The country once known as Persia is one of the world’s most beguiling lands, and also one of the most misunderstood. With many people having grown up on years of news headlines bringing attention to the country's politics, a trip to Iran might not entice everyone. For adventurous travellers who do make the trip, the rewards can be great.
As the capital and home to the country’s largest international airport, Tehran is the most logical city to start your Iran holiday. Home to around 15 million residents, this chaotic and energetic city is surprisingly cosmopolitan considering Iran’s stereotype as a conservative country.
Affluence lies in the north of the city and is where to stay if you require extra comfort, while the south is more religious. Attractions are scattered all over, with glorious sites including the National Jewels Museum, Golestan Palace, Niavaran Palace and the Milad Tower all calling the city home.
On the outskirts you’ll find Darband, a popular hiking trail which will take you up to Mount Tochal – a tall peak that always casts a shadow over Tehran.
Touring beyond Tehran
From Tehran, your options for exploration are almost endless. Head into the countryside and you can visit a number of astonishing sites with fascinating histories. Top of the list for many visitors is Naghsh-e-Rostam, an ancient necropolis where you’ll find a towering rock that serves as the tombs of Darius the Great and three successor kings.
Declared a World Heritage site in 1979, Persepolis, which literally translated means “city of Persians” is another historical site you won't want to pass by. A once powerful and great city, the city was partly destroyed by Alexander the Great in around 330 BC, but today still holds stunning sights including the Gate of All Nations, The Throne Hall and the Tachara Palace.
After Tehran, Isfahan is likely to be the most interesting Iranian city you’ll visit. Home to some of the country’s most fascinating monuments, the city is a feast for lovers of Islamic architecture. Cast your eye on the Shah Mosque, Ali Qapu Palace and the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque – just some of the Isfahan buildings which inspired the design of the Taj Mahal in India.
Isfahan’s other claim to fame is its beautiful selection of bridges that criss-cross the Zayandeh River. Catch bridges such as the Sio-se-Pol, the Shahrestan and the Khajou in the impressive late afternoon sun.
Heritage holy land
With a total of 16 World Heritage sites, extra time in your itinerary will really allow you to get beneath the surface of Iran. Visit Hamedan, one of the oldest cities in the world; Shiraz, a former Persian capital with a rich artistic history; and the desert city, Yazd.
If you visit in winter, pack some thermals so you can carve up the slopes at Dizin, one of the 40 highest ski resorts in the world and a haven for cheap powder snow. In summer, get wet at Kish Island – a desert island transformed in the 1970s into a holiday playground complete with world-class diving and tax-free shopping.
As well as the huge diversity of sights and sounds, Iran’s people are another one of its key attractions. Alcohol might be banned but, after a few tea invitations, you’ll definitely be asking yourself what all the bad headlines are about.
When booking your flights to Iran, just remember that citizens from most countries do need a visa to visit. The process isn’t complicated and Australians can currently get a Visa on arrival, but it does rule out a last minute trip if you are travelling on a British, American or Canadian passport.
Some other things to keep in mind when visiting Iran are the local customs. If you’re a woman, make sure you pay respect by covering your head with a shawl at all times.