With its relatively short history, ugly masks of concrete and smog, and manic streets flowing hot with machines, many travellers and no small number of Tehranis will tell you there’s no reason to hang around in the capital. But to take their advice is to miss out. For while Esfahan or Persepolis could mount a convincing case for being the soul of Iran, Tehran is indisputably its big, loud, chaotic, dynamic and ugly beating heart.
This tightly packed city of about 15 million is where change happens first. Politically and socially it’s Iran’s cutting edge, and from the relatively bold fashion statements of its youth to the range of restaurants, cafés and art galleries, as a visitor you can’t help but notice.
However, Tehran is also a city of contrasts that play out on geographic lines.
It is modern and traditional, secular and religious, rich and poor – north and south. Most of the spark comes from the affluent north, but wander through southern Tehran and you’ll see a contrastingly conservative, religious and poor city with little of the north’s brashness.
At a practical level, Tehran has a decent choice of hotels and the best range of restaurants in Iran. There are enough museums to keep you interested, and compared with residents of many capitals, Tehranis are surprisingly welcoming. Certainly, some travellers will find Tehran’s traffic, smog and uncontrolled urban sprawl overwhelming. But persist – or better, make short repeat visits – and you’ll find it opening up to you in ever more- rewarding ways.
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