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|−|The best thing to learn is that the currency used is Riyaal but the locals refer almost exclusively to the Toman (1 Toman = 10 Riyaals). This easily causes lots of confusion. It is better to assume that every price quoted by a local is in Tomans, and if a deal seems to good to be true, then it probably is. | |
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Revision as of 04:40, 13 March 2006
Chaotic midday traffic in front of Tehran's iconic Azadi Monument.
Tehran (also spelled Teheran) (Persian: تهران), is the capital of Iran. A metropolis of 15 million people it is situated at the foot of the towering Alborz range.
Tehran is a metropolis of 14 million situated at the foot of the towering Alborz range.
Tehran is a cosmopolitan city, with great museums, and restaurants, friendly people and the chance to watch the daily life of liberal Tehranis as they challenge, and often ignore, post-Revolution restrictions means it deserves at least a few days of your Iranian itinerary.
Tehran has also earned itself the rather unenviable reputation as a smog-filled, traffic-clogged and featureless sprawl of concrete housing bursting at the seams with 15 million residents. But, guided by the right guides, you can find an endless number of nice and cosy places in and around the city. Tehran is also a city of parks and possesses more than 800 well-kept parks.
There are no flights from North or South America or Australia, but there are flights to numerous European and Asian cities as well as cities in the Middle East. A one-week touristic visa can be obtained at the airport upon arrival for most European citizens at a fee.
Almost every city and far-flung village in Iran has bus services to Tehran, as evidenced by the hundreds of buses that pour in and out of the capital each day. Most buses arrive to, or depart from one of four major bus terminals:
- The Western bus terminal (Terminal-e-gharb) is the biggest, busiest and best equipped of Tehran's terminals. Most international buses, as well as those heading to the Caspain sea region and destinations west of Tehran originate and terminate here. The terminal is ten minute walk north-west from Azadi Square, and a few minutes walk west from the Tehran (sadaghieh) metro station.
- The Eastern bus terminal (Terminal-e-shargh), seven kilometres north-west of Emam Hossein square, handles buses to / from Khorasan province, as well a small number of services to the north.
- The Southern bus terminal (Terminal-e-jonoob) is well equipped and unsurprisingly handles buses head to and from destinations south of Tehran. It is 2 km east of Tehran's main train station and easily accessible via the dedicated Terminal-e-jonoob metro stop.
- The Central bus terminal (Terminal-e-arzhantin) is located beside Arzhantin Square, around 1.5 km south-west of the Mossallah metro stop. (Frequent shared taxis to/from the metro should be no more than IR 1,000). The station has services to /from most major destinations in Iran including Mashhad, Esfahan, Rasht, Shiraz, Tabriz and Yazd.
Getting around traffic-clogged, sprawling Tehran is a true test of patience. While taxis are your best bet, they are pricier here than the rest of the country. A large local bus network will also take you almost anywhere you need to go, as long you can make sense of the routes and Farsi line numbers. The true star of Tehran's transport system however, is the brand new metro.
Tehran has an expansive but confusing bus network. Tickets (IR 200) can be bought from booths beside the bus stops. Since bus numbers, route descriptions and other information is in Farsi, your best bet is to look confused enough at a bus terminal; a local will surely stop to help.
Tehran's new metro system  is comprised of three lines that will whisk you quickly from one end of the city to the other without having to deal with the noise, pollution and chaos of Tehrani traffic.
There are currently three lines (rather strangely numbered 1, 2 and 5) but the two most useful are lines 1 (north to south) and 2 (east to west) which connect at the central Emam Khomeini station. All stations are double signed in English, but announcements are in Farsi only. Trains run every ten minutes (25 minutes on holidays) from around 6.30 am until 10.00 pm every day.
Tickets (IR 650) are valid for one trip (including interchanges) and can be bought from ticket booths at every station. The Tehran metro is segregated, with two women-only carriages at one end of the train. Despite this, some women choose to travel in the men's part of the train, usually accompanied by a man.
As with the rest of the country private and shared taxis abound in Tehran, although you may find flagging down a shared taxi more difficult amid the traffic and chaos, and private taxis are more expensive than the smaller cities. See the Get Around information on Iran for details on flagging a taxi. If getting about by shared taxi, your best bet is to hop from square to square, drivers will be reluctant to pick you up if your shouted destination deviates too much from their route.
Motorcycle taxis are a Tehran specialty and offer a way to weave quickly through the city's traffic-clogged streets. You'll see plenty of these drivers standing at the side of the road calling "motor" at all who pass. Keep in mind motor taxi operators are even more suicidal than the average Tehran driver, agree on a price before you take off and expect to pay slightly less than chartering a private taxi.
- The US Den of Espionage (Taleghani St; Metro: Taleghani) is all that remains of the US embassy in which 66 American citizens were held hostage for over a year; a major embarrassment that is believed to have cost President Carter his reelection. You'll know you've arrived when you ascend the steps from Taleghani metro station and are confronted with the words "Down with the USA" painted on its wall. The compound walls are now decorated with typically anti-US paintings depicting the evils of the "Great Satan" and you can still make out a somewhat battered national crest on the front gate. A bookshop near the metro station sells copies of shredded documents found at the embassy--outlining coup plots, CIA agent covers and other James Bondish details--that were laboriously glued back together by Tehrani students. The building was opened to visitors during March 2005 as the "US Democracy Fair", but appears to have closed again. Keep an eye out in case it re-opens.
- If you want to drool over some truly excessive wealth, take a look at the Treasury of the National Jewels (Ferdosi St, near the corner of Jomhuriyeh Eslami Ave; Metro: Saadi; look for the heavy iron gate and rife wielding guards beside the Central Bank). For the hefty IR 30,000 admission fee you'll get to see a collection of some of the most expensive jewels in the world. Highlights include the world's largest uncut ruby, the world's largest pink diamond (the Sea of Light) and a free standing golden globe made from 34 kilograms of gold and an astounding 51,366 precious stones. An informative IR 6,000 information book is available at the ticket counter.
- The National Museum of Iran  has ceramics, stone figures and carvings dating all the way back to around the 5th millenium BC.
- The gigantic Mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini (Metro: Haram-e-Motahar) is on the southern edge of the city. The sheer size of the shrine / shopping center is enough to make the trip worth it. Entrance to the actual mausoleum, where you can see thousands of Iranians greeve their beloved former leader, is free.
- Take a ride up the Tolchal telecabin (تلهکابین توچال) on the northern outskirts of the city. Tickets range from IR 10,000 to IR 50,000 depending on how far up the mountain you want the telecabin to whisk you. If you're poor and energetic, you can simply hike all the way up, or just start walking and hop on the telecabin at the next station when you get tired. If you're going to the top, you may want to bring a jacket, even in summer, at over 4,000 metres the summit is chilly. To to Tolchal, take the Metro line 1 to Mirabad, then bus line 33 for 25 minutes to Tajrish Square (ask the driver to let you off at Meidan Tajrish). If you visit on a holiday when Tehranis flock to the mountain, you should be able to jump in a shared taxi to the telecabin entry gate for IR 4,000 otherwise charter one privately. From the entry gate a minibus service (IR 1,500) will take you to the base station.
- The Darband telecabin is an alternative to the one at Tolchal. Taxis to Darband go from Tajrish Square.
- Wander around Tehran's massive bazaar (بازار) in the city's south (Metro: Panzadah-e-khordad). The main entrance on 15 Khordad Ave leads to a labyrinth of stalls and shops that were once the engine room of Iran's commodity markets and one of Emam Khomeini's greatest sources of conservative, pro-Revolution support. As usual shops are clustered according to the products they sell. If you're planning on heading out into remote areas, the bazaar is an ideal and cheap place to stock up on almost anything you need.
For those staying in southern Tehran, there is a cluster of private money changing offices offering reasonable rates on Ferdosi St, just south of Jomhuriyeh Eslami St. Most will change US dollars, pounds, euros and yen. Lone moneychangers who stand on street corners whispering "Dollar, dollar" are expert hustlers and not worth risking. Central branches of most banks are also south of these offices.
Those looking to stock up on computer software--copied, but legal thanks to Iran's refusal to sign up to the Bern Convention--can start looking at the computer bazaar on the corner of Jomhuriyeh Eslami Ave and Haafez St. Just remember that importing these CDs into any country that is a signatory to the Convention may be a criminal offence. You can also try "Computer Capital" at intersection of Vali-e-Asr and Mirdamad, a 7 storey modern complex filled with computer equipments but also latest pirated copies of every software imagineable.
- Some of the best of Iran's ubiquitous felafels are to be found sizzling away in stalls on 15 Khordad Ave, across the road from the bazaar.
- You can find several food courts around Tehran  with a variety of cuisines from Thailand, India, Italy, China and Turkey.
- Many locals regard the upper class Alborz Restaurant, Nikoo Ghadam Alley (North Sohrevardi Avenue), 876 1907 or 876 0629 (fax: +98 21 876 03 48), open everyday (very popular on week end lunchtimes) as the best chelo kababi in Tehran, if not Iran. With delicious and generous meals that will easily put a IR 120,000 dint in your wallet, you'd want it to be. Definitely worth a splurge.
For all you coffee-starved travellers through Iran (or the soon to be coffee-starved if Tehran is your first port of call in the country) you'll be glad to find the string of coffee shops on the south side of Jomhuriyeh Eslami Ave, a couple of hundred metres west of Ferdosi St. You can stock up on coffee beans and related paraphernalia, or even sample a cup for IR 4,000.
A few doors west of these shops is a delightful coffee shop next to Hotel Naderi. They serve coffee, tea and pastries to a mix of Tehran's intelligentsia and bohemian elite. It's a great place to sit and watch hip young guys eyeing gossiping girls while old men reminisce about the "good ol' days" under the Shah.
Most of the budget accommodation favoured by travellers is centred in the south of the city in the region between Ferdosi Square and Emam Khomeini Square.
- The ever-dependable backpacker's stalwart, Mashhad Hotel (416 Amir Kabir St; metro: Emam Khomeini) is traveller-friendly and has clean and simple dorms (IR 25,000), singles (from IR 30,000) and doubles (IR 50,000).
Tehran has some of Iran's finest luxury hotels, most of which are pre-embargo five star hotels that have faded a little since being taken over by local consortiums.
- Laleh International Hotel (Dr Hossein Fatemi Ave) located on a corner of Park-e-Laleh is a case in point. Once the InterContinental, it's a little past its prime but still offers comfortable rooms and a wide range of travel services.
- The government-owned Homa Hotel (51 Khodami St) chain is often referred to as 'the ex. Sheraton Hotel' by locals. Unfortunately it's located in the quieter northern suburbs of the city, around 1.5 km north-west of Vanak Square.
- Hotel Simorgh just by the Shafagh Park,just before Tavanir,is well-maintained and recently refurbished hotel.Could be a bit expensive but has been done up by the group of Hotel Management students.
- Ferdosi Coffee Net (Enghelab Ave, a few doors east of Ferdosi Square) is hard to find (look for the small sign plastered to a building) has two banks of computers for IR 8,000 an hour.
- Pars Net is one of south Tehran's hottest coffee nets, dishing up reasonable speed for IR 9,000 an hour. It is on the eastern side of Ferdosi St, between Jomhuiyeh Eslami Ave and Enghelab Ave, across from the British embassy. They also provide fax and long distance phone services.
Tehran is still a relatively safe city to travel through, particularly considering its size. Common sense and the usual precautions against pickpockets in bazaars and crowds should ensure your visit is hassle free.
The fake police that target Esfahan's tourists have also found their way to Tehran in recent years. These are usually uniformed men in unmarked cars flashing phoney IDs are requesting to see you passport or search your luggage. It goes without saying that you should just ignore such requests and head to the nearest police station if you feel unsafe. The trouble is that it can be very hard for the untrained tourist eye to tell these from the real police.
The traffic in Tehran is horrendous. To get a break from it head to the parks in the north of the city.
- If the hustle and bustle of Tehran becomes too much, it's possible to go to the Caspian Sea for a day or two. The holiday town of Ramsar is about five hours away, and the drive across the Alborz Mountains is spectacular. A taxi round-trip for a day shouldn't set you back more than IR 500,000 (ask for taxis near Azadi Square).
- Qom is about two hours away from Tehran by bus.