For the ones coming from Southern Europe (like me), Iran is pretty familiar. Family and food are a predominant part of everyone’s life. For the ones coming from the North, well it might look quite “exotic”, but very easily approachable. The country is huge, and even if you decide to undertake the most common itinerary (as I did) through Teheran, Kashan, Isfahan, Yazd, and Shiraz, you’ll have the feeling that everywhere in Iran you might face a hidden gem, and that’s true.

Every single region is spotted by great cities, archaeological sites or simply nice places to spend a couple of days. I was in Iran ten years ago for a long time and I still remember how hard it was to plan a decent trip through the whole country because time is never enough. That’s a kind of frustrating, but it’s also the reason of why the 90% (I think) of travelers want to go back.

So that’s my suggestion: take your time, and don’t presume to cover Iran in a two-three weeks trip. Forget it. Choose an area and explore it, and leave the others for further journeys. I did the classic tour in 17 days and still I had to rush from one city to another. Simply because places in Iran (both social and cultural) are above all interesting places where you’ll need to spend time observing people around, admiring a mosque detail, sitting and breathe. That’s the experience. Don’t miss it just because you want to see both Mashhad and Tabriz

So here some places you could easily spend a half a day 

  1. Masjid-e-Jāmeh, Isfahan – It’s unique, literally. I never saw a mosque combining together so many islamic architectural styles. And it’s huge, calm and evocative. Speech-less. 
  2. Madrase-ye Khan, Shiraz – I found it by chance, and it has been like discovering the Paradise entrance. You can’t enter inside the big complex but the main central hall is the most persian panorama you’ll never see: fountains, palms and tress, the sun’s reverberations on the blue majolica. No-one around (excepts a cat colony) and some nice restorers that will be happy to explain you how they are preserving the old wooden windows. Perfect. 
  3. Islamic Revolution & Holy Defense Museum, Teheran – Behind the propaganda grandeur (and messages), this museum is very useful to understand the long, traumatic period of the Iran-Iraq war. It’s extremely immersive, high-tech and impressive (there’s even the reconstruction, in 1:1 scale, of a bombed village in Ahvaz region). With english audio-guide, quite uncommon in Iran.
  4. Sitting down on a carpet in an Imam Zadeh (mausoleum), but the list is quite long. The modern ones are small cities, well serviced by everything you might need, like Imam Zadeh Jafar in Yazd. The ancient ones are usually more intimate, like the really beautiful Emamzadeh Soltan Mir Ahmad in Kashan. In both cases, you’ll feel like home, and you won’t able to stand up and get out so easily (especially in summer). 
  5. Dolat-Abad Garden, Yazd – Persian garden is a state of mind. For Iranian culture the meaning of beauty, proportions, harmony and inner light was born among fountains and trees. And you can feel it. Dolat-Abad is in the middle of an arid land, but once you enter the garden you would be able to write poems in Farsi. But you can’t, so just have an ice cream and enjoy this peaceful corner.   

And a short list of something that you’ll love so much 

  1. Toys Museum, Kashan – It’s behind a hostel, so the first time I came across I thought it was a clever way to attract new clients. But no. The museum is small and very well organized, with puppets and toys from all over Iran and the world. The girl working there is very nice and can explain to you everything about it. They organize workshops and plays for kids and the walls are covered by super interesting drawings made by some artists in residence. 
  2. Jomeh Bazaar, Teheran – Almost 8 floors of a parking lot are there to explore. Everyone is there to sell something, and everyone is there to look around. Anything from stamp collections, pre-revolutionary memoirs, Persian carpets, clothes and jewelry are to be found. 
  3. Nabaat, in Farsi, or sugar rocks. It is usually dipped into a black tea to make it more sweet. Typically a little bit of saffron is added, or has several herbs in it as well. There are Nabaat shops which are bigger than a supermarket, especially in Isfahan. I got mad to collect as many I could, in different colors and tastes. 
  4. Bridges, Isfahān – the perfect pattern is: one bridge, one tea, observe the people around you singing, chatting and walking – next bridge, next tea, and so on. The river is unfortunately dry, but the long promenade is still worthing. At the end you’ll be in love with the entire world (even the police that lazily monitors the situation, why not).

But the list could be more extended, of course. Above all, talk to everyone because everyone will talk to you. English is quite widespread, as well as Spanish, Italian, German, French (in Iran there are a lot of students of Japanese too). Iran has the most cultivated population in the area. Not only about poems of Hafez or Saadi. You’ll be impressed by the number of people that like talking about french cinema, jazz music, architecture, design, etc. Iranians (especially young people) knows everything of everything about the world. They are starving of experiences, interests and nice conversations. Which is not strange itself, of course. But because the 90% of the world inhabitants have a precise opinion about Iran and Iranians, which is actually completely wrong. You’ll realize it about twenty minutes after your arrival. And you’ll get lot of friends. Good suggestion: try to learn some words in Farsi, especially some jokes or funny expressions, you’ll be loved and pampered by everyone (Iranians are supposed to learn all the world languages but unfortunately no-one is supposed to learn Farsi, so a little effort in that sense could be a real challenge). Forget about everything you’re supposed to know about Iran, realty (as everywhere) is more complex than a couple of sentences on women and religion. Iranian society is incredibly diversified, and is facing a big, deep crisis that reveals how strong and ingenious it is. That’s why human contacts are the best memories you’ll keep with you from Iran.  

 I am a Tour Guide. I have led a lot of group tours over the past 7 years. I always believed that a tour guide is a teacher, but a trip teacher. Traveling alongside people with a lot of personalities is interesting for me. People of different ages with different abilities to endure travel difficulties. About 2 years ago, when I realized that I am pregnant,  I had to change my lifestyle, so abandon tour guiding. It is a job that quickly disappears from daily activities.

In the past two years, I’ve traveled less than my previous life. Whether pregnancy or breastfeeding, and afterwards, it is not easy to travel with an infant.

About a month ago, I decided to break this period when my husband suggested traveling to Kharanaq. 10 years ago, my husband and I met each other in Kharanq Caravanserai. He suggested celebrating the 10th anniversary in the same place. It was not easy for me. stepping with a 14-month-old son in this way, I thought it was madness. At first, I did not accept that, but later, with the support of two of my friends (Parastoo and Shamim who work together these days), I accepted. So we planned a 3.5-days trip to Kharandagh, a village in Yazd province.

Coordination began. After each phone-call I took for the trip, I had to feed my son or help him for sleeping or clean him. My friends and husband took some responsibility to help me. When the train ticket was opened on the railroad site, I had to buy it quickly, because it could be all reserved and we could lose the train. We all did it in the space where the child was crying. We must had written 35 names and 35 families and 35 national codes without the slightest error. Eventually, the tickets were purchased.

At nights, I was dreaming the nightmare that I lost the train, and the passengers, with the guidance of my 14-month-old son, started the trip. I provided a list of what to do and checked it many times each day.

Parastoo, Shamim, my husband and I, managed the tour during the trip. A tour of 35 people between 14 months to 70 years old. There were 3 other children on the tour, beside my son.

I didn’t sleep the night before the trip for various reasons. We were in the railway at 4 am before the rest. Everyone got together and the besides started. My child was sleeping in the carriage. One side of my mind was occupied by the guard for the ticket, another place to count all the passengers and at the same time worried about losing the carriage in the crowd.

When we arrived in Yazd, we were in charge of picking up passengers and riding a bus. I still was worried about losing the carriage. When I arrived at the Shah Abbasi Caravanserai, where we were supposed to spend 2 nights. I was responsible for setting the dinner, breakfast, the cold temperature of the rooms, the health of the passengers, along with a crying child who and couldn’t sleep and eat. To the end, I was sure I would not see the morning.

But I saw the morning, and we drove into the desert with travelers who were better than my imagination. The storm of sand in the desert and the destruction of one of the cars, along with the fear of damaging the child’s lungs, changed my mood again. The night we were all around the caravanserai, I felt calm.

The last day of the trip, visiting Meybod and Ardakan and Yazd, made the trip a bit heavy. At all these times costs should be calculated, we set hours to do so, and each time we should count passengers. At 8 o’clock we boarded the train. I felt like I was in a race and now is near the finish line. I counted everyone. I put the baby carriage in front of me and slept with the train shuffles.

In the morning, when we all came to Tehran with smile, I had a dual sense. Whether I have achieved success or went under the risk of stupidity? I still do not know. I don’t even know shall I advise anyone or not. Anyway, my friends, my husband and I did it all together.

A trip to Iran, we had been planning for a couple of years and it was noticeable that everyone comes home with the same stories: what a very versatile country, what a delicious food and especially the people. Nowhere in the world are people as sweet and hospitable as in Iran.
In May 2017 we went to Iran for two weeks and the fun is, our anecdotes are exactly as predicted. It is indeed a beautiful country, it has a lot to offer for the interested traveler. You will find culture, nature, ancient history treasures, fine hostels and hotels, great food and indeed: the dearest people you can imagine.

iranian picnic
Iranian picnic

We have our two weeks filled with a route that many tourists follow: from Tehran by bus to Kashan, then to Yazd by train, then by bus to Shiraz, by taxi to Esfahan (with a break in Persopolis) and if last one bus ride from Esfahan back to Tehran. Those cities are all different and give you different experiences. Yazd is in the desert and the center looks like 1000 in a night.
In Iran, much (everything) is very good to arrange on the spot. The only thing we had in preparation was a visa, a hostel for the first nights, and cash to change, (think of 1000 Euro pp for two weeks and this was more than enough). That was it and that was enough. In every hostel where we were, we asked the owner if we could call and the overnight stays were fixed very quickly. In any case, everyone is willing to help you and a train or bus ticket has always been bought. Also, count on people wants to have a chat with you. There are more tourists coming to Iran for a number of years, especially to the tourist spots like Esfahan, Shiraz, and Yazd, but also rely on the fact that you are approached by students and people who want to practice their English.

iran persepolis

An Iranian SIM card is therefore useful for this kind of phone calls. We kept in touch with Mera and Ali, and they tipped us which hostel was nice, where the bus station in Tehran was and what you should try.
The food is an experience in itself! In hostels and hotels, you often get a delicious varied breakfast, with bread and especially a lot of fruit. And tea, liters of tea! On the bus and train, you usually receive a box of refreshments for your journey after boarding. (Do you see this doing the NS? If you are traveling from Utrecht to Amsterdam in rush hour, we were amazed!). And then, of course, you have the delicious restaurants with kebabs and all kinds of stews with greetings. Vegetarian food is certainly possible, but you can count on it that meat is served in most meals. (and so nicely seasoned).

Golestan Palace
Golestan Palace

I can only recommend you to go. It’s a bit more hassle than an all inclusive holiday in Spain, but those who love backpacking and traveling around are really recommended!
There are a few things that are useful to know in advance. For example, you can apply for a visa at the embassy in The Hague, or if you prefer not to do it yourself via a visa agency. You can also buy a visa at customs in Iran, but there was a line with us. Do what you want, of course, but it seems nice to go through the passport control on arrival.
Well, then you only have to enjoy it. Expect a lot to be addressed, school children want to take a picture with you or want to interview you in front of the camera, and many people want to practice their English with you.
My advice: just go and enjoy everything!

Greetings, Erik and Bianca

Een reis naar Iran, we waren het al een paar jaar van plan en het viel op dat iedereen met dezelfde verhalen thuiskomt: wat een bijzonder veelzijdig land, wat een heerlijk eten en vooral de mensen. Nergens ter wereld zijn de mensen zo lief en gastvrij als in Iran.

In mei 2017 gingen we voor twee weken naar Iran en het leuke is, onze anekdotes zijn precies zoals voorspeld. Het is inderdaad een prachtig land, het heeft superveel te bieden voor de geïnteresseerde reiziger. Je vind er cultuur, natuur, oude geschiedenisschatten, fijne hostels en hotels, heerlijk eten en inderdaad: de allerliefste mensen die je kunt voorstellen.

iranian picnic
Iranian picnic

Wij hebben onze twee weken gevuld met een route die veel toeristen volgen: van Tehran met de bus naar Kashan, toen naar Yazd met de trein, vervolgens met de bus naar Shiraz, met een taxi naar Esfahan (met een pauze in Persopolis) en als laatste nog een busrit van Esfahan terug naar Tehran. Die steden zijn allemaal anders en geven je verschillende ervaringen. Yazd ligt in de woestijn en het centrum lijkt op en stadje van 1000 in een nacht.

In Iran is veel (alles) heel goed ter plekke te regelen. Het enige wat wij als voorbereiding hadden was een visum, een hostel voor de eerste nachten, en cash om te kunnen wisselen, (denk aan 1000 Euro pp voor twee weken en dit was ruim voldoende). Dat was het en dat was ook genoeg. In elk hostel waar we waren vroegen we de eigenaar of we mochten bellen en zo waren de overnachtingen heel snel gefixt. Sowieso is iedereen bereid je te helpen en een trein of busticket was altijd zo gekocht. Reken er ook op dat mensen graag een praatje met je willen maken. Er komen sinds een aantal jaren meer toeristen naar Iran, zeker naar de toeristische plekken als Esfahan, Shiraz en Yazd, maar reken er ook daar op dat je aangesproken wordt door scholieren en mensen die hun Engels willen oefenen.

iran persepolis

Een Iraanse simkaart is dus handig voor dit soort telefoontjes. Wij hielden contact met Mera en Ali, en zij hebben ons getipt welk hostel fijn was, waar het busstation in Tehran was en wat je moet proeven.

Het eten is een ervaring op zich! In hostels en hotels krijg je vaak een heerlijk gevarieerd ontbijt, met brood en vooral veel fruit. En thee, liters thee! In de bus en trein ontvang je na het instappen doorgaans een doosje met versnaperingen voor je reis. (zie je dit de NS doen? Als je van Utrecht naar Amsterdam reist in de spits? Wij stonden versteld!). En dan heb je natuurlijk de heerlijke restaurants met kebabs en allerlei stoofpotjes met groeten. Vegetarisch eten kan zeker, maar reken er op dat in de meeste maaltijden vlees zit. (en zooo lekker gekruid).

Golestan Palace
Golestan Palace

Ik kan je alleen maar aanraden om te gaan. Het is iets meer gedoe dan een all inclusive vakantie in Spanje, maar wie van backpacken en rondreizen houdt is het echt een aanrader!

Er zijn een paar dingen die handig zijn om van te voren te weten. Zo kun je een visum aanvragen bij de ambassade in Den Haag , of als je dat liever niet zelf doet via een visumbureau. Je kunt ook bij de douane in Iran een visum kopen, maar daar stond bij ons een rij. Doe wat je wil natuurlijk, maar mij lijkt het fijn om bij aankomst lekker snel door de paspoortcontrole te gaan.

Tja, dan hoef je er dus alleen nog maar van te genieten. Verwacht veel aangesproken te worden, schoolkinderen willen met je op de foto, of willen je interviewen voor de camera, en veel mensen willen hun Engels met je oefenen.

Mijn advies: gewoon gaan en alles lekker beleven!

Groetjes, Erik en Bianca