District 12, or the bazaar area, is ‘authentic’ Tehran. Crowded and chaotic on street level, a glance up will show you Tehran’s old soul with the remains of once hip cafés, trendy stores, and places people called home. The old palaces here have been renovated into museums or cafés, and the cobblestone 30 Tir St. and narrow alleys are sure to enchant you.
A popular getaway in the northern part of Tehran, Darband is one of the trails where Iranians go hiking during the wee hours of the morning. Local street snacks and mouthwatering kabobs are plentiful here. Its the perfect place to enjoy a meal, smoke some hookah, or go for easy hike.
One of the oldest neighborhoods, residents of Tajrish are natural-born Tehranis. Behind the Tajrish Bazaar and Imamzadeh Saleh, two of the main attractions, are the charming tight paths and old entryways to once-grand family-owned gardens. One of the busiest areas, the main square is the junction to many other neighborhoods in northern Tehran. It’s a great place to walk, explore, get lost, and discover, all while meeting locals from all walks of life.
Located in the foothills of Tehran, Niavaran is one of the more posh and expensive areas of the capital city, the neighborhood the former Shah of Iran once called home. The palaces have since turned into museums, and the outdoor cafés in this locale are great places for the exhausted sightseer to relax in a cooler climate.
Where to stay
Hotel Espinas Palace
The luxurious Espinas Palace sits high above the city in the northwest and offers some fantastic views. Rooms range from standard boutique to junior, royal, and presidential suites. This hotel is true extravagance and comfort.
The lovely Niloo Hotel is conveniently located in central Tehran. Owned by an Italian-Iranian family, the rooms, lobby and restaurants have an artsy, chic feel with colorful rooms, detailed ceilings, and exquisite Persian art and handicrafts. A great option for guests who demand comfort and style in the heart of the city.
See You in Iran Hostel and Cultural House
What started out as a Facebook group for travelers to Iran to share and swap information, See You In Iran has developed into a hostel and cultural house in the center of the city. This renovated home hosts a younger crowd from all over the world, and can be a great place to meet someone to share a cup of tea or your day with.
Where to eat and drink
Iranian cuisine varies depending on the region, and it’s said that the best food is cooked at home. Dishes are heavily meat-based, with rice or bread as the carbs. In Tehran, you can find the typical and most famous dishes at a few places.
This restaurant may only have one item on the menu, but it’s done to perfection. Dizi is named after one of the most famous Iranian stews, made with potatoes, lamb, beans, and tomatoes cooked in a clay pot. It’s worth the long wait outside, as you’ll enjoy a full meal with dessert in a delightful traditionally decorated restaurant.
Conveniently located in Ab-o-Atash park, the aptly named Khoone, home, is the perfect lunch spot when you visit Tabiat Bridge. The chalkboard-written menu changes daily, just like home, and the generous portions are in keeping with what a true Iranian mama would feed you. Unlike most places where you want a table outside, sit inside with the mismatched eclectic furniture and feel right at home.
For the authentic Iranian kabob experience, look no further than Reyhoun. This traditional basement restaurant serves some of the best chicken and lamb kabobs in town, along with heaps of, what else, reyhoun, basil. Have your kabob with rice or bread.
Located in a royal Persian garden in northern Tehran, Chai Bar is a beautiful location to have some afternoon tea or cool drinks. It’s a haven in the summer, when the tall trees provide much-needed shade and the babbling water can relax even the weariest of travelers.
What to do
This UNESCO World Heritage Site of Qajar-era buildings is a must-see. The entrance ticket grants access inside almost all of the buildings, which, along with some impressive decoration, also house the paintings of Kamal ol-Molk. It’ll be hard to decide whether your favorite is the marble throne, Karim Khani nook, Shams-ol-Emareh, or the wind-catcher building.
Adjacent to Golestan Palace is the Grand Bazaar of Tehran. Take a walk and get lost in the labyrinth of paths, while marveling at the architecture. Here you can pick up everything from rugs to handicrafts to brass and copper goods.
Azadi Tower or Milad Tower
Ascend either the older Azadi Tower or modern Milad Tower (or both) and experience both marvelous architecture and a view of the capital city. You’ll be especially lucky if it’s a clear or windy day.
This multi-award winning bridge is a sight to behold. Crossing over Modares highway and connecting Ab-o-Atash Park and Taleghani Park, it has given both Azadi and Milad towers some serious competition as the symbol of the city. Since its construction, Iranians and foreigners have flocked to experience this multi-tiered bridge with its pristine landscaping, views of this city, and innovative cafés.
Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art
What could be better than saying you experienced Picasso, Pollack, Warhol, and Monet in Tehran? TMoCA has an extensive collection of Western paintings accumulated before the revolution of 1979. Iranian contemporary artists, such as Sohrab Sepehri, are displayed alongside these names. The surrounding sculpture garden with works of Giacometti, Magritte, and Ernst should also be visited.
Getting from the airport
Upon arrival at Imam Khomeini International Airport, take a marked taxi which should cost between 600,000 to 700,000 rials (approximately 18 US dollars). Dollars may also be accepted. You might even consider getting a local SIM card for your phone while you are here.
The easiest way to get around the city is by taxi. If you get one from the street, be sure to negotiate the price beforehand. The metro is also a convenient option as it accesses most attractions. Cards can be purchased in the stations themselves.
Health and safety
Tap water is safe to drink in Tehran. Pharmacies are abundant, and many of them are open 24 hours a day. Tehran is safe, with little to no petty crime and almost nonexistent violent crime. Although you should always be aware and practice common sense safety, Iranians are very friendly and helpful, especially towards foreign tourists.