Interested in the history and culture of Azerbaijan carpet weaving? Here’s everything you need to know about visiting Quba and the Qadim Quba carpet workshop as a day trip from Baku.
The Caucasus region, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, is rich with textile traditions. With more unique regional patterns than anywhere else on Earth, Azerbaijan is the place to see carpet making.
This quick guide to Quba, Azerbaijan shows you how to visit one of the country’s premier carpet weaving workshops.
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Quba travel essentials
– Travel from Baku to Quba by private car or by public bus (hourly between 8am and 5pm, departing Baku’s International Bus Terminal and arriving at Quba Central Bus Station).
– Stay at Shahdag Hotel. Conveniently located in the city centre, it boasts clean, modern rooms and a complimentary breakfast. Check prices and availability on Booking.com.
– Eat at Praqa pub or Lucky Restaurant Nyu.
– Travel onward to Xinaliq (Khinaliq) for high-altitude trekking (find transport instructions and more info at the end of the post).
Azerbaijan carpets: Now and then
Weaving (or more accurately, knotting) carpets is as much a part of Azeri culture as anything else. UNESCO recognised the storytelling value and cultural significance of carpet weaving as part of Azerbaijan’s intangible cultural heritage in 2010. The art is still practiced throughout the country today – although not as much as it used to be.
One thing Azerbaijani carpet weaving has going for it is demand. Carpets that were once hung on walls for warmth or used during ceremonies are now a popular souvenir. Income from tourist and export sales presumably keeps the market for new carpets afloat, allowing small workshops like the one I visited in Quba (Guba) to stay open.
When so many other traditional arts have disappeared with mass-production, it’s nice to know that this laborious handmade process still has value in the eyes of many. (On that note, Azerbaijan has some strict rules about taking carpets out of the country, so you should read-up first if you’re thinking of buying one.)
There are carpet shops all over Baku, but you’ll have to travel out of the city to see carpet weaving done the old-fashioned way. Qadim Quba in the little city of Quba north of Baku is one of the most popular and accessible carpet-making workshops you can visit.
How to make an Azeri carpet
Azerbaijani rugs are made from naturally dyed sheep’s wool and woven by women during the winter months. These are carpets, not kilims, so they’re made by knotting threads in an intricate paint-by-numbers pattern to a base warp. The carpets have a very short pile, so the knotted threads must be compacted tightly before the threads are cut.
At Qadim Quba, they use metal frame looms, with up to six women working in tandem on the one carpet. These are huge-area carpets – other women work individually on small Sajjadah prayer mats.
One thing that surprised me about Qadim Quba was the number of young women working there. Some were listening to music on their iPhones while they worked, others were joined on their workbench by a friend.
It’s unusual to see younger generations taking up something like carpet weaving, which anywhere else might be seen as drab or unlucrative. It’s a great testament to Qadim Quba that wages and demand are both high enough to attract young women to pursue a career in Azerbaijan rug weaving.
How to travel from Baku to Quba
Quba is located 160km north of Baku. To get there, you can either hire a car and driver or take a public bus.
This door-to-door private transfer from Baku to Quba is a great option for groups. You’ll be accompanied by an English-speaking guide, and you can make stop offs along the way.
Hourly minibuses depart for Quba city from Baku’s main bus station (avtovagsal), the International Bus Terminal on Highway 1. When you arrive at the bus station, head to the upper level and look for signage for Quba (or just ask around).
Buses to Quba start at 8am and continue through to 5pm, leaving at approximately 15 minutes to the hour, every hour or when full. The journey to Quba takes 2.5 to 3 hours, including one bathroom break. Tickets cost 4 AZN (2.40 USD) per person and can be bought from the driver once you get on board.
Getting around Quba
Buses from Baku arrive at Quba Central Bus Station close to the city centre. There are plenty of taxis around, and if you don’t want to walk, a ride downtown shouldn’t cost more than 2 AZN.
How to travel from Quba to Baku
Travelling the opposite way, the Quba to Baku bus schedule is the same, with buses leaving every hour between 8am and 5pm. We took a large coach on the way back to the city.
The schedule and ticket prices are also the same. In Baku, buses terminate at the International Bus Terminal.
How to travel from Quba to Khinaliq
After visiting Quba, you may like to continue on to Khinaliq (Xinaliq), a high-altitude village 50km west of Quba. The scenic alpine region is home to one of the highest villages in Europe and it’s a very popular spot for hiking.
It takes about three hours to get to Xinaliq from Quba by road. It may be possible to find a shared jeep taxi once you arrive in Quba. This should cost 10 AZN per person.
The safer option is to charter a private car and driver. This should cost around 30 AZN one-way, and can be organised in advance through your guesthouse in either Xinaliq or Quba.
Note that Xinaliq is often inaccessible in winter due to snow, so it’s only recommended to visit between May and late September. You can find more information about visiting Xinaliq here.
How to travel from Quba to Sheki
If Sheki is the next stop on your Azerbaijan itinerary, you’ll need to travel back through Baku first to get there. The mountains between the two cities are rugged and it’s not possible to cut through by car.
Where to stay in Quba
If you’re overnighting in Quba on your way to Xinaliq, there are a couple of good hotel options in the centre of town.
Outside of the city centre, Guba Gecresh Panoramic Villa is a 4-bedroom property that’s great for families or groups. It’s located along the river and boasts amazing views. Because of the location, this is only really suitable for those with their own transportation. Check prices and availability on Booking.com.
Tips for visiting the Qadim Quba workshop
Qadim Quba operates Monday to Friday from 8am–5pm, with an hour-long lunch break at noon.
The location is marked on most tourist maps and all drivers should know it (if not, ask to go to the nearby Old Town Square). You’ll find the workshop three blocks from the Square and Quba’s Tourism Information Office on Heydar Aliyev Prospekti (cnr of Hikmat Huseynov).
A large sign hangs over the door – you can’t miss it. If there’s not someone hanging around to greet you, just proceed down the short corridor and you’ll find the workshop area behind the double doors.
The women here seem accustomed to being observed by nosy tourists and for the most part, we just wandered around without much interaction. We asked before we started taking photos and were told (in hand gestures) that it was no problem.
English isn’t spoken, so if you want to learn more about the workshop or carpet marking, you’ll need to organise your own guide or interpreter.
Qadim Quba also has a small shop attached where there are some handmade Azeri rugs for sale. If it’s not already open, the workshop supervisor can turn on the lights for you.
Other things to do in Quba city
Wondering what to do in Quba Azerbaijan apart from the Azeri carpet workshops? The good news is that Quba is very small and you can easily see the main sights in a couple of hours.
There are a couple of significant mosques worth seeing, including the Juma Mosque, which was constructed in 1802 and features a spectacular central dome. The colourful Ardabil Mosque and the Haji Jeffer Mosque in the centre of town are among the biggest and most impressive religious buildings in this part of Azerbaijan. West of the Haji Jeffer Mosque, you can find the domed brick roof of a traditional Turkish hammam that was built in Quba in the late 18th century.
Located on the opposite side of the river, Qirmizi Qasaba (Krasnaya Sloboda) is one of the most fascinating villages in Azerbaijan. Quba’s Jewish Quarter is home to around 3,500 people who identify as Mountain Jews, making it the largest community of its kind in the world. It’s interesting to compare and contrast the two parts of the city – the architecture and layout is very different.
Here are some of the websites and services I use when I’m planning a trip to Azerbaijan and the Caucasus. Remember to check out my full list of travel resources for more tips.
– Find affordable flights to Baku on Kiwi.com, a booking site that mixes and matches airlines to find the best route (there’s a money back guarantee if you miss a connection).
– Use iVisa to check if you need a tourist visa for Azerbaijan and apply for an expedited visa online.
– Pre-book a private transfer from Baku Airport to your hotel.
– Short on time? Get to know Baku on this Old City walking tour, or join this panoramic night tour to see Baku in her best light.
– Buy your tickets for the Tbilisi to Baku sleeper train online in advance through my partners at Geotrend (get a discount when you use the code in this post).
– Find the best Azerbaijan hotel deals on Booking.com, book a Baku hostel, or find a unique Airbnb (use this link to sign up and get $55 AUD off your first Airbnb booking).
– Find the best city tours and day excursions in Azerbaijan.
– Pre-order the new Lonely Planet Caucasus guidebook (coming out in June 2020).
– Pick up a copy of Ali and Nino, Azerbaijan’s national novel. I can guarantee that Kurban Said’s evocative descriptions of Baku will get you excited for your trip!
7 things to pack for Azerbaijan
- An anti-theft backpack. As a general rule, Azerbaijan is a very safe place and petty crime against tourists isn’t really an issue. Still, a good anti-theft day pack is worth having to keep your valuables safe in the city. If you’re having trouble deciding, here are a few of my favourite minimalist backpack designs.
- A scarf for visiting mosques (women). A lightweight cotton scarf is my number one travel item. In Azerbaijan, it will come in extra handy for covering your hair when entering a mosque or for draping over your shoulders when visiting a market or a rural area. This neutral travel scarf goes with anything, and it even has a hidden pocket. Remember the dress code in Azerbaijan is quite conservative – women and men alike should avoid shorts and wear pants or a skirt that covers the knees.
- Walking shoes. From the cobbled streets of Sheki to the hills of Baku and the muddy landscape around Gobustan, you’ll likely be spending a lot of time on your feet in Azerbaijan. Comfy walking shoes are absolutely essential. I love these ones for women, while my partner lives in these waterproof shoes.
- A reusable water bottle. Avoid single-use plastics whenever you can. I love my S’Well water bottle for warm climates because it doesn’t sweat. Silicone bags, a reusable straw and a portable cutlery set might also come in handy in Azerbaijan.
- Wine Wings. Should you decide to buy a drinkable souvenir in Azerbaijan, these handy custom-made bottle protectors will keep your vino safe and sound in your luggage. A travel corkscrew and a wine stopper are bound to come in handy, too.
- Entertainment for long bus/train journeys. If you don’t suffer motion sickness, an e-reader is great for passing the time on long bus or train journeys. If you have a travel buddy, pick up a headphone splitter – probably my favourite travel gadget of all time – so you can share a screen or a podcast. Check out my full list of essential items to make a long train or bus journey more comfortable.
- Biodegradable wet wipes. Try this convenient travel pack.
More Azerbaijan travel resources
- My best photos of Azerbaijan to inspire your travels
- Plan your trip: The ultimate Caucasus itinerary or an efficient 10-14 day Azerbaijan Georgia itinerary
- How to travel to/from Baku and Georgia by overnight train
- Tips for travelling around Azerbaijan by bus
- Guide to exploring Baku Old City
- Why you must visit the Heydar Aliyev Center in Baku
- How to take a day trip from Baku to Gobustan for the mud volcanoes
- Guide to Sheki, Azerbaijan’s most beautiful city
- Guide to Quba, Azerbaijan’s capital of carpet weaving
- How to spend the night in a Silk Road caravanserai in Azerbaijan