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I am not a city person and I usually do not fancy staying in a big city during my travels. When I first came to Iran in 2011, I was hesitated to spend even a night here. But that perception quickly changed once I explored Tehran and spent a lovely time with the locals there. It was not as bad as I thought! The next time I visited Iran in 2017, I made sure I get to spend a few days in this city.
As the capital city of Iran, Tehran has a reputation of being populated due to the influx of Iranians from different parts of the city and the notoriously crazy traffic which blankets the city with pollution. The concrete yellowish buildings swarm the city and more modern structures have sprung up, making Tehran a metropolitan city.
Despite all that, Tehran has a lot to offer. The city is home to royal palaces built with architecture designs that cannot be matched with other palaces around the country. It has more than 800 well-kept parks -- an impressive number for such a metropolitan city. It owns lively bazaars that still sell traditional goods, instead of souvenirs. It is also Iran's melting pot; the conservatives, liberals, Kurds, Turks, Azerbaijanis, Christians, Jews, Muslims and all other types of people have lived here and called this city their home.
Here is the list of places that I think worth exploring in Tehran!
A magical palace at the heart of the hectic city seems to be impossible to find, but Golestan Palace is definitely an exceptional one. As soon as you enter its complex, the surrounding traffic noise suddenly vanishes. Instead, the soft splashes of water in the fountain can be heard, flowing towards different parts of the ponds in the garden. A line of tall trees surrounded the water fountain, protecting it from the sun.
Located in the centre of Tehran, the palace complex was originally built during the period of Safavid dynasty, but it was not until the Qajar period that the palace got its extensions and lavish additions and became a unique masterpiece that you can see today. The palace is a testament to the extravagant lifestyle of the Qajar royal family. It became their residential palace and was later used for ceremonial purposes by the Pahlavi dynasty until the infamous 1979 Revolution occurred.
The entrance ticket costs 150,000 rials (USD 5), which only covers the garden of the palace and some open terraces. From here, you can already see some of the things that make Persian architectures unique compared to the rest: the colourful mosaic tiles decorated with intricate patterns, the stunning stucco carvings, and the beautiful mirrors and ornate windows. It is hard not to think that these designs have been very influential to the buildings and parks around the world for many centuries.
To go to certain rooms and halls, unfortunately, you need to pay extra. I would highly recommend going to the Hall of Mirror which is used by the Shah of Pahlavi for its coronation. The rooms are decorated with mirrors and they are beautifully carved into the walls and ceilings. The entry price of 150,000 rials (USD 5) was definitely worth it!
This is my most favourite place in the city. Every time I visit Tehran, I never miss going to this beautiful palace. Golestan Palace is definitely a must-visit palace if you are in Tehran. You can skip the other places in Tehran, but try not to miss this!
Grand Bazaar of Tehran
The Grand Bazaar is the biggest bazaar in Tehran. It is located just next to the Golestan Palace, so you won’t miss this place if you visit the palace. The bazaar is divided into different sections, each of them specialises in selling different types of goods, e.g. gold, carpets, undergarments, and so on. The bazaar can be very crowded, especially during lunch time, so it's best to explore deep into the bazaar to avoid the crowds.
The Grand Bazaar is a great place to have lunch too, as it hosts some of the best restaurants in the city! Check out my recommendation on where to eat in Tehran: 4 Local Restaurants You Have to Try in Tehran, Iran
If crowds are not your cup of tea, try visiting the old Tajrish bazaar instead! It's much smaller than the Grand Bazaar and less crowded. It is located in the northern-most area of Tehran and it can be reached by taking a red line metro all the way to Tajrish. I did most of my shopping there :). If you want more choices of goods, then you should opt for the Grand Bazaar instead.
If you want more choices of goods, then you should opt for the Grand Bazaar instead.
Tochal is a mountain nearby Tehran that is popular for its ski resort. It is the easiest to get to and the closest ski resort to the city. There is a gondola lift to the top of the mountain, which runs throughout different seasons. From Tochal (at least from the Station 5), you will be able to see the beautiful view of the city and have a nice picnic when weather permits.
For adventure seekers, hiking paths are clearly defined here and there are some shelters along the hiking trails. I even saw some Iranians attempting to hike during the winter season. Not recommended though, as the trail was completely covered by snow.
Read more on our experience Visiting Tochal: A Mountain that Looms over Tehran
National Museum of Iran
If you are a museum-goer, the National Museum of Iran is a museum that you should not miss. This is the place where you can learn more about Iran’s history since the pre-historic time, Achaemenid Empire, and post-Islamic era. It is amazing to learn that this land had witness powerful and thriving empires, monarchies and rulers for centuries. It had also witnessed the rise and fall of these civilisations one after another. Iran may not be as glorious as it used to before the Islamic Revolution, but the fact of the matter is that this nation is still thriving despite the sanctions placed upon it, the unfriendly neighbours surrounding it, and the unfair media attention that it always gets.
The museum is within a walking distance from the Imam Khomeini metro station.
These are some of the pictures taken at the National Museum from my first trip to Iran in 2011.
Saadabad Palace used to be the residential palace of the last Shah of Iran and his family. Located in the northern part of the city, overlooking the Alborz mountain, the palace is very modern and much of its architecture is influenced by European designs. Inside the palace complex, there are almost 20 buildings of different sizes scattered throughout the beautiful garden complex filled with tall trees. These buildings are all turned into a museum after the 1979 Iranian Revolution that overthrown the Shah, forcing him and his family to flee out of Iran and live in exile. There are some remnants of Shah and Shahbanu (Queen)'s collections which are displayed in the museum, such as pieces of jewellery, dresses, and cars.
To go to the Saadabad Palace, take a metro to the Tajrish station. From here, there are some taxis or shared taxis to take you to the palace. The entrance ticket costs 150,000 rials (USD 5) and it does not include entering the buildings. The White Palace and the Green House are must-visit -- they cost 150,000 rials each to enter.
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