How to plan a trip to Iran, one of the hottest travel destinations
Famous for its sense of hospitality, a long history, and great food, Iran never fails to bedazzle travelers from around the world. Read our tips on how to plan your trip and what are the places you can’t miss in one of the hottest travel destinations.
Get your Iranian visa
Depending on your nationality, you can either get the Iran visa on arrival at the airport or at the Iranian consulate in the country of your residence. Citizens of many European countries are entitled to visa on arrival, which is often valid for 14 days, while the visa issued by the consulate is usually for 30 days. US citizens need to apply in the US at the Iran section of the Pakistani embassy and must have a certified guide in order to be issued the visa.
The documents you need to submit to the embassy are the filled-in form that you can download from the embassy website, your passport with at least six months validity, travel insurance, your authorization code issued by the Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (you can apply via an Iranian tour agency), two passport-sized photos, the visa fee (in Europe €50), and your fingerprint card left at the consulate when you submit your papers.
If you choose to get your visa at the airport you will fill in the form there. You’ll still need your passport, the photos, and travel insurance, but will also need to submit your return ticket, a copy of your hotel booking and pay the visa fee, usually €60.
Check with the Iranian embassy in your country to make sure you know the rules that apply to your case.
How to dress in Iran
This is often a sensitive issue, especially for women. In Iran, the headscarf is imposed by the law, so women should travel with a scarf in their hand luggage to put on before getting off the airplane (if you fly with IranAir you’ll need to wear it on board, too). You will see that Iranian women like to wear it in many ways, often very loose, so no need to panic if your hair is visible.
Headscarf aside, the dress code in Iran is modest, and a tunic or long jumper/coat should cover your hips. If it’s summer, forget sleeveless or short-sleeve t-shirts, go with three-quarter or long sleeves as your arms should be covered. Also, no mini-skirt but either trousers or long skirts (do wear stockings!).
While the dress code for women is more draconian, men should also dress modestly. This means no shorts or sleeveless t-shirts, even in summer.
Both men and women have no limitations for shoes, so if you plan a trip to Iran in summer, feel free to wear sandals and paint your toenails!
To save on your phone credit, you can buy a local SIM card at the airport or any phone shop. There are many service providers, such as Irancell, MCI and RighTel, each of them with offers for both calls and data plans.
As you may know, in Iran Facebook and Twitter are filtered, so if you can’t resist a couple of weeks without your social network, you can install a VPN (Virtual Private Network) that will allow you to bypass the government filter by connecting through international servers.
Places to visit in Iran
Diverse in natural landscape and culture, any province you visit in Iran will offer something different to see and do. If you are going for the first time, here are the destinations that anyone should visit to soak in the Persian Empire and the sophisticated decorations of mosques and buildings.
Often neglected by tour guides, Tehran is a vibrant and cultural capital and deserves at least a couple days of devotion.
Start your tour by exploring the National Museum to delve into Iranian history and culture, and the beautiful Jewelry Museum that displays a big collection precious jewelry collected over many centuries.
Niavaran Palace and the Green Palace in the Sadabad Complex, both residences of the Pahlavi dynasty, Iran’s last royal family, are located in the north of the city. To remain in royal premises, visit the Golestan Palace, UNESCO-listed since 2013, a fascinating complex of buildings from the Qajar era embellished with sophisticated mirror and tiles decorations and European-style paintings.
To take a break from the mental traffic, relax in some of the city’s parks such as the Artists’ Garden, where there is also a nice vegetarian restaurant, Ferdowsi Garden, Fire and Water Park near the beautiful Nature Bridge (Pol-e Tabiat), or the Iranian Garden that in spring is covered with colorful tulips.
Before moving to the next city, don’t forget to visit Tehran’s symbol, the white Azadi Tower (Freedom Tower). Built in 1971 in commemoration of the 2500th year of the Persian Empire, it was inaugurated under the name of Shahyad Tower, King’s Memorial Tower, and was named Azadi Tower after 1979 Revolution.
Homeland to Persian civilization, Shiraz, capital of the Fars Province, is the city of poets and nightingales. One of the first places you should visit is Nasir al-Mulk Mosque, also known as Pink Mosque, a kaleidoscope of colors especially early in the morning when the sun rays seep through the colored windows.
When you are done, take a walk around the historical Vakil Bazaar from the Zand dynasty located in its namesake neighborhood where you will also find Vakil Mosque and the fascinating public baths now turned into a tourist attraction displaying the traditional way of life.
Shiraz is also famous for its gardens. Visit Eram Garden, the biggest and now the Botanical Garden of Shiraz University, containing a huge variety of plants, or Narenjestan Garden, with its long display of colorful flowers and a mesmerizing Mirror Hall.
Alongside the gardens, Shiraz is famous also for its poets, so don’t miss a visit to the mausoleums of Hafez and Saadi, two of the country’s most popular writers. At Hafez mausoleum join the crowds of Iranians who gather to read and pay tribute to the verses that still play an important role in their lives.
An absolute must while in Shiraz is a day out to visit Pasargadae, the first capital of the Achaemenid Empire founded by Cyrus The Great, Persepolis, the ceremonial capital of the empire, where kings and leaders from other countries came to pay their respect to the then emperor Darius The Great, and Naqsh-e Rostam, a burial complex carved in the rock with tombs from different Persian periods, from the Elamites to the Sassanids to the Achaemenids.
Dubbed “half of the world”, Isfahan is the stunning capital of the Safavid era. Start your tour from Naqsh-e Jahan (Imam Square) where you can visit Imam Mosque, the beautiful Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, the bazaar around the square, and Ali Qapu Palace, residence of the Safavid king Shah Abbas I built in the 16th century.
Not far from Imam Square is Chehel Sotoun, literally “forty pillars”, a ceremonial pavilion built in a park at the end of a large pool where Shah Abbas II welcomed ambassadors and foreign leaders. The water element was introduced for two reasons: to refresh the garden and to create a virtual image of the pavilion through its reflection on it.
Heading towards Chahar Bagh Street, visit the diamond-shaped Hasht Behesht “eight heavens” Palace, a historical building located in the center of a park that served as a residence for the royal family.
The evening in Isfahan is best spent along Si-o-seh Pol, or 33-pillar bridge, one of the locals’ favorite hang-out spaces.
Don’t leave the city without visiting the Armenian district New Jolfa and its beautiful Vank Cathedral. The neighborhood was envisioned by Shah Abbas because of Armenians’ artisan skills and knowledge of the silk trade. Stop at a cozy cafe such as Firouz or Hermes to enjoy delicious cakes and tea.
A forest of badgir (wind catchers) defines the skyline of Yazd, the Iranian center of the ancient Zoroastrian religion, which is still practiced by some. One of its most popular places teeming with both tourists and locals is the Zoroastrian Fire Temple that displays a fire said to have been burning for some 1,500 years. Stay within this ancient cult and head to the Towers of Silence where Zoroastrians used to bury their dead until not long ago.
To properly enjoy the vibe of this desert city, get lost in its central Fahadan district, a maze of narrow alleys and traditional mud houses. From here it’s a short walk to Yazd Grand Mosque. Dating back to the 14th century, the decorations are a fascinating interplay of symbols, turquoise tiles, sand-hued brickwork and traditional calligraphy with verses from the Quran.
Not far from the mosque you will find Amir Chakhmaq Complex that includes a mosque, an Islamic school and the nearby bazaar with traditional buildings such as a caravanserai and a qanat (water storage).
In Yazd, also be sure to visit Dolat Abad Garden to relax with a cup of tea and admire the city’s tallest wind catcher.
A fascinating town in Esfahan Province, Kashan is famous for its silk production, carpets, and pottery. Pretty conservative, start your visit from the city’s mosque and at least one traditional house complete with a private badgir to channel the desert wind and make the house fresh as well as a courtyard with a large pool.
Once you are done visiting the city, devote some time to its surroundings. Join a day out at the Dasht-e-Kavir desert, where you feel the sun is closer to the earth, and a trip to Abyaneh, an ancient village at the foot of the Karkas mountain range entirely made of mud.
About our guest blogger
Angela Corrias is a freelance journalist, blogger and photographer who travels and works between Italy and Afghanistan with her husband. Her work appeared in different publications around the world such as Al Jazeera, Forbes Travel Guide, Global Times and Diplomatic Observer. She is one half of travel blog Chasing The Unexpected that she regularly updates with her husband.