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 established by Shah Abbas I in the 1600s. Part of the Shah's method for controlling potentially troublesome groups out near his borders was to move large numbers of them to his capital, much as Jews were brought to Babylon in biblical times. The district was originally named New Julfa after the Armenian town of Julfa which the Shah destroyed while conquering Armenia. The Armenians were allocated land south of the river 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 including a fine old cathedral, an Armenian school, shops and Armenian residents.
Getting there: From the airport taxi costs 350,000 rials to the city centre (as of 2016).
Besides, there are direct buses to Tehran's Imam Khomeini International Airport leave from Terminal-e Kaveh at 13:00, 18:00, 20:30 (and possibly other times as well). A trip costs 275,000 rials and takes under 6 hours. (as of Sep 2016).
The night train from Tehran to Isfahan costs 240,000 rials for sleeping in a comfortable 6-bed compartment.
2 Isfahan Railway Station (15 south of city centre).
Getting there: take bus #37 from the train station to Soffe 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.
From Tehran the busiest and most comfortable bus terminal to get to Isfahan is Beyhaghi terminal (known also as Argentina terminal) and Southern Terminal. 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 and snacks is provided and movies are shown. The ticket to Tehran costs 300,000 rials, and takes around 5 hours.
- 3 Kaveh terminal (7km north of the city center). Buses to Tehran and Kashan depart every 15 minutes from this terminal
- 4 Sofeh Bus Station (south of the city). Buses coming from Shiraz terminate at this bus station. (In Shiraz they depart Karandish Bus Terminal). The ticket price is around 300,000 rials and takes around 6 hours. Getting there: take bus No. 91 going south.
- 5 Jey Terminal (Terminal J.) (7 km east of city center). Serves destinations east of Isfahan, incl. Varzaneh, Na'in and Yazd. There are shops and cafes inside of the terminal building. To get to Na'in: only one bus leaving Isfahan is at 14:30, and return bus next day at 12:00 (as of Mar 2016); shared taxi costs 120,000 rials.
The easiest and the cheapest way of traveling inside of Isfahan is buying Isfahan card which is a multi-journey contactless card sold at certain bus stop booths. A single journey costs 5,000 rials when using Isfahan card or 10,000 rials if paid directly to a bus driver (as of 2017). Note that there are separate sections in a bus: front - for men and rear - for women.
Short rides cost 50,000 rials, longer ones to Soffeh mountain and bus terminals - 100,000 rials (as of 2007). Although taxis will try to demand at least double of those prices at the beginning.
Squares and streets
- 1 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. Free.
- 2 Chaharbagh Boulevard. 1596, dating from the Saffavid era, the avenue is the most historically famous in all of Persia. Although it's just a regular street nowadays.
- Meydan Kohne.
- Shahshahan Square.
The stunning mosques of Isfahan are among the most beautiful and interesting in the world.
- 3 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. 200,000 rials.
- 4 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. 200,000 rials.
- 5 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. 200,000 rials.
- 6 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. Free.
- 7 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. 200,000 rials.
- 8 Hasht Behesht Palace (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. Entrance to the palace building 150,000 rials.
- 9 Chehel Sotoun Palace (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. 200,000 rials.
- 10 Talar Ashraf (Ashraf Hall). 1650. Not accessible for public.
- 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.
- 11 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.
- 12 Pol-e Shahrestan (Shahrestan Bridge). 11th Century. It is one of the oldest surviving bridges in Iran, built in the 14th Century (C.E.).
- 13 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.
Jolfa - The Armenian Quarter, it includes one of the most beautiful churches in Iran.
- 14 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. 200,000 rials.
- 15 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 rials.
- 16 Flowers Garden (باغ گلها) (East of Bozorgmehr Bridge.). Botanical garden. 100,000 rials.
- 17 Birds Garden (باغ پرندگان) (1 km north west of Zayanderud Bus Terminal.). Garden under a huge net with a lot of different birds, some locked in and some that you can walk among. 180,000 rials.
- 18 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. 150,000 rials.
- Buqe'h-ye Ibn-Sina (Avicenna's Dome) - 12th Century.
- The Tombs of Nizam al-Mulk & Malek Shah - 12th & 18th Century.
- 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
- 1 Soffeh Mountain (8 km south of the city; 100,000 rials by taxi). Popular pick-nick spot for locals. It's possible to climb up the mountain which will take about 3 hours return. Or catch a telecabin up for 200,000 rials at the 2 lower chairlift station. Besides, there is a bowling 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
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, Mir Fendereski St.. one of the most popular cafes in Isfahan.
- 1 HI Isfahan Hostel (HI Isfahan Hostel, hostel in Isfahan), #2, No.16, Nobahar alley,near Mir bridge, N Sheikh Sadoogh St. (check HI Isfahan Hostel website), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 14, check-out: 12 but pretty flexible. HI Isfahan Hostel is a Comfortable, Clean and Affordable, budget hostel in Isfahan, budget accommodation, near the river, Jolfa (christian neighbourhood) and Vank Cathedral, 20-40 USD.
- 2 Nik Guest House, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. 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.
This guest house is out of the services these days temporary!! Dorm bed 10€, private room with 2 beds is 20€. Prices include breakfast.
- 3 Amir Kabir Hostel, Charbagh st (There is a bus stop right outside the entrance.), ☎ , fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-out: noon. Popular among backpackers due to the cheap prices. Rooms are a bit cramped but ok and bathrooms are mostly clean. Nice breakfast is included. Dorm bed: 350,000 rials; single 450,000 rials, double 960,000 rials; triple 900,000 rials.
- 4 Dibai House, 1 Masjed Ali Alley, Harunie, ☎ , fax: , e-mail: email@example.com. 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.
- 5 Hasht Behesht Apartment Hotel, Ostandari st, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Clean, modern and central.
- 6 Bekhradi Historial Residence, No. 56 Sonbolestan Alley, Ebn-e-Sina, Shohada Sq., ☎ , fax: , e-mail: email@example.com. 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).
- 7 Safir Hotel, Amadegah Street (Across the street from the Abassi Hotel), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Glass elevator. Some rooms don't have windows. Includes a pool with massage services at USD50/hour.
- 8 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.
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.
- 1 Russian consulate, no 11, Telephonkhane St., masjed-e sofretchi St., Chaharbagh-e Payin Ave., ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Su-Th 08:00-13:00 & 14:00-17:00. 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.
- 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.
- Kashan is famous for its beautiful mansions from the 1800s and its gardens.
- 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.
- Qom is a holy city a few hundred kilometres away.
- Shiraz is around 6 hours south of Isfahan by bus.