Tehran is a fascinating metropolis where the forces of religious conservatism and liberal modernism that have shaped – and continue to shape – Iran, meet head on. It’s packed with interesting museums, contemporary art galleries hung with creative works, a buzzing cafe scene, and pretty gardens – all great escapes from the city’s crazy traffic.


Golestan Palace

Top choice palace in Tehran

The glories and excesses of the Qajar rulers are played out across this complex of grand buildings decorated with beautifully painted tiles and set around an elegant garden that’s worth visiting in its own right. There are separate tickets for nine different sections, which you need to buy at the gate: the ones worth paying extra for are the Main Halls, which includes the spectacular Mirror Hall, and the Negar Khaneh (Iranian Painting Gallery). Although there was a Safavid-era citadel on this site, it was Nasser al-Din Shah (r 1848–96), impressed by what he’d seen of European palaces, who created the ‘Palace of Flowers’ you see today. Originally it was much bigger, with inner and outer sections to encompass offices, ministries and private living quarters, but several surrounding buildings were pulled down under the Pahlavis

golestan palace

Grand Bazaar

Bazaar in Tehran

The maze of bustling alleys and the bazaris (shopkeepers) that fill them make this a fascinating, if somewhat daunting, place to explore. Despite being known as the Grand Bazaar, most of the architecture is less than 200 years old and pedestrian, although there are some gems to be found. Visit in the morning, when business is brisk but not yet frantic – later in the day the chance of being run over by a piece of fast-moving haulage equipment is high.

The bazaar’s covered stores line more than 10km of lanes and there are several entrances, but you get a great view down a central artery by using the main entrance facing the square Sabzeh Medyan. The warren of people and goods is a city within a city and includes banks, a church, a fire station and several mosques, most notably the impressive Imam Khomeini Mosque, and the ornately decorated Imamzadeh Zeid, a shrine to a descendant of the prophet.

Most lanes specialise in a particular commodity: copper, paper, gold, spices, and carpets, among others (note though you won’t find fresh food here). The carpet, nut and spice bazaars might be the most photogenic, but the lane of stores selling fake designer labels (literally labels, not clothes) also catches the eye.

In our experience there are two ways to visit the bazaar. One is to simply wander the labyrinth of streets and alleys, taking whichever turn you fancy and going with the flow. If you get lost, remember to walk uphill to the main exits on Panzdah-e Khordad Ave.

Alternatively, allow yourself to be befriended by one of the carpet salesmen. Tell them what sections of the bazaar you’d like to see and they will lead you. When you’re done, they will expect you to visit their carpet shop, drink some tea and view a few rugs – which in itself can be fun.

grand bazar tehran
grand bazar tehran
grand bazar tehran
grand bazar tehran

Treasury of National Jewels

Top choice museum in Tehran

Owned by the Central Bank and accessed through its front doors, the cavernous vault that houses what is commonly known as the ‘Jewels Museum’ is not to be missed. The Safavid, Qajar and Pahlavi monarchs adorned themselves and their belongings with an astounding range of priceless gems and precious metals, making this collection of bling quite literally jaw-dropping. Star pieces include the Globe of Jewels and the Peacock Throne.

Pick up a guidebook (IR40,000) at the shop as you enter, or take one of the regular professional tours in English, French, German or Arabic – it’s included in the ticket price and worth waiting for as there are few descriptions in English.

Cameras, phones, bags and guidebooks must be left at reception. Be careful not to touch anything or you’ll set off ear-piercing alarms.

Treasury of National Jewels
Treasury of National Jewels
Treasury of National Jewels
Treasury of National Jewels

Tochal Telecabin

Taking 45 minutes to run 7.5km up to within a short hike of the summit of Mt Tochal (3933m), the Tochal Telecabin provides a spectacular ride at any time of year. You don’t have to go all the way (and you’ll need to change gondolas at Station 5 anyway), but there’s a ski resort up top where you’ll find snow between six and eight months of the year. The mountain is also a highly popular hiking destination in the warmer months.

The telecabin is super busy on Thursday, Friday and public holidays when Tehranis flock here as much for the socialising as the skiing or hiking; on such days waits of an hour or more in line are not uncommon. On other days, however, it’s virtually empty. Note the telecabin doesn’t run in windy weather; it’s worth calling ahead to check.

To get here, ask for a shuttle taxi to Tochal Telecabin from the north side of Tajrish Sq. From the entrance you can walk (10 minutes) or catch a bus (IR10,000) to the telecabin itself. On the way you’ll pass several cafes, a single zip line operation and the Alpine Coaster, a bob-sleigh-style ride on metal tracks. Beside the telecabin there’s also a chairlift (IR100,000 return) running to Cheshmeh, a popular hiking location not as far up the mountains.

The telecabin stops twice en route to the top Station 7 at 3740m – first at Station 2 (2400m), then Station 5 (2935m), where there’s a cafe.

tochal telecabin
tochal telecabin
tochal telecabin 1
tochal telecabin

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