Chances are, if you’re heading to Iran, you’re not just making a pitstop in Tehran. The country is vast, and you might be confused about where to go and what to see.
If you’re a culturalti who loves literature, Shiraz is not to be missed. If you’re looking for a historical take on the glitzy days of the Persian Empire, then spend a few days in Isfahan. Let this guide be a simple overview of which cities in Iran might interest you the most and start building your kick butt itinerary!
1. Tehran – Wealthy Capital.
As the capital of Iran, Tehran is not only a must-stop city but also your first destination since it’s where you’ll most likely be flying in and out from. Can’t miss cultural attractions include: Palace of Golestan and Sa’dabad that showcase the height of the Persian Empire. The Azadi Tower (Monument of Freedom) is also another must-see.
The city is home to several inspiring museums, such as: National Museum, the Glassware and Ceramics Museum, the Carpet Museum and the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art where you can check out art works by Andy Warhol and Pablo Piccaso.
Let’s not forget the Treasury of National Jewels which embodies the world’s largest collection of opulent jewels. A majority of the collection derives from the 16th century Safavid dynasty. Be on the look out for truly unique pieces including: emeralds making up a massive golden globe with oceans and latitudes speckled with diamonds, and the Imperial crown jewels of Iran.
2. Isfahan – The Glorious Persian Empire
Known as previously one of the largest cities in the world, Isfahan (or Ispahan, Sepahan, Esfahan, Hispahan) experienced its glory days from 1050 – 1722, especially during the Safavid dynasty when the city became the capital of Persia.
Isfahan is where you’ll visit breathtaking mosques, famous bridges and extravagant palaces. The city’s largest square, Naghsh-e Jahan Square (Iman Square,) features the fusion of Iranian and Islamic architectural designs. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with an impressive Shah Mosque located on the south side of the square. Ali Qapu Palace occupies the west side of the square while Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque is on the east and the northern gate leads to Isfahan Grand Bazaar.
Since Zayande River runs through central Isfahan, three important bridges frequently welcome visitors. The most awe-inspiring bridge: Si-o-Seh Pol, which highlights 33 arches and connects Isfahan with Armenia. An almost 1,000 feet stroll on Si-o-Seh Pol is a fantastic opportunity for snapping photos and passing by locals.
If you’re a fan of market shopping, Isfahan has two famous ones: Shahi Bazaar and Qeysarie Bazaar, both have been popular since the 17th century. These are great places to buy souvenirs or collect personal knick-knacks.
3. Shiraz – Poets, Scholars, Wine & Flowers.
Located on the southwest of Iran, Shiraz is the capital of the Fars Province where the weather is much warmer. As one of the oldest cities of Persia, the city breathes literature, poems, flowers and wines. During the 13th century, Shiraz became the focal point of Persian artists and scholars with a heavy population of Jewish and Christians.
Famous landmarks include: tombs of Persian poets Hafiz and Saadi, the massive Vakil Mosque built in the Zand Dynasty, the historic Qur’an Gate which designates where the city of Shiraz begins and gateway to two copies of the Qur’an. Last but not least, you shouldn’t miss the magnificent Eram Garden, where you can see a wide range of beautiful plants and flowers surrounding a dazzling mansion.
4. Yazd – Desert Life
As the driest provence in Iran, landscapes in Yazd is out of this world. Expect to see vast deserts and learn about Zoroastrians’ culture of exposing bodies of the dead to scavenging birds.
You’ll most likely make a stop at Amir Chakhmaq Complex which encompasses a mosque located on the square. Head there at night as the lights are lit in orange, making the mosque one of the most Instagrammable captures from your trip. During the Iran-Iraq War, many Iraqis and Afghanis came to occupy Amir Chakhmaq Square.
Because the weather in Yazd gets dry and summers become incredibly hot, many buildings have underground areas, so keep your eye out for exquisite windcatchers. The city is also known as one of the biggest built out of an adobe.
You’ll want to invest in buying inexpensive but high-quality silk and carpets while visiting Yazd, since the city is known for its silk weaving.
5. Persepolis – Heart of Achaemenid Empire
If you loved the Palace of Zeus in Greece, then you’ll need to visit Persepolis in Iran. Known as “City of Persians,” Persepolis was built during the Achaemenid Empire (550 – 330 BCE.) Located in the northeast of Shiraz, it requires at least half a day to walk through the ancient capital, which has also been declared as an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
6. Abyaneh – The Little Red Village
Abyaneh is small yet so charming. Located near Isfahan, Abyaneh is delightfully unique, travelers should never leave Iran without spending a few hours wandering through its red alleyways and interacting with local women covered by traditional scarves with red flowers.
The village’s population is approximately 300 – 400 people, despite that Abyaneh is one of the oldest villages in Iran. Local here speak a different type of dialect, and always follow traditional ceremonies.