After a 24-hour long bus ride from Yerevan (Armenia) my boyfriend and I finally arrived in the capital of Iran, Tehran. Due to miscommunication with the bus driver, we got out a few blocks too early and were standing at the side of a busy road with our backpacks in the crucifying heat. Our hostel was located in the city center, so we decided to walk to the nearest metro station. Not a fun thing to do on an empty stomach and with barely any sleep. This was the moment that I realized that Tehran was huge. Everything is far away. But at the same time, I felt excited to explore the relatively unknown Iranian capital. In this blog post, I’m sharing all the great things to do in Tehran and I will give you a whole bunch of practical tips.
Tehran, what to expect?
Tehran is an extremely big and busy city. There are constant traffic jams and Iranians are very impatient drivers. In addition to cars, you will also see many motorcyclists, often ignoring all basic traffic rules. Also expect to see many mural paintings of shahids. These are martyrs and national heroes that died during the Iranian revolution of 1979. Are you planning to visit Tehran during the summer? Then you can definitely count on intense heat. Make sure to bring breezy clothing (long sleeves and long pants though). Leave those tight jeans at home and ladies: bring shirts that cover your hips.
7 great things to do and see in Tehran
Most sights in Tehran are located in the north and center of the city. Metro line 1 (the red line) is often the best way to reach them. Here’s a list of seven great things to do in Tehran.
1. Golestan Palace
After some much-needed rest, our first stop in Tehran was the Golestan Palace. I actually did not have any expectations of this place, because I had never heard of it before. But you guys, this palace is stunning. The exterior has beautiful blue, green, and yellow painted tiles and once you step inside, you will come across one luxurious room after the other. Without a doubt, the most beautiful one is the Mirror Hall. The Golestan Palace was the home of the royal Qajar dynasty that ruled Iran from the 18th to the 20th century.
Address: Fifteen Khordad Avenue Arg Square. Take the metro to Panzdah E Khordad station.
Entrance fee: the palace is divided into 9 zones (8 buildings and the garden) for which you have to buy separate tickets. It’s rather confusing, because what is the best thing to do here? We bought a ticket for the garden (150,000 IR) and the main museum with the Mirror Hall (150,000 IR) and were satisfied with that. Tickets for the other buildings are 80,000 IR each.
2. Tehran Grand Bazaar
Just around the corner of the Golestan Palace, you will find the Tehran Grand Bazaar. The word ‘grand’ is a good way of describing it because it is big. Prepare yourselves for a maze of endless shops. There are so many side alleys to explore. The bazaar is always buzzing with people, and those people are often quite interested in foreign tourists. Don’t find it weird if locals start to introduce themselves and ask all sorts of questions (Where are you from? How old are you? What’s your job? How much do you earn? What do you think of Iran?).
Address: Panzdah-e-Khordad street. Take the metro to Khayyam station.
3. Park-e Shahr
Tehran is loud and chaotic, but it luckily also has many green zones where city life is less hectic. I love to dwell around in city parks and it’s something that Iranians love as well. As soon as they spot a tiny piece of green, they will sit or lay down and have a spontaneous picnic. Park-e Shahr means city park and it is one of the oldest parks in Tehran. It is big, has a lot of benches and wide paths. This is the perfect place to escape the crazy city life for a moment.
Address: Khayyam Street. Take the metro to Imam Khomeini station.
4. Tabi’at Bridge
Time to leave the city center and head north, because this is where the spectacular Tabi’at Bridge is located. This bridge is built with the intent to connect two city parks, the Ab-o-Atash Park and the Taleghani Park. The parks are separated by a highway, but now the mighty ‘nature’ bridge spans over the road. Tabi’at means nature. It is a very interesting experience to stand high above the traffic and look at the white snowcapped mountains in front of you. The Tabi’at Bridge has three layers and at both ends, you can find cafes. So this bridge is not only a means to get from A to B, but it is also a place to relax.
Address: Tabiaat Bridge. Take the metro to Shahid Haqhani station.
Entrance fee: free.
Is the honking Tehran mess a bit too much for you? I can totally relate. For me, it was also a bit overwhelming at times. And tourists are not the only ones, even locals complain about their busy and polluted capital. A great place to escape it is Darband, the gateway to the Tochal mountain. This former village offers an uphill walking trail taking you along various water cafes and shops. A unique feature of Darband is the lounge platforms on the river. Sipping sweet tea on a carpet while the river water runs underneath you, doesn’t that sound very relaxing? Darband is also the place where many women hang their headscarves loosely on the back of their heads or take it off. The religious police hardly come here.
The walking trail continues up the Tochal mountain. Near the mountain top you will get a nice but smoggy view of Tehran.
Address: Darband Street. Take the metro to Tajrish station. From there, shared taxi (green vans) go to Darband. The price is between 10,000 and 15,000 IR.
Entrance fee: free.
6. Imamzadeh Saleh shrine
When you’re in the area of the Tajrish station, you might also want to pop into the Tajrish bazaar. This market is over 70 years old and offers everyday products, such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, and delicious dried fruits. Just like the Tehran Grand Bazaar, this bazaar can also get pretty busy. But it is worth a visit because in the center of the bazaar you will the Imamzadeh Saleh Shrine. This is one of the holiest places in Iran and it truly is a gorgeous building (don’t forget to go inside as well!).
For the ladies: you can visit the square of the mosque and the mosque itself when you are fully covered in a white chador. You can find chador clothes at the entrance of the square. You will probably be pointed into a booth to get it. I was fine with wearing the chador, but I found it nearly impossible to take any photos of the place. I needed both hands to hold the chador in place (it’s a cloth, not a dress).
Address: inside the Tajrish Bazaar. Easy to reach by metro (Tajrish station).
Entrance fee: free.
7. Former US Embassy
Iran and the US are no friends, everyone knows that. One of the most prominent places that formed a turning point in this relationship is the Former US Embassy in Tehran. During the Iranian revolution of 1979, the embassy was stormed and 52 employees were kept as hostages for more than 400 days. Iran claimed that the US wanted to undermine the revolution and was secretly helping the ousted Shah. The hostage situation resulted in broken ties between the United States and Iran. Today, the former embassy building is called the US Den of Espionage Museum and is a home base of the Sepah militia. Inside the building, the hallways are filled with anti-US portraits. Visitors will also see left-behind embassy coding machines and a few shredded documents. Outside the embassy, the walls are painted with anti-US murals, like the famous skeleton lady of liberty.
Address: Taleghani Street. Take the metro to Taleghani station.
Entrance fee: 200,000 IR. Closed on Fridays.
Where to stay in Tehran?
Tehran has some great hostels. We stayed at two hostels in Tehran: the Tehran Heritage Hostel and the See You in Iran Hostel. Both are amazing. They have dorms, but also private rooms. Moreover, the staff of both hostels were so friendly and always ready to help. They assisted us with getting an Iranian sim card, taking care of visa issues, and booking trains to other cities. True heroes! I have to say that I slightly favor the Tehran Heritage Hostel because it was closer to the metro station and their breakfast is amazing.
How to get around in Tehran?
- Use the metro: the metro was my biggest friend in Tehran. It’s fast, cheap and you can see all the important sights with it. Please avoid rush hour, because the crowds can get crazy. Metro lines 1 and 4 (red and yellow) are the most popular routes. A metro ticket costs 10,000 IR, but I recommend getting the Metro EZ Pay Card. This way you don’t have to stand in line every time. The card is 50,000 IR and after that you have to charge with for example 150,000 IR.
- Or take a Snapp: Snapp is the Iranian answer to Uber and offers a good alternative if the metro is not an option. To use the Snapp app on your phone you need to have an Iranian sim card. It will only work with an Iranian phone number.
- Changing money: I recommend doing this at Ferdowsi square. Near the exit of the Ferdowsi metro station, you will see a couple of money exchange offices. You will also most likely be approached by guys on the street who will whisper ‘Change money?’. Ignore them, because they can easily give you fake money without you knowing it. Changing money is the only way to get rials. Visa, Mastercard, and Maestro bank cards don’t work in Iran.
- Two exchange rates: Iran has the official exchange rate and the market rate. With the market rate, you get more money for your euros or dollars. Always go to an exchange office and don’t go to a bank (because they will give you the official rate).
- Rial and toman: the Iranian currency is very confusing. Officially, it’s called rial (=IR), but in daily life people talk about toman. Toman is the same as rial, but with one less zero. So, 200,000 rial is 20,000 toman. On restaurant menus the zeros are often completed omitted, leaving only 20. Avoid confusion and always ask first if prices are in rial or toman. Then you know what you’re paying.
Bonus tips: Mahcard
Mahcard is an Iranian prepaid debit card for tourists. You can top it up with euros which Mahcard will convert to rial (market rate) or you can top it up online with your credit card. By using a Mahcard you don’t have to walk around with a lot of cash on hand. I used the Mahcard during my trip to Iran and I loved it. I could use the card in every city and in almost every shop. Never had any problems! You can easily order the Mahcard online and a representative will come to your hostel for the handover and explanation. Order it before your trip and plan the handover on your first day in Tehran. Good to know: it is quite common in Iran to share your PIN number when paying by card.
And that’s it: a list of the 7 great things to do in Tehran and a lot of tips. Would you visit this city?
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