The Best Traditional Bazaars in Iran: a tourist guide
This post is about the best bazaars in Iran for foreign travellers. Whenever I am in a country, I love to visit the local markets. They give a unique insight into a country’s culture and what people buy and eat. The bazaars in Iran are more than just a local market though.
The history of bazaars in Iran
Iran has some of the oldest bazaars in the world and they were once part of the ancient Silk Road from China to Europe. The bazaars in Iran were places of commerce and cultural exchange where traders from places like Bukhara, Samarkand, Istanbul and Turkestan passed through every day.
It’s historical architecture alone makes the bazaars in Iran one of the country’s top attractions. The covered markets were almost like a city within a city. Between the bustling market stalls you will find hidden mosques, shrines, restaurants and teahouses. Look up and you will see the most beautifully decorated domes.
The bazaars in Iran remain an explosion of colours, fragrances and sounds. Once you enter, you will be overwhelmed by the sight of fresh fruits and vegetables, sacks full of herbs and spices and of course the beautiful Iranian carpets.
In this post I will share the best bazaars in Iran to visit as a foreign tourist.
The best bazaars in Iran
Tehran Grand bazaar
The Tehran grand bazaar is one of the largest bazaars in Iran. The current structure is over 200 years old, but the location was used as a marketplace for much longer. You can feel its long history once you get lost in its intricate maze of bustling alleys.
The Tehran grand bazaar is one of the top attractions in Tehran. A visit to the Tehran bazaar could easily fill up your whole day. The bazaar really is that big and there are lots of shrines and mosques as well as plenty of great restaurants.
Tehran bazaar is also a great place for buying souvenirs with the unique handicrafts from all over the country coming together. Carpets, block printed fabrics, decorated wooden boxes and silverware. If you regret not buying that local souvenir unique to Isfahan or Shiraz, you will have a last chance at Tehran grand bazaar.
Don’t just focus on what is for sale though. Look up sometimes or you miss the beautiful architecture of the bazaar. Arched roofs with the occasional domes decorated with intricate colourful patterns. The wide variety of styles reflect its long history as the bazaar continually grew larger and new sections were added.
Buy: Souvenirs, spices, dried fruits and nuts and anything else you like
Not to miss: Imam mosque, Haji Ali Darvish tea house (smallest tea shop in Iran) and Moslem restaurant (best tahchin with chicken in Tehran).
Grand bazaar of Isfahan
Isfahan is famous for its high quality handicrafts and therefore a visit to Isfahan is not complete without visiting its Grand bazaar. It probably is the best place to buy souvenirs in Iran with some handicrafts being unique to this region.
I loved the Qalam kari art, hand printed fabrics with floral patterns, that I hadn’t seen anywhere else. Most common are the tablecloths, but some shops also sell beddings, bags and cushions. Other Isfahani handicrafts include mina kari (hand printed floral patterns on utensils) and khatam kari (decorating wooden surfaces with tiny pieces of bone and metal). Some more regular souvenirs like metalwork, miniature paintings and of course carpets are of especially good quality in Isfahan.
Like Tehran grand bazaar, the grand bazaar of Isfahan has a long history that is reflected in its architecture. Its construction started already in the 11th century, but it had its glory days as one of the most luxurious trading centres in Iran in the Safavid era. It was built to connect the Naqs e Jahan square with the Kohneh square further north making it one of the longest roofed markets in the world.
The bazaar is surrounded by some of Isfahan’s most important historical buildings including the city’s oldest mosques, shrines and palaces. The bazaar also has lots of opportunities to taste Persian food and some local specialities such as biryani, gaz nougat and pomegranate juice.
Buy: Qalam khari, Mina kari and khatam kari
Not to miss: The carpet section
Vakil bazaar Shiraz
The Vakil bazaar is the main bazaar in Shiraz. Although it is not as big as Tehran or Isfahan, it is equally interesting. Personally, I thought the Vakil bazaar was the most colourful bazaar in Iran. What makes the Vakil bazaar unique is the presence of the local Qashqai nomads that sell their traditional clothes and beautiful textiles.
Vakil bazaar is thus a feast for the eyes. There are courtyards, caravanserais, mosques, shrines and even a historic hammam. While its history goes back to the 11th century, the current structure is mostly from the Zand dynasty in the 18th century. It includes roofed archways and impressive domes.
Vakil bazaar is like a journey back in time when Shiraz was an important city on the trade route to the Persian Gulf. It’s silk road history is still obvious. Souvenirs to look out for in Shiraz include the Qashqai carpets and the Shirazi pottery. If it comes to local delicacies. You should definitely try faloodeh. A vermicelli like noodles covered in rose water syrup.
Buy: Qashqai carpets, faloodeh
Not to miss: Vakil mosque and Vakil hammam
Tabriz was one of the first bazaars in Iran I visited. I still remember it as a warm welcome to the country. A bit overwhelming as well as the bazaar is an explosion of sights and smells. Spices, herbs and fruits that I yet had to identify. The friendly salesman patiently explained to me what they were. They even offered me tea, although most of the times I ended up not buying anything.
Tabriz bazaar is the only bazaar in Iran that is on the UNESCO World heritage list due to being one of the most important trade hubs on the ancient Silk Road. It had close links with other trade cities in the area such as Baku and Yerevan.
Marco Polo himself mentioned the Tabriz bazaar in his travel diaries. From the 12th till the 18th century the Tabriz bazaar was both a commercial center as well as a cultural center. For a short time Tabriz was even the capital of Iran during the Safavid kingdom.
Tabriz remains one of the largest covered bazaars in the world. It has seperate rows or alleways that each specializes in one particular product. There is a row with gold and jewellery, shoes, clothes, spices etc. The highlight is the Mozzafarieh bazaar. This spacious row, with domed arches specializes in carpets and handwoven rugs.
Buy: local herbs, spices, carpets
Not to miss: mozzafarieh carpet bazaar
The bazaar in Kashan can’t claim anything. It’s not the oldest, not the largest or the busiest. Yet, it was one of my favourite bazaars in Iran. I can describe it as compact, but beautiful. It’s large enough that there are mosques, shrines, yards, hammams, water reservoirs and ancient caravanserais, but not so large that you will not know where you are.
The bazaar is at the heart of Kashan and it is the oldest structure in the city. It’s history goes back more than 800 years. The first bazaar was built during the Seljuk era in the tenth century with lots of renovations in the safavid dynasty. However, in the 18th century most of the bazaar was left in ruins after a major earthquake in which many people lost their lives.
The bazaar in Kashan was so important that it was quickly rebuilt and renovated. One of the highlights is the Amin al-Dowleh Timche. This 3 storey caravanserai is at the heart of the bazaar and connects four parts of the bazaar with each other. It has the most beautifully decorated dome I have seen in Iran.
I really recommend having a short break here at the tea shop as you will continuously discover new details. Some of the salesmen at Amin al-Dowleh Timche might offer you to go up on the roof for a fee. Something you might want to consider as the views on the domed roof structure of the bazaar is interesting to see.
Other nice sections in the bazaar are the coppersmith alley and goldsmith alley. Kashan is also famous for its rosewater and kashani biscuits that make great souvenirs.
Buy: rosewater, kashani biscuits
Not to miss: Amin al-Dowleh Timche
Khan bazaar Yazd
The Khan bazaar in Yazd is relatively small. For a long time this bazaar was only for the important and wealthy people. While Yazd was an important desert city on the trade routes to the persian gulf, its exclusive bazaar never grew big. It focused on selling high quality goods such as gold and silver.
The Khan bazaar will not have the beauty and overwhelming power of the bazaars above, but is still worth a visit when you are in Yazd. The covered structure dates from the 9th century. Nowadays there are still lots of good quality souvenirs for sale.
Yazd is famous for its termeh, a type of persian handwoven cloth. Termeh are used to make pillow covers, tablecloths, scarves and other items. Throughout Iran you can find cheap machine made versions, but if you are looking for the real thing, the Khan bazaar in Yazd is the best place to go. Here you can still find the handmade termeh made from fine silk and wool fibers in bright colours.
Yazd is also famous for its sweets. The best sweets in Yazd are actually just outside the bazaar near the Amir Chakhmaq complex. Haj Khalifeh Rahbar is the best. Look out for Ghotab (deep fried almond pastries) and Haji Baadam (almond cookies).
Buy: Yazd Termeh
Not to miss: Try Yazdi sweets
Qom is one of Iran’s most religious cities. It is home to the shrine of Fatemeh, the daughter of the seventh imam and sister of the eight imam, that attracts hundreds of pilgrims every day. Many tourists also come to see the beautiful shrine.
Besides the shrine, Qom also has a historic bazaar that is worth a visit. The old bazaar has a 1 kilometer long alley with a beautiful domed ceiling. In the newer bazaar close to the shrine you will find lots of religious items.
Qom is also famous for its sohan sweets. A saffron brittle candy with pistachio nuts that is as good as it sounds. Don’t leave without trying it.
Buy: Sohan sweets.
Not to miss: the domed ceiling of the historic bazaar
Tajrish bazaar Tehran
The Tehran grand bazaar is not the only bazaar in Tehran worth a visit. Tajrish bazaar is another historic bazaar in the north of the city. Close to the mountains, the air is cooler here and less polluted. Tajrish was a separate village at the foot of the Alborz mountains. It developed right next to the imamzadeh Saleh shrine.
This shrine is dedicated to the brother of the 8th Shiite Imam and is a popular pilgrimage site for the people of Tehran and beyond. There are also 3 old mosques around the bazaar making Tajrish bazaar definitely worth a visit.
Tajrish bazaar is a bit smaller than Tehran grand bazaar and focuses more on everyday products. That means lots of colourful fresh fruits and vegetables, but also clothes, jewellery and household products as well as a few souvenirs.
Buy: fruits and vegetables
Not to miss: Imamzadeh Saleh shrine
Bazaars in Iran Travel tips
Is it safe to visit the bazaars in Iran
I found the bazaars in Iran to be very safe if you take the normal precautions. Like any market in the world, the risk of pickpocketing and opportunity theft always exists. Keep your valuables safe in either a moneybelt under your clothes or a anti theft backpack.
Update 2023: A wave of protests erupted throughout Iran in 2022 and 2023. Although this is not a reason to avoid Iran, it is good to know that these protests can become violent. Due to the political situation, it is even more important to be aware of your surroundings. Avoid political demonstrations, expressing strong political opinions and respect the local rules of law. As a foreigner it is better to be safe than sorry.
Visiting the bazaars in Iran as a solo female traveller
I travelled through Iran for a month as a solo female traveller and was lucky enough to be able to visit all of the bazaars above as well as some smaller markets in villages like Abyaneh, Kandovan, Masuleh and Palangan.
I never encountered any real problems visiting any of the bazaars in Iran as a solo female traveller. On the contrary, most of my experiences meeting people at the bazaars were very positive. I left Iran feeling it was the friendliest country on earth.
But, truth be told, the bazaars in Iran are also a place where you might get stared at or get some lewd comments as a woman. The thing is, women in Iran rarely travel alone and the people working at the bazaars are exclusively male.
I have written a honest post about my experience travelling as a woman to iran. It includes some tips and advice that is also useful if you plan to visit any of the bazaars on your own.
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