Iran or Persia? Both! This is the destination of different. Ancient landscapes, Persian traditions, contemporary society, the most friendly, happy and hospitable people, to-die-for foods, Iran will captivate your soul. From minarets and bazaars to modern malls, you might wake to the calls to prayer, haggle over handmade Persian carpets and handicrafts, purchase the latest technology, dine on a Persian Shah’s menu, snow ski in the mountains or bathe on a tropical island. You just won’t want to leave – I stayed over two years and still didn’t want to leave. Iranians are incredibly friendly, and ‘guests’ are most important. They’ll house you, feed you, and show you their Persia.
Must Go in Iran
Naghsh e Jahan Square – Esfahan.
Reportedly the largest square the world over; incorporating the colossal Imam Mosque and its magnificent blue mosaic tilework on the south side and the oldest and largest bazaar in the Middle East on the north side. It’s near-impossible to choose which Persian handicraft of skillfulness to take home. Be sure to try speaking Farsi wherever you can in Iran, the locals will love you all the more for it, and haggling will be much more fun!
Persepolis and Ghalat – Shiraz.
A Must. Go. To. Persepolis provides ancient architecture on a scale of magnitude, including palatial pillars and gateways. I spent hours dragging my jaw in awe! Indescribable.
Ghalat is off the beaten track (ask a local agency (taxi) driver to take you) – it’s a stone and mud village heritage (poss. UNESCO) site, still inhabited, and providing photographic subjects like nowhere else. Ever.
Just a couple hours flight from Tehran, Kish Island is a tropical escape in the Persian Gulf. Spend days on the golden sands (women can sunbathe and swim comfortably at a private women’s beach) and swimming with small sharks (that didn’t bite) and vibrant fish. All your favourite water activities are also available across the island. There are modern and traditional shopping galore, teahouses and restaurants scattered everywhere, and an amazing ancient history trail of its own most definitely worth investigating!
Must Do in Iran
Bazaars – at night!
Major cities come to life at night and the bazaars attract the locals – everyone from old to children – Iranians make this evening activity vibrant, exciting, and fun.
Eating is a significant cultural experience. Street stalls and markets offer traditional balal (coal-cooked sweetcorn), beetroot, fresh walnuts, and pistachio bastani (ice-cream). Iranian pomegranates and hendoone (watermelon) are another must!
Must Eat in Iran
Persian cuisine is the most delicious, and street stall and market food, like restaurants and tea houses alike, is also very delicious, traditional, and safe to eat.
are everywhere, offering traditional chai (tea) and Persian foods. Stretch out on a carpeted divan and enjoy.
served with rice dishes exquisitely decorated with saffron, spices, and nuts.
Fresh baked breads are sold in local bakeries everywhere. Eat with panir (cheese) for breakfast, and panir and sabzi (fresh mixed vegetables and herbs) for lunch. Food heaven – try combining watermelon and panir wrapped in fresh bread!
Cultural Tips for Travel in Iran
Upon arrival all women must be wearing a headscarf and modest length jacket (mid-thigh is fine) and ankle-length pants or skirt. Men wear trousers; shirts can be long or short sleeve. Once there, you’ll get the idea of what/how to wear.
Respect is quintessential in Persian culture.
Don’t get trampled trying to board the metro or get into an agence by waiting idly by, but do practice common courtesies wherever you go. Men and women who are not family don’t normally greet with a kiss.
You can bargain with most merchants. Sometimes, merchants will act like they can’t accept money from you (numerous times), but it’s just a traditional respect. This goes for anything you offer locals, including food. They might politely refuse but it doesn’t mean they don’t want it. Keep offering until they accept.
Travel on the Cheap in Iran
Transport is generally reasonable. Most people get around via shared (sometimes jam-packed) agency (taxi) to and from anywhere. It’s a cultural thing and something you must experience. There are buses and trains to/from most major stops.You can hire a car and driver quite reasonably and they’ll take you to your local destinations (or ask for their suggestions), and while you visit they will wait.Negotiate your taxi fare.Note: Government departments can be frustrating and are better avoided wherever possible. Public restrooms are not prolific nor always user-friendly for many foreigners but are manageable. Alcohol is illegal (doesn’t mean you can’t find it, but it is illegal). Most important signage is in Farsi and English.
Any Iran travel tips to share? Questions for Tanya?