After meeting up at the airport in Istanbul, Steve and I boarded the plane to Tehran, the capital of Iran, and at 4.05 AM on January 13th, we arrived. When we arrived at the airport in Tehran, we had to go through a few things to get our Iranian visa. First, it’s obligatory to get medical insurance, which cost us both 16 USD. I think they do that because most insurance companies in western countries don’t cover Iran.
Afterwards, we had to fill in a form and hand over our passports to get the visa. The visa cost me 79 USD and Steve 153 USD. Apparently, there are different prices for different countries! The whole process only took about 25 minutes, which is very quick for a visa, so that was really nice.
Off to the hostel we went in a private cab, which set us back 10 USD each. We decided to stay at Seven Hostel in Central Tehran and arrived there at about 5.30 AM, when the sun had not yet risen. Instead of going to sleep, I decided to take a shower to wake myself up a bit, so I could be ready for the long day of sightseeing! Unfortunately, I hadn’t been able to get any sleep on the flights either, but sleep would simply have to wait.
First impression of Tehran
Tehran is a huge city with 16 million inhabitants. The traffic, as expected, is crazy, but not on the same level as Beijing and Jakarta, although bad enough for me to fear for our lives a few times. There are a few pedestrian crossings with traffic lights, but most of them have none, so you simply have to just walk and hope that the cars will stop for you (talk about scary!).
In Tehran, I was surprised to see that women dress very liberally. I knew that it wasn’t going to be all burqas, but the way that some of the women in Tehran wear their hijabs, it kind of looks like they aren’t wearing one at all. Women in Tehran are very fashionable and for the most part, they dress like women in any other country, with the exception of the obligatory hijab. All women have to wear a hijab, including tourists, so I was on the look-out for good ways to wear it in Tehran!
Ferdowai Street, aka. Exchange Street
Before going sightseeing, we walked to Ferdowai Street to exchange some money, and that was when we realized that it was Friday, the sabbath for muslims, a day set aside for rest and worship. Hardly any shops in Tehran are open on Fridays, and finding an open exchange shop was impossible. Instead, we settled for a guy on the street, who exchanged 50 euros for us. We initially wanted to exchange more, but it’s always risky when dealing with a seller on the street. It turned out to be legit though.
Naser Khosrow Street and Golestan Palace
Afterwards, we walked to the very center of the city and walked along the Naser Khosrow street. This was my favourite part of the city, as it was much quieter and cleaner than anywhere else we’d seen. We walked to the famous Golestan Palace, a former royal Qajar complex, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The palace is descibed as “a masterpiece of the Qajar era, embodying the successful integration of earlier Persian crafts and architecture with Western influences” and it certainly lives up to its reputation. The palace is AMAZING, both inside and out, and despite having to pay for entrance, I can really recommend seeing the main hall with its gorgeous mirror rooms – oh how I would love to live in a room full of mirrors!
Imam Khomeini Mosque
Afterwards, we had planned to see the Imam Khomeini Mosque, but unfortunately, that was closed for the day, so we only saw it from the outside. The good thing is, I was able to entertain myself for a while with the hundreds of cats that were roaming the streets. Some were friendly and wanted to talk, but most of them ran away from me. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any food to give them, but it was nice to see that the cats of Tehran generally look healthy and cared for.
The Grand Bazaar
The Grand Bazaar of Tehran was also closed due to it being Friday, but we walked through the quiet and shut-down place to get to a metro station, and it was HUGE to put it lightly! I wish we could’ve experienced it with life and open stalls, but maybe some other time!
We got to the metro, bought our ticket and went downunder to wait for the train. By this time, my feet were killing me and my legs were sore – definitely a symptom of not travelling for a while! After moving to Copenhagen, I’ve been biking almost everywhere, so it was a big change to suddenly be walking again, haha!
The metro in Tehran is kind of a funny thing. They drive regularly like metros in other big cities, but that’s where the similarity ends. All metros in Tehran have a section that says “Women only” with a sign for a woman being a face in a hijab. Men aren’t allowed in this section, but women are allowed to sit anywhere they want. The only thing is that men most likely won’t sit beside you, so they might get up, when you sit down beside them (this happened to me on one occasion).
The metro came, but it was jam-packed! I couldn’t believe my eyes, but then I remembered that 16 million people have to go and come back from work every day, so the metros are bound to be full!
Shah Abdul Azim Shrine
Because of my hurting feet and legs, and the metro which was too full for me to handle at the moment, we decided to catch a taxi instead. The driver took us to the Shah Abdul Azim Shrine in the Shahr-e Rey suburb, which is really really beautiful. The shrine contains the tomb of ‘Abdul ‘Adhim ibn ‘Abdillah al-Hasani, who died in the 9th century. He was a 5th generation descendant of Hasan ibn ‘Ali and a companion of Muhammad al-Taqi.
Steve and I had to part to see the tomb, as women and men aren’t allowed in together. We walked in separate lines and soon I was surrounded by burqas and hijabs. There were so many people there that getting to the tomb would’ve been impossible. For the entire walk, I was pushed and shoved and had to do the same myself to get through. It was a miracle that everyone could breathe. Apart from the huge crowd of people, the shrine was a really good experience.
The last thing on our itinerary for the day was the iconic Azadi Tower, one of the symbols of Tehran. It was built in 1971 with white marble stone and includes 8000 blocks of stone. Getting there was more confusing that it should’ve been. We took several (full) metros to try to find it, and when we eventually did, I was so exhausted that I couldn’t be bothered walking up to it, so instead I just shot this picture through the trees:
The city of Tehran definitely lived up to my (slightly low) expectations. The city is huge, loud and smoggy, but it still has its beautiful sides and I especially loved the Golestan Palace and the Shah Abdul Azim Shrine. Going to Tehran doesn’t give you a real insight into the Iranian culture and lifestyle, just like any other capital in the world doesn’t represent its country in any way, so I was really happy to be getting out of the city early the next day and to be seeing something new! Stay tuned for Kashan, our next stop.
Here’s some useful information on travelling to Tehran:
- Getting an Iranian visa is an easy process for most western countries, but it’s best to check with your local embassy before going. It’s possible to get a visa before going to Iran, or you can get a visa on arrival like we did, depending on which country you’re from. The prices are different from country to country. I’m from Denmark and paid 79 USD, and Steve is from Australia and paid 153 USD. Medical insurance for 16 USD is mandatory for tourists.
- Remember to bring plenty of USD or Euros to Iran, as international credit cards don’t work in the country!
- Much of the internet is blocked in Iran, including Facebook, Snapchat, YouTube and Twitter, so downloading a vpn to your computer and/or phone is advisable.
- A taxi from the Khomeini airport to your accommodation in Tehran costs 20 USD.
- We stayed at Seven Hostel, which cost us 10 USD each, including breakfast. They only have a male and a female dorm, no mixed dorms. The showers are hot, but the breakfast is very basic and the Wi-Fi slow and limited.
- We didn’t find any city maps in Tehran, only a metro and bus map, so it’s best to download an app to your phone, so you don’t get lost in this massive city.
- The metro in Tehran is very overcrowded and sometimes it’s impossible to get in, especially with backpacks, so taxis or walking is recommended.