Insiders guide of things to do in Isfahan Iran

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Travel through Iran is unlike any other experience. It will leave you with a renewed faith in humanity, clothes which somehow magically not fit anymore (the food is that good) and a sprained neck from looking up at all the fantastic architecture. I hope this ultimate guide of things to do in Isfahan helps you in planning your journey to my favourite city in this magical country.

Isfahan is sometimes referred to as the ‘centre of the world’ and while this might not be exactly true from a geographical standpoint, culturally it pretty much hits the mark. The city is the perfect blend between traditional and modern, east and west. Due to it’s location, it was a very important stop along the silk route. This means that foreign faces and ‘tourism’ are an inherent part of the cities DNA making the city very tourist friendly yet still endearingly authentic. It’s safe to say this city will get under the skin of even the most sceptic traveller and wash away all the doubts popular media might have whispered in their ear. Be prepared the be amazed, over and over again.

Before diving into a full blown list of things to do in Isfahan, let’s take a step back and introduce the city a little. It grew in importance in the 16th and 17th century when it became the capital of the Persian empire under the Safavid era. To give you an idea, at the height of Safavid reign, the Persian empire spanned across modern Iran, Azerbaidjan, Bahrain, Armenia, North Caucasus, Georgia, Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan, and also some parts of Turkey, Syria, Pakistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Yep, that big!

Aside from warfare, the Safavids were also focused on architecture, art and philosophy. Remnants of which can be found all across the city (Naqsh-e Jahan Square, Shah Mosque, Ali Qapu and so on).

Modern day Isfahan has 2 million people living in it and is home to no less than two UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The city is pretty big with plenty of things to see! To complete this ultimate guide of things to do in Isfahan at a leisurely pace you would need 3 full days in the city.

Please note all prices are in IRR and are based upon the information available in March 2020.

If you are travelling to through Iran, you might be interested in the two week Iran Itinerary or specific guides to Kashan and Shiraz.

Things to do in Isfahan, Iran

Free walking tour of Isfahan

Have to start the list of things to do in Isfahan with this free walking tour.
This 2-hour free walking tour is packed full of history, anecdotes and tales of the city. It will bring you to most of the cities important sites.
Read everything about this tour here.

Square Isfahan Iran
Naqsh-e Jahan square at night

Naghsh – e Jahan Square

Next up on the list of things to do in Isfahan with anything else than this impressive UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE square. According to the internet, it is the second largest square in the world right after Tian An Men. When I read this particular fact it honestly took me by surprise. Having seen both squares, Tian An Men definitely feels a while lot bigger. It was not until I had the chance to view to square from above (read on to find exactly where) that the vastness of it hit me. Better put on a pair of comfortable shoes, because you are going to be burning calories walking up and down this Isfahan square.

Like many of the Isfahan monuments, it was built at the end of the 16th century beginning of the 17th century under the Shah Abbas  during the Safavid Dynasty. The square contains some of the city’s most precious architecture including: The Shah Mosque, Ali Qapu and Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque.

The story goes that the square served as a place for the Shah (The King) to meet the people and that the bazaars along this Isfahan Square held treasures from all over the world (thank you silk road). It was the centre of Isfahan and always buzzing with excitement. Some days you could find merchants selling their goods to whoever was buying and other days the square was the scene of the world’s first polo matches. You see this Isfahan square moonlighted as a polo field, in fact, the marble goalposts that were used at these games are still on the square today!

These days, the square is still buzzing with people and merchants are still selling their goods like they did so many centuries ago. This is one of the top things to do in Isfahan and truth be told we visited the square at least 10 times because there is just so much to see.

Isfahan Square
Shah Mosque on the Naghsh – e Jahan Square

Practical details for visiting Naqsh- e Jahan Square

When to go: The square has no enclosure so you can happily visit whenever works best for you. If you are looking to shoot content, go in the early morning to get the best light and to avoid the crowds. You can easily shoot with a tripod, it might result in a few curious stares but for the most part you will be left totally to your own devices.
Best Views: Remember I mentioned a rooftop view of the city? Well it can be found at the Qeysarieh International Museum & Cafe Gallery. Head up the stairs (warning they are pretty steep but hang in there it’s worth it) and over to the reservation desk. Here you pay a fee of IRR250.000 for which you will get the view, a cup of tea and some delicious cake. We went at night to get a view of this Isfahan square lit up. Pure Magic!
Entrance Fee: Free

Shah Mosque

Next up in this list of things to do in Isfahan is the magnificent Shah Mosque. It is located on the South side of the Naghsh – e Jahan square and also registered as a UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE site. The mosque was built by the same Shah that built the square (Shah Abbas I).

Upon it’s construction it replaced the older Jameh Mosque as the mosque for the official Friday Prayer. This mosque was built for the people. It has the largest dome in the city. The entrance is characterised by two large minarets on either side of the main gate.

The Shah Mosque is a beautiful example of Persian architecture and will have you absolutely gobsmacked. Standing in front of the main gate, you will feel very small indeed. The structure is absolutely huge and contains up to 7 different colored tiles and a myrad of calligraphy. Whatever you do, do not forget to look up. What does top of the archway remind you of? Personally I found it looks like colorfour stalactites? These are called Muqarnas and are a neat little Islamic architectural element.

Upon walking into the mosque you will see that the main square is flanked by four buildings. Head over to the one opposite the entrance. The dome in this particular building has a very cool echo effect. In fact, there is a place marked on the floor. Go and stand there and clap your hands, the echo is pretty neat. The first time we visited, there was a group of young Iranians visiting the mosque. One of them stood on this stone and was encouraged to sing. His voice was absolutely angelic and the echo carried the voice across the room. It made me stop dead in my tracks, all I could do was listen and feel the hairs on the back of my neck raise.

Practical details for visiting the Shah Mosque

When to go: Go early in the morning, this place gets packed!
Entrance fee IRR500.000
Time to explore: We went twice, both times spending a good 3 hour taking pictures and people watching

Things to do in Isfahan, Iran
Inside the Shah Mosque
Things to do in Isfahan Iran
Side entrance to Shah Mosque

Ali Qapu

The following item on this list of things to do in Isfahan is Ali Qapu, also known as the Palace where the Shahs of the Safavid era resided. It is located on the western side of the Naqsh-e Jahan Square.

The building you see from the square is a portal, or entrance way to the palace. Basically it is a very fancy front door, the only thing missing is a doorbell. If you were lucky enough to be born of nobility or happened to be a foreign ambassador, the Shah would entertain you right here. It used to be the tallest building in Isfahan and the wide terrace offered excellent views over the Naqsh-e Jahan Square (perfect for watching polo matches).

The whole place is decorated with a delicate paintings of flowers, animals and representations of people from far away countries. While each floor is breathtaking, my personal favorite was the music room. It is smaller in size, but goodness knows what it lacks in size it makes up in decoration. The roof is adorned with the most beautiful stucco which has been cut with perfect precision. One would think that the little alcoves were meant for storage, nothing is further from the truth though. Historians believe that the alcoves were actually cut out to enhance the sound experience and amplify the echo-effect in the room.

Speaking of echoes, the entrance way has a very cool feature. If there is two of you, you both pick a corner diagonally from each other and stand there with your face to the wall. Have one person whisper a phrase, because of the echo effect the other person will hear that phrase perfectly from the other side off the room. It had us in fits of giggles! Imagine the conversations the guards had while on duty. If only these walls could talk!

Practical details for visiting Ali Qapu

Entrance Fee: 500.000
Time to explore: At least one hour

Things to see in Isfahan
The stucco on the music room
Things to do in Isfahan, Iran
The view from the royal palace balcony

Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque

The fourth item on our list of things to do in Isfahan is this Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque. This mosque is right opposite the palace on the eastern side of the Naqsh-e Jahan Square. The mosque itself has no minarets and no inner courtyard. In fact, compared to the other buildings on the square it is a whole lot less impressive.

Don’t let the size or lack of minarets fool you though. This place, is the real deal and my personal favorite building on the entire square. The Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque was built by Shah Abbas as a private mosque for the court, one for his harem to be more precise. It was completely closed off for the public (they would go to the Shah Mosque).

Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque Isfahan Shiraz
The inside of the mosque

If you look closely, you will notice that the outside is decorate much more intricately than the Shah Mosque. Once you walk inside, head straight ahead through the corridor. Make your way down the corridor, all the way to the end and turn right. You are now standing underneath the dome and in a room that can only be described as tile paradise. Each alcove is decorated with many different types of tiles which come together in geometrical patterns.

As impressive as this is, the Persian architects of the time went a step further and incorporated a “peacock” design in the dome. When you walk inside, look up at the centre of the dome. The tail of the peacock is made up of the sun rays shining through a hole in the ceiling.

The mosque is very small compared to the Shah Mosque and the Jameh Mosque but because of the intricate designs, you will want to allot enough time to visit so you can really take in everything this place has to offer.

Practical details for visiting the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque

Entrance fee: IRR 500.000
When to go: Go around opening time, this place is small and gets packed very quickly.
Time needed to visit: We spent two hours (but took a lot of time for photography)

Jameh Mosque of Isfahan

Let’s continue the list of things to do in Isfahan with the Jameh Mosque, the oldest mosque in Isfahan dating back to the 8th century. It is believed that this site was actually an important religious site for the Zorastrians before it became a mosque in the 8th century.

A friend of mine described this mosque as ‘walking in the footsteps of history’ and he hit the nail on the head. The individual parts of the mosque were built during different era’s resulting in an interesting eclectic mixture of architecture. It has elements of no less than four different architectural styles (Mongols, Muzzafarids, Timurids and Safavids) which somehow blend together and form the largest mosque of Iran. In my personal opinion, it is a place very uncharacteristic of Persian architecture which usually has perfect symmetry and a coherent design. But then I am far on the subject.

Whatever the case may be, this place is absolute must see. We went in the middle of the day, and were met by a virtually empty mosque. It felt like we had the place to ourselves! I encourage you to really explore, because each door will lead you down a different path of this mosques rich history.

Practical details for visiting the Jameh Mosque

When to go: We went late afternoon around golden hour
Entrance fee: IRR500.000
Time to explore: We spent 3 hours exploring and taking pictures
Getting there: 30 minute walk from the Shah Mosque

Jameh Mosque in Esfahan
The older more 'plain' part of the mosque
Jameh Mosque Isfahan Iran
Tilework from the Safavid era

Motamedi (Mollabashi) historical house

Something a little different on this list of things to do in Isfahan is the Motamedi (Mollabashi) Historical House. Another quintessential example of eclectic Iranian architecture. Come with an open mind, the house has a lot of elements packed into a relatively small space. Think stained glass windows, stucco decorations, mirrors galore and of course a million different kinds of tiles.

The name of the house comes from one of it’s owners, Mollabashi who was a famous astronomer during the 19th century (the Qajar era). The house fell in disrepair after the death of Mollabashi and it was not until 2001 that it would receive a loving hand in the form of a full renovation.

Please note, taking pictures inside the alcove is allowed however please do not venture into the sectioned off area unless you have asked permission from one of the staff.

Practical details for visiting the Mollabashi house

Entrance fee: IRR155.000
Time spent there: One hour
Best time to go: We went in the middle of the day and there were not many people. Thanks to the stained glass in the alcove the bright light was not too harsh for photography.
Location: استان اصفهان اصفهان استان اصفهان، اصفهان،،
Opening hours: Every day from 09.00 to 17.00 except Friday when the site closes at 15.00
Getting there: 16 minute walk from the Shah Mosque
Cool feature: They have their own Instagram page @motamedi_house

Two week Iran Travel Guide

Chehal Sotoon Palace

This palace was built in the … yep once again the Safavid dynasty, around the 17th century. It was built specifically for receptions and entertainment purposes and is surrounded by a magnificent garden. In fact, the gardens surrounding the Chehal Sotoon Palace are one of the nine Traditional Persian Gardens that have been registered as UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE.

The name of the palace means 40 columns and refers to the wooden column that support the entrance pavilion. In fact, there are only 20 of them, but they reflect beautifully in the water giving the illusion of 40 columns. The inside of the palace is adorned with many frescoes and paintings. Some of which were rather bloodthirsty depictions of battle scenes.

Practical details for visiting the Chehal Sotoon Palace

Entrance fee: IRR500.000
Time spent there: One Hour
Best time to go: We went in the afternoon and it was busy. It was fine to visit, however if you would like to take pictures perhaps it is best to go earlier during the day.
Getting there: 11 minute walk from the Shah Mosque

Chehal Sotoon Palace Isfahan Iran
Credit: https://www.visitiran.ir

The Kahju Bridge

The last item on this list of things to do in Isfahan might seem a little odd but trust me on this one. The Kahju bridge is another Safavid design and spans about 150 meters. There is a neat little pavilion in the middle from which the family of the Shah had a nice view over the people swimming in the river.

The bridge itself was built perfectly symmetrical and thus great for photography. But the real reason I marked it as an attraction to see in Isfahan is not so much because of the history but more because of one of the other function that is serves today. You see, it is a popular meeting point for the local youth and a prime spot for some people watching.

Keep in mind Iran is an Islamic country, which means that casual dating between men and women is not the norm. Going to a bar or a club and picking up a member of the opposite sex is not an option. However, do not be fooled because the local youth knows a thing or two about flirting. Venture out, pick a good vantage point and feast yours eyes because this here, is how the Iranian Youth rolls.

Practical details for visiting the Kahju Bridge

Getting there: 36 minute walk from the Shah Mosque
Best time to go: For photography try and aim for golden hour. If you are looking for more of a cultural experience, try going on a Thursday evening (the Persian version of a Saturday night).

Khaju Bridge Isfahan Iran
Chilling out with friends

Where to stay in Isfahan, Iran

We stayed in the beautiful Ghasr Monshi hotel.

A palace dating back to the 19th century. It is fully renovated with the utmost respect to the historical architecture and character of the building. It has an awesome breakfast and dinner buffet and the beds are nice and comfortable.

Important to note,  you will need to email or call the property directly for a booking. Alternatively ask a local tour agency to book the hotel for you.

Where to stay in Isfahan, Iran

Hope this insider guide of things to do in Isfahan was useful and has convinced you to visit this beautiful part of the world.

Are you traveling for an extensive time in Iran, perhaps you might like my two week itinerary, or dedicated guides to Kashan, Shiraz and Yazd.

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Showing 46 comments
  • Avatar
    Kendelle
    Reply

    Who needs a tour guide when you have this blogpost! Love all the extra background information you’ve included in this post.

    Can’t wait to visit!

  • Avatar
    Shahab
    Reply

    Just love it
    Well done ❤️❤️❤️

  • Avatar
    Alexandra
    Reply

    Thank you very! Good work!) I so love your feed

  • Avatar
    Reply

    Iran is very high on my bucket list. The architecture looks absolutely incredible and I’m sure the food is delicious! Your photos are gorgeous – maybe I can spend my time in quarantine planning a trip for when we’re able to travel again!

    • Caroline
      Reply

      Hi Sydney, that sounds like a wonderful way to spend your time in quarantine. I am very happy to help out with any planning so feel free to ask!

  • Avatar
    Sara
    Reply

    Your photos are amazing! You really captured the light coming through the windows in these amazing buildings. I can’t wait to visit in person myself!

    • Caroline
      Reply

      Hey Sara, what a wonderful comment to read. I really hope you get to go one day, the country was beyond any of my expectations by far!

  • Avatar
    Reply

    What what an utterly magical and enchanting place. Iran is somewhere I’ve always been so intrigued by. Would you say it’s safe for solo female travel?

    Love your pictures too

    • Caroline
      Reply

      Hey there, yep the country is super safe as a solo female traveller. I went with one friend (also female) and we felt safer than in Brussels (where I live) and Paris (where she lives). And thank you for your kind words.

  • Avatar
    Reply

    Wow, so much stunning architecture! What a beautiful place.

    • Caroline
      Reply

      Thanks a lot Imani. Iran really is a very special country indeed.

  • Avatar
    Jasmine
    Reply

    Wow, I’ve never actually thought about visiting Iran but reading this and seeing the comments, I’m glad it is a safe place to travel! Thanks so much for all of the great information!

    • Caroline
      Reply

      Hey Jasmine, thanks for having a read and hope you get to go one day!

  • Avatar
    Reply

    Your Iran pictures are my favourites from you, Caro! The architecture there looks so mesmerising, I would love to go asap.

  • Avatar
    Reply

    Ohhh Iran is so high up on my list for our overland adventures from Europe. I really hope we can all travel soon again and discover such amazing places. Such an inspiring post, I have itchy feet 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

    • Caroline
      Reply

      Hey Katja, how wonderful to read. Jeah I have to admit I have major itchy feet at the moment too.

  • Avatar
    Reply

    So beautiful! I always love insider guides as normally they are so rich of authentic things to explore. Saved this for when finally I get the chance to visit Iran, it is one of my dream destinations.

  • Avatar
    Geena
    Reply

    Wow!! These photos are absolutely incredible. I know the situation with the US is kinda rough right now but I’m hoping to be able to explore Iran within the next few years. So much helpful Iran info on your site. Thanks!!

    • Caroline
      Reply

      Hey Geena, hope you get to go indeed. It is very much worth going to if you get the chance.

  • Avatar
    Reply

    Iran is what one of those places that’s in the back of your mind, like, “Hmm…maybe someday.” These photos were beautiful, and appreciate the practical tips, as well!

    • Caroline
      Reply

      Hey Agnes, time to bring it to the front of your mind I would say.
      It is such a wonderful country to visit!

  • Avatar
    Reply

    Another magical place to visit in Iran! The to-do list is long thanks to you!

    • Caroline
      Reply

      You know who to ask for any tips and trick in that case :).

  • Avatar
    Reply

    Your Iran trip has me dreaming! Your photos are always so amazing and I love how detailed this article is. I really hope to go one day. 🙂

  • Avatar
    Margarida
    Reply

    I so want to visit Iran, thank you so much for sharing this guide.

  • Avatar
    Reply

    This guide is so informative and the photos are stunning! really hoping to visit in the next couple of years if possible and will definitely be using this guide

  • Avatar
    Reply

    Great guide! You have just put Iran on my bucket list! Thank you for that!

  • Avatar
    Reply

    Your words and beautiful pictures bring me right back to this amazing place!! Btw love all your outfits from your Iran shots!! 🙂

  • Avatar
    Bianca
    Reply

    It’s been my dream to visit Iran, I have heard so much about the amazing people and hospitality. I would love to visit someday and see these beautiful buildings close up.

    • Caroline
      Reply

      Hey Bianca, hope you get to go one day indeed!

    • Avatar
      Nauman Sharif
      Reply

      Really interesting building and awesome architecture. Brilliant heritage of Iran which shows their culture and much more. I’m also want to visit iran and will get benefits from your information. Thanks caroline

  • Avatar
    Luisa
    Reply

    Super detailed blog. Thank you for being so thorough

  • Avatar
    Nauman Sharif
    Reply

    This is very informative for me. I’m also want to visit iran and will get benefits from your information. Thanks caroline

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