After having left the airport terminal we took the taxi to the city centre. After quick negotiation, the taxi driver gave up and he indicated the sticker with the official price of 600,000 rials (16 euro). After few meters we experienced our first “clash of cultures” when we realised that the lane marking on the highway has no impact on the driver :-). Later, we understood that it is quite a norm in Iran and we recalled the sentence from the country’s description by the Polish MFA: “Iran belongs to the countries with the highest number of road accidents worldwide”. In practice we didn’t see any single road accident during our stay. However, we remained touched by the way how the drivers manage the traffic chaos.
In order to describe the city as shortly as possible I would say “Tehran is amazing”. Not because of its spectacular tourists attractions. It is amazing because of its diversity. Within 40 minutes drive you can experience a journey between the modern and the past, the old and the new, the tired and the shining, the summer and the winter. On the other side the air in the city is polluted, the smell of gasoline exhausts is present everywhere in the central districts and the smog is visible from any of the observation points. Nevertheless, Tehran offers “Iran in a capsule” and therefore I don’t agree with all those who recommend to skip Tehran on their trip to Iran.
Accommodation – Espinas Hotel
When selecting our accommodation in Tehran we decided to go for the best one available. We booked Espinas Hotel, a 5-star property located in the city center. The same hotel was booked by the official Russian delegation chaired by Mr. Putin during his official visit to Iran; it is also the central HQ of spies coming to Iran, at least according to the popular spionage books available throughout Europe’s bookstores :-). We paid 180 euro for double room, breakfast included.
Espinas has a very nice and modern interior design and comfortably equipped rooms. Its restaurant is located in the basement and it offers traditional dishes of Iranian cuisine. We tried dizi soup which was prepared by the waitress on our table and it was delicious. Although prices were certainly high for the local pockets, they were very attractive for Europeans (dinner for two costs 25-30 euro). Also, I would recommend the lobby bar with the live piano music and delicious saffron ice cream :-).
Although located in the heart of Tehran, the area around the hotel does not offer many attractions within the walking distance, including restaurants.
The breakfast choice was not really something spectacular and certainly not corresponding with the category of the hotel. Two types of cheese, 2 types of sausage, few dairy products, some local sweets and salads, poor coffee.
The weakest point of this hotel is the service. Wifi exists only in theory, the bell boys give incorrect instructions to the taxi drivers who in turn bring you to the wrong place, our reservation could not be found for 1 hour upon our arrival:-). The hotel staff is kind and smiling but also “tense” at the same time.
We heard from our guide that Espinas is about to open a brand new property on the hills of Northern Tehran. Next time I’ll certainly try it as the Northern part of Tehran is much nicer than its centre.
Day of arrival – Sunday
After we checked-in we had to hurry up to get to the National Museum of Jewelry as it was the only day of our stay in Tehran on which the museum was open (Sun-Wed from 14:00 to 16:30). Unfortunately, the communication between the bell boy and the taxi driver did not work and we ended up 20 minutes later in front of… The National Museum. The time was running and we had to find the place before the museum closes.
We were asking the people in the street for directions. Although everybody was trying to help and two young female students even offered to guide us to the place, they had to give up as their lectures were about to start.
My wife was close to get the taxi and return to the hotel as we were tired after the night flight and we were risking our lifes at every intersection 🙂 when crossing the streets (traffic lights do exists but they have purely decorative function because wneither the drivers nor the pedestrians bother about them). After some 80 minutes and after having asked some 20 people we found the place. The good thing in the meantime was that I found street sellers of the local stamps on our weird way to the Jewelry Museum (in front of the Postal Museum) so I used the opportunity to buy something being a sworn stamp collector :-). Also, this experience has proven that the overall English skills of Iranians are OK and hugely “supported” by their willingness to help and the friendly attitude.
The National Museum of Jewelry is located in the premises of the Central Bank of Iran, on Ferdowsi Avenue, opposite to the Turkish and German embassies. The Musuem’s premises are rather small (basically one room is hosting the entire exposition) and 1 hour is sufficient to see it all. I recommend to buy the catalogue at the entrance or to rent a guide as the exhibits are not described and the visitors do not know what they are watching. Nevertheless, they are all beautiful and spectacular and they guide you through the greatness of the Persian Empire. Must to see!
After having left the museum we headed up north, direction Ferdowsi Square. We passed by few mobile money exchange points (money is exchanged directly from suitcases) and we caught the taxi to the hotel.
The visitors from the West need to be prepared that the streets of Tehran are full of anti-American propaganda slogans, political graffiti etc. However, with no exception, all these painitings look very old and tired and therefore they indicate the trends of the past rather than today’s mood of the population.
At the end of the day we took a walk in the hotel’s neighborhood. As we did not find much we returned to the hotel to have a dinner in their restaurant.
Evening tour in Northern Tehran – Wednesday evening
We went on this tour Wednesday evening after having returned from Isfahan. It was phreak move! Our guide, Reza drove us through the beautiful residential districts along the northern part of Valiasr Street, he took us for a dinner to a local restaurant (which turned out to be his own) where the food was delicious and hugely overpriced (we paid 30% more than in the hotel’s restaurant). We ended on Tabiat Bridge late evening around 11 PM.
Tabiat Bridge is a two-levels bridge for pedestrians only. It is located in a leisure park with many visitors despite the late hour. Views from the bridge are amazing and impressive. The bridge overpasses the highway which is full of cars in both directions thus providing a clear evidence for Tehran being the city that never sleeps. The place is one of the “hotspots” of contemporary Tehran and one of must-to-see places in the city.
Day trip in Tehran – Thursday
We started our tour from the catholic cemetery in Dulab located in the Eastern part of the city. This was the main point on our list while in Tehran. We wanted to find the grave of one of our relatives who died in Iran on the way with the wave of Polish refugees escaping from the Soviet Union in 1942-1943. At that time Iran was hosting around 100,000 Polish refugees sharing with them the limited resources they had during the war time.
Although the gate was closed, it got open from inside after several knocks. With help of two local men who take care of the cemetery, we managed to find the grave pretty quickly. We were also offered the tea when they saw that the visit has a true personal character.
From the cemetery the guide took us for a walk in the central Tehran, close to the famous bazaar. Although the limited time did not allow us to explore the bazaar in detail, we had the chance to walk along its walls. Clearly, it is huge, however it is organized in thematic sections thus making it easier for buyers when looking for particular products.
At the same time we noticed that out guide and his assistant use the brand-new IPad Air irrespectively of the sanctions. We asked the diplomatically whether they travel a lot abroad. They quickly responded that they don’t travel abroad at all. However, in the context of the sanctions, new service areas have been developed in Iran which aim at ordering Apple products to Turkey or Turkmenistan (incl. Apple ID registration in these countries), which are then smuggled on the donkeys through the border.
After all this, we went to see the neighborhood of the US Embassy, the famous Den of Espionage. It is located close to Taleghani metro station. The area is quite deserted and nobody was bothering us about taking some pictures there (contrary to many official guiding books which discourage the tourists from taking pictures there).
When walking along the embassy’s walls the feelings are quite depressive on one side. On the other side, we felt being in the place which was historically very important for The world’s contemporary history.
After having been positively impressed by the previous evening’s trip to the Northern Tehran, we clearly wanted to deepen our experience. Firstly we went to the “roof of Tehran” – Mt. Tochal to take a cable car ride to high mountains (Station 5 – 3,200 meters above the see level) directly from the city.
From the public parking lot we took a shuttle transportation for tourists (10,000 rial per person) to bring us to the cable car station. There, we were given 3 ride options which are mysteriously called station 2, station 5 and station 7. For avoidance of any doubt station 3,4 and 6 do not exist on the route of the cable car :-).
Station 2 does not offer anything extraordinary and it has quite limited walking area around it. Station 5 has few facilities for tourists and nice walking area around it. Station 7 is for ski fans. We went for station 5 (return ticket of 250,000 rial per person) and it was great. The temperature went down to -4 degrees Celsius (central Tehran was at +15 degrees at the same time), however, we were not freezing up there in the rays of the sun.
From Mt. Tochal we asked to be driven to the northern part of Valiasr Street. Beautifully illuminated in the evening, the street was not looking that spectacular in the daylight.
However, after having made few steps in the side streets (Salar St.), we experienced picturesque residential district, where the walk was to a purely relaxing pleasure.
We decided not to see…
Milad Tower – given mixed reviews of this attraction on Tripadvisor and the risk of very limited views because of the smog, we preferred to go for Mt. Tochal instead.
Azadi Tower – we just passed by on our way to Isfhan. Given the time spent in traffic to get there and the very limited impressions I recommend not to put this attraction on the top of your list.