Iran? Are you insane?! You cannot actually think about going to Iran? Those were some of the reactions I got from people when I told them I would be traveling alone to Iran. But no, I am not insane. I went on a 10 day journey and loved every second of this unique adventure. Here is a guide to Iran with the 15 best places to visit.
Why Iran? And why you should consider it too as a travel destination? Pictures on Instagram and Pinterest promised colorful mosques, ancient buildings, breathtaking landscapes and it has 23 properties inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
On these 10 days I travelled from Tehran all the way down to Shiraz – it’s the classic tourist route. But definitely the best way to get to know the beautiful country. And furthermore, you experience a variety of different climates and places. I booked the whole trip with iranfreetours and couldn’t ask for a better and more smooth organization and experience. Mostafa was my main contact and also arranged the inland flight and my visa (btw. he is even mentioned in lonelyplanet and Nr. 1 tourguide on tripadvisor!!!) – so you are in good hands.
This article will cover the top 15 places to visit in Iran (that was so hard to choose) and the next article will especially focus on the more practical part – what you should know and organize beforehand and what to expect once you explore the country of Iran.
But now let’s dig into the most beautiful places to visit in Iran.
1. Golestan Palace (Tehran)
Golestan Palace is UNESCO enlisted and is one of the favorite Tehran attractions and definitely a Must-see in Iran. It was originally built in the 16th Century by Shah Abbas and later rebuilt during Qajar Era. A wing of the palace was devoted to the wives and mistresses of the Qajar kings. Already here you’ll notice the beautiful Persian tile work.
The complex is huge and filled with beautiful mulberry and palm trees.
2. Tehran Bazaar
“Bazaar-e Bozorg-e Tehran» is huge in size (around twenty square kilometres) and definitely a place to visit in Tehran. It has everything you are looking for, be it clothes, handicraft, restaurants, jewelry, rugs and much more. As a start to my Iran tour, I loved to stroll along the beautiful archways and admire all the local handicrafts and other products. And what is different to the Turkish Bazaars you might already know – people are not salesy and want to sell you anything. They are incredibly respectful but still open for chats it you want.
Qom is an historic religious center in the shiah Islamic world as it is the burial place of Fātema Ma‘suma, the sister of Imām ‘Alī Rezā (there were in total 12 Imams). Her tomb was transformed into a beautiful gold-domed shrine which is visited by thousands of pilgrims each year. And apparently it’s the biggest an most expensive golden dome. Qom is beside Mashhad the second most important city for pilgrimage in Iran.
Usually, you’ll hardly find a parking lot and the place is incredibly busy. However, during Ramadan it’s empty and religious people prefer to stay at home and rest.
4. Tabatabaei House (Kashan)
Tabatabaei House is one of the most valuable houses in Iran. It’s a masterpiece of Kashan’s architecture which can be seen in the elements of Iranian architecture. The house is located in the Sultan Amir Ahmad neighbourhood which is the historic part of Kashan.
Persian architecture including Stucco art, mirror, construction, were built in accordance with the climatic conditions of the region. The traditional houses were built below street level so that the material on site could be used to build the house and also because in the hot climate it’s a lot cooler below street level. The vast old houses were generally owned by a wealthy family, however, from the outside you cannot imagine the beauty. Traditionally, Iranians did not want to show the wealth directly to the outside and from the alley the houses look all the same.
5. Kashan Bazaar
From all the Bazaar I’ve visited – nothing measures up to the beauty of the architectural masterpiece of Kashan’s Bazaar. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the ceiling. It’s built of many tiny and blue shining mosaics and dates from the 19th century, but the site has been the centre of trade in Kashan for almost 800 years. As we went over lunchtime it was rather calm and most people were resting because of the heat. Nonetheless, the covered bazaars are great to escape the summer heat as we did.
6. Sultan Amir Ahmad Bathhouse
The bathhouse was built in the 16th century, and today serves as a tourist attraction, rather than its primal purpose. The objective of the bathhouse was not only to promote cleanliness, but also to be a place for relaxation, discussions and praying. The bathhouse is a prototype of a modern spa center and today registered as national heritage site. Do not forget to walk up to the roof. You’ll have beautiful view over the old city of Kashan. (Second photo is from the also amazing Agha Bozorg Mosque in Kashan)
7. Maranjab Desert & Dasht-e Kavir Salt Lake
While you are in Kashan, make sure to plan a trip to the desert & the salt lake. Maranjab is one of the most beautiful desert areas of Iran. Long sandy hills, mini Rocky mountains and just endless peace. As it was oppressively hot in May, we started the ride into the desert only around 4pm and drove 45 kilometers stopping at a Caravanserai and continuing to the salt lake. Even if it was late, the sun was so hot and we had drinks and watermelon to keep us hydrated. I’ve never been to the desert nor seen a salt lake – so it was an unforgettable highlight of my Iran trip. What impressed me most was the silence and the immediate presence I felt surrounded by wind and sand. On the way back right before sunset we crossed a group of camels (who are free and usually return at night to their hut) and fed them our watermelon peel. We cooked our own dinner at the Caravanserai, sat at the fire and spent time with the local men. The sky was so clear and you could see million stars.
Abyaneh is one of the oldest villages in Iran. The village is on the road between Kashan and Esfahan and literally a living museum of Iran, preserved for its cultural heritage, traditions, and unique beauty despite centuries of changing rules, dynasties, and kingdoms in Persia. I highly recommend to walk on the hill opposite the village for a spectacular panorama of the 2500 years old village. Some Iranian people have their holiday house here and come to relax and enjoy some quiet time in the mountains.
9. Sheikh Lotfallah Mosque
One of Iran famous places as the only mosque without minarets, Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque was actually a private worship place that hosted an Islamic school. Interior decorations never fail to amaze its visitors, this is one of the most photographed sights in Isfahan. On its ceiling, you can see the tail of a peacock shaped by the light seeping through the dome. Beautiful and making a fantastic photography subject, this is one of the favourite places of interest in Isfahan.
10. City of Yadz
The whole old town of Yazd is like a maze leading to different neighborhoods and streets. You can find tall windcatchers, bazaars with secret passages either to the underground or to the roof, and even wonderfully built mosques that are just pure eye-candy. I am sure, shortly you’ll recognize, why Yadz is registered as UNESCO world heritage city. In each alley you can see some unexpected place. Wandering around with a local guide and getting traditional stone oven bread and then watching the sunset on the most famous rooftop terrace was indescribable (in fact we had the whole rooftop for ourselves).
11. Towers of Silence
This is a typical place for some of the Zoroastrian traditions. It’s an ancient burial site of the Zoroastrian cult, this is where they used to place the bodies of their dead so that animals and weather conditions would contribute to the decomposition. There are 7 towers of silence in Iran and they were built far outside the city walls due to hygiene reasons. Nowadays, they are not in use anymore, but you can visit them up to the top. In Yadz you’ll enjoy a magnificient view over the whole city.
12. Persepolis & Necropolis
Impossible to not include Persepolis on your list of places to visit in Iran. It was the the capital of the Achaemenid Empire, founded by Darius I in 518 B.C. and a must for anyone who wants to visit Shiraz. And it’s an ideal stop on the drive from Yazd to Shiraz.
The mighty Persepolis is located around 60 km from Shiraz and here Darius the Great welcomed officials and dignitaries from the other countries. Before leaving the ancient world, make a stop at the stunning Naqsh-e Rostam or Necropolis, the burial complex. There you can visit 4 massive tombs which have been build for Darius the Great and his ancestors.
13. Pink Mosque
This is THE most “insta-worthy” place. And trust me, even in low season I couldn’t believe that the crowd of tourists was real! On my whole trip I never saw that many tourists (in fact, often I felt like the only one ;))
But nonetheless, you should not miss it during your stay in Shiraz. The light from the colorful windows are like out of a fairy tale. And also the courtyard is very impressive with all the colorful tiles. Though it’s called the Pink Mosque for the rose-colored tiles typically for the Qajar dynasty, the name doesn’t quite do it justice. Those tiles are just one of many bright, whimsical hues swirling around the place. The best time to visit is in the early mornings until 11am before the sun is too high and the magic of kaleidoscope disappears.
14. Pink Lake – Maharloo Lake
This lake used to be dried out the last couple of years. However, due to heavy rainfalls lately it has been filled up again. So, if the time allows – it’s worth a visit. The lake is just about 20 minutes outside Shiraz and easy accessible by car. Maharloo Lake is a seasonal lake that has different colors due to the drop in water level and it’s salinity changes in each season. The lake is rich in potassium and other salts and it turns pink also due to a high percentage in pink-colored algae. It’s best to visit the lake on a cloudy day, as then the intensity of the pink is most intense..
15. Vakil Mosque
Not far from Vakil Bazaar and included in the same district, Vakil Mosque is also one of the places to see in Iran. Dating back to Karim Khan’s era like the rest of the neighbourhood, this mosque is much simpler than the pink mosque but incredibly beautiful. Right in front of the entrance, there are the traditional baths (hammam) now open to the public to show how life was organized and the different roles in the society through a series of statues.
I could go on with listing more amazing places during my trip. However, this post is already longer than usual. But you can expect to see many many more beautiful places while on your travel. For example Noushabad Underground City, Fin Garden, Vakil Bazaar, Naïn or Jame’ Mosque…
I hope you feel inspired to travel to this beautiful country too. In the next article I will cover especially questions regarding security, food, scarf, best time to travel and important preparations before traveling.
Let me know if you have specific questions! And which one is your favorite?