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Things to do in Tehran, Iran: An interview with a resident

Tehran, the capital city of Iran, is a bustling city of around 9 million residents that’s come a long way since its description by Sir Thomas Herbert in 1627 as a city with about three thousand houses. Known for its rich history, vibrant bazaars and Persian cuisine, Tehran is located in the north central region of the country and is about a 3 hour drive from the southern tip of the Caspian Sea. Tehran is a popular tourist destination in Iran, which received over 4 million visitors in 2022. We spoke to Hamid to learn more about the city.

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 bazaars that are worthwhile going to. Tajrish Bazaar is one. You can get a flavour 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 for a tourist who’s interested in culture. What about someone who wants to be a bit more active?

Hamid: Definitely. We have 5 sking 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 (Bam-e Tehran), where they have bungee jumping, escape rooms and laser tag.

What can a tourist expect during their visit to Tehran?

Hamid: You’ll have a great time visiting Iran, and the reason I say this is because of the people here. We’re very friendly 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 to meet their family. 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.

Azadi Tower, Tehran, Iran
Azadi Tower, Tehran, Iran. Photo credit: Alireza Heydarifard

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 of your surroundings and using common sense.

Hamid: Yes, exactly.

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, a type of porridge that 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 in Tehran?

Hamid: Taking a taxi is probably the best way to get around. We have apps called Snapp and Tap30, which are 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. 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. 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.

Ferdos Garden, Tehran, Iran
Ferdos Garden, Tehran, Iran. Photo credit: Omid Armin

From a personal perspective, what do you appreciate about living in Tehran?

Hamid: The people here are inspirational. We’ve been under sanctions for decades and people can feel the pressure from this. There are people whose livelihoods aren’t secure and they don’t know what the next day or week will bring. But you still see them going on picnics and trying to enjoy life. Even towards those who have money, they’ll be encouraging and tell them not to worry too much about things. We understand that people have their own problems, and given that we all live in the same country, we are affected by similar issues. But this doesn’t stop people from enjoying life and helping each other.

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 would 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.

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