Iran enchants with imposing mosques, palaces, and bazaars, breathtaking landscapes and deserts, impressive ruins from ancient times and hospitable, cordial people. While Iran is quite popular among travellers, there have been fewer visitors in the past two years and the country is still an off the beaten path destination. In this article, travel bloggers from all over the world reveal their tips for Iran and why you should travel there right now.
Iran is located on the historic Silk Road and bordered on the west by Iraq and Turkey, to the north by Armenia, Azerbaijan, the Caspian Sea, and Turkmenistan, to the east by Afghanistan and Pakistan and to the south by the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman. Ever since my journey along the ancient Chinese Silk Road from Beijing to Kashgar in October 2014, I really wanted to travel to Iran. My dream is to travel along the whole ancient historical trade route overland, albeit due to my job, I have to do it in many small stages. After travelling along the Silk Road of China, through Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, Iran is at the top of my bucket list. And now the time has come. I just arrived in Iran three days ago. To prepare myself for my journey, I asked other travel bloggers, who have already been there, for their tips for Iran.
The Iranian Cordiality and Hospitality
Iran is a fascinating and beautiful place to travel through, and one that will always keep surprising you. There is certainly no shortage of things to see in Iran, from ancient historical sites like Persepolis to dazzling Persian architecture in Shiraz, Esfahan, and Yazd to the modern capital city of Tehran. Then there are the bustling covered markets with piles of colorful spices, nuts and dried fruits, and friendly vendors. It’s a wonderful sensory overload of colors, culture, cuisine, history, and design.
However, what most travelers remember most about Iran is the hospitality and friendliness of its people. This quickly breaks down the stereotypes that we often have in American and other western media that Iran is a dangerous and scary place. Iranian people welcomed us everywhere we went, curious about where we were from and wondering how we were enjoying visiting their country. It’s not uncommon to be invited for tea or to be gifted ice cream or sweets by local people. And when we left Iran after traveling there for three weeks we had so many stories of these random acts of kindness and friendliness.
This post is from Audrey and Dan from Uncornered Market. On their website, you can find all their Iran blog posts. Furthermore, you can also follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Youtube.
Iranian Boys in Esfahan – Photo: Uncornered Market
Actually, I didn’t want to go to Iran because there are so many other destinations that I would like to visit, some of them even a second, third or fourth time. I didn’t know much about the country before getting there. But when our daughter said that my husband had expressed a desire to travel to Iran a few years ago, I decided to fulfill him that wish. In my opinion, you should fulfill your dreams, if anyhow possible, instead of postponing them indefinitely in the future. At the beginning of this year, we were in Dubai anyway and it’s not far from there. So we flew from Dubai to Iran, although our friends and acquaintances had expressed their concerns before our trip.
The visit literally blew us away, and there are several reasons for that. First of all, there were the incredible people we met with their warmth, open-mindedness towards foreigners, their generosity and warm-heartedness. I don’t know any country in which people flock to the mausoleums of their “old” poets Hafez and Saadi and recite their verses and with whom you can have so many interesting conversations. The Iranian people alone are worth every visit. Especially in Isfahan and Shiraz you should take a lot of time and let yourself drift. The Iranians, young or old, will come to you by themselves, seek the conversation and invite you.
Then there are the unimaginable cultural treasures, the ornate mosques, the magnificent palaces. I was also fascinated by the thousands of years old Persian garden art, the bright colors and so much more. We hadn’t planned our visit in detail but we had informed ourselves extensively. In Iran, we got numerous insider tips for particularly beautiful highlights. There were also locals who offered themselves as local guides and whom we gladly gave something to earn. We felt very safe everywhere; solo female travellers whom we met, confirmed our impression.
Local Women in Shiraz – Photo: Senioren um die Welt
Iran was really high on my bucket list, but there’s so much prejudice on the country that it was hard to decide on going, especially because I travel mostly on my own. I did a ton of research and all the feedback I got was that the country is amazing. So I was convinced.
I spend a month exploring and I had the time of my life! My Iran itinerary included Tehran, Yazd, Kerman, the Lut desert, the islands in the Persian Gulf, Shiraz, Isfahan, Sanandaj and Tabriz. I was left speechless by the nature and architecture, I learnt a ton of history, and I was impressed by the culture.
But what marveled me the most was the people. In Iran, you meet the friendliest and most hospitable people I’ve even encountered in all my years traveling. So much that I was invited to a wedding and became an honorary member of a family.
Iran quickly became one of my favorite countries in the world, and I would recommend it to everyone. Please put all the preconceptions aside and jump into the adventure. This for sure is an off the beaten path destination, but I assure you that it will pleasantly surprise you!
Nasir-Ol-Molk Mosque, Shiraz – Photo: Experiencing the Globe
When I told people I was going to Iran I received a lot of comments. Most of them were about my security and the fact that I was travelling alone as a woman to Iran. I did my homework so I knew that Iran was safe and that I was not the first solo female traveler that went there.
In fact, Iran is one of the safest countries in the Middle east. As a woman traveling to Iran I did have to follow the dress code that meant loose fitting clothes covering my arms and legs and a head scarf, but I was surprised how quickly I got used to this.
What I couldn’t get used to was the Iranian hospitality. Iranians are some of the friendliest people I have met on my travels. I can’t remember how many times people offered me tea and food, invited me into their homes or refused my payment for their services.
Some of it is taarouf. A tradition of politeness towards guests, but most of the times it was genuine friendliness and curiosity. Students that wanted to practice their english or simply wanted to know what my country was like. Every time it warmed my heart.
As beautiful as the Islamic architecture is in cities like Shiraz and Isfahan, it were the people that made my journey to Iran so special.
Photo: Backpack Adventures
My top tip for people visiting Iran would be not planning everything to the last details, and leaving some time for unexpected encounters or last minute opportunities. Iranian people are the friendliest and nicest we’ve ever met, and travelling around Iran redefines completely what ‘hospitality’ means. You’ll meet so many people who will invite you for tea or dinner, or just for a walk to talk to you and get to know about life in your country, especially if you’re travelling solo or in a couple. Naturally, there are some bad eggs here and there, but the majority of Iranians we met were truly amazing people – and by leaving some free time in your travel schedule you’ll be able to make the most of these serendipitous encounters. Also, we recommend spending at least one night in a charming boutique hotel or guesthouse – there are some really amazing ones in Shiraz!
We spent two and a half weeks in Iran and visited Tehran, Isfahan, Shiraz, Yazd and even went skiing for a day! We loved it and would return in a heartbeat!
This post is from Margherita and Nick from The Crowded Planet. On their website, you will find all their Iran blog posts. You can also follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest und Youtube.
Isfahan – The Crowded Planet
My number one tip for travelling to Iran is to bring an open mind because there is so much more to Iran than you can ever imagine. Iran is fascinating, unique and full of incredible people and places.
The Iranian people really are some of the kindest, most welcoming, hospitable and curious I have ever met travelling.
During my three weeks travelling solo through Iran I was constantly blown away by how friendly the local people are. They would stop me on the street to welcome me and ask me about myself, my life and what people in Australia think of Iran.
You might also find it surprising to hear that Iran is super easy to travel around independently. The bus network is well organised and cheap. I also took an overnight train from Mashhad to Yazd where I shared a compartment with three local women.
Then there are the many, many incredible places to explore. The impressive square of Esfahan and it’s beautiful tiled mosques are a clear highlight. As are the many colourful bazaars throughout the country and the maze of mud-brick alleys of Yazd.
I was also surprised by the lush landscaped Persian gardens in Shiraz and Kashan which were stark comparisons to the wild desert landscapes.
Iran is a rich, diverse, wonderful and easy place to travel. Don’t believe everything you see in the media!
Mashed-e Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque on Naqsh-e Jahan Square in Esfahan – Photo: Carlys Adventures Afar
There are different opinions about the Iranian capital Tehran. Some cannot take pleasure in the smoggy 8-million moloch, others love the pulsating artery of modern Iran.
If you have enough time for your trip to Iran, I would definitely recommend a visit to the capital. The gigantic bazaar and the Golestan Palace in the middle of the city are after all one of the most impressive sights in Iran.
If you survive the chaotic traffic in Tehran unscathed, you can immerse yourself in midst young Iranians during a night walk in Ab-o-Atesh Park, for example, or in the hip cafes in the rich North of the city – a good place to start is the Tajrish Square.
Also, a unique place is the Museum of Contemporary Art, which has banned its western artworks to the basement but shows all the more interesting regime-compliant modern paintings.
Since Teheran is located right at the foot of the mountains, there are great destinations and viewpoints, such as Darband or Bam-e Tehran, the “roof of Tehran”. Even skiing is possible from November on.
Tehran at Night – Photo: A World Kaleidoscope
Isfahan may not be missed on any trip to Iran. The Naqsh-e Jahan Square is breathtaking. You should especially be there in the evening when the place is illuminated and everyone in Isfahan seems to be there. You can get the best view over the whole place from the Ali Qapu Palace.
Si-o-se Pol Bridge: Again, in the evening it is especially beautiful and the illuminated bridge is very suitable for photo opportunities.
Qom, the second holiest place in Iran, is a rather controversial destination, some like it, others find the very religious atmosphere, that prevails there, overwhelming. In order to better understand Iran, I was also glad to have also visited this city and watch especially the life in and around the shrine of Fatima Masuma.
In Shiraz, there is the beautiful mausoleum of Shāh Tscherāgh. The mirror surfaces inside the shrine are really great. The religious life is nowhere better to experience than in such sacred places.
In Kashan, you shouldn’t miss the little restaurant in the old Haman-e-Khan. The Persian Abgusht there is especially tasty.
Isfahan – Photo: Pushbikegirl
Shiraz – Insider Tips for Discoverer
It is considered the city of love, literature, gardens, and roses. In addition to the sights such as the mosque Nasir-ol-Molk, the Vakil complex, the tombs of well-known poets and the Persian gardens, there are still some insider tips.
An experience of a special kind is the Sufi monastery Ahmadi Khaneghah. Until today, the Sufi Order Zahabiye practices his faith here and shows great social commitment. The monastery is not a sight in an actual sense and it is not common for travellers to enter the complex alone, but Peyman organizes a visit quickly and easily.
Another hot tip is the Taropood Art Gallery Cafe at Hafez St. It is an art gallery and café in one, housed in a former textile factory.
If you have time not only to visit Shiraz but also the nearby surrounding area, do not miss heading to the lovely village of Ghalat, where musician Ramin has created something completely unique with his art hostel. Not many people know about this place, where guests can play music with Ramin day and night.
All this is just the beginning – there’s so much to discover, not just in Shiraz, but across the whole country.
Taropood Art Gallery Café – Photo: In Extenso
A day trip to the ancient city of Persepolis is one of the must things to do in Shiraz, especially if you are in Iran for the first time. Ceremonial city of the Achaemenid Empire, Persepolis was founded by Darius the Great in 518 BC in the plain of Marv Dasht and served as his residence as well as welcoming kings and leaders in their official visits to the Persian king. Among the things to see in Persepolis are the majestic Gate of Nations at the entrance and the famous Apadana staircase finely decorated with bas-relief portraying the Immortals, the king’s royal guards, and the foreign dignitaries and officials who went to meet Darius the Great and bring him gifts.
Persepolis is a must-see, but on the same day trip you should also visit Pasargadae, the oldest city of the Achaemenid Empire. Founded by Cyrus the Great, this is the archaeological site where is also his tomb. Before going back to Shiraz, you definitely need to stop in the last site of ancient Persian relics, which for me was really one of the most interesting. It’s Naqsh-e Rostam, an amazing collection of colossal burial chambers engraved in the rock covering the most ancient empires in ancient Persia, from the Elamites to the Sassanians to Achaemenids. Here is also the tomb of Darius the Great.
If you are not travelling with a guided tour, you can enquire with your hotel reception and they will either find a guide for the day for you or a driver to take you to the different places that you will visit on your own.
Persepolis – Photo: Chasing the Unexpected
The only disappointment about my trip to Iran was that it was too short! Two weeks is only enough time to make you realize how much more time you need. I can’t speak highly enough about the degree of friendliness and hospitality we received as Americans. I loved the architecture of the mosques, the use of mirrors in the palaces, and the amazing ingenuity of the Persians in learning how to live in a hot desert environment. But my favorite place was Persepolis because I have been interested in ancient history since I was a kid. It was like a dream come true to be able to walk among the ancient ruins of the mighty Persian empire where the rulers I read about in books once walked; to see the tombs of Xerxes and Darius, and nearby, Cyrus the Great; to see up close the sophistication and artistry of such ancient builders. The most unique thing I did was spend a night with a family of Qashqai nomads in the Zagros Mountains. It was on my birthday and was probably my best birthday ever, touching the lives of people who have been living as their ancestors lived since even before glorious Persepolis was built.
Persepolis – Photo: SKJ Travel
Yazd and Meybod
The city of Yazd in central Iran is on many a traveler’s itinerary, and for good reason. Its old city is well-preserved; to walk its alleys is to be transported back in time. Locals also claim Yazd was where the first “air conditioning” was invented in ancient times—look for the tall, slotted towers rising up above the city’s skyline. Jame Masjid, the intricately tiled central Friday Mosque of Yazd, is also breathtaking… and can be visited for free if you go there in the evening!
While most tourists visiting Iran end up in Yazd at one point or another, far less visit nearby Meybod. A shame, as it makes for an excellent day-trip from Yazd. Meybod is home to sprawling Narin Castle and the looming Kabutar Khaneh pigeon tower. This pigeon tower is one of the last of its kind in the greater Yazd area, making it quite an interesting stop.
You can organize a daytrip to Meybod through your guesthouse in Yazd, or go there yourself by public transport. Though it’s easy to be swept up by Yazd alone, try to plan for an extra day to visit nearby Meybod, too.
Yazd – Photo: Lost with Purpose
I had never thought that my imagination of a country would be so different from reality! The friendly people, the varied landscape and also the endless places that you can explore there – it is really hard to pick out a single highlight. However, you shouldn’t miss a visit to Kashan.
Stay in a traditional guesthouse and visit the many manor houses that are still intact and give you an authentic insight into how people used to live here. It gives you a good impression of how cleverly the architecture was designed to keep the hot temperatures as bearable as possible.
From Kashan, you should definitely take a guided tour through the Maranjab Desert and to the Namak Salt Lake. I’m still fascinated when I think back to the wonderful day full of desert power. We bashed over the sand dunes in an old jeep listening to traditional music and admired the vast expanses of the desert and the absolutely beautiful sunset! Afterwards, we had dinner together and on the way back to Kashan we gazed the stars. Ask in your hotel in Kashan for the tour, the hotel owners will be happy to assist you!
Namak Salt Lake – Photo: Abenteuerzeilen
Tabriz, located in the northwestern corner of Iran, is a charming city known as for its Azeri culture and beautiful historic buildings, as well as for its good quality of life. Often referred to as “the jewel of the North”, Tabriz is over four thousand years old. Once a major Silk Road market, it has become a local hub of crafts such as carpets, spices, and jewelry. Today, the city remains one of the best bazaars and marketplaces for carpets in the world.
Tabriz is home to some of Iran’s most iconic and historic sites, and we highly recommend a visit to some of these locations on your next visit. One of its most renowned destinations is the famous Blue Mosque, which sits next to the Khaqani Park. Once constructed for the ruler Jahan Shah, the 15th century temple is famous for its beautiful turquoise mosaics. The Blue Mosque is a fun and engaging site to visit if you want to really explore the ancient culture and history of Tabriz.
Another must-go destination in Tabriz is the Azerbaijan Museum, which hosts many archaeological and historic artifacts significant to the region. The bronze statues of exhibited in the ground floor are known to be several thousands of years old, and are kept in great conditions for centuries in the Azerbaijan Museum. Additionally, exploring the Arg of Tabriz, remnant site of ancient acropolis next to the Azerbaijan Museum, is a great way to glimpse into Tabriz’s history outside of the regular museum setting.
When you need a break, go to a teahouse or Golistan park, a locals favorite.
My own Itinerary for Iran
I booked my trip through Iran in June as a birthday present for myself. However, due to an unclear state of health of a person who is very close to me, which was diagnosed six and a half weeks ago, I didn’t know until one day before I left whether I can travel or not. But one day before my departure we received the redeeming message that everything is fine and I am very relieved and happy that this person is doing well. Now, I’m even more excited about what awaits me in Iran.
Five days ago, I headed to Dubai where I spent two days. I had been to Dubai nine times before and I know the city almost like my vest pocket. I love not only the modern Dubai with the Burj Khalifa, the Dubai Mall and the Dubai Fountain, the Mall of the Emirates, the Dubai Marina and the Burj Al Arab, but also the historic Al Fahidi district, the Dubai Creek and the adjoining souks, as well as the tours and activities of the Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding.
Three days ago, I flew from Dubai to Tehran, where I had a bit more than one day by myself to explore the Iranian capital individually. I visited the former US Embassy also known as US Den of Espionage, marvelled the stunning views of the skyline of Northern Tehran in front of the Alborz mountains and the view of South Teheran, both from the Tabiat Bridge. I also headed to the Grand Bazaar but due to the upcoming Ashura festival, many parts of it were closed. Two days ago, I met a local Iranian guide and 13 fellow travellers from Australia, Ireland, Switzerland, Sweden, Mexico and Germany in Tehran. Together, we explored the Golestan Palace, the National Museum of Iran and The Treasury of National Iranian Jewels. Now we are in Yazd where we arrived by train last night.
Actually, I had considered travelling through Iran individually and alone, especially since both my parents, who were here in March, as well as some other travel bloggers and travellers told me that this is easily doable for solo female travellers. However, the situation in June, made me change my plans and book a small group tour.
Together with my fellow travellers I will spend almost two days in Yazd before we continue on to the Zein-o-Din Caravanserai. After spending a night in this traditional accommodation, as there were numerous located alongside the Iranian Silk Road in ancient history, we will drive to the province of Kerman, where we will visit the historic villages of Rayen and Mahan.
From there, our journey will take us to Shiraz where we will spend two days. We will also visit the ancient ruined cities of Persepolis and Pasargadae. Then, we will continue to Isfahan. After three days in this city, we will drive to the mountain village of Abyaneh. On the way back to Tehran, we will visit Kashan. In Tehran, I will spend almost a day individually before flying back to Dubai. Here, I have another stay of a bit more than a day before my journey ends and I will fly back home to Germany.
Golestan Palace, Tehran – Photo: The Travelling Colognian
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