Almost every time I excitedly announced I was headed to Iran, the most puzzled looks thrown my way. Reactions ranging from “Are you nuts?! You’re gonna get yourself killed!” to a calmer “Iran? What’s in Iran?”. No one ever asks you that when you say you’re going to Thailand or France… It seems like “war, nuclear bombs, danger, terror and veiled women” are what spring to most people’s mind when they think of Iran.
Since so little people know about Iran as a tourist destination, I’ve decided to help chase this incorrect image of Iran out of the world. The way popular media is portraying the country at the moment, is far from the reality I have seen and experienced. It’s time to bust the misconception.
So what’s in Iran worth travelling for?
No matter which city or town you go to, you’ll surely find yourself facing a building in total awe at some point. Palaces, mosques, mansions… They’ll draw your attention with their ornate facades and colourful domes. This was the original reason why I wanted to travel to Iran even though I’m not particularly an architecture buff.
Tea and delicious treats
We stopped for tea breaks at least twice a day, every day. Alcohol is not officially available so instead of having a beer or a glass of wine on a terrace, in Iran you’ll sip on tea -usually served in beautiful cups and accompanied by an assortment of sweets typical of the region. A simple tea break then turns into such a treat, especially if held in one of the many pretty tea gardens or courtyards.
Warm and welcoming people
I was recently asked where I found the friendliest people during my travels. It’s a hard question to answer as I’ve encountered so many friendly nations but I must say, Iran is definitely in my top 3. Not only were the people genuinely friendly and interested in the visitor, they’d invite us to have dinner at their house, they’d talk to us on the street- just to say welcome, they’d pay for our bus rides- just because. No hidden agenda, just out of hospitality. Iranians did everything in their power to make us feel at home in their country. Seldom have I seen a nation as giving and as enthusiastic about welcoming visitors. For meeting the people alone, Iran is worth a trip; you wouldn’t even need to visit anything.
One of my favourite things to do in Iran was to climb up to the roof of a building. Unlike any of the roofs I have seen before, I often imagined I had landed on another planet. The interesting part is that the unusual constructions on the roofs all have a well thought purpose for you to find out. The rooftops are ideal places to watch the sun set over the city.
Lively bazars where you can shop in peace
I’m a big fan of browsing bazars and I generally accept the hassle that often comes with it. Every town in Iran boasts at least one bazar featuring some top notch goods. The best part however, is that they are pretty much hassle free! You can browse the stands in peace without feeling pressure from the salesman to buy every item you glance at. The shopkeeper will take his time to explain things if you ask, to show you other options if you’re interested and to give you a taste if you seem puzzled. All the while giving you a genuine smiling nod if you walk away. This is bazar shopping at its best!
A great variety of landscapes
You can’t put Iran in a box when it comes to landscapes: snowy mountains (where you can ski in winter!), flower clad hills, arid desert plains, moon landscapes, palm fringed islands, woodlands… You’ll find it all within the borders of the country. If you enjoy the outdoors, you’ll probably have a tough time deciding where to go.
UNESCO heritage sites
There are 17 UNESCO heritage site in Iran at the moment and you’ll probably have an opinion on which sites should be added to the list once you start visiting the country. I’m not a UNESCO site hunter but the list is usually a great indicator of how impressive/valuable a site is. The most renowned one must be Persepolis, the name alone would have you dreaming. Walking through it and listening to the tales of ancient Persia only continues to bring your imagination in overdrive.
An exciting food adventure
The Persian cuisine is unlike any of the cuisines I have tasted so far. The ingredients are relatively standard but the way they are put together results in flavours that were entirely new to my tastebuds. I tried finding significant similarities with other cuisines but failed to do so. If you’re not too lazy to look beyond the widely available fast food (pizza, hamburger, kebab and Turkish dürüm) there is a huge array of local dishes that will take you through an exciting food adventure.
3000+ year old mud castles to explore
Yes, that’s 3000, no typo here. That’s how old some of the Persian mud castles are. Some are still in a good enough state for you to enter, wander around and get lost. No guards, no ropes, Indiana Jones style minus the booby traps. You’ll probably be the only one there which make the experience even more fascinating.
A refined and interesting culture
Persian culture is very elegant and refined. Poetry, fine music, great literature… It has a very distinct identity which, contrary to what many people believe, is nothing like the Arab or Ottoman culture. As a regular tourist, you’ll just be scrapping of the surface, but it’s enough to get a taste or to get hooked and start digging deeper.
The people of Iran are very aware of the bad reputation their country is receiving abroad and they try everything they can to show travellers that Iran is not a bloodthirsty, dangerous nation full of criminals or terrorists. We were often asked what people back home thought of Iran. Unfortunately we had to confirm their fear and admit most people didn’t have a great image of the country. They asked us to tell our story, to tell people the truth about Iran and its people since they can’t. I hope this post convinces even just one person, that Iran is a beautiful, interesting and safe place to travel to.
Would you give Iran a chance?