header isfahan

“Isfahan is half the world.” This well-known Persian saying describes the size and importance of the city as a cultural hub. Arguably the most overwhelming city in Iran, if you plan to visit for only one or two days, you’ll only manage to scratch the surface: we recommend staying for four. Get comfortable shoes because you will be walking around town a lot, constantly enchanted by beautiful little buildings which would be celebrated in the west, but here are just another nice building. The main square is epicentre of the action, buzzing from early morning until late at night. Get your cameras ready and prepare to be aesthetically spoiled.

The Perfect Day

If you awake to Isfahan’s overwhelming muezzin’s morning chant, you know it’s time to rise – there is a lot to see. Begin your day with a tea and snack on the main square, which is surrounded by the bazaar in Isfahan’s old town. After getting an early morning refreshment, play a round of rock-paper-scissors to decide which of the 20 to-dos in Isfahan you want to tackle first. An early visit to the three mosques and palaces is strongly recommended, before they get overrun by tourists. Shah Mosque, Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque and Ali Qapu Palace are all placed on Naqsh-e Jahan Square. Grab lunch in the iconic Abbasi Hotel’s courtyard with its beautiful courtyard garden. Pay extra attention to the moustaches of the hotel guards! Next, up go to the neighbouring Chehel Sotoun palace, which shows vibrant paintings of Persian warfare. Afterwards, head to the Armenian part of town, the Jolfa district, where you’ll find small handicraft shops and the colourful Vank Cathedral. Once the sun sets, walk over to the Siosepol bridge to watch Isfahanis sing traditional songs and jam on local instruments. Last but not least, head back to the main square and find the little dervish tea house to mingle with with locals over a tea and a waterpipe.

TO STAY

Dibai House

This restored old town house has only got eight rooms. It is charming and perfect for the laid-back traveller. It’s not super upmarket,  but has the flair of a guesthouse in a great location and is run by a friendly Spanish-Iranian family and hosts a mix of adventurous travellers.

Abbasi Hotel

A stunning palace with a landscaped garden, helpful staff and spacious and stylish rooms – it’s the most high-end traditional hotel in the country. Originally a caravanserai built during the Safavid period, it was later named Shah Abbas Hotel and now simply Abbasi Hotel because the word ‘shah’ has been taboo since the Revolution. Even if you are not staying here, come for tea where you’ll find delicious cakes and other Iranian treats.

Hasht Behesht Apart Hotel

The main attraction of this option is its proximity to the Chehel Sotoun and Hasht Behesht Palaces. An ‘apartment’ hotel boasting kitchenettes in every room – if you’re inspired by your culinary surroundings here you can DIY at home.

Bekhradi’s Historical House

This restored Safavid house from the 17th century belongs to an experienced interior designer and is a very stylish option. Ideal for those after a quiet stay, there are only four rooms and the only thing disturbing the peace is the gentle tinkling of the old fountain in the courtyard.

  • +98 31 34 48 20 723
  • Go to Website
  • 56 Sonbolestan Alley
    Ebn-e-Sina St

TO EAT

Shahrzad

This is a classic Isfahani haunt. The large, airy dining hall lets you see all the commotion on neighbouring tables, which is great since this place is full of locals. It’s pretty decoration of traditional Isfahani crafts of stained-glass windows and inlaid mirror-work seem almost comical in this hectic food hall setting.

  • +98 31 32 20 44 90
  • Go to Website
  • Abbasabad St.
    Chaharbagh Abbasi St.

Azam Beryani

Grilled meat and bread might be Iranian staples, but this Isfahani remix is a totally different experience. The meat, usually mutton or lamb, is minced before being grilled and packed into the centre of a deliciously fresh Iranian flatbread. Add your own garnishes of mint, coriander and relish and wrap it up tightly for the best Iranian sandwich in town.

  • Masjed Seyyed Street

Azadegan Cafe

An local haunt near the antiques market, take a seat at the long table and sit back to admire the many antiques and photographs on the walls, with trinkets, teapots and lanterns hanging down from the ceiling. Without asking, the waiter will bring you a hot pot of tea and shisha along with some Isfahani sweets, because that’s obviously what you’ll have. Non-smokers stay away.

Malek Soltan Jarchi Bashi

Off the usual tourist track, this restaurant is built inside an old bathhouse. As soon as they found out we were tourists, a band playing music from our country and a waiter brought us our national flag. It is their tradition to do so and beside the flags, the food is actually pretty good too, with jugs and jugs of doogh to wash it down.  Try the popular desi kebab, a local dish made with chickpeas and fried in oil.

  • +98 31 22 07 422
  • Balgh Ghalandarha Alley
    Hakin St

TO DO

Masjed-e Jameh and the Grand Bazaar

In the afternoon check out the Masjed-e Jame, a mesmerising building which incorporates over 800 years of Islamic design. It is fascinating to see changing styles and various refinement of each period in this behemoth of a building. Relax your brain muscles with a subsequent stroll through the grand bazaar toward the main square, Naqsh-e Jahan – try to time it so that you get there as dusk falls and it becomes very atmospheric. Tuck into some pistachio ice cream, then hail a horse-drawn cart and get your driver to race around the square, overtaking the golf buggies that also vie for tourists’ attention.

Visit a tea house

Hidden in the back streets just a stone’s throw from the bazaar you’ll find this trippy little dervish tea house. Be prepared to see the most surreal photography and metal work hanging from the walls, from old men riding lions, to Iranian football players from the 70s and various torture instruments – it’s utterly mad. Have a tea, eat some local sweets and smoke water pipes. The dream.

Walk around the Armenian town

Go to the Armenian quarter and visit the Vank Cathedral with its crazy mosaics depicting some pretty gruesome scenes of hellfire and brimstone a la Hieronymus Bosch. It’s not unusual to hear more English spoken here, so quiz a local over some tea in a carpet shop about the history of the area.

  • In between Hakim Nezami St and Tohid St

Gather at the bridges

Hang out at Si-o-Se Pol, the longest bridge across the Zayandeh river. Poets and musicians congregate in the evenings as the famous 33 arches light up and draw crowds of listeners perched precariously on every available ledge.

  • Enghelab Sq
    Chahar Bagh e Abbasi St.

Dibai House

Abbasi Hotel

Hasht Behesht Apart Hotel

Bekhradi’s Historical House

Shahrzad

Azam Beryani

Azadegan Cafe

Malek Soltan Jarchi Bashi

Masjed-e Jameh

Bazaar

Main Square

Armenian part of town

Bridges

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