Is it Esfahan or Isfahan? I asked around in town and got different answers. But however it’s spelled it’s a famous city with a history that goes back a long time. Esfahan is Iran’s number 1 tourist destination and I was about to find out why.
The moment you enter Esfahan you immediately see why this city has way more appeal than any other Iranian city. It simply feels a bit more organized with its long tree-lined boulevard and it doesn’t seem to be as chaotic as other cities.
Though the first half day of sightseeing I was not yet impressed. The hefty $6 entrance fee for every building that has some kind of historical meaning was making me a bit skeptical. Obviously I refused to pay and this is probably were the tourists get separated from the travellers. A coffee break and some fresh oranges later I walked into a long alley and reaching the end of the alley it took me only 2 seconds to understand why Esfahan is listed among other great cities in the world. I definitely started my stroll through the city in the boring part, because the view that just unfolded right in front of me was simply magnificent.
Walking into to the massive Naqsh-e Jahan Imam Square is overwhelming and no wonder as it is worlds second biggest square after Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Its perfect rectangle shape walled by countless symmetrical arched arcades, two huge mosaic tiled Mosque entrances and the imposing Qeysarieh Portal with ancient paintings make it the most impressive square I have ever visited. I stopped and stared for a while before I moved on to the center of the square, it was simply stunning! Looking around made me appreciate Esfahan more and more. This square was so overwhelming that I could sit here for a couple hours and watch life pass by.
Esfahan’s Bazaar is big and it is easy to get lost in though getting lost here isn’t necessary a bad thing. The vibe is relaxed, the vendors don’t hassle you at all and sip quietly on their tea while you look around. It’s cool to see that some types of businesses are clustered in different sections. Finding a typical Persian cloth can be hard in one side of the bazaar where on the other side it’s all about this. The bazaar can at times be busy but with hardly any tourist to spot it must be all locals, which makes this experience even more authentic. For Iranians this is like a shopping mall, for tourist it’s a step back in time and walking around here feels like looking behind the scenes of a Prince of Persia movie.
Furthermore there are a couple UNESCO World Heritage sights to take a look at such as a couple palaces and some stunning bridges. Obviously the amazing mosques cant be missed either. But for me Esfahan was all about the square and the bazaar though. I thought I would have seen the bazaars by now, but the one in Esfahan was definitely my favorite. It still has that authentic feel! Make sure you get lost here. Take unexpected turns and walk into dead ends and you might discover a complete new section.
Our stay in this gorgeous city was like a rollercoaster ride with ups and downs. The downs had nothing to do with Esfahan at all but with some personal issues. Unfortunately I got very sick and had to stay in my bed for 3 days. At some point I attended a doctor in a hospital. At least I can now say that I had a consult with a doctor that did not spoke English. After he checked the standard stuff like ears, throat, temperature and blood pressure he stammered in his best English: ‘Where are you from?’ I was not at all in the mood and felt miserable, but I answered curtly: ‘Holland’. With an annoyed expression I was about to ask him if he could please tell me something regarding my status, but he looked at me with a smile on his face and said: ‘Country of flowers’! While feeling on my worst, this guy made me produce a little smile on my face! It was all a bit awkward but the people in the Isa Ben Maryam Hospital all helped me very professional and the provided medicine helped me to get back on track in no-time!
My first night in Esfahan I ended up celebrating Yalda with a local family. There I sat on the ground surrounded by a very sweet and hospitable Iranian family celebrating the longest night of the year. I just met a random young guy in the streets that suddenly spoke very good German and was willing to have a word in German with me. As I carried on walking back to my hotel he invited me to come over to his grandparents house and celebrate this festival with him and his family. I insisted he would call grandma first to see if it was ok. A couple minutes later I was welcomed like a family member. It was such a lovely and warm experience to start my days in Esfahan!
Where to stay in Esfahan?
David and I were still travelling together and as we came closer to Esfahan we still didn’t find any affordable accommodation. It is hard to comprehend that the most touristy town in Iran doesn’t have a wide range of accommodation options. So we had to make our way into the city center where we sorted out it was the best to stay. At most hotels we could get massive discounts but they were still going around for at least $40 per night. Just when we kind of gave up and we were about to head back to one of the hotels we tried earlier, we found a place that was renting out apartments. We thought it would be a long shot but eventually we rented a 2-bedroom apartment with a kitchen and a huge living room for only $28 per night. The place is called Khatoom Apartments and the location is perfect. Another good budget option with a great location is Pars Hotel. This boutique hotel offers modern rooms for $36 per night.
If you are looking for a more Persian way to spend your nights in Esfahan I can recommend the Kianpour’s traditional Guesthouse, www.kianpour-house.com. The friendly owner who restored the house together with his father invited me to his place. The traditional Persian house belonged to merchants back in the days but now serves as a boutique hotel. It is concentrated around a small lovely courtyard and is tucked away in a very quiet alley not far from the bazaar. All the rooms have a traditional and unique interior and are recently renovated as the hotel opened only 1 year ago.
Let me know when you decide to stay here as I can help to get you a good deal with the friendly owner.