Iran is not blessed with one of the world’s loveliest capitals. Pollution, chronic overcrowding and a lack of responsible planning have all helped to make Tehran a metropolis that even the most effusive travel agent would have difficulty praising. If you’re expecting an exotic crossroads steeped in oriental splendour, you’ll be sadly disappointed. The distances are vast, the traffic is shockingly bad and the main sights are spread out. However, the hotels are good, the variety of restaurants is impressive, the facilities are far ahead of those anywhere in the provinces, and the Tehranis are friendly. The major attraction for visitors is the city’s excellent museums
The National Museum of Iran houses a marvellous collection including ceramics, stone figures and carvings dating from around the 5th millenium BC. Many of the relics are taken from excavations at Persepolis, Shush, Rey and Turang Tappé and will probably mean more to you if you come here after you’ve visited the archaeological sites. The Glass & Ceramics Museum is one of the most impressive in Tehran, not only for its professionally organised exhibits, but also for the building itself. The Reza Abbasis Museum, another stunner, contains examples of Islamic painting, pottery and jewellery. The National Palace (White) Museum used to be the last Shah’s palace and is now a complex of museums.
Tehran’s best non-museum sight is the haphazard bazaar, so big it’s practically a separate city. Also worth a look are the busy Emam Khomeini Mosque, the drab Armenian Sarkis Cathedral, and the city’s parks and gardens.
Just about every cheap place to stay in Tehran is in the southern part of the city, within about a 1km radius of Emam Khomeini Square. This is also the place to look for a good kebab. Four and five-star hotels are scattered through the city, most of them hopelessly inconvenient if you’re hoping to use public transport. The airport is about 10km (6mi) south-west of central Tehran.