Hearing the word “Iran” will hardly associate with winter sports, mangrove forests or island resorts in your mind. And that’s too bad. Islam revolution of 1979 and the following ten-year war have definitely affected Iranian tourism, since then, however, in blissful peace, both the natives and the authorities do everything in their power to share the gifts of their charming country with the rest of the world.
Iran doesn’t worry about coming up with new things to amaze you, they already have plenty. Museums and Temples so majestic no photo can do justice to their beauty, let alone grandeur. Acclaimed exotic cuisine that is known even in distant corners of the world. The largest jewelry depository, handmade quality rugs that cost millions of dollars, the world’s hottest area, and one of the highest mountain ski resorts - all of this is Iran. Original and earnest yet undeniably enticing.
Where to go
Every region here practically demands its own story told, each poignant as the zest in your favorite key lime pie.
The central industrial district divides this 14 million people capital into two separate worlds. The South, with its intelligentsia in the bubbly pompous life and the North, simple and democratic. One similarity however is that it’s a pleasure to be here any time of year. The snowy mountains keep it cool in the summer and warm and windless in the winter.
The cheapest hotels are downtown, but the beauty starts at the foot of the mountains. When making the list of places to see, start with the museum of ancient history, prison museum, rug and contemporary art museums, Shah’s treasury, the Golestan palace, the metro, the Grand Bazaar and all the authentic traditional restaurants you can find. The Valiasr Street, the longest street in the Middle East of 19km, is lined with many shops, restaurants, parks and cultural centers. And a mere 125km North from Tehran you will find yourself in world class ski resort of Dizin.
Isfahan is one of the most splendid cities of Persia and the Islamic World. This city truly has it ALL, and all of that is the best. Isfahan feels like a song about luxurious gardens and palaces, the magnificent Zoroastrian temple and the main city square with the most delicious kebabs in the world.
Are you sitting down? Khātam, an ancient Persian technique of inlaying wood, bone and metal with precious wire, blossoms here. In each cubic centimeter up to approximately 250 individual pieces can end up side by side, smoothed, oiled and polished. This is the place to stock up on the things Iran is proud of – the fluffiest and most intricately patterned of Persian rugs and the most aromatic of rose waters, distilled from the local flowers.
First and foremost, this is a place for scuba-diving in the Persian Gulf: admire whimsical coral cities, fish, sea turtles and rays. There’s plenty of centers to instruct and gear you up for this adventure. Same goes for water skiing, yachting and similar water sports. Horseback riding and biking trails are popular as well here.
Other things to see include the beached Greek ship on the Southwest Coast of the Island, Ocean and Dolphin Water Parks, and about 16 meters underground is the city of Kariz with high ceilings covered in shells, fossils and corals estimated to be 270 to 570 million years old.
The sea is calm, and the sandy beaches are luxurious. As a rule, women swim fully clothed with an exception of one beach territory that is securely protected.
When to visit
The climate in Iran is sharply continental and arid, with temperatures jumping up and down. The best season for travel depends on where you’re visiting. For instance, Tehran is perfect in the summer, while the Persian Gulf gets scorching hot (40C and up). Winter in the South is mild, while the Northwest is freezing and covered in snow. The least precipitation in Iran is from mid-Fall to mid-Spring and if you don’t want to deal with the weather changes, those are the best months to go.
You will need the visa as well as the insurance policy, and both can be obtained upon arrival. Your passport needs to be at least six months away from the expiration date and have 2 blank pages available. It’s useful if the women can have their hair covered in the photo. Everything else is pretty standard.
Some nuances include up to three days no-visa-required stay on Kish Island, and the visa prices vary based on your activity and time frame (business visa, for example, offers up to six months’ stay) but range from $35 to $200 USD.
How to get here
Direct flights are offered by Aeroflot and IranAir from Sheremetyevo airport to Tehran and take about 4 hours. Several other national airlines will make a stop in Istanbul, Dubai, Rome and Viena.
Transfer between cities
Iran Transportation System is colossal and well thought out. Plus, the gas costs pennies here.
1.The busses come in two variations: “Lux” which offers no air conditioning and “Super” – cool inside and can even offer snacks during your transit. Men and women ride separate.
2.Taxi. To travel fast and alone, just yell out “Dar-bast” and provide the name of your final destination. Your other options are yellow taxis that will have up to 3 people riding with you or green minibuses that will fit 10 to 11 people. The price is regulated by the government, but you can always talk the owner into an hourly rate ($6-$10 an hour).
3.Rent a car. International driver’s license, a year of driving experience and the car is yours. However, instead of panicking over navigating in an unfamiliar country, you can rent a car with a driver! Renting a car by itself costs about $30-60 USD, and a car with a driver runs closer to $60-$70 USD.
4.Trains. This is the fastest and easiest way to travel here. You can book your ticket up to 30 days in advance on Iran Railway website. Try to splurge on first class tickets if you can, it is worth it!
5.Planes. Why use the ground transportation when the flight will cost you $65 USD from one side of the country to another? You can even fly directly from your hotel, although this is in high demand in August and September.
Where to stay
There are two types of hotels you can find in Iran: traditional (truly authentic experience) and European style (standard hotels). And if the latter is your basic muli-story building with identical rooms for everyone, the former is a picturesque caravan style living in the manner of the Ancient East. Isfahan, Shiraz and Yazd are especially rich with these kinds of lodgings.
What to do in Iran
This land is so full of stunning attractions, both nature and man-made, it is quite difficult to describe them, let alone see it all. Give it a try nonetheless: contemporary and ancient museums, palaces, mosques, squares, historical ruins, famous gravesites (Ibn Sina, Omar Khayyam, prophet Daniel), motely bazaars, traditional cuisine.
Take a camelback or a Jeep tour through the scarlet desert or ski in Dizin and Shemshak, visit the salt caves, nature preserves and waterfalls of Shevi and Bish, or simply take a hike in the mountains or Gilan Hyrcanian forest.
Most importantly, bring a pinch of Iran home with you. With saffron, that’s more expensive than gold, or their caviar – even more precious than that. But incomparable to all that is the national symbol of the land – the Persian rug – one can be weaved by hand over several years and cost up to tens of millions of dollars. Or with astonishing craft masterpieces like printed fabrics, volumetric woodcarving, inlay, painted porcelain, gold and Nishapur turquoise. Truth be told, some of these crafts that can only be found here you will see for the first time in your life.
- Do not be afraid. Iran is the safest place in the Middle East
- To feel completely safe, follow the religious norms. Men don’t wear anything above the elbow and ankle. Women cover their head with a shawl, the sleeves cover wrists and free-flowing clothes goes down to the feet: nothing tight or revealing. Try not to stand out with bright colors either.
- Public display of affection is forbidden. It can even be hard to stay in the same hotel room unless you have a certificate of marriage proving your relation.
- It’s difficult, but possible to find a place for smoking, but the alcohol is strictly prohibited.
- Please don’t attempt any photos of military objects or personnel to avoid being charged with espionage. Photos of locals only from their explicit consent. Video is pretty much prohibited everywhere.
- In conversation with Iranians avoid political and personal subjects as well as enthused gesticulation – majority can be inappropriate and offensive.
- Make sure to carry cash with you, no Visa or Mastercard is accepted.
- All things are simple with a sober mind: be modest, polite and attentive and Iran will reveal to you it’s precious majestic side.
A square meter of a Persian rug can contain over a million hand-woven silk knots. Iran is just like that rug – a heritage, a legacy – the story of which is woven by millions of hands over thousands of years.