The best things to do in Tabriz: a warm welcome to Iran

The best things to do in Tabriz: a warm welcome to Iran

Backpacking Iran: A travel guide to the best things to do in Tabriz and Kandovan for the independent budget traveller

This post is a travel guide to the best things to do in Tabriz. One of the largest cities in northwestern Iran. If you travel from Turkey to Iran by train or through the Gurbulak Bazargan Iran border crossing, Tabriz will be the first big city in Iran you come accross.

Tabriz was also my first stop in Iran and despite the cold weather I received a very warm welcome. It was early April and there were still patches of snow in the city. But Tabriz was also in a festive atmosphere, because it was the end of the Nauruz festival to celebrate the arrival of spring.

Tabriz was my first introduction to Iranian hospitality and it was overwhelming. Everywhere I went people greeted me and told me “welcome to Iran”. Because of this, Tabriz will always have a place in my heart. But it is not just the friendly people that make this city special.  There are a lot of things to do in Tabriz that make this city worthwhile.

Nauruz egg in the centre of Tabriz Iran

A short history of Tabriz

Like many cities in Iran, Tabriz has a long and rich history, but saw many of its historic buildings destroyed by invaders or earthquakes. Still, there is enough left that will give you an idea of the importance of this great city. among them is the oldest and largest covered bazaar in the world and the blue mosque.

Tabriz is the capital of the Eastern Azerbaijan province and the majority of the people in Tabriz are Azeri that speak a Turkic language. Iranian Azeri’s or Iranian Turks form the largest ethnic minority in Iran. Although they are spread out over the country, Tabriz is at the heart of their culture.

the blue mosque is among the top things to do in Tabriz

Things to do in Tabriz

1. The Tourism Information Office

Normally I never visit a tourism information office and I wouldn’t have tought of visiting it in Tabriz either, but I was literally dragged into the office by mister Nasser Khan. A cheery guy whose mission is to help every single tourist that visits Tabriz as much as he can, whether they like it or not.

Nasser speaks no less than 8 languages. I got tea, chocolates and he told me I could join a German couple on their tour to Kandovan the next day. He actually gave me a lot of useful information. Make this your first stop in Tabriz and you will not regret it.

The tourism information office in Tabriz

2. The bazaar

Although Tehran Grand bazaar is the largest bazaar in the world, Tabriz has the oldest and largest covered bazaar in the world. It is easy to spent a whole day exploring this maze of intricate alleys. Don’t think you can come here for a short time. You need at least 2 hours to get a feel for this place.

The bazaar has a history that goes back over a 1000 years, but the current structure was built in the 15th century. Despite earthquakes in this region it still stands strong as the economic centre of the city

Some of the highlights are the Amir bazaar for gold and jewellery and the carpet bazaar. Don’t forget to look up sometimes for the beautiful domes.

the bazaar is among the top things to do in tabriz

3. The blue mosque

The blue mosque was once covered in blue tiles and intricate calligraphy before it collapsed in an earthquake in 1773. Reconstruction only started in 1951, but it was never really restored to its former glory.

The main entrance portal that survived the earthquake gives you a hint of the original blue exterior that must have been amazing. You can still see a few remaining patches of the original tiles inside as well. The blue mosque is definetly one of the top things to do in Tabriz.

interior of the blue mosque in Tabriz

4. Khaqani garden

Khaqani garden next to the blue mosque honours ythe 12th century poet of Khaqani Shirvani. It is a peaceful spot to relax and meet young students who want to practise their english.

Khaqani garden near the blue mosque in Tabriz

5. Municipall hall

The municipal hall is a nice building worth a quick photostop on your way to the blue mosque. In the basement is a small museum about the history of Tabriz.

Municipall hall in Tabriz

6. Behnam House

Behind the municipall hall you will find the traditional Behnam house from the Qajar era. It is worth a visit for the beautiful courtyards and miniature frescoes.

7. Shahriar Poet Shrine

Iranians love their poets and in Tabriz you can find the beautiful Shahriar poet mausoleum. Shahriar was the first Iranian poet to write in Azeri language and therefore a favourite among Iranian Azeri’s. The architecture is an interesting blend between traditional and modern design with arches and angles.

8. Arg-e Tabriz and the new Mosallah mosque

A new big mosque is being built next to a remnant of Tabriz’s old 14th century citadel where criminals were executed by throwing them from the top of the walls. Apparently one woman survived as she used her chador as a parachute.

new mosque in Tabriz

9. Amir Nezam House and Qajar museum

Amir Nezam was an important politician in the Qajar era who built this beautiful mansion for himself. It has several courtyards, pools and gardens and is now home to the interesting Qajar museum.

10. El Goli Park

The biggest park in Tabriz is a great place to hang out in the evening and meet Iranian people. There is a small Qajar palace and a lake, making this a scenic location for a walk along with the locals.

Things to do near Tabriz

11. Kandovan

One of the highlights of my visit in Tabriz was the small village of Kandovan. The homes carved out of the mountains are similar to Cappadocia in Turkey. It’s a popular spot for Iranian tourists going for a picnic.

How to get there: You can easily visit Kandovan as a day trip from Tabriz. As far as I know there is no public transport going here, but at the tourism information office in Tabriz it is easy to find other travellers to share the costs of a taxi.

Cave homes in Kandovan

Girl selling souvenirs in Kandivan

12. Eynali Mountain

From Tabriz it is possible to take a cable car up to Eynali Mountain. Besides the beautiful views over the city it is a great place to go hiking and see a bit of nature.

13. Ardabil

The historical town of Ardabil is a long, but beautiful day trip from Tabriz. It is worth a visit both for the UNESCO listed Sheikh Safi-od-Din Mausoleum and the beautiful scenery on the way from Tabriz to Ardabil

How to get there: From Tabriz there are buses (4 hours) or shared taxi’s to Ardabil

14. Jolfa

The small border town of Jolfa is 2 hours from Tabriz and worth a visit for the Saint Stephanos Armenian monastery and the Aras river valley.

How to get there: There are shared taxi’s from Tabriz to the town of Jolfa, but to visit the monastery and the Aras valley it is best to charter a private taxi.  A private taxi from Jolfa to the monastery is about $10. If you want to rent a taxi for the day including the Aras river valley it is about $50.

men hearding sheep in Iran

What to eat in Tabriz

Tabriz is known for its Azeri cuisine that is full of fresh herbs and nuts. The most famous local dish is Koofteh Tabrizi. Huge meatballs that are stuffed with nuts and berries. Trying this delicious recipy is among the top things to do in Tabriz.

Tabriz also has some delicious soups. Ash e Omej is a noodle soup with lentils, onion and chicken. Ash e Gojeh is a tomato soup with beans, onions and mint.

Like Persians, Azeri’s like their sweets. Qurabiya are almond cookies with vanilla and pistachio. They are perfect with a cup of herbal tea.

If you like to know more about Iranian food you can read my Persian food guide.

fresh herbs at a market in Kandovan

Where to eat in Tabriz

There is no shortage of fastfood restaurants, but if you want to visit some of Tabriz’s local dishes try out some of the traditional restaurants.

1. El Goli Park

The Talar Bozorg restaurant is very popular among locals and it is always busy. Try to visit El Goli park during sunset and finish the evening with a nice dinner at the Talar Bozorg restaurant.

2. Rahnama Dairy cafe

The best spot in Tabriz for breakfast is the Rahnama dairy cafe in the bazaar. It’s all about dairy, but the yoghurt with honey is delicious.

3. Shahriar Restaurant

Eat in a traditional bath house at the Shahriar restaurant. It is nicely decorated with arched ceilings and tiled walls.

Nuts and dried fruits at a market in Kandovan

Where to sleep in Tabriz

Mashad Guesthouse is very basic, but a good budget option with a great location near the bazaar.

How to get to Tabriz?

Tabriz is a trabnsport hub and there are frequent buses to and from Ardabil (4 hours), Qazvin (5 hours) and Tehran (7 hours).

Tabriz also has a train station with trains to Tehran. You can check the schedule at Iranrail.

Safety in Tabriz

Tabriz is a very safe city with low crime levels and if you follow normal precautions you should not face any problems.

For solo female travellers I wrote a post with tips and advice about traveling as a woman in Iran.

Backpacking Iran: A travel guide to the best things to do in Tabriz and Kandovan for the independent budget traveller

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