Isfahan (Persian: اصفهان, also known as Esfahan) is a city in central Iran, south of Tehran and is the capital of Isfahan Province. The Persians call it "Nesf-e-Jahan", meaning "Half The World". Due to its beautiful hand-painted tiling and magnificent public square, it is considered to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world. An ancient town and capital of Persia from 1598 to 1722, it was long noted for its fine carpets and silver filigree. Today, textile and steel mills take their place. Its architecture, tree-lined boulevards and relaxed pace make it one of the highlights of Iran.
The city is 430km south of Tehran at the foothills of the Zagros mountain range. The city enjoys a temperate climate and regular seasons. Isfahan is located on the main north-south and east-west routes crossing Iran.
The city has an Armenian Quarter called Jolfa (originally called New Julfa) established by Shah Abbas I in the 1600s after he destroyed the prosperous Armenian town of Julfa in Armenia and forced all of the Armenians to move to Persia, mostly to Isfahan. They were allocated land and rebuilt a prosperous community that was a key part of an Armenian trade network extending from Singapore and India to Venice and Amsterdam. Today the quarter still has many Armenian Churches, an Armenian school, shops and Armenian residents.
Isfahan International Airport or Isfahan Shahid Beheshti (IATA: IFN) was a military air base before the revolution. There are daily flights to Tehran and Mashhad in Iran. There are also flights to Damascus, Dubai, Kuwait and Istanbul. From the Airport you can take cab for c. IRR200,000 to the city centre. Since most people are going there anyway, you can always ask people to share taxi.
The night train from Tehran to Isfahan costs IRR240,000 for sleeping in a comfortable 6-bed compartment.
The train station in Isfahan is located far from the old town. Take bus #37 from the train station to Safah bus terminal(ترمینال صفه;), where you can change for bus #91 to old town. The best place to get off is Chaharbaq street, where there are many hostels, hotels, cafes and things to see.
Isfahan is well connected to most parts of Iran by bus. There are multiple bus terminals in Isfahan and you should note which one is more suitable for you.
There are buses to/from Tehran every 15 minutes. Also there are a few luxury buses with a so-called "European standard" (very comfortable seats, open mini-bar, etc.). Royal Safar Iranian is one a few luxury bus operators. Seats are extremely comfortable with lots of leg room. Water is provided and movies are shown. The ticket to Tehran costs IRR220,000.
It is easy to get around Isfahan by bus. A single journey costs IRR5000; you can pay the driver directly, or buy multi-journey contactless cards at certain bus stop booths. Note that there are separate men (front) and women (rear) sections on each bus.
From Kaveh Bus Terminal, take Bus 91 which runs down Chahar Bagh-e Pa'in St towards the city center, past Takhti Junction and Imam Hossein Sq.
Squares and streets
- Naqsh-e Jahan Square. Also known as shah square or imam square-1602 (Meidan Emam). The square contains two mosques, a palace, and the bazaar. The square is the largest historical public square in the world after Tiananmen Square in Beijing and it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The square is surrounded by buildings from the Safavid era. This a very popular place for locals to picnic on Friday and holiday evenings.
- Chaharbagh Boulevard. 1596, dating from the Saffavid era, the avenue is the most historically famous in all of Persia.
- Meydan Kohne.
- Shahshahan Square.
The stunning mosques of Isfahan are among the most beautiful and interesting in the world.
- Imam Mosque ( called Shah Mosque before the revolution), Naqsh-e Jahan Square, south side. Built during the Safavid period, it is an excellent example of Islamic architecture of Iran, and regarded as one of the masterpieces of Persian Architecture. It is registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its splendour is mainly due to the beauty of its seven-colour mosaic tiles and calligraphic inscriptions.
- Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque, Naqsh-e Jahan Square, east side. One of the architectural masterpieces of Safavid Iranian architecture, this mosque is considered to be the most beautiful in Iran. Built in 1602 by Shah Abbas I.= and designed by his chief architect, Sheikh Bahai. The mosque was designed to be a private mosque for the royal family and therefore it does not have any minarets. There is a tunnel from the mosque to the Royal Palace, across the square.
- Masjed-e Jāmé of Isfahan, north of Naqsh-e Jahan Square in the old quarter. Started in AD842, this is the first Islamic building to adopt the four-courtyard layout of Sassanid palaces.
- Hakim Mosque, Hakim (north of Naqsh-e Jahan in the old quarter). One of the oldest mosques in Isfahan. Built by Shah Abbas II between 1656 and 1662. Located on the site of a 10th century mosque. The portal was covered in mud until it was discovered in 1956.
- Ālī Qāpū ( The Royal Palace). Early 17th Century. It is forty-eight meters high and there are seven floors, each accessible by a difficult spiral staircase. In the sixth floor music room, deep circular niches are found in the walls, having not only aesthetic value, but also acoustic. It is rich in naturalistic wall paintings by Reza Abbassi, the court painter of Shah Abbas I, and his pupils. There are floral, animal and bird motifs.
- Hasht Behesht ( The Palace of Eight Paradises). 1669, reportedly built for residence purposes of the king's harem. Set within lush gardens which are free to roam if you don't want to go inside the building.
- Chehel Sotoun ( The Palace of Forty Columns). 1647: It is called Palace of forty columns, as there are many columns, and in Iranian, 40 means many. Incidentally, there are twenty columns, and these are reflected in the pool in front, which might also account for its name. The function of this palace was for holding religious-national ceremonies and royal festivals and for receiving royal ambassadors and guests. It's Persian Gardens is one of nine inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Contains some spectacular battle murals.
- Talar Ashraf (The Palace of Ashraf). 1650
- Madreseye Sadr
- Madreseye Madar Shah (Imam Jafar Sadegh after revolution). The compound was built during Soltan Hossein, a Safavid king, to serve as a theological and clerical school to train those who were interested in such sciences.The dome and the greater part of the walls are covered in bright yellow bricks which give a feeling of lightness. The entrance gate decorated with gold façade and silver, and the tile-works inside the building are masterpieces of fine art and industry. The central court, with its pool and garden, are surrounded by arcades on two levels, each giving access to a student's room.
- Madreseye Khajoo
Walk along the Zayanderud River beside the ancient bridges. You see many locals doing this everyday. However, as a result of a drought and badly planned dam, there is usually no water in the river.
- Si-o-Seh Pol ( The Bridge of 33 Arches). 1602. It is highly ranked as being one of the most famous examples of Safavid bridge design. Beautiful whether there is water underneath it or not, there is also a basic eatery at the northern end.
- Pol-e Shahrestan ( Shahrestan Bridge). 11th Century. It is one of the oldest surviving bridges in Iran, built in the 14th Century (C.E.).
- Pol-e Khaju ( Khaju Bridge). 1650. It is the finest bridge in the province of Isfahan and built by the Persian Safavid king, Shah Abbas II around 1650 CE. This structure originally was ornamented with artistic tile works and paintings and served as a teahouse.
- Pol-e Joui (or Choobi). It is one of Isfahan's oldest bridges and was built in 1665, during the Safavid era.
- Pol-e Maarnaan.
Churches and Cathedrals
- Vank Armenian Cathedral ( Holy Savior Cathedral - Սուրբ Ամենափրկիչ Վանք) (One block east of Nezami Str. and Khaghani Str. intersection). 17th-century Armenian cathedral. The interior is covered with fine paintings and gilded carvings and includes a wainscot of rich tile work. The delicately blue and gold painted central dome depicts the Biblical story of creation of the world and man's expulsion from Eden. 150,000 rial.
- Bedkhem Armenian Church ( Bethlehem Armenian Church) (One building west from intersection of Nazar Str. and Tohid Str.). Another interesting combination of Persian and Armenian religious architecture, this large church completed in 1627 is full of stunning paintings and frescoes. Behind Jolfa Square, less than 5 minute walk from Vank Cathedral. 50,000 rial.
- Flowers Garden
- Birds Garden
- Atashgah - a Zoroastrian fire temple. This temple is dramatically set atop a rock on the outskirts of Isfahan and provides a commanding view of the city (although much of it is covered in smog). You can take one of the blue buses (ask at the drivers), which will take you there.
- Buqe'h-ye Ibn-Sina (Avicenna's Dome) - 12th Century.
- The Tombs of Nizam al-Mulk & Malek Shah - 12th & 18th Century.
- Jolfa - The Armenian Quarter, it includes one of the most beautiful churches in Iran.
- Sheikh Bahai Bathhouse - falling apart due to neglect.
- Pigeon Towers - Built in the 17th century to attract pigeons, whose feces were then used as fertilizer.
- Hamam-e (Bathhouse) Ali Gholi Agha
- Take a taxi to the south of the city to Soffeh Mountain and catch a telecabin up for IRR60,000 or go bowling at the only bowling alley in the city underneath the telecabin station
- Shahid Ashrafi Esfahani University - Foreign students can learn Persian here as part of tailor-made courses to suit their needs. Contact: Foreign Student Coordinator Ghaem Blv., Sepahan Shahr,Tel: 98-311-6502820-28
- University of Esfahan
- Esfahan University of Medical Sciences
- Esfahan University of Technology
- Malek Ashtar University
- Sheikh Baha'i University (SHBU)
- Mohajer Technical College
- Khorasgaan(Esfahan) Azad University
- Art University Of Esfahan
There is a technology university known as IUT and there are a lot of technology towns such as Sheikh bahaee, Jay, Amir Kabir, Oshtorjaan and many others which all are active in industry. Qualified people would like work in these towns or Foolad mobarakeh or Melt Iron companies, both active in the steel industry.
Note that shops in the main square must pay an additional 8% tax on sales, which is passed on to the customer. Unless the item that you are purchasing is unique or inexpensive, you may be better off shopping outside of the main square.
- For a real treasure trove, visit the famous bazaar.
- Isfahan carpets are world-famous, being the very finest of the Persian carpets. They are also often extremely expensive. Carpets from the nearby town of Na'in are similar in style, also well-known, and are expensive too. For those who are interested, it is possible to buy the highly decorative and brightly coloured traditional dress of Isfahan, but such clothing can be expensive, so it's better to haggle for a reasonable price.
- Miniatures These exquisite miniature paintings are painted on camel bone. Most of them are sold framed, and prices start from about IRR15,000. It can be more costly if the artwork is done by a miniature master. Shop and look at various shops before making your decision.
In some parks, you can simply obtain a carpet and tea from the park warden, and have a picnic on the grass! You will find families gather in these parks, and bring barbecues and cook freshly made kebabs, which smell (and taste) delicious.
- Chelo kebab (kebab with rice) is a must; there are regional variations in Isfahan.
- Beryani is a popular lunch dish in Isfahan. It has made with sheep meat and lung. Although Iranians love this meal, it is very fatty. Therefore some westerners may dislike Beryani.
- Fereni (a concoction of rice flour, water and milk) at Fereni Hafez, which is along Hafez Street near Imam Square. It costs IRR3000 for a small bowl or IRR5000 for a bigger one.
Visit one of the tea-houses in the bazaar or under one of the bridges.
There are lots of coffee shops in Isfahan.
Feel Cafe in "Mir Fendereski" St. is one of the most popular Cafes in Isfahan.
- Nik hostel, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 13, check-out: 12. It is a guest house in the downtown. It is an old house but it is clean. The owner can speak English and a little bit Dutch. Send him an email before arriving in Isfahan. Bed in dorm (+ breakfast) is 10€, private room with 2 beds (+ breakfast) is 20€.
- Amir Kabir Hostel, Charbagh st (There is a bus stop right outside the entrance.), ☎ , fax: +98 311 2210255, e-mail: email@example.com. Popular among backpackers due to the cheap prices, but the rooms are dirty. Sleep on the floor: IRR200,000; Dorm bed: IRR250,000; Single: IRR400,000 Double: USD20; Triple: IRR900,000.
- Dibai House, 1 Masjed Ali Alley, Harunie, ☎ , fax: +98 311 2209786, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Dibai House comprises a fully and scrupulously restored 17th-century Safavid historic mansion that with modern facilities. No smoking indoors. Price includes breakfast, and owner Sufi is extremely helpful with travel information. €40/60/80 per room/night for single/double/triple rooms. 10% discount for stays longer than a week and for groups of 5 or more.
- Hasht Behesht Apartment Hotel, Ostandari st, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Clean, modern and central.
- Bekhradi Historial Residence, No. 56 Sonbolestan Alley, Ebn-e-Sina, Shohada Sq., ☎ , fax: +98 311 4882073, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Quiet, traditional khan-e-sonnati (Iranian traditional house). Five beautifully resorted Safavid-style rooms, some with bathrooms set around two garden courtyards. There is also a restaurant and free internet in this quiet area north of Imam Square. Rooms between US$60-US$90 per person, per night (+16% tax/service).
- Safir Hotel, Amadegah Street (Across the street from the Abassi Hotel), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Glass elevator. Some rooms don't have windows. Includes a pool with massage services at USD50/hour.
- Abbasi Hotel. Built during the reign of King Sultan Hossein of Safavids about 300 years ago. King Soltan Hossein attributed this magnificent complex of building to his mother. That is why it is called "the school and caravansaray of Madar-shah" (which means king's mother). The hotel also has a nice restaurant and tea house in the courtyard.
- Kowsar International Hotel. Overlooks Zayandeh Rood River.
- Ali-Qapu Hotel, Chahar Bagh Ave, ☎ , fax: +98 311 2216049. 97 rooms and 4 suites.
- Aseman Hotel. Overlooks the river.
There are various Internet cafés in Isfahan. The best place which has the fastest connection and also cheapest in the city is the Central Library of Esfahan. It is accessible from Naghshe-Jahan Square by five minutes walk.
Visas & Permits
There is an old consulate of Russia behind the bazzar.
You might want to have plastic money to prevent having your money stolen. Bank-e Melli-ye Iran (National Bank of Iran) which is a government-owned bank in Iran, provides an ATM debit card service (plastic magnetic card) for tourists who visit Iran. Tourists just need to head the nearest branch of this bank. Information on this service can be found here. Another way to prevent having your money stolen, is going to the nearest bank and getting a gift card. They are exactly like ordinary ATM debit cards, but once they get empty, they cannot be recharged. Sepah Bank or Bank -e- Sepah is a governmental bank that has a current account service for foreigners which provides both ATM debit card and cheque writing option. A list of permitted Iranian banks can be found here
- Na’in is the first Desert city toward east. it's a small and quiet town at the edge of desert. A perfect pattern of a desert town. Everything you like to see in a desert town you can find there. to get there, buses depart Jay terminal USD2 every half an hour from 06:00 to 20:00. private taxi is also available. 140km 1/5 hrs.
- Toudeshk-Cho is 100km from Isfahan, on the way to Yazd. It is a very, quaint traditional desert village and it is easy to get to from the Jey Minibus terminal. It is well known among backpackers as the location of the Tak-Taku Homestay (details on the Toudeshk-Cho page or call Mohammed on +98 913 365 4420).
- Qom is a holy city a few hundred kilometres away.
- Shiraz is south of Isfahan.
- Kashan is famous for its beautiful mansions from the 1800s and its gardens.
- Dasht-e-Kavir (central desert of Iran) is easily reached by a 6 hours bus journey from Isfahan. You'll find oases, salt lakes, etc.