My travels in Iran draw the most attention and the most questions when I talk about my recent trip following the Silk Road from China, through Central Asia and eventually all the way to London. What was it like to travel to Iran? Was it safe? Was I scared? What did I have to wear?
These questions are all completely understandable given how misunderstood Iran is, and how Iran is portrayed in Western media. If you believed the media you would think Iran is filled with gun-toting terrorists, and that it’s home to nuclear weapons and suppressed women. Some people even mistakenly think Iran is where ISIS is!
But Iran is in fact not like this and travelling in Iran is not at all what you would expect. It is fascinating, unique and full of incredible people and places.
These are my top seven reasons why you should travel to Iran.
1. The People
The Iranian people really are some of the kindest, most welcoming, hospitable and curious I have ever met travelling (and I’ve travelled a lot!).
I was often stopped on the street and welcomed to the country. The Iranians were always extremely curious to know what I thought about their country and what the outside world thinks about them. They were also curious to learn about me, my family and my home.
2. The Food
The food in Iran is simply delicious! Tasty grilled kebabs are on every menu as are hearty stews, often made with eggplant.
My absolute favourite was fesenjun, chicken smothered in sauce made from pomegrante juice, walnuts, eggplant and cardamon. Yum!!
You definitely won’t be hungry when you travel to Iran.
3. The Mosques
Iran is home to some of the most stunning mosques.
From mosques with intricately detailed tiles of multi-hued blues or the delicate floral interweaves of, to hundreds upon hundreds of mirrors creating a kind of disco-ball effect, to the incredible rainbow kaleidoscope-like light within the Pink Mosque in Shiraz.
Visiting the mosques when you travel to Iran is an absolute must to experience the beauty, history and culture.
4. The Gardens
Persian gardens are beautiful and delightful oasis. Always divided into four sectors, with water playing an important role for both irrigation and ornamentation, the Persian garden was conceived to symbolise Eden and the four Zoroastrian elements of sky, earth, water and plants. The Persian garden would also often feature buildings, pavilions, and sophisticated irrigation systems. They have influenced the art of garden design as far as India and Spain.
5. The Bazaars
Getting lost and exploring within the bazaars of Iran is a truly unique experience. Esfahan, Shiraz, Kashan and Tehran all have incredible bazaars. But my favourite was found in Tabriz, home to the world’s largest covered bazaar and once among the most important trading centres on the Silk Road.
Tabriz’s bazaar was a wonderfully authentic labyrinth of undercover passageways with shards of light falling from the domed archways into the otherworldly maze of shops.
6. The History
Iran has a long, rich and varied history. Once home to one of the oldest and greatest civilisations on earth, the mighty Persian empire, and in recent times Iran has been subject to coups and revolutions.
The magnificence of the Persian empire is obvious to behold at it’s ceremonial capital, Persepolis. Persepolis is full of columns, detailed reliefs, imposing gateways and staircases. It is also infamous as the ancient city Alexander The Great burnt down!
Only six kilometres from the ruins of Persepolis are the incredible rock-hewn tombs at Naqsh-e Rostam believed to be the tombs of Darius II, Artaxerxes I, Darius I and Xerxes I. Another example of how impressive the Persian empire was.
If modern history is more your thing I would suggest a visit to the former U.S embassy, now known as the U.S Den of Espionage. With it’s wonderfully evocative name it triggers the imagination to all kinds of spy games and plotting, which is exactly what did take place in this very location! In 1953 CIA operatives planned a coup d’etat which brought down the government of the time. Today the walls of the former embassy display graphic murals of anti-American and Israeli sentiments. A fascinating look into the historical links between Iran and America.
7. Unique Towns
In the southern deserts of Iran is the fascinating city of Yazd. Its old heart is a tangled maze of mud-brick alleys where mud-brick walls rise high to meet as arches.
One of my all-time favourite things to do when travelling is to get lost, to wander, to explore and these evocative and enchanting alleys were exactly my kind of place!
As you follow the twists and turns of the mud-walls you will see interesting structures rise high above the walls. The structures, known as badgirs, are an ingenious cooling system that are designed to catch the wind and direct it down into the rooms below.
Or why not explore the delightful surprises hidden behind the tall mud-brick walls of the desert town, Kashan. Rich, detailed stucco decorations and stained glass windows of large traditional houses built by wealthy merchants many years ago were set amongst tranquil gardens of roses, pomegranates and pools of water.
I also heard wonderful things about the terraced town of Masouleh in the north of Iran. To know more check out Very Hungry Nomads post here.
So what are you waiting for? There is no better time to travel to Iran!!
Have you visited Iran? I’d love to hear other people’s experiences about travelling in Iran in the comments below.