Following a thawing in international relations with Iran in 2015, the country is at long last opening up to UK visitors. But after years of negative representation in the media, Iran flies somewhat under the radar as a travel destination.
As someone who has spent time growing up in Iran, I know that it is massively underrated! The country has an impressive number of UNESCO Heritage Sites and a wealth of cultural spots. This guide will give you the lowdown on the top sights to see in this magnificent country – and show you that a trip to Iran offers much to the curious tourist!
Wander Around Naqsh-e Jahan Square
Much like the Eiffel Tower, seeing the Naqsh-e Jahan Square in Esfahan is one of those travel moments that will stick with you forever. Built by Shah Abbas the Great at the start of the 17th century, the square is bordered by majestic buildings such as the Mosque of Sheikh Lotfollah and the 15th century Timurid Palace. Its name translates as ‘pattern of the world’, which is totally fitting for its majestic turquoise tiles and attractive outdoor space. It is one of the largest squares on earth and boasts UNESCO World Heritage Site status. Top of any travel list for Iran!
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Persepolis should not be missed on a first time visit to Iran. Persepolis are the ancient ruins which were once the centre of the Persian Empire. Excavations began in the 1930s, revealing a small glimpse into what Persepolis was once like. Monumental staircases, impressive gateways and fine reliefs proudly stand there today, giving you an everlasting impression of Iran.
Take a Trip to Yazd
This desert city is an enchanting destination that should be on any travel itinerary for Iran. Filled with mud brick buildings, you will find impressive blue-tiled domes with wind towers, ancient lanes and winding streets to explore. The city is bursting with history and culture, with spots such as Khan-e Lari, the best-preserved Qajar-era house and the Saheb A Zaman Club Zurkhaneh building, where you can find Iranian body builders carrying out their daily exercises. Inspiring stuff for your own workout regime!
When you think of Iran, skiing probably won’t be the first thing that springs to mind. However, there’s plenty of it around the Tehran area, and all with pretty easy access! The Dizin resort, located only about two hours from Tehran, is the most popular option with steep slopes and lots of untracked snow to interest skiers of all levels. Why not head over to see a slightly different side to Iran, as well as getting your fix of adventure?
Check out Tehran’s Art Scene
Iran is changing in terms of artistic landscape, making now such an exciting time to visit. There is a growing contemporary art scene in the capital, providing a wonderful alternative to the endless amount of museums on offer. The HOMA Art Gallery in central Tehran showcases art pieces from alternative and up-and-coming Iranian artists. Check out its gallery program for any exhibitions for when you’re there.
Haggle in the Bazaar of Tabriz
Tabriz bazaar is another landmark boasting UNESCO Heritage Site status. This is a historic market, so massive it covers seven square kilometres, so you’re definitely going to need several pit stops while you explore it! The area has 22 magnificent timchehs (domed halls) and 24 separate caravanserais on display, providing a fantastic backdrop to your shopping experience. Tabriz bazaar is a place to literally follow your senses, floating between shops selling natural perfumes, dried fruits and herbal remedies. On other stalls, you will see piles of Persian carpets available to purchase – a wonderful souvenir from Iran!
Mashhad is Iran’s holiest city, and home to the Haram-e Razavi shrine complex, which is a must-visit on any cultural trip to Iran. Forever growing in size and beauty, you can find clusters of domes, blue minarets, majestic fountains and grand courtyards throughout the complex. Visitors are allowed to visit the majority of Haram-e Razavi’s outer courtyards, but must dress conservatively to do so. We recommend visiting more than once so you can see this stunning attraction in several different lights.