Can't live without travels! Wherever she goes she always looks for alternative spots or street art. A huge fan of Central Europe and off the beaten path places and a living proof that you can balance full time job and extensive travel!

Isfahan, Iran – kind of disappointing highlight of Persia

Isfahan was supposed to be my highlight of Iran. Everyone just kept raving about how amazing this place is and I kind of believed them! Isfahan, Iran is often called one of the most beautiful cities you will ever see and its name in Persian means “half the world”. After these recommendations I had my expectations really high! And I enjoyed Isfahan, I really did. But I wasn’t as impressed as the majority of people who have been there before me and wasn’t blown away as I expected. Isfahan was beautiful, that’s for sure, but it definitely wasn’t the best place I visited in Iran.

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Isfahan, Iran
I arrived from Yazd to Isfahan on sultry afternoon, right in the peak hours. Getting from the bus station to my Couchsurfing hosts’ place was already a challenge in the busy traffic but some hour later I finally arrived. After a short getting to know each other time we’ve decided to go for a walk so I could get a little glimpse of Isfahan. It was early evening and together with Azadeh and Hassan we headed to the Armenian Quarter. I was slightly disappointed, I must admit (after all Armenia has a special place in my heart, for the reason I can’t even recall) but it was still really pleasant and the area was a perfect introduction to great Isfahan. I especially enjoyed a small charming tea house, it was the kind of place I wish I had back at home. From the Armenian quarter it was only few steps to the riverside and famous Isfahan bridges. It was already dark but the park along the Zayanderud river was full of people: walking, cycling or just having a picnic – probably the favorite pastime activity of Iranian people. We walked a lot, enjoying the laid-back atmosphere, admiring beautiful Isfahan bridges and talking about life in Iran and in Poland. My hosts were in the same age as I am, we were at similar stages in life so those conversation let me get to know the country in a best possible way. Like always nothing is black or white… My age-mates like their lives in Iran, they have good jobs, they travel the world but still it’s not easy with all the musts and don’ts that the country is so full of. It was the best evening I’ve had in Iran and it ended with a glass of homemade wine, similar to the one I remember my grandmother used to make.

Finally planning a trip to Iran is so much easier! I remember how much I’ve struggled not being able to book anything ahead. Fortunately it has changed with 1stQuest website!

Happy Iran travels!

Highlights of Isfahan, Iran

Next morning my hosts went to work and I set off to discover Isfahan. I needed to cross the incredible Bridge of 33 Arches and it looked even more stunning in the day light. Rows of (what seemed like) countless arches and the water blasting below – this place really deserve all the hype! But still Isfahan was nothing like I imagined. The city was busy, chaotic, reminded me of Shiraz a little bit. However the closer I was getting to the heart of Isfahan – Naqsh-e Jahan Square – the vibe around me was changing. Suddenly it was much calmer and there seemed to be less people. The moment I stepped from one of the narrow streets into the main square of Isfahan I understood why everyone is so crazy about it. Naqsh-e Jahan Square really could take the breath away! The square is enormous (second biggest one in the world after Beijing’s Tiananmen) and its southern side is dominated by beautiful Imam Mosque. The neat row of arches with richly decorated gate topped with minarets and a beautiful dome peaking from behind is probably the most photographed and shared picture of Iran and it surely is so famous for a reason! The building is a true masterpiece of Persian architecture, listed on UNESCO World Heritage List. That’s where I headed first, it was the most obvious choice. The view from the Naqsh-e Jahan Square is just the foretaste! Inside the mosque is just as stunning as from the outside, so abundant with ornaments that you just don’t know where to look, not wanting to miss a single detail. When standing in the middle of the main hall you can play with the voices, the sound is playing around like the echo in the mountains. Unfortunately during my visit the big part of the complex was under renovations so I couldn’t really check every single corner. Still what I’ve managed to see really impressed me, it was probably the biggest mosque I’ve ever seen, but it wasn’t as spectacular as the Pink Mosque in Shiraz.

It could have been the early hour, still before noon, but the square was fairly empty. Few school trips loitered around the Imam Mosque, a handful of tourists were wandering around, taking pictures of this one of a kind place but that’s about it. Probably that’s why the Naqsh-e Jahan Square seemed to be even more enormous, it felt like it’s at least one kilometer long, from the Imam Mosque to the bazaar’s entrance. While walking through the square I was stopping every few steps, taking yet another picture – that’s how picturesque the place was!

When entering the bazaar I was kind of hoping to get lost as it seemed like a perfect place for aimless wandering around. And I almost did it! When I was close to not knowing where exactly I am I suddenly found myself in the Naqsh-e Jahan Square again! As for the bazaar – it was a typical one for Iran. Full of just about everything, with maze of alleys, topped with beautiful high ceilings and heading in all possible directions, small squares with fountains in the middle and shops hidden in the arches. I also came across the part dedicated to tourists only, where you could but some (overpriced) Iran souvenirs. The bazaar was a fairly pleasant place but to be honest the one in Kashan impressed me the most.

When, to my big surprise, I exited the bazaar to Naqsh-e Jahan Square, I could see huge dark clouds gathering at the horizon. This could mean anything good, I had to quickly find a place to hide. I entered one of the back streets where a recommended ice cream shop was supposed to be only to be forced to stop in the pizza place on the way. The huge rain made me try how the pizza in Iran tastes (it wasn’t that bad!) and the saffron ice-cream I had eventually were pretty delicious too! After this forcible lunch stop I was read to explore Naqsh-e Jahan Square some more! It seemed like even more people are around after the rain, I however headed right to Ali Qapu Palace. I must say I was expecting something better but at least the view all over the Naqsh-e Jahan Square and Imam Mosque was really spectacular. It’s worth to visit the palace just for this sight, only from this perspective you can see how enormous the place is! Too bad part of the balcony with the view was closed for the renovation and I could admire just the southern side of the square. In the hall on the top floor of the palace I could see incredible wooden ornaments, some of the most beautiful I’ve seen in Iran. Not only they are special for the unusual material that was used but the patterns are really beautiful too!

Amazing bridges of Isfahan, Iran

It’s easy to spend the whole day only at Naqsh-e Jahan Square and to get lost in its beauty and atmosphere. The square is especially vibrant at dusk, it becomes a main arena for picnics so beloved by Iranians. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay there that long, I only had one day in the city and there were still plenty of things I wanted to see in Isfahan. From the Naqsh-e Jahan Square I returned to the riverside to properly see two remaining bridges – Khaju Bridge and Joui bridge. And again they impressed me, a lot! Both were a true engineering masterpiece and sitting at the steps of Khaju Bridge and staring at the water below was just enchanting! I’m not surprised Isfahan bridges are so famous and a reason itself to visit the city! It seemed like the bridges and the area around were also the favorite hanging out spots for people of Isfahan. Both in the early afternoon and in the evening the riverside was full of people at all ages, just relaxing there and having a good time. Isfahan is such a vibrant city, no doubts about that!

My only “wow moment” in Iran

For the end I left the icing on the cake (as it turned out later on) – the Armenian quarter. I wanted to see it one more time, without any rushing, in my own way. I headed to the Vank Cathedral and it was the only time during my whole trip to Iran when I had the “wow moment”! My breath was taken away, literally, and it wasn’t for magnificent Persian monuments. This little inconspicuous sanctuary was the most unexpected place I happened to visit in Iran! The numerous churches and monasteries I visited in Armenia were always very modest and even stark inside but Vank Cathedral was different. I wasn’t prepared for what I’m about to see and as soon as I stepped inside I was awestruck, standing with my jaw dropped. The interior looked like from a fairy tale with incredible paintings, carvings and tile work. Even if the cathedral is fairly small I spent at least 15 minutes there, trying to take it all in and to remember every single detail. The place didn’t want to let me go either, the sky just opened and a huge thunderstorm started. I was locked in the Armenian museum next to the cathedral and had more than enough time to read and admire every single artifact collected there. And again I couldn’t be any more prouder when I saw a Polish flag – one of the countries that recognize the Armenian genocide (I was in Iran couple of days after the centennial of these tragic events).

At this point I had to call in a day, all these walking around combined with rain made me just so exhausted. I spent a really lovely evening with my hosts and their friends and in the morning those friends were kind enough to drive me to my last destination in Iran – Kashan.

Is it worth to visit Isfahan, Iran?

Isfahan is stunning and can easily be considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world, there are no doubts about that. But it didn’t impress me as much as I expected. I guess I prepared myself too well for this trip and had the same situation like so many people visiting Paris or New York. They know the place so good from the movies, books and internet that when they finally get there the place looks so familiar the excitement is gone. And that was my problem with Isfahan too. As soon as I saw the famous bridges or Naqsh-e Jahan Square I felt like I’ve been there before. And since Isfahan was my second to last stop in Iran I lacked the novelty, the mosque or bazaar didn’t impress me as much as they should have. What I remember the most from Isfahan were the people. That’s where I met the most friendly and generous people in the whole country! My Couchsurfing hosts, sellers in the shops or just random Iranians met on the streets – all of them were incredibly nice and those meetings and conversations are still very vivid in my memory. And this is why after all Isfahan was a very important place for me, even if for the reasons I didn’t expect at all!

Iran practical information

How to get to Iran?

I flew from Tbilisi to Tehran and then back to Berlin, with a stopover in Doha, with Qatar Airways. I booked my ticket some 3 weeks before the departure and it was just 300USD which I think is a really good deal, considering the short notice. Qatar Airways has another advantage – while the majority of flights arrive to Tehran in the middle of the night and the queue to visa on arrival is rather long and time consuming my flight from Doha landed around midday and there were two people in line ahead of me. You can also check and book flights via SkyScanner. I always use it when looking for flights as it has this cool option of choosing “anywhere” destination or “anytime” date.

There is no public transport from Teheran airport to the city, you have to use the taxi. There’s an official price list and how much you pay depends on the car you use. From Tehran bus station you can get just about everywhere in the country. I used mostly VIP buses as they were the most comfortable and still not that expensive.

Where to stay in Iran?

Most important – you need to have at least the first night of your accommodation booked when applying for visa on arrival. Finally you can book your accommodation in Iran online at 1stQuest website, they have over 500 properties all over the country available (when I visited Iran it was impossible and that was my biggest issue during the trip). I used Couchsurfing in the city but here you can see the hotels in Isfahan.

Iran packing list

If you are a woman first and foremost when traveling to Iran you need a scarf to cover your hair and a tunic to wear. They are an absolute must there! You have to wear both from the moment you exit the plane till the second you enter it again. Since the sun is very strong I actually found the scarf not that bad as it protected my head from the heat. Because of the sun I also can’t imagine going to Iran without the sunglasses! I strongly suggest getting the air pollution mask as the traffic and smog in Isfahan are insane there.

Everyone visiting Iran, including me, uses Lonely Planet guide book and it really was useful! I wish I had Farsi Phrasebook too, it would make getting around so much easier! That said I really recommend learning at least numbers before your trip!

Iran is a photography paradise, it’s just too amazing to describe! You would need couple of memory cards and battery sets to be prepared to capture all the beauty around! I always have some extra ones so I know I can take picture whenever I want to. I also travel with powerbank so my mobile phone won’t run out of the power. As for the equipment: recently I’ve switched from DSLR to mirrorless camera, now I have Fujufilm X-T10 and I can’t recommend it enough! Not only it’s very small and light but it also takes wonderful pictures! Now I’m just saving for some better lenses

I never travel without an insurance as you never know what might happen. In countries like Iran, where technically the risk is higher, I can’t even imagine not having an insurance! You can get yours here, at World Nomads!

If you think of visiting Iran or want to read more about the country take a look at what else I wrote about the place:

If you’re looking for articles about any place in particular this map with posts might be useful for you. Or just take a look at the “destinations” page.


Isfahan (1)       Isfahan

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24 Mar '16

There are 39 Comments.

  1. I quite enjoyed Isfahan, but I must admit I liked Kashan bazaar better, as well :)
    Monika latest post…There are no boring places, it’s only a traveller who might be boringMy Profile

  2. Po pierwsze wydaje mi się, że zawsze te must see places są trochę rozczarowujące, no bo się za dużo po nich spodziewamy. Po drugie, ludzie. Na Bliski i Środkowym Wschodzie oni są chyba kluczowym zachwytem. Już Ci nie raz pisałam, że Iran jest moim wielkim marzeniem, jak drugi podrośnie to jedziemy! Tylko nie wiem jak z dziećmi spełnię największe irańskie marzenie, czyli przejazd na dachu autobusu przez Wielką Pustynię Słoną.

    • no coś w tym jest, za dużo wszędzie informacji o tych atrakcjach, że na miejscu brakuje elementu zaskoczenia. No i ludzie tak bardzo tak! Nawet nie zauważysz, a już będziesz pakowała tobołki do Iranu! a i autobus pewnie da się ogarnąć tak, żeby było dobrze :)

  3. Muszę kiedyś sama się przekonać, bo zdjęcia z posta pustki nie pokazują ;) są obłędne!! A efekt wow, hm… ‘muszę kiedyś sama się przekonać’ ;)))

  4. Czasem tak bywa, że miasto jest piękne, ale brakuje mu “duszy”. Znam to uczucie doskonale ;) Isfahan wygląda jakby duszę miał ogromną, ale to muszę się sama przekonać!

  5. mnie tam się wszystkie miejsca ze zdjęć spodobały.. :) może dlatego, że to nieodkryta przeze mnie “egzotyka”.. ;]

  6. Ta architektura i te zdobienia…mogłabym oglądać zdjęcia godzinami. Piękne. I to wszystko w jednym mieście… Kusisz Kamila ;)

  7. Nawet jak się człowiek rozczaruje to przynajmniej wie jak tam jest. Czytam więc o Twoim rozczarowaniu :)

  8. Nie byłem , wrażenie : smutno, zastój , ‘ coś wisi w powietrzu ‘ artykuł nie za bardzo zachęca do odwiedzenia.Ja bym dał tytuł ‘Iran przed wojną’ Tak czuję.Oby nie. :)

  9. Kami, that’s funny – today we’ve flown out from Iran and are currently waiting for our connecting flight in Dubai and few hours ago I started to work on the text about Isfahan. My impressions are very like yours. Beautiful city, but I wouldn’t come back. There are many places in Iran we’re already planing to re-visit (in particular Kurdistan, desert around Kerman and Masr, probably Yazd), but neither Shiraz nor Isfahan are among them. Maybe it’s also because we were there during No Ruz, but Shiraz didn’t impress us at all. We basically ran from the city, of course after seeing Persepolis. Have you been to the Tabriz bazaar? It was the first bazaar we saw in Iran and each bazaar we saw afterwards seemed just so… little authentic and with no soul.
    Kasia & Victor Sanchez latest post…Kurdystan irański – myśleliśmy, że wiemy wszystko o gościnnościMy Profile

    • kami
      12:07 13/04/2016

      I’m glad I’m not the only one here as I felt like some kind of weirdo for not enjoying Isfahan all that much. I definitely loved Yazd and would love to return there. And also see other places you’ve mentioned (especially Kurdistan)! Hopefully one day!

  10. The bridge of 33 Arches! That would definitely be a “WOOOOW” moment for me, especially in the evening. I can’t resist writing a little remark here about you not being overly “wowed” by Isfahan. Isn’t it the case that when you travel as much as you do, you kind of get “immune” to the beauty new places have to offer? That’s something I’ve heard from numerous travellers, they admitted that after a certain point, they just stopped marvelling at the new places as much as they used to earlier. Saying this because this city looks incredibly amazing to me. ;-)
    Kinga latest post…ITB Berlin 2016 – some thoughts on the biggest travel showMy Profile

    • kami
      12:10 13/04/2016

      no, I don’t think that’s the case. It’s more about how easily available all the pictures and information are, that we can prepare very well before visiting the place and so when we finally get there it just feels like we already know it. Isfahan was really amazing and beautiful but exactly like I expected. The Vank cathedral was a big surprise to me and probably that’s why I had this wow moment there.

  11. Jak O jest że wszyscy w Iranie odwiedzają piękne miejsca, meczety i w ogóle tyle tego, a ja w Iranie chyba w żadnym meczecie nie byłem… :p w sumie nie ważne wspominam fantastycznie Iran… :)

    • kami
      12:12 13/04/2016

      chyba jestes jedyną osobą, która nie odwiedziła absolutnie żadnego meczetu w Iranie ;) ale i tak koniec końców liczą się wspomnienia :)

  12. Ja się w Isfahanie bawiłam fantastycznie! I to tak bardzo, że byłam tam aż 2 razy :)

  13. Czasem tak jest, że miejsca znamy za dobrze ze zdjęć i opowieści i może nas nic nie zaskoczyć. Dlatego czasem lepiej tak dokładnie nie planować, pójść inną ścieżką, zaskoczyć się. Isfahan jest fascynującym miejscem, pewnie, że chciałabym to zobaczyć na własne oczy :)
    Magdalena Nieścierowicz latest post…Puławy i Ogród PuławskiMy Profile

    • kami
      12:16 13/04/2016

      ja właśnie miałam ten Iran na spontanie i z dnia na dzień decydowałam co dalej, ale są miejsca o których po prostu dużo się wie i dla mnie taki też był Isfahan. Co nie zmienia faktu, że miasto super i zdecydowanie polecam!

  14. Imam Mosque – what a beauty! Isfahan looks like an interesting an vibrant place. I would love to go there.

  15. Zdjęcia wyglądają zachęcająco, generalnie nie miałem okazji być jeszcze w tej części świata (w maju wybieram się do Gaziantepu w Turcji) ale siostra Kasi stopowała w zeszłym roku po Iranie i generalnie bardzo podobało się jej to państwo i zachwalała. Iran na pewno jest na liście miejsc do odwiedzenia, na razie jeszcze w dalszej niezidentyfikowanej przyszłości, ale muszę pamiętać o sytuacji w regionie i o tym, że może okazać się że za kilka lat nie będzie co oglądać więc trzeba się pospieszyć :)
    Wojtek latest post…Budapeszt w jeden dzieńMy Profile

    • kami
      13:03 13/04/2016

      w Iranie jest bezpiecznie i póki co nie ma żadnego zagrożenia, więc chyba nie ma co tak katastroficznych wizji snuć. a kraj zdecydowanie polecam, i to im szybciej tym lepiej, zanim zmieni się za bardzo. A o Turcji też intensywnie myślę, może w tym roku jeszcze się uda, więc jestem ciekawa Twoich wrażeń

  16. Jahan
    14:41 21/11/2016

    Thank you for the interesting account. Actually, the name Esfahan (Isfahan) does not mean “Half of the world.” There is the Persian saying “Esfahan: nesfe jahan!” which rhymes the words “Esfahan” and “jahan” (Persian for “world”) and means: “Esfahan: half of the world!”

    • kami
      20:34 03/12/2016

      Thank you for clarifying! I always read that Half of the world is what Esfahan means.

  17. Jahan
    14:41 27/11/2016

    Esfahan (or as I prefer its original name Sepahan, not affected by the language of Muslim invaders)has actually a mesmerizing effect on me. I enjoy being there and just walk in its sidewalks and breathe its air.

    • kami
      21:02 03/12/2016

      I might have been expecting too much from the city, that’s why I didn’t enjoy it as much as I should. But I would love to return there!

  18. nico
    20:23 08/08/2017

    Disapointed about Isfahan ! An advice stop travelling !

    • kami
      20:00 21/08/2017

      that’s a silly advice ;) I have a right to be a disappointed with a place, just like every other person!

  19. Nice piece, but excuse me, I really don’t understand why you say you were disappointed. Even your text is about how amazing and wonderful the city is (and the people). OK, it rained once. :( Big deal. And a couple of places were under reconstruction, so you couldnt go into every single corner (ever try that in new york?) :) So, even though you warned us, you really didn’t sound so disappointed. maybe just tired? Anyway, thanks for the great photos.

    • kami
      17:53 27/12/2017

      I think you didn’t really understand my disappointment. It wasn’t about the rain or constructions, just about the place being so present in the Iran informations available prior the trip while I found other places in Iran so much more interesting. But still thank you for kind words about the text and pictures :)

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