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Palaces and Museums of Tehran: Part 1

We arrived in Tehran in the evening, feeling tired especially after an 11-hour flight from Malaysia (including transit time in Dubai). By the time we exited the airport, we came across heavy traffic leading into Tehran. It was Friday, the weekend was already in full swing and locals were out and about (weekends in Iran are Friday & Saturday). A journey which could have been an hour to our hotel turned out to be 2 hours. All we wanted to do was check-in to the hotel, unpack, shower and go to sleep.

The next morning I woke up bright and early, feeling excited about our first day out in Tehran. I drew the curtains, half expecting to see snow-capped mountains in the distant – admittedly, scenes from the film Argo were etched in my memory – but only the backstreets of our hotel πŸ™‚ I chuckled and thought to myself, get a grip, Kath, you’re here to see the real Tehran, not based on a Hollywood movie which incidentally was not filmed in Iran!

After breakfast, our guide Rana met us at the hotel lobby. Rana is a young tour guide who has been doing freelance tours in the city for the past 5 years. She speaks very good English and she is learning Italian at the same time.

Our 2-day itinerary in Tehran was pretty much everything that was palaces and museums. Initially, I had some reservations about the itinerary, mainly, for two reasons: Is that all there is to see in Tehran, and would we get bored hopping from one palace to another (likewise for museums)? Fortunately, Rana changed our perspective as she made our tours lively and light, so there was no room for boredom.

We had also mentioned to her from the start that we did not want to be rushed from one stop to another because we wanted to understand the history, gather some insights about a place and to soak in the atmosphere of wherever we were…and have time to take photos too! Rana was very delighted as she felt the same because she wanted us to see and experience what Iran truly was, outside palaces and museums. So, as we spent 2 days with her, she happily showed us places which were not in the itinerary; brought us to restaurants which only locals go (including an ice-cream parlour) and shared some personal insights about life in Iran.

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The first palace we visited was Golestan Palace – β€˜Gol’ in Persian means rose – therefore literally means Roseland Palace. Golestan is the oldest historic monument in Tehran, consisting of royal buildings in an ancient citadel, and was formerly official residence of the royal Qajar family from the late 18th century till the early 20th century. Then, from 1925 till 1979, Golestan was no longer the royal residence as the Pahlavi royals built their own palace at Niavaran. Instead, Golestan was used for formal royal receptions including important ceremonies such as the coronations of Reza Shah Pahlavi on the Marble Throne and Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in the Museum Hall.

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palaces and museums tehran golestan palace mosaics outside

Here are some of the attractions inside the Palace:

Marble Throne (Takht-e-Marmar) which is made of yellow marble from Yazd Province. The throne with elaborate and detailed marble carvings was, unfortunately, surrounded by glass panels to prevent damage which made it difficult for us to admire the ornate carvings up close and to take a picture due to reflections from the glass.

palaces and museums tehran golestan palace marble throne

palaces and museums tehran golestan palace marble throne close up

Decorative tiles and mosaic patterns were something which I was looking forward to see in Iran, and I got an initial preview of it in Khalvat-e-Karim Khani terrace which has a small throne and less ornamentation compared to the Marble Throne.

palaces and museums tehran golestan palace khalvat e karim khani

The finest stained glass windows in Golestan is the central room of the Building of Wind Towers (Emarat-e-Badgir)

palaces and museums tehran golestan palace building of wind towers

palaces and museums tehran golestan palace mirrors

The Golestan Palace complex consists of 17 structures comprising palaces, museums and halls, and it had went through 400 constructions and renovations over many centuries. We only visited the interesting ones, some of which we were not allowed to take any photographs inside, such as Talar-e-Berelian (Hall of Brilliance) known for its mirror work and chandeliers and Talar-e-Salam (Reception Hall) exhibited Iranian and European paintings alongside gifts presented to the royal court.

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Since Golestan Palace complex is housed inside an ancient citadel, then the hubbub of commercial activities is outside the citadel. The Grand Bazaar (Bazar Bozorg) is walking distance from Golestan. I had read somewhere that the Grand Bazaar has lost much of its historical importance since commerce in the city has moved to the northern part, however, the bazaar is still active for the locals, travelling merchants, and increasingly for tourists. It was good to know from Rana that the Grand Bazaar was not set up purely for tourists unlike the Grand Bazaar in Instanbul (I have yet to travel to Instanbul).

Sadly, we were not able to see this historical market in action because it was Saturday, and all shops were closed.

palaces and museums tehran outside bazaar

We walked a little further and came across another bazaar which was smaller and shops were opened.

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It was time for lunch and that meant it was time for Persian food! Before arriving in Iran, friends who have heard about the wonders of Iran (the ones who didn’t ask But…Why Iran? )Β have warned me about the possibility of gaining weight during this trip because of delicious Persian food. And they were absolutely right πŸ™‚

Rana recommended us to try tahchin, a Persian upside-down layered saffron rice and chicken slices – a mouthwatering dish seasoned with yogurt and egg yolk mixture, and garnished with barberries. Yummmmmmmmmmm!

We could not finish the dish as the servings were huge, so we asked for a doggy bag. TheΒ tahchinΒ was too delectable to go wasted – we wanted to finish it even if it was within the confines of our hotel room for tea time later!

palaces and museums tehran tahchin persian food

Writing the last paragraph on Persian food makes me crave for it now…hmm, I can’t focus. I have to continue this later πŸ˜‰

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palaces and museums of tehran part 1

*Linking with #Citytripping, The Weekly Postcard.

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72 comments

  1. Hi Kat, welcome to #TheWeeklyPostcard. I’m so glad to see that you wrote about Tehran, an intriguing city that I would have like to visit but for the current political circumstances in Iran. There is so much about the culture of this country that fascinates me, but I don’t think I’d dare go visit it. I’m glad to see it through your eye at least.

    1. Thanks Anda, for giving me the opportunity to participate in #TheWeeklyPostcard πŸ™‚ I would encourage you to visit Iran but do follow international news closely on the dos and donts for American citizens when travelling in Iran. I had met a few Americans in Iran (they had to join a group tour, part of the rules) and they didn’t face any problems at all, in fact, they were very happy to have visited the country and learnt so much more about this country.

  2. Kat, very interesting? Do you need to have a guide in Iran or is independent sightseeing allowed (not that I want to explore independently but would be good to know)? Those palaces are stunning. Like you had an interesting time exploring them. Do you thing is something else in the city other than palaces? Are different tours offered? #TheWeeklyPostcard

    1. Hi Ruth, because of “global politics and tension”, the last I heard was that American citizens need to join a group tour when exploring Iran. Other nationalities can join a group tour, private tour or go on independent travel. My sister and I signed up for a private tour. We went to palaces and museums in Tehran, visited a bazaar as well. There are activities offered, depends on your interests – some enjoy shopping, food – if you sign up for a private tour, you can customize your itinerary.

    1. In Iran there are many sites that have amazing details and intricacies in their artwork – mosaics, carvings and frescoes – incredible πŸ™‚

    1. Tehran is fascinating, the other cities in Iran are even better with incredible mosaics and frescoes in mosques and churches, ancient ruins, etc.

    1. Iran is opening up to tourism now, so hope you get the chance to visit this country. It’s absolutely beautiful and since you love Persian food, you will love eating your way around Iran πŸ™‚

  3. OMG Kat!! You are sooo lucky to visit Iran! I am crazy about going there, for ages, before my blog even πŸ˜€
    These palaces look amazing don’t they? I so want to go there and visit them all! I will keep in mind the company that organized your tour! I’m saving your Iran posts for when I go!
    So happy to always have you on #MondayEscapes with your inspiring stories πŸ˜€

    1. Yeah, I went to Iran in May 2015. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime-country to visit πŸ™‚ Please save Iran Traveling Centre for your future references – they are very professional in customising tours, answering queries and the guides they provided were very good. In fact, I continue to keep in touch with the Tehran guide πŸ™‚

  4. Really interesting post Kat about a city and country which isn’t often written about from a tourist’s perspective. Great photos showing off the ornate palaces and, yes, the food looks divine!

    1. Thanks Liz…Iran is such an interesting country, unfortunately due to global politics, the world has a different view. I’m hoping things will change for the better for them..

  5. What an opportunity to visit Iran! It is fascination to learn more about your country from your perspective. I can’t concentrate neither because you mentioned Persian food. I can eat those dishes every single day.

    1. Hahah, Persian food is awesome. I will probably have to exercise every single day if I’m going to eat their food every day! Btw, I hope it was a typo in your comment – I’m actually from Malaysia, not from Iran πŸ˜‰

  6. This sounds like such an amazing trip – Iran is somewhere I would absolutely love to visit, and your tour sounds fantastic, just the right mix of soaking up the culture (and the food, oh the food!) and seeing some of the sights. Thanks for linking with #citytripping

    1. Yeah, whenever I sign up for a private tour, I like to share my expectations so that it becomes a win-win situation – I’m happy and as a result, the guide is happy too πŸ™‚

  7. That sounds like an amazing trip! Tour guides can really make or break a trip, so it’s great that yours worked out so well! I have always wanted to visit Iran, and this post is definitely tempting me… Although I just took a big trip so I have no vacation time left at the moment πŸ™

    1. Thanks Elizabeth! Having a private tour guide is much better, you can converse with them and share your expectations. In that way, the tour becomes an enriching experience. Perhaps next year to visit Iran? πŸ™‚

  8. Is Tahchin more like Biryani?! Have heard Persian food is delectable. I am reading a book on Iran which talks about the change of dynasties; from Qajar to Pahalvis, so was good to see the palace in pictures.

    1. The rice is like biryani – long-grained rice but doesn’t taste like biryani at all. I think Persian food is delectable because of saffron and rose water. Arabic food doesn’t use a lot of saffron, so recently when I was in Jordan, my food experience wasn’t that awesome compared with my Iran trip πŸ™ About the book you’re reading, so now you have the visuals πŸ™‚

  9. As a huge fan of Iranian movies, music and food, Iran has been one of the countries I have always wished to visit. So, it’s nice to read about your travels there. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks Ahila! I love Iranian films too – they have good story lines and often win awards in film festivals. Till now, I’m not able to find good Persian food in Malaysia πŸ™

  10. Yeah, you are right in a way. With two grown up sons, one in college and wants to persue his masters from an expensive college in UK, we have to save for our sons education which encurs lot of fee. Thanks for sharing your secret of travel. All I can say is lucky you when it comes to travel.

  11. Beautiful write up and stunning pics have convinced me to take a trip to this place. Persian food looks yumm. Tell me Kat how do you manage your finances to take abroad trips so frequently. I too want to visit countries but money is an issue. I mean I am not so poor but at the same time not too much to spend on travel. Is there any package or a club you are associated to? Your suggestion will be valuable to me.

    1. I wish I have the right answer for you but I don’t, unfortunately πŸ™

      I’m lucky to live in Malaysia because the location is quite strategic for many South-East Asia and Asia travels in general. Majority of these destinations are under 5 hours by flight, and with low cost airlines operating from Malaysia, thus travelling is affordable (sometimes 35K-45K rupees for 1 person for 3D/2N which covers flight+accommodation+food+exps +misc). Furthermore, I’m 39 and still single, I have a full-time job and don’t have other commitments except for mortgage & car loan, therefore I’m kinda lucky to be able to spend time & money on travels. Of course, I do save money for rainy days (and future retirement) and I generally don’t splurge on unnecessary stuff πŸ™‚ I guess my circumstances would be very different if I’m married with kids or if I don’t have a full-time job…then I might have to compromise on travels due to other priorities.

    1. No, you don’t need to travel with a travel company. You can be an independent traveller. But Americans are required to travel with a travel company. We chose to have a private tour because we wanted a break from independent travel hahah…it was nice for a change to have someone organized it for us. We did have a few requests for slight changes in our itinerary when we were there, and that’s the advantage of having a private guide πŸ™‚

      1. If a country is not that common as a travel destination, it’s a good idea to have a guided tour. Were did you find your tour guide? When it was a private agency, did you find them via online research?

        1. I discovered Iran Traveling Centre from Tripadvisor, read the comments about them, and I found that their reviews were relatively better than the other travel agencies. I had also written directly to one of the reviewers on TA to gather more info. Then I submitted my enquiry through Iran Traveling Center website, and the rest was just correspondence between myself and the manager. At the same time I had corresponded with other travel agencies but found ITC more responsive and prompt.

          We would not know who our tour guide is until we arrive at our destination. Most of these guides are freelance.

  12. I totally understand why you wanted to visit Iran. I’m very interested in art and architecture too, so I would love to see all this in this country. And additionally, I like going to places where not so many others go to. One can rarely see travel posts on Iran, so thank you for this gorgeous post, I’m looking forward to see more!

    1. You’re welcome. You’re right, my sister and I love history, art, architecture and Iran is so rich in heritage. Furthermore, not many people have travelled there though the numbers are increasing now due to moderation in policies in Iran. Situation is rather calm at the moment, hence we wanted to take advantage of it before anything else changes because politics is so fluid nowadays.

    1. On the contrary, Marie..as an American you can still go, and I was informed by an American couple that it was not difficult at all to obtain a travel visa to go to Iran. The only requirement specifically for Americans is that you have to sign up for a tour (private tour is fine as well) – Americans are not allowed to go as independent travellers. Other than that, no issues for Americans. Hope that changes your mind πŸ˜‰

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