With the increasing number of individual tourists flowing, having some basic knowledge about public transportation in Iran is becoming crucial to many. Most travelers are ditching the expensive tours and traveling at their own pace with a rather smaller budget and they’re finding public transportation a great way to get around.
Thankfully public transportation in Iran has improved noticeably in the last couple of years. Cities like Mashhad are now easy to navigate with the new metro system and Tehran’s metro has been topped up with 2 new lines and many new stations. But to choose amongst the many available options and to make sure you’re not getting ripped off on the taxi, here’s a explicit explanation of everything you need to know about public transportation in Iran:
Which airlines fly to Iran?
Before getting started on Iran, you’d want to know how you can get there. Unlike before when tourists were obliged to choose Tehran as their starting and finishing point, you can now choose anywhere from Tehran, Esfahan, or Shiraz as your arrival and departure destination. This can lower the cost of your travels and also help with the timing. Iran is a lot bigger than most people imagine and traveling between cities is a long journey.
You have a big option of airlines to pick from which would obviously depend on your departing destination and budget. Mahan and IranAir are the two major Iranian airlines that fly overseas. Pegasus and Aeroflot offer low cost flights to Tehran usually making a stop in Istanbul or Kiev.
Public transportation from Imam Khomeini Airport:
Imam Khomeini airport is about 45km away from Tehran. Shuttle buses are not available at the airport and the train is said to be open soon. But for now taxi is the only available option until the train is officially running.
Grabbing a taxi is nothing complicated. You’ll be ambushed by drivers offering you a ride as soon as you step out of the airport. The first thing you should have in mind when getting a taxi in Iran is that taxi meters are non existent! This makes it easy for drivers to ask whatever price they wish. In most airports there are taxi stands in the arrival hall where you can hire a taxi. Usually they turn out to be a little more expensive than negotiating with the driver yourself but they save you the hassle. If not, just make sure you and the driver agree on a price before you get in. Depending on your destination, a taxi from the airport to Tehran shouldn’t cost anymore than 85,000 Tomans or 20-25€.
When getting around Tehran, nothing beats the city’s clean and chill metro system. It’s easy to use, costs almost nothing and saves you from the horrid traffic. One way tickets are 1000 Tomans(almost 25 cents). Your other option would be a metro card that can be topped up to any price you wish. The same card can also be used for buses and even recently for official taxis outside metro stations. If you’re staying in the city a few days then I’d charge it with something around 5000-10,000 Tomans.
All of Tehran’s metro signs have english translations. You can ask for a metro map at the information but I’d personally recommend downloading the metro app before you arrive. It’s easy to use and available in English. You can download the Android and IOS versions here.
Another thing to consider which can be confusing for many tourists is the segregation in the train. The last 1.5 cars on each side of the train are women only and the rest can be used by both men and women. It’s very common to see mostly men occupying the middle cars and I’ve seen many foreign women doubting whether it’s ok for them to get on or not. The answer is yes! Most iranian women prefer to get on the only women sections unless they are accompanied by a male partner but that does not mean you cannot get into the mens section.
Rush hours in the metro start from 7-9 in the morning and 5-7 in the afternoon. Getting on the train during these hours can be a challenge and sometimes you might have to miss a few to be able to squeeze yourself in. 😉
City buses cover a great part of the city but I wouldn’t suggest them for tourists. They are slow, make too many stops and English information is limited. Keep in mind that in these buses women sit in the back and men in the front. Women can pay when getting off by going to the drivers section.
BRT buses in Tehran are express buses with their own special route. They are red, don’t get stuck in traffic and go through the main avenues of the city. The most practical route is the one connecting the railway station to Tajrish square. It goes through Tehran’s longest street aka Valiasr and makes stops in some of the city’s main squares. Payment is normally done at the entrance of the station. If not, you’re required to pay the driver in person. Having a metro card would really make your life easier.
In these buses women are seated in the front and men in the back. English information is available and everything is pretty straight forward. The great thing about public transportation in Iran is that people are extremely willing to help out tourists. You don’t even have to ask. You’re muddled gesture will already have Iranians asking you whether you’re in need of help or not!
Getting a Taxi!
To get a taxi in Iran you can either go to the closest taxi station or just stand in the street and hail for one. You just need to look interested and you’ll have cars stopping at your feet without blinking an eye. But the tricky part is to know what kind of Taxi to look for.
Let’s get into detail:
Darbast means ‘closed door’. In the Persian transportation dictionary it means hiring a private taxi. You could be standing anywhere in the city and getting a Darbast. To hire a Darbast just stand along the street and wait for an empty taxi to stop. Then tell him Darbast and if he’s interested let him know of your destination.
Make sure you negotiate a price before getting in, as Darbast is the most common way of ripping off in public transportation in Iran. Mainly because most people don’t have a clear idea of how much a taxi to their destination could cost. So in the end it’s really up to you to decide if you’re ok with the price or not.
If you’re in any of the major parts of the city, it’s easy to find taxi drivers shouting Darbast here and there. Just walk up to them, tell them your address and negotiate a price.
Shared taxi is a common way of getting around in Iran. Many actually prefer it to buses. They have their own designated routes. So you’re suppose to get on if only you’re intended destination is within their route. They have fixed prices which is usually written on a sticker on their front window and they carry up to 4 people. You’re expected to pay along the journey as sometimes they make stops in the most unexpected places and you’re required to hop off quickly. Having change is also appreciated by drivers.
Let’s work with an example: Tajrish or Vanak are one of Tehran’s main squares. They both have a huge taxi station with lines for each route. Their destination is written above each line but in Persian. You’re suppose to find your route and then stand in the line belonging to that route until a taxi arrives. Usually the taxis are already there waiting so you just hop in. If you can’t read the signs which you probably can’t, just walk up to one of the drivers and ask them for the right route for your destination. Have in mind that these taxis will probably not end up at the door of your hotel so you’re suppose to find the closest route you can get and then walk the extra mile.
If you’re not in any of the major avenues or squares with a taxi station, then you’ll just need to stand along the street and call for one. If the car is empty, make it clear that you’re not expecting a Darbast and you want a shared taxi instead (it means the driver can pick up other people along the road as well). After that, just tell him your destination and he will show if he’s interested or not.
This might all sound a bit complicated at first, but you’ll get the hang of it pretty quickly, so don’t panic.
There are thousands of drivers working as unofficial taxis in Iran. Basically anyone with a car be a taxi without being licenced or registered! Pretty messed up, huh?! It has become extremely common for people to get a ride with these taxis but if you want to be extra cautious then avoid getting on any taxi that is not the official yellow or green cars.
If you’re staying at someone’s home or you’re at a hotel or restaurant, you can always have someone call for a telephone taxi. This is probably your easiest option when you plan to leave for the airport or train station.
Snapp is Iran’s Uber which is doing perfectly great and everyone seems to be extremely happy with it. Specially since they are way cheaper than Darbast or a Telephone Taxi. The app is available in English but it could be a little difficult if the driver doesn’t speak English and is not able to locate you on his map.
But here is how it works: You download the app (IOS or Android), make a quick profile and then locate yourself on the map. Then you can locate your destination either by using the search engine or just searching through the map manually. Once your destination is fixed, you make a request and as soon as a driver accepts your request you will have his name, his car model and plate number. Normally the driver will call you just to make sure of your location, but that shouldn’t be a problem if you have located yourself clearly on the map. After that, it’s very straight forward.
Snapp is currently available in Tehran, Esfahan, Shiraz and recently in Mashhad.
Traveling between cities
How to travel in Iran by bus?
Traveling between cities with buses is cheap and usually the preferred option for those traveling on a budget. Buses run very frequently and if you choose the VIP ones they are extremely comfortable and even come with an afternoon snack. There are usually a few bus terminals in each city and you’d have to know which Terminal has buses to your intended destination. For example buses from Tehran to Esfahan leave from Beihaghi or Tehran Gharb (West) terminal. You could either just go to the terminal and pick up your ticket there or have an Iranian book it online for you from here. You can also contact a local agency in Iran and have them book your ticket but bus tickets are usually available even if you just purchase directly at the station. We had our hotel receptionist book our tickets in Esfahan and the tickets were brought to us at the hotel where we paid in cash.
Just to give you an idea, a VIP bus to Esfahan will set you back by 33,000 Toman/ 7 Euros. You can’t really go wrong with that.
When traveling in long distances like Tehran-Shiraz, a night bus could be a wise option as it would reduce accommodation costs and you’ll sleep during most of the journey. The seats all recline to a comfortable position and have a huge leg space.
Intercity Taxi or Savari:
Most people would opt for a bus when traveling between cities but a taxi could be another quick option. I personally would advice against it as they cost more than the bus and are less comfortable. It’s also more expensive if you’re sitting in the front seat. But I once used it to go from Shiraz to Persepolis and it turned out to be a lot cheaper than hiring a private taxi. Not to mention I didn’t have a lot of options with the buses in that route and this was the quickest and easiest way. I think it works great for smaller and closer cities but definitely not the way to travel between major cities like Tehran, Esfahan, Shiraz or Yazd.
How to travel in Iran by train?
Iran is well connected by a great railway system; one of the best in the region. There’s everything from normal bus-like trains to those with private cabins and bunk beds. I would pick the train in 3 conditions:
- long distance
- Traveling with friends
Trains can be cheaper than VIP buses but having the option of a private cabin and bed makes it a perfect choice for night travel. If you’re a women traveling with another female friend or alone then you should definitely request a seat in an only female cabin. Trains can also be a great way to socialize with the locals and enjoy the scenery.
Mashhad and Shiraz are great destination to travel with train. Both offer 5 star trains like Fadak and tickets from Tehran to Shiraz cost around 150,000 Tomans or 34€. There are also other trains such as Qazal that come in cabins of 4 or the really cheap ones with cabins of 6. Apart from the cheapest option, most night trains offer a warm dinner and breakfast. A restaurant car is also available in all of them.
To book your tickets in advance you can either use this website or a local agency.
Domestic flights In Iran
If you have a tight schedule or you’re traveling in Iran for less than 10 days with a packed itinerary, then booking a domestic flight for long journeys such as Tehran-Shiraz is a wise option. Domestic flights in Iran aren’t that cheap if you compare them with low cost European airlines. For example a one way flight from Tehran to Shiraz could cost 40-50€ depending on the season. But if you’re short on time then it can save you a lot of time and energy.
It’s recommended to buy tickets at least 2 days in advance and way earlier if you’re traveling during high season. To book you’d have to contact a local agency or use international websites such as eDreams.
Hiring your own car
Last but not least is your option to ditch public transportation in Iran and hire your own car. Many would advice against it as traffic in big Iranian cities is horrible and people drive like crazy. Road accidents in Iran are also quite high. But if you’re planning to go off the beaten track then hiring a car will take you to places that nothing else will. I’ve seen a few people who had experienced it and they thought it was great. As of now, EuropeCar offers this service at the airport. I know there are a few agencies who also claim to arrange it but I’ve never heard of anyone’s real experience.