Iran is a sparkling star on the rise in the international tourism scene and it seems to be absolutely relishing its spotlight moment. With the recent resumption of direct flights from Heathrow to Tehran, Iran is touted as ‘the hottest destination’ for curious tourists, although discerning travellers have been singing the country’s praises for decades. Because in case you haven’t heard, Iran offers inarguably one of the best travel experiences on the planet. Aside from its intoxicating array of stupendous architecture, history and mesmerizing ancient culture which has developed over thousands of years, there lies a hidden world of warm and welcoming people, one of delectable culinary treats and arresting desert landscapes. From its breathtaking mosques to its most charming hidden teahouses, its most celebrated ancient capitals and its remotest caravanserais, Iran is a land of mesmerizing and totally captivating beauty.
And the world has finally taken notice.
Overview of Iran
Iran is modern and well-organized, boasting great infrastructure and a populace that’s exceptionally well educated, interested and showcasing a level of English fluency that’ll seriously blow you away. A hybrid between Saudi Arabia and Jordan, it could be said, Iran is that one place that truly effuses dreams and fantasies of 1001 Arabian nights. Even though it’s not even Arab. Road travel is entrancing in Iran and flight transfers between major cities incredibly convenient, inexpensive and time-saving. The food is amazing and the local arts and crafts rate as some of the best travel souvenirs in the entire region. What stands out above all else in Iran, however, and what you’ll hear mentioned time and again, is about the sensational Persian hospitality. This is something that’s not only unique to Iran but also unrivalled. Nowhere, on this wonderful planet of ours, will you ever encounter more hospitable and friendly people.
This…is what makes a tour of Iran so magical.
Iran’s Best Highlights
An absolute bucket-list destination for culture-vultures, Iran showcases its illustrious and hard-fought history at every turn, whilst still displaying an intoxicating mix of ancient nomadic tribal life, resplendent modernity and outlandish religious architecture. Few countries have the power to have you at first glance. Iran is one of them.
Here’s why the spotlight is now firmly planet on this magnificent Middle Eastern nation and why you ought to place it right at the top of your must-visit list.
Golestan Palace in Tehran
Offering a fabulous introduction to the country’s treasures. Tehran is a fast-paced metropolis which boasts great architectural treasures, awesome museums and a very modern vibe. Head to the opulent Golestan Palace, a UNESCO-heritage listed site, to cast your eyes on the distinctive Persian multi-coloured mosaic tiling technique that’ll no doubt make you fall in love with the lavish Persian architecture during your journey of discovery in Iran.
Ruins of Persepolis
Some say it’s a travesty to visit Iran without visiting the home of former Persian kings and we couldn’t help but agree. Persepolis lies at the heart of Persian civilisation and as its birthplace, it is still considered headquarters of one of history’s most impressive cultures. Although Persepolis nowadays lies in ‘ruins’ they still are some of the most awe-inspiring ancient ruins you’ll ever see. Persepolis still oozes some sensational kind of magic. One of the most outstanding ancient archaeological sites on the planet, to rival Rome’s Colosseum and Athens’ Pantheon, Persepolis is a living, breathing museum of ancient history. First discovered by French archaeological team in 1930, Persepolis has been listed and protected by UNESCO since 1979.
Nasir ol Mol Mosque in Shiraz
Ever wondered what it would be like to walk through a rainbow? Head to Shiraz’ spectacular Nasir ol Mol Mosque and you can certainly experience it. The coloured stained glass and the consequential multihued rain it showers on this stunning mosque is an unrivalled visual feast. As is the 13th-century Erma Garden, by the way, Shiraz’s other major attraction.
Caravanserai stay in the Dasht-e Lut Desert
The country’s most spectacular natural attraction is one of the most ethereal places in the region. Constantly shifting and showcasing a multitude of colour, the Lut Desert, the first treasure in Iran to be recognised by UNESCO, is an unmissable highlight. Its moving yardangs, or sand ridges, make this an eerie place to visit, as no matter where you go or how often you return, you will never find the same contours. One of the world’s hottest and driest places is surprisingly easy to visit on a whirlwind tour of Iran, with overnight stays in stunning caravanserais offering an authentic and thoroughly comfortable desert experience.
Naqsh-e Jahan Square in Esfahan
A wonderful city home to spectacular sites and a stunning collection of totally romantic bridges, Esfahan (ALSO Isfahan) is where you’ll find the famed Friday Mosque (Masjed-e Jame) and the mind-boggling Naqsh-e Jahan Square, a former polo field of Persian kings. The square alone plays host to two glorious mosques and one palace, so set aside a full day of wanderings to do it justice.
Desert architecture in Yazd
A distinctive desert city that displays a very distinctive architectural style aimed at aiding air flow, Yazd is part modern city, part desert fairy-tale.
Palaces of Kashan
The architectural wonders continue in Kashan, where breathtaking frescoes and grandiose palatial courtyards will transport you to another world. A major oasis town along the road that traverses Iran’s central desert, Kashan is like a burst of light among endless arid horizons. This is one Of Iran’s most sparkling gems, made all the more priceless by its unreal location. The sights here are numerous and all too stunning to rate but the most unmissable would have to be Tabatalei House and the Bagh-e Fin Garden, where you’ll be totally gobsmacked to discover the kind of opulent luxury ancient merchants and traders were accustomed to. This is architectural bling at its most astonishing.
The Holy Shrine of Lady Fatima in Qom
The Holy Shrine of Lady Fatima is what cemented Qom’s title as the 3rd holiest Shia city in the world. The city attracts religious scholars from all over the Middle East and plays host to the most revered and respected – and oftentimes hard-line – Shia clerics in the country. This most holy of places is welcoming of non-Muslims as almost all mosques are, although foreigners are assigned a guide, which you’ll absolutely love. The guides bring the place and its history alive with tales and info. The experience and visit to the shrine and mosque in indescribable, no matter what your religious (or non-religious) affiliations.
Imam Reza Shrine in Mashhad
The largest mosque (by area) on the planet, the Shrine to Imam Rezam is reason alone to visit Mashhad, especially at night when the place is flooded by an infinite array of lights. A spiritual hub and architectural treasure, the Iman Reza Shrine is intimate, calming and immensely imposing, all at once.
Ancient ruins of Susa near Shushtar
Believed to have first been inhabited over 6,000 years ago (yes, you read that right) Susa is Iran’s latest addition to its ever-growing and formidable UNESCO World Heritage Site list. The city was home to three ancient empires and once acted as the winter residence of Persian Kings. A city of Biblical context, ancient Shushan is the embodiment of thousands of years of religious and human evolution and, for archaeological and history lovers, it’s a must-visit site. This is one of the trickiest highlights to reach in Iran and, given its historical importance, it explains why it was only discovered six decades ago. Let us know if you wish to visit this site on a personalised tour itinerary and we’ll do our best to accommodate your wishes. Shushtar is renowned for being home to a historical hydraulic system which, in itself, is worthy of a visit. You’ll be amazed how spellbinding an almost 2,000 year-old rock-hewn plumbing system can be!
Coral reefs of Kish
Fancy a stellar sting of R&R by the sea, at the end of your awe-inspiring tour of Iran? Kish is where you’ll want to head. A beautiful island off the southern coast of Iran, Kish floats happily in the Arabian Gulf and boasts coral reefs brimming with underwater life. Luxury resorts and fabulous shopping (this is a trade-free zone so is popular with locals) Kish makes for an idyllic end-of-tour vacay and even boasts a little hidden ladies’ beach where you can bathe and sunbake in comfort.
Ski fields in Dizin
Or, perhaps, you fancy a spot of world-class skiing in the Middle East? Yes…Iran has that too! If the winter months (between Dec-Feb) are the only time you can visit Iran, don’t be put off by the cold. The country doesn’t normally suffer harsh winters and some of the sites can be beyond magical under a light cloak of fresh snow. Given the fact that you’ll spend a lot of time indoors, between mosques and museum visits, your experience will not be diminished at all. Just pack appropriately and, if anything, take advantage of some fantastic ski fields as well.
At GetAboutAsia, we work with a brilliant team of professional, seasoned and respected local guides, all authorities in their own right, who showcase a love and affinity for their own country that’s not only commendable but also very contagious. Seeing Iran through their enamoured eyes is one of the most memorable experiences you’ll ever have, as all our cherished past clients have affirmed. So explore Iran in confidence, knowing you are in good, gracious and competent hands.
For itinerary ideas, more inspirational highlights (trust us, there’s plenty more where those came from) and help in tailoring a bespoke tour of Iran to match your desires and time restraints, contact us today.
Author: Laura Pattara
“After spending years taking short vacations in Asia, Laura finally managed her dream, travelling extensively through Central Asia, China and Southeast Asia on a 3-year-long overlanding adventure that she describes as “SIMPLY EPIC”. Following in the footsteps of ancient traders, Laura meandered along the famed Silk Road through the Stans, delighted her tastebuds for 8000km across China (no mean feat) visited an insane number of temples in Southeast Asia, all the while snorkelling, diving and beach-bumming along the way. Tickled pink by history and culture, Laura loves off-the-beaten-path destinations in Asia and anything that isn’t gift-wrapped for tourists”