The best way to experience the beauty of Esfahan attractions is to take it easy. So I spent my last Esfahani day at a relaxed pace, paying slow visits to the other attractions of the city. The ‘Half of the World’ city, being the chief jewel of the Persian crown has many beautiful places and from the stunning 20 columned Chehel Sotun to the incredible Vank Cathedral, Esfahan attractions are a potpourri of architectural delights. The beautiful gardens and lovely wall frescoes of Chehel Sotun are charming and the ancient Vank Cathedral took my breath away. The magnificent Ali Qapu Palace, which belonged to the powerful Safavid dynasty was also magnificent and it was the perfect blend of antiquity and atmosphere.
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The stunning Ali Qapu Palace
Famous for its grand architectural style, Ali Qapu Palace’s highlight is the interesting music room with sitar-like grooves embedded on the stucco ceilings. The design provided an excellent surround sound system and the beautiful old building, shooting up to impressive 6 floors was the first Persian skyscraper. The fact that such a feat was conceived during the 17th century made it all the more fascinating and the palace also has a veranda on the third floor, which during its heydays had a fully functioning fountain. It was another interesting facet of the Ali Qapu Palace and the fountain used to keep the royals cool, while they enjoyed the stunning views of the Naqsh-e-Jahan Square down below. Apart from the little architectural details, beautiful murals and frescoes once covered every inch of the grand palace, but sadly, ruthless vandalism over centuries nearly wiped out all traces of its painted glory.
The dry Zeyendeh river and its historic bridges
The cruel scratching and senseless squiggles filled historical monuments immediately reminded me of India and sadly the comparison did not end there. The Zeyendeh river over which the famed Khajou Bridge arched broadly, was parched and the cracked, dry river bed at once again brought back sad memories of my own country’s countless dying rivers. Human wrath against nature seemed like an alarming global phenomenon and it was the sad sight of the dry river bed that actually hastened my departure from the city. It was a hot noon afternoon when Ashkan and I drove around the Esfahan attractions, and even under the spell of heavy siesta, the ancient city was irresistibly beautiful. Despite the shimmery noon heat, exploring the emptiness of Esfahan’s streets during siesta time was very relaxing and I remember staring in awe at the countless murals of Imam Khomeini decorating the city. Their stark crispness was in sharp contrast to the pastel-coloured sensual softness of Chehel Sotun’s frescoes and to me, they seemed like pages from Iran’s history.
Our last Esfahan evening and a shock
Our last Esfahani day thus ended with a sublime sunset over Khajou Bridge and before dusk, we bade the legendary city goodbye. It was a pleasant moment, to see Esfahan attractions again come alive with crackling spontaneity and we drove out with an uplifted mood. To enjoy the sunset and our last evening in Esfahan to the fullest, we drove up to one of the city’s poshest restaurants for dinner. It turned out to be a bad decision that showed the truth in the saying, ‘All that glitters is not gold’. Our dinner venue was the ghastly Zagros restaurant which apart from its spectacular hilltop location, had nothing else to offer. Ironically, it was my driver Ashkan’s generous decision to treat me to a grand dinner there. Hospitality flows through Iranians like blood and even though, it dented his own allowance, his warm generosity genuinely wanted me to have the best. The restaurant, however, was a really bad one and it revealed the snooty, superficial Iranian local side to me.
Plastic surgeries, botox, and other local foibles
Gone were the warm smiles, heart-touching kindness of the local people. In their place, the oddly decorated restaurant was filled with fake smiles, ludicrous gossip, and loud French perfume. Freshly botoxed and painted faces dotted the scene and the service matched the ridiculous environment. Plastic surgeries in Iran were quite a rage at the time of my visit and taped up noses, chins, etc were signs of moneyed people. Despite its grand clientele, the Zagros Restaurant service was sickeningly slow and the food was pathetically below average. By then, I knew a good melt in your mouth kebab from a poor rubbery oily one and the Zagros restaurant failed badly in its culinary prowess. Nonetheless, it was an eye-opening experience to the other world of Iran, the world of the rich and playful, where English had slipped out with smooth accents and foreign homes had been just another possession. Our next day started early, and we left Esfahan soon to continue deeper with our road trip.
Esfahan Attractions Travel Tips
Keep at least 2-3 days to enjoy Esfahan attractions to the fullest.
How to Reach
Located in central Iran, Esfahan is one of the largest cities and is easily accessible by using different forms of transport.
By Plane – The city has an international airport with direct connections to 14 destinations in 5 countries. There are also domestic flights to Esfahan from all around Iran.
By Train – There are trains connections to most major places in Iran from Esfahan. The most frequent connections are to and from Tehran, Yazd, Kashan, Shiraz, and Mashad. Booking your ticket in advance is recommended.
By Bus – There are many bus terminals in Esfahan, with the ones in Kaveh, Sofeh, Zayanderud, and Jey being the major stations. There are frequent daily buses from and to all major cities in Iran as well as there are buses commuting to smaller places.
Getting Around Esfahan
By Bus – A single journey costs IRR10000 (November 2016); 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.
By Metro – Esfahan Metro is a metro system serving the city. The first phase of Line 1 runs for 11 km from Qods in the northwest to Shohada via Kaveh (Northen long-distance bus terminal) to Sofeh (Southern long-distance bus terminal). A single journey costs IRR10000 (November 2018) you can buy multi-journey contactless cards at any metro station ticket seller office.
Ride-Sharing Apps – It is recommended for travellers to use ride-sharing apps such as SNAPP or TAP30 since they are cheaper than the regular taxi most of the time.
Information Credit – SurfIran
Best Time to Visit
Esfahan has cold winters with temperatures between -2°C and 8°C (in January. Cold waves can occasionally lower temperatures to -10°C. There is one snowfall every winter. In contrast, summers are hot with highs reaching 36°C in July. The nights are pleasant with 21°C.
Squares and streets
- Naqsh-e Jahan Square is also known as the Shah square or Imam square. The square contains two mosques, a palace, and a bazaar. The square is the largest historic public square in the world after Tiananmen Square in China 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.
- Meydan Kohne (Kohne Square)
- Shahshahan Square
- Chaharbagh Boulevard dates back to 1596, the Safavid era and it is the most historically famous square in all of Persia.
- Chaharbagh-e-Khajou Boulevard
- Shah Mosque – Built during the Safavid period, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its splendor is mainly due to the beauty of its seven-colour mosaic tiles and calligraphic inscriptions. Shah Mosque is regarded as one of the masterpieces of Persian architecture. Entrance fee: 500 000 IRR
- Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque – One of the architectural masterpieces of Safavid Iranian architecture, this mosque was built in 1602 by Shah Abbas I. It was designed to be a private mosque for the royal family and therefore does not have any minarets. There is a tunnel from the mosque to the Royal Palace, across the square. Entrance fee: 500 000 IRR
- Hakim Mosque is one of the oldest mosques in Isfahan. Built by Shah Abbas II between 1656 and 1662, it is located on the site of a 10th-century mosque. The portal was covered in mud until it was discovered in 1956.
- Jameh Mosque – This is the biggest mosque in Esfahan. It is connected with the Naqsh-e Jahan Square through the bazaar. The main square is huge and the surrounding colorful architecture is striking. Entrance fee: 500 000 IR
- Ali Qapu Palace – Also known as the Royal Palace, the construction of this monument started in AD842. It is the first Islamic building to adapt the four-courtyard layout of Sassanid palaces. It is forty-eight meters high with seven floors. Each floor is accessible by a difficult spiral staircase. In the sixth-floor music room, deep circular niches are found in the walls. These do not only provide 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. Entrance fee: 500 000 IRR
- Talar Ashraf (The Palace of Ashraf)
- Hasht Behesht (The Palace of Eight Paradises)
- Chehel Sotoun (The Palace of forty columns) – It is called the Palace of forty columns. Incidentally, there are twenty columns, and these are reflected in the pool in front, thus rendering the name of forty columns. The function of this palace was for holding religious-national ceremonies, royal festivals and for receiving royal ambassadors and guests.
Schools or Madreseyes
- Madreseye Shah – Known as Imam Jafar Sadegh after the revolution, the compound of this school was built during Soltan Hossein, a Safavid king. It was built to serve as a theological and clerical school. The dome and the greater part of the walls are covered in bright yellow bricks and the entrance gate is decorated with gold facade and silver. The tile-works inside the building are masterpieces of fine art and industry. The central court, with its pool and garden, is 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. This activity is popular with the locals. However, as a result of a drought and a badly planned dam, there is usually no water in the river.
- Pol-e Shahrestan (The Shahrestan Bridge) – An 11th-century bridge, it is one of the oldest surviving bridges in Iran.
- Pol-e Khaju (Khaju Bridge) – Built in 1650, it was built by the Persian Safavid king, Shah Abbas II. This structure originally was decorated with artistic tile works and paintings serving as a teahouse
- Si-o-Seh Pol (The Bridge of 33 Arches) – It is highly ranked as being one of the most famous examples of Safavid bridge design.
- Pol-e-Joui or Choobi(Joui bridge) – It is one of Isfahan’s oldest bridges and was built in 1665, during the Safavid era.
- Pol-e-Maarnaan (Maarnaan Bridge)
Churches and Cathedrals
- Vank Cathedral (The Church of the Saintly Sisters) – 17th century. The interior is covered with fine paintings and gilded carvings. The delicately blue and gold painted central dome depicts the Biblical story of the creation of the world and man’s expulsion from Eden. Right above the entrance, there is an interesting fresco of heaven and hell with black and brown devils slaughtering white naked people who obviously sinned. This site also has a museum. Entrance fee: 200,000 IRR
- Kelisaye Maryam (Maryam church)
Other Esfahan attractions
- Atashgah – This is a Zoroastrian fire temple. Though in ruins, its location is dramatically set atop a rock on the outskirts of Esfahan and provides a commanding view of the city. You can take one of the blue buses there (ask the drivers). Alternatively, you can cycle the 15 km from the city along the river bank. Entrance fee: 150,000 for foreigners. Free for Iranians.
- Buqe’h-ye Ibn-Sina (Avicenna’s Dome)
- Jolfa: The Armenian Quarter and it includes one of the most beautiful churches in Iran.
- Hamam-e (Bathhouse) Ali Gholi Agha is located in a pleasantly quiet neighborhood with many silver and bronze smiths.
- Azadegan Tea House – This quirkiest of Esfahan attractions has an incredible ambiance and a sneak peek into the local life.
- Gheysarieh Bazar
- The Jewish quarter – Also called Jubareh, this area used to house one of the oldest Jewish communities. In contrast to many other Jewish communities in the world, the one in Isfahan was voluntary and therefore you won’t find any enclosures or city gates. The narrow streets are filled with small shops and are quite nice to walk around. There are now 17 synagogues in Jubareh and the major ones are now being restored as National Heritage sites.
- Local Cooking Class – Join a Persian Cooking Class with Maryam from Anar Guest House. You can check out the availability of the classes and reviews here.
Where to Stay
Esfahan, being one of the most visited cities of Iran has a lot of accommodation options. Check out 1st Quest and find the accommodation that suits your budget and style.
Other Esfahan Travel Tips
- Nearly all Esfahan attractions remain closed from 1330 hrs till 1600 hrs.
- Esfahani afternoons are terribly hot and it is best to plan visits to the city attractions before or after the closing time. Alternatively, you could relax inside the cool interiors of one of the city’s stupendous mosques or rest in the shade in the public gardens.
- Ask before you snap that photo of a local. Remember that there are strict rules against taking photos of certain official buildings, police officers, and military personnel. If you are unsure, ask if it is ok or not. Better to be safe than sorry, as a photo of the wrong building can bring you to jail.
- The drains in Iran are not made for throwing in toilet paper. So throw all paper etc. in the bins provided so they don’t clog the toilets.
- It is mandatory for all women, locals and foreigners alike, to wear the obligatory hijab and cover your behind, elbows, and thighs. The hijab can be loosely hanging on the back of your head and a long shirt will do the job. Men are not allowed to wear singlets or shorts.
Follow the rest of the Iran series
- SOLO TRAVELING TO IRAN
- MY FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF SHIRAZ
- MY BEAUTIFUL SHIRAZ DAYS
- THE PINK MOSQUE OF SHIRAZ
- MOST BEAUTIFUL SHIRAZ ATTRACTIONS
- SHIRAZ TRAVEL GUIDE
- GHOST AND GARDENS OF QALAT
- START OF MY IRAN ROAD TRIP
- THE HALF OF THE WORLD AT ESFAHAN
- NAQSH-E-JAHAN SQUARE OF ESFAHAN
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE