Iran: Visiting a Hot Nation in 2023

Historical city square of Isfahan, the most beautiful city in Iran.
Historical city square of Isfahan, the most beautiful city in Iran.

A woman in a burqa

Iran: a Hidden Danger or an Exciting Opportunity?

By Evgenia Antares

Once this country was the cradle of civilization, legends of amazing beauty were composed about it. Today not every tourist will agree to come here. But are the prejudices and stereotypes that have developed about Iran so fair?

The first and main myth about this country says that…

Iran is dangerous

Well, this would be true if we were in 1979 when the Islamic revolution was raging in the country.

Tip: Watch the movie “Operation Argo” with Ben Affleck. The film shows the events of those years quite colorfully but without obvious exaggerations.

You will not even notice how you will be guided through the main chapters of the history of that period. After watching the movie, be sure to add the former American Embassy in Tehran to the list of places to visit. Feel that extraordinary atmosphere!

The country surpasses even a number of European states in terms of security. Moreover, they will always approach you on the street and ask with a radiant smile if you need help.

A strict dress code and strict rules of Behavior in Society

Historical city square of Ishafan, the most beautiful city in Iran.
Iranian girls in a cafe

Sharia law is in force in Iran. Therefore, women are allowed to keep open only their face, feet and hands. The rest of the body should be covered with non-tight clothing. It’s a little easier for men: only shorts and T-shirts are banned.

Women need to cover their heads with a scarf. At the same time, the Iranians cover the head with a simple headscarf, not a hijab. On the streets you will notice a lot of local girls who no longer wear headscarves.

On the square near the Grand Bazaar, 3 young girls came up to me and said that I could take off my headscarf. I smiled politely, but I didn’t take off my handkerchief. Still, I didn’t want to seem disrespectful to traditions and remain ungrateful for such a warm welcome.

No one even speaks English

This is true, but only partly. No matter which restaurant or cafe you go to, there will be at least one employee who will take your order and give recommendations on the menu.

While preparing for the trip, I found information in many sources that mostly only young people speak English.

In practice, it turned out that this was not the case. On the first day, while I was lost and couldn’t find my way on a crowded street near the Grand Bazaar, a middle-aged man came up to me to help sort out the navigator. His English was quite decent. While the young people in the subway were talking to me in sign language. Do I need to explain that everyone knows this language here?

Serving tea in traditional glasses
Serving tea in traditional glasses

Girls cannot go to Iran alone

And again, it is not true. Yes, they will look at you, but simply because you are different. And if you are the owner of blonde hair, be ready to receive a lot of compliments.

Admiring glances and smiles are provided for you. But you will not hear a single sexist remark in your address. There is an atmosphere of mutual respect in society.

The lack of Internet in Iran

Internet access on the first day was really a problem. But it happened, rather, because of my unpreparedness. After the mass protests in November 2022, all social networks in the country work only through a VPN. Therefore, install it on your phone in advance, if you do not want to stay out of touch.

The country is under sanctions. There are no benefits of civilization here!

Former American Embassy in Tehran scaled
The former American Embassy in Tehran scaled

Iran is indeed under sanctions, but you should not be afraid of this either. It just sounds a little strange, but the Iranians have found a way to get around them. You will not feel restrictions on yourself, and you will definitely find your favorite Starbuks (although without the highlight of the brand — your name on the cup).

There are only Deceivers Around

Women in the cafe of Iran
Women in the Cafe of Iran

If there was competition among nations for the most courteous and good-natured people, there is a high probability that the Iranians would have won. I have met sincere and honest people in very few places.

By the way, Iranian politeness and disarming hospitality, it seems, are already legends outside the country itself. Even the taxi driver apologized for sitting with his back to me.

Iran is boring and there is nothing to see

Golestan palace in Tehran
Golestan palace in Tehran

The heritage of Ancient Persia, silk carpets, dozens of UNESCO monuments, noisy bazaars, and endless tea with a taste of Persian generosity — and this is only a small part of what you will see in this magical country.

From the abundance of historical sites, I came to the hotel only to take a shower and sleep, because I wanted to see as much as possible.

What do you Need to be Prepared for?

First of all, get ready to be surprised and admired. The country amazes me with its abundance of colors.

1. Be prepared for problems with currency exchange. It is best to change $ 50 immediately at the airport so that you have at least some money, and the next day you can find an exchange point in a quiet mode.

Almost in the center, there is a Khordad Street, where there are a lot of currency exchange offices. The currency in Iran is the ‘rial’, but the citizens call all prices in the ‘humans’ (just remove one zero from the price tag). This greatly confuses the foreigner.

It is better to check with the seller once again: real or human.

If you dream of bringing a memorable souvenir, here I will disappoint you a little. There are no usual Istanbul markets and shops here.

Iranians are practical people, so at the Grand Bazaar you will find absolutely everything that money can buy in the world (I’m sure somewhere in the depths of this kingdom they will even sell a wing from a Boeing), but you will not find magnets, cups or trinkets with the symbols of Iran there.

Kashan mansion
Kashan mansion

Tipping in Iran is wild.

Yes, it sounds strange for people who are used to tipping waiters or doormen. But such is Iran! People believe that you don’t need to pay for hospitality, since they already get paid at work. Despite the fact that salary is negligible compared to European markets, it will be uncomfortable for an Iranian to receive money from you.

Although in fairness it should be noted that this culture is gradually taking root due to the increase in the number of tourists. But given the fact that they have a small exchange rate of the local currency, it’s not a pity to leave a couple of million rials (it’s literally 1-2 dollars).

Terrible traffic.

It will be difficult to surprise residents of megacities accustomed to high traffic with Tehran traffic jams. However, when planning your trip, they should be taken into account. If you are in a hurry to see as many sights as possible and not sit in a stuffy car all day, use the subway. The metro in Tehran is quite clear, not so crowded and quite modern. The trains are new and clean.

A pleasant and amazing bonus for you will be that in the subway you will most likely be missed for free. Even by the standards of Iran, travel costs pennies. Hospitable Iranians simply will not want to take money from you.

Surprise for the coffee lover

Persians are tea lovers. You will have to try to find a good and high-quality coffee. Even the hotel offers only instant coffee (but I agree, in the absence of coffee, this is also good).

Tip: if you are walking near the Grand Bazaar, be sure to visit the Roastico coffee shop, where, perhaps, the most delicious coffee will be poured for you.

The saying “Patience is a tree with a bitter root, but with very sweet fruits” is popular in Iran. It seems that the very essence of this country is hidden in the definition. Like any history of great power, the history of Ancient Persia (and then modern Iran) is written in blood, but what appears before our eyes now are priceless riches and a colossal historical heritage.

As a result of this symbiosis, some incomprehensible mystery is hidden in modern Iran, which only a sophisticated traveler who is ready to be charmed can solve. Maybe this is you?

Evgenia Antares
Evgenia Antares
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