GoNOMAD Destination Guide to Iran

Isfahan, Iran's huge mosque.
Isfahan, Iran’s huge mosque. Max Hartshorne photos.

Iran–Not Popular with Americans But There is a lot to See!

Persia destination guide

By Tajalli Saghaee

Friendly people are the best thing about visiting Iran.
Friendly people are the best thing about visiting Iran.

WHERE
Between Iraq and Turkey in the Middle East

WHY GO?
Great, untouched nature, all seasons at once and lots of great historical places and cultural attractions, all in one! See for yourself that Iran is not what the Western media say it is.

WHEN TO GO?
All seasons in Iran have their own attraction because with such diverse geography, you can have all kinds of climates in any season. But spring is the best time, in general.

GETTING THERE AND AROUND
Most international European airlines have flights to Tehran, the capital.

From Tehran, you can reach provincial centers via domestic flights. It is also possible to travel by road/car throughout most of the country.

BEST ATTRACTIONS

Iran's car fleet is very old, it's difficult to get new parts because of sanctions.
Iran’s car fleet is very old, it’s difficult to get new parts because of sanctions.

Attractions in Iran fit into four categories:

  • Historical
    Persepolis, Apadana, Susa, Ifsahan — all dating from around 2000 BC — and Arg-e-bam, a castle from 3000 BC
  • Natural
    Check out the high mountains (Damavand), deserts (Kavir) beaches (Kish and Caspian), and jungles (Gilan)
  • Cultural
    See traditional artisans, dancers, handicrafts, rugs, and REAL nomads in fars
  • Religious
    Visit the holy shrine of Imam Reza and other shrines and cities

BEST UNUSUAL ATTRACTIONS

    • Persepolis
      A city and palace from the Achamenian time, still alive and standing tall and huge in the heart of Iran. Impressive as it once was.
    • Tomb of Cyrus the Great
      Tomb of Achamenian kings carved in the face of a mountain wall like a big cross.
bridge-in-isfahan
Crossing a bridge in Isfahan, Iran.
  • The Alisadr Cave
    Known as the greatest water cave in the world.
  • Ekbatan
    A city dating from 4000 B.C. (unbelievable!) you can see the walls, houses and more!
Dasht e Kavir desert in Iran.
Dasht e Kavir desert in Iran.
Friendly face in the desert, where headscarves aren't needed.
Friendly face in the desert, where headscarves aren’t needed.

BEST ACTIVITIES
Most people don’t think of Iran as an outdoor adventure destination, but it is!

  • Mountain Climbing
    Because of the many high and well-known mountains, especially in the northern and northwestern part of the country, mountain climbing is one of the best activities. Head for Damavand, Sahand, and Sabalan.
  • Desert Trekking
    Another interesting and amazing thing to do here is to head across the Kavir, or the main desert of Iran. It’s pure adventure like nothing you can even imagine on earth: you will feel the closest you have ever been to the skies and stars.
  • Jungle crossing
    You might not have imagined jungles in Iran, but the jungles of Talesh are called “Iran’s India” because they are very dense and filled with wildlife. It’s a big adventure if you dare!

The author of this guide invites prospective visitors to contact him. He’ll be happy to arrange trips for you, guides, translate and provide information about travel in Iran.

BEST ALTERNATIVES

    • SCUBA Diving
      Here’s another thing most people don’t think of when they think of Iran: SCUBA Diving! There is an international diving club on Kish, an island in Persian Gulf. Learn how to dive and enjoy the beautiful and breathtaking sights of the Gulf. I heard an expert claim that he had “never seen such scenes even in Australia!”
flying-over-the-desert-in-iran
Flying over the empty desert of Iran.

BEST LODGINGS
In big cities like Tehran, Shiraz, Isfahan, there are luxurious, local hotels such as the Azadi Grand Hotel in Tehran, Homa Hotel in Shiraz and the Abbasi Hotel in Isfahan, a very special, historic hotel. Elsewhere, guesthouses and smaller traveler hotels are available.

BEST EATS
Traditional Iranian foods include Dizi, Ghormeh, Gheimeh and others, all of which are cooked with lamb. But you can also find Western food like pizza just about everywhere.  The only downside for Westerners is that there is not a drop of alcohol for sale in the entire country. But you can get used to fake beer.

BEST ENTERTAINMENT
Iranian dance and music are known worldwide and you can find them both in any Iranian house. But some traditional festivals are really worth seeing: Check out Nowrouz, the new year’s festivals, and Golabgiri, which is held annually in the spring in a city called Kashan. Celebrants catch an ancient perfume made out of roses.

BEST LOCAL HAUNT
Kish and Caspian beaches are a favorite place for locals.

BEST SHOPPING
This part is the one you’ll never forget and try not to miss it: all handmade products of Iran are valuable and well known worldwide. Iranian Carpets are really the best in quality and design.

But there is more: Khatam, a specialty of Isfahan, is a miniature woodwork. Also Gelim and Gabbe are ancient carpet forms that can still be found. Gold and jewelry are not as expensive here as in other parts of the world. Bargaining is an art form, here, so prepare!

MONEY AND COMMUNICATIONS
The monetary unit in Iran is the Rial, but it is different from Arab Rials. Also, while the Rial is an official unit, people use another unit called Toman which is 10 Rials. 1$ = approx. 8000 Rials (800 Tomans) which makes this county very, very cheap to visit.

In Iran, you can have access all over the world by the telephone network and Internet access in Iran is a regular thing. Cybercafes can be found in Tehran and other major cities.

HEALTH AND SAFETY
Iran is generally both very safe and very healthy. Do drink bottled water if you are outside of the cities, and make sure to wear sunscreen: the sun is strong here. Dress warmly if you plan to visit the mountains and bring sturdy shoes.

A note about safety for women:
30 years ago, Iran became an Islamic Republic, which means, unfortunately, the Islamic rules MUST be observed here (there is some progress though). Hijab is a must for women.

If you are not covered (in Tehran, it is less restrictive than the rest of the country) in both a full coat and scarf, you will be harassed, if not detained by police. Women should not walk alone in the city, or visit cafés/bars/restaurants alone other than those in Western hotels.

aran-va-bidgol-mosque
Aran va Bidgol Mosque in Isfahan.

Other than that, there are no other restrictions, unlike the things people say about Iran in the outside! And again, unlike the things they say, Iranian people are very friendly and kind, especially with guests. As they say here: “The guest is God’s friend.”

VISAS AND DOCUMENTS
Anyone planning to visit from the West will need a visa, which can be obtained from the Iranian Embassy. Israelis are not permitted entrance to Iran, and if you have an Israeli visa in your passport, you will be denied entry.

RESOURCES
DestinationsIran
An excellent independent travel guide to Iran designed to show Western travelers what the country is really like! Good links to other practical and informational resources.

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