Tehran is the capital city of Iran and is home to 14 million people. The largest city in Western Asia and the second largest in the Middle East, Tehran has a rich and colourful history and is home to many interesting landmarks. Drawing crowds of history-lovers, architecture buffs and adventurous travellers, it has become a city known for its mysterious allure and wealth of attractions.
Tehran sits at an altitude of between 1,200 and 1,700 meters and is serviced by an international airport and has rail connections to Europe. Founded as early as the 4th century, and part of what was then known as the Persian Empire, today visitors come to the city to learn about the culture of its inhabitants throughout history in one of Tehran's many museums. One of the most popular, The National Museum of Tehran is a treasure-trove of information about Ancient Persia and the Islamic history of the modern-day inhabitants.
Although 31 other cities in Iran have previously been named Iran's Capital, Tehran has held this title since 1796 and it continues to be the cultural, economic and historical centre of the country. The reason for this is very clear from a visit to Golestan Palace, a monumental royal complex in the central city. It is a world heritage site and one of the oldest monuments in the country. Visitors can explore the gold-plated palace, gardens and collections of both Persian and European artefacts. For those who are a little more adventurous, there is Mount Damavand. This is the highest mountain in Iran, and it has been luring mountaineers for centuries with the promise of gorgeous snowy peaks, legends of giants and the threat of volcanic eruption.
Every two years the city holds its famous Tehran International Puppet Theatre Festival. Drawing in world-class puppeteers since 1989, this is a unique show that will put a smile on even the biggest kid's face. Here in December? The Festival of Fire sees bonfires lit in public spaces throughout the city -- and citizens jumping over them to cleanse and purify themselves! A very interesting and beautiful cultural festival.
Things to do
There is a wide variety of things to do in Tehran, and every tourist will find something to fit his specific tastes. From museums and historic monuments to parks and adventure hikes, this is a place where you'll never run out of things to do.
If you love history
Those interested in learning more about the ancient origins of the Persian Empire and Iran after Islam, the National Museum of Iran is a must see. Divided into ancient and modern history, the museum is the oldest in the country and one of the most popular. It features archaeological artefacts, interactive displays and has some incredible collections of Iranian antiquities, pottery, metals and coins.
A royal experience
Another interesting way to learn about the history and culture of Iran is to visit the city's National Jewellery Museum. Located in the Central Bank building, this museum, which is also the vault that houses some of the most valuable jewels on the continent, is not to be missed. There are collections here that once belonged to Persian royalty. What better way to learn about the culture of Tehran than through this exquisite array of gold, silver and priceless gems.
After getting your fill of the amazing cultural sites in the city, make your way to the nearby Mount Damavand. A potentially active volcano, many mountaineers come to climb the amazing snow-capped mountain that can be seen on a clear day from the city, located around 50 miles away. Even if you don't want to climb to the top, there are relaxing natural thermal springs near the base that are warmed by volcanic heat. There are also a wide variety of flora, fauna, animals and reptiles that can be spotted on the slopes.
And to relax...
A little closer to civilization, Jamshidieh Stone Garden is the perfect place to spend a warm afternoon. This park, set between rocky mountain ranges, attracts visitors because of its incredible stone creations and beautiful gardens. Spend some time relaxing, listening to the trickle of water over the rocks, and enjoy a picnic in the serene surroundings.
This 16th century citadel is a major draw for visitors, containing 17 structures including museums, palaces and gardens. The Marble Throne is an incredible terrace surrounded by carvings, paintings and frescos. The entire complex is an intense and amazing look through the pre-Islamic history of the city.
Events in Tehran
There is a wide variety of events that take place in the city annually. Many centre around the Muslim religion and celebrate an event of significance. These celebrations are a fantastic way to create harmony among residents and visitors and are a great way for travellers to learn more about the major religion of Iran.
Tehran International Puppet Theatre Festival. Every two years, children big and small are treated to entertainment by puppetry acts from all over the globe. The world's best puppeteers come to Tehran to entertain the masses and compete for various prizes and awards. Dating back to 1989 the festival, occurring every two years in August has acts from as far away as Canada, Germany and Australia.
Chaharshanbe Suri or the Festival of Fire. This festival is celebrated on the last Wednesday of December. Celebrations begin in the early evening and the people create bonfires all over the city. They then leap over the flames singing "my yellow is yours, your red is mine". This is a poem that aims to purify the jumper from any illness or problem and replace them with happiness.
Tehran International Short Film Festival. Showcasing Iranian talent filmmaking since 1983, this festival occurs in October and November each year, attracting films and film-lovers from all over the continent.
The Tehran Book Fair. This is one of the leading book and publishing fairs in the country. Thousands of international and national publishers attract more than 5 million visitors to the city who are hoping to find that rare or out-of-print book to add to their collection. Usually held in May.