Tehran is an interesting city with plenty to offer, but it has hardly been known for its tourism potential. However, that does not mean it is actually devoid of attractions.
Nick Boulos of the UK-based Wanderlust travel magazine recently traveled to the Iranian capital and wrote about his experience in the sprawling metropolis in the magazine’s February 2016 issue. The following is an excerpt from his article.
It is not uncommon to touch down in the Iranian capital with mixed feelings. There’s excitement and high anticipation at finally reaching this once out-of-bounds land, but also some sensations that are rather more unsettling. What kind of a welcome will I get? Do they hate westerners? Will going through the airport be like a scene lifted from Hollywood blockbuster Argo?
Well, first things first: you have nothing to worry about. There’s no ill feeling to be felt towards visitors. Iran is not only one of the most welcoming countries in the Middle East, but arguably the world.
Located in the north of the country, around 200 kilometers south of the Caspian Sea, Tehran has a long history, although little of it was recorded until the 13th century. It was originally a suburb of Rey (then the Iranian capital), and was perhaps best known for the high quality of its pomegranates.
It was not until 1220 when the Mongols swept through Rey, slaughtering thousands and sending many more fleeing for the safety of Tehran, when it started to eclipse its near neighbor, and in 1795 it was finally made the capital of Iran.
Modern day Tehran is a sprawling city of long boulevards, impressive mosques, busy bazaars and Persian gardens filled with trickling fountains and smitten couples. Snow-capped mountains peer down on the people below, and some gentle walks in and among the foothills offer a break from the hot streets.
What to Do?
Get the lay of the land with a trip to the top of the Milad Tower, the city’s tallest building. Gaze across the city towards the rugged and snow-capped peak of Mount Damavand, which stands at 5,671m making it the highest in Iran.
Nearby is the marble Azadi Tower, a striking 1970s monument built to commemorate the 2,500th anniversary of the first Persian Empire. It has since become the symbol of the city.
From here, head south into central Tehran and the 10km of alleyways and stalls that make up the city’s main bazaar. Take stock of your purchases over a cup of sweet cinnamon tea at the famous Azari Traditional Teahouse, and try a bowl of dizzy, a delicious local lamb stew.
Afterwards, take a tour of the exquisite Golestan Palace, a former royal residence. More opulence awaits at the Treasury of National Jewels, a brilliant collection of priceless gems that once belonged to the shahs (kings) of the Persian Empire. They are now on show in a heavily guarded vault beneath the Central Bank.
If time permits, make your way to the bohemian district of New Jolfa (the Armenian Quarter), home to trendy shops and one of the few churches to be found in Tehran, before heading to Darband, a quiet enclave in the foothills of the mountains. Follow the gentle walking trails and end your day peacefully in one of the cliffside restaurants and cafés.
Iran is one of 2016’s most talked about destinations. Head there, and you will find its capital to be a friendly base for exploring the country.
By Financial Tribune