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Azerbaijan’s Quirky Exclave: Ultimate Nakhchivan Travel Guide

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3 months ago

It’s no secret, I am a complete geography nerd. Since I was a kid, I have kept maps all over my bedroom. And there is one small corner of Azerbaijan that has always fascinated me. Nakhchivan is a small exclave of Azerbaijan, wedged between Türkiye, Armenia and Iran and disconnected from the rest of Azerbaijan.

Beyond being a geographical oddity, Nakhchivan is worth a visit and is easily one of the best places to visit in Azerbaijan. Nakhchivan has something for everyone: historic Silk Road-era mud-brick towns, blue-tiled mausoleums and a constant backdrop of the distant Mount Ararat.  

Garabaghlar Mausoleum Silk Road nakhchivan azerbaijan things to do
The Garabaghlar Mausoleum is one of the top things to do in Nakhchivan

If Azerbaijan is an unusual holiday choice, Nakhchivan is even further off the beaten path. This Ultimate Guide answers all the questions you may have about my favorite corner of the Caucuses.

How to get to Nakhchivan

Getting to Nakhchivan by air

The easiest way of getting to Nakhchivan is by air.

Getting from Baku to Nakhchivan is straightforward with flights almost every hour. These 50-minute flights are normally very cheap (around US$25 one-way).

baku airport departure board with nakchivan flights
As an exclave, you will need to take a flight here from Baku (or transit through Iran)

Annoyingly, at the time of writing, Azerbaijan Airlines does not sell these tickets online and you will need to purchase the flights on the ground in Baku.

Nakhchivan also operates a small international network. Turkish Airlines currently offers twice weekly flights from Nakhchivan to Istanbul (with onwards connections). There are also semi-regular flights to Moscow.

If you are arriving internationally direct into Nakhchivan, please don’t forget to arrange your e-visa beforehand!

Getting to Nakhchivan by land

As a land-locked exclave, it’s no surprise that Nakhchivan relies on land borders.

Nakchivan Sign
The famous Nakhchivan sign!

Getting from Nakhchivan to Türkiye

The Nakhchivan-Türkiye border is tiny and you really need to zoom into your map to find it. On the Azeri side, the closest town to the border is Demirçi, from where you can find a local cab to the border post.

Once you cross from Azerbiajan to Türkiye, you may have to wait a bit until you find shared transport heading to Igdir, from where you can easily arrange a bus or onward transport to larger cities in the east of Türkiye, like Van.

Getting from Nakhchivan to Iran

The main border crossing between Nakhchivan and Iran is Julfa. Regular matrushkas (a type of transport) leave from Nakhchivan town to Julfa, from where you can take a local cab to the border post. On the Iranian side, you should be able to find shared cars leaving heading towards Tabriz and deeper into Iranian Azerbaijan.

gulustan mausoleum on azerbaijan iran border
The beautiful Gulustan Mausoleum sits directly on the Iranian-Nakhchivan border

Getting from Nakhchivan to Armenia

If you follow the politics of the region, it will come as no surprise to you that the borders between Azerbaijan and Armenia are currently closed. But with much talk around a potential peace deal, keep a watch out for these borders opening!

ruined homes in Karabakh
Destroyed homes, relics from the First Karabakh War between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Karabakh is not (yet) open to visitors.

Getting around Nakhchivan

Nakhchivan is a little old-fashioned so Bolt and Uber don’t operate here. Embrace the old-world charm and get back into the swing of negotiating with local taxis.

Generally speaking, a short hop around Nakhchivan town won’t set you back more than maximum 5 manat.

mud brick architecture in ordubad azerbaijan
Mud brick architecture in the historic town of Ordubad

If you are looking to go further, I would recommend negotiating with a driver for a day (your Nakhchivan hotel will be able to help you). Some of Nakhchivan’s top places to see (including Alinja Castle) cannot be accessed with public transport.

noah's tomb armenian architecture

There is a limited public transport network plying between the main towns in Nakhchivan. If you have experience traveling in the former USSR, this will be a familiar process to you. First, arrive at the station, ask around for your town and find a car that is waiting to fill up. Next, wait – hopefully not too long!

quince fruit for sale in ordubad azerbaijan
Don’t forget to try Nakhchivan’s famous quince fruit!

Top things to see in Nakhchivan

Nakhchivan has so many sites that you can easily fill 3 days in Nakhchivan.

butcher in Nakchivan
no matter where you travel in Nakhchivan, you will always be met with a friendly smile!

I’ll share my favorite Nakhchivan sites here, but don’t forget to check out my top things to do in Nakhchivan!

1. Alinja Castle

The ‘Macchu Picchu of Azerbaijan’?

Nakhchivan - one of azerbaijan things to do
Machu Picchu of the Caucuses?

I normally roll my eyes at those travel clichés like ‘Paris of the East’ or ‘Venice of the…’.. However, I have to admit, I am still a bit taken aback by the striking resemblance of Alinja to Macchu Picchu (from the viewpoint at least!)

mountain views of nakhchivan azerbaijan things to do
beautiful views from Alinja

Unquestionably the star attraction of Nakhchivan, Alinja Castle makes the flight over here worth it alone.

Alinja can be reached by a relatively easy 1,700 steps up. This hike takes anywhere from 25 – 45 minutes. If, like me, you are horrified by the thought of 1,700 steps, the little tea shop at the base can call you an old Lada (a car brand common in the former USSR) to drive you about halfway up for a few manat.

landscapes of nakhchivan azerbaijan things to do
The magnificent views over Nakhchivan from Alinja Castle

Once you arrive at the castle, you will see a small staircase to go a bit further up. This is where you have the best viewing platform of Alinja Castle. You can also find some pretty marvellous views of the mountains and villages behind you.

2. Garabaghlar Mausoleum

As a Silk Road station, Nakhchivan is home to the most beautiful mausoleums in Azerbaijan.

garabaghlar mausoleum in travel nakhchivan azerbaijan

In my opinion, the Garabaghlar Mausoleum is the most beautiful of those mausoleums. You can easily see the combination of Iranian, Turkish and Azeri cultures coming together. This mausoleum is also on the tentative UNESCO world heritage list!

garabaghlar silk road architecture in nakhchivan azerbaijan things to do

Try to time your visit to the Mausoleum for the late afternoon. The sun reflecting off the light blue tiles will quickly transport you back to the glory days of the Silk Road.

Silk Road-era mausoleum in Nakhchivan
Azerbaijan is famous for its Silk Road-era architecture

3. The Old Town of Ordubad

Out of all the cities and towns of Nakhchivan, I think Ordubad wins for the most charming.

Ordubad old Silk Road town in azerbaijan

With an old Silk Road center, Ordubad is home to mud-brick alleyways and ancient doorways of carving stone, mosaic and hand-operated keyholes.

teahouse in nakhchivan, azerbaijan things to do

If you get to Ordubad before 3 pm, keep an eye open for groups of older men who gather to drink tea and play cards (near the main water fountain).

silk road caravanserai in ordubad

Don’t worry, there are another 6 more things to do in my top 9 things to do in Nakhchivan!

Best restaurants in Nakhchivan

Nakhchivan may not have the glitzy restaurants of Baku. But you won’t go hungry in Nakhchivan – that’s for certain.

With large highways and Soviet urban planning, Nakhchivan tends to have a very Wild West or frontier vibe to it. This means means many restaurants are a little hidden from view, so make sure you save these restaurants before visiting Nakhchivan!

1. More Coffee

Cold brew coffee in Nakhchivan?

hipster cafe in nakhchivan azerbaijan

While your Nakhchivan hotel will likely provide the usual Azeri breakfast spread, make sure you set aside time one morning to come past this hip café.

With all your coffee culture needs (cold brew, flat whites – you name it) and an excellent spread of cakes, More Coffee is my favorite coffee shop in Nakhchivan.

layered azeri cake in nakchivan

Travel tip: Ask if they have the ‘blintz’ cake – a delicious layered set of pancakes with a soft creamy filling.

2. Bir Bakal

Don’t worry about the dark exterior or rear-of-building entrance. Once you enter Bir Bakal, you will realise this is the local hangout joint.

best restaurant in nakchivan

In the evenings, the main dining hall fills with young men playing cards and drinking tea. Pull up a chair, order a kebab and a beer and soak in the best of Nakhchivan’s evening scene.

black and white vintage photographs of historic nakhchivan

Bir Bakal make an excellent Qutab. For those familiar with the Turkish gozleme, this Azeri version is filled with spinach and served with a slab of butter to spread on top. Qutab also happens to be one of the best Azeri dishes for vegetarians. You’ll thank me later.

azeri qutab with spinach - azerbaijan vegetarian food

Women travellers visiting Azerbaijan may not feel comfortable in these more traditional men-only spaces. The staff at Bir Bakal are very accommodating and also offer private dining rooms for those wanting to sit away from the crowds.

Travel tip: Bir Bakal has an excellent collection of local Azeri wines, including a number of ‘homemade options. It’s a little sweeter than I am used to, but how often can you say you drank homemade Azeri wine?

3. Batumi

In the wild exclave of Nakhchivan, it can certainly be a challenge to find non-Azeri food.

Batumi deserves a special shout out for its wide offering of khachapuri, khinkali and all those other delicious cheesy, buttery Georgian favorites.

khachapuri georgian food

A note on location: the Google maps location is wrong. Batumi is located in a shopping complex. The easiest way to reach the restaurant is to enter the lobby of the Saat Meydani Hotel and then exit into the courtyard (if you can’t find it, just ask the hotel staff).

4. Melisa Ordubad

I can’t recommend many restaurants outside of Nakhchivan city itself, but the Melisa Ordubad restaurant in the Silk Road town of Ordubad deserves a special mention. With open views of the surrounding mountains and a lovely, cushiony interior.

best restaurant with views in nakhchivan

Strolling the backstreets of Ordubad should be in every Nakchivan travel guide and is easily one of the top things to do here. Make sure to time your visit to Ordubad to coincide with lunch stop at Melisa Ordubad.

bread azerbaijan
Every meal in Azerbaijan includes fresh bread!

Melisa Ordubad are famous for gaigarnaq – one of the most peculiar desserts I have ever tried. This Nakhchivan dessert includes a deep fried egg and is doused in honey. After eating the entire cake I still can’t decide if I like the dessert or not. However, I can tell you – I have never tasted something like gaigarnaq!

Where to stay in Nakhchivan

I recommend staying in Nakhchivan city itself.

Noah's tomb
Certain sites, like Noah’s Tomb, are walking distance from most Nakhchivan town hotels

I stayed at the Saat Meydani Hotel which I highly recommend: central, clean and an excellent breakfast spread!

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