This island doesn’t tend to be on travelers’ itineraries, but there’s a world of things to see in dolphin-shaped Qeshm, the largest of the Persian Gulf islands. From Naz Island and Hara (mangrove) Forest, with their unpredictable high and low tides, to Chahkooh Pass and Valley of the Stars, which have an other-worldly feel, you can witness pristine, natural beauty. The beautiful port city of Bandar Laft is dotted with windcatchers, a shipyard, and a local style of dress that reflects a unique culture unlike the rest of Iran.
Kashan is situated 250km south of Tehran and is home to some of the most beautiful historical buildings in the country. Fin Garden (a UNESCO-listed Persian garden), Boroujerdi House, Ameriha House, and Tabatabaei House are just some of the stars brightening this desert city. You’ll find grand courtyards with central pools and lovely gardens outside, before walking through the doors to discover exquisite frescoes. The rooftop of the Sultan Amir Ahmad Bathhouse looks as if pods from outer space have landed on it, and has spectacular skyline views.
The first natural site to be listed with UNESCO in 2016, the Lut Desert has been recorded as the hottest place on earth for seven consecutive years, with temperatures reaching a scorching 159.3ºF (70.7ºC). Despite the heat, however, this vast, barren space offers an unusual silence and tranquility among the yardangs (sand ridges), which continuously change shape. Pick your favorite to hike up and get a better view from above as the afternoon sun sinks and the temperatures become more tolerable.
No trip to Iran is complete without a visit to the birthplace of ancient Persian civilization and capital of the first Persian Empire over 2,500 years ago, Persepolis. This awe-inspiring place requires a bit of imagination to reconstruct, but the towering columns in the once lavish palaces gives an idea of just how lofty this city once was. Walk in the footsteps of the great Persian kings as you contemplate the numerous reliefs and statues of a once-grand empire.
Hailed as a ‘masterpiece of creative genius’ by UNESCO, this ancient irrigation system dates to the time of Darius the Great in the 5th century BCE. Two main diversion canals on the Karun River supply water to the city of Shushtar through a series of tunnels. Climb to the top of the hill to view this feat of engineering from above before heading back down to tour the bridges, dams, and mills in detail. Ducks, egrets, and other fauna call this World Heritage Site home.
About 100 km north of Hamedan lies the Ali Sadr Water Cave. Rediscovered in the 1960s by Iranian excavators, this extensive network of subterranean chambers, water passageways, and lakes was inhabited over 12,000 years ago, as indicated by the artwork and pottery found inside. Historically, this cave was also used as a safe refuge for the Safavid Army. Pedal boats will guide you through the crystal clear waters that measure an average of five meters in depth. Fantastic geological structures cover the walls, and shapes of animals and other figures can be made out in the stalactites and stalagmites.
Naqsh-e Jahan Square is probably the main attraction in Esfahan, and what earns it the nickname nesf-e jahan, ‘half the world’. Built in the 17th century, this massive square was once a royal polo field. The sites on each side are connected by a two-story arcade. Imam Mosque enraptures visitors with its lofty tiled ceilings, while Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque dazzles with its off-center dome. You can walk up the mosaic stairs of Ali Qapu to get some of the best views before strolling through the Imperial Bazaar.
Simply put, Yazd has good energy, amazing sites, kind people, and delicious food. Known as the city of badgir, Yazd is not only dotted with these architecturally amazing windcatchers, it is also home to the tallest one, in Dowlat Abad Garden. The Towers of Silence, Fire Temple, and pilgrimage site of Chak Chak provide wonderful insight into the Zoroastrian religion, while Amir Chakhmagh Square and the city’s Ashura festival show the Islamic side. An all around win-win, this desert town should be ranked as high as Shiraz and Esfahan on anyone’s first trip to Iran.