Esfahan has been amazing travelers with its numerous historic attractions. It became the capital of Iran during Seljuk (10th century) and Safavid (16-17th century) era and this was when most of its magnificent buildings and bridges were made.
To visit most of the top highlights of Esfahan you would need a good 3 days but there also amazing desert towns such as Varzaneh close to Esfahan that are worth a day trip.
Naqsh-e Jahan Square
Also known as Emam Square, this UNSCO World Heritage Site is located in the historic center of Esfahan. Laid by the order of the king Shah Abbas I in the 17th century, this spot became the beating heart of Esfahan.
This aestheticly pleasing square is surrounded by some of the most prominent landmarks built during the Safavid era which make Naqsh-e Jahan square the most popular touristic attraction in the city.
You can spend hours in this square and enjoy the company of the locals along with visiting all the eye-catching monuments.
Ali Qapu Palace
Ali Qapu was the first residential palace of Safavid kings. This six-story building is forty-eight meters high and is located on the western side of Nagsh-e Jahan Square. The first floor has two halls for the governmental meetings. The vast terrace of the third floor with the view of the Nagsh-e Jahan Square was a perfect place for the royal family to watch polo games, festivals, and military parades taking place in the square.
There is an awe-inspiring hall on top of this palace known as the Music Hall. The niches adorning the walls of this hall have unique urn forms that echo the instrumental sounds beautifully.
Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque
This magnificent structure was the private mosque for the sovereigns built by the order of Shah Abbas the great. Passing through the twisting vestibule, the majestic beauty of the inner sanctum bewitches you.
All the jaw dropping details, delicate tile works, sun rays picking through the latticed windows sweep you to another world. When the sun goes down, the magic begins! The sinking sun gives a pinkish hue to the unique buff color of the exterior dome, decorated with twisting arabesque designs.
This mosque is quite small and doesn’t take long to visit, but it’s definitely one of the most beautiful dome interiors you will see in Iran.
Shah Mosque or Emam Mosque
The Shah mosque of Esfahan is shows Safavid architecture at its best and it’s located the southern side of Naqsh-e Jahan Square.
When Shah Abbas l chose Esfahan as the capital, he ordered building a public mosque. The great tile works, intricate architecture, and delicate stone carvings made Shah Mosque an iconic structure in the Islamic world.
The unique feature of this mosque is the echoing sound system in the main praying hall. Standing exactly under the main dome, your voice will echo perfectly as if a primary Dolby sound technology was used in the structure. This place was mainly built to eco the sound of the moazzen as he sings the call to prayers.
The amazing propylaeum of the oldest bazaar of the city calls you in to wander through this fascinating structure. Walk through the wide vaulted avenues and enjoy the intricate handicrafts such as Qalamkar (printed fabrics), Mina-Kari (vitreous enamel), or Qalam Zani (etching), splendid Persian carpets, fragrant spices, or try delicious traditional sweets such as Gaz, Poolaki, etc. This wonderful place on the north of the Naqsh-e Jahan Square completes your tour around this historic square and it’s the perfect to shop for souvenirs in Esfahan.
Chehel Sotoun was the royal pavilion where the Safavid king received ambassadors and his guests of honor. The mirror works in this pavilion are eye-catching and the paintings on walls depict the majestic Shah Abbas l, the historical battle scenes and royal private parties.
Also known as the Amenaperkich Cathedral, was erected in the 16th century in the New Julfa district, where Armenians settled in Esfahan.
The fascinating paintings depicting biblical stories on the walls, the pompous interior decoration bewitch every visitor. What make Vank cathedral unique is its adobe base along with the borrowed elements of Islamic architecture in the structure.
Atashgah or Fire Temple
In the west of Esfahan, on top of an archaeological hill, the mud brick ruins of a Sassanian fire temple can be seen. Locals climb the steep hill to catch the amazing sunset view. The city view at nights and the calm ambiance made Atashgah a favorite place among the younger generation.
This two-story bridge is the finest bridge over the Zayandeh Rood River with an elegant pavilion for the royal family to sit and enjoy the view or the public festivals like Nowruz.
Kajoo Bridge still is a perfect spot for leisure walks over the river, contemplating with the relaxing sound of the water or listening to the local singers and musicians gathering every evening beneath the bridge.
Si-o-se Pol Literally means a bridge with 33 arches, and it is the longest bridge (about 300 meters long) on Zayandeh Rood River, passing through Esfahan. It was built in early 17th century under the supervision of Allahverdi Khan, the great commander of Shah Abbas l. That is why it is also known as Allahverdi Khan Bridge.
In the evenings, when the lights magnify the glory of this symmetrical architecture, lots of people choose Si-O-Se Pol for taking a relax stroll along the river and enjoying the beauties of the river banks.
The Music Museum
Iran has a rich musical history. The Music Museum of Esfahan is one of the best places to enjoy hearing and seeing more than 300 Iranian musical instruments. Most of these instruments are unique in Iranian music but some are common in many other countries in the region.
Guided visits are mandatory and definitely a smart way to enjoy a professional music musuem. Do not miss the live musical performance at the end of the tour to hear some Iranian music.
Chahar Bagh Street
Chahar Bagh avenue is a broad street lined with tall trees connecting the north of Esfahan (Darvazeh Doolat) to the south (Darvazeh Shiraz). After the sunset, when the weather gets cooler, it is the perfect time to take a walk in this pleasant street. Enjoy a leisurely walk, communicate with the locals or stop for Gooshfil with Doogh, a tasty weird local snack, combination of sweetness and saltiness along the way.
There are some good restaurants on Chaharbagh Street where you can try delicious local dishes like Biryani, a fried meat topped with nuts, or Hosseini Kabab which is minced kebab served with tomatoes and green peppers.