Visiting Iran can’t be complete without sightseeing Esfahan. Not without a reason – it’s the top touristic Persian city. Everyone, literally everyone, who arrive in this country, go to Esfahan. Do you wonder why? Keep reading to find out!
How To Get In Esfahan
Esfahan or Isfahan, how the city is alternatively called, has a small airport located 30 km away from the center. It serves mostly domestic connections. From international ones, passengers can choose just a few permanent routes: Dubai, Istanbul and Iraqi cities. That’s why if you travel by plane, you’d better pick Tehran International Airport (IKA) and then head to Esfahan overland.
We described all issues about travelling through the international airport in Tehran in our article Visit Tehran, Iran – Dangerous or Safe?, so now we’ll concentrate how to arrive to Esfahan from Tehran.
Budget travelers have two ways to reach Esfahan from the capital: train or bus. Both options have their pluses and minuses, so we will help you to choose the one, which is the most suitable for you.
Trains between Esfahan and Tehran run pretty rare. There’s only one overnight train every other day from Tehran and Esfahan. In the opposite way (Esfahan to Tehran) there are basically two trains every other day (one daytime and one overnight). However, take it only as a general rule as sometimes there are additional trains and the schedule may be slightly different. Most importantly, trains are comfortable – every carriage includes 4 bunks, so you can have a good sleep there. The ride takes up to 8 hours and costs about 550 000 IRR (approx. $13).
On the other hand, if you plan to travel to Esfahan by railway from desertic city Yazd the situation is a bit problematic as well. The only one train between these cities goes every other day, so you don’t have any choice. The ride in the 4-bunk compartment takes 4 hours and a half and costs around 350 000 IRR (approx. $8).
Unluckily, railway station is located very far from the city center of Esfahan. To reach the center from there you can take bus no. 37 to Sofeh Bus Terminal and then change to bus no. 91 to the old town. All the same, it’s much better to take a taxi and bargain for a while to get a reasonable price.
How To Buy A Train Ticket
You can’t buy a train ticket through the official website as it’s required to use an Iranian card. Tickets are sold out very quickly, so it’s not recommended to wait to buy them at the station. The best option is to buy them from the unofficial agent called Iranrail, which can buy the tickets for you and send them on your e-mail. The fee is €8 for the first reservation, regardless of number of tickets. But if you plan to use their services more than once, you will get a discount code and will pay only €4 for next routes. Tickets are on sale up to a month in advance.
Buses between Esfahan and Tehran set out almost nonstop. Apart from regular buses, you can choose some VIP-class ones, which provide more comfort. The ride takes 5 hours and the price is 330 000 IRR (approx. $7) for the luxury one. No advance booking needed. In Esfahan buses depart from Kaveh Bus Terminal, which is quite far away from the center. This station is connected with the city center by public bus no. 91.
ESFAHAN – VARZANEH (DESERT)
Varzaneh is a small town close to Esfahan and next to the wonderful desert with impressive, high dunes. To reach Varzaneh the best way is to take a bus from Jey Terminal in Esfahan. It’s quite far from the city center, so you need to take a taxi. During the day, a bus to Varzaneh departs every hour and it takes 1h30min to reach the destination. The ticket costs only 50 000 IRR (approx. $1.25)! It’s not possible (and necessary) to book it in advance. You pay the money to the driver when getting off the bus.
The bus is a very old, cramped vehicle with no facilities – the total opposite of modern coaches that run between main Iranian cities. However, we enjoyed this bus the most as we were the only foreigners onboard and could see how local people get around and how the local transport looks like. Obviously, you won’t experience it in a comfortable tourist bus.
Notice as Friday is a day-off in Iran, buses depart much less frequent. That’s why you’d better not to plan your ride to Varzaneh on Friday or arrive at Jey Terminal early. Otherwise, you may miss your bus and must wait for the other one a couple of hours or take a taxi.
If you must take a taxi, you’ll find drivers in front of the station. They charge 500 000 IRR (approx. $12) for a ride to Varzaneh and after an hour they will drop you directly at your hotel.
How To Get Around Esfahan
Theoretically the best mean of transport in Esfahan should be the metro. Unfortunately, at present there’s only one line in use. In addition, this line hasn’t been fully operational yet and not all stations have been opened so far. The metro runs, but some time is needed until everything will be working properly. At the moment, don’t count on metro.
Taxi, in turn, is the best mean of transport in Esfahan. You can go for 100 000 – 150 000 IRR (approx. $2.50 – $3.50) wherever you want in the city, but it requires good haggling skills.
If you want to feel more like a local, you can try local public buses. For example, the center is well-linked with Kaveh and Sofeh Bus Stations by bus no. 91. The ticket costs 10 000 IRR (approx. $0.25) and you pay directly to the driver. Note that buses are divided inside into two parts: men section (front) and women section (back).
What To See In Esfahan
It’s the central point in the city and one of the most famous places in the whole Iran. Imam Square, which is officially named Naqsh-e Jahan Square and used to be known as Shah Square in the past, is the largest square in the Middle East. The square is surrounded by big and beautiful mosques. Moreover, it’s full of greenery and the square is equipped with nice fountains. It’s worth to go there mostly in the evening when hundreds or even thousands of Iranians gather there to picnic and spend some time with their families and friends. It’s also a good time to meet new friends as locals always approach tourists to get to know them and their culture and chat for a while.
It’s also called Shah Mosque or Royal Mosque. It’s located on the south side of the Imam Square and it’s the biggest one in the city. To see it from the inside you need to pay 200 000 IRR (approx. $5) and you are allowed to enter there only during non-praying hours. But still, you can go to the yard in front of the mosque anytime for free and take some pictures of the facade in close-up.
SHEIKH LOTFOLLAH MOSQUE
This is the smaller mosque on the Imam Square. However, it’s said that its interior is the most beautiful among all mosques in Iran. Local people admit that and they strongly encourage to see it instead of the bigger Imam Mosque. The inside is really impressive and artistic. Play of the color, natural light and geometrical shapes are shown there. Every single detail is carefully well-thought-out there. It’s hard to describe it with words – you must see it with your own eyes. True must-see in Esfahan. Entrance fee is 200 000 IRR (approx. $5).
English name of this almost 300 meters-long bridge is “The Bridge of 33 Arches”. It’s the most famous bridge in Esfahan. Its history is dated to the beginning of 17th century. During the summer, all water under the bridge dries out and you can walk on the river bed.
Another historical bridge in Esfahan, which is worth to see as well. It’s smaller and less touristic than mentioned above Si-o-Se Pol. Furthermore, it’s a good idea to visit it when it’s dark and the bridge is illuminated.
Sleeping, Eating, Safety & Souvenirs
Hotels in Esfahan are usually slightly more expensive than in other big Iranian cities. Seems like the most popular budget one, which is visited by many backpackers, is Amir Kabir Hostel. It’s a typical cheap lodging, situated within the walking distance to the center. They charge $25 for a double room with shared bathroom but if you bargain for a while, you’ll end up paying just $20. Dorm beds go for $10. You can pay in dollars, euro and rials. Besides that, breakfast is included for all guests. Staff is very friendly and allow the early check in.
To find good food in Esfahan, you should stay away from the Imam Square and its surroundings. This area is very touristic and full of overblown restaurants or cafes. To eat something tasty, you must go out of the center and pick the place where local people dine. Like always it’s a guarantee that your meal is fresh, good quality and in a low price.
The most popular food in Iran is for sure chelo kebab. This dish contains two strips of lamb meat, white rice and some vegetables on the side. Everyone in Iran eat that as it’s delicious, cheap and quick to order. Also, it’s very easy to find the restaurants that serve chelo kebab as they are present at every corner. We noticed that chelo kabab has something like a flat price – anywhere in the country we ordered it, we paid 150 000 IRR (approx. $3.50) for a portion. In addition, as an alternative to chelo kebab you can try a dish called chicken rice. The idea of the dish is the same with only one difference – instead of two lamb strips you get grilled chicken breast. It’s a good option when you don’t want to eat kebabs all the time ;) Restaurants which serve chelo kebab, usually offer chicken rice too.
It’s a very popular Iranian specialty, which comes from Esfahan. This dish is made of mutton lung and is prepared on a flat bread. It’s served only for lunch, because Beryan is definitely too heavy for a dinner.
It’s something for those who have a sweet tooth! Gaz is a popular Esfahani candy. It’s hard to compare it to anything, but we would say it’s kind of nougat that tastes like a Marshmallow but is much tougher. Also, it’s available in many different varieties, but the most popular one is with pistachio filling. Gaz is sold in plenty of stores around Esfahan, but you can also buy them in shops that are specialized in Gaz and sell only it. Strongly recommend to try it. We miss the taste of Gaz so much!
Esfahan like the whole country is a very safe place. You can freely wander around the city even after dark. The only thing that you should be aware relates to Iranian taxis and taxi drivers. This problem is widely described in our detailed post: Visit Tehran, Iran – Dangerous or Safe?
Usually we don’t buy souvenirs when traveling, because we always travel with only hand luggage and besides that, what can be a better souvenir than our memories and photos? :) However, in Iran we decided to break this rule and bought the unique souvenir. The best thing what you can get in Iran and especially in Esfahan is a hand-knitted Persian carpet. There are many rug stores around Imam Square. As we didn’t have much space in our backpacks, we were looking for a small-size carpet. Finally, we decided on a tiny hand-knitted rug, which cost us $40. Since then, it has become a marvelous decoration of our apartment.
How Much Does It Cost? (per person)
train Yazd-Esfahan: 350 000 IRR (approx. $8)
train Esfahan-Tehran: 550 000 IRR (approx. $13)
Fee for ticket booking: €12 / 2 people = €6 (approx. $7)
Taxi (4 times): 450 000 IRR / 2 people = 225 000 IRR (approx. $5)
Double room in a hostel (one night): $20 / 2 people = $10
Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque entrance fee: 200 000 IRR (approx. $5)
Food: 600 000 IRR (approx. $14)
Persian carpet: $40 / 2 people = 20$
TOTAL for two days: $82