After having travelled to Iran twice now I have put together this travel itinerary for 10 days in Iran to include all the best bits of this fascinating country! Iran is not your typical holiday or backpacking destination and it certainly doesn’t have a great reputation nowadays. But you know what? IRAN IS SAFE. I felt safer here than I do on the streets back home that’s for sure. And if you’re willing to look beyond how the Western media portrays Iran, and see the country and the people for how they really are, you are going to have a trip filled with happiness, adventures and the most wonderful memories. Plus you will leave having made a lot of Iranian friends as Iranian people are some of the most friendly people in the world!
Day 1: Tehran
Tehran Grand Bazaar
A few hundred metres from Golestan Palace is Tehran Grand Bazaar. The Grand Bazaar is a complete maze, and with more than 10km of covered alleys full of shops it is the biggest bazaar in the world! The bazaar is absolutely worth discovering, even though it is not so pretty and is more for locals as it doesn’t sell too many touristy things. This is good though because the stall owners won’t hassle you or be persistent with you to buy something. There are many Persian carpet and rug shops though if you do fancy buying one! Remember to bargain though as they will increase the price for tourists. Along with shops there are many restaurants and teahouses in and around the bazaar you can relax in.
Most shops in the bazaar are open from 10am-5pm. Up until the early afternoon it isn’t too busy, so perfect for you to stroll around leisurely. Prepare for lots of crowds if you go in the afternoon though! And don’t spend too long here – you’ll be going to a more touristy bazaar tomorrow!
Head back on Line 1 (red line) on the metro to Taleghani Station to see the former US Embassy.
Former Embassy of the USA
The former US Embassy in Tehran is also known as The Den of Espionage. In 1979 several Iranian military students seized the Embassy and held 52 American Diplomats hostage here, claiming the USA was plotting to undermine the Iranian Revolution. It took 15 months for the hostages to be released, but all diplomatic ties between the two countries have been severed ever since.
The place has now very recently been turned into a museum. You’ll see big slogans outside, declaring America the Great Satan, and murals of The Statue of Liberty with a skull head. A very interesting place if you wish to understand modern day history in Iran and see the contrasting opinions between the Revolutionists and the open-minded general public. Open Saturday – Thursday 09.00-12.30 and 14.00-18.30.
Get back on the metro and head north again on line 1 (red line) to Shahid Haqqani metro station for the Islamic Revolution & Holy Defence Museum.
Islamic Revolution & Holy Defence Museum
This was honestly one of the most interesting and informative museums I have ever been to. It focuses on the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988, in which 1 million Iranians died. The museum shows the bitter reality of the war and was very educational.
It will take you at least an hour or two inside as the museum is very large. It is a really impactful museum with incredible state-of-the-art visuals. Amongst many things the museum shows remarkably realistic reconstructions of war-torn cities and weapons used during the war. You are NOT allowed to take photos here (and there are cameras everywhere!). Opening times are 08.00-12.00 and again from 13.00-17.00, 7 days a week.
A short walk from the Holy Defence Museum is Tabi’at Bridge. Completed in 2014, the futuristic bridge offers some of the best views of Tehran skyline and the nearby mountains. It spans the Motorway and connects Taleghani Park and Abo-Atash Park and is a popular place for people to come and relax as there are many benches and spaces here. Stay here until it starts to get dark, and then you will see the bridge is lit up so beautifully at night.
Day 2: Tehran
Head up to the last stop on line 1 (red line) to Tajrish Metro station on your second morning in Tehran. Your first stop in Tajrish is the bazaar – much more aesthetically pleasing and tourist-friendly than the centrally located Grand Bazaar. You can shop for lots of nice crafts, souvenirs and traditional Iranian sweets here, as well as buy some cheap fruit and veg or stop in the many Iranian tea houses. The bazaar is open 9am-9pm.
Imamzadeh Saleh Shrine
Tajrish Bazaar backs onto the picturesque Imamzadeh Saleh shrine. This is a very popular pilgrimage site for local people as it is the burial place of Imamzadeh – one of the sons of the seventh Imam. The shrine is beautiful, with the dome covered in beautiful tiles. As you come out of the shrine you will see the incredible snow-capped mountains very close to you. We will be heading in that direction next to the beautiful village of Darband.
A 5-10 minute taxi ride (or a 30 minute uphill walk if you’re feeling fit!) takes you to the unique neighbourhood of Darband. Darband is one of Tehran’s oldest rural villages and was always known for it’s country life, fresh mountain water and cool fresh air. Now though, the village is one of the most upmarket destinations in Tehran for tourism, relaxing and casual dining. Darband lies at the foot of Mount Tochal and so it is a little cooler here than in the rest of Tehran – we visited at the end of February and it was snowing a little! Eat lunch in one of the cute little tents like in the pictures below – food is very reasonable here. Then get a cablecar up to Tochal if you have time! Either way, don’t skip this beautiful village in Tehran, it makes a nice retreat from the bustling city below.
The Azadi Tower, also known as the Freedom Tower, is Tehran’s iconic landmark. The tall white marble futuristic building pays tribute to the 2500th Anniversary of The Persian Empire. It is adjacent to Mehrabad Airport, Tehran’s domestic airport and marks the entrance to the west gate of the city. Traffic is very busy around Azadi Square so allow extra time if you come in a taxi. You can take the elevator or stairs to the top to enjoy the view – you’ll be able to see the mountains and the city from here. Opening times are 9am-5pm Sunday to Thursday (10am-5pm on Friday).
Day 3: Kashan
Kashan is famous for it’s traditional Persian houses used by rich businessmen back in the day. You must visit a couple during your time here: Tabatabai and Borojerdiha Traditional Houses are the most famous ones and are both worth a visit as they are so unique and beautiful. From the outside, Iranian Traditional Houses look like nothing special as they are built in an inward design with the courtyard in the middle of the house to provide privacy. But inside they are absolutely stunning.
Tabatabai Traditional House
Sultan Amir Ahmad Bathhouse
Day 4: Kashan – Abyaneh
Agha Bozorg Mosque
After visiting Fin Garden, it’s time to visit Isfahan. Make sure to stop off at Abyaneh first, which is on the way to Isfahan. Abyaneh is the most famous village in Iran and absolutely worth a visit as it is unlike anywhere else in Iran you will visit. Time has stood still in this mountain village – people still live in the same ways they did over 2,000 years ago!
You’ll see old women walking along the cobblestone streets speaking an ancient language (even other Iranians cannot understand it!) and wearing colourful traditional dresses. The unique red soil and wooden houses, along with the ancient houses built into the side of the mountain make this a really unique place to visit.
Day 5: Isfahan
Isfahan (also known as Esfahan), was once capital of Ancient Persia and is often nicknamed “Isfahan nesfe-Jahan” , meaning “half of the world” in the Farsi language. This is because it was the finest city in all the land in it’s day. The city is still so impressive and was my absolute favourite in Iran, with such a fascinating history and really grand and intricately detailed Persian architecture.
Start off your day in Imam Square, also known as Naqsh-e Jahan Square. This square is very large and so impressive. It was built in the 17th Century by order of Shah Abbas the Great. The central part of Esfahan and many significant points of interest are here in the square: Ali Qapu Palace, Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque and Imam Mosque. The Quysarieh Gate is also in Imam Square, which is the entrance to the labyrinth that is Isfahan’s Grand Bazaar. There is a lovely little cafe with an outdoor roof terrace above the gate where you can sit and watch the world go by down below – make sure to stop by!
Imam Square is really beautiful and peaceful in the evening when the mosques are lit up beautifully and the square is a lot emptier. Even though the square gets quite busy in the day, it is so large that it never feels too busy.
Also known as Shah Mosque or Abbasi mosque, this mosque is absolutely breathtaking with it’s turquoise and blue ceramics. It is a masterpiece of Persian architecture from the Islamic era and is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Both from the exterior and once you are inside, the detail here is incredible stunning.
Built in the 1600’s, Shah Mosque has unique architecture in the sense that it’s entrance gate doesn’t face Mecca (all mosques are built facing Mecca in Saudi Arabia). But when you go through the entrance gate, you’ll come into the mosque courtyard, then you’ll make a right turn and find the entrance to the mosque, which faces Mecca. Due to this you can see both the entrance gate and the mosque dome from the main square. Opening times are daily from 9am-6pm, and entrance fee is 200,000 rials (this is the standard entry fee for foreigners to enter a mosque here in Iran).
Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque
Also known as the Ladies Mosque, Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque stands opposite Aliqapu Palace (the residence of Shah Abbas). The Shah and his family used Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque as a private mosque, whereas Shah Mosque was a public mosque. Therefore in order to avoid being seen they would cross the square in an underground tunnel. The mosque was guarded and could only be admired by ordinary folk from the outside. This mosque is another example of an Iranian masterpiece. It’s size is modest (as it was built as a private mosque) but it is incredibly beautiful and a must visit when in Esfahan. Again, blue ceramics adorn the walls Open 9am-12.30, then 2pm-6pm daily.
Near to Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque is a small courtyard with a restaurant upstairs called “Traditional Banquet Restaurant”. Head here for food, it has great traditional food and a fantastic atmosphere. There are beautiful stained-glass windows, colourful tiles, and everyone sits cross-legged at the table to enjoy the traditional Iranian food. The restaurant is always busy, and especially full of Iranians.
Day 6: Isfahan
The Grand Bazaar of Isfahan is an absolute rabbit warren filled with many many shops. Luckily the shops are pretty much grouped by trade, so you’ll see all the jewellery shops together, all the fabric shops together etc. When you see something you like, don’t forget to haggle! Don’t be shy to do so, it’s part of their culture! In Imam Square you’ll see the famous Persian carpet shops before you enter the bazaar. My absolute favourite place to get the best quality and beautiful Persian rugs is from a shop called “Black Tent“. If you wander all the way through the bazaar, you’ll come to Jameh Mosque of Isfahan, which is over 1200 years old.
A 20 minute walk from Imam Square will take you to Siosepol Bridge (meaning ‘bridge of 33 arches’ in Farsi). The two-storey Sio-se-pol Bridge is very beautiful and impressive another iconic tourist attraction in Isfahan. Sadly however, there is almost always no longer water flowing underneath the bridge.
The once mighty Zayanderud River used to flow underneath the eleven bridges of Isfahan but since the last few years the river has been dry due to poor water management and a rainfall shortage. Seeing the river boats abandoned on the dried-up river bed is really sad, and seeing the river like this makes the locals sad. Sometimes when there has been rain in the winter, water will flow underneath the bridge again. The locals are cheering and happy, however it is short-lived and only lasts a few days.
Dust storms and dust blowing from the dry riverbed has led Isfahan to become one of the most polluted cities in the world with regards to air quality. You’ll see some locals covering their mouth with masks or scarfs to protect themselves.
Both locals and foreigners come to the bridges in the evening to relax as it is a popular local hangout place. You’ll also hear the locals singing, it’s a really nice atmosphere down there! Similarly, nearby Khaju bridge is also stunning and a great place to hang out in the evening.
Spend overnight in Yazd.
Day 7: Yazd
Zoroastrian Fire Temple
Amir Chakhmagh Complex
Day 8: Persepolis & Necropolis
One of the most spectacular archeological sites in the world is Persepolis, meaning “Persian City” in Greek. It dates back as far as 515 BC and is one of the most important sites in Iran. Persepolis was constructed during the time of Darius I and Cyrus The Great and was the capital of the Achaemenid Empire and the seat of government during this time. It was however, primarily used as a showplace for the events and festivals of the Kings and their Empire.
Persepolis is another magnificent UNESCO World Heritage Site and you can see many quality ruins, Palaces and engraves here. It is a very impressive place but get here early to avoid the tour groups and the sun as there isn’t much shade. There is quite a lot of walking to do around the site, so wear comfortable shoes.
Persepolis was built on a large terrace so visit one of the viewpoints from the top so you can really get a sense of the scale of the place. There aren’t too many signs explaining things but you’ll get the gist. Entrance to Persepolis is 200,000rials.
Day 9: Shiraz
Pink mosque (Nasir ol Molk)
The Pink Mosque was the main reason I wanted to see the city of Shiraz. The stained glass windows in the winter prayer room are so impressive! When the sun rises in the morning the room is bursting with colours, it is so beautiful! Get there early to avoid the crowds (it opens at 7am) and also if you arrive at sunrise you’ll see the sun beams coming through the window.
The best time to visit The Pink Mosque is between 8-10am on a December morning, when the sun lies low in the sky and beams through the stained glass windows creating a wonderful ever changing kaleidoscope of colours. As the sun comes through the different coloured stained glass windows, the light in the room constantly changes. One minute it is an intense red then a second later it changes to yellow, green and then blue. It is so surreal to witness and it is such a magical place.
We got there on a December morning at 7.30am and had the whole place to ourselves for an hour, it was so magical. Luckily just as we were leaving, herds of tourists started to arrive. I was so glad we got to experience the sunrise and beautiful mosque in peace. The second time I went back to The Pink Mosque, in March, the place was so crowded and the experience was a lot different. People weren’t being respectful and were more interested in getting photos of themselves rather than remembering they are in a place of worship.
After you’ve captured the photos inside, head outside to the courtyard to see the beautiful pink tiles on the wall. Built in 1888, this mosque is not very big but it’s very popular due to the gorgeous stained glass windows. Entrance is 200,000 rials.
Shah Cheragh Mosque
Head now to a completely different mosque – Shah Cheragh. Almost every surface inside Shah Cheragh Mosque (meaning “King of the Light”) is covered in mirrors and glass. It is literally like a disco ball from floor to ceiling, there is no other way to describe it. The mirrored mosque is a very important pilgrimage site for Shia Muslims. It holds the tombs of the brothers Muhammad and Ahmad, sons of the 7th Shiite Imam Musa al-Kadhim. They took refuge in the area during the persecution of Shia Muslims and were killed here in 835 AD.
The glittery mosque was erected in the 14th Century and has been maintainted to a very high standard. It is free to enter, and you will be given a free guide to show you round (you can’t go in alone) and women will be given a free chador to wear to cover themselves.
Vakil bazaar and mosque
Stroll around Vakil Bazaar, another traditional Iranian bazaar full of spices, Persian rugs and handicrafts amongst other things. The bazaar also has a traditional hammam (Vakil Bathhouse) and beautiful courtyards and caravanserais.
Next to the bazaar you will find the beautiful Vakil mosque, built in 1773, is open from 8am-8pm. Entrance is 200,000 rials, like other mosques in Iran.
Haft Khan Restaurant
Day 10: Shiraz
One of Iran’s most beautiful and famous gardens is Eram Garden. Eram comes from the Arabic word “Iran” meaning heaven. Stroll around the gardens, admire the Pavilion and the water feature. Open 8am-8pm entrance 250,000 rials.
Maharloo Lake, or the Pink Lake as it is also known, is located about 30km from Shiraz, near to the airport. Seasonally it turns pinky red towards the summer time due to high evaporation water levels exposing the salt and the pink-coloured algae.
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