Souvenir shopping in Iran (for design-savvy travelers)

Before arriving in Iran, we told ourselves to not bring anything but a small keepsake home. Little did we know that Iran’s mesmerizing bazaars, quirky antique stores, and carpet shops would make this an absolutely impossible promise to keep… This is what we ended up lugging back home:
Iran Souvenirs Gifts Tips

1 Contemporary ceramics. A contemporary take on the world-famous Persian pottery, created by young Iranian artists.  2 Copper mug. Found in copper shops all over Iran – these make for a great Moscow mule drinking vessel (to make up for all the booze-less evenings you’ve had in Iran)  3 Shah Abbas teapot. Ubiquitous in Iran and found in almost every tea house. Opt for the ones with 8 spouts (really!) for something kooky. 4 Small ceramic bowl. A modern, mass-produced copy of the fish pattern found on traditional Persian tiles and pottery. Around 1 USD. 5 Match box. A habit of ours: buy practically useless items just because the packaging is so nice. We can’t help it!

6 Jahan Brand tea. The tea itself is actually from Assam in India, but we totally fell for the pretty packaging designed by the Iranian importer, Jahan Brand.  7 Antiques. This ‘antique’ mirror was love at first sight. Unfortunately arrived back home in 6 shattered pieces. Around 40 USD. 8 Dried Kashan rose buds. Kashan is famous for its roses, and these dried rose buts can be found all over town. Use them in jams, desserts or as garnishing. 9 Kashan rose water. Used as food flavoring, syrup or simply to spritz on your skin. Allegedly helps with a multitude of ailments. 10. Pejman Foundation tote bag. One could never have too many. Around 4 USD. 11. Persian Ghashghai rug. A no-brainer. Around 80 USD.

Best places for souvenir shopping in Iran

Of course, you could just use ask your hotel for the nearest ‘souvenir shop’, but we found the majority of the items sold in this kind of stores a bit ‘meh’. Here are five alternative places where we managed to pick up some pretty cool stuff.

The bazaars

You’ll find a bustling bazaar in virtually every city in Iran, and they have definitely been the highlight of our trip. Apart from the stunning architecture, the fantastic people-watching and the joy of getting lost in the maze of small alleyways, these bazaars are also a great place to pick up some unconventional souvenirs.

Keep your eyes open for storefronts displaying homewares and ‘everyday’ items, as we found some pretty interesting items amongst the wares on sale, such as typically Iranian scrubbing loofahs and small colorful kilim rugs being sold as bath maths (for as low as $10, a steal). In most bazaars you’ll also find at least one or more copper workshops, selling everything from intricately designed serving trays to copper mugs (2) at unbeatable prices.

Persian carpet shops

You’ll be hard pressed to leave Iran without at least wanting to bring one of those beautiful Persian carpets back home. Carpet shops are found all over the country, usually around the bazaars and nearby touristy places, and if you play the game well, you can score a unique piece for less than 100 USD.

When shopping for a Persian carpet, it pays off to be prepared. Know what type and style you’re looking for, and know what to look out for when testing the quality and authenticity. Browse through different shops first, casually inquire about prices and keep track of the pieces you liked. Once you’ve found the one, remember to play it cool and simply play the game until you have agreed on a price that both you and the salesman can happily shake hands on.

We found the best selection of carpets at the bazaar in Isfahan – not at the shops around the main square (with jacked up tourist prices), but at the dealers in the lanes at the back of the bazaar. We picked up a beautiful handwoven Ghashghai rug (120x80cm) for 80 USD here (11). And we might have been lucky, but we found the carpet salesmen in Iran less pushy than their colleagues in Morocco, where we went shopping for rugs prior to our Iran trip.

Concept stores

With Iran’s thriving contemporary art scene, we were expecting to find a lot of concept stores selling Iranian design and modern interpretations of Iranian crafts. However, the stores we found were few and far in between. Luckily, it’s quality over quantity, and the following two are absolutely worth a visit:

ZEEEN. ZEEEN’s shelves are filled with objects that are Artistically from Iran, or so their tagline reads. Here, you’ll find ceramic art, fashion by upcoming Persian designers, contemporary jewelry and a wide range of homewares that all make fantastic gifts for back home. ZEEEN is a project by Studio Shizaru, the duo that is also responsible for one of our favorite restaurants in Tehran: Boomi Persian Kitchen.

Zhee Showroom. Housed in a beautifully renovated corner of the central bazaar in Kashan, this is easily one of Iran’s coolest spots. The young owner, a tapestry designer by trade, seems to have an eye for things that attract Instagram-hungry foreigners like ourselves: whitewashed walls, contemporary ceramics, and the most amazing rugs – both vintage and modern ones. Prices are displayed right next to the items, and obviously a bit higher than elsewhere – but still surprisingly affordable.

Antique stores

There’s nothing quite like browsing through a dusty collection of curiosities in a far-flung country, and Iran’s antique stores certainly did not fail to impress. Our favorite cluster of stores was found at the bazaar in Kashan, where at least a dozen of vendors is housed in the chambers of the Aminoddole Caravansarai at the center of the bazaar. We found everything from Persian pottery to ceramic plates and amazing vintage tea tins. Prices are negotiable, and we managed to pick up a pretty hand-painted mirror for just $30! (7)

In Tehran, the Wes Anderson-esque storefront of Moses Baba will surely lure you in. Here, you’ll find a treasure trove of antique trinkets, gorgeous serving plates, Persian paintings and more.

Corner shops and supermarkets

As you may know, we have a ‘thing’ for pretty packaging design, so at every new destination we visit, we take a quick peek at the supermarket or corner shop for inspiring designs. We love old-school, colorful and rich designs, but to our disappointment, the selection we found in Iran was not as big as we were hoping for.

We did, however, find this nicely designed matchbox (5) and a pretty cool looking box of Assam tea (6) in one of the small corner shops. We also picked up an old-school glass Coca Cola bottle (that we now use for flowers), the Farsi script on this iconic bottle design works so well and almost elevates it as a work of (pop-)art.

The supermarkets and corner shops are also great places to find more useful gifts, such as dried rosebuds and rose water (8 and 9 – we picked these up in Kashan, where you’ll find the best quality rose products), saffron-infused rock candy or dried nuts and fruits.

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