The Best Things to do in Tabriz, Iran
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 the end of March 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 Nowruz 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.
A short history of Tabriz
Like many cities in Iran, Tabriz has a long and rich history. Unfortunately it saw most of its historic buildings destroyed by invaders or earthquakes. The city has been ruled by various empires and civilizations, including the Assyrians, the Medes, the Achaemenids, the Parthians, the Sassanids and the Safavids.
Tabriz saw its darkest days during the Mongol invasion in the 13th century when almost all people living in Tabriz were killed. The city was rebuilt again and again. Under the Safavids in the 16th century it was even the capital of Iran for a short period. Even today, there are enough things to do in Tabriz that will give you an idea of the importance of Tabriz as a cultural and religious center in the region.
Tabriz is the capital of the Eastern Azerbaijan province and the majority of the people in Tabriz are Azeri. Iranian Azeri’s or Iranian Turks form the largest ethnic minority in Iran. Their language is a Turkic language and their culture is also quite similar to the Turkic culture and the culture of Azerbaijan.
But Azeri’s are not the only people living in Tabriz. The city is multicultural due to its long history as a Silk Road city. The bazaar is one of the oldest and largest bazaars in Iran, attracting merchants and traders from all over the region.
The best things to do in Tabriz Iran
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.
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 quick look. You need at least a couple of 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 under the Safavid rule. Despite a number of earthquakes, 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 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.
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.
Khaqani garden next to the blue mosque honours the 12th century poet of Khaqani Shirvani. The poet Khaqani was a traveller from Tabriz. He wrote most of his poems when he was in ancient Mesopotamia and when he was imprisined by the Shirvanshah. Eventually he returned to his family in Tabriz where he died.
The garden is a peaceful spot to relax and meet young students who want to practise their english.
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.
Tabriz 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.
Qajar Museum & Amir Nezam House
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.
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.
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.
Try Azeri cuisine
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.
The best things to do near Tabriz
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, but without the tourist crowds. 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, it is easy to find other travellers to share the costs of a taxi. Otherwise you could book this Kandovan tour from 1stQuest.
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.
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.
How to get there: From Tabriz there are buses (4 hours) or shared taxi’s to Ardabil
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.
Tabriz Iran Travel tips
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.
El Goli Park: The Talar Bozorg restaurant in the El Goli Park 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.
Rahnama Dairy cafe: The best spot for breakfast is the Rahnama dairy cafe in the bazaar. It’s all about dairy, but the yoghurt with honey is delicious.
Shahriar Restaurant: Eat in a traditional bath house at the Shahriar restaurant. It is nicely decorated with arched ceilings and tiled walls.
Where to sleep in Tabriz
Booking hostels in Iran online is rather difficult. Because of the sanctions, most regular sites like Booking.com or Airbnb won’t work. To book your hotel beforehand you either need to contact them directly or use 1stQuest
Budget: I stayed in Mashad Guesthouse. It is very basic, but a good budget option with a great location near the bazaar. Another good budget option that you can book online beforehand is the Morvarid hotel
Midrange: The Gostaresh hotel offers a bit more comfort and is a good option in the midrange category.
Money Matters in Tabriz
Due to the sanctions, Iran has been cut off from the international money transfer system. There are no ATM’s in Iran that will work with a foreign bank card. You will have to bring all your money in cash (euro’s or dollars).
How to get to Tabriz?
Tabriz is a transport hub and there are frequent buses to and from Ardabil (4 hours), Qazvin (5 hours), Iranian Kurdistan and Tehran (7 hours). You can check the bus times and book your bus tickets on the 1stQuest booking system.
Tabriz also has a train station with trains to Tehran. You can check the schedule at Iranrail.
When to visit
The best time to visit Tabriz is during the spring (April to June) and autumn (September to November) seasons when the weather is mild, and the temperature is comfortable. During these months, the days are sunny, and the nights are cool, making it ideal for exploring the village and its surroundings.
Summer (July to August) can be hot and dry, with temperatures reaching over 30°C (86°F), and winters (December to February) can be cold and snowy
Safety in Tabriz
Iran, including Tabriz, is generally a safe destination for travelers, and millions of tourists visit Iran each year. The city has low crime levels. However, it is always important to exercise caution and take necessary safety precautions while traveling.
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.
For solo female travellers I wrote a post with tips and advice about traveling as a woman in Iran.
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