All the best things to do in Tehran put into one lovely list so you don’t need to do the hard work yourself. We even included tips on where to stay in Tehran at the end. Easy!
Iran’s capital Tehran has a bit of bad rep. Nasty words like boring, ugly, and soulless are often used to describe the city, and some even skip it altogether when backpacking in Iran.
But you know what? We don’t think it’s that bad at all. Tehran is not as picturesque as let’s say Shiraz, but it does have a certain intellectual charm to it. It’s where you find the most liberal people in Iran, and many women wear heels, make-up, and hijabs that barely cover their hair. The bazaars are bustling, the traffic is absolutely insane, and the locals are ridiculously friendly.
Best Things To Do In Tehran
1. Go Graffiti Hunting At The Former American Embassy
If you’ve watched the Hollywood movie Argo, you know why the former American Embassy is a place to visit in Tehran.
If you haven’t, here’s the deal: on November 4, 1979, the US Embassy was seized by a mob of Iranian students. One thing led to another and bam, 90 people were taken hostage for 444 days inside the embassy. For Iran, the crisis had big consequences. Imam Khomeini became Supreme Leader shortly after and, well, the rest is history. International sanctions, the Iranian government retaliating by blocking Western websites, and all that. You know the story.
Further reading: How To Access The Internet In Iran
So why is visiting the embassy one of the best things to do in Tehran, 40 years after it was ransacked?
Because of the graffiti, my friend! Walk along the walls and you’ll see some wildly offensive, government-funded anti-America and anti-Israel graffiti. On a good day, the guard might even let you have a peek inside the embassy itself. But be warned: there are no official opening hours and photo permits are given according to star alignments.
2. Get Lost In Tehran’s Grand Bazaar
Need something to lighten the mood after all this doom and gloom? Then we’ve got the perfect spot for you.
No matter which Iranian city you’re in, the local bazaar is where the real fun is at. For centuries, they’ve been the place where Iranians go to hang out, to shop, to drink tea, even to pray. From the second you set foot inside, you’re overwhelmed by exotic smells and the sound of hundreds of people chatting away.
Of all the Iranian bazaars we visited, the Grand Bazaar in Tehran was by far the most hectic and definitely one of the best things to do in Tehran. The sea of people spills into even the most remote alleyways, and you can find all sorts of exciting stalls. Sweets shops, Persian rug shops, spice shops, jewels with giant colourful rings, brass workshops, you name it. Just make sure you keep an eye out for the guys wheeling around the carts everywhere. They’re fast and it’ll take them about two seconds to turn you into a flat gringo pancake!
Further reading: An Amazing Photo Journey Through The Bizarre Iranian Bazaars
3. Go Museum-Hopping
We’re not going to lie – we’re not that big on museums ourselves. But, if you do want a bit history with your Iran backpacking trip, we recommend these two Tehran museums:
- National Museum of Iran is not going to blow you away. Yeah, great recommendation, right? The care factor is quite low in terms of making the place look even slightly inviting. The explanations are, let’s say, “underwhelming” and the ticket price is just outright stupid. But here’s the thing: the museum does actually contain some pretty interesting stuff from Persepolis. Oh, and don’t forget to say hi to the Salt Man! Entry cost: 500,000 rial – ouch!
- Treasury of National Jewels is way more fun. They’ve got enough shining bling in there to leave you partially blind if you stay too long. You’ll see all sorts of fancy jewelry from the Safavid, Qajar, and Pahlavi royal families. The star of the show, though, is the impressive Peacock Throne. Only bad news? Cameras are not allowed. No Instagram smash hit this time. Entry cost: 200,000 rial
4. Eat At Restaurant Moslem
One thing that will blow you away in Iran is how ridiculously friendly people are. At Moslem, you get to mix this world-famous hospitality with some finger-lickingly good food. That’s why we think it’s one of the best local things to do in Tehran.
Even before looking at the menu (which is in Farsi, so good luck with that), you’ll know Moslem is the place to eat. On a busy day, the line stretches for a good 100 meters down the street. And as the famous backpacker saying goes: if the locals are willing to line up, you’re in for some quality grub.
It’s located in an alleyway on the corner of the square between the Toton Forosh’ha Bazaar and the Zagartha Bazaar. Before lining up, you need to get a ticket and the menu from the guy holding a big sign. If your Farsi is a bit rusty there’s about 200 Iranians around you that will be more than happy to help a confused gringo out.
We were told to try dish no. 12, also known as zereshk polow with tah-dig. It turned out to be a traditional wedding dish consisting of barberry and saffron rice with chicken. Oh, and by the way: the servings are huge! We accidentally ordered enough food to feed a medium-sized family.
Further reading: 15 Iranian Foods That Will Blow Your Mind
5. Check Out The Cool Towers
Tehran’s iconic towers are another two of the best things to do in Tehran. These buildings are both progressive and visionary in their architectural expression.
Almost sounds like we know what we’re talking about, right? We don’t. We just think the towers are really cool to look at!
- Azadi Tower or Freedom Tower was built in 1971 to mark the 2,500th anniversary of the Persian Empire. It stands on the site of the ancient western city gate and well, it looks pretty rad. The sort of inverted Y-shape they’ve got going on is quite impressive. When we found out the thing is covered in 8,000 pieces of white marble things didn’t get less cool. Remember to check out the view from the gallery at the top – it’s worth it! Entry cost: 150,000 rial
- Milad Tower is higher than Azadi but slightly less wow. It looks like a 435-m-high spaceship sticking out of Tehran’s otherwise flat skyline. It’s apparently also the world’s 6th tallest free-standing tower. There’s an open observation deck and a revolving restaurant to keep you busy if you do make it out there. Entry cost: 120,000 rial
6. Visit Golestan Palace
You can’t have a list of best things to do in Tehran without mentioning Golestan Palace. It’s one of the top tourist attractions in Iran, and we can’t deny it’s a pretty impressive Persian palace.
What we can question is whether it’s worth the ticket price. The general admission is 150,000 rial and then you buy additional tickets for the specific sections you want to visit. There’s a total of nine different sections and the tickets are 80,000-150,000 rial each. You do the math. If you get carried away, your food budget could be facing some serious cuts.
If you’re a budget backpacker like us, we recommend just visiting the Mirror Hall or Talar e Aineh. It’s the most famous hall in the palace, and you’ll get a good taste of how lavish the whole place is. There’s literally mirrors everywhere, even on the ceiling. With the general admission you also get access to the beautiful garden which is not too shabby either.
Further reading: Our Costs And Budget For Backpacking In Iran
7. Hang Out On Tabiat Bridge
Speaking of cool constructions, here’s another one for you. The Tabiat or Nature Bridge is a pedestrian bridge that connects two public parks in northern Tehran. It also runs over one of the city’s busiest highways. Don’t think that sounds particularly fun?
Alright, then get this. This is not your typical bridge. Since its inauguration in 2014, it’s become one of the most popular spots to hang out in Tehran. It’s a multilevel bridge with benches and seating everywhere. How cool is that?
Head there in the evenings and you’ll see heaps of chitchatting Iranians. On a clear day, the views of the Alborz Mountains are pretty sick, too.
Tabiat Bridge also represents a new generation of more open-minded Iranians. Why? Well, for one, the architect is a young Iranian woman. Second, bridges are pretty huge in Persian architecture. The fact that Tehran has embraced a new version of this old tradition shows you just how progressive this city is and why this is one of the best things to do in Tehran!
8. Catch The Subway
Catch the subway? Did these guys already run out of the best things to do in Tehran?
We know what you’re thinking, but we promise Tehran’s subway is unlike any subway you’ve ever been on.
You see, all public transport in Iran is divided by gender. When you’re waiting for the subway, you’ll notice a yellow line on the platform marking the limit between the men’s and the women’s section. The train itself is also divided by metal bars. That means the first, the second, and the last carriage is all women, while the rest of the train is for men and women accompanied by men.
It might sound a little hairy and scary, but don’t worry. The rules are generally bent for us gringos. We chose to travel in separate carriages, but the one time Liam ended up with the women, they simply laughed and told him not to bother getting off.
So, there you go – if you like your metro ride with a side of religious rules, Tehran’s subway is your spot.
Further reading: 82 Things To Know Before You Travel To Iran
9. Visit Imam Khomeini’s Mausoleum
In fact, while you’re on the subway, you might as well ride it out to Imam Khomeini’s Mausoleum. It’s a good 45-minute ride outside of Tehran, but it’s worth the journey because of its overwhelming extravagance.
More than a mausoleum, this place feels like a deserted mini city. Everything is huge; the car park has space for 20,000 cars, there’s an on-site Islamic university, and there’s enough gold and diamonds to buy a small country. Construction has been underway since 1989 and there’s still a few scaffolds here and there. This does make the overall vibe a bit sterile, but hey, you get to look at some pretty rocks.
If you want the full experience you should head out to the mausoleum on a Friday (which is like western societies Sunday) around prayer time. It’ll be jam-packed and you’re pretty sure to get a good story for the backpack. After the prayer you can pop into the Behesht-e Zahra cemetery next door. It’s Iran’s largest cemetery and thousands of big fish from the royal family, as well as, the Islamic Revolution are buried here.
10. Ride The Subway To The Ski Slopes
Oh yeah, it’s time to shred!
Don’t feel bad if you had no idea skiing was a thing in Iran – we didn’t either. But yeah, it turns out the Alborz Mountains just behind Tehran is a bit of a skiers paradise. The season is ridiculously long and runs from November all the way to late May. There are a few resorts to choose from:
- Tochal: quite small and mostly for beginners, but check this out – you can ride the subway almost straight to the lift! Get off at Tajrish Metro and catch a short taxi to the bottom lift
- Dizin: the biggest and most popular resort around Tehran (and there are heaps of upper-class youngsters on the weekend)
- Shemshak: smaller than Dizin but the terrain is more varied
If for some weird reason, you don’t carry a snowboard in your backpack, you can rent your gear on the mountain. It’s reasonably cheap with day passes at 500,000 – 1.2 million rial ($15-30) and gear for the day around 1 million rials ($30).
Where To Stay In Tehran
As you can see, the best things to do in Tehran will keep you busy for a few days. So, unless you’re Couchsurfing in Iran, that means you’ll need a bed to crash in. Luckily, we’ve got two excellent recommendations that we’ve personally stayed at:
- Persian Hostel was one of the best places we stayed in Iran! There’s a cool cafe and English school on the ground floor, and the owners are just unreal. Those guys take being friendly and awesome to a whole new level. If you go, say hi to Adel for us!
- Seven Hostel is located smack-bang in the middle of the city next to one of Tehran’s biggest metro stations. There’s no mixed dorms, the breakfast is decent, and it’s normally full of happy little backpackers. It books out most nights, so you might not want to wing this one.
Hey. Pssst. One more thing. Remember you need a hostel or hotel reservation for at least the first night to get the Iran visa on arrival. Have a read of our step-by-step guide if you want to make sure you’ve got everything covered.
Azadi Tower: Chris Blackhead CC BY 2.0
Tabiat Bridge: Mohammad Hassan Ettefagh CCO
Dizin ski field: Ninara CC BY 2.0