If you’re flying into the country then chances are you will be landing in Tehran at the Imam Khomeini Airport. Take a bus or taxi from outside the airport to central Tehran to your hotel or accommodation of choice. If you have time in the evening, take a stroll around Tehran’s bustling streets and head to a restaurant serving traditional Iranian dishes for a delicious introduction to the country.
The Golestan Palace was built during the Qajar dynasty which rose to power in the 1700s. The palace buildings are some of the oldest examples of architecture in modern Tehran today, where you will witness carefully juxtaposed examples of Persian, Western and Russian styles.
The Grand Bazaar in Tehran is equally a must-see destination for any visit to Tehran, and is often said to be the heart of Persian culture as well as commerce. The bazaaris, or market traders, have historically wielded a great amount of political power throughout the years. In the lead-up to the Iranian revolution of 1979 the former shah even bulldozed new roads through the bazaar and subsidised supermarkets in an attempt to remove some of the power of the bazaar and bazaaris to serve his own political needs. Nowadays it is estimated that the Tehran Bazaar controls up to a third of Iran’s entire retail and trade sector.
There are many great restaurants in Tehran, but after a tiring day of sightseeing there is nothing more satisfying than a warm bowl of dizi, or ‘abgoosht’, a traditional stew with lamb and lentils. Saba Garden Restaurant is a great place to stop by for this dish, where you can also enjoy the local ambience of a traditional Iranian restaurant. Next, you should take a flight to Tabriz, which takes just over an hour.
Tabriz is the capital of East Azerbaijan province in Northwestern Iran.
Head to the Kabud Mosque, often also referred to as the Blue Mosque. Originally completed in 1465, it has since been restored but retains some of the stunningly blue mosaic tiles at its entrance. Today it stands tall as a magnificent landmark of this region of Iran.
The Azerbaijan Museum is also a great option if you’re a history or archaeology buff, or if you are interested in learning more about the ancient history of the city and its surrounding region. The museum is home to everything from pre-historic finds to 20th-century sculptures by Iranian artist Ahad Hosseini. Another point of interest is the Grand Bazaar which is located on what was the ancient silk road.
Take a journey to Kandovan in the volcanic highlands of Mt. Sahand.
For more than 700 years, the people of this region have been building their homes into the mountains and surrounding stone formations. Of course these days families have massively modernized their homes with electricity and running water.
Shiraz is the city of romanticism and poetry. It is also home to the Nasr Al Molok Mosque which has become famous for its enchanting stained glass windows which appear to project multi-coloured, kaleidoscopic shapes around the mosque when the light passes through them.
Another beautiful location in Shiraz is the Eram Gardens. Here you can stroll through luscious, meticulously kept gardens and admire the vast biodiversity of flowers and trees which live here.
If you have time, make sure you also pay a visit to Shah Cheragh, the holy resting place of brothers Ahmad and Muhammad, brothers of Imam Reza. The Shah Cherag Mausoleum houses a stunning mosque well worth visiting, with the highlight being the dazzling mirrored interior.
Eram Garden, Fars Province, Shiraz, District 1, خیابان ارم، Iran, +98 71 3227 2538
From Shiraz it is easy to take a tour to three important sites of ancient Persia. The first of these is Persepolis, known as takhte-jamshid in Persian. Despite the fact that today much of this magnificent ancient capital of the Achaemenid empire is now on display in various European museums, it is worth the time to see the original grandeur of this ancient city in its original glory.
Nearby you can also pay a visit to Naqsh-e Rostam, an ancient necropolis located just 12 km outside of Persepolis. These tombs belonged to four Achaemenid kings and are carved out of the rock face from a very high point. One of the tombs is identified as being that of Darius I, the others are thought to be Xerxes I, Artaxerxes I and Darius II.
Pasargadae is also conveniently located nearby, and is the archaeological remnant of the capital city of the Achaemenid Empire under Cyrus the Great and one of Iran’s UNESCO world heritage sites.
Naqsh-e Rostam, Fars Province, Iran, +98 81 6720 9275
If you are a lover of Persian poetry, you will know that Shiraz is particularly famous for being an important location amongst two revered Persian poets, Hafez and Sa’di. Both of their tombs are located in Shiraz, and Iranians and tourists alike gather to pay respects and visit their resting places.
Hafez Tomb, Fars Province, Shiraz, District 3, خیابان حافظیه، Iran, +98 71 3228 4155
Yazd is thought to be Iran’s oldest continuously inhabited city, and is famous for being the centre point of Iran’s Zoroastrian community and their history.
Visit the Towers of Silence, where the dead were taken in ancient times to be decomposed and devoured by birds. Also in Yazd is the ancient Zoroastrian fire temple, the flame which burns inside is said to have been burning continuously for 1,500 years!
If you still have time to spare, head to Zendan-e-Eskander, an ancient domed structure which according to legend was built by Alexander the Great to hold prisoners during his conquest of Persia.
Head to Amir Chakhmaq Square to visit the husseiniyeh located here – a congregational hall for Shia worshippers. Its impressive facade is one of the most photographed and famous landmarks of the city.
The old homes of Yazd are also sights to behold for their unique architecture. If you have time then also head to the Dawlat Abad Garden. Inside you will see an 18th-century hexagonal pavilion with stained-glass windows and the tallest wind tower in Iran, all laced by a beautiful array of fruit trees and flowers.
Amir Chaqmaq Complex, Yazd, Yazd Province, Iran, +98 990 547 0090
Travel to Isfahan by bus (3hr 53mins)
It is often said that Isfahan is ‘nesf-e-jahan’ or ‘Isfahan is half the world’ meaning that if you’ve visited Isfahan it is as good as having visited half the world.
Head to Imam square, and just a tip – the best view of this majestic square is from the Aali Qapu palace where you can get a good view of the array of fountains and mosques which have rendered the square so famous for visitors.
Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, also known as the Ladies Mosque was originally built for the harem of the shah. It is particularly well-known for its brightly-coloured dome ceiling where the light creates the image of a peacock.
Masjed-e-Jameh is also located nearby and is well worth a visit. It is one of the best-known mosques in the country, revered as a masterpiece of Persian architecture.
Aali Qapu, Isfahan, Iran, +98 31 3222 2173
Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, Isfahan, Isfahan Province, Iran, +98 31 3222 5486
Head to the Armenian quarter of the city to learn of the religious diversity of Iran. The Armenians of Iran make up the vast majority of the Christian minority, and in the area you will see many churches including the 17th-century Vank Cathedral. The interior of the cathedral is lavishly decorated and displays more architectural wonders for you to behold.
The Zayandeh-rood is a river running through Isfahan, splitting it into two parts. It is vast but shallow – often even dry in summers – and is known to travellers largely due to the bridges which have been built over it. One of these bridges is the si-oh-seh pol which is known for its curved archways. These archways also make for great acoustics, often attracting singers to recite songs underneath them.
Vank Cathedral, Vank Church Alley, Isfahan, Isfahan Province, Iran, +98 31 3624 3471
As you make your way back up to Tehran, a stop-off in Kashan is recommended. Kashan is a town once famous for its textile and ceramic productions, but may be of interest for travellers for the Fin garden or Bagh-e-Fin, as well as the extensive number of bazaars and hamams.
The fin garden is a stunning and peaceful historic Persian garden where Amir Kabir, the Qajarid chancellor was reportedly assassinated by Nasereddin Shah in 1852. Nowadays it is a great place to take a stroll and explore the beauty of Kashan.
From here it is a short walk to the bazaar areas where you can pick up some rose water – a speciality of the town, as a souvenir.
Before embarking on the rest of your journey to Tehran, head to the Agha Bozorg Mosque in Kashan. This mosque was built in the late 18th-century and is famous for its exquisite architecture, particularly the symmetrical design, a trademark of Iranian Islamic architectural designs.
Drive to Tehran
If you still have some time to spare before you catch your flight, head to the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, located in Laleh Park. As well as being home to the largest collection of modern art in Iran, it also houses the most valuable collection of Western art outside of Europe and the United States including some pieces by Warhol, Lichtenstein and Hockney.