Tehran, the capital city of Iran, is a bustling city of 8.7 million inhabitants. Located in the north central region of the country and about a 3 hour drive from the southern tip of the Caspian Sea, Tehran is one of the more popular tourist destinations in the country. We spoke to Hamid to learn more about Tehran.
Thanks for speaking with us Hamid. Let’s say someone is thinking of visiting Tehran. What are some of the main attractions you’d recommend?
Hamid: This depends on what the tourist’s preferences are. If the tourist wants to learn more about Iranian or Persian culture, we have some very old baazars that are worthwhile going to. Tajrish Bazaar is one. You can get a flavor of our culture here, checking out the carpets, spices and handmade products. It’s very colorful and lively. There are also some Mosques nearby. Have a look at the Imamzadeh Saleh Mosque and the Giahi Mosque. Another bazaar is the Tehran Grand Bazaar. That’s the largest in the city. The whole setup looks as if things have remained the same for hundreds of years.
So that’s a tourist who’s interested in culture. What about someone who is a bit of an adrenaline junkie. Are there things to do in Tehran for a visitor like this?
Hamid: Definitely. We have 3 or 4 skiing resorts around Tehran. Dizin Ski Resort is the largest in the country. If you come during the winter season, you’ll see a lot of international people here because it’s really affordable. There’s also a place called Roof of Tehran, where they have bungee jumping, escape rooms and laser tag.
Great! What opportunities are there to meet local people in Tehran?
Hamid: I think it’s very easy. People are very attracted to tourists. Some people, even though they don’t know you, will come and take selfies with you, invite you for lunch and they might even invite you to their home. In some sense, this is a way for them to get an experience outside of Iran. Many people don’t have this opportunity. So once they get a chance to meet a tourist, they really like to communicate and talk about anything. Football teams and Hollywood movies are popular topics 🙂
What about safety? Is it safe to travel around Tehran and Iran generally?
Hamid: There are certainly some areas to avoid if you’re a solo traveler and there may be some people who are opportunistic, but I’ve seen videos of people who have come to Iran as solo travelers and they were fine. It’s generally very safe.
So just like in any destination, it’s about being aware and using common sense.
Hamid: Yes, exactly.
What are some of your favorite places to get food and drink in Tehran?
Hamid: There’s a restaurant called Shandiz. It has the best kebabs in Tehran and is very well known. But generally I think home made meals are where you can get the best food in Iran. Restaurants as we know it now didn’t really exist in my father’s time and my father is around 65 years old. So people really love home made food; moreso than outside food. You can also try the street food. There are so many options. They won’t be as well known as the large restaurants here but it’s worth trying their special desserts, drinks and some exotic foods such as lamb tongue and brain. Some people are adventurous and like to try that stuff 🙂 All food will be Halal of course.
Can you give me an example of a traditional Iranian food or drink that a tourist should try?
Hamid: They should try Doogh, pronounced ‘doo’. It’s a yoghurt-based drink that’s popular here. It can be sweet, sour or made with sparkling water. There are many variations. Also they could try Halim, which contains wheat and some form of meat such as lamb or beef. It’s very filling and people generally have it for breakfast.
What is the best way to get around Tehran?
Hamid: Taking a taxi is probably the best way to get around. We have an app called Snapp!, which is like Uber. This way you won’t have to worry about finding a parking spot. You can walk around a bit too, but the city is really big. There is an underground and buses as well. One thing to note about the buses is that there is a male and female side, so if you’re traveling with others, definitely plan beforehand which stop to get off at because it might be hard to communicate during the bus journey. Actually I’ve only been on the underground and bus once.
Really? So you live in Tehran and you’ve only taken the bus once?
Hamid: Haha, yes 🙂
Is that quite common among people living in Tehran?
Hamid: It depends on the location people need to go to. So for the bazaars, there’s no parking there so you need to take public transport or a taxi. A lot of people who work in the bazaars use the underground, but yes, it’s quite normal that people haven’t used public transport. There are too many cars on the road. We have a car here called Pride, which is the cheapest car in Iran. It’s so cheap that it’s easily affordable by many people. So many people just buy a car, don’t use public transport and just travel wherever they like. The problem with this is there’s a big traffic and parking problem in Tehran, and pollution can be quite bad at times.
From a personal perspective, what do you appreciate about living in Tehran?
Hamid: It may sound weird, but I feel some freedom here. I can get on the road and drive really fast. It’s a wonderful feeling for me. Also I appreciate the people. We’ve been under sanctions for 40 years. People can feel the pressure from this. But you still see them going on picnics and trying to enjoy life. Someone who isn’t wealthy, who may not know what situation he’ll be in tomorrow, will still be happy. They’ll tell someone who is wealthy and worried about something not to worry much about life. Just have a good time and laugh. Eat a watermelon together. People can be so inclusive and understanding. They understand that everyone has problems, often similar ones since we all live in the same country.
Do you have any other tips for a tourist visiting Tehran?
Hamid: I would say it’s good to have a driver, and even better if he can speak your language. Generally people here can understand basic English but if you need to search for a specific location or need to ask something more complex, then a driver who can speak some English will be useful.
Other than Tehran, what other cities would you recommend a tourist visit in Iran?
Hamid: I’ve been to Isfahan, Yazd and Shiraz. All three of them have so much history. We also have a big shrine in Mashhad and it’s just beautiful to look at. And actually north of Tehran has a lot of greenery and trees. People go there for the leisure parks and to rent villas with infinity pools.
Thanks for speaking with us Hamid. Great to learn more about Tehran!