From being the feared enemy of the ancient Greek city-states to the Iranian Revolution and after, Iran has long had a bad reputation in the West.
But perhaps you shouldn’t believe all you read. Look behind the news and you’ll find an incredible nation with a rich history and diverse culture. Visit Persepolis (founded 518 BC), the remarkably intact ruins of which are a testament to the grandeur of ancient Persia. Explore the Islamic history of Iran in Esfahan, home to the famous blue-tiled Masjed-e Jameh mosques, and Shiraz, synonymous with culture, poetry, and wine. For a taste of modern Iran, visit bustling Tehran, home to young Iranians who wear fashionable clothes, create cutting-edge art and cinema, and even make time to party.
Odyssey travels by coach and occasionally uses local transport, including trains and ferries. Specifics are always outlined in your tour itinerary. In Iran, most cities offer bus services, but these tend to be overcrowded. The best option is generally the growing Metro rail system, although it is very slow to develop its reach across cities. Taxis are available, and come in private or shared options – the latter is quite common and referred to as savari.
In major cities, Odyssey stays in centrally located 4-5 star hotels, with easy access to public transport. In smaller towns or rural areas, we usually stay in family-run hotels or guesthouses. On our long stay tours, during which you spend the length of the tour in a single location, we use serviced apartments.
In Iran in a couple of locations bathroom facilities may be shared n the regional areas.
Odyssey always engages local guides with regional knowledge to ensure an authentic experience during which you can learn as much as possible about the history and culture of places you visit.
Geography, environment & weather
Iran is one of the world’s most mountainous landscape, with ranges separated by basins and plateaux. The highest peak is Mount Damavand at 5,610m. Northern Iran is covered by lush forest by the shores of the Caspian Sea. The east is mostly desertous, with a sprinkling of salt lakes, too. The western part of Iran is the most densely populated, as well as the most mountainous. The climate is very diverse. In fact, Iran features 11 out of the world’s 13 different climate types.
World Heritage sites
Iran is home to 23 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. You can view the official list of the sites here https://whc.unesco.org/en/statesparties/ir. It is well worth visiting every site, if you are able.
But here’s a few highlights from the bunch:
- Gonbad-e Qabus, a 53m high tomb built in 1006 A.D., which is the last remaining evidence of the ancient city of Jorjan.
- Sheikh Safi al-din Khegah is a centre for Sufi religious pilgrimage. This small city’s well preserved buildings include public baths and bazaars. UNESCO calls it “the material realization of a spiritual path through architectural design”
- Lavish Golestan Palace, masterpiece of the Qajar era of the 18th century, when Tehran was capital.
Festivals & evnets
Navroz (Nowruz) means “new day”. It is the day of the Persian New Year, and usually falls on March 21 – the moment the sun crosses the celestial equator. This event lasts two weeks, with the day itself preceded by “spring cleaning”, and the purchase of new clothing and flowers for the home. People decorate with symbols including stars, butterflies, birds and fish, and adorn their doors and windows with flowers.
Chaharshanbeh Souri, the Persian equivalent of Easter, is observed on the eve of Navroz. People burn bonfires overnight to symbolise the pain and unhappiness that will be relieved in the New Year. On the day of Navroz, they leap over the flames to wish for good health and cleanse their bodies of sickness. They also enjoy a traditional dinner such as herbed fish with rice, or Ash Reshte stew.
There are many diverse events in Iran based on region, religion and ethnicity, including Tirgan in the Mazandran Province, and Mehrgan for the Zoroastrian people of Kerman. Both are celebrated with feasts of traditional food. Yalda (Chellah) marks the longest day of the year (September 21st or 22nd). The following morning, harvest begins. Families come together to share food, summer fruit, and often to recite traditional poetry.
The Silk Road in World History by Xinry Liu
The Persians: Ancient, Medieval and Modern Iran by Homa Katouzian
Iran Awakening: A Memoir of Revolution and Hope by Shirin Ebadi
Eating & Drinking
Iranian cuisine ranges from the familiar to the obscure, and everything in between. Food is very regional, but certain staples – like flatbread, noodles and rose-water, can be found across the country. Iran’s geographical location, and history on the Silk Road, have provided a plethora of culinary influences throughout the ages. Certain native ingredients feature heavily, including pistachios, saffron, pomegranates and almonds. While you are travelling Iran, see if you can scope out the following dishes:
Zereshk polo, or barberry rice is studded with these sour, rehydrated berries, and is a great example of Iran’s love for tart flavours.
Ash e Reshteh, a hearty soup of noodles and beans with fresh herbs and greens. It is served with a sour yoghurt-like food called kashk. The noodles, which arrived in Iran from China, are said to represent the paths of life, so this soup is often served when someone is about to embark on a journey.
Kebab,which come in far more varities than your typical Western take away shop. Filling options include ground, seasoned meat (koobideh), thinly sliced, lemon and saffron scented lamb or beef (kebab-e barg) or even lamb liver (jigar). If you have a sweet tooth, keep an eye out for bamieh (doughnuts with saffron and rosewater), sholezard (saffron flavoured rice pudding) and faloodeh, a sorbet-like dessert of vermicelli-sized noodles in a rose-water flavoured syrup.
Health & safety
For Iran please check smarttraveller.gov when planning your trip OR speak with Odyssey Traveller. It’s always best to check the latest details before setting out on a trip.
Certain parts of Iran should be avoided for the time being, particularly near the borders with Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. There are serious risks associated with specific areas, and it is important to take these into consideration when planning your trip. But countries like Iran rely heavily on tourism, and refusing travel can be detrimental to a struggling economy.
Stay appraised of government recommendations for Iran in order to be best prepared for your trip.
Whenever you travel overseas, it’s always wise to take an appropriate travel adaptor. Iran uses plugs in types C and F which have two pins, and electricity runs at 220V/50Hz.
MMT, Iran’s time zone, is UTC + 6.3 hours. Iran has a single time zone, Central European Time. The nation does not observe Daylight Savings Time.
If you’re on an Odyssey tour, we take care of tipping. So when you’re with the group you don’t need to give it a second thought. However, in your free time, or if travelling independently, it’s essential that you make sure you tip an appropriate amount for services. There is no general rule for tipping in Morocco, so to some extent, it is discretionary. While tips are not usually expected in Iran, many of the locals are on very low wages, so your generosity can go a long way. It’s especially appreciated if you tip porters, drivers, and cleaning staff. Practice generosity, but at the same time, play it by ear. Iranian people are proud, and some may prefer not to accept a tip. In such cases, defer to their wishes and express your gratitude in another way.
Yes, a visa is required for most nationalities visiting Iran. Australians and New Zealand passport holders may also apply for a visa on arrival. More information and assistance with the process is provided once you book your tour.
Internet access is available, and most hotels and many cafes will be able to offer it.
However, as you move away from the major metros, access maybe limited.
Common sense should be applied when posting material on the internet or viewing material via the web.
Check with your cell phone provider to see whether you’re able to make calls and use data while in Iran. Many providers will allow you to pay a daily fee that allows you to make calls and check the internet while only being charged your regular rates. However, be certain to inform your provider that you’re heading overseas, because just like a bank they can turn off your service as a result of unusual activity. The mobile network in Iran is improving. You can buy a SIM card in Iran too.
Responsible travel tips for Iran.
- Learn at least the local greetings to break the ice. Although many locals speak English, The more you know of the native language, the greater your experience of the country will be.
- Be aware of who and what you are taking photos of. Consider the cutural sensitivities of who, what and why is in the background of the image you are thinking of taking as a memory.
- Ask consent of an adult if wanting to take a photo of children at play for example.
- Before departing, make sure you have a number of Iranian rial in a range of denominations. You don’t want to be carrying around enormous amounts of cash, but take enough to make it easy to pay in locations that might not accept credit card. It will also help you avoid card transaction fees, and it makes tipping a breeze (it is better to tip in rial because it may be difficult for people to convert small denominations).
- Carry a card in your wallet or purse from your local hotel, to assist you with the return journey if you do become lost.
- Always ensure that you are covered by travel insurance. If you need advice on this feel free to contact Odyssey and we’ll be able to help.
- When travelling independently, make sure you check the opening hours of shops and museums so that you don’t miss out! Also be certain to check whether your trip coincides with any public holidays, so you can plan accordingly.
- Before departing on your trip, contact your bank to inform them that you may be making purchases overseas. Otherwise, they may flag any activity on your account as suspicious. Also, check which ATMs and banks are compatible with your cards, to ensure you can withdraw cash with minimal fees.