“Isfahan is Half the World” as the old Persian saying goes. The city of Isfahan is considered one of the most important cities in Iran, a city that is known for its beautiful architecture. Wander through the endless alleys of the Isfahan Bazaar, enjoy the local cuisine or simply admire the stunning architecture that can be found everywhere in the city. Awe at the many mosques, or relax at the Siosepol bridge, there are enough things to do in Isfahan to keep you busy for days. If you are planning on traveling to Iran then Isfahan is a place you will want to see, perhaps not so sure about that yet? Keep on reading to find out which 11 Isfahan must sees you should add to your Iran itinerary.
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Where is Isfahan
Isfahan is located in Central Iran, roughly mid way between the cities of Shiraz and Tehran. As Isfahan is one of Iran’s largest cities you can easily reach the city by bus from, for example, Tehran, Kashan, Shiraz or Yazd. Isfahan is a must see if you are an architecture lover. To give you a better idea of where Isfahan is located, check out the map below.
Where to stay in Isfahan
As Isfahan is a popular tourist and travelers destination, there is no shortage of hotels and accommodation in Iran or Isfahan. From budget dorms in Isfahan’s hostels to more luxurious hotels, or guest houses in Isfahan, there is something for everyone’s liking. Here are some of the most popular places to stay for backpackers!
Ragrug Hostel – Ragrug Hostel is a modern and new hostel offering budget dorms and private rooms. 24/7 reception services, a rooftop with stunning panoramic views and a delicious Iranian breakfast included. What else do you need? The only down side to this hostel is the location, with the hostel being situated 4km out of the city centre you will have to take a bus or taxi to the main attractions. Find more info and reviews of Ragrug Hostel here on Hostelworld!
Mahbibi Hostel – Looking to stay a bit more central? Perhaps Mahbibi Hostel is the place for you. Choose from a variety of private rooms or stay in the dorm rooms, the perfect place to meet other travelers if you are traveling solo. Mahbibi Hostel has a courtyard and like many hostels and hotels in Iran, serves a tasty Iranian breakfast in the morning. Find more info on Mahbibi Hostel here on Hostelworld.
Hotels in Isfahan – Dorms and hostels are not the place for you? Don’t worry, there are also plenty stunning hotels available in Isfahan. As the amount of booking sites for hotels in Iran is currently still limited, we strongly advice to check out TripAdvisor, to find the best hotel for you!
Things to do in Isfahan
1. Shah Mosque – Masjid-i Imam
The Shah Mosque, also know as Masjid-i Imam, is one of Iran’s most beautiful mosque. The Shah mosque alone, is a good enough reason to visit the city of Isfahan. Located on the Southern Side of the Naghsh-e Jahan Square, with the minarets and dome towering high above the square, you will be unable to miss it. When visiting the Shah Mosque be sure not to look at the big picture, it is the small mosaic details that gives the mosque its beauty. Thousands of tiles perfectly arranged across walls, pillars and domes, it is an architectural masterpiece. Read our full guide to visiting the Shah Mosque here! Be sure look up at the entrance portal of the Shah Mosque, it is one of the most photographed parts of the mosque.
Practical information about visiting the Shah Mosque
- Shah Mosque dress code – There is no dress code for visiting the Shah Mosque, women do not have to wear a chador and regular Iranian dress code applies.
- Shah Mosque entry fee – The entry fee for the mosque in 2018 was 200,000 Rial.
- Best time to visit the Shah Mosque – The Shah Mosques general opening hours differ, often changing per season fluctuating between opening at 9am – 6pm to closing earlier around 4pm. It is also not uncommon for the mosque to be closed (partially) on Fridays or during lunch hours. To avoid the crowds it is best to visit the mosque upon opening hours in the morning.
2. Sheikh Loftollah Mosque
While the Shah Mosque is absolutely stunning, awing at the Persian architecture doesn’t end there. Close to the Shah Mosque you will find the Sheikh Loftollah Mosque, another mosque that should be on your Isfahan itinerary. The Sheikh Loftollah Mosque is located on the Eastern side of the Naghsh-e Jahan Square, and can easily be combined with a visit the the Shah Mosque! While the mosque is beautiful at any given time of the day, the colors of the tiles in the dome are known to be changing with the color of the sun, which is supposedly best witnessed during sunset.
Practical information about visiting the Sheikh Loftollah Mosque
- Dress code for the Sheikh Loftollah Mosque – Women do not have to wear a chador to enter the Sheikh Loftollah Mosque, regular Iranian dress code applies when visiting the mosque.
- Entry fee for the Sheikh Loftollah Mosque – The entry fee for the Sheikh Loftollah Mosque was 200,000 Rial in 2018.
- Best time to visit the Sheikh Loftollah Mosque – As the pale cream colored tiles of the mosque change with the light conditions, the best time to visit the mosque would be around sunset. The tiles will turn from a cream colored pale to a warmer orange or perhaps even pink.
3. Naghsh-e Jahan Square
The Naghsh-e Jahan Square, also known as Meidan Emam, is the most beautiful square you will find in not only Isfahan, but perhaps in the whole of Iran. The above mentioned Sheikh Loftollah Mosque and the Shah Mosque are both situated on the sides of the Naghsh-e Jahan Square. The square is an important historical site, and is one of Iran’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The square has a length of roughly 500m and a width of approximately 160m, surrounded by buildings, mosques and the Isfahan Bazaar. Wander around the square along the small shops and visit some of Isfahan’s most beautiful mosques. The Naghsh-E Jahan Square cannot be missed when visiting Isfahan. And the best thing about it is, you can spent here hours completely for free, great if you are traveling Iran on a budget!
4. Ali Qapu Palace
When wandering around the Naghsh-e Jahan Square there is something on every side of the square that deserves your time and attention. As mentioned above, on the Southern side you will find the Shah Mosque, on the Eastern side the Sheikh Loftollah Mosque, and on the Western side the Ali Qapu Palace. Ali Qapu Palace is easily recognized by the 38m, 6 floor high building, with pillars standing tall at the terrace of the front side of the building. The terrace offers a stunning view over the square, and the nearby mosques. Learn more about the Ali Qapu Palace and the history of the palace by doing an audio tour in the palace itself.
Practical information about visiting the Ali Qapu Palace
- Ali Qapu Palace opening hours – The palace opens daily at 9am, and closes at either 4pm or 6pm depending on the season.
- Entry fee for the Ali Qapu Palace – In 2018 the entry fee to the Ali Qapu Palace was 200,000 Rial, and the audio tour was 15000 Rial.
- Best time to visit the Ali Qapu Palace – Visit early in the morning to avoid the crowds so you can admire the beauty of the palace in peace and quietness.
5. Jameh Mosque – Isfahan’s Great Mosque
Venturing away from the beautiful Naghsh-e Jahan Square and all the stunning sights that border the square, you will see that there is a lot more in Isfahan that deserves to be discovered. One of these places is the Jameh Mosque, Isfahan’s Great Mosque. The Jameh mosque is one of Iran’s most oldest and still standing mosques, and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2012. The building of the mosque has started as early as the 8th century, and over the centuries more and more parts and decorations have been added all the way up till the 20th century. The Jameh Mosque is located in the centre of the old town of Isfahan, and is surrounded by many buildings, with Isfahan’s bazaar bordering the Southwest Wing of the Jameh Mosque. The architecture and details, not to speak of the grandiosity of the mosque, make this mosque worthwhile your time.
Practical information about visiting the Jameh Mosque
- Jameh Mosque entry fee – The entry fee for the Jameh Mosque was 200,000 Rial in 2018.
- Dress code for the Jameh Mosque – Women do not have to wear a chador when visiting the Jameh Mosque, regular Iranian dress code applies here.
- Jameh Mosque opening hours – The Jameh Mosque is open daily from 9am – 12pm and from 2pm to 4.30pm. However, the opening hours are subject to change, often depending on the season.
6. Isfahan’s Grand Bazaar
A visit to Isfahan could not be complete without a visit to Isfahan’s Grand Bazaar. A maze of shops, stalls and small alleys. Isfahan’s bazaar is the perfect place to go souvenir shopping. Find stunning carpets and kilim rugs. Drink tea at one of the many tea shops or simply get lost in the maze of alleys. Isfahan’s grand bazaar stretches all the way from the Naghsh-e Jahan Square to the above mentioned Jameh Mosque. The oldest parts of the bazaar, situated close to the Jameh Mosque, are over a thousand years old. Visiting Isfahan’s Bazaar is must see when visiting the beautiful city of Isfahan.
7. Admire Isfahan’s Bridges
While much of Iran’s beautiful architecture can be found in Isfahan’s mosques and palaces, you should not forget about Isfahan’s bridges, with one in particular the Siosepol Bridge. There are a total of 11 historical bridges in Isfahan, but the Siosepol bridge, built in the 17th century, is Isfahan’s largest bridge. But don’t visit Siosepol just for the architecture, one of the reasons most tourist visit the Siosepol bridge is because of its vibrant night life. Locals and travelers all hang out at the lit up bridge enjoying the beautiful views. You will find singers gathered, creating a stunning hangout place. Siosepol is one Isfahan’s most popular tourist attractions, so don’t forget to add it to your Isfahan itinerary!
Practical information about the Siosepol Bridge
- Siosepol Bridge entry fee – As this is a bridge, the entry fee is completely free, just simply wander around the stunning site.
- Siosepol Bridge best time to visit – The best time to visit would be around sun set or after sun set, as this is when Siosepol Bridge turns into a place of social gathering.
- Other bridges to visit – Besides the Siosepol bridge be sure to wander around the shores of the river a bit further to admire the Khajou Bridge and the Shahrestan Bridge!
8. Walk on Zayanderud’s empty river bed
Zayanderud is one of Central Iran’s largest river, but due to a multi year drought, runs mostly dry as is the case in Isfahan. While once Siosepol was built to serve as a bridge and a dam crossing the river, it now crosses an empty river bed. Walk on the empty river bed, and walk below the Siosepol bridge, or one of the many other bridges along the Zayanderud. On a rare occasion you will see water flowing in the Zayanderud, offering an even more spectacular sight of the Siosepol bridge. It is an interesting sight, bridges crossing empty rivers, and one can only hope that the river one day will flow again when Iran’s drought comes to an end.
9. Explore the Armenian Quarter & the Vank Cathedral
Along the banks of the Zayanderud you can find New Julfa, the Armenian Quarter in Isfahan. This Armenian Quarter was established in the 17th century and is one of the oldest Armenian Quarters in the world. Visiting the Armenian Quarter is like stepping into a different world, and instead of mosques you will find churches in the heart of the Armenian Quarter. Enjoy the afternoon by wandering around and exploring, or simply to relax and just enjoy some delicious tea or dinner. In the centre of the Armenian Quarter you can find the Vank Cathedral, also known as the Holy Savior Cathedral a popular tourist sight.
Practical information about visiting the Vank Cathedral
- Opening hours of the Vank Cathedral – the Holy Savior Cathedral is open daily from 8.30am till 5.30am with the exception of Fridays. The opening hours are subject to change depending on the season.
- Vank Cathedral entry fee – The entry fee to the Vank Cathedral was 200,000 Rial in 2018.
10. Eat Isfahan Biryani
No, not the indian rice dish named biryani, but a local Isfahan specialty. Biryani is a dish made of lamb and served with bread, the dish can be found in special Biryani restaurants all over Isfahan. Enjoy the flavorful meat with some bread, delicious Persian onions and local herbs and spices. While Isfahan has a couple of more local specialties, such as Khoresht-e-Mast, the Isfahan Biryani was our absolute favorite, something you might want to add to your Iran bucket list, and something you won’t be able to find anywhere else in the country.
11. Chehel Sotoun
Last, but definitely not least on this list, is visiting the beautiful Chehel Sotoun. Chehel Sotoun was a pavilion built by Shah Abbas II. The pavilion was built in a beautiful park, at the end of a long pool serving for entertainment purposes and receptions, built in the 17th century. Long, thin wooden pillars cary the wooden roof that is covered with stunning decorations. Be sure to take a look inside to admire all the beautiful paintings and decorations covering the walls and ceilings. Wander around the gardens, enjoy the view or simply to drink some tea and coffee. Visiting Chehel Sotoun is a perfect activity for a more relaxed afternoon, after all the walking around the city, just enjoy the peace, quietness and tranquility of the Persian garden surrounding Chehel Sotoun.
Practical information about visiting Chehel Sotoun
- Chehel Sotoun opening hours – You can visit Chehel Sotoun daily between 9am – 4pm, however the hours may change depending on the season.
- Chehel Sotoun entry fee – The entry fee for Chehel Sotoun was 200,000 Rial in 2018.
Where to go after Isfahan
And there you have it, 11 fascinating things to do in Isfahan. However, Isfahan is just one of Iran’s beautiful cities, and while you could spend weeks in Isfahan alone, be sure to visit some of Iran’s other cities as well. You might want to consider traveling further down South, to the beautiful city of Shiraz, filled with more stunning mosques, architecture and beautiful sights. Or perhaps one of these articles could help you to create your ultimate Iran itinerary:
- 7 Amazing things to do in Tehran
- The Ultimate Qeshm Island Travel Guide
- 9 Amazing things to do in Kashan
But before you travel to Iran, be sure to check out our article with 86 things to know before traveling Iran, so you are not faced with any surprises upon your arrival. Any suggestions, or perhaps questions, about Isfahan? Be sure to tell us in the comment section down below, and oh, don’t forget to pin it for later!
Iran is on my bucket list! Isfahan is so beautiful it’s a dream to visit!