While many people may not consider countries in the Middle East as travel destinations for various reasons, it would be such a missed opportunity to not visit a travel gem like Iran. There are so many different ways Iran can forever change your perspective on the Middle Eastern. From the rich heritage and culture that are present in the architecture, clothing and food, to the diverse attractions across Iran, all it takes is that one trip to dispel these travel myths!
It is nearly impossible to cover Iran in just one article, but check out these 13 things to do in Iran that may well change the way you look at the country!
1. Take a scenic stroll across the Tabiat Bridge (Tehran)
Completed in 2014, this bridge is 270 meters long and connects Abo Atash Park on the west to Taleghani Park on the east. What makes this bridge totally unique is that it was designed with the idea of “wander and get lost” in mind.
In addition to providing a safe pathway for the people to cross the busy Modares Highway, the bridge comprises of multiple levels of restaurants and cafes, where people of all ages can visit and spend time appreciating the architectural marvel as well as the beautiful nature around it. You can also be treated to stunning views of the mountains and city from the top deck on a clear day!
2. Admire the beauty of Golestan Palace (Tehran)
Built in around the 19th century, the Golestan Palace, or the Palace of Flowers, is one of the oldest palace complexes in Tehran. It is the epitome of the beautiful fusion of Persian and European art and architecture.
It is one of the must-visit locations in Tehran, because not only is the palace absolutely stunning, it is also huge! The complex consists of 17 structures of palaces, museums, and halls, meaning you can easily spend an entire day here! Expect to see ceilings made of mirrors, walls decorated with intricate marbles, glorious chandeliers. You definitely won’t want to miss this breathtaking experience.
Note: Separate tickets are sold for each building that you wish to visit, so it is best you plan ahead to get full value. Also, photography is not allowed in most buildings, so do keep that in mind!
3. Cool off at Darband (Tehran)
Located on the northern edge of Tehran, Darband is the place to visit if you are looking for a place to escape the bustling city and to get some fresh mountain air. Meaning “door to the mountain”, Darband is often visited by both the locals and tourists as a starting point before hiking Mount Tochal, which takes about three hours to reach the peak.
Alternatively, you can choose to unwind in one of the restaurants and cafes along the river while enjoying some coffee or shisha. With the lounges built directly on the river, you can be sure you’ll have a unique experience in Darband. Oh, and don’t forget to check out the shops for local delicacies and dried fruits.
4. Go skiing at Mount Tochal (Tehran)
Yes, you read that right! Iran is not all sand and hot desert. If you happen to visit during the winter, you have the wonderful opportunity to ski at Mount Tochal. While Mount Tochal is not the only place in Iran that you can go skiing, it is the most accessible from Tehran.
If skiing is not your thing, you can always visit Tajrish, a city that you will be passing by if you’re heading to Tochal. Here, try exploring the Tajrish Bazaar and Sa’ad Abad Complex. Other skiing locations you can consider are Dizin, Darbandsar, Shemsak, Pooladkaf.
5. Begin your day at Pink Mosque (Shiraz)
Ever wondered what it would feel like to step into a kaleidoscope? Wonder no more when you wander into the Pink Mosque, or Nasir al-Molk Mosque. It was designed to capture the morning sunlight through the colourful stained glass windows, and illuminate the interior as if it is in an entirely different world.
Paired with the detailed designs on the walls, ceiling and floor, it will be a sight to behold. Your only problem would be your phone storage once you start clicking away for photos!
6. Shop for a bargain at Vakil Bazaar (Shiraz)
While you’re at Shiraz, take the opportunity to visit the Vakil Bazaar to fully immerse yourself in the local experience. Here you can find all kinds of spices, fruits, and sweets. You can also find carpets, jewels, accessories, copper utensils, and many more. And if you ever get hungry, there are plenty of restaurants that serve authentic Shiraz cuisines. All this while you brush shoulders with the locals.
Even if you’re not really into shopping, visiting the bazaar itself will be a sensory experience as you can observe the beautiful architectural design that is optimized for the local climate as well as the beautiful chaos from the shops displaying their merchandise, and smell the aromatic spices lingering in the air.
7. Surround yourself with history at Imam Square (Isfahan)
Located at central Isfahan, Imam Square, also known as Naqsh-e Jahan Square, was constructed between 1598 and 1629, and is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Iran. While the square itself is huge and stunning, it is surrounded by even more breathtaking buildings from the Safavid era.
From the centre of the square, you can see the Imam Mosque (or Shah Mosque) on the south, Ali Qapu Palace of the west, Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque on the east, and Qeysarie Gate on the north. You can easily spend a whole day here exploring and taking photos. There’s just so much to take in!
8. Get lost in a maze at the Grand Bazaar of Isfahan
Speaking of the Qeysarie Gate, while it may look relatively ordinary, it is the entrance of the Grand Bazaar of Isfahan. It is said that the market links the Imam Square and Jameh Mosque. And that is huge! That’s like 2km of shops galore! It is one of the largest and longest bazaars in the world.
You can find almost anything that you could think of. And be warned, you will be lost in this huge bazaar. Make sure to dedicate several hours or maybe a day to explore this place.
9. Explore the unique and beautiful Qeshm Island
Yes, Iran is not all desert and sand. We talked about snowy mountains, now let’s talk about beaches and coastlines. Qeshm Island is the biggest island in Iran, and is located in the far south of the country. It’s reachable either by boat from Bandar Abbas, or by plane from major Iranian cities.
What makes this island unique is mostly the geological landscape, such as the Valley of the Stars, Chahkooh Canyon, and the world’s longest salt cave, the Namakdan Cave. You can also visit Laft, a fishing village with very distinctive yet authentic Persian Gulf culture. It is mostly exemplified by the colourful abayas (traditional garment), and face masks worn by the local women.
10. Camp in the middle of Varzaneh Desert
Now, we can’t talk about Iran without talking about the desert. As scary as it may sound, you can definitely spend some good times with your friends and family, in the middle of nowhere, nothing but sand and sand dunes, gazing into the magnificent Milky Way in the clear night sky. What other reason do you need? It will be a whole new world!
11. Be humbled by the awe of Haram-e Razavi (Mashhad)
Located in northeastern Iran, near the border of Turkmenistan, is the holiest city in Iran, Mashhad. Reachable by overnight train from Tehran, you can visit the Haram-e Razavi, a complex which contains the mausoleum of Imam Reza. Inside, you will find beautiful domes and courtyards, as well as large number of pilgrims paying their respects to their holy leader.
The atmosphere within the complex is very peaceful and yet very intense, so much that you will feel small in this grand complex, especially amidst the crowds and amazing decorations. Visit at different times of the day and night to fully experience the beauty of the complex.
Note: To enter as a visitor, a guide will be needed and provided at the entrances. Cameras are not allowed, and proper attire is a must. Some parts of the complex are only accessible by Muslims, so do your research before visiting.
12. Soak up the nature surrounding Masuleh
Popular among local tourists, especially from Tehran, Masuleh is a small stepped village nestled among trees on a mountain. What’s a stepped village? It’s one that is built into the steep mountains, such that the roof of one house serves as a pathway or a courtyard for the house above.
The village is most photogenic when it is covered in morning mist, surrounded by green valleys. If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, you can definitely explore around and do some trekking. With luck, you’ll meet Iranian shepherds that are more than happy to share some chai with you.
Though some say Masuleh is getting more touristy than ever, it’s hard to skip this beautiful little village.
13. Take a step back in time in the red Abyaneh
Since we’re talking about Iranian villages, we might as well mention another popular village, the 2,500-years-old Abyaneh. It has a rich history and well-preserved cultural heritage and traditions, and the buildings are mostly made of red clay. It is a small, quiet and humble stepped village.
To get an even better view of the village, some walking is needed. From the Palahamoona Fort, southwest of the village, you can get a breathtaking view of the whole village with the majestic mountain as a backdrop. You will step up your Instagram game in an instant!
Last but not least, allow yourself to be free! Roam around the cities into places that are not on any websites, taste food that you probably can’t even pronounce, stay and share stories with the locals whenever you can, and have a good time. Iran is a colourful country with a rich history and amazing culture. It will be a life-changing experience.