Exploring the Alamut Valley and other things to do in Qazvin
About two hours’ drive away from Tehran lies Qazvin, the former capital of the Persian Empire, and the Alamut Valley with its mysterious-sounding Castle of the Assassins, also known as the Alamut Castle. Hiking and exploring the Alamut Valley is what took us to Qazvin in the first place, but we will also show you some other things to do in Qazvin, in case you’re there for longer.
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Getting from Tehran to Qazvin
Getting from Tehran to Qazvin is actually quite easy, since the cities are not far apart, and buses run between the cities pretty regularly. You can also take a taxi there (shared or private), but taking a bus is more affordable and very reliable. Alternatively, you can even take a train running between Tehran and Qazvin, which surprisingly, is the slower option.
When planning your trip to the Alamut Valley, do note that the valley is not actually located within Qazvin City, but we will get to that later.
The buses to Qazvin leave from the Azadi (West) Terminal in Tehran. We got a Snapp! ride to the terminal and then caught a bus headed to Qazvin for 120,000 rial (12,000 toman / about €0.50) each. It was our first bus ride in Iran, and we were more than impressed with how welcoming and hospitable the other passengers were – after two hours on the bus, we were gifted with enough packets of snacks and bags of dried fruit to last us a few days!
It would be wise to stock up on your own snacks to “exchange” with friendly passengers and people you meet on your way. We quickly discovered that Iranians almost always show hospitality by gifting food, and we were determined to try be half as generous with them as they were with us!
The bus seemed to leave Azadi Terminal in Tehran when it was almost full. We’re not sure about an actual timetable, but we were assured that the bus schedule to Qazvin was frequent and regular. The bus then stopped us at Qazvin Bus Terminal from where we got yet another Snapp! ride to our accommodation on the outskirts of Qazvin city.
The Draw of the Alamut Valley and the Castle of the Assassins
The Alamut Valley is home to some breath-taking scenery and a very beautiful place for trekking, but that is not the only draw.
Alamut Castle or the Castle of the Assassins, was a mountain fortress, considered capable of withstanding any attack. In the 11th century, it was home to Hassan-i-Sabbah and his followers, known as the Assassins, accomplished killers of rulers known to persecute their sect.
Alamut Castle is said to have contained magnificent gardens, libraries and laboratories. The term ‘assassins’ (hashashiyan in Persian) is actually thought to have been derived from the original name of the sect, and was a mispronunciation of ‘hashshashin” (hashish smokers).
Finding a guide for the Alamut Valley
First of all, you should know that the Alamut Valley itself is about 1.5 hours’ drive away to the east of Qazvin. You could perhaps try to base yourself in the valley itself and you can spend a while exploring it, moving from village to village if you’re not tight on time.
If you would like to explore the Alamut Valley in one day like we did, your best bet would be to hire a local guide for the day who will pick you up from Qazvin and take you back there after you are finished with the tour.
When looking for recommendations for an Alamut Valley guide online, great reviews for Yousef Shariotkhoo kept popping up, so we decided to contact him to ask for a quote. He answered very promptly with a quote a of €50 for two persons and €80 for four persons for a 10-hour tour which we felt was very fair. Lunch, transport and any entry fees were included in the tour price.
Eventually we decided to go with Yousef based on the positive online reviews and that he was available on the day we wanted to go to the Alamut Valley. We can only add to those reviews by saying that Yousef’s tour was perfect, even if we had terribly bad weather in the Alamut Valley. In fact, he was courteous enough to contact us the day before the tour explaining that due to the predicted fog and rain, we might not enjoy the tour, and asking whether we wanted to cancel.
Given our rather tight schedule, we decided to go for it anyway. We found Yousef to be incredibly kind, patient and polite. Not only does he have good knowledge of the area, but he also happens to be a very intelligent and interesting person himself, so much so that we really enjoyed our conversations with him.
Furthermore, he is a very cautious driver, jokingly warning us that his friends make fun of his slow driving, an ability we found very reassuring when he drove us down winding narrow mountain road in near-zero visibility during a vicious storm!
Yousef may be contacted on [email protected]
Where to stay in Qazvin
Our accommodation of choice was Razhia Hotel, a clean, affordable, welcoming hotel with large rooms. The only downside was that it was about 20 minutes walking distance to the centre, which honestly worked pretty well for us since it provided us with the opportunity to see a little of Qazvin on the way.
The trip to Alamut Valley and hike to Alamut Castle
Despite the bad weather, we loved our introduction to the Alamut Valley, although it was an incredibly wet one!
Yousef was a great companion throughout, explaining all about the valley, and its’ fascinating history, as well as imparting a whole lot of other information about Iran in general, seeing that it was only our third day in the country.
Yousef drove through little roads in the valley, stopping by the side of the road every time the torrential rain abated into a drizzle, so that we could stretch our legs and take in the scenery around us through the fog.
After a while, we arrived at the Alamut Castle and Yousef parked the car at the bottom. The walk up to the castle was very, very steep (and wet and slippery). Sadly, the beauty of the surrounding area was mostly obscured by the fog during the walk up, but we still managed to learn a lot despite the terrible conditions.
You should be aware that that the Castle of the Assassins is mostly in ruins and it was covered with scaffolding during our visit. The beauty is not in the castle itself but in its surroundings. The views from the top of the castle are supposed to be spectacular, but of course, we mostly saw fog!
Lunch was included in Yousef’s tour, and we had that at the Alamut Hostel (+989100473101), a cute little place, not far from the Alamut Castle. It was a lovely wholesome lunch of baked rice, pickles, yogurt and tea. The cost of staying at the Alamut Hostel is around €8 – €10 per person including breakfast, and it is mostly used as a stop on multiday treks around the valley.
After lunch, Yousef took us down to some canyons, also in the valley. We trekked lightly across fields, bridges and walnut trees (so many of them!) in the pouring rain, avoiding large puddles and sheltering under rocky overhangs. We can only assume that the Alamut Valley must be an absolutely incredible place for trekking in good weather!
The drive back to town was one of the scariest I’ve been in due to the fog and rain, but Yousef was a great driver and we both agreed that we felt completely safe with him!
Other things to do in Qazvin
Although the major attraction in Qazvin is without a doubt, the beautiful Alamut Valley, there are a few other things to do in Qazvin which will make your trip there worthwhile.
The Grand Bazaar
The Grand Bazaar of Qazvin Imam Khomeini Street is known to be one of the most beautiful in all of Iran. The original architecture dates back to 1000 years ago.
We must say that we find Iran’s bazaars slightly overwhelming in a very fascinating manner, so we did not have the energy to take in all the beautiful architecture and particularities of this bazaar, however we did love strolling around, smelling the spices and seeing the colourful wares on display.
Sa’ad al-Sultaneh Caravanserai
This particular caravanserai is actually part of the Grand Bazaar, and the most beautiful section we think (and the part in which we could relax properly). It has been renovated beautifully and houses boutique shops and some lovely cafes, in particular the Negarossaltaneh Café where we had some very colourful and quirky drinks in a rather charming setting.
Imamzadeh Hossein Shrine
Get ready to be engulfed in different shades of green once you enter the shrine! The Imamzadeh Hossein Shrine is dedicated to Imam Reza’s son who died young, and is a popular pilgrimage site with locals. The tilework here is breath taking, and the large courtyard, surrounded by two verandas, is a prime example of Qajar art and architecture.
As a woman, I was asked to wear an abaya before entering the shrine, which was provided to me upon entry, since I wasn’t carrying one of my own. I had absolutely no idea how I should wear it, and I caught sight of a few children giggling here and there whilst I took huge strides to avoid tripping in it, whilst the adults looked on in certain amusement, before a local came to help me.
Visiting the Imamzadeh Hossein shrine is surely one of the best things to do in Qazvin, considering both its beauty and its sanctity.
Qajar Bathhouse & Anthropology Museum
Bathhouses were communal, cleaning houses, common throughout certain areas of central Asia in previous times. Iranian bathhouses have now mostly been converted into museums or tea houses, where one can still marvel at the beautiful underground architecture and imagine what the bathhouses were like when they were used as such.
This beautiful Qajar bathhouse in Qazvin has been renovated and converted in an anthropology museum, thus providing a glimpse into the lifestyle of former Persian society. The bathhouse consists of changing rooms, separate rooms for men and women, and resting areas. The wax figures that have replaced former guests, show the different cultures, ethnicities and professions that were present in Qazvin.
If you haven’t yet experienced visiting a former bath house, do be sure to go to this one. There’s a 100,000 rial (10,000 toman / about €0.30) entrance fee which we feel is totally affordable for one of the most interesting things to do in Qazvin!
Jameh Mosque of Qazvin
This mosque must have once stood out rather grandly, but we thought that it was a little dilapidated compared to other mosques in Iran. We still enjoyed exploring every part of it, however we felt that it deserved a little more attention in its preservation! We were the only visitors at the time we went; it is in no way as popular as the mosques of Shiraz and Esfahan.
There were previously nine entrances to Iran’s former fortified citadel, of which only two remain. Sadly, we didn’t get to see the gates in daylight, but passed round Darb-e Kushk Gate at night time.
If you do manage to get there during the day, you should get to see some great tilework and mosaic decoration! Although we thought it looked lovely by night, we feel it could be better enjoyed by day.
Although our time in Qazvin and the Alamut Valley was slightly messed up by the bad weather, we were honestly very happy to experience the Castle of the Assassins, although we did miss out on the breath-taking valley views that Alamut Valley is so well-known for. The other things to do in Qazvin, totally made our detour from Tehran to Tabriz worth while too!Read more about Iran!