Perched on the coast and lapped by the Caspian Sea, Baku is the bustling capital of Azerbaijan. Old and new coexist alongside eastern and western cultures, giving the city both a European and distinctly Middle-Eastern spirit. Ancient buildings mark the UNESCO-listed Old City, and a shiny, ever-evolving modern metropolis extends out from this historic heart. Expect to find innovative contemporary architecture, a quaint seafront promenade and boulevards of shops in Renaissance townhouses.
Baku hostels tend to be around the city centre and often come with breakfast included. Many hostels are inside traditional townhouses that have been converted into contemporary spaces with modern facilities like air con, and they usually have free Wi-Fi. For a sociable stay, choose a Baku hostel with common spaces and get to know other backpackers over a local beer from the on-site bar. Prefer your own space? There are hostels in Baku with private rooms, some with a terrace or balcony for each one.
In Baku's historical centre, Icheri Sheher, a maze of crooked alleyways and narrow streets takes you within 12th-century walls. The area's like a living museum with its mystical mosques next to vendors selling authentic Azerbaijani carpets. South of here is Sabayil, a more rural district flush with traditional buildings, historical landmarks and contemporary high-rises like the Flame Towers. Along the Caspian seafront is busy Bulvar, the promenade area thick with cafés, street artists and a fairground feeling.
Step into history at the restored 15th-century Palace of the Shirvanshahs, or look out over the city from the 29m-high terrace atop the Maiden Tower. For a taste of the modern world, visit the sky-scraping Flame Towers at night to watch a light show, or admire the unusual fluid shape of the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center designed by famous architect Zaha Hadid. You can appreciate local culture with a visit to the Museum of History of Azerbaijan, which is hidden inside an Italian Renaissance-style mansion.
If you're flying in to Baku, you'll land at Heydar Aliyev International Airport. From there, it's easy to reach the city via an express bus that takes 30 minutes. Otherwise, you can order an official taxi from a marshal outside the terminal. The city's long, straight roads create a giant grid system across Baku, so navigating is a simple task when walking from place to place. As well as buses in the city, you can jump on the straightforward underground metro system to get around.