Tehran – the capital city of Iran and one of the biggest metropolis in the world. It’s definitely a place that have many various faces. But the most important question is: are those faces dengerous? Media make us associate Iran with nuclear weapon, but how the reality looks like? Here is the whole truth: among tourist attractions you can also expect admiring parks in the heart of urban jungle with overcrowded streets and crazy traffic. Historical sites coexist there with modern architecture and visitors may try delicious Persian food at the same time as smelling the heavily-polluted smoggy air. But the best is waiting for you in every Iranian city: super-welcoming and friendly locals that will make you feel safe as nowhere before. Check out our travel guide and find out how to visit Tehran – unusual tourist destination!
How To Get To Tehran
We’re almost sure that your point of arrival in Iran will be the airport in Tehran called Imam Khomeini International Airport or in a more simple way by a code – IKA. It’s the main airport in the country and most of foreign tourists enter Iran right there. It has a pretty developed net of budget flights with Europe, which is linked with Tehran through Istanbul by a low-cost carrier Pegasus Airlines.
Return flights from Istanbul to Tehran will cost you from $160 or if you start from one of major European cities and have a stopover in Istanbul you will need to pay a bit more – prices start from $230-$300 RT. Alternative way is to take plane of Azerbaijan Airlines from Kiev and have a stopover in Baku (or just start from Azerbaijan) and then head for Tehran. Often there are big bargains for this route and you can buy it from $120 RT – like we did. Moreover, using the planes allows you to obtain a visa at the airport – we described how to deal with all the border procedures in the article Iran Visa on Arrival.
How To Get To The City From Tehran Airport (IKA)
Tehran airport is located far from the city. If you land there, the easiest, cheapest and the most effective way to get to the city is by metro. The line 8 was recently opened and goes on the route Airport Terminal A – City. The ride takes 35 minutes and costs just 7000 IRR (approx. $0.15). You should get off at Shahed Station at the Tehran’s suburbs to transfer to the line 1, which take you directly to the city center. The downside of airport metro is its frequency. It goes every 80 minutes, so if you are late you will have to wait pretty long or take the taxi.
*When you arrive at the Shahed metro station you can go out to see Holy Shrine of Imam Khomeini, which is a walkable distance from the station. As the Shrine is still quite far from the city center and on the way to the airport, it’s worth to plan to see it while getting from/to the airport.
Taxi from the airport has a fixed price (no bargain possible) and costs 750 000 IRR (approx. $16). Many taxi drivers wait for passengers in front of the terminal and for this price taxi can take you anywhere you want in the area of Tehran. Take only official taxis (yellow cars) as they are safe and reliable. If you want to go directly to your hotel, it’s better to have its name and more importantly – address written in Farsi as the driver may speak limited/no English. The duration of the ride to the center depends on the traffic, but usually takes around an hour.
If you travel on a budget and don’t mind little hassle, there’s one way to have your car ride from the airport for less price than the one of a regular taxi. You just need to use an application on smartphones called Snapp – it’s very similar to Uber. It’s possible to pay by cash using this app, but you need to have an Iranian phone number as it doesn’t work for foreign ones. You can easily buy your Iranian SIM card with some Internet data at the airport.
How To Get Around Tehran
The answer is very simple – just use metro! Tehran has a well-developed metro network. And what’s even more important it’s very cheap. You pay 10 000 IRR (approx. $0.25) for a single ticket regardless of the distance. Tickets can be bought from the booths at every station. If you plan to use metro often, you can buy a contactless card. It’s possible to use it multiple times and pay less for each journey.
Using other means of transport in Tehran usually doesn’t make any sense as the city is extremely large and only metro can quickly cover long distances there. If you have to take a taxi, you should take only the official ones (yellow cars) as they are reliable. You should negotiate the price beforehand and pay when you reach your destination. Avoid private drivers, as you never know who they are and what intensions they have. During our journey around Iran we took official taxis multiple times and everything was fine. When at one time we tested an unofficial car, it failed – the driver demanded more money than it was agreed (of course, we argued with him and didn’t pay more than we should, but still the situation was unpleasant). Iranians also advice tourists to take only official taxis, so it’s probably a quite common issue.
Remember that some carriages in the metro are reserved only for women. Men can’t go there or if they do, they can pay a fine. Of course, women can use all carriages they want (female ones as well as mixed ones). However, it’s a good idea for solo-traveling woman or group of females to use female carriages. They are usually not so crowded and it’s much easier to find a free seat there than in mixed ones.
Also please remember that men shouldn’t seat next to strange women in all means of transport in Iran. Men are allowed to seat next to women only if they are their wives or other family members. As a result, it happens all the time in Iran that people change seats in order to enable strangers to take their seats without breaking this rule.
So we have a small advice for you how to behave properly in Iranian public transport: If you are a couple seating in some public transport and there’s a free seat next to you and you spot some stranger who may want to seat there, please take your seats in such a configuration that will enable this person to seat next to you. Simply – men seats next to men and women next to women. Sometimes you can see funny situations when it turns out that almost all people in the carriage or bus have to change their seats at the same time to organize it properly. But rules are rules! :)
Most important metro stations:
Meydan-e Azadi – line 4 (Azadi Tower)
Panzdah Khordad – line 1 (Golestan Palace)
Taleghani – line 1 (Former US Embassy)
Shahid Haqqani – linie 1 (Tabiat Bridge)
Imam Khomeini – line 1 and 2 (Amir Kabir St – many budget hotels)
Shahed – line 1 and 8 (airport transfer / Holy Shrine of Imam Khomeini)
What To Do In Tehran
The monumental tower is a symbol of the city and one of the most prominent landmarks in Iran. It was founded during the Shah’s reining in the country. He decided to use white marble to build it, so the total cost of the project was about six million dollars! It was also a witness of important events in Iranian history like during Islamic Revolution in 1979 when people were gathering to protest against the monarch.
The complex of royal palaces and gardens, which was a residence of Shahs’s dynasties throughout hundreds of years. The base entrance fee is 150 000 IRR (approx. $3.50) and it allows you to enter the gardens only. If you want to see the palace from inside, you need to pay extra. In order to do that you have many options to choose as every part of the Golestan requires a separate ticket. As a result, seeing the whole complex is a bit pricey. It probably may not be so interesting for an average tourist too. That’s why we recommend to buy a ticket only to the Main Halls for 100 000 IRR ($2.5). This part of Palace includes the most important sites. Notice: No pictures allowed inside! The suggested time for visiting Golestan is up to 2 hours.
FORMER US EMBASSY
It’s the very important place for Iranian recent history. During Shah’s reigning the Embassy was used for spying and gaining the harming influence over Iran by CIA. However, during the Islamic Revolution in 1979 Iranian students supporting the revolution leader Ayatollah Khomeini stormed the Embassy and has been holding American diplomats and Embassy workers hostage for over a year. This event ended the US-Iranian diplomatic relationships and finished the negative impact that USA was making on Iran throughout the years. Recently the Embassy was changed into the museum and visitors can see it from the inside. But the most known site of this place, where taking photo is a must for every tourist, are murals with anti-American paintings on the Embassy’s walls. No one can miss the opportunity to take a picture with the skull-head Statue of Liberty in the background!
After some historical spots, it’s time for a bit of current times. Tabiat Bridge is a well-designed construction and a perfect example of modern Iranian architecture. Also it’s located in the nice area of Tehran where you can find much greenery.
From the bridge you can observe big mountains as well as the panorama of the city with famous Milad Tower.
Sleeping, Eating, Safety and Other Tips
Tehran has many cheap hotels waiting for budget travelers. The cheapest possible one is Mashhad Hostel. They charge 500 000 IRRR / $16 for a basic double room with shared bathroom. Payment upon check out can be done in rials or dollars, so according to exchange rate paying in rials turns out to be a bit cheaper. The guy from staff seems to be unconcerned and bored, but all in all he’s very helpful.
The hotel is situated in a great location – on Amir Kabir Street right in the city center close to Imam Khomeini metro station. This hotel can be booked by e-mail and they can provide you a booking confirmation required for Iran Visa on Arrival application. Don’t confuse this hotel with other one in Tehran with similar name – look for this one on Amir Kabir Street.
The most popular food in the whole 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. 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.
In Tehran when we left Golestan Palace and started wandering along the streets to find something to eat, some local people recommend us an amazing and hidden local restaurant that is very famous among Iranians for serving kebabs. This restaurant was crowded with local people and it was hard to find a free table inside. Like always many local people in the restaurant means that the place serves good and fresh food. And this rule worked that time as well!
We waited a while in a queue and then ordered chelo kebab and chicken rice for a standard price. The staff appreciated that we found their restaurant and decided to eat there, so they gave us a big bottle of coke for free. The food was so yummy and it was definitely the best dining we had during our trip in Iran. The place is called Kavian Restaurant and is located on the small Rouhi Alley nearby Golestan Palace. However, this information won’t be useful for you as the restaurant doesn’t exist on popular online maps. To find this great restaurant you just need to find Okhovvat Hotel and go behind the building.
You may also try lavash – traditional soft flatbread making in tandoor, which is popular not only in Iran, but also in many countries in Western Asia. It’s a good pick for a breakfast.
Remember that many restaurants and stores in Iran are closed in late afternoons and are opened again after dark in the evenings. That’s why it’s important to plan to eat a dinner a bit early or very late.
Fridays are regular day-offs in Iran, so the gastronomy and other services may have shorter opening hours or have a break during the day.
Also remember that during Ramadan it’s forbidden to eat and drink in public between sunrise and sunset. Also many restaurants may be closed or work limited hours that time. Please check before your trip if you are going to be in Iran or other Muslim country during the Holy Month to get ready for these obstacles. Note that Ramadan starts and ends on different days each year.
As alcohol is strictly forbidden in Iran, you may try some tasty non-alcoholic drinks. When it’s hot, it’s a good idea to reach out for malt beverages. They are alcohol-free beers, commonly called Iranian beers. They are produced in many different flavors and can be bought in every store or restaurant.
Iran is a very safe country with endlessly friendly and hospitable people. As the government restricts Iranian to go abroad, people are very curious about foreigners and other countries. They always want to chat with them for a while or make a photo. It’s also common that locals invite travelers to their homes, prepare dinners and just want to get to know them and their culture. Also they want to show the traditional Iranian hospitability. Sometimes in other situations when tourists ask locals where to find some attraction, Iranians take tourists by their cars there instead of just showing the direction. And what’s even more impressive, they never expect anything in exchange. After your vacation in Iran, you will see how this country looks for real and how Western media spread propaganda about this wonderful place!
All women in Iran (including foreign tourists) have to wear scarf in public places to cover their hair. It’s very important, so don’t forget to bring the scarf with you from your home as you have to put it on when you are leaving the aircraft.
Also women have to wear long sleeve tops and long trousers. On the other hand, men have to wear long trousers, but can choose between long and short sleeves. Sleeveless tops are not allowed for both sexes. Also bikini and any swimwears are forbidden (even on the beaches) as well as see-through clothes.
Although the official currency of Iran is rial, all prices are quoted in tomans. One toman is nothing other than just 10 rials. People created this system in order to operate with smaller amounts on a daily basis. Probably you noticed that even for small things prices can go up to many thousands or even millions of rials. Iranians got tired of it and invented tomans. Notes and coins are the same, so you must exchange everything in your mind. At the beginning it may be a little confusing, but with some time you will get used to it.
Here you are an example: A bottle of water costs normally in Iran 10 000 rials, but the seller may ask you for one thousand tomans (what is completely the same) or he may simply refer it to “one” or “one toman” skipping the word thousand. It’s much easier to say “ten” or “ten thousand” than “one hundred thousand”, isn’t it? If you are not sure if the price you see is quoted in rials or tomans, just ask the seller about it to avoid misunderstanding. Below you have a formula, which should help you (Yes, this formula may seem to be illogical, but believe us – it makes sense!).
10 000 IRR (rials) = 1 000 tomans = 1 toman
You can exchange your money at the Tehran airport, but instead of using the counter at the arrival hall you should head to the departure area. They have surprisingly good exchange rates. The easiest currencies to exchange are euro and dollar, however sometimes it’s possible to exchange other currencies as well.
Remember that you have to bring only cash to Iran. According to international sanctions put on this country, it’s not possible to pay by foreign cards, withdraw from ATMs or use bank services there. Your debit and credit card will be completely useless, so bring enough cash with you for the whole your stay in Iran and keep some amount just in case.
You are not allowed to share your room with your boyfriend/girlfriend. Only married couples may share the hotel room. Usually hotel staff doesn’t pay attention if you are married or not, but there are reports that some hotels ask for certificate of marriage upon check in. But remember that law is severe in Iran and you can get into big trouble when the police catch you.
Any homosexual relationships are strictly forbidden and heavily punished including death penalties.
Singing and dancing in public is forbidden.
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube are blocked by the government along with some news websites. However Instagram works normally.
Visit Tehran On A Budget? How Much Does It Cost? (Per Person)
Visa On Arrival: €75 (approx. $86)
taxi from the airport to the city center: 750 000 IRR / 2 people = 375 000 IRR (approx. $9)
taxi from Shahed station to the airport: 400 000 IRR / 2 people = 200 000 IRR (approx. $5)
hotel (two nights): 1 000 000 IRR / 2 people = 500 000 IRR (approx. $12)
public transport: 60 000 IRR (approx. $1.50)
food: 600 000 IRR (approx. $15)
Golestan Palace: 250 000 IRR (approx. $6)
TOTAL for 2 days in Tehran (excluding other Iranian cities): $255