Isfahan Travel Guide
It also boasts an Armenian church and incredible bridges, so don’t be in a rush here.
Come check out our Isfahan travel guide as we feature all the best things to do in Isfahan, Iran.
You’ll find many holy places around Isfahan but start by visiting the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque. Scholars consider it to be one of the architectural masterpieces of the Safavid Empire. Its dome commands attention, and within, its mosaics and tile work are nothing short of exquisite.
Imperial authorities constructed it in the early 17th century. Since then, it has only undergone one major renovation cycle, back in the early 20th century. Unlike other mosques, this one lacks minarets. The reason for this has to do with its function. The royal court of Isfahan built Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque for its own private use. Other masjids, like the Shah Mosque, attended to the spiritual needs of the public.
In our view, though, the Jameh Mosque of Isfahan stands out more and should be visited first. According to local historians, the existence of this structure dates back to the late 8th century. Back then, it was not a mosque, but a hall of worship for Zoroastrians.
UNESCO recognizes this structure as a World Heritage Site due to its cultural significance. As you walk amidst its many pillars, beneath its complex dome, and through its courtyard, you’ll understand why.
Islam isn’t the only religion in Isfahan. You’ll discover this fact when you stumble upon the Vank Cathedral. While most people associate Iran with Islam and Zoroastrianism, Iran has a long history with Christianity.
However, the timeline of this church is more recent. Armenian refugees, who were forcibly resettled by Emperor Shah Abbas I, built it in the early 17th century. The outside looks attractive, but the interior will blow your mind. Once inside, its intricate frescoes, framed by gilded carvings, will captivate even the cynical traveller.
It also has an attractive courtyard. It contains the graves of parishioners, a monument to the Armenian genocide, a fountain, and sculptures depicting Bible scenes. Finally, you’ll find a museum on the opposite side of the courtyard. Inside, you’ll learn about the Armenian community in Isfahan, from their arrival to the days of the Armenian genocide.
Iran has a rich musical heritage. Learn about the contributions of this city at the Isfahan Music Museum. A local enthusiast started this institution, collecting folk and traditional Persian instruments from across the country. As you make your way through, you’ll find dotars, tanburs, drums, and other exotic specimens. Admission is pricey at roughly 10 USD, but it comes with a live performance.
Have extra time to spend in Isfahan? Ensure that you include the Shah Mosque in your itinerary. Emperor Shah Abbas I ordered its construction in the early 17th century after moving the capital to Isfahan.
The end result was a structure so impressive that Iran’s mint now features it on the 20,000 rial note. As commanding as its exterior’s presence may be, its interior is equally mesmerizing. Architects covered the roof of its prayer room in cobalt blue tiles to create a heavenly feeling within.
See where Emperor Shah Abbas I entertained foreign dignitaries by visiting the Aali Qapu Palace. This was a place dedicated to their enjoyment, as the royal court covered its walls in fine murals. On the top level, the kings and his guests enjoyed lavish banquets and the music of talented performers.
Take care when exploring this palace. Many of its staircases are unnaturally steep – be honest about your capabilities before attempting to use them.
Chehel Sotoun is another palace where the royals of Isfahan treated their guests to amazing hospitality. Monarchs from Shah Abbas II on met dignitaries here – it’s not hard to see why, as it contained lush gardens and beautiful water features. Today, it is part of a city park, so linger and enjoy what was once only available to royalty.
Isfahan is known for its many spectacular spans. Start by checking out Siosepol Bridge. Shah Abbas I commissioned its building by decree, which created an iconic span that continues to impress today. Its magnificence is as apparent underneath, as its creators crafted 32 arches with alluring lines. The base plate at the start of the bridge was once a tea house, but no longer functions. Bring your own and enjoy this sight by day or night!
Khaju Bridge is another magnificent span in Isfahan. It is unlike any you’ve seen – it looks more like a building constructed across a river than a bridge. Locals enjoy relaxing amidst its arches, which resemble the ones under the Siosepol Bridge. Be sure to visit in the evening, as it is lit up once darkness falls.