So you have always had a notion to visit the Italian Grand Prix. Perhaps you’ve seen it on the telly or may be you’ve attended other Grand Prix and you fancy trying somewhere new. We have now been three times and over the years have gained some experience that will hopefully make your visit more memorable.
Let’s go racing in Baku | A new F1 Experience
Our long weekend in Baku to attend the F1 Grand Prix was indeed an adventure. The old town of Baku , the land of fire, is a UNESCO world heritage site and as the country develops its identity its desperate for tourism and to be seen as a destination city.
How did we get to Baku?
We flew on Turkish Airlines from Manchester to Baku via Istanbul. There are direct options on Azerbaijani Airlines direct from London Heathrow but Manchester is close to us so travelling to London wasn’t an option. You can see what the best deals are on flights Here. The flight was good and Turkish Airlines are pretty good. The 2 hr / 4hr layover there and back in Istanbul wasn’t too bad as there are an abundance of restaurants and shopping options.
Do I need a visa for Baku?
You do need a visa for Baku and under normal circumstances you would need to arrange this beforehand and initially we went through this website but luckily for us as it was an F1 race weekend they allowed us to complete the visa application on arrival. They were fully set up and organised for you to complete the application process once through the arrivals section of the airport. We had all our forms filled out and ready to be checked. Click here for more information
Where did we stay?
We stayed in a hostel type accommodation called the Guest House Inn & Hostel. It was cheap, central and clean. All you need really when you want to explore the city and only really need a bed. The hostel sent a car to the airport to pick us up and returned us back to the airport on our day of departure which was a nice touch.
There wasn’t any breakfast options but that was a bonus as Azerbaijani breakfasts were fantastic. We probably wouldn’t stay here again if we visited Baku but it was perfect for the visit for the Grand Prix. Basic, cheap and totally fine for a budget stay.
How did we get tickets?
Buying the tickets for an event that is months away, in another country and parting with a significant amount of cash can be daunting. There are various sites which sell F1 tickets and here are a couple that we’ve used and found to be really good.:
I’m not saying these are the only places to buy tickets from but these are the ones we’ve used and had no issues with things like extra charges, tickets not arriving, communication etc.
These sites generally work with reputable courier companies such as DHL, Fedex etc who offer tracking and tracing so you have a little bit more control over receiving your tickets. Our tickets for Baku arrived in plenty time and we had no issues.
We chose stand tickets in Stand 12 which looked, on the initial plans to be the most intersting stand and it wasn’t until we got there we realised that the narrow gap that the F1 cars had to squeeze through was right there at our stand. Good choice!
With regards to tickets there are a variety of packages you can buy from 1 – 3 day options in different stands and you can also buy a roaming ticket which allows you to choose different places around the track where you can view the race without sitting in a stand. There are more places at Baku to view with a roaming ticket than most tracks so if you are looking for a cheaper ticket then this is the one for you.
Facilities inside the track?
When we visited in 2016 this was the first time Baku had hosted such an event and everything was completely brand new to them. When the track opened they were still setting up some of the hospitality areas and it seemed a race to get things up and running and open.
Usually on the Thursday afternoon/evening of the Grand Prix weekend you have the pit walk and this was no exception. An opportunity to walk the track, see into the garages and see some of the pit action in preparation for the race days.
Again on the Thursday there’s an opportunity to have the individual drivers sign any merchandise you have bought. At a regular Grand Prix this event is so crowded you have to be extremely lucky to even see a driver however at Baku there were a lot less people there on the Thursday so we got to see this even up close.
Food and Drink
The food stalls served the usual fare of sandwiches, burgers, chips and typical street food of the area.
Drinks were either beer or soft drinks
The food and drink stalls worked on a token system where you bought your token for the cashier and then queued a the food window to collect your food. It worked quite well once everyone got used to the system.
Relaxing & Chill
There were lots of bar areas around the track and one large area near the F1 village had massive beanbags. The funny thing was that the bean bags were straight out of the packaging and the polystyrene balls hadn’t had time to soften so the bags were still quite stiff. Nevertheless it was a fantastic area to sit and chill. You could also walk along the promenade that was within the track which made a really nice walk next to the sea.
The toilet facilities were ok. Lots of temporary toilet blocks but that’s pretty typical for F1 Grand Prix venues.
Merchandise & Shopping
As with all Grand Prix venues the merchandise stalls were there selling all the latest team gear and accessories.
Baku also had an artisan market where local craftspeople came in and set up stalls to sell their wares and demonstrate how the crafting is done. These ladies and gents were in national costume and really brought a lovely cultural theme to the event.
All bags were searched quite heavily on entrance to the track and each person was searched with a scanner. The security guards were very interested in my phone chargers but all in all we didn’t mind the searches as it all meant that safety was a high priority for them.
Like a lot of the government sponsored Grand Prix venues the evening entertainment is spot on attracting some big acts. For Baku we had the pleasure of Chris Brown, Pharrel Williams and Enique Eglasias. All put on a fantastic light show and it was a perfect round up to the F1 track day.
Some hints and tips to make your F1 trip to Baku go smoothly:
- Book as early as you can. You can get a discounted early bird ticket in advance.
- Keep an open mind Baku is a fantastic city and the locals were absolutely lovely.
- Wear comfortable shoes. You’ll be doing a lot of walking.
- Take a waterproof as frequent sharp and thundery showers can happen.
- Walk the exterior of the circuit and visit and see different stand/seating areas so you can see where you’d want to book if you return.
- Watch the other races earlier in the day and other track activities. (if applicable)
- There are no cash machines inside the track. Most most food, drink and merchandise stalls take card.
- Take some little binoculars in your bag for that close up experience.
- Plan to get into the track in plenty time before the racing starts as the entrance gates can get pretty busy and there can be long queues.
- The same goes for leaving the track. 1000’s of people piling out of an exit gate especially after the entertainment can be a squeeze. Better to wait and let the crowds subside before making your way out.
- If you need to use the toilet on race day then you need to start to queue 30 mins before you need to go as it can get busy.
- All in all enjoy yourself, don’t stress, take in the atmosphere, chill and have an absolute blast.
What else does Baku have to offer?
The old town
Baku’s old town became the first ever UNESCO World Heritage-listed site in Azerbaijan. It’s filled with winding streets, incredible architecture and mosques and palaces as well as the usual tourist shops to browse. A fantastic place to wander around with some stunning features.
When visiting most cities with a metro we love to explore and Baku was no exception. They have a fairly simple metro system with 2 lines that cross at the most central station, 28th May. Speaking no Azerbaijani and the signs being only in Azerbaijani it was quite a challenge but we muddled through and were helped by a lovely chap who realised we were on the wrong train and put us on the right one, which even meant him missing his. It was a brilliant experience.
The big wheel
Baku Ferris Wheel, also known as the Baku Eye and Devil’s Wheel, is a ferris wheel on Baku Boulevard in the Seaside National Park of Baku. It was completely empty when we went but the lovely operators set it going just for us.
There are a variety of restaurants to choose from in Baku serving foods from all over the world. We tended to choose a restaurant close to the track that had a variety of dishes to choose from and I don’t remember any of the restaurants being particularly bad. There was a Hard Rock Cafe under construction but we tended to stick to restaurants and cafes that catered to the locals. I do remember the breakfasts being amazing with eggs, fruit, breads, honey, jams, meats, cheeses and all sorts, nuts, yoghurts and tea. I loved the tea and especially the little glasses they served it in. (check out the breakfast picture above, so yummy)
Being an up and coming city that really wants its place in Europe and on the map and for the world to see it as a destination city the shops reflected the type of clientele they were looking for. all your top end designer shops were in the city centre as well as well known brand names so if you’re a shopper then you won’t be disappointed. There is, in teh old town more artisan shops but these are very much catering to tourists however there’s some lovely pieces to be had and of course the inevitable fridge magnet.
An iconic sight on Baku’s skyline. Flame Towers is a trio of skyscrapers in Baku. The height of the tallest tower is 182 m (597 ft). The three flame-shaped towers symbolize the element of fire, hence the land of fire.
The Carpet Museum
Azerbaijan National Carpet Museum is a museum located down by the shore that displays Azerbaijani carpets and rugs of various weaving techniques and materials from various periods. It has the largest collection of Azerbaijani carpets in the world. You wouldn’t want to miss that now would you? Sadly we did but let me know if you visit.
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