Iran is blessed with historical sites, unique culture, tribes, magnificent mountains and vibrant cities. The capital city is a mixture of these with a fascinating backdrop of snow mountains and colourful palaces. This is Iran’s sprightly soul and the city where you dive into modern Iran’s vibrance. Here is your complete guide to travelling in Tehran.
- Reaching Tehran
- Why visit Tehran
- How many days to spend here
- Where to stay here
- Getting around & in the city
- Best places to eat
- Best things to do
How to get to Tehran?
Many Emirates flights from Dubai connect the nation’s capital city’s airport. From the other Iran cities, the trains are best way to get to Tehran You can travel by bus for cheaper and faster. Use VIP buses to have a heater/air conditioner with more comfortable seats during summer.
Is Tehran worth visiting?
With mixed opinions on Tehran, we weren’t sure if we would enjoy the city. We read- “Tehran’s bazar is beautiful; but traffic is scary. The city’s view with snow mountains in the background is fantastic, but the air pollution is high. Some may love the rush and buzz, but it may get overwhelming for some.”
After spending two days here, we feel this is a city that is always in a hurry and is beyond beautiful – So it is worth visiting Tehran.
What is special about Tehran?
As the capital city of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Tehran’s skyline isn’t dominated by minarets but by skyscrapers. This looks like any other secular country’s city except for younger women in Hijab and older women in black Chador.
There are very few large advertisement boards and many graffiti with strong religious & patriotic messages. We don’t know to read Persian, but the pictures of soldiers with guns and calligraphy stating Allah’s message were everywhere. So wandering in the streets of Tehran is endlessly entertaining.
Is Tehran a beautiful city?
Besides the mosques and colourful palaces of Tehran, Tehranis are the ones that make you fall in love with Tehran. With many immigrants from Afghanistan and Iraq, the city is culturally diverse. Sidewalk cafes to Shisha cafes, Bazars to fancy malls, streets filled with bikes and cars, and spotless streets for walking in residential areas are something you can’t afford to miss. The first few minutes may be confusing in this busy city, but the Tehranis are always there to help you figure out things with their broad smile and warm heart.
The lower price for food, unlimited non-veg delicacies in cafes & food trucks, traditional gyms (Gardis), shaded walkways, hidden green parks, modern art galleries, mosques, palaces, museums, mountains, and people – We loved it all.
If you love wandering and exploring the unseen part of this busy city, follow Ali on Instagram – a journalist from Tehran shows you various parts of the city regularly on his profile.
How many days to spend in Tehran
We spent two days in Tehran. Two days are good to see the historical part of Tehran. Remember, winter evenings are too cold, so it is hard to be outdoors after 6 PM. So two-Three days must be good to see both parts – Historical and modern Tehran.
Where to stay in Tehran
Hostels to star hotels, Tehran can cater to every range of travellers. Mind that, if you look for star hotels, there are no usual chains of hotels like Four Seasons or Marriot. Instead, they are all Iran’s very own group of hotels.
Best Neighbourhoods in Tehran for tourists
Neighbourhood – when you look at the Tehran map, you see neighbourhoods as districts. The city is divided into more than 20 districts.
- District 12 is – where tourist interests like Golestan palace, grand Bazar, and carpet museum are located. Plus, it is surrounded by lots of cafes as it is closer to Tehran University and Parliament. If you stay in Tehran for less than three days, choosing this neighbourhood to get around famous places is easier.
- District 1 is the poshest area of Tehran. It is literally at the foothill of Tochal mountain. This used to be the locality where King Shah used to live – Expensive but luxurious.
- Darband – For those who want to be away from the rush and buzz of Tehran, Darband(22km away from Tehran) can be an option if you are ready to spend a lot on transport.
Our initial plan was to go Couchsurfing in Iran. But after Iran’s General’s death, we switched to hostels and guest houses. Whatever your choice of accommodation, you can’t book rooms using Booking.com. So we used 1st quest to book the Tehran Heritage hostel at Baharestan square, District 12
How to get around in Tehran?
Tehran Metro works very efficiently, connecting most districts of the city, You need to have a pass to use the Metro, and the pass can be used on local buses.
Taxi is the best way to get around Tehran if you aren’t sure comfortable using the Metro. You must use only the snapp app to book cars or handwave at the yellow/green taxis. Almost any car you see in Tehran can be a taxi! The yellow and green ones are official taxis, and the rest are private cars where locals sometimes drop tourists to make quick bucks.
We used more car taxis and were on a motorbike only once – It was a local who gave us a drop to Azadi square- A little hitchhike we did. Trust me, motorbikes take half the time as taxis, but they are scarier than you think! No helmets, no following lane, no speed limit – Bikes lurk in every corner of the city. Call it deadly – but it gives you an adrenaline rush when you sit as a pillion rider and observe the madness of making way through chaotic Tehran traffic.
One sentence to describe the bike ride in Tehran – You will be part of the game Road Rash in real life. AVOID SELF DRIVING AT ANY COST. If you are pro in crossing roads in India/Egypt/ Bangkok, you can also crossroads in Tehran. Else – All the best crossing streets in Tehran
What are the most popular restaurants in Tehran?
Mesmes Restaurant, Baharestan square.
Mirza Qasemi (veg) Chicken Barbecue with rice and Saffron
Mr Khuyar of Tehran Heritage hostel recommended a restaurant that served awesome non-veg food and decent veg food was 200m away from the hostel. A small cafe with open seating overlooking the beautiful gardens of Baharestan square had a lovely ambience, delicious food, mid-range price, artsy menu card, quick service and grumpy waiters. This restaurant can be your relaxing place on a tiring day with a hot cup of soup/chai or saffron Pistachio ice cream.
Moslem Restaurant near Grand Bazar
Golestan palace’s gatekeeper and caretaker suggested this. Looking at the long line, we were sure that it is local’s favourite. The dining experience here is different from anywhere else – This three-floor restaurant has a takeaway counter on the Ground floor & seating on the upper floors. As you enter the first floor through the stairs, there is a counter on one side that got multiple transparent boxes filled with – Salads, Halwa (Sweet dish with saffron), pickles, bottles of Doogh (buttermilk kind of thing), small cups of yoghurt and some local Soda. You got to pick what you want and keep it on your tray. With all that, you move up one more floor to choose the main course. You will be billed for everything on your tray and the main course you just added by a smiling cashier who helps you choose their best dish.
Other than a soup, there was nothing in Veg for Sahana. But my Bhaighani Polo (Dill leaves and saffron rice with soupy chicken pieces) was the best dish I ever had in Iran.
Best things to do in Tehran
Things we did in 2 days in Tehran are –
- Check out cafe scenes in District 12
- People watching on Davar street and Panzdah-e-Khordad Street
- Try street food and sip chai on the sidewalks.
- Immerse yourself in the colours of Golestan palace.
- Get lost in the labyrinths of Tehran Grand Bazar.
- Meet the Pencil shop man – Mohammad Rafie.
- Watch the sunset behind the iconic landmark Azadi tower
- Make a day trip to Darband
If you are in Tehran for more than two days add these to your list
- Carpet Museum.
- Tajrish bazar for more street food.
- Iran’s traditional gym – Gardi.
- Take a stroll in District 1 – The poshest area.
- Visit museums – Historic & Contemporary
- Tabiat bridge for the view from above.
Check out cafe scenes in District 12
As someone with little idea of the Islamic Republic of Iran, I never expected cafe culture to be part of Tehran’s capital city. The sidewalk stalls for tea are cheaper. But these hipster cafes, especially in and around Baharestan square, are something one must not miss in Tehran. The cafes in tourist hostels are a great place to meet other travellers ( This is very useful in Tehran. The travellers who are leaving Iran are likely to be left with many Rials they want to exchange. So if you have a chance, exchange your Euros with them – It will be a win-win situation for both.) The cafes like Godo Yas cafe and Malek cafes are fine places to witness the haut fashion sense of young Persians and sip some nice coffee or saffron icecreams.
People watch on Davar street and Panzdah-e-Khordad Street
The traffic busy streets have may give you an underwhelming experience. But these two streets near Grand Bazar won’t disappoint you if you love people-watching. The Panda-e-Khordad Street is almost traffic-free (except for a few bikes in the evening and electric shuttle buses). Be there by 8 AM to watch how the busiest baza of Iran gets ready for the day. Chai sellers with a flask will be waiting for their first customers. The shop workers sit on the bench, waiting for everything to get open.
Some men will be pulling a cart full of boxes to the market. Older men sit there and wait for their friends to arrive. Finally, the street vendor opens their bundle and adjusts their throat to start screaming at the customers. By 9.30 or so, Tehranis flood the market. The lady in Burqa walks swiftly to a dry fruit shop to grab her usuals. Young girls in denim and super stylish tops come to buy fancier jackets. Couples hold hands and walk slowly on that spotless paved street under the trees, probably discussing what to buy for the arriving guests or the upcoming election and where to go for their next vacation.
You may find young kids and old ladies begging in this part of Tehran.
The moment they see a tourist, they tend to swamp around you. If you don’t want to give them anything, politely smile and say” No”. They leave you alone. Sit on a bench, say “Salaam” to the next person and watch the phenomena – You will fall in love with Tehran.
Once you sit there for long, the person sitting next to you will likely crack a conversation with you.
The Persian language is melodious to hear – whether it is the person next to you talking or that socks seller shouting and calling customers in his very own tone. A Chai seller from Afghanistan or Iraq may come to you asking if you want to have a cup. So drink, pay and talk – Perhaps, Persians are the friendliest on earth perhaps. Come back in the noon, see the locals sitting on plastic chairs munching on street food. Come back again in the evening when things are wrapping up, and the electric buses pick up people to drop at the nearest bus stop.
Try street food and sip chai on the sidewalks.
Tehran grand Bazar & Tajrish bazaar is filled with many pull carts selling snacks and fried nuts. So if you see locals standing in a line to get them, don’t think twice – you too join the waiting line and hog on some local snacks. Falafel wraps are common in the middle east, and it tastes good in Tehran too. Bamieh – A kind of Churros or Donuts are a sweet delicacy and cheap.
Lavashk and other fruity things tasted better in Darband than in Tehran. But fried nuts with some hot Chai at a random corner shop can never go wrong in Tehran.
Immerse yourself in the colours of Golestan palace.
It is all about geometrical /floral patterns with colours, vibrance and grandeur. This UNESCO heritage site is a group of royal buildings built by the Qajar dynasty in traditional Persian architecture style. The newer royal residences were built in Western style, especially the ones in St. Peters-burg palace. Some Info –
- Despite being famous, it isn’t easy to get to Golestan. It is located closer to Tehran Grand Bazar but surrounded by other government buildings.
- Golestan palace visitor timings – 9.30 am to 4.30 pm.
- Entry ticket fees- 20 EURO/ PERSON access to all 8 buildings of the palace complex. You can pay less and get a ticket that lets you only a few parts of the palace.
- You need a minimum of 3 hours to see the entire palace.
- Audio curators are available for 10 Euros (refundable once you return it) or deposit your passport.
- The printed map given isn’t that informative, but the audio curator is. Follow the curator with the map to navigate yourself in this 19th-century royal palace.
What is Tehran best known for?
Have a look around the palace to notice the exteriors. The huge windcatchers stood tall above the continuous walls decored with the most intricate and beautiful glazed tile patterns on the wall. During the King’s time, it was evident that they were super influenced by European style. So some facade even has Ionic columns ( Type of a Greek Column) or stucco works that you find in St. Petersburg.
Whether you are an architecture lover or not, the vast garden with water in the centre doesn’t fail to impress you. Sit on a bench in the surreal garden, adjust your Hijabs and observe. The Bazar’s busy vibe is opposite to what feels like here. In January, with very few visitors, this was the most peaceful atmosphere surrounded by royal buildings splashed with elegant colours on their beige walls.
The interior is beautiful, but we admired the true Persian style on the exterior. We spent the most time gazing at those extremely intricate and exquisite glazed tiles more than the palace’s interiors. In many places, the ceilings and walls are cladded with mirrors and glass making them bling. The museum hall housing many artefacts from King’s time with its European decor, makes you forget you are in Iran.
Get lost in the labyrinths of Tehran Grand Bazar.
Our favourite place in Tehran is the Grand Bazaar. With more than 20k shops and 10km+ alleys, Tehran grand bazar is a visual treat- Its traditional architecture with vaulted roof and shops on either side of the alley. Though it is a place for wholesale buyers, baby buyers like us are equally welcomed. Looking at the crowd, it felt as if it was the last day of some “end-of-season sale.” But it is where locals also come for their usual shopping, and wholesale sellers/buyers do their business. Real or window shopping, the maze of Tehran grand bazar filled with shops selling expensive gold to cheap scarves and fake branded clothes/accessories and everything else. If you are here for experiencing the bazar, take any alley and walk anywhere. Suppose you are shopping for particular things; you must know that each product has its designated areas where it is sold.
- Chahar Suq Bazar – Nuts and dates
- Bein-olHaramein Bazaar – Stationaries
- Hajeb olDolleh Bazaar -Home Accessories:
That is all I had noted in my notepad when I went to Tehran 😀
Meet the Pencil shop man – Mohammad Rafie.
The highlight of our time spent in Tehran Bazar is this crazy pencil shop. It isn’t easy to find a particular shop as a tourist. Also, not knowing Persian was a major disadvantage. So we asked for the direction to that particular shop with a youtube video that features the shop Owner Mohammad Rafie – When we arrived at Bein-Haramein Bazaar with the help of a shopkeeper from whom we had bought a jacket – It was a whole new world of stationaries. The best of all was Mr Mohammad Rafie’s shop which sells only pencils. Golestan palace was colourful, but we had never seen so many colour pencils stacked like that ever in our lives.
An Interesting Pencil Store in Tehran
Many people wonder, “why does one need so many pencils” Well, it is his passion and business. He says he can guess a person’s mentality by the colours they choose. Most of his customers are kids. But some curious adults like us often go to him. He has more than 3LAKH Pencils in his shop belonging to different brands and countries, including our Indian Brand – Nataraj!
Mohammad Rafie lets you draw on paper to try out many pencils before buying. Plus, he talks heartily – How Tehran is, which food cart sells the best, where he has been, and things – He is the coolest.
Watch the sunset behind the iconic landmark Azadi tower
One of the top 10 images that pop up in google search is this 45m tall and 65metre wide white tower. This iconic landmark is Tehran’s tourist’s focal point, and it was built to celebrate the 2500th anniversary of the Persian empire in the 1970s. The tower stands in the middle of a garden overlooking Tochal mountains closer to Imam Khomeini airport. So it is like the welcome symbol for Tehran’s visitors & the gathering place for local’s protests and celebrations.
The place is so vast that the crazy busy traffic noise isn’t audible below the tower. The tea sellers with their hot+fresh Chai there make your colder evenings even better when the sun sets behind the tower. For the museum lover, the underground museum is a treasure of Persian history – From Cyrus to the current Supreme lead, Persepolis to modern Tehran, ancient rose water distillation technic to the Saipa cars – All are well narrated in the museum.
Make a day trip to Darband
Darband is a streamside town located 22 km from Tehran. A half-day trip during lunchtime or early dinner is the best time to reach Darband by private taxi. The sound of the stream, tasty fruit rolls, hot tea and puffs of Shisha is all you need to end your day sitting beside the stream on a Persian carpet.
Do you still think Tehran isn’t worth visiting? Let us know in the comment section below.