5 cities you should definitely visit in Iran + 1 hidden gem
Iran is a rarely recommended destination. Several thousand years of history and huge diversity of the country is hidden behind current political discourse. Although from the outside Iran seems not to be a friendly country for tourists, it is quite the opposite. The Iranians are very hospitable people who at every step want to show that they do not deserve their black PR. I recommend 5 cities and 1 hidden gem, which you must visit if you dare to go to this amazing country. And it’s definitely worth to go!
Most travellers begin their Iranian adventure from the capital. Tehran overwhelms with its enormity, about 15 million people live there. Loud, crowded and oriental city, especially in the southern part, also face a serious problem with air pollution.
The most important “must see” in Tehran is the Golestan Palace. Built in the 18th and 19th centuries palace, the oldest monument of the capital, was once the headquarters of Iranian shahs (kings). It’s worth spending 2 hours to get acquainted with Persian architecture and ceramics. The second place that you should definitely see in Tehran is the Grand Bazaar. As the name suggests, it is really huge – all its corridors have a total length of about 10 kilometres. You can buy everything there, obviously except for things that are illegal in Iran, such as alcohol. Remember, you have to bargain in Iran! It is not only useful but even necessary, thanks to which you can significantly reduce the prices.
Another must-see on the map of Tehran is The National Jewelry Treasury, with the world’s largest pink diamond and stunning marvels of jewellery art. Don’t miss the stunning golden globe decorated with hundreds of precious stones.
It is also worth seeing the Azadi Tower, built by Mohammed Reza Pahlavi in 1971 to commemorate the 2,500 anniversary of the Persian Empire. It is a peculiar symbol of Tehran.
Many foreign tourists also decide to visit the former US embassy in which, after the outbreak of the Islamic Revolution of 1979, US hostages were held for 444 days. On the fence of the former embassy you can see famous anti-American and pro-revolutionary graffitis. Remember, however, that ordinary Iranians do not hate the USA and usually have a positive attitude towards the West.
I recommend also to visit several parks, such as Laleh, where Iranian families spend their free time playing football, badminton and arranging picnics. In addition, the whole city is full of murals depicting Ayatollah Khomeini and the martyrs of the Iranian-Iraq war of the 1980s.
More in Tehran:
- North Tehran. The richest inhabitants of the capital live in the north of the city. It is located higher than the other districts, there is definitely cleaner, less polluted air, sport cars and more expensive cafes. Some people describe North Tehran as Iranian Beverly Hills.
- Mount Tochal. Just outside the city, there is an excellent panoramic view of the entire city.
- Tabiat Bridge. The most popular picnic place in all Tehran.
The third largest city in Iran and its former capital. You can get there by a comfortable bus for the equivalent of 10 AUD. Isfahan is known primarily for the real masterpiece of Persian architecture, Jameh Mosque, whose oldest part dates back to 771 AC. The beautifully preserved, the turquoise-blue building makes an amazing impression, especially during evening prayers. I definitely recommend entering the mosque with a guide that will explain the entire genius of its architects. The mosque is located at Imam Square, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is an absolute must see in Iran. In addition to the Grand Mosque, the square is also Shaikh Lotfollah Mosque, bazaar and the former royal palace.
In addition, you must see the famous bridges in Isfahan – Khajou Bridge, where almost every evening the Iranians sing traditional songs, and Siosepol Bridge.
Definitely my favorite city in Iran. Known as “City of Poets” and, as one Iranian told me, “place with the best (and of course secret) parties in whole Iran” delights with the real wonders of architecture. The most popular place is The Pink Mosque, which I recommend to go in the morning. At this time there are few people and the sun’s rays passing through stained glass cast a fantastic light on the Persian rugs inside. The most breathtaking place in Shiraz is Shah-e-Cheragh (which means “King of the Light”) holy shrine. Its unusual interior has several different rooms. The hall, decorated with thousands of mirrors, is absolutely unique. Shiraz is not only about beautiful buildings but also extraordinary gardens. The most beautiful of them is the Eram Garden, which is a must to visit. In addition, it is worth seeing the tomb of the most important poet – Hafez and citadel of Karim Chan.
70 kilometers from Shiraz you can find the ruins of the famous ancient city of Persepolis. Founded in 518 BC, the city is a testimony to the ancient and glorious history of Persia. It will certainly take you several hours to get around the complex. There is also the grave of the famous king Xerxes, who led the war against Greece (do you remember the movie “300”?). You can not visit Iran without visiting Persepolis. Not far from the famous ruins is also the tomb of the greatest king of ancient Persia, Cyrus the Great in the former city of Pasargadae and the tombs of other rulers of the former empire. Best way to get to Persepolis and Pasargadae ist to hire a taxi driver in Shiraz.
The fifth city, which you should definitely visit in Iran is Yazd. Situated in the middle of one of the hottest places in the World, Dasht-e-Loot desert is a place where the followers of the oldest monotheistic religion in the world live – Zoroastrianism. There are buildings that testify to that heritage, such as the Towers of Silence and the mysterious Temple of Fire. Built entirely in sandstone, the old town of Yazd in 2017 was inscribed on the UNESCO list. A great idea is to wander around the narrow, sandy streets and enter the Jameh Mosque located in the centre. If you hit the right place, you can also go to the roof of one of the sand houses, from where there is an amazing view of this extraordinary city in the middle of the desert. You should also visit the green Dolat-Abad Garden, where you can find the highest badgir in the World (windcatcher, something like the air conditioning prototype).
Kharanaq village is one of the most unbelievable hidden gems I have seen in my life. It is located 70 kilometers from Yazd and you can get there by taxi or hitchhike (I really recommend!). The village is made of deserted mud-brick and is dated about 1000 years, although the traces of settlement in this area reach up to 4000 years back. Right next to the village there is an aqueduct crossing the riverbed of the seasonal river. The most unusual in Kharanaq is that there are still people there, and there are practically no tourists. You can freely move around all the streets and enter most of the houses, there are also no obstacles to walking on the roofs of buildings to admire this unusual place.