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Top 9 Things to Do in Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan

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6 months ago

I am always undecided if I should share my secret happy places… If Azerbaijan is one of Europe’s best-kept secrets, Nakhchivan is Azerbaijan’s best-kept secret! If you are planning a trip to Azerbaijan‘s quirky exclave, you will want to read this article where I share the top 10 things to do across the Autonomous Republic of Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan.

Once a hub of Silk Road activity, this small autonomous exclave of Azerbaijan is wedged between Türkiye, Iran and Armenia – and disconnected from the rest of Azerbaijan!

If you are planning a trip to Azerbaijan, I recommend setting aside 2-3 days to visit Nakhchivan.

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

1. Climb Alinja Castle

For those planning a trip to Nakhchivan, you will probably have heard of the ‘Macchu Picchu of Azerbaijan’ (catchy, I know).

Nakhchivan - one of azerbaijan things to do
The similarities are striking

If I am being honest, I usually roll my eyes at clichés like ‘Venice of the…’ or ‘Paris of the…’ However, even I can admit the photographic similarity of Alinja Castle to Macchu Picchu!

Alinja and the surrounding landscape really is the star attraction of Nakhchivan. This site alone makes the extra effort of a flight from Baku 100% worth it.

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

Alinja Castle is reached by a relatively easy 1,700 steps up. The climb takes somewhere between 25 – 45 minutes (closer to 45 minutes if you are slow like me).

I am no hiker… so, with the help of the little tea stall at the base, I found an old Lada (a car brand common in former Soviet Union countries) to drive me about halfway up for a few manat.

mountain views of nakhchivan azerbaijan things to do

Those visiting Azerbaijan on a budget will be thrilled to know that visiting Alinja Castle is free. Yes, you heard correctly: the star attraction of Nakhchivan is free to visit!

2. Breathe the Crisp Air at the Duzdagh Salt Mine Caves

The Duzdagh Salt Mine Caves first put Nakhchivan on the Soviet tourist map. These salt mines aren’t your regular salt mines and actually house a therapy centre inside the mine for those suffering from asthma and breathing issues.

entrance to salt mines in nakhchivan azerbaijan things to do
Entrance to the Salt Mines

With day beds, rooms and nurses on hand, the Duzdagh Salt Mine Caves attract visitors from across Azerbaijan, Turkey and Russia who come for their apparent healing qualities.

Visitors can simply walk into the caves (for free!). After only a few minutes in the mine, you will feel the sharpness of the salt against your eyes, nose and mouth – a cool, crispy mouthwash sensation.

Top Tip: Make sure to keep your voices down – the last thing you want is an angry nurse chasing you out!

3. Admire the Garabaghlar Mausoleum

Nakhchivan is famous for its collection of magnificent Silk Road-era mausoleums.

Silk road era Garabaghlar Mausoleum in Nakchivan Azerbaijan

With a towering structure of light blue tiles and Arabic calligraphy, the Garabaghlar (or Karabakh) Mausoleum wouldn’t be out of place in a city in one of the great Silk Road cities of Samarkand or Esfahan. The difference is: in Nakhchivan, you will likely be the only one there!

Garabaghlar Mausoleum Silk Road nakhchivan azerbaijan things to do

Local tip: Photography enthusiasts will want to visit in the late afternoon, an ideal time to catch the reflections of the light blue mosaics from the setting sun.

garabaghlar silk road architecture in nakhchivan azerbaijan things to do

4. Visit the Gulustan Mausoleum

This 12th century light pink mausoleum is set against the beautiful reddish, pinkish mountains of Iran. Unquestionably, the Gulustan Mausoleum is one of the most photogenic sites in Nakhchivan.

gulustan mausoleum on azerbaijan iran border

The Gulustan Mausoleum is literally on the Iranian border, so keep an eye open for the Iranian military base to the right. On a clear day, you can easily make out the waving flag of the Islamic Republic.

If you are passing through Jolfa town on your way to the Gulustan Mausoleum, I recommend making a quick stop at the Jolfa War monument. This Soviet-style memorial powerfully juxtaposes photos of military martyrs from the Karabakh Wars in the 90s and 2020.

war memorial in nakchivan to karabakh wars

5. Explore the Old Town of Ordubad

Ordubad may be Nakhchivan’s most charming town.

Ordubad old Silk Road town in azerbaijan

Ordubad is home to an old Silk Road historic center. One of my favorite things to do in Nakhchivan is simply to explore the mud-brick alleyways of Ordubad. As you meander through the alleys, don’t forget to take photos of sleeping cats in ancient doorways, relics of centuries-old mosaics and the fading blue doorways.

old woman in home in ordubad azerbaijan

I recommend that you arrive in Ordubad before 3 pm (or so). In the main square, huge groups of older men get together under the large trees, playing cards and drinking Azeri tea. Women travelers will notice that this is a culturally male-only space. However, this is not dictated by law and, if you are comfortable, don’t hesitate to take a seat!

teahouse in nakhchivan, azerbaijan things to do

Ordubad is known for its fresh produce. If you spot any sellers with crates of yellow fruit, I definitely recommend giving the famous Ordubad quince fruit a try!

quince fruit for sale in ordubad azerbaijan

Travel tip: It pays off to be extra friendly as you explore the historic centre. During my time in Ordubad, an older woman invited me into her inner Silk Road-era courtyard. With tea samovars and large pots, the timeless scene from inside her home really made my day.

mud brick architecture in ordubad azerbaijan

I recommend that you begin your explorations around the old Chinar. This area has the most atmospheric and photogenic streets.

6. Relax by the Momine Khatun Mausoleum

Dedicated to the wife of a famous Azeri ruler, this magnificent mausoleum was built in 1186.

mausoleum in nakchivan azerbaijan

It’s particularly famous for its unique architectural style that is defined by its intricate geometric patterns and decorative elements. The mausoleum is a testament to the rich cultural and architectural heritage of Nakhchivan.

The area around the mausoleum is home to a large complex, with gardens and a Khan’s palace.

7. Pay Homage at the Tomb of Noah

The legend of Noah’s Ark spans cultures and civilisations.

According to local legend, the flood occurred near Mount Ararat and ends here in Nakhchivan – otherwise known as Noah Jahan.

Noah's tomb

This tomb site has been worshipped as Noah’s tomb since the 6th millennium B.C.E. While the structure today dates from the post-Soviet independence of the 90s, it still retains some of the original Armenian Christian design elements.

noah's tomb armenian architecture

When you’re done saying hello to Noah, take a walk over to the brand new mosque across the gardens. While Azerbaijan is a secular country and the mosque will likely be empty, it’s worth having a think about why this mosque was built in 2023 and how Azerbaijan’s government engages in nation-building.

noah tomb new mosque

8. Keep An Eye Out For Mount Ararat

Technically Mount Ararat is across the border in Türkiye. However, if I’m being honest, the best views of Mount Ararat are easily here in Nakhchivan.

A random roadside view of sunset over Mount Ararat

As you drive across the exclave of Nakhchivan, keep your eyes open for spectacular vistas of Mount Ararat, whose snow-capped peaks randomly appear on the horizon.

9. Take a Photo with The Nakhchivan Sign

If the above sites aren’t enough, stop by the Nakhchivan Sign for a photo proving you are in the most obscure corner of the Caucuses!

Nakchivan Sign

The sign is in the main courtyard of by the Saat Meydani Hotel (which by the way is definitely the best play to stay in Nakchivan).

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