Iran - Is Tehran worth a visit?

Tabiat bridge the largest pedestrian bridge Tehran

My visit to Iran led to Tehran. The more touristic places like Isfahan and Shiraz, as well as Mashhad I will maybe go another time. Tehran is not really a tourist destination and I was curious about what one can experience there. One of the most difficult questions to find a proper answer was, how long it does makes sense to stay in Tehran. The opinions here are extremely different.

A few years ago, sanctions against Iran were relaxed and a milestone was reached. Now in 2019, this has changed again, Trump and Iran hate each other again and the sanctions were reintroduced. So how is the situation now?

How many days in Tehran?

Many say Tehran is a shithole. My recent dentist who was from Iran was happy to hear that these days someone is traveling to Iran but couldn't understand why visiting Tehran. He said I should fly out of it immediately:

Why you go to Tehran? It's ugly. There is nothing to see, only polution, best when you continue and don't stop there.

And also there are not too many people who call that city really beautiful, but I would never say that it is a shithole, actually, I found it very exciting and interesting. Getting in from the airport is tedious but once all the way in town, there are some great things to do during from morning until evening. Just because the western media doesn't report anything good about it. It's unbelievable how friendly people were here as if they wanted to put themselves in a better picture than they think we think of them.
The three full days were very fine, two days don't allow much activity (i.e. Mount Tochal) and are probably too little because Tehran is very extensive. But three days are not much either.

The following describes some things to do for 3 days in Iran.

Things to see in Tehran on a tourist map

June 13 - Day 1 - Arriving in Iran

I flew from modern Azerbaijan to Tehran this morning, no delay and everything was peaceful. Flights from Azerbaijan are spot cheap at only 40 USD.

In order to enter Iran, an E-Visa should theoretically be applied for, which simplifies the entry. I tried this from home, but it was rejected. I read about this is a strange phenomenon and many people complain on the Internet that their E-Visa application was rejected. But as I had no more time for an application via the embassy and the only possibility now was to simply travel there and see what happens.

Even before passport control, there is a kind of area for visa processing. A woman stands there and welcomes passengers friendly in English and helps.

Why you don't have an E-Visa? Can I see your documents? Where is your Invitation Letter?

I didn't have an invitation letter and it wasn't an issue. She inspected my passport, insurance (yes, insurance, it's mandatory to have insurance that explicitly covers Iran), onward tickets and hotel reservation.

No Invitation Letter, no problem. Please fill this form, pay over there and come here to pick your passport.

The visa costs about 90 USD and the whole procedure is quite fast.

A quick look into the passport was very irritating because I didn't find a stamp, glued sticker or anything else that showed I have a valid Visa to enter Iran. But the Immigration Officer scanned my passport and I was waved through. That's it?

No more Iran Passport Stamp or Visa Stickers

Iran has abolished the visa sticker in its passport since the beginning of 2019. That means, they don't put any clues, hints or evidence in the passport anymore showing that someone has been in Iran.

Did I get my Visa via the embassy back home, I would have received a sticker and so would have such a "negative" symbol in my passport today. That would have been extremely difficult to enter the USA in the future.

By train to Tehran City Center

The airport is technically very well connected to Tehran City. There is an air-conditioned train and a manned ticket counter. However, the journey is very slow and takes about 2 hours from the airport to the City Center.

The metro system within Tehran is very well developed and very easy to understand, also extremely cheap. Metro is good and cheap and costs only 20 US Cent.

Uber was (obviously) not working in Iran but they have an alternative "snapp", which however, was only available for people with Iranian mobile number.

Metro is the most cheapest way to reach city center
Architecture in Tehran Metro StationsTehran has clean streetsSmog-filled and traffic-clogged but it could be much worse

First walk in the middle of Tehran

It was now afternoon and after checking in at the hotel I went to change money, which is not as easy as I had thought. 

Most hotels don't change money and exchange offices are difficult to find. I was sent to a jeweler to change money. With an exchange rate of 1 USD = 140'000 Rial, everybody is a millionaire in Iran (yes bad joke). There is an unofficial rate and an official and the difference is huge, like a meal with the unofficial exchange rate costs 1 dollar instead of 4 dollars with the official rate.

The city center is more modern than I expected. Many coffee shops and stores. It looks not dirty and destroyed as I thought it would after so many conflicts and wars. It's actually clean here.

Wifi is available but almost all western news pages are blocked by the government. The only way to access them was via VPN, which I hesitated to use. Using VPN in Iran is prohibited and even having installed it on the mobile phone can make one easily a suspect.

Iran suffers from the sanctions and can, therefore, sell practically nothing to the outside world. The country is also cut off from international payment traffic, so paying with Visa or Mastercard is not possible. 

Also hotel booking platforms like have not listed any Iranian hotels, because of sanctions. In the hotel it's not possible to pay with credit cards. The country is poor and it gets much much worse in the near future.

The grafiti in Valiasr Street
The city center of Tehran has nice restaurantsFastfood in every corner. First class KebabThere are movie theatres but they dont show western movies

Strolling and eating along the "Valiasr Street"

In the summer months it's hot in Tehran. Extremely hot.

A walk through the city at Valiasr Street, one of the main "mainstreets", showed me the effect the economic sanctions are causing. There are no advertisements for foreign brands or products visible.

Shoe stores don't have any foreign models like Nike or Asics and there was literally no one walking around in brand-name clothes. The only international products I saw were drinks like Coca-Cola or Sprite. And French and Japanese cars.

Good BBQ with fresh bread

Along the road, there were lots of restaurants with typical Iranian bread ovens and they bake fresh bread for every single customer.

It's a such delicious bread that is served with BBQ chicken or lamb. I got addicted immediately and spent eating such Shashliks Skewers every day during my visit to Iran.

Valiasr daily normal scene
Residents housings not destroyedCeap & good Shashlik and Kebab with fresh breadTehran has many meaningful Grafitis

Walk across the bridge "Tabiat Bridge"

I took the metro to the nearest station and had to walk like 300 meters to find the bridge.

Somehow I had a bit of a queasy feeling about fooling around with the camera in Iran. I've read several stories that Western-looking people are quickly and easily labeled as US Americans and that they are under general suspicion anyway. Now add the camera and you have a high suspect. That's why I often asked locals here if this or that is allowed to be photographed.

The way to the bridge leads through a beautiful park where people jog and sit and picnic. Also asking people for directions led to friendly conversations, although many don't speak English, they tried to help out with Google Translate.

Up from the bridge is a big platform to see Tehran in a nice view. Many people come here to take photos.

Its one metro ride from Valiasr
The highlight of the park is the Pol-e Tabiat or Nature BridgeThe park and its surroundings also have a skate park.On nice weather the view is incredible in TehranSeen from Tabiat bridgeIts out of the way, but the TV Tower can be seen from several places

The Iranian War Tanks and Airplanes at "Holy Defense Museum" 

No entrance fee here! I was surprised that nowadays there are still museums in capital cities that don't charge entrance fees.

The museum is just beside the Tabiat Bridge, and so on the way back to the metro "Shahid Hemmat".

It's one of the largest open-air museums in Iran and it's dedicated to the Iran-Iraq war back in 1988. Many planes, tanks and choppers are set up outside.

Its the War museum to see the vehicles used in Iran war against Iraq
Could be a radar station to detect military activityHoly Defense Museum is nice open aired museumPeople and locals having picnic around the tanks and choppersUH-1 Iroquois is a utility military helicopter powered by a single turboshaft engineExposed in the museum in TehranIt was used to fight against the Iraqis in the war

Day 2 - Many things to do in Tehran

Iran has seen a massive increase in the number of tourists and that was only the beginning.

During my planning and research about destinations, I noticed how diverse the country is, but this information has not yet reached us in the western part of the world.

The situation is different in economics, which has been extremely declined and for a few years now. Iran is known for its oil reserves but the infrastructure is outdated and even if sanctions are relaxed, no oil reserves can be transported quickly, which has a huge impact on the people.

With the cablecar up to "Mount Tochal"

Early this morning I took the metro north to Mt. Tochal.  It is the last station and lies at the foot of the mountain station. The mountain serves the Iranians in summer as a hiking mountain and in winter as a skiing area. Whereby now it is summer and there is still snow on top and people with skis are to be seen.

Mount Tochal's highest peak, is at an elevation of 3964 meters.

From the metro station the way leads to the bazaar and behind it is a mosque called "Imamzadeh Saleh".

As a tourist its nice to see and worth a visit
One of many imamzadeh mosques in IranThe mosque entombs the remains of Saleh, a son of the Twelver Shia ImamThe mosque is located at Tajrish SquareBazaar around Tajrish SquareIts easy to navigate from here to Mount Tochal telecabin stationMany taxis offer cheap ride to the telecabin

To Mount Tochal it's a pleasant ride

From here to the valley station Tochal Telecabin is a long way and easiest to reach by taxi, because it goes a little uphill through the streets. The taxi can only drive to the parking lot, after that it has to be walked to the lift station.

Tochal has a long gondola lift which ends in the last station at 3740m near the main ridge of Tochal. This gondola lift is used for accessing ski resorts and other recreational centers on the mountain. The gondola lift has four stations.

From the valley station, it is necessary to change three times to get to the top of the mountain. The further it goes up, the cooler it gets.

It was only 9:00 in the morning but already very hot.

Long gondola ride with great view
Its about 500 meter from the taxi stand to the valley stationChange three times to get to the topRiding the gondola is the best thing to do in TehranRiding the gondola is a lot of funMe in the gondola to TochalSmall gondala cabins are pleasant

At the top it's cold (3700 meters)

Up here is snow and Iranians with skiing everywhere. The first time I saw Iranians with skis and also the first time I saw Iranians hiking. Never thought I'd be in Iran in summer in a ski resort with snow and skiers.

It's in mid of June and I also I ever would have believed its possible that down in town its around 40 degrees and around 5 degrees up there. Therefore I didn't bring a jacket and after 10 minutes up there it was just too cold.

The Tochal main peak is 30 minutes walk from this point.
Iran has ski resort and its easy to get up thereTehran has a Ski Resrort and its on Mount TochalSven in IranEven in June its still covered in SnowEven in summer there is a lot of snow up in TehranTochal is only 30 minutes from here

Back to downtown Tehran

It takes about 40 minutes to get back down but the view is nice all the way. Down in town around the metro station "Tajrish" are many restaurants and it's perfect to have lunch.

Does Iran have snow?
Its a unique activityTehran has Mount Tochal to go hikingSeen from Mount Tochal

Visit the south of Tehran at "Shah Abdol-Azim shrine"

From the one central metro station to one at the bottom of Tehran and through the whole of the City its just one metro ride, but with 45 minutes it took a while. Its not a problem because of the comfortable metros which have A/C inside.

The shrine located in downtown south of Tehran at the metro stop "Shahr-e-Rey". The shrine is very famous in Tehran because its somehow religious and there are different and varied shops around. Many properties are under construction and many wealthy Iranian people invest in them to secure their money.

There are not many western tourists in Tehran. Although I cannot easily figure out the amount of middle east tourists, as they look the same as the locals.

I was afraid I could not enter the shrine to have a look because I'm obviously a western tourist. But the security there was very friendly, helped to drop the bag at the counter and let me enter the venue.

The shrine south of Tehran
Tehran has many shrines and this is the best oneWomen need mandatory head towel45 minutes by metro from city center TehranFriendly Iranians say hello to foreignersTight security everywhere

Walking around the impressive "Azadi Tower" (Independence Tower)

A landmark of Tehran, the city with about 15 million people. I like the symmetry of the memorial tower. It's built to remember the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

New dress code after 1979

Until that revolution, Iran was not an Islam Republic and people were allowed to dress whatever they wanted. Before 1979 the capital of Iran was one of the most culturally advanced in the world.

When walking around the city it seems people in Iran are sad. But when talking to them they open up and become extremely friendly. Also, random people just come along stand in front of me and say:

Welcome to Iran! Where are you from?

Experienced this several times every day. I noticed that most are interested in knowing where I'm from. And I'm glad I was able to say I'm from a country that Iran and its people have no problem with.

aka Independence Tower
Independence Square is called "Maidan-e-Azadi" in PersianAzadi tower is unique in whole countryThis structure alone is definitely a must see sight.Locals eat and relax around AzadiPeople look scary when they see me

Day 3 - Iran is more normal than I expected

Tehran is very modern. A good example is the numerous cheap coffee shops and many restaurants with an appropriate standard. Before coming to Iran, I expected Tehran to be a bombed and shattered city and that this place is a mess.

During my stay in Iran, I noticed that there are no speakers drolling imam songs from the mosques already early in the morning. Not even during the day, I could remember hearing any Imam singing prayers. For me that was good, so I could sleep without earplugs.

Visit the overrated "Golestan Palace"

It's located in the middle of Tehran, right behind a Police Headquarter and on in front of the big Tehran Bazar. I paid the small entrance fee and walked one round through the garden of the palace with world heritage status. The whole thing was once supposed to be used for celebrations and archives.

Many paintings and a lot of decorations inside and outside. But I would say it's a bit overrated (maybe I didn't understand the meaning or the history).

Praised as a definite must-see place in IRAN
This place only 5 min far from big Tehran bazarThats the best part in GolestanGo to the main part, the rest is basically the same.Its a bit boring but Ok to visitStunning colourful tileworks on floors and wallsIranians walk inside the Golestan Palace

Lunch at the "Tehran Great Bazaar"

Beside the Golestan Palace, there was this huge bazaar with around 11 km of corridors. Many carpet dealers are here.

Only walked a small part of it as I didn't need anything from there and as I was hungry. Got some Kebab then, which smell is constantly present everywhere. Such (good) distract, those shashlik BBQ Kebab with fresh-baked bread has become one of my favorite foods. In general, Iran is well known for its food.

Women have to cover their hair but even if it is the Islamic Republic, it's not the same as for example in Saudi Arabia and a bit more easy-going.

It’s huge and you can’t really map your visit
There is cheap piracy software in every corner of the BazarI feel like travelled back in time three hundred yearsVery nice with lots of shops and varietiesFood in every corner in Tehran BazaarGrand Bazaar of Tehran is one of the historical complex in city.Main place that you can buy Spice, Saffron, hand made silver dishes

Anti-United States graffiti at the "Former US Embassy"

In the whole of Tehran there are many cameras everywhere and I'm sure they are operating and in use.

Some signs even bring people to attention that they should watch and spot suspicious behavior of other people and report it immediately to the police. Espionage is a big topic here and that's why often people disappear without ever being seen again.

Cameras recording everything in Tehran

During my whole visit to Tehran I felt observed.

Some discussions with locals, they clearly stated their opinion against the United States, the UK, and France. The people here literally "hate" them, especially also since the newest happenings with Trump's drones and the Brits with the blocked freighters. Iranian people don't understand what they have done wrong and why the US and its allies are threatening them the way they do.

I tried to avoid having any too political discussions with the locals here as I noticed it easily can heat up the moods and it went to a topic like:

Some of my relatives already went down to the Strait of Hormuz. They are ready to fight the US and its allies.

Iranians are worried and angry and somehow it's understandable.

The people didn't do anything wrong but they get threatened with war and sanctions which especially hits the normal people and their daily lives.

The Den of Espionage-Graffiti

After four decades the embassy was changed in something like a museum and also called the "Den of Espionage". There was a good coffee shop in the Artists Park, just behind the block.

Everybody friendly and no problems to walk around
Especially now when Trump sharpened the SanctionsOutside of the former embassyNow US and Iran are still in conflict

The food again...

My last evening in Iran was dedicated again to the food. I couldn't leave without having one more time the delicious fresh-baked taftoon bread from the Iranian bread oven, with the BBQ chicken fresh from the fire.

The restaurant did open later today but the owner saw me standing there hungry looking at the chickens and the raw bread and even opened the restaurant earlier to serve me the delicious food.

I appreciated the hospitality I faced in Iran. Even though the people have a difficult live under the sanctions they do their best to comfort strangers (as far as they're not from the US).

Dish of skewered and grilled cubes of meat,
In every corner there is fresh ShashlikBread oven only for bread in IranTaftoon bread is best when fresh from the oven

Day 4 - Flying away after Midnight

I didn't want to ride the train again for two hours to get back to the airport. Left the hotel in Tehran City and took a taxi to the airport hotel to sleep there until flight departure at 4am. 

2 hours it's a long train ride between the city and the airport and didn't want to do this after midnight.

The airport security in Tehran is not the best, especially when considering the circumstances the country is in with all its enemy countries around near and far. For example, water can be brought on the plane in huge bottles and I noticed some other issues which made me raise my hackles when comparing it to the strict security in some airports in Europe.

Also I wonder how Airports in Iran will operate in a few years from now. I noticed on the screens in the airport, that there are long-expired Windows operating systems running, which are not updated anymore and under the US sanctions, Iran will not be able to buy any new Microsoft software. That's not going to end well. Maybe the solution to this is however already given. Due to Iran's refusal to sign the Berne Convention, the sale of pirated software is legal in the country.

Will definitely be interesting to follow up on the country in the future.

1 comment:

  1. I literally love ur stories u should be writing novels. When next you wanna travel invite me.