Trip to Iran – In the footsteps of the ancient Persians

Traveling Iran

This post refers to a trip to Iran before the current situation. At the moment, it is definitely NOT advisable to travel to Iran

A trip to Iran? That’s practically suicide, isn’t it? You are tired of life, why does one do such a thing voluntarily? They are all terrorists! This is only a small excerpt of the reactions of friends and acquaintances that awaited me when I made it clear to them where my next trip will take me.

In Iran, you can expect imposing remnants of the Persian Empire, almost boundless hospitality and incredibly delicious food.

As always, a very brief general input on Iran. Iran has about as many people as Germany in an area about five times as large. On the eastern side, Iran borders Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan. On the western side, there are common borders with Iraq, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Armenia. The absolute majority of Iranians are Shiite Muslims.

Top 7 highlights for your trip to Iran

For me, it was super difficult to rank the top highlights of my Iran vacation. Each place is actually an experience in itself. At this point it should be said that I may use here some photos of my friend Bahar from Iran, because my photography skills were unfortunately at that time still virtually non-existent. The whole thing is of course agreed and also indicated in the photos. One or the other may wonder about my order now. About Shiraz I can not say too much, because I was there on a holiday and therefore only little to see. Also Kashan is a place that I would definitely look again, but it just did not make it into my top highlights.

1) Camping in the Varzaneh desert near Isfahan

The absolute top highlight of my Iran vacation was the opportunity to camp in the desert with my Couchsurfing host. Not quite cheap, since we had to borrow a tent and also had to pay a small entrance fee rather we were brought to our place, but in hindsight worth every penny. “Unfortunately” we had to do it this way as we didn’t have a car available and we wanted to camp in the middle of the desert and not on the edge. We were 6 people total including my host’s friends. The atmosphere was breathtaking, both at sunset and sunrise. At night we grilled pickled by his buddies. Chicken and warmed ourselves by the fire with warm tea. The only danger is the wise scorpions you have to be a little careful of, as their venom is deadly – fortunately we didn’t encounter any. This experience was absolutely unique and just to my taste and a totally unexpected adventure.

2) Kandovan

Another recommendation for your trip to Iran is the rock village Kandovan. Who ever read Asterix & Obelix will think “the people here live in menhirs” – and that’s how it really looks like. The stones were hollowed out from the inside and serve as multi-story dwellings for the approximately 600 people who populate the village. On site I was told that the name “Kandovan” means the plural of the word “Kando”, which means honeycomb. Sounds sensible, but unfortunately I can’t prove whether this is actually true. Here it should be said that Kandovan for people who have already seen the stone houses in Cappadocia or Granada, will be rather less high on the highlight list.

3) Teheran

The vibrant capital of Iran with its umpteen faces was a great introduction to the country for me. My recommendation: Look for a Couchsurfing host from Germany in advance. In my case, I was able to find out a few things in advance through contact. There is so much to discover in Tehran – it is even more fun if a local can show you some places. The north of Tehran has great restaurants and the Tochal, the mountain that offers a great view over the capital. Besides the Golestan Palace, there are some historical places you should see.

4) Isfahan

The third largest city in the country is located about 400 km south of Tehran. Unconsciously, everyone has seen a picture of the famous Si-o-se-pol bridge. Some will now think “yes I have seen that picture before”. Isfahan was the capital of Persia in the 16th and 17th centuries and looks back on a glorious past. Once Isfahan was even one of the largest cities in the world. Therefore, it is not surprising that there are also particularly many tourists who look at the magnificent mosques, bridges, boulevards and palaces. Isfahan was also the only place during my trip where I had to be careful not to get ripped off when bargaining, shopping or eating out.

5) Persepolis

Founded in 518 B.C, Persepolis was the capital of the Achaemenids in the ancient Persian Empire. Today’s UNESCO World Heritage Site covers an area of 12.5 hectares, making it one of the most unique excavation sites. It was built by Darius I. The area consists of 9 buildings, 3 of which were built by Darius I (Palace, Winter Palace and Municipal House). The other 6 buildings were built by his successors. The visit is worthwhile in any case and is, compared to other excavation sites, very affordable. The entrance fee is 200,000 Rial. Be sure to take headgear, as it gets particularly hot here and shaded areas are few and far between.

6) Yazd

Another highlight during your vacation in Iran, which you should not miss is the city of Yazd. The buildings of the desert city are built exclusively of clay, which gives a great uniform image. The old town consists of endless alleys, some of which have to be passed in a crouch. A special highlight is the Jameh Mosque with its high minarets and blue mosaics. Also typical for Yazd are the water reservoirs (called Ab Anbar) with their round domes.

Route for your trip to Iran

My trip to Iran lasted just under 4 weeks – too short as I found out. Depending on the itinerary, you can also do the “classics” like Tehran, Isfahan, Shiraz, Persepolis and Yazd within 14 days. As always, I recommend you plan more time and also get to know Iran far away from the highlights. I will definitely come here again, as I didn’t manage to do everything I had planned. I have outlined my itinerary for my vacation in Iran and the respective length of stay. Maybe it inspires you ;-).

  • Day 1: Arrival in Tehran
  • Day 2 & 3 : Seeing the sights of the city and drifting (Golestan Palace, Azadi Tower, the largest Bazaar in the world and the former US Embassy). I spent the evenings on Mount Tochal and at the Tabiat Bridge respectively
  • Day 4: Bus to Täbriz
  • Day 5: See the city
  • Day 6 Kandovan
  • Day 7: Bus to Ardebil and see the city and a visit to one of the baths.
  • Day 8: Bus back to Tabriz and visit a football match
  • Day 9: Fkight to Shiraz
  • Day 10 & 11: Shiraz, Poets Garden, Sightseeing etc.
  • Day 12: Persepolis
  • Day 13: Bus to Yazd
  • Day 14 + 15: Explore the place and enjoy the quiet atmosphere
  • Day 16: Bus to Isfahan
  • Day 17: Explore Isfahan
  • Day 18: Camping in Varzaneh desert
  • Day 19: Bus to Kashan
  • Day 20: Explore Kashan
  • Day 21: Visit Abyaneh
  • Day 22: Bus to Tehran
  • Day 23 + 24: Meet the people again and departure
Reiseroute Iran

What you should know before your trip to Iran!

  • Take enough cash with you, there is no possibility to withdraw it locally.
  • Women must cover their hair at least partially in public.
  • Download a VPN app such as “Lantern”, otherwise you won’t be able to access social media.
  • Understanding Taroof to prevent misunderstandings
  • To be sure, look at the numbers to better estimate if you are paying the right price.
  • There are 2 currencies in Iran, Rial and Toman. Familiarize yourself with them beforehand!

Means of transport in Iran

Getting from A to B in Iran is no problem, but sometimes requires a little patience. The public transportation in Iran is very cheap. Here I put together the different possibilities:

Public transportation

Especially the big cities are very well connected with each other and there are regular buses, so it was no problem at all for me to make my Iran trip with public transport. There is usually a “normal” variant and a “VIP” which does not have to be much more expensive. For a bus ride of about 6-7h from Tehran to Tabriz I paid about 10 €.


In the cities there are cabs on every corner. It can also happen that a normal car suddenly becomes a cab when it sees you. Here you should always be careful and never accept the first price that is offered to you. In contrast to the rest of Iran, I often had the situation that the drivers wanted to rip you off. You will hardly find anything like cab meters. If you are unsure, you should limit yourself to the ride with the yellow official cabs.

Savaris (Shared Taxis)

On some routes there are so-called Savaris. You can usually find these cabs near bus terminals or at forks in the road. The cabs have fixed prices and only leave when full. Usually the drivers stand outside and call out the destination. Here you should also make sure that the cab only leaves when it is full and you do not suddenly get a private ride.


Iran has airports in all major cities. Flights cannot (as far as I am informed) be booked through our usual online portals. I flew from Tabriz to Shiraz for about 70 €. I booked the flight in a travel agency in Tabriz, which turned out to be an adventure due to the language barrier, as I couldn’t even read what was written. But even this was not a problem after some time. In principle, I would recommend to use the well-developed bus network.

Find accommodation in Iran

Since you can’t easily book accommodation through the mainstream platforms, the search for accommodation is much the same as it was before the smartphone era.

Food- und Drink-Guide for Iran

The food in Iran is excellent. In short, there are many stew-like dishes, grilled and bread. Here are some dishes you should definitely try during your trip to Iran! Alcohol in Iran is only found in private behind closed doors. Consumption in public is strictly forbidden. If you do get the chance to try the liquors, get ready for something, they have it in them!

Ābguscht (Dizi): One of the most interesting dishes in Iran is called Ābguscht or Dizi. “Dizi” is the traditional clay pot in which the stew is served. It usually consists of braised lamb, chickpeas, various beans, potatoes, tomatoes, turmeric and limes and bread. You will get the clay pot, a separate bowl and some bread. First, pour the broth from the pot into the bowl (it’s best to use a fork to hold back the “solid bits”). Next, the bread is plucked into small pieces and then placed in the broth. Now the two dishes are eaten, bon appétit 🙂


Asch: Iranian soup Asch is a super cheap and available almost everywhere. I would say it is something between a stew and a soup. It comes in umpteen variations, with a wide variety of ingredients like chickpeas, various meats, noodles, and so on. I always found it delicious.

Asch ein klassisches Essen während eurem Urlaub im Iran

Ghormeh Sabzi: An absolute classic of Persian cuisine. The herb stew consists of the main herbs field garlic, fenugreek and parsley. Furthermore, beans and meat (mostly lamb) are in it again. It is usually served with rice, like most dishes.

Fesendschān: Another super delicious dish…. The stew-like dish consists mainly of pomegranate syrup, walnuts, meat (mostly chicken or wing duck). The dish is dark brown in color and is usually served with rice. The taste is sweet and sour. My absolute favorite food from Iran.

Falafel: The cheapest thing you can eat here are falafel sandwiches. Similar to Ikea, you get a sandwich and can fill it yourself. There are usually different vegetables and sauces to choose from. A falafel costs only a few cents.

Kebab (Koobideh): Kebab is the generic term for all meat skewers in Iran. The classic among the skewers is “Koobideh”, which are grilled minced meat skewers. They are usually served with parsley, an onion and tomatoes. They are served with rice or bread and doogh as a drink.

Zeytoun Parvardeh: An excellent snack! Olives pickled in pomegranate and walnuts, I have consumed felt tons of them.

Faloodeh: An ice cream made of rice noodles with rose water, sounds crazy, right? But it’s really a delicious desert. The dessert comes from Shiraz.

Doogh: A yogurt drink that is often served with food. It tastes sour, somewhat similar to ayran, but is usually somewhat thinner and is refined with finely chopped herbs.

Pomegranate juice: Nothing typically Persian, but super tasty and refreshing – can be found almost on every corner!

Arak: An anise-like liquor that sometimes comes offered by hosts. Is usually distilled somewhere secretly in the village. The drink is strong and has between 40 and 65 revolutions.

Chai Siah: Be prepared to drink many cups of the traditional black tea with the locals. Iranians almost always drink their tea – and of course offer it to you!

Breakfast: A typical Persian breakfast consists of Liqwan cheese, Lavash bread, parsley, onions and tomato.

Important information for your trip to Iran

The sanctions against Iran:

The first sanctions against Iran were imposed in 1979 when students stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took diplomats and civilians hostage for 444 days. More sanctions followed because Iran attacked U.S. patrol ships and did not abide by agreements in the nuclear deal to stop uranium enrichment. The sanctions are constantly felt in Iran. For example, Iran is cut off from international payments. Credit cards such as Visa and MasterCard do not work here. Conversely, this means that Iranians cannot order things from abroad. What I found very pleasant as a visitor is that the city centers were not lined with stores of US corporations. The sanctions are also the reason why you have to take all your cash from Germany with you, which you can then exchange locally. Withdrawal is unfortunately not possible with foreign bank cards.


Man, I had my problems with that in the beginning… You enter a small store and buy a small coke, you want to pay for the goods and the seller waves you off. It looks like he wants to give you the coke as a gift. Because I am well brought up, I try again to push the money into the seller’s hand. Once again he waves me off. I thank him warmly and want to write the store, but I am prevented from doing so by the salesman, who holds me by the arm. With a hand signal he tells me that I still have to pay for the Coke. Irritated, I give him the money and can now leave the store – this is Taroof! Understood? That’s how I felt at first.

This is part of Persian politeness and is intended to convey the feeling that the goods are worthless in contrast to the acquaintance you have just made with the customer. So you should insist on paying for your goods, even if it seems at first that the shopkeeper or cab driver is rendering his service for nothing in return.


The hospitality of the Iranians seems to know no bounds. Sometimes it’s hard to get away from your hosts. I was on countless family evenings with my Couchsurfing hosts and people I have met so. Here I also feel it is particularly important that you do not develop the attitude and take everything for granted. Unfortunately, I noticed this with some travelers. Also some Couchsurfing hosts were a bit annoyed by disrespectful guests who took everything for granted. I would bring some nice souvenirs from your home country, hosts are usually very happy about that!


Muharram is called the first month of the Islamic calendar. The Shiites commemorate Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, who died in the Battle of Karbala in 680. Mourning begins on the first day of the month and ends on the tenth day, called Ashura. During these ten days, numerous rituals and funeral marches take place every day. In Tabriz, for example, tens of thousands of Shiites dressed in black were on the streets every evening singing laments and symbolically throwing chains over their shoulders. To experience Muharram in Iran is really a very special experience. There are parades in the streets, laments are sung and wealthy people distribute food to the needy.

Iran visa

There are 3 ways how you can get your visa for Iran: Online, at an issuing office or on Arrival. I had decided for the VoA, which also worked smoothly. You do not get a stamp in the passport, but only, either the online visa, or a sheet which you put in your passport and carry with you during your stay.

Frequently asked questions about your trip to Iran

Yes! I recommend you to travel Iran on your own, without a booked tour etc.. Iran is a country in which there are so many exciting adventures to discover, which are of course withheld from booked tours. However, you can still participate in guided tours to special places. Get over yourself and off you go!
Depending on your plans and the type of trip, I would plan a budget of +/- 30 € per day and person. Remember that you have to take everything in cash and have it with you all the time.
No, Iran is one of the cheaper countries and you can get by with very little money.
This depends on the political situation, which can change very quickly. In general, I felt very safe in Iran and there were no “threatening” moments.
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We are Julian & Naomi and we love to travel the world and immerse ourselves in other cultures. We have an adventurous, spartan, sustainable and reflective travel style. In our opinion, the greatest adventures are experienced when you do things on your own and try to live like a local. The taste of a country is best captured on the road
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