Topping the list of the best museums is none other than Golestan Palace, the UNESCO-listed site that once served as the Qajar dynasty’s seat of government. The royal buildings require separate entrance tickets, though it’s worth seeing the lavish palace in its entirety. Not to be missed are the Takht-e Marmar (Marble Throne) sitting in an open, mirrored hall, the cozy Karim Khan Nook, and the striking Shams-ol Emareh, whose clock was presented to Nasser al-Din Shah by Queen Victoria. The painted tile walls enclosing the palace also make for excellent photo ops.
Golestan Palace, Panzdah-e Khordad St., Tehran, Iran, +98 21 3311 3335
The underground vault of the Central Bank of Iran shelters an opulent array of priceless gems, crowns, and other jewels worn by the monarchs of the Safavid, Qajar, and Pahlavi dynasties. Must-sees in the dizzying collection include the Peacock Throne (a gem-studded daybed) and the 182-carat uncut pink diamond Darya-ye-Nur (Sea of Light). Limited openings and tight security mean you should plan your visit in advance, leave all of your belongings at reception, and keep your hands to yourself, lest you sound the piercing alarms.
A favorite hangout among the art crowd and safe haven for stray cats, the Iranian Artists’ Forum offers a peek into the contemporary art scene of Tehran. This free gallery exhibits a variety of works from local artists that rotate on a monthly basis. Cafés, a vegetarian restaurant, and an arts and crafts shop with unique gifts dot the other buildings. If you speak Persian or are generally interested in the country’s theater scene, check out one of the plays that are regularly on offer.
Iranian Artists’ Forum, Iranshahr St., Honarmandan Park, Tehran, Iran, +98 21 8831 0457
Though technically a street, you could consider 30 Tir an open-air museum. For starters, there’s a church, Zoroastrian fire temple, mosque, and synagogue sitting together harmoniously on this cobblestone street. The fire temple has hours posted, and while the others are usually not open to the public, you could always try your luck. Also along this street in a Qajar-era building is the Glassware and Ceramic Museum, with its beautifully curated objects, some as tiny as a fingernail, to explain the history of Iran’s various regions. The National Museum of Iran, on the southern end of the street, walks visitors through Iran’s history through its pottery, stone figures, and other excavated treasures. When you’re done exploring, you can treat yourself to a hearty bite from the food trucks and kiosks just outside the museum.
Glassware and Ceramic Museum of Iran, 30 Tir St., Tehran, Iran, +98 21 6670 8153
National Museum of Iran, 30 Tir St., Tehran, Iran, +98 21 6670 2061
The six museums that make up this cultural-historic complex lie within the confines of a five-hectare, landscaped garden. Niavaran Palace was the main residence of the Shah and his family during the last decade of their rule. The magnificent carpets and stylish gowns and uniforms of past monarchs are particularly noteworthy. Elsewhere, the former crown prince’s childhood seems to be frozen in time at the Ahmad Shah Pavilion, his living quarters, and the Qajar-era Saheb Gharanieh Pavilion features grand halls and cozy, colorful nooks.
Niavaran Cultural Historic Complex, Niavaran Square, Tehran, Iran, +98 21 2228 2012
TMoCA contains one of the most valuable collections of Western art outside Europe and North America. These paintings and sculptures, accumulated largely before the Revolution of 1979, feature the likes of Monet, Pollack, and Rothko, alongside a selection of contemporary Iranian artists such as Sohrab Sepehri and Parviz Tanavoli. Sculptures by Giacometti and Magritte are in the surrounding garden grounds. The imposing concrete building itself, designed by architect Kamran Diba, is admirable for its modern take on the traditional Persian badgir, wind tower.
TMoCA, N. Kargar St., Tehran, Iran, +98 21 8898 9374