Centuries of history
Once one of the greatest empires ruling over the Middle East, Iran’s history has brought great fortunes, interesting legacies, and left behind some stunning architecture.
There is simply so much history to explore that it can feel overwhelming for those with a selected background in it, therefore we recommend that you explore a bit of Iran’s history before going. Iranians grow up learning all the stories of their great leaders, poets, and artists, and can see the evidence all around them. Reciting facts and stories comes quite easily to them, but it is not usually presented in a linear fashion, which can make it utterly confusing for the history novice.
Of course Iran’s history is not solely glamorous, Iran has also been conquered several times, particularly during the times of Alexander the Great’s conquests, and then again under the Mongolian expansion. But Iran bounced back during the Safavid Dynasty when Persia became an independent state, establishing the dominant religion of Shi’a Islam. Then during the Qajar Dynasty, 1798-1925, Britian and Russia jointly governed Iran, but it wasn’t until the 20th century that Iran landed back in the hands of Iranians under the rule of Reza Shah and then later by his son.
Many people are familiar with Islamic revolution that occurred in 1979, when the Shah was sent into exile and the Ayatollah Khomeini rose to power using piety as the country’s governing doctrine, which resulted in a radical shift in the daily lives of Iranians. The last few decades have been shrouded by economic and political sanctions stemming from the nuclear-standoff with the United States, which has resulted in a stagnation of technological progress in the country, but Iran is on the brink of a new era. Sanctions are being negotiated and possibly lifted, and businesses are pushing for market entry.
Expect to see many changes with Iran in the next few years, but until then Iran is a brilliant city to travel to for its rich history and stunning architecture.
Places to Visit in Iran
- Naqsh-e Jahan
- Mosque of Shah/Imam
- Mosque of Shaykh Lotfollah
- Ali Qapu
- Vank Cathedral (Armenian Church)
Unique Things to See and Do in Iran
- Walk through the Tomb of Sa’di and see the beautiful rose garden
- Explore the ancient ruins of Persepolis
- Wander through the Carpet Bazaar of Tabriz
- Go on a desert excursion and see the moving sand dunes
- Ski Shemshak in the winter
- Buy rose water in Golabgiri
- Eat Mirza Ghassemi near the Caspian Sea
Two of Iran’s Top Sites to Visit
One of the most revered sites in all of Iran is Persepolis, which was once the capital of the Achaemenid (Persian) Empire built by Darius. Located 60km northeast of Shiraz, the Persepolis ruins were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. Believed to be constructed in 515BC, this was capital until Alexander the Great ordered its destruction in 300BC. The remains consist of huge stone columns, door jambs, and writings. Anyone interested in ancient history should have this site at the top of their must-see list.
There are numerous sites to see in Isfahan, particularly Imam Square (Naqsh-e Jahan) and the beautiful bridges. Imam Square was built in the 17th century during the Safavid Empire.
The square contains several beautiful and interesting places: the Masjid-e-Imam (Shah Mosque), the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque and all the colourful tiles, and the Qaisarrieh Bazaar – the oldest and largest market in the Middle East. The bridges of Isfahan are incredible. The Khaju Bridge is considered “finest
Getting Around Iran
Travelling around Iran is reasonably priced and offers all the major services, such as flights, train service, bus service, taxi, cars, and metro lines. Although all the services are available in Iran, travelling between towns can be a slow process. If you’re wanting to get around faster, travelling by plane is the best way. Flights are reasonably priced and offer frequent service to major cities, however you may want to check out which planes are being used. With all the sanctions against Iran, service and upgrades to planes is not the same as western standards.
Train travel in Iran is reliable, quicker than bus service, and offers great views of the countryside. There are three main lines running through the country heading east to west and then down south. From the main lines there are shorter routes connecting smaller towns. There are quite a few rail lines under construction so double check for new service options. One bonus of travelling by train is that you don’t have to pass through all the roadway checkpoints as you would when travelling by bus.
Did you know…?
The painted tile work on the mosques is created by hand by local artists. You can book tours to see how the tiles are hand painted and baked.
Did you ALSO know…?
In Yazd, Zoroastrians have kept a fire alight for 1500 years! The Atashkadeh Fire Temple.
Local bus travel is a bit different, especially for women travellers. Buses are still segregated here with men in the front and women and children riding in the back. As a woman, when you enter the bus you hand the ticket to the driver at the front of the bus, but then you leave the front entrance and board the bus using the rear door. Note, learn the Arabic numbers to help with getting around as there isn’t any form of English on the signage.
Taxis are a fast way to travel around the cities. Savari taxis have set rates determined by the local government, and each seat has a price. Taxis only leave when the car is full, but you can pay for extra seats if you want to leave right away. Catching a taxi will be a new adventure for many. As the taxi drives past you (facing the direction you want to go) you need to wave and yell out your destination. If he’s willing to go there he will stop, if not, try again. If you want to pay for the extra seats, yell out your destination followed by “dar bast” which means “closed door.” Travelling by taxi is a great way to hear stories about the country and learn about its history, as many taxi drivers are highly educated. Similar to Cuba, you can meet doctors, lawyers, and engineers driving cabs because of the all the job losses.
Best Time of Year to Travel to Iran
Iran is a large and diverse country for climate conditions. In the northern regions the winters are cold and snowy, the spring and fall months are mild, and the summer is hot and dry. Head south and you’ll experience mild winters, but the summers are raging hot, averaging around 38˚C and can reach as high as 50˚C in the desert.
Most travellers head to Iran during high season in the spring months: March, April, and May. The prices are higher and the crowds are more dense but the temperatures are manageable for most of Iran. For the adventure seekers or snow lovers, the low season, November to February, has been gaining popularity due to great ski conditions. And the rates to ski aren’t as pricey as other popular ski destinations. Getting around can be difficult with road closures though.
Certain times of the year are best to avoid travelling to Iran because of limitations, such as Nowruz, the 10 days leading up to Ashura, and the month of Ramadan. During Ramadan, Muslims fast (no eating or drinking) until sunset. This is the law, but people do drink and eat just not in public, or they do it discreetly. Religious places are much more crowded during these times. Travel is still possible, but for most travellers it easier at other times of the year.
Ready to plan your visit to Iran? Check out these popular guides and trips.