Ask any Iranian outside of Tehran what he thinks about the capital and he will tell you: ”Tehran is a polluted expensive city, full of traffic and dust”. Iranians claim that it lacks soul and I can partially understand it as it’s sort of a new city with no history if you compare it with the rest of Iran. In addition, Tehran is one of the most air-polluted cities in the world. Part of it is often covered by smog.
Many Iranians and foreigners say that you should skip it. How about me… What do I think? Should you skip Tehran?
I came to Tehran directly from Berlin, where I had spent a crazy weekend with my Spanish friends from college. I had not seen those friends for almost a year. Do I need to explain what are the consequences of spending a weekend in Berlin with your best friends from college who you haven’t seen in a year?
By the time I was boarding the plane to Tehran I was completely destroyed. The duration of the whole trip was going to be 12 hours, a layover in Istanbul and landing in Tehran at 5am in the morning. Once at the airport, the visa process took almost 2 hours to be handled. I reached Hamed’s (my Couchsurfing host) at 8am. Finally, I was in Tehran and I had the whole day before me.
As soon as I got onto the streets of Tehran and started walking around I thought: ”OK, I am literally fucked up”. I was extremely tired. It was hot. There were cars everywhere. Cars don’t respect pedestrians. Going by metro doesn’t make things smoother as trains are overpacked.
I wasn’t having so much fun and needed to eat something. Luckily, I found a nice café where they were serving all sorts of breakfast. I ordered an Iranian breakfast. It was good. I ordered a second Iranian breakfast. Then an Italian woman walked into the café. She sat next to me and we started a conversation:
Italian woman: hey how are you?
Me: I just arrived in Iran a couple of hours ago
Italian woman: oh! I am going to the gems museum. Do you wanna come?
Me: gems museum? What is this? What do you do there?
Italian woman: You see gems. They have a huge collection
Me: Mhmmm… No thanks
Finding out about Darband
The last thing I wanted to do was to walk around stupid shiny stones. But what can I do? I went to the Grand Bazaar Tehran, which has an impressive number of carpet shops and it’s super interesting. But again, it was packed with people. I needed to relax. To find somewhere quiet, but in the middle of this city, it seemed like an impossible mission.
Suddenly, I looked towards Tehran mountains. I checked out my Lonely Planet and read that at the foot of these mountains there is a place called Darband. In Persian, the word Darband means gateway or door to mountain, and it’s basically the beginning of a hiking trial to Mount Tochal, which towers over Tehran. There is also a river where cafes and restaurants are settled along it. Darband is a popular weekend destination for Iranians, who come here to relax and to escape from the traffic and air polluted Tehran.
How to get into Darband
To go to Darband you need to first go to Tajrish square. The best way to reach Tajrish square is by metro. There is a station called Tajrish Metro Station. From there you need to walk north towards the mountains and after 500 meters you should be able to find Tajrish square.
Once you are there, you have to ask for shared taxis to Darband, which shouldn’t cost you more than 15,000 IR.
If you go on a private taxi, the tourist price may be 5 times more. Alternatively, you can walk as well, as the distance between the metro station and Darband is only 3km.
Darband: things to do
As soon as you get into Darband you see a long trail bordering the river. Along the trail you find plenty of shops where local dried fruits are sold as well as several cafés and restaurants.
Hookah lounges along the river
The hookah lounges (shisha lounges) of Darband are what inspired me to write this post, as they are what brought me back to life. All cafés and restaurants along the river have a lounge area which is literally located on the river.
Sometimes they are even right next to a small waterfall. Technically it’s a shisha place but you can also eat or drink a coffee. You can stay all the time you want and this is the best place to take a superpower nap.
On weekends, it may be a bit difficult to find an available spot, but the trail is a couple of kilometers long so you just need to walk further. Trust me, best spot ever.
Eating best shish kebaps in town
Take note on this: Darband is famous for having the best shish kebaps (of kabob) in town. It´s not my personal opinion but several locals told me the same.
A shish kebab is a skewer with meat and vegetables and is usually grilled. It can contain lamb, beef, fish, or chicken, as well as vegetables like green peppers, onions, and mushrooms.
In Darband, to make these shish kebaps they use only animals that have been raised freely on farms. They use the best quality meat, 100% organic and grilled nearly to perfection.
It can get a bit expensive (350,000-450,000 IR for a meal) but it´s definitely worth the taste.
Alternatively, once you have eaten your farm chicken kebap and you have taken your 2 hours power nap, you can go hiking to Mount Touchal and enjoy the Tehran views.
To reach the peak, you just need to follow the trail or the locals. It’s very easy. Even though you are just a few kilometers away from the city, the air is fresh and pure.
Some Iranian girls take advantage of it and decide to remove their veil. Reaching the top takes around 3h. I know. As you can see in the picture below, air pollution is an issue in Tehran.
Go to Darband at night
If you are not into hiking or you have something else to do during the day, Darband also gets busy at night among the locals. Even a good Iranian friend of mine who lives in Tehran told me to meet up there with him, but since I had just gotten back from there we went somewhere else.
Please note that I don’t want to underestimate Tehran. In fact, I like this kind of cities because they are so animated and full of life and there is so much to explore. On that day, I was feeling extremely tired but on the following days I got the chance to explore it deeper and came to the conclusion that Tehran is an interesting city. Especially when you visit those neighborhoods where the Iranian hipsters hang out.
Definitely, a face you would have never imagined about Iran. Therefore, coming back to the question in the first paragraph. Should you skip Tehran? No. Please don´t.
Remember to read all my articles and guides to Iran.