Laura Collacott discovers glittering cultural relics and bountiful bazaars on a fast-paced excursion around the Iranian capital.
Start at the vaulted corridors of the Grand Bazaar, south of the city centre. Though it doesn’t have the heady Silk Road atmosphere of its counterparts in Shiraz and Esfahan, this is one of the biggest and best places in the country to pick up national handicrafts. It is crowded, especially at peak hours (12pm-5pm) because locals do their daily shopping here. Meander among the stalls selling homeware, clothing and perfume, and haggle for an authentic Persian rug (it pays to shop around and learn the marks of quality first – generally, the higher the knot count and the more pliable the weave, the higher the price) over a cup of sweet tea. Open 10am-10pm.
A short walk will take you to the sanctuary of Golestan Palace (golestanpalace.ir), one of the city’s oldest monuments, dating back to the 1500s. Today you’ll find a complex of reception rooms and official quarters set around a shady garden with cool fountains. Highlights include the Mirror room, decorated entirely with reflective fragments of glass so that it looks like the inside of a jewellery box, and the Salaam room, where the Shah used to receive foreign diplomats. Entry is from Rls 3,000 (17p). Open 8.30am-3.30pm, Mon-Wed, Fri and Sat.
National Jewels Museum
Take a taxi to see what is said to be the largest collection of royal treasures in the world, housed in a vaulted museum beneath Bank Melli on Ferdosi Street. Three decades on from the Iranian Revolution, the exhibition demonstrates the sheer wealth of the old monarchy. Be sure to admire the pink-hued, 182-carat Darya-ye-Noor diamond, sister to the Koh-i-Noor diamond in the British Crown Jewels, and the 34kg golden world globe – it has seas of emeralds and ruby-encrusted countries, except for Iran, France and Britain, which are laid out in diamonds. Entry is Rls 30,000 (£1.70). Open Sat-Tues 2pm-4.30pm.
National Museum of Iran
See relics from Iran’s rich history at this museum, a short taxi ride away. Historians have curated an exhibit of 300,000 relics, from prehistoric times to the modern day. Of particular interest are those from Persepolis, once the zenith of the Achaemenid Empire. The well-preserved city was ransacked by Alexander in 330BC and excavated in 1931. Entry is Rls 5,000 (30p). Open Tues-Sun 9am-5pm. 30 Tir Ave, Emam Khomeini Ave; nationalmuseumofiran.ir
Round off your trip with a saffron tea and nargileh (hookah pipe) in Darband, north of the city. The 30-minute taxi ride will bring you through some of the city’s most affluent areas, where the Iranian penchant for plastic surgery and designer goods is in full evidence. Darband is a collection of restaurants, stores and coffee shops at the foothills of the Alborz mountains. Iranians come here to while away summer evenings in the cool air or to take the cable car to the top for panoramic views over the city. In winter, you can even ski here.