In a country without any bars and where alcohol is forbidden it is still pretty easy to find a little party and get drunk! ‘In Iran everything is possible’ is what the locals say. You just gotta have some good leads!
Although the bazaar and the majestic Naqsh-e Jahan Imam Square will take away much of your precious travel time in Esfahan, you have to consider some activity not all tourist do. Esfahan houses the biggest Armenian minority of the country. It all dates back to the days of Shah Abbas I, long before the Islamic Revolution. The Shah was looking for skilled merchants, entrepreneurs and artist and lured a huge group of Christians to Esfahan and ensured that their religious freedom was respected. There were times when 42,000 Christians lived in this settlement, though nowadays there are only 5,000 left.
The Armenian Quarter is fun to walk around. Soak in some more liberal village atmosphere while sipping coffee in one of the many cafes. There is a huge Cathedral that can be visited and as a western (Christian) you don’t need to pay entrance, although it’s stated that there is an entrance fee.
The best thing though is that there are some hidden gems in here. Armenians have to live up to the laws of the Islamic State and therefore women need to wear their headscarves just as usual and alcohol is officially forbidden. Though behind closed doors everything changes! Hang around in the late afternoon especially in weekends and for sure you will make some friends that invite you to some kind of party wherever in the neighborhood. Be prepared to dance with beautiful girls in mini-skirts and get drunk with Armenian locals. Be aware you are still in Iran, so leave the party unnoticed, behave on the streets and get back to your hotel as soon as possible!
Best coffee and teahouses in Esfahan
Sightseeing in Esfahan can be overwhelming with so many stunning buildings to look at, gardens to wander around and beautiful palaces to stare at. Chilling out and taking in all the experiences can be done on the massive square but be prepared to answer all the standard questions from bypassing curious locals. Where are you from? Do you like Iran? Lovely to have a little chat but what when you have answered these questions for over a 100 times? Ready to drink a coffee or tea and just wanna relax? Then head to one of these cafés for a good cup of coffee or tea!
The Qeysarieh Teahouse, situated on the north side of Imam Square next to the bazaars entrance is a good place to sip some tea for a decent price and enjoy the views over the massive square. This place is not about their tea, but all about the magnificent vistas. Head to the terrace order a drink and start staring in the distance, there is always something happening on the square. I think its also a great place to end your day and watch the sunset over the square. I didn’t go there at that time of the day but I bet its open!
Do you want to sip tea among old local Iranian men? Then this is your place! Literally everywhere you look the place is decorated with whatever it may be: paintings, pictures, handicrafts and so on. With bit imagination the place has a bit of an underground feeling, but it’s a very interesting place to drink your coffee among non English speaking old men! In my opinion this is not only a teahouse but also a tourist attraction. The tea I had was nothing really special to be honest but drinking tea here is more about the experience than the taste!
Si-o-seh Bridge Teahouse
There aren’t so many teahouses along the river, but I found this one: Si-o-Seh Bridge. Teahouses are pretty much located around the busy sightseeing center and probably because the riverside area is not that popular teahouses are hard to find. Though the bridges look stunning, especially during evening. While sipping your tea you will have lovely views over the riverside. The prices are reasonable and you will even find locals smoking some shisha.
Abbasi Hotel Teahouse
Wanna splurge a little then try the teahouse in the most expensive hotel in Esfahan. This old caravanserai from the era of Marco Polo is an astonishing complex is and well worth a visit. The rooftop restaurant has good views. You can also order a coffee in the main lobby and drink it in their lush courtyard.
For a cup of coffee, head towards the Armenian quarter of Jolfa on the south side of the river. Just around the corner from Vank Cathedral you’ll find Shant coffee shop playing 60s and 70s music and preparing great Lattes. Coffees start from about 30,000 Rials and a slice of chocolate cake goes for 25,000 Rials. I saw some people ordering milkshakes, I didn’t try them but they looked delicious!
One morning on my way to Naqsh-e Jahan Imam Square I found this small lovely coffee shop. It literally around the corner from the square and they also do take away! The friendly barista was joyfully preparing the coffees while dancing to some nice background music. Most important obviously was the quality coffee he served! I also grabbed one of their tasty treats. The chocolate brownie was rich as hell and made me sit down a little bit longer and enjoy the good wifi! There are not a lot of places to sit down as it is really small, but the coffee was may be one of my best during my trip through Iran. The next day I went back for a take away!
A very laid-back coffee place is Café Roozegar, which is only a stone’s throw away from the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque and the Imam Square. Have a taste of some Iranian tradition here as it still looks pretty authentic in here. There are loads of different herbal teas for sale. Its pretty small but they offer a wide range of books to look through while drinking your tea. On the background you will here Iranian music, may be a bit of a boring place, but a very peaceful atmosphere!