positioned to exit the city with minimal traffic, which is great for day trip connectivity. Within the hotel, the facilities were a good standard with spacious rooms and high-speed WiFi. There's also a good restaurant bar, along with a high spec gym. The only downside was an average breakfast, given the size of the hotel.
There's a whole host of restaurants scattered across Baku in both the old town and various boulevards, so you're spoilt for choice. I dined at multiple places, but one I want to recommend is Qaynana, which is located in the historical old town of Baku. The restaurant puts a huge focus on their national cuisine dishes, but there's plenty of familiar international options too. There's a traditional feel inside the restaurant and the caption is "Where the eastern charm meets the western vibe". From a cost side of things, it's very reasonable.
There's a couple of different guides I'd like to recommend, depending on the area you're exploring.
For Azerbaijan, Shahin was fantastic for all day trips outside of Baku. He's got a spacious car, speaks great English, and is very affordable. You can reach Shahin (photo 1) on Whatsapp +994 70 230 6930.
For everything Nakhchivan, Emile is your man. He operates a family run tourism business, speaks English, and is very enthusiastic to show you this off the beaten path pocket of Azerbaijan. You can reach Emile (photo 2) on Whatsapp +994 70 210 1020.