The secret is out. Iran might be one of the most rewarding destinations for adventure travellers.
Everyone I’ve met who have visited Iran urged me to go, but nobody prepared me for just how much I was going to enjoy my travels. The image of the country I had in my head completely changed after my visit, to a place where centuries-old traditions meet the modern world like nowhere else on earth.
Here are 10 things I loved about my travels in Iran:
1. I met the friendliest people in the world
You will fall in love with the people of Iran. Their hospitality and generosity are unparalleled to anywhere else I’ve been; they make you feel welcome in their country from the moment you arrive. From the sellers at the markets who invite you for a tea, to the strangers who greet you with “Welcome to Iran”, and the passion and kindness of our tour guides.
Iranians are warm-hearted people who love their poetry, picnics, and time spent with family, and they consider any guest or visitor a blessing.
2. The landscapes are stunning
I wasn’t expecting Iran to have such a diverse landscape (I think I was imagining dry, desert-like scenery). Instead, there were lush plains, mountains, hillside villages, desert cities near Yazd and Persepolis, and a modern skyline in Tehran. The profound beauty of this country is captivating, and makes any travel day enjoyable.
3. The architecture is glorious
Prepare to be amazed. Iran offers some of the most fascinating examples of architecture. You’ll find glass-stained mosques, lavish palaces, unique wind-towers that work as ancient form of air-conditioning, the immense Imam square in Esfahan, charming old courtyard homes with lush gardens, and even monolithic tombs that have stood here for centuries.
4. I laughed. A lot.
Iranians are not only friendly, but they have a great sense of humour too. It’s easy enough to interact with locals in English, especially with the younger generation. But I wasn’t expecting them to be as quick with their wit and humour on almost any occasion.
5. The hospitality of the locals is second to none
The cultural tradition of Taarof is Iran’s own personal brand of etiquette. Anytime you order a drink, food or taxi, chances are whoever’s serving you will refuse to take your money. You’re not really being given a freebie, it’s a form of behaviour which is common in Iran. You will watch two friends argue over who is going to pay. So all you have to do is play along, back and forth, and then thank them for the offer and insist on paying. Sometimes you may not be able to; in that case, say thank you and accept what’s been offered.
6. Ancient Persepolis is incredible
While there are many sights in Iran that will blow your mind, visiting Persepolis is the place I loved the most. This should be one of the Seven New Wonders of the World, but I guess that would make it eight of them. This ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire is a UNESCO World Heritage site. A knowledgeable tour guide is a must to truly understand the magnitude of this city, with its huge staircases, relics and columns that took 150 years to complete.
7. I ate the most amazing food
I don’t remember having a bad meal in Iran. Persian cuisine is fascinating. The typical Iranian dish would be kebab with saffron rice and fresh yoghurt, and it’s served pretty much everywhere in Iran. But there are plenty of other dishes worth trying, such as gabzi szabzi, dizi or food from the northern region. Many Iranian dishes are combinations of rice with meat, nuts and vegetables; the right balance and taste are perfected with fruits such as raisins, prunes, pomegranates and lots of fresh herbs.
The bread in Iran is another reason I loved the cuisine so much. There are four standard types of bread in Iran – lavash, taftoon, barbari and sangak. The small bakeries throughout the country stay open later in the day, so you’ll never be too far from buying hot, fresh bread.
8. It’s a really fashionable part of the world
Women planning to visit Iran will need to do a little research on what to wear before they go, but – in a nutshell – women are required to have their legs and arms covered (your top should be covering your hips). A head scarf is also compulsory.
However, you will be surprised by just how modern fashion is Iran, especially in Tehran. You’ll find women wearing gorgeous coats, tunics coordinated with colourful scarves and trendy handbags, and immaculately applied makeup. I felt a bit out of place with my baggy clothes! If you’re interested in shopping, visit the markets on your first day in the country and pick up a stylish new outfit for your stay in Iran (that you can still wear when you return home). If you’re travelling to the countryside and more remote villages, you will find that the dress code is more conservative; the older generation wears a chador, which is a formal black cloak (like an overcoat). However, this is not required for visitors.
9. I did SO much shopping!
I always love visiting markets when travelling. It’s the perfect way to interact with locals, find great souvenirs, and get some delicious local food. The markets in Iran are full of colour, with vendors selling spices, nuts and fresh dates (which were some of the best I ever tried). You can also get a better understanding of everyday life, and your guide can explain more about what’s being sold.
10. Iran is a safe place to visit
The image of Iran painted by the media is usually about oppression and political sanctions. But when you visit, the experience is very different; you’ll want to return as soon as you leave. There are a few different law that you might not be used to, but dress codes or alcohol policies are easy to obey, and you’ll enjoy an insight in one of the most fascinating countries.
The current visa requirements are still strict for UK, Canada and USA visitors, who still need to visit as part of a pre-arranged tour. They also must apply for their visa in their home country with the authorisation code provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Iran. Your tour company will help you to arrange this. While many believe it’s impossible to travel with a US passport, this is not true; there have been travellers who have their visa request denied, but plenty are approved too. It’s definitely worth the extra frustration! Most other nationalities can obtain a visa on arrival in Tehran, but you’ll also need an authorisation code (which will be supplied when you book a tour).
Ready for an adventure in Iran? Explore our complete range of small group tours here.