Discover the 3 Most Populated Cities in Iran

Tehran, Iran
© iStock.com/mazzo1982

Written by Emmanuel Kingsley

Updated: July 7, 2023

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Officially the Islamic Republic of Iran and located in Western Asia, Iran is home to one of the world’s oldest civilizations. With a surface size of 1.64 million square kilometers (0.63 million square miles), the nation is the 17th-largest in the world. Iran is also the second-largest country in the Middle East and has 86 million people, ranking it as the 17th most populous nation in the world. The country is often referred to as one of the most interesting, characterized by breathtaking mountains and an ethnically diverse population. 

Picture graph of the 3 Most Populated Cities in Iran
These cities are full of magnificent architecture, scenic beauty, and cultural heritage.

Also, Iran is the perfect blend of rich history and stunning architecture, showing the influence of indigenous and foreign conquerors and immigrants. The country was once part of the great Persian Empire before it became Iran. Although so much has changed throughout the country’s history, there is still evidence of the old Persia in some of the country’s cities. This article discusses the most populated cities in Iran and some interesting facts about them.

3. Isfahan (Eṣfahān) – 2,200,000

With a population of around 2.2 million people, Isfahan is the third most populated city in Iran.

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The third most populated city in Iran is Isfahan, also spelled Eṣfahān, with a population of around 2.2 million. The city is the capital of the Eṣfahān province and is located on the bank of the Zāyandeh River to the north, sitting at an elevation of roughly 5,200 feet. Isfahan’s history extends to the prehistoric era, as far back as 559 to 330 BCE. Eṣfahān became the local name for the city during the Arab conquest in 642, after which it was the seat of Al-Jibāl province under the Arabs, encompassing a large portion of ancient Media. Still, it began flourishing from the early eleventh through the eighteenth centuries, becoming exceedingly prosperous under the Safavid dynasty in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when it twice served as the capital of ancient Persia.

The city sits at the center of Iran, still containing most of its past glory, and is home to several UNESCO world heritage sites. One of the most popular of these heritage sites is Isfahan’s Imam Square, also known as the Naghsh-e Jahan (meaning portrait of the world) Square. It is a magnificent example of Islamic and Iranian architecture and one of the biggest city squares in the world as a whole. Also, several prominent Islamic architectural marvels are located all around the square. Isfahan is also home to one of the oldest mosques in Iran, The Jameh Mosque of Isfahan, which was built almost 1300 years ago.

For good reasons, Isfahan is Iran’s most popular tourist destination. The city features stunning bridges that serve as a ledge for even more breathtaking views, welcoming residents, historical Islamic architecture, and a wealth of secret spots to explore. Many tourists regard Isfahan as one of the most beautiful cities in the world and the most attractive city in Iran, leading to the old Persian proverb “Isfahan is half of the world.”

2. Mashhad – 3,300,000

Mashhad has a population of more than 3.3 million people.

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With over 3.3 million inhabitants, Mashhad (also spelled Mashad or Meshed) is the second most populated city in Iran. It is the administrative center of Razavi Khorasan Province and is situated in the country’s relatively remote northeast. Throughout the city’s history, various ethnic groups have held power. It is situated at a height of roughly 3,200 feet in the basin of the Kashaf River. Mashhad was formerly a village called Sanābād (also known as Nūqān). The popularity of the region started as early as 818 when the eighth imam of Shiʿi Islam, ʿAlī al-Riḍā, died and was buried in the area alongside the ʿAbbāsid caliph Hārūn al-Rashīd that ruled between 786 and 809. The city’s name literally translates to “place of martyrdom,” and it was given this name because of the circumstances surrounding the death of the imam and the significance of his tomb.

The city of Mashhad became famous in the 16th century, after which it was made the country’s capital. Mashhad is still one of Iran’s most important cities, even with the relocation of the capital to Tehran. Previously a transit city along the Silk Road, Mashhad is popularly known because it is home to Iran’s largest religious shrine. This shrine, which is the grave of ʿAlī al-Riḍā, receives millions of visitors each year from around the world, transforming the otherwise quiet area into one bustling with people from around the globe that share the same faith. Mashhad is also popular for its saffron abundance, which is one of the most expensive spices in the world. Although most tourists that visit the city do so for religious reasons, there are still many others who visit for the city’s history, breathtaking views, and amazing cuisine.

1. Tehran – 9,382,000

Tehran is the most populated city in Iran.

©iStock.com/BornaMir

Currently home to almost 9.5 million inhabitants, Tehran takes the title of the most populated city in Iran. The city is the largest in the Tehran Province and the capital of Iran, and apart from being the most populated city in Iran, it is also the most populated in Western Asia. The city is located at the foot of the Elburz mountain range, and since its establishment as the capital city over 200 years ago, it has grown from a small town to a major urbanized metropolis. In the 13th century, the city was known as a market town, and although it started to experience increased growth and development in the 16th century, it did not become as popular until the 19th century.

The city is home to more than half of the country’s thriving industries, and like most other urban cities, it is plagued with traffic and pollution crises. Due to its advantageous location and rising economy, Tehran has become Iran’s political and administrative headquarters, a key hub for the Middle East, and a well-known metropolis on a global scale. Like most of the other cities in Iran, Tehran is a perfect blend of stunning views and landscapes, impeccable architecture, and travel-worthy tourist attractions. The oil sector, which the national government controls from Tehran, still dominates the economy of the nation despite several attempts to diversify it. Despite the city being a combination of numerous ethnic and linguistic groups, Persian culture and language predominate there. However, this does not stop tourists from coming in to see the numerous museums, parks, and religious sanctuaries that the city has to offer.

Summary of the 3 Most Populated Cities in Iran

Rank by PopulationName of CityPopulationFeature
1.Tehran9,382,000Capital; industrial center.
2.Mashhad3,300,000Know for its religious shrine and saffron.
3.Isfahan (Esfahān)2,200,000Several UNESCO World Heritage Sites for architectural wonders.


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