Tehran Day 1:
Tehran Grand Bazaar
Just down the road from Golestan Palace is Tehran Grand Bazaar. The Grand Bazaar is a labyrinth, and with more than 10km of covered alleys and thousands of shops it is the biggest bazaar in the world! The bazaar is mostly full of products for locals to buy, such as spices, teas, carpets and fabrics, but it is still a very popular tourist attraction in Tehran due to it’s sheer size.
The Persian carpet and rug shop owners will often invite you into their shop and tell you about their carpets whilst they offer you chai (tea). Even if you don’t want to buy one, it’s still very interesting to go in and admire and learn about the Persian rugs. The vendors are very good at their job so you will probably walk away having bought a rug, even if you hadn’t intended to! Along with shops there are many restaurants and teahouses in and around the bazaar you can relax in and watch the world go by.
Most shops in the bazaar are open from 10am-5pm. Head there before lunch when it isn’t too busy, so you can stroll around leisurely. Prepare for lots of crowds if you go in the afternoon though – the alleyways will be full! And don’t spend too long here – you’ll be going to a more touristy bazaar tomorrow!
Head back on Line 1 (red line) on the metro to Taleghani Station to see the former US Embassy.
Former US Embassy
Next stop is the former USA Embassy in Tehran. In 1979 during the Iranian Revolution, several Iranian military students seized the Embassy and held 52 American Diplomats hostage here for 444 days. They claimed the USA was undermining the Iranian Revolution as it had been providing support to the last Shah (King) of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. After the hostages were released, all diplomatic ties between the two countries were severed and have been ever since.
There were many things that led to the 1979 Revolution, but it occurred in part because the monarchy wanted Iran to be westernised and secularised. Reza replaced Islamic laws with Western laws, and so leaders of the Revolution (clerics) claimed Reza was destroying Islam in Iran, so the monarchy got overthrown and was replaced by the Islamic Republic.
The former US Embassy permanently closed after the Revolution and is now known more commonly as The Den of Espionage. It is used by a pro-Revolution armed Iranian group – the Sepah militia and has also very recently been turned into a museum too. It is full of anti-American propaganda and you’ll see big slogans outside, declaring America the Great Satan, and murals of a skulled Statue of Liberty. A very interesting place if you wish to understand modern day history in Iran and see the contrasting opinions between the Revolutionists and the open-minded general public. Entrance is 200,000 IRR and the museum is open Saturday – Thursday 09.00-12.30 and 14.00-18.30.
Get back on the metro and head north again on line 1 (red line) to Shahid Haqqani metro station for the Islamic Revolution & Holy Defence Museum.
Islamic Revolution & Holy Defence Museum
I am not normally a fan of museums as I can find them overwhelming sometimes, but this was honestly one of the most interesting and informative museums I have ever been to. It focuses on the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988, in which 1 million Iranians died. The museum shows the bitter reality of the bloody war between Saadam Hussein’s regime and Iran, and was very educational.
It will take you at least an hour or two inside as the museum is very large. It is a really impactful museum with incredible state-of-the-art visuals. Amongst many things the museum shows remarkably realistic reconstructions of war-torn cities and tanks weapons used during the war. You are NOT allowed to take photos here (and there are cameras everywhere!). Opening times are 08.00-12.00 and again from 13.00-17.00, 7 days a week.
A short walk from the Holy Defence Museum is Tabi’at Bridge (meaning ‘nature bridge’). Designed by a young Iranian woman and completed in 2014, the futuristic bridge offers some of the best views of Tehran skyline and the nearby mountains (although often it is so smoggy that you can’t always see the mountains so clearly). It spans the Motorway and connects Taleghani Park and Abo-Atash Park and is a popular place for people to come and relax as there are many benches and spaces here. Stay here to watch the sunset and until it starts to get dark, and then you will see the bridge is lit up so beautifully at night.
Tehran Day 2:
Head up to the last stop on line 1 (red line) to Tajrish Metro station on your second morning in Tehran. Your first stop in Tajrish is the bazaar – much more aesthetically pleasing and tourist-friendly than the centrally located Grand Bazaar. You can shop for lots of nice crafts, souvenirs and traditional Iranian sweets here, as well as buy some cheap fruit and veg or stop in the many Iranian tea houses. The bazaar is open 9am-9pm.
Imamzadeh Saleh Shrine
Tajrish Bazaar backs onto the picturesque Imamzadeh Saleh shrine. This is a very popular pilgrimage site for local people as it is the burial place of Imamzadeh – one of the sons of the seventh Imam. The shrine is beautiful, with the dome covered in beautiful tiles.
As you come out of the shrine you will see the incredible snow-capped mountains very close to you. We will be heading in that direction next to the beautiful village of Darband.
A 5-10 minute taxi ride (or a 30 minute uphill walk if you’re feeling fit!) takes you to the unique neighbourhood of Darband. Darband is one of Tehran’s oldest rural villages and was always known for it’s country life, fresh mountain water and cool fresh air. Now though, the village is one of the most upmarket destinations in Tehran for tourism, relaxing and casual dining.
Darband lies at the foot of Mount Tochal and so it is a little cooler here than in the rest of Tehran. Wander through the village, see the streams and small waterfalls, and stop to eat lunch in one of the cute little tents – food is very reasonable here. You can also buy lots of local food products and local sweets in the shops here.
If you have time, take a cablecar or hike up Mount Tochal. The beautiful village of Darband makes a nice retreat from the bustling and chaotic city below, especially because the air in Tehran is polluted and often smoggy.
The Azadi Tower, also known as the Freedom Tower, is Tehran’s iconic landmark. The tall white marble futuristic building mixes Persian influences with modern architecture and pays tribute to the 2500th Anniversary of The Persian Empire. It is adjacent to Mehrabad Airport, Tehran’s domestic airport and marks the entrance to the west gate of the city.
Get off the metro at Meydan-e Azadi, and be careful when you have to cross the road. Traffic is extremely busy around Azadi Square and cars do not stop for you. You can take the elevator or stairs to the top to enjoy the view (costs 150,000 rials) – you’ll be able to see the mountains and the city from here. Opening times are 9am-5pm Sunday to Thursday (10am-5pm on Friday). Or you can just admire it from the outside like I did.
Other useful information when visiting Tehran
Despite Tehran being a huge sprawling city with over 8 million inhabitants, there is no ‘downtown’ as such. Tehran however can be divided socially into north and south, with the richer and more liberal people living in the cosmopolitan north, and the poorer, more religious regime supporters living in the south.
How to get to Tehran from Imam Khomeini Airport (IKA):
Imam Khomeini Airport is the main international airport in Tehran. It is located 70km away from the centre of Tehran. You can get into Tehran by metro (cheaper) or taxi (quicker).
Generally the taxis will try to rip you off if they see you are a tourist. To prevent this, download the app ‘snapp’ which is Iran’s version of Uber. Snapp is much cheaper than regular taxis. You’ll need an Iranian SIM card to order a snapp, so get one at the airport, or you could always try ask a local to order it on their phone for you and then you pay the snapp driver in cash. When coming back to the airport from Tehran, remember to leave enough time for the journey (at least an hour) as traffic in Tehran can often be quite bad.
The metro goes from IKA to the centre of Tehran, and whilst it is a lot cheaper than getting a Snapp, it takes around 1.5 hours. Therefore, Snapp is the preferred way to get to and from the airport from Tehran as it is quicker, more convenient and more comfortable when you have luggage.
Tehran also has Mehrabad Airport which located next to the Azadi Tower, so it is a lot closer to the centre. However this is mostly for internal flights only. If you do plan to take internal flights in Iran, for your convenience fly from Mehrabad Airport (THR).
Transport in Tehran:
Tehran is a very large city and it can often seem quite overwhelming, however it is very easy and cheap to get around on the metro. The metro is very modern, super clean and very efficient. A one-way metro ride costs 10,000 rials (10 cents!). The metro runs very frequently and also has ‘ladies-only’ carriages. A metro ride in Tehran is unlike one you will have come across before – it is like a mini-market inside with vendors selling things all day long on the metro. Many of the passengers buy the products, which can be anything from socks to tissues to face masks. It was fascinating to watch, even if I didn’t understand a word of what was being said.
As mentioned before, ‘Snapp’ is Uber in Iran. You can use it to get anywhere in Tehran for a reasonable price.
I once took the bus in Tehran and was stuck on it for absolutely ages. The traffic is pretty bad and even the pedestrians outside were moving at a faster rate than us. Therefore stick with the metro or Snapp – they’ll get you where you want to go and in a much quicker time!
Travel to other cities in Iran:
If you want to take the bus from Tehran to another city in Iran, buses depart from Freedom Square. Click here for prices and bus timetables.
Where to stay in Tehran:
For those looking for an economical or social place to stay, head to Heritage Hostel. It is a modern hostel with several dorm rooms, although they also have yurts, private rooms or an underground room you can stay in! The staff are very friendly and helpful, and Baherestan Metro is just a couple of minutes walk.
It’s almost impossible to get your hands on Iranian money outside of Iran as many countries don’t want to deal with it. Therefore you’ll need to bring cash (US dollars or preferably Euros) with you to Iran. You CAN NOT withdraw any money from any International bank card (VISA/Mastercard etc) at cash machines in Iran!! This is due the limitations placed by the USA – pretty much all global banks have refrained from dealing with Iran.
Once you get to Iran you can change the money into Iranian Rials at the airport and at the many currency exchange shops. Exchange just a little bit at the airport to last you, as the rate won’t be as good there. When you are in Tehran, local people may approach you asking if you want to exchange your money in the black market. As the Iranian currency is always fluctuating and can be quite confusing, I would recommend to go to an exchange office to change your money so you know you won’t get ripped off.
How safe is Tehran?
I felt very safe in Tehran. Iran is a very safe country from a crime point of view and I often felt much safer here than I do in many European cities.
If you are heading to other Iranian cities and are looking for an itinerary, check out my 10 days in Iran detailed itinerary!
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