A chaotic, smog-filled metropolis crowded with nearly 15 million people, Tehran is at first glance an unlikely place for a holiday. However, travellers who take the time to get to know this fascinating city will quickly find that its long history and increasingly cosmopolitan mindset make it an undiscovered gem in the Middle East.
Tehran can be roughly divided into two parts: the northern districts are more modern and prosperous, with large shopping malls, international restaurants, and luxury hotels; while the southern areas are more run-down but cheaper, and are home to massive bazaars, historical buildings, and sidewalk falafel stands.
Tehran is home to some of the best museums in the Middle East, with as many as 50 to choose from. The most popular is undoubtedly the Golestan Palace, while the Crown Jewels of Iran (located in the Central Bank) is a must-see exhibit. Other worthwhile stops include the Carpet Museum of Iran, the Time Museum, and the Museum of the Islamic Period.
Tehran can be overwhelming, and short trips tend to be the most satisfying. When the bustle becomes too much, travellers can visit vastly different places, spending a few days in Ramsar, a holiday town on the Caspian Sea; Na'in, a small desert town; or Dizin, which is Iran's largest ski resort.
Opinions on the safety of travelling to Tehran are divided: many residents and experienced travellers proclaim that it is largely safe, however the US State Department advises against tourist travel to Tehran, while the British Foreign Office lifted its advisory against tourist travel to Iran in 2015. Nonethless, anyone travelling to Tehran should stay up-to-date with the latest media coverage.
Tehran has a semi-arid, continental climate and the city separates the mountains to the north and desert to the south. Summers in Tehran, from June to August, are hot and dry with average high temperatures of 93°F (34°C) and occasional extremes of 104°F (40°C). During the summer months, Tehran experiences very little rain, with average precipitation levels of 0.1 inches (3mm) per month. However, relative humidity is low and evenings are cool.
Most of Tehran's rainfall occurs during the spring and autumn. Winters, from December to February, are very cold with temperatures falling below freezing and rarely peaking above 37°F (3°C), with light snow showers a common occurrence. It is important to note that due to the city's large size and the difference in elevation between districts, visitors will find that the weather is often cooler in the northern hills than in the southern lowland areas.
Visitors to Tehran will find that there are plenty of transport options to assist them in getting around the city. Tehran has a modern metro system which connects various parts of the city; the best way to get around for first-time visitors as it allows them to avoid major traffic congestion. From Tehran's central railway station one can catch a train to other major destinations in Iran.
It also has an extensive system of buses and Bus Rapid Transport (BRT). It is possible to travel by bus to almost anywhere in the city and bus travel is inexpensive in Tehran. The only caution for bus travel, is that without a knowledge of Farsi or without asking for help from locals, it is difficult to know where and when to disembark. In addition, don't forget that buses, trains and taxis have gender-segregated seating and travellers should bear this in mind when embarking; taxis are more flexible, especially when full.
The city has also developed a bike-share scheme which consists of docking stations where commuters can pick up or return borrowed bikes throughout the city. Travelling by taxi is a comfortable way to get around the city but visitors should ask their hotel to book them a taxi with a reputable company. It is also possible for female passengers travelling alone to request a vehicle with a female taxi driver. It is best to negotiate fares upfront. Driving in Tehran will be a challenge for new arrivals as local driving is sometimes erratic and dangerous. However, visitors who decide to hire a car will have the option to have a local driver accompany them, which is advisable.