Aliyev was born on 24 December 1961 in Baku. His grandfather was politician Aziz Aliyev. He is the son of ophthalmologist and academician Zarifa Aliyeva and Heydar Aliyev, who was his predecessor as President of Azerbaijan, serving from 1993 to 2003.

He went to Secondary School No. 6 in Baku between 1967 and 1977. In 1977, Aliyev entered the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO-MSIIR) and in 1982 continued his education as a postgraduate. In 1985 he received a PhD degree in history. From 1985 to 1990 Aliyev lectured at MSUIR.From 1991 to 1994, he led a group of private industrial-commercial enterprises.

In 1994-2003, he was the vice-president, and later the first vice-president of SOCAR, the state-owned Azerbaijani oil and gas company. He was one of the key figures during the negotiations between the Azerbaijani government and Western oil companies that resulted in several advantageous production sharing agreements, and actively involved in the implementation of Heydar Aliyev's oil strategy.He is an author of numerous research works on geopolitical aspects of oil strategy of sovereign Azerbaijan. He holds a doctorate degree in political sciences.

Since 1997, Aliyev is the president of the National Olympic Committee of Azerbaijan. For his contribution to the development of sports and Olympic movement, he was awarded the highest order of International Olympic Committee and Grand Cordon Order of Merit of the International Military Sports Council.

In 1999, Ilham Aliyev was elected as the deputy chair of the ruling party New Azerbaijan Party and in 2001, he was elected to the post of first deputy chair at the Second Congress of the Party.At the third Congress of the New Azerbaijan Party held on March 26, 2005, President Aliyev and the first deputy of the Party was unanimously elected to the post of chairman of the Party. The fourth and fifth congresses of the party held in 2008 and 2013 unanimously supported his nomination for the next presidential term. During his chairmanship membership to the party increased to more than 700 thousand.

In 1995, Aliyev was elected to the Parliament of Republic of Azerbaijan; later he became president of the National Olympic Committee (still incumbent).

From 2001 to 2003, Aliyev was elected head of Azerbaijani delegation to Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe (PACE). Following that, in January 2003, he was elected Deputy-Chairman and bureau member of PACE. In April 2004, Mr. Aliyev was awarded with a medal and diploma of honorable member of PACE for his active participation in PACE events and commitment to European values.In August 2003, two months prior to the presidential elections, he was appointed as Prime Minister.

The official results of the October 15, 2003, elections gave victory to Ilham Aliyev, who earned 76.84% of the votes.

Ilham Aliyev was re-elected in 2008 with 87% of the polls. A total of seven candidates filed to run in the election who had to collect 40,000 voter signatures.According to the report of the Election Observation Delegation from the European Parliament the elections took place with no reported unrest and few minor electoral violations. The report also highlights numerous reforms to the Electoral Code in accordance with OSCE and Council of Europe requirements and standards, which include inking of voters, more transparency of voter lists, and the prohibition of government interference in the election process.

In the 2013 presidential elections held on 9 October, Aliyev claimed victory with 85 percent of the vote, securing a third five-year term. Election observation delegations from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the European Parliament claimed to have observed a free, fair and transparent electoral process with no evidence of voter intimidation.A day before voting began, however, the Central Election Commission released a new smartphone application intended to allow citizens to watch the ballot counting in real time, and instead the app accidentally showed the results of the election before the election had taken place.

Ilham Aliyev won the 2018 presidential elections with 86.02% of votes. Since the latest presidential elections, Ilham Aliyev’s rating and voter confidence has increased according to the survey result conducted by “Opinion Way” company in April 2019. His activities have been evaluated as “positive” by more than 85% of the respondents, as well as stability in Azerbaijan has been attributed as the main success of Aliyev’s performance by more than 80%.

Ilham Aliyev has been expanding the cooperation with the European Union (EU) since his presidency. A year after Mr. Aliyev became president, in 2004, Azerbaijan as a southern Caucasus country has been a part of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) of the EU. Two years later, in 2006, Ilham Aliyev on behalf of Azerbaijan, and Matti Vanhanen, former president of the European Council, and José Manuel Barroso, former president of the Commission, on behalf of the EU signed the Memorandum of Understanding on a Strategic Partnership.

In 2009 when the EU launched the initiative, Azerbaijan has been included in the Eastern Partnership Policy.After two years, in 2011, Ilham Aliyev and José Manuel Barroso, Former President of the European Commission, concluded the Joint Declaration on the Southern Gas Corridor.

Ilham Aliyev affirmed the significance of the Joint Declaration in the field of energy cooperation between the EU and Azerbaijan during its visit to Brussels in 2013 with the following words: “Of course, energy cooperation is one of the most important components of our relations. I am glad that after the signing, together with President Barroso, of the Declaration on strategic cooperation in the energy sector in Baku at the beginning of 2011, we are currently seeing its practical results. This declaration has played a major role in the implementation of the gas corridor.”

On 6 February 2017, Aliyev visited Brussels, the capital of the EU, for the bilateral and multilateral meetings. He paid official visits to High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, with the President of the European Council, Commission President, and the Commissioner for Energy Union.After the visit of President Aliyev, on 7 February 2017, the process of negotiations for a new bilateral agreement between Azerbaijan and the EU has been launched.The end of negotiations process was marked by signing the "Partnership Priorities" between EU and Azerbaijan agreed on July 11, 2018 during Ilham Aliyev's working visit to Brussels.

Ilham Aliyev married Mehriban Pashayeva in Baku on 22 January 1983. They have three children: Leyla, Arzu and Heydar and five grandchildren. Apart from his native Azerbaijani, he is fluent in English, French, Russian and Turkish. His wife Mehriban Aliyeva is the first Vice President of Azerbaijan.