Astara has a wide but litter-strewn beach (Sahel Darya) and could make a base to visit the forested Talesh mountain hinterlands, but most travellers head straight on to Ardabil, Rasht or Azerbaijan.
Astara to Rasht
Between Astara and Rezvanshahr several relatively unspoilt sections of Caspian hinterland offer attractive views of rice paddies (notably at Lavandevil, Khotbeh Sara and Sust). There is some lovely woodland behind Asalem and the most accessible of the region's castle ruins is the cute little Dezhe Sasal Fortress (Qaleh Lisar; Salsal St), which crowns a petite wooded knoll at the southern end of Lisar town, five minutes' walk off the main highway. Its gate arch is intact and offers sea views, although the rest of the site is fenced off.
Little Hashtpar is often referred to as 'Talesh', somewhat confusing as Talesh is also the name of the region and its people. Behind Hashtpar's charioteer statue in the central square is an attractive Qajar-era octagonal pavilion, but since it's used by revolutionary guards, photography is unwise.
Crossing the Azerbaijan Border at Astara
A narrow river divides Astara (Iran) from Astara (Azerbaijan). By Caucasus standards the pedestrian border here is quick and straightforward with neither fees nor bribes to pay. Things are contrastingly slow for vehicles. International Baku-Tehran buses wait between three and seven hours while the whole bus is checked. Visas are not available on arrival. The pedestrian crossing point (Mosaferi Gumruk; 7.30am-noon & 1.30-4.30pm) is easy to miss up a small lane north of Hakim Nezami St. On the Azerbaijan side, the unmarked metal border gate is 500m along Heydar Oliyev kucasi from the excellent-value Hotel Sindan.
Freelance moneychangers at the Iran-side border-gate offer passable rates. Get rid of rials here if heading north. Leave bigger exchanges till Ardabil or Rasht if heading south. Near Hotel Sindan on the Azerbaijan side, Kapital Bank has an ATM cash machine.
Decrepit night buses to Baku and daytime minivans to Lenkeran start 100m north of Hotel Sindan. An overnight sleeper train to Baku (11 hours) leaves Astara around 7pm, but the station is 3km from the border and tickets often sell out.