Iran was the start of my 'traveling' rather than searching for home countries. I struggled in the West of Iran as my realization of finding home was crumbling apart. That said in the East things got better and the country truly became the axis of my travels
Taftan: the start of my journey in Iran. Not exactly a tourist destination by any means. In fact if you want to see "beautiful" Iran, avoid Taftan. However if you are on the overland route, you can't avoid the place.
Esfahan: The place once quoted as being "half a world away" Well, it took me a few days but the longer I stayed the more I enjoyed.
Imam Square - at night is truly beautiful. The fountains, the families walking along, the closing markets, very much a relaxed place.
Friday Mosque - was worth it for half a day. Not to be confused with Imam Mosque. Very beautiful, with many nooks and grannies to discover, including an underground section
The Zayandeh River Bridges - Another historic area not to be missed. Battle the heat and do them all.
Armenian Church(Vank) - Of all the churches I have seen, the interior of this one tops the list. Truly incredible murals and paintings that are very vivid in depicting heaven, purgatory and hell.
Zoroastrian Fire temple (burial hill)- If you are not going to Yazd, you better check this one out. Just go alone and not on a tour, otherwise you won't have the time.
Shiraz: A not to be missed city in Iran if there ever was one. Quite a typical medium sized city with a goldmine of things to do.
Persepolis - An ancient city conquered by Alexander the Great, for history buffs and ruin fans this in one of the great ones.
Tomb of Hafez - A long walk out from the city, or a short local bus ride. Not a hugely exciting place until you ask an Iranian about Hafez.
Bazaar-e Vakil - the local bazaar that used everyday by locals. Shop for chadors, carpets, sweets, oils and spices.
Pasargad - the tomb of Cyrus the Great is a little let down due to its isolation but hire a taxi and bring a guide/history book to really get the most out of it.
Naqsh-e Rotam - Go here. Simple. Emblazoned into a rocky cliff face are the magnificent tombs of Darius II, Artaxerxes I, Darius I and Xeres.
Yazd: A desert city with more than a week of things to do. My personal highlight of Iran.
Main Bazaar - used by locals, a real eye opener to life in Iran. Hotel Meher is worth a stop by for the view.
Kabir jaame mosque - A very beautiful mosque, you can wander around at the caretakers discretion.
Towers of Silence - Go here! Take a taxi and get to this incredible site before something happens to it. And yes, climb to the top of both hills. Sunsets are stunning. But be careful of the old building falling down around you.
Zoroastrian Fire Temple - it's okay, don't do out of your way. It's an eternal flame and that's about it
Alexander's Prison - Erm, it's now a poor cafe. Can be missed bar from the history buffs.
Tourist Office - Go here! The ladies working here are a bundle of fun and a rare glimpse of women in Iran with words to say. Ask for a tour on the more unusual places to see.
Kharanaq - you will need a taxi/tour for this, in a ghost town of a mud city that's a great place to spend time at. Head to the aqua duct and mosque at the rear of the city.
Chak Chak - It's okay, if you are doing a tour and it's included. A great view of the valley from the top. Personally it did not do it for me.
Did you know?
Iran dates back to over 4,000 BCE making it one of the oldest civilizations still in existence in the world today.
You'll need a Visa before even thinking about getting into Iran! See below for more information. Or my travel visas section for more specific information.
Tehran has an international airport offering on arrival 15 day visa to some nationalities. From Dogubayazit in Turkey to the Iranian border is quite easy and fast. I have written a guide here about how to travel overland from Turkey to Iran.
From Pakistan you will be crossing at Taftan, refer to my guide on how to travel from Iran to Pakistan overland. Other borders with Iran are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Iraq.
The train from Turkey/Pakistan: There is a train from Turkey that will take you to Tabriz, or onto Tehran. It runs several times a week. But it can be unpredictable for exact arrival times. Have a look at my Iranian links for timetables and fares. When I crossed Taftan there was only a freight train to/from Pakistan. It was unscheduled, though a few officials tried to tell me they ran on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I imagine if you were lucky enough to by there on the departure you could pay your way on board. But be prepared for a long journey with not much security.
Carnet de Passage: If you are arriving by car or motorbike take the following into consideration. The Iranians are not that strict with a Carnet de Passage, but the Pakistani's are as are the Indians. If just traveling Iran you could chance not having one, but it's just that - a chance. They do inspect cars, motorbikes have been known to get in without them. Insurance is never really questioned.
What you will need are Iranian license plates. Head to the nearest tourist office for information on where to acquire them. It's not a complicated process, and will save you some hassle. Also be aware of the fuel schemes in Iran. Most locals have a fuel card that monitors their consumption. You may need one, especially in the big cities.
Post pandemic Iran has opened its borders once again. Do please check with your nearest embassy should the situation change again.
|Try my custom flight search for the lowest priced flights to and from Iran!
I will admit to being a little disappointed with the typical food in Iran, at least in the western side. Breakfast is usually a bread (nan) with eggs and of some fruit. I kept getting this bubble wrap like bread (lavash), which is fine. Kebabs were my main source of food. Though you will get a green salad as a starter, complete with strange glow in the dark sauce. Served with rice, and butter with a few grilled vegetables and yogurt. If you are used to mid east food, this will be a downer. But mixing up the meats can improve things.
Dizi is a great dish to try out in your first few days. A stew mixture of soup, meat, and chickpeas with bread all served up with your own mixing bowl. Having said that in the east of Iran the food took a seriously lavish and more traditional feel to it. Camel burgers, pomegranate sauces and all manner of kebab dishes. Vegetarians will get a rough time for varieties, but never starve.
There is no beer nor alcohol freely available in Iran. But the non-alcoholic malt beer is not too bad after a bottle or two in the mid day heat. The cola of choice is bepsi, or zam zam basically an even sweeter version of pepsi. You can find coke in some stores. I found the fruit juices in Iran to be excellent.
I found the difference in Turkish hospitality and Iranian to be huge, favoring Turkey. For my own reasons I just did not click with eastern Iran. Having said that Iranian people in the Central regions and West are outstandingly friendly and hospitable. Especially the students and locals. Just pluck up the courage and head into one of those underground hookah cafe's and sit down. Before long people will be falling over themselves to ask you about your country and explain with pride about their own.
There was no negativity about Western politics what so ever. Iranians are well educated and surprisingly free thinkers and are well aware of their own political situation. Just taking a walk in a green area, or open square after school hours and you will be approached about your opinion on Iran. Enjoy the conversations. If you are blond, you will get extra attention! Women travelers tend to respected greatly.
Persian (Farsi) is surprisingly easy to pick up. Most road signs are in both Farsi and English. Iran takes its tourism seriously, and most government offices have English literature around. Restaurant menus will be difficult, but there are pictures everywhere. You are bound to be approached by someone wanting to practice their English who will help you out.
Do come with an open mind. And don't be afraid of being targeted as a vile foreigner, you won't be. Dress appropriately (see the faq's below). Research the places you want to see before going.
International Credit cards do not work here, so do not come without cash! Keep religious discussions to a minimal, otherwise you might find yourself in the middle of a hot debate.
Do be aware that in most cities women should enter a local public city bus at the rear, and the men from the front. Do take the long haul buses, they are cheap, comfortable and offer free drinks and snacks. Try to learn the basic numbers in Farsi, it will help for bus seats etc.
I found Iranian accommodation to be a mixed bag. Anything over $20 and you were fine. Anything under and it was basic. Shared bathrooms are the norm. Most are squat and hose. Most Iranian hotels will take and hold onto your passport. This is due to police inspections, do not worry it is the norm. Always carry a photocopy of your passport around.
Where I stayed
In Tabriz try Hotel Mashad on Ferdosi Street 95,000 for a triple shared bathroom.
In Esfahan Amir Kabir Hostel on Chahar Bagh Abbasi Street is a good cheap option. Ask for dorm room. The single is a smelly cardboard box the size a single bed.
In Shriaz The Zand Hotel and Esteghlal are both on the small central Dehnadi Street. Being opposite each other just run back and forth bargaining with them until you get the cheapest option. Esteghlal had a nice manager. Young guy with okay tour taxi options.
In Yazd head straight for the Silk Road Hotel and ask to see the owner Ali. It's a seriously nice place but expensive unless you get a discount. Having said that there is a dorm room for 45,000 and singles for 180,000. Breakfast is pretty amazing. Oasis hotel is another if these two are not affordable or booked out.
Prefer local accommodation? Try Airbnb (get up to USD $40 discount)
Given the fact that it's next to impossible for me to legally work there. And, the fact that it's not exactly well known for bring a place for foreigners to live. I would have to say no to this one. Although take away the above, and Eastern Iran is seriously close to looking and acting like Europe. Once you take politics out of the equation Iran is not that different from any other western country.
How much is a daily budget?
I was expecting Iran to be more expensive. Accommodation will be your biggest expense, and as such you need to decide if you want the $30-35 a night single rooms, or rough it a little in dorms for half that.
30 USD a day for a backpacker using a hostel and some travel should be ok. The average hostel is around $7 a night. Food is very cheap with kebabs and rice costing about $3 and a burger $1.
Transport by rail is cheapish, just beware of hotel add ons if you book through them. Bus travel is seriously cheap and easy. Just make sure you learn the Farsi numbers before going to buy a ticket. There are several standards of bus to choose from.
National tours can be expensive, yet independent entry fees are quite cheap.
Is Iran dangerous?
No! I found walking the streets of Barcelona, or London to be far more dangerous than traveling Iran. Bad press and political agendas have put a poor image on Iran out there. The police were courteous and polite, and the tourist office were some of the best in the world I have come across.
In Iran they look after you and hold you with the utmost respect. Heading into Pakistan along "robbers road" could be deemed as dangerous. But where else would you get a free police escort for your own protection? Be sensible on overland routes. For the rest of Iran just remember you are in a country with different laws.
How to get to/from the airport to the city?
Imam Khomeini International Airport is about 1 hour in traffic from the center, which is about 140,000 Rial in a taxi. There is a booth for taxi's just outside, write down the name of your hotel. Just ask a local business type if they speak English and if they can help you get a taxi. Iranians are well aware of cheating taxi types.
Money in Iran, what to do?
International Credit cards like VISA or MasterCard do not work, anywhere!! Take Cash! At the airport there are several 24/7 open banks. Throughout Iran the US dollar, Euro, and British Pound can easily be exchanged. Banks and money changers are frequently found. The more adventurous may like to try the gold markets in the bazaars for their currency exchanges.
Should I change all my money at once? Depends on how long you are staying? If you are staying longer than a week, then hold onto your foreign currency and change by the week. Changing even $500 USD will mean carrying a very big and bulky bag of money around. Which is more awkward than anything else. It's not unusual to spot people walking around openly with huge piles of money. It's quite safe and a common practice. Stuff rial into you daypack and sort through it into smaller easy carry bundles later.
Rial, Toman, Khomeini?
Try to grasp this before exchanging money, or buying anything. The official term for Iranian money is the Rial. But no one on the street really uses this term. They call the money Toman. 30,000 rial is equal to 3,000 toman.
High inflation has added too many zeros. So your friendly taxi man will say or hold up 4 fingers. Meaning the price of the fare is 4,000 toman which is actually 40,000 rial. If he just says 4,000 he does not mean rial, he means 4,000 toman or rather 40,000 rial. He is not cheating you, just taking a zero away. 1 Khomeini is a common slang for 10,000 rial or 1,000 Toman. You might like to write that out a few times, it will come in use.
Men should were long pants, and when entering places of respect long sleeves. Women should wear a head scarf when out in public. You do not have to wear a burka, or chador. A plain head scarf covering most of your hair (fringe exposed is fine) is needed. Covering your bum is also advised. A shawl or light material will do. All headscarves and materials are available in the bazaars and can be made up within minutes. In fact is worth getting something made up just to chat with the local women about what they think about it all. Have a look at the student and see what they are wearing to see how Iran is changing. T-shirts, jeans and designer everything. T-shirts etc are fine. Being a tourist you will get away with a lot.
How much time to spend in Iran?
How much time do you have? Let me put it this way, I spent about 3 weeks there with the above Itinerary. I have been told that Kerman is expensive and there's not much to see. Some people may prefer to stay in Esfahan for 5 days, others 3 days. In Yazd you could easily just go for a vacation and not move for 2 weeks. For most people they have two weeks, and the following would be a good itinerary to cover all.
Esfahan 3 days - Shiraz/Persepolis - 2/3 days - Yazd/desert tours 5 days - Tehran 2 days. So this is a total of 12-13 days. Leaving 2 extra days in case you want to stop off at places like Qom, or take that trip up to Mashad.
Can I take photographs in Iran?
Yes take plenty. The only thing like in most countries you should not photograph are military installations, airports, police offices and government buildings. Use
Google Earth for that ;-). Also, you are not meant to take close up photographs of women. Though if you ask permission it should be alright. Respect those you photograph and everything will be fine, Iranians are an artistic nation and photography is respected.
With that said, make use of the Iranian photo print stores if you would like to leave something as a cheap token of gratitude.
What to bring if invited to an Iranian house for dinner?
Head off to your local Bazaar and buy a large box of traditional sweets. It will go down a treat if many people show up, which they might. For a gift, a box of tea quality is a good neutral gift. If you have any photographs from home this is also a nice to give. There are lots of photo stores around than can print digital or scan things in and print.
Men and Women traveling together in Iran?
Yes no problems. I traveled with single women and shared rooms with them. This thing of pretending to be married or wearing rings is a thing of the past. I got one rude remark from a young hotel manager about a Korean girl who asked if she could move into my room to share expenses. I set him straight verbally, and that was the end of that.
Check out my Travel Iran to Pakistan overland guide for a lot more!
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