Visiting Tehran can be a daunting experience. It’s a huge, heaving metropolis home to 15 million people and it’s the capital of one of the most misunderstood countries in the world.
By the time I visited Tehran I’d been travelling in Iran for over two weeks and had already learnt that Iran was a fascinating, interesting country home to curious, welcoming and friendly people. So when I reached Tehran I knew that most of what people think Iran is like wasn’t true.
I also love big, bustling cities. They don’t faze me instead they excite me. I love the energy, the buzz, so many people and things to take in.
So I was a little surprised to find I didn’t overly like Tehran much.
But I think with a few tips for visiting Tehran and more preparation you could have a more enjoyable experience than mine.
Location, Location, Location
I’m 100% convinced that a large part of why I didn’t like Tehran was because of where I stayed. But let me be absolutely clear it was nothing to do with the accommodation itself nor the incredibly helpful, Mr Mousavi, who runs the hotel. The rooms were tidy and clean, and as I said the staff were amazing as well as excellent resources of information and help which can be indispensable when visiting Tehran. And whilst the hotel was located reasonably close to many sites it was also just off an crazy busy street (see below about traffic!) which specialised in car parts.
I like to think I’m a pretty hardy traveller and don’t take too much notice of or get too worried about being looked at. But on this street there was a definite feeling of the men in the stores watching you as you walked by. I didn’t feel threatened by it but it was noticeable and perhaps more noteworthy because I hadn’t really experienced this in my travels to date throughout Iran.
So make sure you factor in the location of your accommodation and keep in mind what’s important to you about where you stay.
Lack of Food Choices
There were also very few places to eat near where I stayed and I was advised not to wander too far from the hotel at night on my own. Not ideal when trying to find dinner as a solo female traveller!
The day I spent exploring Tehran I also found very few restaurants and cafes. Perhaps I was just completely clueless and was looking in the wrong places.
Anyway, anyone who knows me knows I am not a happy Carly without regular food/meals. So straight off I was not very happy during most of my stay in Tehran.
To avoid this I would suggestion having a clear idea of where you plan to eat lunch and dinner while out and about.
I’d heard other travellers talk about how crazy the traffic was in Tehran and I simply thought, ‘how bad can it be? I’ve been to Bangkok, Saigon, Mexico City, Cairo.’
I learnt very quickly that I was so, so very wrong about the traffic in Tehran. The traffic was insane!! Every time I crossed the road I seriously feared for my life and found myself often running across to end the ordeal. The Tehran motorists didn’t attempt to avoid you or slow down at all, and even more scarily occasionally motorcycles would come barrelling down the footpath!
The traffic was probably the worst part about visiting Tehran and I was extremely glad to leave Tehran without being run over.
I learnt the hard way that some museums are only open certain days of the week in Tehran. I had thought one of the highlights of visiting Tehran would be to visit the National Jewels Museum. Home to crowns, tiaras, and many bejewelled items from the Safavid empire it sounded spectacular. But sadly I overlooked the fact the museum is only open Saturday to Tuesday. My visit to Tehran did not fall on those days and I missed out on seeing the largest uncut diamond in the world along with other dazzling gems.
But I had more luck when I visited the National Museum of Iran. A must for anyone interested in history while visiting Tehran as it is full of Iran’s wonderful historical treasures. I also particularly loved seeing the local children there on a school excursion just like at home.
The US Den of Espionage, aka the former US embassy, is a must see when visiting Tehran and because you can only see the outside you don’t have to worry about planning. With it’s wonderfully evocative name it triggers the imagination to all kinds of spy games and plotting, which is exactly what did take place in this very location! In 1953 CIA operatives planned a coup d’etat which brought down the government of the time. Today the walls of the former embassy display graphic murals of anti-American and Israeli sentiments. A fascinating look into the historical links between Iran and America.
I would also recommend you plan to visit Golestan Palace, a collection of grand beautifully tiled buildings sumptuously decorated within or home to different museums and art all set amongst gardens.
During my short stay in Tehran the Iranians once again proved to be curious, kind and welcoming people and I would encourage you to try to get to know the locals when visiting Tehran.
Often they will approach you like when I visited the beautiful Golestan Palace where local girls stopped me inside one of the many buildings to quiz me about my home and what I thought about Iran, or the locals who stopped me on the street.
Get out of Tehran
I know this may sound like a strange tip for visiting Tehran but seriously think about getting out of Tehran to the walking trails of Darband which are just on the outskirts of the city. It’s an interesting walk up the mountain passing teahouse after teahouse, waterfalls and lots of locals.
A trip to Darband is wonderful step into nature and away from the crazy traffic of Tehran.
I stayed at Firouzeh Hotel a simple, clean and inexpensive option run by the incredibly helpful Mr Mousavi who can organise onward bus tickets, etc. But be warned it is just off insanely crazy busy street specialising in car parts. The traffic is insane and there are hardly any food options.
To get around Tehran I suggest using the efficient metro complete with a women only section!! Travelling in this section was actually one of the highlights of visiting Tehran. Vendors of all kinds of products come onto the metro sprucing everything from makeup, hariclips, chewing gum to knickers withe the apple symbol on them! Yes this is Tehran, a contradiction and not at all what you would expect.