The Heydar Aliyev Center is one of the most impressive buildings in Baku. Here’s everything you need to know about planning a visit.
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All throughout its history, Baku has been a city of fleeting fortunes.
In this country of boom and bust, prosperity arrives on your doorstep overnight and can be snatched away just as quickly. Invading armies, oppressive ideologies and nosy neighbours have passed Azerbaijan’s territory around for centuries, each taking its turn to pillage the country of its oil wealth.
As in the other Caucasus nations, the teasingly brief periods of sovereignty in between are now looked back on as the Golden Days.
Independent since 1991, contemporary Azerbaijan is considered with a new sense of permanence. The state has set foundations that cannot be uprooted – most notably via ambitious civic projects that have re-shaped the city’s skyline.
The Heydar Aliyev Center in downtown Baku is a signature of Azerbaijan’s self-authored (hyper)modernity – a symbol of stability and forward momentum.
In a city known for its bold architectural statements, the Center cuts the most impressive figure of them all.
About the Heydar Aliyev Center architecture
Designed by Zaha Hadid Architects and completed in 2012, the Center is clearly a pushback against the unimaginative Soviet style that dominates residential Baku.
On a more nuanced level, it expresses traditional Islamic elements (rows and grids) and conceptually, it’s said to be a nod to Azeri national identity.
In downtown Baku where the Center stands, the straw-coloured facades of monumentally huge European-style buildings rise up from expansive streets like sand dunes.
Constantly windswept, the city feels as shallow and impenetrable as a cardboard film set.
The Heydar Aliyev Center, in contrast, sits atop the landscape like a dollop of whipped cream slowly melting back into the earth.
The building is joyful and dynamic; you’re allowed to walk on its perfectly manicured grass lawns and clamor up the sides of its enveloping walls. Best of all, no one will tell you off for taking photos.
Silhouetted against the Center’s massive white curls, commuters look like explorers sliding across the Arctic tundra.
Viewed from a different aspect, the building is something warm and gentle, like a sinuous wave inviting you into the ocean.
However you choose to see it, the Heydar Aliyev Center is something you must experience when in Baku.
Plan your visit to the Heydar Aliyev Center
How to get there
The Heydar Aliyev Center is located on Heydar Aliyev Avenue in central Baku, roughly 7km north-east of the Old Town.
The closest subway station is Nariman Narimanov, which is serviced by the red and green lines. From the Old Town, you can ride the red line all the way from Icherisheher Station to Nariman Narimanov. When you exit the station, head west along Tabriz Avenue. After a few blocks, you’ll see the Heydar Aliyev Center on your left.
Alternatively, take buses 1, 2 or 13 to the Academy of Fine Arts station on Heydar Aliyev Avenue. The stop is right outside the front entrance of the building.
See the location here on Google Maps.
Opening hours & best time to go
The Heydar Aliyev museum is open Tuesday to Friday from 11am until 7pm, and on weekends from 11am until 6pm. Note that it’s closed on Mondays.
If you don’t want to view the exhibits, you can still visit the Center outside opening hours. The area is quiet in the early morning especially, making this a good time to go for photos of the building’s exterior.
Sunset is also a nice time to visit, when the fading light paints the building with golden hues and the shadows come out to play.
Heydar Aliyev Center cost
It’s free to walk around the exterior of the building and the surrounding gardens. You can also pop your head inside the building free of charge.
If you want to go any further than the atrium, you’ll need to purchase an exhibition ticket. The price is 15 AZN per adult, and that includes access to the whole museum apart from the Classic Car exhibition, which costs an extra 10 AZN. Kids under 6 can visit for free.
A guide costs 20 AZN or 30 AZN for a group of more than 3 people.
Buy your tickets at the guest services desk when you arrive, or online in advance here.
Visiting the Heydar Aliyev Center with a guide
If you’re particularly interested in architecture, it might be worthwhile visiting the Center with a local guide who can explain more about the building and its history. This 3-hour city tour of Baku takes place in the evening and includes a visit to the Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center (exhibition tickets are rolled into the price).
Tips for your visit
- Have a look at what exhibitions are on before you go – this will help you decide whether or not you want to pay the entrance fee.
- Occasionally the Heydar Aliyev Center hosts evening concerts and orchestral performances. If this is something you’re interested in, have a look at the program when you’re planning your visit to Baku.
- Wear comfortable shoes and bring a water bottle – you’ll be doing a lot of walking!
- There is a supermarket across the road at the back of the complex if you need some snacks. There are public restrooms inside the Center.
Where to stay in Baku
- Budget: Sahil Hostel & Hotel (from $6/night). Baku’s premier hostel offers dorms and private rooms plus beautifully designed common areas.
- Boutique: Shalimar Boutique Hotel (from $43/night). Clean, comfortable rooms within walking distance of the Old City and waterfront.
- Airbnb: Quiet and cosy apartment (from $28/night) – use this link for a discount.
- Luxury: Four Seasons Baku (from $344/night). Located on Baku’s Bulvar corso at the southern corner of the Old City, it features an indoor swimming pool with glass vaulted ceiling.
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