Iran – the good and the bad

Here is my experience of travelling to Iran with a friend. We have been there for 11 days and did the typical tourist route in central Iran from Tehran to Kaschan (including Abyaneh), Esfahan, Yazd (including Meybod, Chak Chak and Kharanaq) and Shiraz (including Persepolis).

Itinerary

Well we had the plan to fly to Shiraz and do it the other way round but there was no more flight so we did it that way. Also we returned to Esfahan from Yazd because a friend we wanted to visit did only have time on the weekend. So we went to Shiraz from Esfahan (normally you would go from Yazd to Shiraz).

Our Itinerary
Our Itinerary

Well weekend is Friday in Iran. Also you cannot book a flight from outside Iran easily, only through an agency. You would need an Iranian bank card. At the time of writing this article American card companies (Visa, etc.) are not working in Iran because of the sanctions. Also you cannot withdraw money in Iran, you have to bring cash.

Travel tips and the good and bad in Iran

I want to give some travel tips in this article. Where to go but also some general advice.

Where to go, what to see

If you ask two people usually you will hear two different opinions. Especially in the internet you will read many funny opinions. Take it with a grain of salt.

  • Tehran: It is big and not always beautiful. I visited the Mausoleum of Khomeini, the cemetary which is nearby, the bazaar, the Golastan palace and the Azadi tower, the (former) US embassy and Milad tower. Unfortunately I did not have time to visit the mountains. Tehran has rich people in the north and poor people in the south. The mausoleum is near a metro stop in the south. I was really impressed. Also there are not many tourists at the cemetary and the mausoleum but it is very important for understanding the war between Iran and Iraq. One of my favorite places in Iran (thanks to the Iranian friends for showing it to me). BTW: In the mausoleum they did not allow my camera (it is small but has an interchangeable lens). I used my mobile phone instead.
    Mausoleum of Ruhollah Khomeini
    Mausoleum of Ruhollah Khomeini
    Cemetary
    Cemetary

    In Iran it is no problem to go into a mosque but sometimes it is good to be with local people. The bazaar is impressive: so many people when not on the weekend. Golastan palace I think it is a little bit boring except for the mirror work in the ceilings and the walls. This works you will see in many places in Iran. Azadi tower is like a west door and the symbol of Tehran. Good for wide angle pictures.

    Preparation for Muharram
    Preparation for Muharram at the Bazaar
    Azadi tower
    Azadi tower

    The US embassy was closed for us but the walls have nice graffiti.

    Former US Embassy
    Former US Embassy

    Milad tower is impressive. Very good views. It is one of the highest TV towers in the world. There are several floors you can go. If you do all floors it is a little bit expensive. You can go there with a bus from a nearby metro station but you need to ask and be brave… otherwise go with taxi.

    Milad tower
    Milad tower
    View from Milad Tower
    View from Milad Tower
    Icons of Iran in Milad Tower
    Icons of Iran in Milad Tower
    On Milad Tower: They had to work on these binoculars because they were afraid that you can see into people's homes - well we are in Iran!
    On Milad Tower: They had to work on these binoculars because they were afraid that you can see into people’s homes – well we are in Iran!
  • Kaschan: We staid in Ehsan guest house. It is like a caravanseray for tourists. We slept in the dormitory. It is separate beds, not like in a youth hostel (in Tehran for example).
    Dormitory - Caravanseray style ;-)
    Dormitory – Caravanseray style 😉

    This is typical for these kinds of acommodations but usually just tourists sleep there. It is cheap. The hotel is beautiful.

    Ehsan Guest House
    Ehsan Guest House

    Kaschan is also beautiful. We went to a beautiful house in the old center and also to the main mosque (which is near the accomodation) and a smaller mosque. Then to the former bath house. You can go to the roof there and it is beautiful.

    Roof of former bath house in Kaschan
    Roof of former bath house in Kaschan

    We booked a tour to Finn garden and Abyaneh in the nearby travel agency (at the beginning of the street of the main mosque). It was not so expensive and the taxi was waiting for us when we visited the sites. Abyaneh is beautiful.

    Main mosque in Kaschan
    Main mosque in Kaschan
    Abyaneh
    Abyaneh
  • Esfahan: It is written that this is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Well I am not sure, but it was quite nice. We visited the huge main square with its mosques and the palace, the famous bazaar, the Si-o-Seh and other bridges, the armenian quarter, the Abazi hotel, the mountain in the south, the city center (shopping) and the swimming place. The bazaar is really big and like a maze. In Iran they usually sell one kind of good in one street (for example you have a street just for lamps).

    Bazaar in Esfahan
    Bazaar in Esfahan

    Horses on Imam Square in Esfahan
    Horses on Imam Square in Esfahan

    Mosque in Esfahan (same as on money bill)
    Mosque in Esfahan (same as on money bill)
    Imam Square in Esfahan
    Imam Square in Esfahan
    Architecture students in Esfahan
    Architecture students in Esfahan
    Armenian quarter
    Armenian quarter

    The bridge is nice but we did not have water in the river so this was missing.

    Si-o-Seh bridge without water
    Si-o-Seh bridge without water

    To the mountain you can go with a cable car. At the top you can even climb up to a rock (be careful). Great view.

    Gondola to the mountains
    Gondola to the mountains

    The city center shopping place is interesting to see when all people try to go there with their cars… a big problem in Iran 😉 It seems they are (re)building a metro in Esfahan but it opened the day we had to leave… The swimming place was interesting, just men and you don’t sit down next to the pool, i.e. you leave your towel in the closet. Always interesting to go where no tourists go…

    Swimming in Esfahan
    Swimming in Esfahan
  • Yazd: The desert city. Very nice streets and buildings. We stayed at Silk Road Hotel. Same style as in Kaschan, but it is good if you book in advance. You cannot reserve for the dormitory. This was bad for us because always when we went there it was booked out. But the food is good there, also vegetarian. The third try we were able to stay there.
    Silk Road Hotel in Yazd
    Silk Road Hotel in Yazd

    We booked two tours at the nearby agency. One to a desert and another one to Meybod, Chaq Chaq and Karanaq. Highly recommended.

    Camel riding at desert tour
    Camel riding at desert tour
    Desert sunset tour
    Desert sunset tour
    Meybod
    Meybod
    On the way to Chaq Chaq
    On the way to Chaq Chaq
    Chaq Chaq
    Chaq Chaq
    Kharanaq
    Kharanaq

    Before that we went to the zoroastrian fire temple and to the towers of silence. Especially the tower of silence was one of the highlights of the whole trip for me. The zoroastrian religion was in Iran before Islam. They used to put the bodys of the dead into towers on mountains so they are eaten by birds. BTW: In Chaq Chaq you can put down your scarf – funny 🙂

    Zoroastrian Fire Temple in Yazd
    Zoroastrian Fire Temple in Yazd
    Towers of silence in Yazd
    Towers of silence in Yazd

    We went to the places with taxis. You can pay more so that they wait for you. I recommend to use more time on the tower of silence because there are two of them and if you have more time you can go up to the other one where no tourists go… we also visited the Amir Chakhmakh Complex. There is a special heroic performance near this complex, also for tourists. It is kind of a dance, similar to Capoeira in some way, but of course dancing is forbidden in Iran so it is just a “perfomance”.

    Amir Chakhmakh Complex
    Amir Chakhmakh Complex
    Heroic "Performance"
    Heroic “Performance”
  • Shiraz: In Shiraz we visited Persepolis, a great archeological site.
    Persepolis
    Persepolis

    We stayed in Golshan Traditional Hostel. We also went to Shah Cheragh mausoulem. At this time there was the Muharram “festival” in Iran and there was happening a lot at this place and in the streets (it is a sad event). It was amazing but at the same time frightening. The Mausoleum is simply amazing with all the colored lights and mirror works. We went there and some volunteering guides came to us. They were nice and patient and explained a lot to us. We made a lot of pictures and it was better to be with the guides so nobody took our camera away. (It is not allowed to take pictures of the grave itself.)

    Shah Cheragh mausoulem
    Shah Cheragh mausoulem
    Muharram
    Muharram
    Muharram picture
    Muharram picture

    We also went to Arg of Karim Khan (unfortunately it is not possible to go up the towers), the tomb of Hafez (important poet in Iran) and to the Qor’an Gate. The gate is nice but especially you can go to small hills nearby which are nice. It is the northern entrance to the city.

    Treasures of Iran
    Cultural treasures of Iran
    Vakil Bazaar
    Vakil Bazaar
    Arg of Karim Khan
    Arg of Karim Khan
    Mosque near Tomb of Hafez
    Mosque near Tomb of Hafez
    Tomb of Hafez
    Tomb of Hafez
    Near Qor’an Gate
    Near Qor’an Gate

General Travel tips

  • Well you will read it in any guidebook about Iran. You have to bring cash money as of now. Euros or Dollars are fine. There is big deflation in Iran so you will be millionair in Iranian money. They rarely use coins and they are almost worthless. They mostly say the amount in Tomans, and one Toman is ten Reals. This can be confusing at first. (Toman does not physically exist, although there have been attempts to simplify the currency.)
  • Visa: This process is kind of annoying and it changes a lot. Usually it is getting more relaxed. But in the Iranian embassy in Vienna they told me that also for Visa on Arrival I need kind of a reference number from a travel agency in Iran. More or less this means that they send your information and passport copy to the ministery and you will get a number if you are not rejected. So it is kind of a way that you know for sure that you will not have problems. Best thing of course is to get the Visa before, but this works only if you have enough time for this process. On the arrival they really checked if I already have an accomodation. I.e. they called the place (the hostel) in Tehran if I have a booking.
  • For western people everything is cheap in Iran. But be aware that there are extra tickets for non-Iranian tourists and also with Taxis you can pay 10 times what local people pay. You can try to negotiate but it can be difficult.
  • Well I said it can be difficult to negotiate. Note that if you have light skin and an europian look you will be easily recognised as a foreigner. So be careful how much you pay. Some Iranian people will just see the money in you and it will happen that they trick you. For example when arriving we paid a lot for a coke. It is good to ask for the price first. Especially when you want to go with a Taxi. It can be difficult with a Taxi because of the language barrier, but write it down or ask someone to translate. Or ask a local to negotiate for you. It is not good if people see that they can trick tourists because they will think they are stupid and do it with every tourist in the future.
  • Cars are the means of transport in Iran. Gas is very cheap. So going with a taxi is usually more or less cheap (see last point). But note that going with a car is very dangerous in Iran (many people die on the road). You will notice that when you try to cross a street. Usually there are no traffic lights for pedestrians, so you have to walk a little bit and then wait while cars pass by behind and in front of you. Don’t run, because then you loose control and the cars have no time to react, better try to get eye contact with drivers.
  • In Tehran there is a very good metro. You can save a lot of time because traffic is chaotic. There is also a good system of fast buses (going from north to south for example) and local buses. There is like a chip card which you can reload. You can also use it on the buses, but don’t forget to check-in on the machines inside the bus. With metro and fast buses there is usually a gate where you check-in
  • Between cities it is also best to use the buses which leave from bus terminals. They are very cheap. Some cities have several terminals for different directions. There are also trains but we never used them. But it can be comfortable for example when you take a night train.
  • Going with the bus can be difficult, because everything is just written in Farsi so also the numbers are different. But you can ask people for help.
  • About asking people: Iranian people are very hospital. This is an important tradition in Iran. But be aware that this can also become problematic. For example when we went to Shiraz we wanted to leave the bus earlier to go to Persepolis (maybe the most important archeological place in Iran) so we asked some people for help. Some spoke english and they told us that there are two people in the bus who also would leave the bus earlier and could help us. So we went with the guy who barely knew english. He was with his wife but we went just with him with a Taxi (Iranian women are not allowed to sit next to other men, at least in buses). He wanted to invite us to his place which was near for sleeping. Also it was already late so he suggested that we visit Persepolis on the next day. Well we knew that we still have time so we told him that we still want to go. Also for us it was good because soon it was golden hour which was very good for making a picture of the sunset in the ruins. He seemed to be very nervous, but he joined us. We paid the taxi (I think we paid a tourist price). He joined us in the ruins. He did not pay because he was a local. But he was still very nervous and wanted us to go through Persepolis very quickly. But we knew we had 90 minutes so why hurry? We tried to get rid of him several times but it did not work. Only the last time, I told him maybe his wife is waiting for him and we will call him. I said very direct that he should leave so he left. So I think this is how hospitality works: You have to find out if people really want to help you or are just doing it because of tradition or politeness. If it is the latter it can ruin your experience so be careful when you say yes to an invitation. If it interferes with your plans better say no (you may have to say it five times). Also be aware that if you accept an invitation you will give up some of your control. For me most of the times it is better to get to places on my own (using GPS or asking people for directions) and by that I will learn more about a place. Other times it can be good if you have a person who explains things to you. Just check if it is a patient person (we had people like that also). PS.: We did not call the guy.
  • Mobile phones: Best you get a phone card on the airport. You can get it at many places also in the city but it can happen that after a few days it just stops working. This is because it is necessary that the card is somehow registered and usually only at the airport this is done properly. Well a work-around is just to buy a new card when one card stops working. But it is annoying if you don’t understand the automatic voice that tells you something in persian which you don’t understand when you try to make a call. At first I thought I do not have any more credit… but I had, the card was just cancelled.
  • Facebook is not working in Iran. If you want to use it you would have to use some VPN service so that the connection goes over some other country.
    According to this advertising in Esfahan Facebook can be used for good and for bad purposes...
    According to this advertising in Esfahan Facebook can be used for good and for bad purposes…

I think Iran is a great place to travel to with very friendly people. People have suffered and are still suffering from some problems but there is big potential that it can develop into a modern society, especially now that the sanctions are raised.

4 Replies to “Iran – the good and the bad”

  1. Hi Bernhard,
    Thank you for your honest post about Iran. I’m glad you had a chance to visit my country. I saw your post on FB page and I leave this comment because I want to enlighten you on some misunderstood issues you had about Iran.
    1- visa. almost citizens of all countries except US, Canada, and UK can obtain a tourist visa for 30 days on arrival. For that, you need at least one night of accommodation and the name of the and phone number of a hotel . as a frequent traveler, this is perhaps one of the easiest conditions I ever encountered. As for citizens of UK, USA and Canada, you need a travel agency in Iran to apply you through e-visa. I know that because I have a travel agency in Iran:) But I know the embassy gave you this BS. Unfortunately, they are not updated on so many things 😐
    2- Hospitality: what you encountered as a hospitality that turned out to be “not real” calls “Taarof”. Just as a general knowledge 🙂 you may search for it on the internet.
    3- Iran is safe because we have security and civilization for 5000 yrs. this has nothing to do with Islam. I’m sorry that you read little before visiting Iran. Islam may have civilized Arabs, but Persian (the old name of Iran during Cyrus & Darius the Great) were already civilized people with their own religion (Zoroastrian). I invite you to read more about my history before judging civilization in my country. You visited Persepolis, you can educate yourself on the things that have been developed on that era for the first time in human history, such as banking, post services, etc. look for Achaemenid empire and you will be amazed.
    3- Muharram has nothing to do with Persia. In fact, there was no Shia, Sunni when Imam Hussein got killed (680 CE). Yes, Shia may have been clicked in Persia as an uprise against suppression of Umayyad dynasty, but we actually never colonized by Arabs. We Persianized Islam in Persia. As you can see, we kept our language and culture, unlike other conquered countries by Islam.
    4-Women: Yes, we have to wear a scarf, but I don’t know where you gathered the rest of info. Here it is: women will not go to prison for what they were. They’re asked to follow the dress code by police, not prison. (Not that I think it’s a good thing, not that it’s not humiliating, but come on prison?!) women have every right in marriage if they chose to. Islamic marriage (the religion of the majority of ppl) has a term which could be close to the “dowry” concept in the west. The Wife is entitled to a “gift” for marrying the husband. this so-called gift cold be money, jewelry, (anything valuable). There is no standard or limit for this gift and the amount of it is part of the negotiation between two families. (It could be as little as a price of a rose to 2000 gold coin! no limits). Some girls decide to exchange this “gift” with more freedom and add clauses to their marriage certificate to be able to get divorce easily, or have freedom on their travel, residence, career, etc. some don’t 🙂 It’s a choice. and they definitely have a name! in fact, unlike the west, the wife keeps her own last name and is not changing it to the husband’s last name! and you definitely can shake the hand of women. if a woman decides not to, it’s her choice, not obligated!
    5- Leaving the country is not difficult what so ever! this is probably the most nonsense I heard ever said about Iranian! contrary to what you wrote, women actually are freer to leave the country when they are single than when they are married! when they are married, they need their husband permission (unless added the clause to marriage certificate)! check out Turkey, Dubai, Thailand, or else once to see how many Iranian women travel on their own or how much Iranian travel in general! in fact, because there is not much freedom in Iran, people travel to Turkey, Armenia, Dubai for some beach fun ALL the time! If they can’t come to Europe as much, it’s not because they can’t leave the country, but because EU doesn’t give Schengen easily!
    I hope it helped you to correct some of your facts 🙂
    Happy traveling!
    Nassim

  2. Hi,
    I’m Amirali, a 23 year old Iranian. Your article seems to be honest and I like the fact that you tried to give a realistic impression about your observations. Also, your photos look nice! I want to add some comments that might be helpful for other foreigners thinking about maybe travelling one day to Iran:
    1) your impression of people being nice and hospitable is very true! Unfortunately, sometimes Iranians are just pushy with their offer of help. BUT this doesn’t mean that they cannot travel abroad and see for themselves. that might be true for 20-30% of the people. The most important factor is that they want to show the true colors of Iranian people and their cultures to tourists as representatives of foreign countries to improve the image created by western media.
    2)”For example a woman can only leave the country if she is married or has children and goes alone” I’m sorry but this is absolutely wrong. There are a lot of Iranian girls travelling to foreign countries and they’re not married.
    3)”If they are married they don’t have a name, just “Wife of …”.
    Again, this is not true. Maybe in a few extremely traditional & super religious families.
    The wife usually carries her husband’s surname by her will. in official documents the surname of the women won’t change and in unofficial documents its optional.
    4) “You cannot shake the hand of a woman.” You usually don’t shake hands with women at the first time you meet them. But this thing is applicable to only religious group of people, less than half.
    5) I also recommend couchsurfing in Iran, especially to meet locals in different cities asking them to guide you through your visit of different sites. Hanging out with them will also give you better insight of Iranian culture.

    1. Hi Bernhard,
      My name is ahura and i’m a 22 year old iranian first of all i’m very happy that you visited here so it may be too late but welcome to iran 😀
      Second well from reading your detailed article i understood that you are not knowledgeable about the history of iran and because of that you were confused about some traditions and behaviors and some of what you said are based on what your media tells you so allow me to correct some of these for you:
      1-First of all is the thing that you said about islam civilizing iranians. now that is a dangerous sentence to say to iranian for most iranians being considered arab or called an arab is a very big insult and i mean very big. you see the only thing we and arabs have in common is islam and that’s it. iran is the world oldest country and one of the oldest civilizations in the world i suggest you read about the achaemenids and parthians and sassanids(The iranian empires before islam) to better understand this or research a little about zoroastrianism( one of the world’s oldest monotheistic religions and the national religion of iran before islam). i believe this will give you a general idea about what is iran.
      2-the part about women mein freund … is mostly(not completely) false. i believe nassim razi as an iranian woman covered that part very good
      3-the martyrs. they are a very very sensitive subject and as a friend i advise you to not judge them this easily the iran-iraq war was the an imposed war on us by the ba’ath regim of iraq(which was supported by both usa and russia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iran–Iraq_War) a complete unfair and unjust war the only weapon that the iraqis did not use was an nuclear one(your country gave saddam chemical weapons even Which he used on innocent people) now before you say that im saying this as iranian and… please read the wikipedia article first then judge also we live in one of the most dangerous parts of the world we have ISIS to west islamic mujahedeen to east the threat of saudi’s and arab countries(which supported saddam financially) from the south so we have to be ready. above all of that in iranian culture the highest honor one can receive is being martyred in defence of his country. so if you see their statues or paintings or names around much it’s because we are really proud of them.
      4-Ashura: ashura is a very sacred and important event for iranians and shiites. i believe by reading the wikipedia article you may understand a little bit
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Day_of_Ashura
      5- is the tradition of “taarof” which is an imprtant tradition between iranians and from your article i understand that you dont know much about it. in general for the first three times if someone offers you something for free(food, ride,….) or offers to do something for you it’s him being polite so if after refusing his offer for 2 or 3 times he still offers you the same thing then you accept his offer

      well that is one long comment sorry for writing this much
      if you have any questions about iran this is my email
      ahuramajdinasab@gmail.com i will be very happy to help

      best wishes
      Ahura

  3. Dear Bernhard,

    Very insightful, but I believe you got the toman/rial rate wrong. A toman equals ten rials, therefore a rial is a tenth of a toman. You should also mention that a toman does not physically exist, it is only a calculation.
    Happy Travels, Benjamin

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *