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Novruz in Azerbaijan (Azerbaijani: Novruz Bayramı) is a traditional holiday, which celebrates the New Year, and the coming of Spring in Azerbaijan Republic and Iranian Azerbaijan.

This year, it's observed the coming week (March 20-24) and I'm currently in neighboring Georgia and thinking about the logistics of making a side trip.

In Azerbaijan, how do businesses' hours of operation change over Nowruz?

Does it depend on whether you're in Baku or a smaller city? I'm particularly interested in:

Locally run coffee shops/tea houses
Small restaurants
Chain stores/restaurants
Museums, public transport

Also, how hard will it be to find a decent room in a guesthouse or small hotel at the last minute? How crowded will trains/buses in and out of the country be?

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    Whoever reflexively downvoted and close voted, please reconsider and do a search for all of the other very similar "Visiting X during [holiday]" questions... – davidvc Mar 19 '17 at 12:11
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    "Visiting X during [holiday]" questions are almost surely on-topic. Visiting Louisiana during Marti Gras? Visiting Morocco during Ramadan? Visiting Russia during Orthodox Christmas? Visiting Mexico on Cinco de Mayo? All on-topic and useful questions. – Robert Columbia Mar 19 '17 at 12:21
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    Weirdest of all, the close voters went with "unclear what you're asking"! I honestly can't think of any way this could be clearer - there's even a definition of Nowruz in case anyone's too lazy to google it. Great question. If it's anything like Nowruz in Kyrgyzstan I'd expect typical "family oriented public holiday", many businesses closed, possibly less traffic/bustle than usual except around any events in Baku. – user568458 Mar 19 '17 at 21:46
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    @JonathanReez Nowruz is pre-Islamic, it's as secular in origin as the 1st of January or the Chinese New Year (and more or less as big a deal). It's celebrated all over Central Asia, and even Central Asian ex pats worldwide throw parties and events for it – user568458 Mar 19 '17 at 21:52
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    Did you make the trip? If you did, you can answer your own question, and I'll upvote. – Giorgio Mar 27 '17 at 18:13
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+100

In Azerbaijan, how do businesses' hours of operation change over Nowruz?

As a local, I can tell that in Azerbaijan, businesses' hours of operation don't change over Nowruz. Although Nowruz is an official public holiday in Azerbaijan (probably the most important one) and 20-24 March are considered non-working days, they are actually only applied to government-controlled instances and large companies.

Generally, none of the listed businesses (coffee shops, tea houses, restaurants, stores) will have different/reduced working hours during Nowruz, neither the public transport. Even government-controlled libraries and museums in Baku should work on daily basis during Nowruz as reported by this article from Azadliq Radiosu (part of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty):

[Novruz] Bayramı günlərində Bakı Şəhər Mədəniyyət və Turizm İdarəsinin şəbəkəsinə daxil olan bütün kitabxana və muzeylər fəaliyyət göstərəcək.

My translation from Azerbaijani:

During [Nowruz] holidays, all the museums and libraries under jurisdiction of Baku City Culture and Tourism Department will operate on daily basis.


How hard will it be to find a decent room in a guesthouse or small hotel at the last minute?

Regarding the second part of the question, although some Iranian neighbors do visit Azerbaijan during Nowruz, Nowruz is a family holiday (be it in Azerbaijan or in Iran) and mostly is celebrated at home or by visiting relatives in one's home region. Which means locals travelling within country don't really use any hotels or guesthouses, they just stay with their relatives.

In addition, unfortunately, Nowruz is not branded very well in the world to attract a lot of tourists, so finding an accommodation at the last minute shouldn't be harder than at any time during the year.


How crowded will trains/buses in and out of the country be?

The last part of the original question is the only one that one should worry about. As people travel a lot to their home regions from Baku during Nowruz, trains and especially buses will be packed on regional routes (not on foreign routes though, as not too many tourists travel in and out of the country during Nowruz).

Traveling by bus from Baku:

  • I would recommend you to first check prices at Baku International Bus Terminal (by selecting "Tariffs" from the tabs). You will see that prices are extremely low.

  • Then click the "Race Schedules" tab, choose your destination and check the times.

  • Then you have 2 options:

    • Buying the tickets online by clicking the "ONLINE Ticket Sales". However, last time when I bought it online in 2014, it took me an hour to convince the driver that online tickets do exist (normally, they expect you to pay directly to them by cash). De jure, obviously, you should be able to hop in to your bus just before departure, but bear in mind that if a crazy driver starts to argue with you, it will be really hard for you to convince them that you're right with a lack of local language. However, I hope that things have changed since.

    • Buying tickets directly from the driver. During normal days, there will be most probably a seat for you even if you arrive just before the bus's departure. During Nowruz (or other holidays), however, you should arrive at terminal 1-1,5 hours before departure to be able to buy directly from the driver.

  • You should be able to come back to Baku by asking your driver when they are coming back (or the next busses). The return tickets are for the same price.

Traveling by train from Baku:

Less packed during Nowruz, because locals travel more by bus. Check the amazing online ticket search of Baku Central Railway Station. Its website has much better look than bus station's and buying online is safe.

Novruz bayramınız mübarək! - Happy Nowruz!

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I was in Sheki and Baku, Azerbaijan, for two days over Nowruz this year.

In both cities, it seemed pretty much every business I saw was open for at least its normal hours, and public transit seemed to be operating as normal.

However, the night train from Sheki to Baku was completely packed; first and second classes had been entirely booked in advance, so there were only places available in third class. Also, there were a lot of tourists, mainly from Iran, around Baku's old town; a local explained it's popular to visit over the holiday, which is also celebrated in Iran.

So, from my limited experience, I'd say you can expect everything to be open, but more crowded than normal, and I'd highly recommend booking space-limited transport like trains (and even some flights) well in advance of when you normally would.

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