Tehran Backpacking Travel Guide

Information on hostels, transportation, cheap food and drinks, sights to see, activities and more.

About Tehran


Tehran will be the starting point for many travellers coming to Iran, chiefly because it is the easiest and cheapest city to fly to. Tehran is a cosmopolitan city, with great museums, parks, restaurants and warm friendly people. It deserves at least a few days of your Iranian itinerary and shouldn't be discarded as destination worth visiting, despite the obvious attraction of the cities to the south.

Tehran was described to me by a local as a city that never sleeps, and one where you can get whatever you want and be whoever you want. In a country like Iran, where freedoms are often limited, the attraction to Tehran becomes obvious. If you manage to dig a little deeper into Tehran, you will see a side of Iranian life that you won't in the smaller cities to the south.

Hostels


Tehran Hostel

I arrived at Tehran Hostel at 3am and they were very welcoming. The reception desk operates 24hr/day. The price is quoted as $10/night on the website, this is for their cheapest 10 bed dorm. When you arrive I would recommend checking to see if one of the other dorms is available as the 10 bed dorm is very close to the reception desk and quite noisy. The 6 bed dorm located upstairs is a better option. Free breakfast every morning as well as coffee and tea. A good mix of travellers come through here from all over the world, plenty of who are travelling solo.

Seven Hostel

The first hostel in Iran and probably the best. It is also the most popular hostel, so it is recommended to avoid trying to make a last-minute booking. At $15 it is little more expensive than Tehran Hostel, but the location and the dorms makes up for it. Being the most popular hostel, it's a great pick if you are looking to meet people that you can travel with in Iran.

See You In Iran Hostel and Cafe

See You in Iran is a new hostel in Iran that has just opened. The name comes from the popular Facebook group, See You in Iran. This Facebook group is popular among Iranians and travellers to share travel information on Iran. The founders of the hostel have followed the same principle with the hostel as they have the Facebook group. This lovely hostel and café provides comfy accommodation for travellers and locals to hang out together and enjoy Tehran. Breakfast is not included in the $15 price for a dorm, most likely to encourage people to use the attached cafe.

Couchsurfing in Tehran

Couchsurfing in Iran is, somewhat surprisingly, incredible popular. A quick search on couchsurfing.com shows 42,725 hosts available in Tehran. This is an astonishing number given that officially, couchsurfing is illegal in Iran (this rule is not enforced). You can find many travel blogs from people who have had a lot of success using couchsurfing in Iran, including my own couchsurfing experience.

As part of the Iran visa on arrival process you need to give details of your first accommodation in Iran. As such, many travellers who plan to use couchsurfing while in Tehran will book a hostel for their first night of accommodation and then meet their host for the second night. A lot of flights also arrive very late into IKA, another reason to book a hostel for your first night and couchsurf on following nights.

Money Exchange


The main money exchange point in Tehran is found in Ferdowsi square. There are half a dozen exchanges located on the south side of this square. Most of the shops have prices listed in decimal as well as Arabic numerals. The exchange shops use fixed rates with no commission. They are safe, quick and easy to use. You will almost certainly be approached on the street as you go to work into these exchange shops by illegal traders who want to change with you on the street. You should politely ignore them and walk straight into one of the exchange shops that display rates in the windows.

Sights and Highlights


Golestan Palace

The Golestan Palace was Qajars' royal residence, and its garden an oasis in the heart of the city. The Qajar dynasty ruled in Iran until 1925 when the Pahlavi dynasty took over. The Complex consists of 17 palaces, museums, and Halls. Golestan Palace was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2013. The cost for admission to the gardens is 150,000 IRR (4€). Admission to other buildings is 150,000 IRR (4€) main buildings and 80,000 IRR (2€) for other buildings and museums. I recommend purchasing entry to the gardens plus one other main building such as the Mirror Hall. Entry is from  9:00 - 18:00. The museums close at 17:00.

Tehran

Former US Embassy

The Embassy of the United States of America in Tehran was the United States of America's diplomatic mission in Iran. Diplomatic relations between the two governments were severed after the Iranian Revolution in 1979, and subsequent seizure of the embassy in November 1979 and the Iran hostage crisis.

The former embassy now houses a museum, the US Den of Espionage. It showcases the area of the Embassy that it is believed the CIA used as their base of operations in Iran up until the revolution. There is also a collection of anti-American and Israeli art work found inside and towards to front entrance to the former embassy. Definitely worth a look if you're after an insight into the current state of the Iran - American relationship. Not the kind of tourist site you will be used to seeing if you typically travel through the western world.

Tehran

Niavaran Complex

The Golestan Palace was the residence for the Qajar dynasty, however during the subsequent Pahvlavi dynasty the royal residence was moved to Niavaran house, later renamed, Saheb Qaranie House. The complex contains several old palace buildings, a museum and gardens.

Niavaran Complex is located about 4km from the Tajrish metro station. Taxis leave from Tajrish Square, ask to be dropped off at Niavaran Square (maydoone Niavaran). A taxi should cost 20,000-30,000 IRR. While there are taxis at the front gate, on leaving the palace a cheaper option is to use a municipal bus which terminates at Tajrish Square. Look for a bus stop on Niavaran St. that is close to a branch of the Refah Bank.

Ahmad-Shahi Pavilion

Mount Tochal

There is a recreation area on Mount Tochal that offers hiking trails, a ski resort, gym and other activities. It's also a great place to get some scenic views over Tehran and enjoy a little peace and quiet in contrast to the bustling city. Usually people get to the top using the cable car. The departure point of which is at the telecabin first station. If going to the top, bring a jacket, even in summer, as the summit is 4,000 m above sea level so it can be chilly. The price for using the telecabin ranges from 100,000-380,000 IRR depending on how far up the mountain you want to go. You can see the prices at http://tochal.org/.../TicketPriceList.

To reach Tochal telecabin, take the metro line 1 to Tajrish station, then a minibus (15,000 IRR) or a taxi to the telecabin entry gate. From the entry gate a minibus service (10,000 IRR) can take you to the 1st station.

On the way up to Tochal

Azadi Tower

The Azadi Tower is a famous monument in Tehran and one you will likely have seen many pictures during research for your trip. It is definitely worth a visit. In order to get to there you can catch the BRT on red line 1 to Azadi bus station. There is also a metro stop located on line 4 called Azadi Square or Meydan-e Azadi. Don't confuse this with another station called Azadi that is located on lines 2 and 4. This stop is actually two stops east of the tower.

Azadi Tower

To Eat


In a city the size of Tehran, cheap food is never far away. Rather than attempt to list places you should try, I will instead mention two of the quick budget meals I enjoyed in Tehran.

Kebab

Kebab in Iran is a little different to most other areas of the world. Here the meat, typically lamb, beef or chicken, is skewered onto a long metal rod resembling a small sword. The meat stick is then grilled and served on a plate with saffron rice, grilled tomatoes, onion and a Persian flat bread like Sangak.

Royal Joojeh and Koobideh

The dish is then often served with a wedge of lemon, and salt and spice to add to taste. Check out Theculturetrip.com - Most delicious chelo kebab in Tehran for a list of good restaurants. Or just ask at your hostel!

Hot Dogs

In Iran, you will not find doner kebab and falafel on every corner like you would in other middle eastern countries. Iranians do eat kebab, as above, but it is a sit down meal eaten with rice rather than to take-away. Taking on the role of quick takeaway food in Iran is ubiquitous hot dog, and the Iranians make very good hotdogs! They will often slice up the sausage and mix it with a variety of sources and fry it up on a hot plate. They add this to the hot dog bun along with a delicious mix of pickled vegetables and fresh tomato. It eats more like a kebab or burger than a hot dog.

Hotdogs in Iran

Cafes


They can be a little difficult to find, but there is a slowly growing cafe culture in Tehran. For so long in this area of the world, tea has been the go to drink of choice and in Iran this is certainly the case. I did some research while in Tehran on where to find cafes serving decent coffee and created this map. Hopefully it helps you in your search for a caffeine hit.

Transportation


From the Airport

Most travellers arriving in Iran by air will do so at Imam Khomeini International Airport. In order to get to the city from the airport you will either need to catch a taxi, or a shuttle followed by a trip on the metro. Taxi fares from IKA to anywhere in the metro area are fixed at 20€. A cheaper option is to get a shuttle from IKA to Shahed Station on the red metro line and use the metro network from there. However I have no experience trying to find the departure point of these shuttles taxis.

When I stayed at Tehran Hostel, I was able to arrange for transport from the airport for the fantastic price of 10€. Half the price of a normal taxi! I really recommend checking with your accommodation to see if they off an airport pickup.

Local Transport

Tehran has a modern transport system consisting of an underground metro system and an above ground network of buses. Check out this route map for the metro to make getting around easy. The metro is safe and easy to use. Most of the signage is in English as well as Farsi.

The bus system in Tehran is called the Tehran Bus Rapid Transit or simply the BRT. Check out this map for the BRT for a guide to using it. The most useful of these lines is the red line no. 1 that runs east to west. It is a very convenient way to reach the Azadi tower located near the lines western terminus. It also has a stop very close to Tehran Hostel, namely Sabalan station.

By far the easiest way to buy tickets on the metro system and BRT is with a metro card. These cards can be quickly loaded with money from many loading booths located in all metro stations and a lot of BRT stations as well. Tickets are very cheap when using the pre-loaded metro card

Tehran metro card

Tehran metro card. The picture on the card is of a booth on the street where you can purchase and reload.

Getting In and Out

Kashan, Isfahan or Yazd

Heading south to these destinations is very easy. Firstly, you need to make your way to the South Bus Terminal. This terminal is conveniently located next to a metro station on the no. 1 line, it is called Terminal-e Jonoob or also known as South Terminal.

From the bus terminal you can find high quality coach buses to every city in the south. As soon as you walk into this bus terminal it is likely you will be immediately approached by someone asking you where you want to go. "Isfahan, Yazd, Kashan?!" repeat x 10. My interpretation of the situation is that if you tell this person where you want to go, he will take you to the correct booth to purchase your ticket. However you probably end up paying about 25¢ extra for the ticket due to a 'finders fee'. It is up to you whether you attempt to find your way to the correct booth on your own or not.

The intercity buses are often referred to as VIP buses. To me, this implies that there is also a non VIP option available, potentially for less money, but I never saw this option and suspect there isn't one. VIP buses all the way! These buses come with a small food pack and spacious reclining seats. But no toilet! Make sure you go before boarding the bus. The buses only stop once en route and it will be several hours into the journey.

Tehran to Kashan

Buses in Tehran lining up to take you wherever you desire.

Shiraz

Most travellers visit Shiraz while in Iran. I made my way to Shiraz via Isfahan. However it is possible to skip this and fly to Shiraz from Tehran. This is not a bad idea if you have limited time and want to get south as soon as possible. Flights can regularly be found for under 50€. Tickets for domestic airlines in Iran can be purchased online using credit cards, however not directly with the airline, you will need to use a 3rd party travel agent such as TravelFusion.comBravofly.com or edreams.com. Both Skyscanner and momondo can be used to search for this route.

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