8 reasons why Iran will be the destination for 2016

 

When talking about Iran, and in the interests of expectation management, I always like to start with the negatives. The visa situation is still a bore (although soon to improve, inshallah); ladies need to wear a headscarf at all times in public; there’s no booze (anywhere – not even in the 5* city hotels); the accommodation, for the most part, lacks charm; the traffic and pollution in Tehran is something else and, finally, there are no direct flights from the UK (again, at least for the moment). But in spite of all this, I’d go as far to say that Iran about the most rewarding, the most enriching, the most intoxicating (not in that way, obviously) destination I’ve ever had the immense pleasure to visit. Big statement – here’s why.

Kerman

Surrounded by mountain ranges and vast pistachio plantations, and just a few hours’ drive from the border with Afghanistan, the southern city of Kerman is a great introduction to Iran. The city is famous for its fabulous labyrinthine bazaars, where you can haggle at length over Kerman’s renowned rugs and carpets. Kerman is also the ideal staging post for visits to the blue-domed Aramgah-e-Shah Ne’matollah Vali mosque and elegant Persian gardens in nearby Mahan.

kerman-bathhouse-iran

The Kaluts

Also close to Kerman is the Kaluts region, a bizarre part of the Lut Desert where the wind has sculpted the landscape into huge pillars the size of city tower blocks or what looks like vast ocean liners sailing through a sand sea. Best seen at sunrise or sunset, the Kaluts are a truly extraordinary and mysterious place.

kaluts-iran

Yazd

Yazd is another desert outpost with an Old City of winding lanes and houses sprouting badgirs – tall towers designed to catch what little wind blows through the city like an ingenious medieval era air conditioning system. At the centre of the mud brown maze rises the Masjed-e Jameh mosque with its signature blue dome and two soaring minarets. Outside the town, the Towers of Silence – where the dead were once left to be eaten by birds – pay testament to the city’s Zoroastrian heritage. The ancient pre-Islamic religion of Persia clings on in Yazd, and visiting the Zoroastrian fire temple, where the flame has been alight for a mere 1,500 years, is extraordinary.

yazd-iran-1

Shiraz

The city of roses and poets, and Iran’s cultural capital, Shiraz is – by contrast to desert dwelling Yazd and Kerman – a verdant city, thanks to a succession of elegant green spaces showcasing the changing designs (but continual elegance) of Persian water gardens across the centuries. Shiraz is also the best place to engage in conversation with the locals. The city has a large student population but even the average Iranian is extremely well educated and hugely proud of the country’s imperial past, and always flattered that a Brit has chosen to travel to Iran despite the two countries’ recent difficulties.

naranjestan-garden-shiraz

Persepolis

One of the marvels of antiquity, Persepolis was the capital of Persia’s giant Achaemenid empire, at the time (500 – 330 BC) the largest ever known, until the city’s destruction at the hands of a vengeful Alexander the Great. Now a UNESCO Heritage Site, the partially rebuilt city (near Shiraz), much of which was perfectly preserved beneath the desert sands, demands a day’s exploration, along with the nearby tombs of Persian emperors such as Xerxes high in the cliff walls at Naqsh-e Rustam.

persepolis-stairway-iran

Esfahan

For many the jewel in the Iranian crown, the city of Esfahan contains many of the finest examples of Persian architecture, in particular the stunning mosaic calligraphy and blue dome of Masjed-e Shah mosque, the symmetrical elegance of the Naghsh-e Jahan Square in front of the mosque and the centuries old bridges crossing the (often dry) Zayande Bridge.

esfahan-bridge-iran

Kashan

Often bypassed on the road back from Esfahan to Tehran, Kashan merits – in our humble opinion – a night and day to really do it justice. The city grew rich on trade and one of the great pleasures of a visit is wandering around some of the grandiose 19th century merchants’ houses, and stocking up on souvenirs in the extensive bazaars. Then there are the requisite tranquil gardens and mosques, but also an extraordinary ziggurat (pyramid) called the Tappeh-ye Seyalk which archaeologists think might date from 4000 BC.

kashan-bazaar-iran

Tehran

Personally, I think the capital pales in comparison to other cities in Iran, but you’ll find yourself here at some point or other on any trip, so might as well enjoy your stay. In its favour, Tehran does have the best examples of architecture from the Qajar dynasty (roughly the 19th century) period, such as the Golestan Palace, and the jaw-dropping collection of the best bits from the county’s past at the National Museum of Iran, including everything from friezes and statues uncovered in Persepolis to the more ghoulish salt-preserved mummy of a salt miner dating from around the 3rd century AD. Hit Tehran in winter, and you can also pop up to the nearby Alborz Mountains – clearly visible to the north of the city (when the smog allows) – for a spot of skiing.

Golestan-palace-tehran

Tom Barber is Co-Founder of Original Travel.

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Comments (12)

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  1. Ian Ford says:

    Let’s hope the flight and visa situation improves quickly. I’d love to go, especially to the east and the far north west.

  2. Aline Dobbie says:

    I would love to see the antiquity and heritage of Iran one day soon. It also is the cradle of ancient civilisation.

  3. Patric McPoland says:

    I visited Iran last year with Distant Horizons and found people to be very lovely and approachable. I really think they miss contact with the west. I think the whole country gets a bad rap by US politicians in the media.

  4. milad says:

    Hi, I live in iran , you should visit iran iran has lot of interesting places more than 5 reasons ! My Australian friends just visited iran we had very pleasant trip around iran … if anybody wants to get more information i can give you lots of experience. ..

  5. Sue says:

    I have no interest in traveling to a country that considers women slaves and not allowed to have a pre dinner martini.

  6. The photos are wonderful Tom. I’ve read that Iran has some of the friendliest people on earth. Super accomodating, super warm and a super different image versus what the media in the US paints.

    Ryan

  7. Bahar says:

    Great article. There are direct flights to Iran via IranAir. Not the best airline, but the food is great and you get there quickly.

    FYI Sue – you can get bootleg alcohol very easily, so if one was so inclined one could have a pre-dinner martini. Last time I checked, my grandmother, aunties, female cousins and other female friends and relatives were not slaves. Please check your facts before you publish public comments like that; reading about Iran might be a start.

    From a British born Iranian

  8. pamela says:

    Thank you Bahar. As a foreigner who has lived in Iran for decades, these uneducated comments really hurt. I would urge everyone interested to read more about Iran and definitely plan a trip – it really is an amazing (and extremely safe) place to live or visit!!

  9. Mana says:

    Sue, sweetie,

    As a liberated, educated Iranian women living in the United States, I invite you to stop listening to what the media tells you about Iran and do a little reading for yourself. You may be surprised by how similar the American and Iranian cultures are. And for the record, the people of Iran are fairly liberal, unlike the mullahs who are in power. Where do you come up with this garbage about Iranian women being slaves? You have been watching too many bad Sally Field movies, my friend.

  10. Fred Starr says:

    Think of the large number of visitors Iran would attract if the government allowed adherents of the Baha’i Faith to visit their holy sites there. They would get thousands of pilgrims from around the world who would also see the other wonderful attractions in that country.

  11. Ann Schneider says:

    I’ve been to Iran twice- the first time in 2011 and again two months ago. For these 10 reasons and many more, people should travel to Iran. The greatest reason, however, is the people. As an American female, I was treated like a rock star wherever I went. It’s the main reason I went back a second time and would love to return some day. Yes, the visa process is cumbersome, but not difficult and well worth the hassle, as is having to wear the head scarf. I wish more Americans would travel to Iran. They would discover that the media (who have probably never personally been there), don’t exactly have all the facts straight. I felt very safe and loved the entire time I was there.

  12. Mina says:

    I’m really glad to see some many hopeful and encouraging comments. Yes iran. Is a real treasure trove to discover and with Sanctions lifted we are going to give warm welcome to tourism:-)

    Iran is a real heaven on earth, you have to see it to believe it

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