The moment we entered Iran, we immediately knew: two weeks is way too little time to visit this vast, fascinating country! Unfortunately we can’t always take month-long vacations, so we figured: two weeks is better than nothing! Although it meant we’d have to make some tough decisions regarding the places we’d visit. Considering we were traveling in autumn, the southern loop seemed like the obvious choice. It also happens to be where the country’s highlights are situated.
This is where we spent our 2 weeks in Persia…
TEHRAN – 1 Day
The first thing we did the morning we landed in Teheran was to book a domestic flight South. We aimed to get out of the capital as soon as possible. Now I’m not saying there is nothing interesting to see or do in Tehran but we figured there’d be more intriguing places to visit. Besides, we arrived during Ashura, Iran’s most important religious holiday which meant that the entire city was practically deserted. We managed to reserve seats on a flight that evening, leaving us with a full day to fill in Tehran. Since everything was closed, we spent the day drinking tea and mindlessly strolling down the quiet empty streets of an otherwise buzzing city.
SHIRAZ – 2 Days
Just a short flight later, we arrived in Shiraz also known as the heart of Persian culture. “Shiraz”, that name… I imagined refined art, sophisticated poetry, elegant gardens, nightingales, romance and red wine. And that’s exactly what it was, well except for the wine since alcohol is illegal in Iran nowadays. Once again, due to the festivities of Ashura, we were limited in options of things to do. We mostly wandered around town, visited some iconic mosques, browsed the colourful bazar and shared some incredible meals with newfound local friends. We may have missed some of the city’s highlights but we experienced and learned about the fascinating religious holiday of Ashura, which I won’t go into further detail right now. It would need so much explaining it would have to be a post on its own.
PERSEPOLIS – NAQSH E ROSTAM & NAQSH E RAJAB – 1 Day
As a day trip from Shiraz, we chartered a taxi to another “mystical sounding” spot: Persepolis. I regret thinking we’d learn all there is to know about Persepolis from our guidebook and stories online. Reading about the ancient site is a good start but having a live guide enthusiastically telling stories, pointing out important details and explaining the symbolism on site, would have added value… Nonetheless, guide or no, walking amongst the ruins will spark your imagination.
After visiting Persepolis, we drove to Naqsh-e-Rostam & Naqsh-e-Rajab for a quick view of the majestic rock tombs. Impressive! Most taxi drivers or tours will advise you to add “Pasargadae” to your day trip. However, we skipped it and I must say, looking at fellow travellers’ pictures, we made the right decision. Though I’ve only heard good reviews from visitors of Pasargadae, whether you should go or not really depends on your interests and on how many ruins you can handle in one day.
YAZD – 2 Days
From Shiraz we took a nightbus to Yazd, an enchanting mud-brick desert city. My favourite city in Iran- I think. What made me love Yazd so much was the fact that it is so astonishingly different from any other city I had ever seen. Serene, quiet and entirely made of mud buldings… Come on! According to UNESCO, Yazd’s old town is the oldest city on earth. Can you imagine that?! Standing on the city’s rooftops, you get fairytale-like views over the brown city. Getting lost in Yazd felt truly magical.
KHARANAQ- MEYBOD – CHAK CHAK – 1 Day
In Yazd we met a driver with whom we arranged a day trip to the surrounding sites. Out of the three stops, despite the beautiful surroundings, we found the pilgrimage site of Chak Chak to be the least interesting to us visitors.
The 1800-year-old mud castle of Meybod (Narin Castle) was much more to our liking. I’m still puzzled about how a mud castle can be in such good shape after almost 2000 years of existence, surviving invasions, wars, modern changes… WOW!
Following a tasty lunch in a historic caravanserai -where strangely enough we were the only people- we headed to the mud-brick village of Kharanaq. This was by far the highlight of our day. Though I’m sure it’s not for everyone, we just loved “Indiana Jones-ing” in the crumbling, virtually deserted village.
GARMEH – 2 Days
MESR – 2 Days
Because Garmeh was such a big hit, we extended our stay in the desert and headed to another, even more remote desert settlement: Mesr. We drove out with the new friends we’d made in Garmeh and had another remarkable stay in the desert! This time around there was dune bashing at sunset, stargazing, chasing renegade camels and desert sand hikes. Iv’e said it before and I’ll say it again: I love the desert!
ESFAHAN – 2 Days
The grandeur of Esfahan left us standing in awe. This is where you’ll find Iran’s most impressive, majestic architecture. You’ll be surrounded by sharply dressed youths having a good time out, families spending time together in parks and lovers dating somewhat publicly… Esfahan is a modern and vibrant city standing in strong contrast with more conservative places like Yazd.
ABYANEH – 1 Day
Since we couldn’t find public transportation to the ancient village of Abyaneh, we hitchhiked there. Catching a ride was quite easy. Most people seem to visit Abyaneh as a day trip from Kashan but we figured we might as well spend the night. Apparently we were the only ones with that idea. Though this village is definitely not a “must-see”, we were thrilled to get a glimpse of a different Iran.
KASHAN – 2 Days
Kashan, another place I was enamoured with. Whether it was due to the -once again- exceptional rooftops, our charming guesthouse, the abundant rose water, the “secret” gardens, the grand traditional houses or the lively bazars, I don’t know. Kashan really got under my skin.
From Kashan it was a short ride to the end point of our trip: the international airport of Tehran. As you can see, we spent about two days in each destination. Because many of the attractions were closed due to the festivities of Ashura, this was just enough time not to feel rushed. We could have easily spent more time in each of the spots mentioned above and would have loved to visit other parts of the country. That’s why we promised ourselves there would be a next time! But in the end, the beauty of Iran lies, more than its sights or scenery, in its people. So any amount of time spent in the country is enough to at least get a taste of the Persian hospitality.
Have you been to Iran? Would you consider going?