Tabriz is the first major port of call in Iran for many cyclists making the overland journey from Turkey.
Once the country’s capital, now Tabriz is best known for its bazaar, one of the largest in the world and covered by a vaulted brick roof. The Blue Mosque is also well worth a visit. In its glory, the mosque was covered inside and out in blue tiles. Earthquake damage nearly destroyed it but it’s since been restored and some of the original ceramic work remains.
Before you do anything else in Tabriz, go to the tourist bureau at the end of Ferdosi Street, near the bazaar. It’s the friendliest one in all of Iran and perhaps anywhere in the world. It’s run by the always-cheery Nasser Khan who speaks no less than 8 languages. You’ll find a wealth of information here on Tabriz and the region, a book exchange and of course as many cups of tea as you can drink. Nasser can help you arrange guided tours, advise you on buses and trains and just about anything else you might need. There’s also a guestbook with tips from other travellers. Don’t forget to add your entry! (Open Sat-Thu, 9-14 and 16-19)
Sleeping: Tabriz doesn’t have heaps of options for the budget traveller but there are a few good choices.Hotel Mashhad on Ferdosi Street (near the bazaar-end of the street) is a perennial favourite among those watching their cash. The rooms are simple yet clean affairs without bathrooms. Some have sinks. In the restaurant downstairs you can have breakfast. At lunch and dinner the Tabriz specialty of dizi is served up. Staff happily provide free hot water so you can make your own coffee or tea. (Single 57,000 IR, Double 79,000 IR, Shower 7000 IR)
If Hotel Mashhad is full, a range of other cheap hotels are found on Ferdosi Street. Hotel Mahmoodi has also been recommended by travellers as a decent inexpensive option.
Self-catering: The basics like dried goods, yogurt, honey, nuts and cold drinks can be found from a range of small shops on Ferdosi Street and Emam Khomeini. For fresh produce, you’ll want to track down one of the numerous street markets. One is near Namaz Square. You’ll go past it as you head towards the Jamea Mosque.
If you’re at the Blue Mosque, it’s worth walking the short extra distance to Tabriz’s best chocolate and candy shop. Eftekhary is packed with homemade chocolates, Turkish Delight and nougat, all at incredibly reasonable prices. From the mosque, continue east on Emam Khomeini to Beheshti Square. Turn left up the main road leading towards the river. You’ll find the shop about 500 meters along on the right. Any local can direct you.
Eating out: Just up the road from Hotel Mashhad on the same side as you walk towards the bazaar (but don’t cross the street) is the perfect place for breakfast. From the outside it just looks like a shop selling drinks and yogurt but there are tables at the back and in the morning you can have a divine breakfast of clotted cream, honey, warm bread and tea. Other similar operations serve yogurt and honey if you want a lower fat version. (Breakfast 7,000-10,000 IR)
Also on this stretch are several mediocre fast food joints. They serve burgers and pizzas although the Iranian variation on these Western tastes may not be to your liking. Cheeseburgers come with little discernible cheese and all burgers are made from pre-formed patties and served lukewarm. Thinly sliced pink sandwich meat (probably made from chicken) seems to be a popular topping for both burgers and pizzas. (Burger 10,000 IR)
A much better idea is to try a bowl of dizi, a hearty stew of lamb, potatoes, chickpeas and tomatoes. Get your fix at Ferdowsi. This friendly eatery is tiny but you’ll be eating with the locals (all men but women are welcome) and you can listen to the birds sing while you dine. They also have nargile pipes on offer and unlimited amounts of tea. To find it, go down a tiny alley to your right as you walk behind the tourist bureau and look for the staircase leading down at the end of the alley. A white sign above the staircase has the word dizi written faintly on it in Roman letters. (15,000 IR)
One of the few places to have vegetarian food is just inside the market, where vegetable and lentil stews are served up with rice. Meat eaters can also find tempting kebabs here and bread is freshly baked in their own oven. Ask Nasser at the tourist bureau to direct you. No English is spoken so come prepared to mime or with a translator. (Vegetarian dishes 15,000 IR, soda 2,000 IR)
Bike repair: The famous Saeed Mohammedi, who gives a free service for bicycle tourists, and a host of other bike shops are found on Nader Square, just west of the city centre. For parts, also good and nearer the centre is Alamir Habib Commerce (24 Artesh Avenue).
Staying connected: There are plenty of “Coffee Nets” around Tabriz and prices are around 5000-6000 IR an hour. Try in the electronics malls or a tiny but good one is just beside the museum, as you approach the Blue Mosque.
To call home, you can either buy a phone card or go to an office with telephone booths where you pay the clerk at the end of your call.