The mega-metropolis that is Iran’s capital is often downplayed by locals and side-lined by tourists. Concrete, polluted, and overcrowded, for many it lacks the tangible sense of history found in other parts of the country. Beneath the surface, however, Tehran’s hidden treasures won’t fail to dazzle, delight, captivate and surprise – if you know where to look. Here we feature some of the city’s best kept secrets.
The Jomeh (Friday) Bazaar is held every Friday morning, spread across every level of an empty multi-story car park on Jomhuri Street. Traders from across the country come to sell handmade goods, crafts, instruments, and clothing, showcasing the rich cultural diversity of Iran’s many regions. Antiques are also for sale – memorabilia from before the revolution, such as old bank notes and magazines, is particularly commonplace – as well as the creative concoctions of Tehrani artists. An enormous flea market with many gems to discovered, come early for the best deals and to avoid the crowds.
Tucked away inconspicuously down a side alley of the Tajrish Bazaar, one of the most delightful, unpretentious traditional teahouses in the capital lies waiting to be discovered. The building is crumbling but well-loved; upstairs you can recline on carpeted wooded platforms, sip tea, or enjoy some simple dishes (the omelette is fantastic). The walls of the cafe are adorned with traditional paintings depicting battle scenes from Shia history – every so often the artist will come in to work on a new addition. Downstairs is unfortunately for men only, and reserved for no-nonsense shisha smoking. Turn down the third alley off to the right of the main drag of the bazaar, and the tea-house will be on your left, or ask around for the “chai-khane-ye sonnati”.
Address: Tajrish bazaar, Tajrish Square, Tehran.
The perfect place to escape the commotion and pollution of the city below, Tochal Mountain offers an unexpected array of outdoors activities – from hiking to skiing. There are various mountaineering routes across the rugged landscape, which cater to different levels of ability (and enthusiasm). Failing that, a lengthy tele-cabin ride will drop you off at the various stations, the highest of which reveals a small but well-maintained ski resort. How many other Middle Eastern cities can boast an outdoors ski piste just minutes away from the city center?
Located out in the west of Tehran, you will need a car to access the Nahj ol-Balagha Park, one of the most impressive and popular large scale public works developed in recent years. The expansive park has been cleverly landscaped into the slopes of a valley, through the center of which runs a small river. Filled with greenery, spots for picnicking, playing badminton or table tennis, the park is exceptionally popular with Iranian families as an evening activity. A wonderful venue for relaxing, people watching, and grabbing a street-side corn on the cob.
Address: Shahid Hemmat Expressway, Tehran
In the foothills of the Alborz Mountains, towards the north of the city, lies the picturesque and peaceful village of Darakeh. With clean air, walking paths, and greenery, you’re practically in the countryside here. Along the main road you’ll find around half a dozen traditional restaurants – all tastefully decorated, offering traditional Iranian fare and shisha. Popular with young Iranians, Darakeh is a great place to meet people, or just clear your head. If you don’t want to hire a private taxi, minibuses to Darakeh leave regularly from Tajrish Square.
Address: Darakeh, north Tehran
Built in 1967, Talar Vahdat is Iran’s only opera house. No expense was spared in its construction, and therefore the building still feels luxurious and world-class today. Regrettably underused for opera and ballet performances since the Revolution, Talar Vahdat nevertheless hosts many theater productions, and is the proud home of the Tehran Symphony Orchestra. The main auditorium seats over 1000 spectators at full capacity, and the exterior is modelled on the Vienna State Opera House.
Address: Shahriar Street, Tehran,