Iran is THE country full of terrorists, angry man with long beards and girls with black-covered faces, right? Why the hell should you travel to such a dangerous place? Well, forget about everything they showed you on TV. Iran is the friendliest, safest and most hospitable country I’ve ever been. It’s actually way safer than any big city in the US or Europe.
Let’s move to the reasons why to go to Iran. Because there are many of them.
1) People and hospitality
I’ve met thousands of amazing folks during my travels. But people in Iran just blew my mind.
Imagine this situation in, for example, Los Angeles: You go around 30 miles by taxi. You’re a group of 4 people. But in the end – instead of asking for a nasty amount of money – the driver refuse to take your cash, gives you his address and invites you for lunch during the following day. Impossible? In Iran, things like this happen almost every day.
Iranians love travelers, and it’s an important part of their culture to treat them the best they can and help them to enjoy their country. They are very proud of Iran, and they want to show you they’re not that bad, as most people think.
Be prepared for random people talking to you in the streets, and trying to help, or show you the most beautiful places. Go with them and just let amazing things happen!
Iran is pretty huge. You can travel from the mild climate on the green coast of Caspian Sea, through the high and wild mountains and the semi-desert Central Plateau, to the hot south with a real endless desert.
Expect many breathtaking sceneries including misty rainforest, vineyards, rice paddies, high waterfalls, crystal clear lakes, sharp rocks, colorful desert hills, endless sand dunes or hot springs… And the beaches! (We’ll come back to it later)
3) Mountains + skiing
Did you know you can ski in Iran? Well, not the first winter-sport country coming to one’s mind, right? But there are big ski centres, including some of the highest in the world. And one of them – Tochal – is just a decent 40 minutes taxi ride from Teheran.
The ski season usually lasts from late November until May and excluding some Iranian holidays and weekends, the super long pistes are almost empty. Skiing in Iran is actually on the top of my to-do list for next winter season. Come to join me!
I should tell you the truth. The Islamic Republic of Iran is actually the old and famous Persia. The country had been rich, powerful and educated thousands of years before they found oil. And most of the Persian culture is still there. Iranians are very smart and well-educated people, and they know how to treat their heritage.
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You can visit lots of fantastic music shows (or just stop to see some street performance), beautiful museums such as National Museum in Iran – one of the largest in the world – and galleries with both historical and contemporary art exhibitions. Our hot tip is Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art – with probably the best 20th and 21st-century arts collection in the Middle East.
5) Persian sights
The main part of Persian culture you will notice are their precisely decorated splendid buildings. Grand mosques, palaces, town halls, universities, hotels or bazaars. If I should choose the most beautiful historical places in the world, it would be Granada, Spain; Siam Reap, Cambodia; and Esfahan plus Shiraz in Iran. Check out the pictures!
6) Food, food, food
I almost died many times there. Why? Because of eating too much incredibly great lamb or chicken kebab, Nân (flat bread), ghormeh sabzi (stewed beef or lamb with sautéed herbs, kidney beans, peas, onions and black lime) with saffron rice, āsh (thick soup), fresh-vegetable salads or some of the delicious desserts.
Iranian cuisine is very rich in flavours, including a lot of herbs, fresh vegetables, healthy meat, and nuts. Meals are usually very colorful and include many different dishes. I can say Persian cuisine is my number 3, just after Vietnamese and Thai. Be sure to try as much as you can!
7) Dates, grapes, and pomegranates
And I almost forgot! They have incredibly tasty fruits there. You will eat many huge buckets of their butter-like dates, and you’ll wish to have them home. Trust me. Although they cannot sell wine there, they grow some incredible grapes, and they’re nasty cheap. And their freshly pressed pomegranates and orange juices for less than $1? My secret love…
You’ve probably already tried smoking some of the strange “hublibubly”. But Iran is a different level. They grow probably the best shisha tobacco in the world, and they’re very proud of it.
Just sit in some of the shisha bars, choose a flavour you like, and relax. They’ll bring you their black tea with sugar cubes or pieces of caramel. Hold it in your teeth and drink the tea through it. It’s surprisingly good!
You maybe expect black covered women with a small hole for eyes only. Come on; you’re not in Saudi Arabia. Girls in Iran are forced to cover their hair, but lots of them hate it.
So very often they cover just the back of their head and shoulders, and they wear stylish clothes. And I promise – they’re ones of the most beautiful in the world. Especially their big deep eyes can catch you in the very first moment.
The south of Iran is the real beach paradise. The always sunny Gulf coast with long sandy beaches, clean, warm water and dates palms is almost empty. Because virtually no one knows about it.
Most people in Iran are not allowed to drink alcohol. But it doesn’t mean they don’t have great fun! When you travel a bit more, especially outside the major cities, you’ll be probably invited to one of their huge parties. Weddings are the best of them. Join the locals and go with the flow!
Do you think supermarkets and huge shopping malls are the 20th and 21st-century thing? Not really – there were huge markets all around the world hundreds years ago. Persian ancient supermarkets – bazaars – still pulse with life.
Just get lost there and enjoy the colorful life there. Smell some of the famous Persian spices, try dried fruits and nuts, check out a carpet shop, watch craftsmen creating pieces of art out of plates, cups or bowls and don’t forget to buy one Iranian scarf.
The best thing? There’ll be no one shouting or trying to rob you – these guys know how to do serious business, they used to be the best in the world.
Iran is still really cheap for tourists. You usually pay $3 to $4 for a big traditional meal, just a few bucks for long distance buses and $10 to $20 for a nice room. They’re becoming more open to visitors, and you can be sure the prices will go up soon. At least in famous places like Esfahan, Shiraz or Yazd. The sooner you go, the better!
14) It’s safe now. But for how long?
Although it’s surrounded by very “problematic” countries, Iran is still a very safe country to travel. Unless you’re a U.S. official or journalist. But the situation in the Middle East is constantly changing, and no one can say what can happen next. So again – the sooner, the better!
15) Iranians are not Arabs, don’t worry
You probably don’t know you’ve already met many people from Iran. Many of them emigrated in the last 35 years. When you meet them in the streets of New York, for example, you probably think they’re from Greece or Italy. And even their culture is quite close to Europe – much more than Arabic countries.
Most of the people in Iran are Persians (and they are very proud of it), some are Armenian or Kurdish, you can also meet Jews and Afghans. Iranians have nothing to do with Arabs. Don’t worry.
What you should know before going there?
- You need a visa. Most people can get an invitation letter (usual price between $30 and $40, don’t pay more) and then a visa on arrival ($60 to $100 – check out this list). US, UK, and Canadian citizens have to travel with a private guide or group tour all the time.
- Never go to Iran with a stamp from Israel in your passport. They’ll not let you in. The same can happen with some Arabic countries. It’s not so difficult to get a new passport if you need.
- There are some no-go areas near borders with Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Don’t be foolish – Iran is big enough to skip them and still don’t get bored for years…
- Girls have to cover their hair and shoulders in public. It’s law for everyone.
- Most of the sanctions were turned down; however it’s not sure if you can use Iranian ATM with your card. Bring enough cash with you – both USD and EUR are fine.
- Learn a few words in Farsi – it will make local people even more friendly and hospitable. But in most places you will find someone speaking English.
Want to know more? Check out our Ultimate Guide to Traveling in Esfahan