Tips & Hints


CURRENCY & PAYMENT METHODS:
National currency of Azerbaijan is Azerbaijani Manat (AZN). A dollar approximately equals 1.70 AZN. Euro is approximately 1.80 AZN. Upon arrival, you can check rates via website of Central Bank of Azerbaijan. Manat is the only currency for trading here. You won't be able to pay a cab driver or a shop seller in USD, EUR or GBP. People rarely accept foreign currency in trading (except for big deals like car or real estate deals). So make sure you exchange a bit in the airport (or in the railway station in case you arrive by train) so that you'll be able to pay for the ride till the place of your stay. Credit card payments are widely spread and majority of restaurants, supermarkets and hotels have POS terminals. Nevertheless, people here still prefer cash to credit cards so you won't find a POS terminal in small shops. Also, I've heard some of cabs are provided with POS terminals, though I personally never met a driver who accepted credit cards. There are lots of Banks in Baku where you can exchange money, whether in downtown or in surroundings. But the main currencies accepted for exchange are: USD, EUR, GBP and RUR. 

TRAFFIC:
Due to recent flow of population from various regions to the capital city, traffic in Baku is getting more and more complicated. Despite the almost daily efforts of the traffic police, it becomes insanely hard to drive and even travel by public transport during rush hours. So please be careful while crossing the streets and always use pedestrian walks and underground walks. Police during rush hours tends to direct the traffic to various direction to loose streets in downtown from traffic jams. So please always pay attention to traffic lights (as some may constantly blink on yellow so that cars won't stop) and look both sides while crossing a street as there might be an ambulance or police car or even some insane drivers who drive wrong way - against on-coming traffic.


OPENING HOURS:
The majority or grocery stores in Baku work until 22:00 in the evening. There are also some little grocery stores which are open until midnight or even until morning. All of them are open seven days a week. In case you need medicine, drugstores are also open seven days a week until 21:00 and some until midnight or even until morning (this is very comforting because once I was abroad in city (won't mention its name) where all drugstores closed before 20:00 in the evening and I had to wander for almost an hour and half to find the only duty drugstore for the whole district). Please see the maps page for locations. 

CRIME:
Baku will surely not strike you as a dangerous city because the crime level is very low here. You can walk around in downtown even late at night and not feel worried. This of course won't apply to ladies. Once again it is not a dangerous city at all but usually, ladies here don't wander streets alone at nights. Just like in any other city in the world, there's always a chance of meeting an idiot. Though if you have a male companion, then it's fine. It's a very safe city. 


PEOPLE:
People of Azerbaijan are very well known for their hospitality. It's an old tradition to welcome guests the best way. People feel very happy to have guests at their homes and usually they prepare meals and put everything they have on their diner table no matter if the guest is hungry or full (nobody will ask you, it's a tradition and you'll have eat and drink tea with sweets afterwards). By the table, guests are usually asked to take the most comfortable seats or the seat right beside the owner of the place. If you happen to stay overnight, it will be a pleasure for our people to give you the most comfortable room and the best mattress. Also, locals are very friendly and helpful. In case you get lost just approach someone and he will do his best to help you even if there is a language barrier.

ETIQUETTE BREACHES:
Putting feet up while sitting and laying feet on something (for example: on tea table) while sitting; Pointing with finger at somebody; Back slapping or bear hugging someone you just met or someone you are not friends with; Raising voice and swearing in public; Dressing vulgarly;

TAKING PICTURES:
Taking pictures while sightseeing or just walking around is of course completely natural. You can take pictures of any sights you want to, unless it is stated as "not permitted" on a certain note. If you don't see such note in museum or any other sight then you might of course start doing your travel photo report. The only exception is for strategic places like subway stations, railway stations, the airport and government institutions like ministries, embassies and etc. In these cases, you might be politely asked by a security officer to delete photos even if there is not a certain note stating about it. People walking in the streets usually respond friendly for a photo session, especially the young generation. 

SHOPPING:
There are a few clothing, accessories and jewelry shops on fountain square and Nizami street. Also, there is a huge shopping mall on the territory of seaside boulevard, in a 15 minute walking distance from old city. It is situated in front of the Park Inn Hotel, right on the other side of the road. The mall is called "Park Bulvar". Besides clothing, accessories and jewelry shops, you'll find restaurants, cafes, a cinema and a bowling hall there. It has a big sea view balcony on the 3rd floor with chairs and tables where you can take your snacks and drinks. On the floors -1, 1 and 2 you will find coffee machines (by the way, there are WCs on each floor). Frankly speaking though, prices for clothing and accessories in branded shops of Baku are overvalued. 

SOUVENIRS:
It's not a secret that for some, buying souvenirs while travelling is like a sacred ceremony. In our case though, mostly in downtown you'll find stuff manufactured in China. Even the fridge magnets with Baku themes are Chinese. A few years ago there were lots of artists near fountain square who were selling their own beautiful paintings with Baku themes outside. But recently most of street vendors were disallowed to trade there. So, if you want to buy real souvenirs, check the little antique shops near Maiden Tower (inside the old city). Also, there are a few of them on the fountain square in basements of old buildings. Inside shops like these you'll find anything from hand made carpets to old books, dishes and etc. Just keep in mind two things:
1) Usually things like that are expensive and might be even overvalued by some if they see a foreigner.
2) In some cases, antique stuff might become a subject of interest for customs officers while leaving the country. Please check the link to our customs code in English so that you'd have a general idea about it.

BARGAINING:
Bargaining in Baku is a must and whether you are taking a cab without a counter or buying something from an antique seller, negotiating prices can be worth it. If there are no price tags of the stuff you want to buy and the cash register also seems to be missing, then you can definitely start a negotiation (except for the grocery stores of course, even without price tags and cash registers prices there are fixed).

STREET BEGGARS:
You won't see as much of beggars in Baku streets but as you are a tourist and will indeed stand from the crowd, be sure that they will notice you immediately. Beggars are usually chased by police patrol but some of them manage to appear from time to time. Except for some very old WWII veterans you may occasionally see (wearing their medals), there are children who beg for money too. Please do not ever pay a penny to those children (who are mostly gypsies) because if you do so, more and more will follow until you pay them too. Also be careful as some of them might be pro pick pocket thieves.


WEATHER:
Located on the Absheron peninsula, Baku is surrounded by Caspian sea from three sides. Weather in Baku is usually warm during spring and autumn periods. Winters also pass without significant snow and frost. It snows like 2-3 times only during winters. Summers go by particularly hot and sometimes even unbearably very hot. The main feature of weather in Baku is the wind which constantly flows (no matter what season it is) probably due to the location of our city.

FOREIGN EMBASSIES & COUNCILS:
Finally, if you experience a certain unexpected case and want to contact your people, here is the list of foreign countries' embassies and councils in Azerbaijan, with addresses and contact numbers. The majority of them are situated within and closely to downtown.  


GENERAL INFORMATION TO SUM UP:
Population of Baku: about 3 million;
Religion: Mostly ethnic Muslims (by ethnic I mean being born and raised in a Muslim family but not practicing religion except for a small percentage), also we have a small Russian Orthodox community and a small Jewish community (Ashkenazis and the Juhuri (mountain jews));
Language: Azerbaijani (a turkic language, very similar to nowadays' turkish) as a native and official language, Russian (spoken mostly by middle-aged people and old generation), English (spoken mostly by young generation);
Electricity: 220V;
Cell phone network: GSM 900 / GSM 1800 (4G not yet widely accessible); 
Time zone:  GMT +4;
Weights and heights: metric;
Dialing code: +994;
Hitchhiking: not common;
Tipping: Not a "must", but more of a common tradition: 1-3 AZN in cafes and restaurants; 3-5 AZN for hotel bellboys; 1-3 AZN for luggage carriers in airport;
Water: not drinkable from tap / drink only boiled or bottled;
Visa and customs: official website of Azerbaijan Customs.
                                    online electronic visa system