I had been trying to go for Iran for a while, but hubby was adamant it was not a great holiday destination. Eventually he relented when there was a change of government and things loosened up a bit with international relations. He even came with me! As it turns out, we think it was probably one of the safest places we ever visited. The people were incredibly friendly!
The highlights of our trip were:
Sadly for us, a lot of the most beautiful monuments in Isfahan were under scaffolding, but the city was enchanting and easily walkable. The Persians call the town “Nesf-e-Jahan” which means “half the world” and it is a beautiful city. The best way to see Isfahan is by foot, especially the main Imam square, the covered markets, Aali Qapu Palace and the bridges (Khajou and Siosepol). But also make time to pop over to the Friday Mosque and Chehel Sotoun. There is a lot to see in Isfahan so make sure to adequately fuel yourself for the walking – I would recommend the walnut and pomegranate chicken at the Restaurant Shahrzad
Interior of Ali Kapu Palace
Friday mosque (and my husband, who rarely makes an appearance on this blog)
Persepolis and Naqshe Roshtam
The ruins at Persepolis are extraordinary and it feels enormous in the heat, take your walking shoes and start early. A good guide is indispensable as they explain the carvings properly. I personally hate having a guide, but in this case, was grateful we had a local expert.
Nearby to Persepolis are the small but beautiful tombs at Nashe Rushtam for four of the Achaemenid Kings who were not buried at Persepolis. You can’t climb up to them, but they look stunning
Shiraz is more of a working town than Isfahan, and in many ways it makes it more interesting. We absolutely loved the pink mosque of Nasir Al Mulk, and spent quite a bit of time there watching the light change. The markets were also good for people watching. We were also treated to a poetry reading at the Tomb of Hafez (Persia’s greatest poet) and had a nice stroll around the Emam gardens.
Oddly my personal highlight of Shiraz was getting up at 5.30 every morning to go for a run. Given it was holiday time in Iran, the local parks were full of holiday makers in tents. It was pretty much like going for a run in hyde park and having half of leeds sleeping in pup tents or in the open air. Apparently this is normal Iranian behaviour and not frowned upon by the parks or the police. I caused a bit of a stir running past people as they were waking up, but by the second day I had amassed a group of young kids who joined me for my shuttle sprints at the end and gave me high fives for each sprint.
Nasir al Mulk – pink mosque
Yazd was lovely and is the centre of the Zoroastrian religion. The temple still has the original zoroastrian fire burning. We were really impressed by the towers of silence where bodies were left to decompose after death
Most buildings in Yazd have these remarkable wind towers which catch wind and connect them to the underground water channels – its old fashioned air conditioning that works really well
- I did struggle a lot with having to wear a head scarf and trousers, given I love wearing shorts. I especially hated running in a headscarf. However, it is illegal to go into any public place without a headscarf, so definitely follow the rules
- You can book with foreign agencies e.g. wild frontiers, but all of them use a local agency for fulfilment. The bradt guide is good and lists a bunch of decent local agencies
- Food is good everywhere – but we bought a lot of market food – melon, tomatoes, cucumber, cheese and bread and had tonnes of picnics. Would suggest you buy some white vinegar and purify the veg in 1 part vinegar/3 parts clean water
- Hotels are pretty variable in quality – we really liked the outrageously expensive Abbasi Hotel in Isfahan. The Dad hotel in Yazd was also pretty good and had a nice rooftop terrace. The Espinas hotel in Tehran was just ok. The Kerman Pars was pretty bad (but did have a gym!)
- Iranian people are the friendliest I have ever met, and this is one of the few places in the world where it isn’t necessary to follow my security advice around talking to strangers. However, do beware, while they are friendly, their political views may not be that aligned to yours. Our weirdest interaction was in Shiraz where a guy came up and asked us where we were from. We told him. And then he said “welcome to iran, we are not terrorists”. We assured him we knew that. Then he continued with “its the jews that are the terrorists”….., at which point we made a hasty exit rather than get in an argument
Visited September 2015