Tehran

by Ucman Scher
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Solo Gay Trip Guide to Tehran. Top 12 Things to do in the Capital of Iran.

Tehran is the capital of Iran and one of the biggest cities in the Middle East with the urban population of more than 13 million. It is also the easiest way to get in and out to Iran. There are other international airports in the country but none offers the same connections as Tehran.

Read my country guide about Iran to find answers to all your questions for a comfortable trip.

Tehran makes you happy

One of my dearest friends Nina lives in Tehran and this whole Iran trip would have been extremely painful if it weren’t for her so I would like to thank you, Nina, for all your translations, helping me with the logistics and most importantly roaming around obscure streets of Tehran at odd times and taking me around in your car when I know how scared you were of driving. Lots of love!

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The Two Tehrans

Tehran is essentially two cities; South Tehran and North Tehran. South is the older part of Tehran (and reminds me a bit of Peshawar) and North is the new, posh part of Tehran. There are huge differences in both in terms of socioeconomic conditions but sometimes weather-wise as well. it could be snowing in the mountains in Tochal with the sun shining on the southern side of the city. The older monuments like Grand Bazaar and Golestan palace are in the Southern part whereas Saadabad palace and other new builds are all in North Tehran.

The colours of Tehran

For the first part of my trip, I stayed in the Southern part of the city because it was convenient to go around and see historical places but after I came back from Kish I stayed in the North and ventured out to see the rest from there which worked out pretty well.

Getting to Tehran

Check my Iran page for resources for train, bus and air tickets within Iran.

By Air

Iran has two airports; Imam Khomeini International Airport IKA and Tehran Mehrdad Airport THR. IKA is the best airport in terms of international connections as I mentioned earlier. It is also quite big and far from the city, some 55 km out of Tehran. I arrived at and left from the IKA airport but used the Mehrabad Airport for my flight to Kish.

View of Tehran from the plane

With so much luggage I didn’t fancy taking the metro or train and just ordered a Snapp which my friend advised about and I downloaded. It is the Iranian version of Uber and very convenient. There are also shuttle bus services and shared taxis that take you to specific areas of the city but you have to wait till they are full. I am not sure but I think shuttles run on time. IKA is connected to Tehran with Metro line 1.

Note: I was expecting to pay an exit fee but there is no such fee at the airport. It only applies if you leave by sea or land.

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The view of mountains from Tehran on a cloudy day

Train & Bus

Tehran is also very well connected to the rest of the country by train and buses and there are multiple trains every day to big cities.

Note: The closest Metro station to Tehran Railway station is Rahahan.

Calligraphy is national art in Iran

There are four main bus stations in Tehran based on the direction.

  • Azadi Bus Terminal – Serving the West and international routes including Azerbaijan and Armenia.
  • Shargh Bus Terminal – Serving the East including Khorasan.
  • Janoob Bus Terminal – Serving South including Kashan, Isfahan, Shiraz.
  • Beihaghi Bus Terminal – Serving most big cities in Iran including Yazd, Mashhad, Rasht, Tabriz.

Getting Around in Tehran

The best way to go around in the south is metro which has seven different lines and it is the best way to move around because traffic can be a bit mental especially at rush hour. The last stop for Metro in the North is Tajrish, you will need to use the buses, shared taxis, taxis or Snapp. Traffic in Tehran is absolutely crazy.

Tame traffic off-peak.

Like I mentioned before Snapp is the Uber alternative in Tehran but the problem is language since it is available in Farsi only. Tehran metro also had an app which is no longer available but I can see a few other on App store like iStation.

The entrance of a metro station

There is also BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) which has dedicated lanes and multiple routes, quite good for southern parts of the city and Milad Tower to beat traffic.

Check out all the different modes of transportation you can use in a new city.

Food in Tehran

Tehran has hundreds of restaurants which serve all sorts of food from regional specialities to national dishes. Some of my favourites are:

Kebab The variety of kebab is unbelievable here. Almost every place offers kebab in one form or another. The best place to have juicy kebabs is Azari Tea House outside the Tehran railway station and Moslem Restaurant outside the Grand Bazaar of Tehran. Don’t forget to try the amazing Chelo (Rice with saffron) with the kebab.

Fesenjoon This is a Northern speciality made especially for Yelda (the longest night of the year). Fesenjoon is made with duck, walnuts and pomegranates and takes a lot of hard work. The best spot to try is Gilar in the north.

Fasenjoon

Aash This is a thick soup made with meat, noodles and pulses and quite filling. The most famous place is Aash e Sayyed Mehdi near Tajrish station.

Aash

I also spent my last evening at Kubaba in Jordan area and the food was very delicious.

Koolooche Fooman from the North of Iran

Don’t forget to try pomegranate juice as well, it is readily available and amazing.

Where to Stay in Tehran

I stayed near the Shohada e Haftam e Tir metro station for the first few days in Southern Tehran. For the Northern part, I stayed near the Niavaran Park. It is a great leafy area and not crazy busy with traffic. It was easy to call a Snapp easily as well as the added advantage of heading to Tochal and the mountains easily beating the Tehran traffic.

Check the guide to find the best accommodation in a new city.

somewhere in the south

Best Time to Visit Tehran

Deep winters and deep summers are both quite harsh. Spring and autumn are a great time though and the city is very easy to navigate in both. I can’t imagine bearing the heat of summer in Tehran at all but winters can be a bit fun with skiing in the north.

A building glorifying the militia

How Many Days for Tehran

With so many things to see and do even a week isn’t enough to see the main highlights of Tehran but I recommend at least three days to explore and enjoy the best of Tehran.

Skiing in Tehran

Skiing is quite popular in Tehran and the best two spots for this are Shemshak and the skiing resort of Dizin. You can find more information here.

An old palace facade

How to Explore Tehran

The best way to explore Tehran is by dividing the attractions in the south and the north and then spending time at the places nearby. You can spend day 1 on Grand Bazaar and Golestan Palace, Day two on other items from number 3 to 6, day 3 is for roaming in the middle of the city to Museum of Anti Arrogance, Azadi tower and Milad tower at night as well as Saadabad palace. The fourth day is for Tochal and Darband.

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Chess is a Royal game with many stories attached to it

Note: The list below is based on proximity of places to each other not in the order of preference but these twelve places are a must-see in Tehran.

Top 12 Things to do in Tehran

Golestan Palace

Nearest Metro: Panzdah-e-Khordad

Golestan Palace is one of the most beautiful royal palaces in the entire world. It is incredibly well preserved as well.

Entrance Courtyard

We arrived in the morning and got the tickets (my friend bought the tickets for us at the local rate, some advantage at last for being brown). The entrance has waterways and a central courtyard which is anything but ordinary. The tiles on each building are different and more beautiful than others.

Golestan buildings

This isn’t a single palace but a complex of different buildings. The walls on each side are beautifully decorated with tiles.

Don’t miss the special tiles on the wall, these are specially carved and the only ceramic tiles which protrude with the scene on the tile.

The special tiles of Golestan Palace

 

Then comes the Mirror Palace or Sheesh Mahal which is made of ceilings, walls to pillars. The work is so incredibly detailed and the choice of colours accentuates the mirrorwork.

Mirror Palace

The Queen had her own quarters with the beautiful interior in more feminine colours and on the other side is the Throne room followed by the beautiful Royal court. The layout is also different to provide more privacy.

Queen’s Quarters

Throne room is relatively painted in more masculine off white colour with same detailed mirror work and the gifts the Shah of Iran received from the Royalty around the world.

Throne Room

The Royal Court used to host the famous Takht e Tawoos; a throne made entirely of gold and precious gems in the shape of peacock tail and so beautiful it was the envy of kings East and West. It has been replaced by a marble throne and the actual throne is in the Treasury of National Jewels now.

Royal court

Golestan palace deserves at least 2 to 3 hours if not more to take in the grandeur and glamour of this beautiful palace complex. We were awestruck every step of the way and eventually left when we couldn’t bear the hunger for lunch anymore and headed to the Moslim restaurants across for some amazing chelow kebab.

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Outside the Mirror Palace

Grand Bazaar of Tehran

Nearest Metro – Panzdah-e-Khordad

The entrance of Grand Bazaar of Tehran

The Grand Bazaar of Tehran is an absolute beast. It is right next to Golestan palace and on top of the list for every tourist who arrives in Iran. The bazaar is avast and there are multiple entry points along with a central entrance door. Inside the bazaar, the central streets give way to smaller ones which divide further and further into streets filled to the brim with things of all sorts, shapes, colour and material. The colours change with every street and so do the smells.

Tehran grand bazaar

We grabbed some tea from a vendor and sat there chilling with it before getting up refreshed to head to the carpet street. Some of the carpets in there were jaw-dropping magnificent. The variety and colours are amazing. I promised myself that one day when I am earning millions I will bring a beautiful silk rug for my home until then I was happy just taking them home through my camera.

We spend the rest of the day discovering quirky little places within the alleys and it was some of the best time I spent in Tehran. We headed home after grabbing some food outside because the bazaar shuts down with the sunset.

Nearby: Imam Khomeini Mosque

The mosque is located on one side of the bazaar, it is a good introduction to Iranian traditional architecture for mosques.

imam khom mosque

Moghaddam House

Nearest Metro – Hasan Abad

The next day started with some streetside breakfast of omelette with tomatoes and we arrived at the Moghaddam House. The house has been turned into a museum and it is open to visitors. The house has one of the most beautiful gardens in the city and it is very well preserved. It is a masterpiece of the Qajar era. The area around is made up of relatively new buildings and I wasn’t expecting much but as soon as we arrived, the scenery change as if by magic. The busy streets turned into beautiful gardens, fountains and ponds.

The courtyard of Mughaddam museum

The interior is also very tasteful. It was such a pleasure to see this incredible place.

30th Tir Street

Nearest Metro – Imam Khomenei

The entrance of a museum

See Ye Tir is the real living, breathing Tehran with so much to discover and see you can spend a lifetime here. The street has the National Museum of Iran, The Museum of Islamic Art as well as the Glasswork and ceramic museum, all of which are incredible buildings on their own.

Glasswork and Ceramic museum has a beautiful building

The street is also famous as the street of religious tolerance with St Mary’s and St Peter’s Churches,  Haim synagogue, Hazrat Ibrahim Mosque and the Adorian Zoroastrian Firetmple standing right next to each other and co-existing in harmony.

Adorian Fire Temple

It also happens to be the food street of Tehran and there are so many places to eat here, I am still drooling about the food. I’d recommend  Gol Rezaeieh Cafe.

The Treasury of National Jewels

Nearest Metro – Sa’adi

If there is one building in entire Iran that can convince you of the luxury Persian Kings lived in, it is this one! We arrived, got our tickets and put our phones in the lockers. We were scanned twice before letting in, no bags, phones or cameras of any sort are allowed inside. I was a bit sad about this but the half-hour you get inside is so amazing you come back with most of it etched on your mind. The most famous piece is the throne called Takht e Tawoos, it is simply spectacular. It is also called ‘peacock throne’ due to its shape.

 The one thing that also crept up in my mind was the thought of the people of Persia. All this was made on the back of hard work of commoners and this lifestyle eventually brought the Shah’s of Iran down. I recently met former Queen of Iran, Farah Deeba and honestly I could see the nostalgia in her eyes. If you lose this treasure, nothing satisfies you forever then.

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Negarestan Garden

Nearest Metro – Baharestan or Darvazeh Shemiran

Nagaraestan Gardens are built around a beautiful summer palace from the Qajar era out of the town for some respite. Today the gardens are located in the city centre right next to the University of Tehran. Not only the gardens are beautiful but also deeply linked to the Arts department of the University of Tehran especially the artist Kamal-ol-Molk.

Nagarestan Gardens (Photo from Google)

The gardens were originally vast but with time buildings were destroyed and now a small portion of it is left. The monotone of the bricks and green of ponds is broken by the colour of plants quite beautifully. It is definitely worth some time here especially after seeing so much metal and stones in the Treasury of National Jewels.

Museum of Anti Arrogance (Old American Embassy)

Nearest Metro – Taleghani

The Former U.S embassy in Tehran has been turned into an outdoor museum of Anti Arrogance. There are paintings all around the courtyard of all sorts which denounce America. America hating is a pretty common phenomenon in most Middle East and South Asian countries but such brazenness is only a characteristic of Iranians. They are proud to call into question the moral authority with which the U.S polices the world hunting for resources in the name of democracy.

This is the same location which was portrayed in the movies about U.S embassy staff fleeing the country after the Islamic revolution.

The area around is also quite nice especially the cat-filled courtyard of the Iranian Artists Forum, a very cool and quirky place for some chilled out time.

Iranian Artists Forum

Nearby: Iranian Artists Forum

Azadi Tower

Nearest Metro – Meydan e Azadi

Azadi Tower is the last great icon the Shah’s of Iran built before the revolution. It was built to commemorate the 2 and a half millennia of Imperial Iran. It is 48 metres tall and clad in beautiful marble. The traffic around is a bit crazy so be careful.

View from Azadi Tower

Fun Fact: Azadi or Freedom Tower was designed by a Bahai architect Hossein Amanat. Bahai are a religious minority in Iran looked down upon and persecuted.

The tower has its own cultural complex, gardens, museum and metro station. It is the gateway to Tehran on the Western side. The tower is a beautiful mix of modern and classical Iranian architectural style. Standing underneath it was an interesting experience, the museum, on the other hand, I could do without.

Milad Tower

Nearest Metro -BRT

Milad Tower is the symbol of modern Tehran. it stands proud, higher than any other building around it and has an entire complex designed around it with a hotel, conference centres, food court etc. While the rest of it didn’t really interest me, I did want to see the spread of this gorgeous city from the top and there is no better place then Milad Tower for just that.

We arrived later in the evening, grabbed our tickets and were taken to the top of the tower. The lobby is a typical version of the modern Iranian interior which felt heavy. The views from the top were amazing though. You could see the entire city in action, lights switching on, cars moving. It was the moment of realizing how big Tehran really is. We spent an hour up there and then took the taxi back to our hotel.

Saadabad Palace

Nearest Metro – Tajrish

Saadabad is an entire complex made up of hectares of the forest, multiple palaces and mansions, offices, governments buildings and parts of it are used by the Office of the President of Iran. It is almost impossible to see the place in its entirety in even a single day but the most beautiful place inside is the Green Palace which is generally attributed as the Saadabad Palace. It is also called Shahvand Palace or Sabz Palace because of the green marble that covers its exterior. The walk from the gate to the palace was very refreshing with beautifully maintained gardens all around us.

The Green Palace inside Saadabad Complex (Photo from Wikipedia)

Green Palace

This complex was built to move the monarch and his family out of the busy city centre in eighteenth-century during the Qajar period and it was later expanded by the Pehelvis. The architecture and style are more modern but there are small touches of beauty everywhere. That famous Iranian mirrorwork still lines doors and walls. The mirror court inside the Green palace brings back all the bling and glamour of former Kings but the rest of the place merges the old glory with the modern style.

The interior (Photo from Google)

This is not a place you can see in a hurry and I’d recommend coming here in the morning to avoid the rush of locals after lunch.

Ab-o-Atesh Park & Tabiat Bridge

Nearest Metro –  Shahid Haghani

The name of this park literally means water and fire park. The entrance has some water fountains and there are daily shows of fountain water and fire to different music. This is the bling part of the park but there’s a lot more here which make it a must-visit spot in Tehran.

The entrance is also lined with the beautiful metallic calligraphic statues or Persian literature giants and their characters. Even when I wasn’t familiar with most of the names, the scenery is impressive.

The park

Pol-e-Tabiat

A little walk further and there are vast gardens to sit and enjoy before we got to the Pol-e-Tabiat (Nature bridge). It is quite an interesting place. With two highway style roads passing under it, the bridge link nature on both sides of it with a food court on the other side. We stayed there all evening chilling, drinking and eating and eventually leaving quite late in the night with a taxi. It was a great place to enjoy nature with the view of Albor mountains in the north of Tehran.

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Pol e Tabiat

Tochal and Tehran Sledge

Nearest Metro – Tajrish

Driving to Tochal

Tochal is the ski area with a cable car service in the north of Tehran in Alborz mountains. It is best if you come here with your own car. We arrived at the first station and parked our car. There are four different stations and cable cars stop at each station. The last station is close to the tallest mountain also called Tochal.

Alborz Mountains

Unfortunately, only 1 station was open because it was out of season but it was still amazing because I got to see Tehran sprawled in front of me from the north to the south. It was a clear beautiful day which made it even better. It is a very touristy place and things are way expensive here so pack yourselves some lunch if you want to save money.

Tehran from Tochal

Note: During Ski season, you should purchase tickets in advance online otherwise be prepared to stand in the queue for quite some time.

On the way back, I found Tehran sledge and I was totally set on riding it but I had to do it alone because my friend wasn’t a big fan of swirling rides. It was a crazy experience. Even though you can control the speed it was quite a thrill especially on the turns, at times I almost felt like I would fling out over the mountains. The adrenaline rush was amazing in an otherwise calm day.

Tehran Sledge

Darband

Nearest Metro – Tajrish

Darband is a village located on a 30 minutes drive from Tajrish metro station. It is an amazing place to see Tehranians spending time, especially on the weekends. A stream flows right through entire Darband and after parking our car we headed to get to its top. It was quite a long journey and parking was hard to find but we did it at the end. The entire way is lined with restaurants and cafes where you can smoke sheesha.

Darband

Fun Fact: Sheesha was invented in Iran by the Persians and not by the Egyptians as it is wrongly believed.

I used to smoke back then so we decided to look for a place where we could have tea and sheesha. Every restaurant has waiters standing outside to lure you in but we managed to find a cute smaller place and had a great time listening to the falling water next to us. It was my last evening in Tehran and the conversation was slightly emotional with promises of visiting again soon which I intend to keep even if not the ‘soon’ part.

There is a lot more Tehran has to offer but if you are on a time-limited trip, do not miss these twelve spots to see a wide range of beauty this beautiful metropolitan city has to offer.

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