According to a Persian saying, “Isfahan nesf-e jahan“, Isfahan is half the world. It’s certainly one of the most beautiful city in the world! In the same range as Rome, Paris and Saint Petersburg. So Isfahan is a must-visit city, even if you are on a tight schedule. We made you an two-day itinerary, covering all the highlights.
Exploring Isfahan is best done starting at the grand public square Maydan-e Iman. It’s surrounded by some of the best sights of the city. Watching sunrise there, is truly magical.
Ali Qapu palace
Start the day at Ali Qapu palace, which opens the earliest of the sites (8:00). The palace was built around 1600. Its main feature is the balcony (Talar) from which you have the best views of the square and of the two mosques. Don’t forget to look up while there, to inspect the beautiful ceilings.
At the southern corner of the square lies the Masjed-e Imam. Building of the mosque started around the same time as the square. Shah Abbas I initiated both at the beginning of the 17th century. Right after entering the mosque you’ll notice that the mosque itself is built at a 45-degree angle in position to the square. The north south orientation of the square prevailed in the design of the area. Both the tiling and the inlay work of the mosque is of great quality and the domes of the buildings make for fine pictures.
Masjed-e Sheikh Lotfallah
On the eastern side of the square is the small Masjed-e Sheikh Lotfallah. This is the most beautiful mosque of the city, especially when the sun is low, and sunbeams penetrate the domed chamber. Have a sit and marvel at all the intricate geometrical shapes.
Now that you are relaxed and peaceful, it’s time to make your way to the northern side of the square and enter the bazar. Head in a north-eastern direction towards Masjed-e Jame. In the meantime, you’ll come across all the spices, scarfs, jewellery and tapestries you could ever need. Get a bite to eat while you’re there.
Almost a thousand years old, the Masjed-e Jame (Friday mosque) is a true gem. Marvel at the 11th century dome with a 17-meter diameter. Don’t forget to take a look at the Objeity mihrat, a plastered panel from 1310 in honour of the Illhamid ruler Onjeitu. Behind this room is the vaulted winter mosque. Guides will turn the lights on and off for a great scene. More arcades and a dome are at the northern end.
Start the day at Chetel Shotun. This 17th century palace was used to receive foreign envoys and dignitaries. The pavilion has some huge painted battle scenes depicting battles with the Turks, Afghans and Uzbeks.
Hasht Bekesht / Ablassi hotel
If you’re into modern art, pay a visit to the contemporary art museum next door for some Iranian art. Make your way south to the small and intimate Hasht Bekesht palace and the surrounding park. If you want an ice-cream or a cup of tea, head over to the Ablassi hotel. Indulge in some luxury in this converted caravanserai and its pleasant courtyard.
Next, go to the Armenian quarter (New Jolfa) on the south side of the river. The main draw here is Vank cathedral. This 17th century cathedral has beautifully painted walls. On these walls you can see various biblical scenes and Armenian tales. The grounds of the cathedral also house a memorial to the Armenian genocide and a small museum.
A short walk to the east lies Bethlehem church. This smaller church is a couple of decades older than Vank Cathedral. It has similar nicely painted and decorated walls and ceilings.
For lunch or a drink, head over to Toranj traditional restaurant. This old restored merchant house has some nice rooms and a pleasant patio.
A ten-minute taxi ride to the east brings you to Tauhlte Foulad. A cemetery dating from the 10th century. The different tombs give an interesting overview of Islamic architectural styles.
Take the northern exit and walk for some 10 minutes towards Zayandeh River. Get some food and join the hundreds of Iranians on an evening stroll and picnic alongside the river. We’ll start our walk at Khaju Bridge. Shah Abbas II built this bridge with its octagonal pavilions in 1650. Walk westwards along the river until you reach Si-o-se-pol. This bridge is also known as Allahverdi Khan Bridge and was built in 1599. Its 33 arches are a great site at night when the bridge is lit and mirrored in the water.
Don’t forget to read our two day itinerary for Tehran!