Isfahan – Central Iran

When I say Isfahan, I pronounce Isfahaaaaaaaan. All those extra a’s goes for its awesomeness. The third-largest city of Iran is perhaps the most beautiful in the country too. 

This post is about how we fell in love with Isfahan within 30 minutes after roaming in Char Bagh Abbasi street and how rich is Isfahan with its QalamKaari and Minakari art.

I will not use the word “Complete guide” to Isfahan. We travelled in January 2020 & our 20 days Iran trip was cut short heartbreakingly at Isfahan. So here we take you to Isfahan – The city of Bridges.

Index

Reaching Isfahan

Isfahan (Esfahan ), The third-largest city of Iran, has an international airport, a train station, a Metro for inter-city connections and Intracity bus terminals. 

BusThere are four main bus terminals with buses leaving to Kashan, Qom, Tehran, Tabriz, Yazd and Shiraz. So getting to the right terminal may get tricky- For example – Bus to Yazd from Isfahan leave from two different terminals. So you must be clear of the type of bus you booked ( VIP or Classic) & their departure terminal.
Metro: Works similar to Tehran. You must buy a metro card to use the facility, and the same card can be used for buses. Snapp taxis and handwave taxis work well in Isfahan. 
Taxi – With fewer over-speeding bikes and more cars following lanes and other traffic rules, Snapp taxis & handwave taxis work finer than Tehran here. The city is best explored by walk. The streets are shaded & pedestrian-friendly in most of the places.

Why Visit Isfahan

Unlike Tehran ( We loved Tehran despite traffic & smog), Isfahan has managed to match modernity, still keeping it slower & efficient. If you haven’t had enough of the architectural masterpieces, Isfahan’s mosques and palaces entice you with their turquoise tiles of different shades. The underside of the domes gets even more dreamy with hints of yellow. Suppose you say, “enough of intricate details, show me something different” – Isfahan is the city of waterways with 11 beautiful arched bridges.

CHRABAGHE ABBASI STREET

The city has a tint of European culture with it. Armenia is one of the very few countries where Iran passport holders can visit without visa paperwork. So the way Armenian culture blends with Isfahan’s Islamic influence is a thing to witness here. 

Grand Bazar here takes your shopping to another level. It is like a live museum where you can spot Artisans marvelling at their Minakari, QalamKari, and Ghalamzani live masterpieces. The sidewalk cafes of abbasi roads and food trucks selling “Persianised” burgers along with local delicacies is the best place to eat where locals eat.

Isfahan is believed to be the birthplace of Biryani, along with several art forms. Plus, for some unknown reason, we found this city is less moral policed than Tehran. So the love birds here walk more carefree, holding hands and kissing. This city is considered the most romantic city of Iran and is famous among Persian honeymooners.

Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque

Isfahan’s countryside, like Verzaneh, is what we were excited to experience. So Isfahan is a beautiful city with lots of choices for day trips to nearby towns.

Isfahan’s well-connected airport lets you travel further south to reach Bandar Abbas for Darakh beach. Or even to the northern Iran towns like Mausoleh, Pahalangann. 

Where to stay –

Caravanserais outside the city or the hostel, luxury hotels, and budget hostel – Isfahan give you a wide variety of choices for accommodation. We choose to stay closer to tourist’s interests in a locality where locals roam around, and domestic travellers stay. The confusion we had was the Julf district ( Armenian quarters near Vank cathedral) and the area around Imam square. Choosing Isfahan’a modern neighbourhood, we picked Pars hotel in Char Baghe Abbasi road.

The room was basic, worth its low price & the locality was noisy. The nightlife in this street goes beyond midnight. So what seemed to be a happening place with locals in the evening felt a little noisy in the night. Because of this, we would say look for a better option a little away from Abbasi road. But the amount of help the hotel manager lent while we were asked by the Indian Embassy to leave Iran immediately is enormous. So her generosity and going beyond their scope to help us make us recommend this hotel.

For the next two days, we had decided to spend time in Verazaneh and had booked Hafeez guest house.

How many days to spend in Isfahan

To savour the city 1.5 to two days is enough. So head to the countryside like Verzaneh at the end of the second day. You can have a bit of Isfahan’s city, art and architecture, along with its countryside desert vibes when you do so. 

Best things to do in Isfahan

Things we had planned to do in Isfahan for two days

  • Imam square – world’s second-largest public square 
  • See Ali Qapu palace & vibrant mosques in the square
  • Shopping in Best Bazar of Iran – Keysar Bazar 
  • Khaju Bridge to listen to locals citing poems.
  • Julf district – to witness the blend of Persian Armenian culture.
  • Hasht Behesht Garden & Chehel Sotoun Palace
  • Have Biryani wherever locals suggest

What we did– Strolling and hogging in Abbasi road | People watch at Imam square | Azadegane tea shop | Shopping in Bazar and learning little about Isfahan’s pride – Qalama Kari & Minakari

ALI QAPU PALACE

Imam Square (Naqsh -e – Jahan- Square )

The best part of any city in the world is their public plaza. The second-largest square in the world is the first site in Iran to get registered under UNESCO world heritage. The colossal square is charmingly surrounded by Masjed-e Shah, The Lotfollah Mosque, Ali Qapu Palace and the Bazaar. This is the best place in Isfahan to take a break from seeing things and watch people with some sandwiches in hand. The central lawn is a happy place for kids to chase birds, while the cool breeze from the front court’s fountains & pond. The parents sit on the benches watching their kids pondering and talking to their spouse and friends with a bowl of Shirin or Doogh. You choose a bench closer to them and away from the horse carts (the horses and horse shit stink) to hear the musical language they speak. Or observe & learn to bargain with the horse carriage owners like the young Persian couples do here. You can easily spend one whole day here in the square wandering, sitting, gazing at the sky, and admiring the architectural beauty of li Qaupu palace and two mosques.

HEADS UP – Abbasi Great Mosque is similar to Parthenon – It looks like they will be under restoration for a long time. So do expect some scaffoldings and metal sheets to ruin this particular mosque’s beauty of turquoise glazed tiles.

The magical nights at Imam square and never-ending restoration of Abbasi Great mosque

Isfahan Bazaar

Expensive carpets to Euro worth earrings, 7 flavoured Masala powder to dried onions, dried green leaves. Culinary enthusiasts can carry a lot of taste in their bags while leaving Iran. But, more than all this, what intrigued us most is Isfahan’s handcrafts. This is what makes this Bazar different from Kashan or Tehran.

The Bazar here is a live workshop where you can see artisans working on their masterpieces. Most of them are eager and excited to narrate their stories and explain everything in detail. If you have learned Persian, great. If not, they demonstrate most things, and they use few essential English words to explain things with a broad smile and all patience to laymen like us.

Ghalamzani is engraving on metal, mainly on copper, brass, silver and gold handmade by skilled artisans.

Minakari: But, if you want to go more colourful and see much more intricate art-making live, take a walk in the copper bazar to see Minakari. -The art of colouring and ornamenting the surface of metals with brilliant colours on the intricate design. In Persian, Mina refers to the Azure colour of heaven. So you see more of Persian blue with lots of gold, brown and lighter shades of blue on these metal surfaces.

MINAKARI

Qalamkari for the fabric lovers: Qalam means Pen, Kari means craftmanship. The 3000-year-old art IS created by drawing with particular pens with black ink. Then earthy colours like indigo, mustard, black, and green extracted naturally from vegetables and other earthy sources are used to paint the patterns. This chemical-free process is a remarkable example of craftsmanship. With Mughals, this artform has reached India’s Andhra Pradesh, too (ancient Golconda region). The 20+ tedious steps to create this fabric wonder includes dyeing, bleaching, hand painting, block-printing, starching, cleaning and more. Motifs drawn in qalamkari include flowers, peacocks, and paisleys. (The Mango or teardrop kind of pattern you see on our Mysore silk sarees & Mehendi on palms is Paisleys!)

Azadegan tea house

Tea houses are essential parts of Iran’s tradition. When someone is passionate about their tradition, they create extraordinary spaces like the Azadegan tea house. This old tea shop has a strange mannequin in the front to welcome people. Once you enter, walk through the narrow corridor. Don’t forget to look up – because every Iran building’s beauty lies in the ceiling. Bells, lamps, lanterns adorn the top. Old photographs, world currencies, medals, prize certificates, stamps accentuate the walls. With the craziest decor, excellent saffron chai, juicy Shirin (something like Jalebi), refreshing doogh, Azadegan tea shop must be on your list to give your foot a break from wandering in the Isfahan Bazar.

Abbasi road

This is something that isn’t there on every Isfahan visitor, but you must add it. Once you are soaked in Isfahan’s historical and architectural vibe at Imam square, you must come back to the modern world here at Charbaghe Abbasi street. Imam square is all about traditional eateries, while Abbasi road is full of trendy fast-food eateries, food trucks and sidewalk cafes. It felt like this street is Isfahan’s young crowd hotspot. The shops here are good for winterwear shopping. But their crazily scary mannequins is what makes the road most unique.

We tried 4 fast food joints, and the best pick is -Chikawich. Their combo of Mushroom + french fries and fried chicken+ French fries are cheap and delicious. 

Another must-try dish is NOOR KHOORMAYI – Stuffed white flatbread with dry fruits. It was opposite a cafe Tanhei where you get good coffee.

This is probably just 40% of what Isfahan has to offer to tourists. I am sure and hope to start where it was stopped and wander on the cosy streets of Isfahan again when the time is right.

Are you set to keep your foot in the romantic city of Iran? Let us know in the comment section below.

Published by Sahana Kulur

Traveller | Blogger | Architecture and history

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