Though neither Iran’s oldest or prettiest city, the bustling metropolis of Tehran is not without its own compelling charm. Home to over 10 million Iranians, the largely concrete skyline is set against the breath-taking backdrop of the Alborz mountains which rise out of the smog below. Often underrated as a tourist destination, nowhere will you sample a flavour of contemporary Iranian life more than Tehran. Here we present 10 must-do-and-sees while in the capital.
Right in the heart of the city, the Grand Bazaar is an essential visit for any tourist in Tehran. With over 10 kilometres (six miles) of labyrinthine alleyways filled with covered shops, haggling customers, and general commotion, you will find everything from jewellery to carpets and pots and pans for sale here. One of Tehran’s oldest areas, this commercial centre is teeming with history and character, and there are some exceptional restaurants dotted around. Prepare for a sensual bombardment; not for the agoraphobic! Be sure to check out the nearby Jomeh bazaar for antiques, every Friday on Jomhuri Street.
The bazaar in the northern district of Tajrish is smaller, prettier, and altogether less stressful than the Grand Bazaar (although prices are higher). There is a colourful market of fresh fruit and vegetables, and some excellent touristy shops selling traditional crafts and kitschy memorabilia. Check out the kebab restaurant in the centre of the bazaar, and the teahouse just off the main drag. It’s also worth visiting the stunning adjacent shrine, the Imamzadeh Saleh.
Cuneiform Inscriptions - 1st Millennium BCE at National Museum, Tehran, Iran
The National Museum of Iran is filled with an impressive range of treasures and objects from the 30,000 years of human habitation in the Iranian plateau. From Stone Age tools to primitive art, from decorated capitals from Persepolis to coins and pottery, the museum features items from the length and breadth of Iranian history. The building itself, designed in the early 20th century with nods to Sassanian architecture, is one of Tehran’s more interesting modern constructions.
The Milad Tower is one of Tehran’s most iconic structures, and the most prominent feature of the city’s skyline. Completed in 2007, it stands at an impressive 435 metres (1,500 feet), making it the sixth tallest tower in the world. Trips to the head of the tower are inexpensive and worth the effort on a clear day, for nowhere else can beat it for panoramic views of the city. If you want to push the boat out, the tower also boasts a fancy, revolving restaurant.
Built in 1971 to commemorate 2500 years of Persian monarchy, this iconic tower fuses elements of Sassanian, Achaemenid, and modernist architecture. Literally meaning ‘Freedom Tower’, the ivory-coloured, Y-shaped building is situated in a park in east Tehran, and features a well laid out underground museum. Though not as tall as the Milad Tower, it nevertheless boasts fantastic views of the city from the top floor.
'Nature morte à l'estampe japonaise' by Paul Gauguin is a part of TMoCA's collection | Wikimedia Commons
The Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art boasts the most extensive (and valuable) collection of artworks outside Europe. Although some items have not been exhibited since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, works by big names including Picasso, Monet, Andy Warhol, and Henry Moore are on display, as well as pieces by Iranian artists. The building itself, inaugurated in 1977, is a striking modernist structure, and a great place to meet young, artsy Iranians.
Located in the most northerly reaches of the city, Jamshidieh is a large park in the foothills of the Alborz Mountains. Fresh air and lush surrounds are enough to merit a trip to this out-of-the-way spot, but the outstanding views of the city below are what makes it a must-see. The higher you climb, the better the views become, but if you don’t feel like a hike there are plenty of nice spots for picnicking and drinking tea. It is particularly picturesque in the winter months, when it often receives the first snowfall of the year.
Just a few minutes from the Grand Bazaar, you will find the magnificent Golestan Palace, a 19th century Qajar royal abode. The palace complex consists of 17 structures in total, including reception halls, museums, throne rooms and royal quarters, and boasts impressive, well-kept gardens too. The intricate tile work, mirrored interiors, symmetrical fountains, and marble thrones demonstrate the pinnacle of Qajar-era architecture, and provide a sense of the level of opulence the monarchs would have enjoyed.
Mount Tochal sits in the mountain range to the north of Tehran, with its peak reaching a staggering 3,993m (13,000ft). An excellent challenge for mountaineers, trails set off from Darakeh and Velanjak, with tea houses staggered along the way. If you lack the time or inclination for the trek, a telecabin service will take you all the way up the mountain for a reasonable fee. The top of the mountain also has a small ski piste, with equipment available to rent. Not as impressive as Dizin or Shemshak ski resorts, but ideal for a quick afternoon getaway.
An important political and religious centre that predates Tehran, Shahr-e Rey lies just to the south of the capital, and is accessible by the metro (it’s the most southerly station). Its highlights include a quaint traditional bazaar, the ruins of a Sassanian fortress, and a Seljuk tomb, but the main draw is the Imamzadeh Shah Abdol Azim, a shrine for a descendent of the second Shia Imam which attracts pilgrims all year round.