You want to travel to Iran? Are you crazy? Why are you willing to visit Iran? Inevitable questions when you tell someone Persia is your next destination. Obviously I had no clue either about what to expect and which kind of things to do in Iran. The Western orientated media always shows you the negative side about this country and I wanted to find out myself what it was like. On the internet I saw some cool places to visit in Iran, which made me eager to explore it myself.
Now that I have traveled through Iran on a 2 weeks itinerary I can only say that soaking up Persian history, visiting Muslim religious complexes and got in touch with warm-hearted and very hospitable locals: it was an amazing experience! Thank you to all the lovely people I met on the road.
Iran travel guide
Of course when you decide to visit Iran you keep in mind that this country is listed as dangerous by Western countries. But why is that? Just because of human rights issues or about the nuclear sanctions? Obviously Western governments are relatively cautious when giving travel advice, but while travelling in Iran I experienced no issues at all and never felt unsafe or whatsoever. In fact while ticking off tourist attractions in Iran I felt the opposite: very safe! Just like in other countries you have to remember that you are the tourist and you have to adapt to the local rules and when you will, there is a very slim chance anything will happen. If you decide to travel to Iran there are not that many differences than traveling to any other country in the Middle East.
Remarkable rules in Iran
The most remarkable difference with your normal travel destinations is that Iran is a dry country. Which means alcohol is illegal and getting caught with it can cause you big problems. You won’t come across any bars or discos they simply don’t exist! Women are not allowed to dance and sing in public plus there is no alcohol, imagine how boring a club would be without those 3 ingredients! But just like in every other country things that are forbidden by law are always accessible, even in Iran there is a way around. Read here how I got drunk in Esfahan! ;)
Second thing is to be careful with taking pictures near military or government buildings. This is strictly prohibited and will result in arrest, at least that is what they say. I mean in reality I think everyone is very friendly and they will tell you not to take photos instead of arresting you straight away.
Third is the Iranian dress code, which is enforced at all times, but you have probably read that already in every official Iran travel guide. Women need to cover their hair. But people, this doesn’t mean that everyone is wearing a burka! It all depends where you go. In conservative regions like Qom and Kashan women are mostly dressed in long black dresses that cover their complete body, but in Tehran though you will see women dressed in modern clothes wearing a symbolic scarf on the back of their neck.
Officially close contact between unmarried men and women is prohibited and relationships are illegal, keep it in mind, but don’t worry about it too much. Don’t show public affection just behave a bit more conservative in the streets and you will be fine! That said even Tinder works in the Islamic Republic! ;)
Getting a visa for Iran
I travelled to Iran on a flight from Dubai and I was the only one that opted for a visa on arrival at Tehran Airport. The procedure is straightforward and I did not encounter any problems at all. Read here about how I got my visa on arrival for Iran.
Solo travel to Iran
Looking back on my Iran sightseeing trip I come to the conclusion that it is fairly easy to visit Iran solo. Backpacking around is pretty much straight forward, but it does cost a bit more energy to get to the most beautiful places in Iran.
Iran on a budget
English is not spoken everywhere and arranging busses and accommodation can be a bit of a hassle. You just need a bit more patience that is all! Above all it is not expensive and travelling in Iran on a budget is definitely possible. I travelled around with an Aussie friend in budget but nice twin rooms, we ate at street restaurants, made day trips, went out to coffee and tea shops every day and travelled in VIP-busses.
Now you are curious how much I spent travelling Iran on a shoestring!
Let me encourage you: in total I exchanged $320 USD and I am still stuck with some Iranian bank notes, which I keep as a souvenir! I ticked off the most beautiful places in Iran on a 2 weeks itinerary so basically I spent less than $25 a day.
Backpacking in Iran
Travelling in Iran definitely differs from travelling in well-known backpacking countries. First of all hostels in Iran are rare. In Tehran there are for example only two and I don’t think they are official either. That means it’s harder to meet fellow travellers and you wont find any travel desk at reception that is helping you with your Iran itinerary for 2 weeks. You have to sort it all out yourself. On top of that foreign credit cards are not accepted which means booking accommodation over the internet is non-existing. That doesn’t mean you wont find any hostels/hotels on the internet, but sites like Booking.com or Hostelworld wont give you any results. You gotta go through TripAdvisor and then find a phone number of the place you are willing to stay. Internet has a lot of restrictions and for using Facebook, Snapchat, etc you need a VPN.
But even with all these restrictions travelling around was not that difficult it just took a little bit more time to figure everything out by yourself and it was definitely easy to have an Iran travel guide on me. Normally I don’t use a Lonelyplanet anymore but this time I was really happy to have one!
Iran Sim card
My advice is to get an Iran SIM card on your first day in Tehran. I used RighTel and their 3G was working pretty ok in the big cities! If you mainly use internet then RighTel is one of your best options as their download speed is the best plus I paid $4 for 1,5GB only. WiFi can mostly be found in restaurants and hotels, but my 3G was often faster. Remember that you will have to call ahead to reserve accommodation, therefore I would definitely recommend you to buy an Iran sim card.
Iranians are sincerely interested in travellers and you will be asked where you from and if you like Iran constantly. Be prepared to give your phone number, Instagram and Facebook 4 times a day since they all want to connect with a foreigner. Just like I was really curious about their lives in the Islamic Republic, they are just as curious about life in the Western world! Their hospitality and generosity will for sure amaze you and you will be invited in to their houses on a daily basis. It is awkward in the beginning but you have to give it a chance and trust them. Iranians are sincere and seriously want to give you a share of their lifestyle by inviting you over for dinner. I did accept an invitation to celebrate Yalda (December 21st) with an Iranian family. Click here to read more about me sitting on the ground at grandma’s house, eating delicious Persian food!
What I did find odd to notice is that I came across a lot of young people who were willing to escape their controlled lifestyles in Iran. Through Social Media they see people in the rest of the world partying, going out, having fun and do crazy things. All of this is impossible for most people in Iran! Some of them spoke decent German already, learned through the internet, to increase their chances to get a long term visa! They seemed to be depressed by the sober lifestyle in their country and if they would find a way out they would take a leap of faith.
Iran travel guide for a 2 weeks itinerary
For me traveling is freedom and that is why I don’t like to travel with a fixed itinerary. When I arrived in Iran I had no clue about any tourist spots in Iran or things to do in Iran. I grabbed a Lonelyplanet I found in the ‘hostel’ I was staying at and started my Google image search for the most beautiful places in Iran. Still your best travel guide are locals and fellow travelers. I decided to visit Iran in December and found out that it was super cold. Through some amazing things to do in Iran I could put cross as it was too cold to head up into the amazing mountain range North of Tehran. I chose to stick a little more to the standard tourist attractions and best places to visit in Iran and therefore my 2 weeks itinerary is a perfect example to see the most beautiful places in Iran in a short time.
2 nights in Tehran
My first two nights I spent in Tehran in a ‘local’ hostel and did a bit of sightseeing before I moved on down South. I had to change money of course which is super easy and straight forward, took the metro, talked with locals, tried local food and did a bit of orientation about where to go next. Read here all about my adventures in Tehran…
1 night in Qom
Don’t skip Qom! A lot of people don’t stop here as the city apparently is not appealing. The city might not be among the most beautiful places in Iran but the amazing holy shrine definitely is one of best tourist attractions in Iran. It was also my first encounter that made me realize I seriously ended up in a different world. It was Friday, the holy day for the Muslims and in a conservative city like Qom this means mostly everyone is dressed in black and visits the holy shrine. Wow what an amazing experience that was. Read more about my Qom adventure here…
2 nights in Kashan
Next stop for me was Kashan, a city that later turned out to be one of my favorite places to visit in Iran. Most people fall in love with the touristy Esfahan or Shiraz, but my experience in Kashan was a fabulous one. It should be in everyones Iran sightseeing tour with deserted mosques, a less touristy bazaar, beautiful UNESCO listed gardens, a side trip to Abyaneh. And many more great things to do. Read here why Kashan became one of my favourite places to visit in Iran…
3 nights in Esfahan
After Kashan I headed South towards Esfahan. When you travel to Iran this place will top everyone’s list of best places to visit in Iran as it has fabulous tourist attractions and a great vibe. To be honest I wasn’t really impressed at first, but when I found Esfahan’s pearl I found out why this city sometimes is listed among Rome, Prague, Athens, etc. Read here about my experiences on the fabulous square, all the different mosques, the amazing Aladdin look-alike bazaar and how I ended up in the hospital in Esfahan…
2 nights in Yazd
Since I ran out of time I had to skip traveling all the way down South to Shiraz and Persepolis. A little bit of a shame but I decided to rather spend a couple days in Yazd then sitting in busses. I headed straight into the desert where the sleepy town of Yazd rises out of nothing. The fabulous old town was a maze of tiny paths that could be part of a film set. The multiple tea houses and hidden local restaurants, together with the majestic mosque made this place a great add to my Iran sightseeing tour. Read here about my days in Yazd.
Most beautiful places in Iran
Did I make you curious about all the great things to do in Iran? I really hope so!
I wouldn’t say Iran is only for the die-hard travelers, but I have to mention that if you decide to visit Iran it is all about the experience. The food is seriously delicious, but it wasn’t like a food adventure in for example South East Asia. A trip to Iran is all about its history, the culture, its mystery and getting in touch with amazingly lovely people. They made my trip one to remember and for sure they will be a part of yours as well! There are a couple more blogs about travelling around, check out all my blogs about Iran here...
And again, when people tell you be careful you gotta reply them: ‘for what?’. Probably no one can give you an answer to that question! :)
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