Baku is the capital and largest city of Azerbaijan, as well as the largest city on the Caspian Sea and of the Caucasus region.
Baku is located 28 metres (92 ft) below sea level, which makes it the lowest lying national capital in the world. Baku is also the largest city in the world located below sea level. It is located on the southern shore of the Absheron Peninsula, which projects into the Caspian Sea. The city consists of two principal parts: the downtown area and the old Inner City. At the beginning of 2009, Baku's urban population was estimated at just over two million people. Officially, about 25 percent of all inhabitants of the country live in Baku's metropolitan area.
Baku is divided into eleven administrative districts (raions) and 48 townships. Among these are the townships on islands in the Baku Bay and the town of Oil Rocks built on stilts in the Caspian Sea, 60 km (37 mi) away from Baku. The Inner City of Baku along with the Shirvanshah's Palace and Maiden Tower were inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. According to the Lonely Planet's ranking, Baku is also among the world's top ten destinations for urban nightlife.
Tourism and shopping
Baku is one of the most important tourist destinations in the Caucasus. Many sizable world hotel chains have a presence in the city. Baku has many popular tourist and entertainment spots, such as the downtown Fountains Square, the One and Thousand Nights Beach, Shikhov Beach and Oil Rocks. Baku's vicinities feature Yanar Dag, an ever-blazing spot of natural gas. On 2 September 2010, with the inauguration of National Flag Square, Baku became home to the world's tallest flagpole, according to the Guinness Book of Records.
Baku has several shopping malls; the most famous city center malls are Park Bulvar, Metro Park, 28 MALL, Aygun city and AF MALL. The retail areas contain shops from chain stores up to high-end boutiques.
The city is listed 48th in the 2011 list of the most expensive cities in the world conducted by the Mercer Human Resource Consulting. Its Nizami street is one of the most expensive streets in the world.
The city has many amenities that offer a wide range of cultural activities, drawing both from a rich local dramatic portfolio and an international repertoire. It also boasts many museums such as Baku Museum of Modern Art and Azerbaijan State Museum of History, most notably featuring historical artifacts and art. Many of the city's cultural sites were celebrated in 2009 when Baku was designated an Islamic Culture Capital. Baku was also chosen to host the Eurovision Dance Contest 2010.
Among Baku's prestigious cultural venues are Azerbaijan State Philharmonic Hall, Azerbaijan State Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre. The main movie theatre is Azerbaijan Cinema. Festivals include the Baku International Film Festival, Baku International Jazz Festival, Novruz Festival, Gül Bayramı (Flower Festival) and the National Theater Festival. International and local exhibitions are presented at the Baku Expo Center.
Baku has wildly varying architecture, ranging from the Old City core to modern buildings and the spacious layout of the Baku port. Many of the city's most impressive buildings were built during the early 20th Century, when architectural elements of the European styles were combined in eclectic style. Baku thus has an original and unique appearance, earning it a reputation as the 'Paris of the East'.
Parks and gardens
Baku has large sections of greenery either preserved by the National Government or designated as green zones. The city, however, continues to lack a green belt development as economic activity pours into the capital, resulting in massive housing projects along the suburbs.
Baku Boulevard is a pedestrian promenade that runs parallel to Baku's seafront. The boulevard contains an amusement park, yacht club, musical fountain, statues and monuments. The park is popular with dog-walkers and joggers, and is convenient for tourists. It is adjacent to the newly built International Center of Mugham and the musical fountain.
Other prominent parks and gardens include Heydar Aliyev Park, Samad Vurgun Park, Narimanov Park, Alley of Honor and the Fountains Square. The Martyrs' Lane, formerly the Kirov Park, is dedicated to the memory of those who lost their lives during the Nagorno-Karabakh War and also to the 137 people killed on Black January.
Baku boasts a vibrant nightlife. Many clubs that are open until dawn can be found throughout the city. Clubs with an eastern flavor provide special treats from the cuisine of Azerbaijan along with local music. Western-style clubs target younger, more energetic crowds. Most of the public houses and bars are located near Fountains Square and are usually open until the early hours of the morning.
Baku is home to restaurants catering to every cuisine and occasion. Restaurants range from luxurious and expensive to ordinary and affordable.
In the Lonely Planet "1000 Ultimate Experiences", Baku placed 8th among the top 10 party cities in the world.