Iran, an ancient land filled with historical sights, exceptional architecture, dried deserts and beautiful snow-capped mountains. With over 18 UNESCO World Heritage Sites few countries have a history that can compete with this amazing country. From Yazd, declared by UNESCO as the second most historic city in the world, to the ancient gems of Persepolis and for that truly 'authentic' Iranian experience visiting rural villages to discover the true culture and traditions of this amazing country.
Experience the delights of the ancient Persian Empire on our 18 day tour to Iran. Discover what we already know - Iran is not only extremely rich in Persian culture but is so many things rolled into one. From thousand year old sites to the chaotic traffic of Tehran, Iran's greatest attraction is undoubtedly the warmth and generosity of its' people.
Our group tour commences this evening in the bustling city of Tehran. After our welcome meeting there is the opportunity to sample Iran’s famous fare. A great start to a fantastic tour of Iran!
We start our day at the National Museum of Iran where we get a crash course in Iran’s rich history – this will lay the groundwork for the rest of our trip! We’ll also visit the newly refurbished Museum of the Islamic Period where we’ll see arts and antiquities from the Islamic period, including calligraphy and textiles. After lunch, get ready to witness one of Tehran’s biggest draw cards – the National Jewellery Museum. Located in the vault of the National Bank, this collection of crowns, tiaras and precious gems was amassed by the Iranian Royal family from the 16th century onwards and is, quite simply jaw dropping.
Our focus this morning is on the sprawling Golestan Palace compound located in the heart and historic centre of Tehran. This is one of the oldest compounds in Tehran and was originally built during the Safavid Dynasty. Not far from the palace is the Grand Bazaar of Tehran. Described as a city within a city the bazaar here is know to have been an area of trade for more than a thousand years (although the oldest walls and buildings still here are only around 400 years of age). All this walking means we’ll need to refuel, so we’ll follow the Tehranis to a popular local spot for some lunch. Iran is known for it’s carpets, so no visit to Tehran would be complete without a visit to the Carpet Museum to see some of the countries finest examples. This evening we’ll stroll the Tabiat Bridge and find dinner overlooking two of the cities finest parks.
Leaving Tehran behind this morning, we make our way to the ancient city of Ecbatana (modern day Hamadan) where we’ll have lunch. After lunch we’ll visit the rock inscription of Ganjnameh. Carved by Darius the Great and his son Xerxes I, the inscriptions appear in three languages – Old Persian, Elamite and Babylonian. From here we make our way to Kermanshah.
We start our day with a visit to the UNESCO Heritage site of Taq-e Bostan. These bas-relief carvings are some of the best surviving from the Sassanid era and feature royal hunting scenes, backed by elephants. Later we’ll visit the site of Bisotun, featuring more bas-relief carvings, these ones dating from 521BC.
An early start today as it’s one our biggest drives of the trip. However, you’ll forget all that time on the road when we reach our destination this afternoon: Esfahan! This is, without a doubt, the most visually stunning city in Iran.
There’s was a 16th century rhyme that went “Esfahan nesf-e jahan”, which means Esfahan is half the world. While perhaps not so geographically accurate, it is certainly true that the former capital of the Persian Empire is certainly one of the most beautiful cities in the world. We’ll begin our exploration with the Masjed-e Jahmeh, a perfect example of 800 years different Islamic architectural styles. Next we’ll visit the only surviving palace of the royal precinct, Chehel Sotun, before making our way to Naqshe-e Jahan Square, the second largest square in the world and one that has change little since its construction in 1602. After lunch we’ll take a peek inside the Bazaar-e Bozorg (Grand Bazaar), exploring it’s labyrinthine alleyways shopping for handicrafts. Later this evening, once the sun has set, we’ll make like the local Esfahanis and stroll across the bridge of 33 arches, Pol Si-e-She.
We’ll start our day with a visit to Jolfa, the Armenian Quarter of the city and its’ magnificent Vank Cathedral. Later we’ll make our way back to Imam Square where we can relax in a traditional teahouse, before visiting what can be considered the pinnacle of Persian Islamic architecture – the Masjed-e Sheike Lotfollah and the Masjed-e Shah. These two mosques can help but make a lasting impression.
It’s a “bus” day today, as we make our way from Esfahan to another one-time-capital of the Persian Empire, Shiraz. The capital during the Zand Dynasty (1747 – 79), Shiraz was one of the most important cities in the medieval Islamic world and is still considered to be the centre of Persian culture. It’s said that Iranian homes have two books, the Quran and a collection of poems by the poet Hafez. A city of poets, Shiraz is known as a city of learning and poetry, and of course it is perhaps most famous for the wine it is no longer able to produce.
One of Shiraz’s most well known sites (an definitely its most photographed!), is the Masjed-e Nasir al-Molk, more commonly known as the Pink Mosque. We’ll visit in the morning as the sun streams through the stained glass windows, filling the space with a kaleidoscope of rainbow light. Later we’ll visit the tombs of the poets Hafez and Sa’di and you’ll see the poetic sway they hold on Iranian’s hearts with the many people who make a pilgrimage to their graves. After lunch we’ll return to the historical centre of the city, visiting the Masjed-e Vakli, the well preserved hammam-e Vakil (bath house) and then we enter the wide vaulted brick avenues of the Bazaar-e Vakil.
Although it needs little introduction, we must say that Persepolis is one of the most jaw-dropping sites we’ve encountered on our travels. This city embodies the pinnacle of Darius the Great’s Achaemenid Empire, but it also represents it’s ultimate demise at the hands of Alexander the Great. The extensive ruins here are marvelously well preserved and you’re unlikely to encounter such extensive and well-preserved bas-relief carvings anywhere else in the region.
This evening we have a special treat – dinner with some good friends in Iran who will prepare for you the best home-cooked Iranian cuisine you’ll taste all trip!
This morning we say goodbye to the city of Poets and head to the city of Wind Catchers, Yadz. On the way we'll visit Pasargadae, the ancient city that predates Persepolis and was built by Cyrus the Great. We’ll also see the ancient Abarkooh Cyprus tree which is, apparently, the oldest tree in the world at just 4000 years young!
Long considered an important stop on the trade routes, Yazd is a charmingly fascinating desert city. According to UNESCO, the old town of Yazd is one of the oldest in the world and today you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time as you wander the maze of historic lanes. Yazd is also the home to Ateshkadeh, a Zoroastrian Fire Temple where the flame has reportedly been burning since 470AD. After this introduction to Zoroastrianism, we’ll visit the Towers of Silence, a once-sacred site where the bodies of deceased Zoroastrians were offered to the earth. Here in the desert it can be difficult to believe that there is any water to be found, but this afternoon we’ll visit the Yazd Water Museum to find out how qanats (water channels) were dug to supply water for drinking and irrigation. This evening we’ll join the locals in a stroll around the evocative Amir Chakhmaq Complex.
As we leave Yazd today and make our way to Kashan, we’ll stop at the ancient city of Meybod. Reported to be at least 1800 years old, here we’ll see the Narin Castle that dates from Sassanid times, as well as an ice house (yes, ICE house. In the desert!) and a traditional pigeon house. This afternoon we’ll arrive in Kashan, an historic oasis city that was once a centre for tile and pottery production.
Kashan is such a beautiful, laid back city that we thought it the perfect place to spend an extra night and explore the surrounding area. Today we’ll make our way south of Kashan to the village of Qamsar, renowned throughout Iran for its fields of roses and production of rose water. From here we’ll continue to Abyaneh, filled with narrow, twisting lanes lined by red, mud-brick houses, this ancient village is said to be at least 1500 years old. This afternoon, we return to our hotel in Kashan – a beautifully restored mansion dating from the Qajar era.
We did say that Kashan is one of our favourite places in Iran and today you’ll see why! Wondering the atmospheric streets, we’ll visit the beautiful Tabatabei and Boroujerdi Houses as well as the hammam of Sultan Amir Ahmad, a 500 year old bathhouse with roof top views of the city over the tops of the bath house domes. This afternoon, we’ll relax in the stunning Bagh-e Fin, or Fin Gardens – the perfect way to while away an afternoon.
As we make our way back to Tehran today, we'll stop in the city of Qom. Qom is considered by Shia Muslims to be the second most sacred city in Iran after Mashhad. After lunch we'll do battle with the infamous Tehran traffic as we make our way to the hotel for our final night in this amazing country.
This morning we will bid farewell to new friends as our cultural tour of Iran concludes after breakfast.
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Ask any Iranian and they will tell you that food is at the center of Persian culture; it’s integral to everything.
For us food is a delightful vehicle to discover a country, its’ people and culture and for those who have never experienced Iranian food you will find it gentle and calming not fiery and spicy. Elaborate rice dishes layered with herbs, vegetables as fresh as can be, dried fruits, nuts, slow cooked stews all come together to create smells, colours and textures.
Food in Iran is as diverse as its’ people. Tabriz, a place of a culinary connection for centuries where visiting the famous bazaar you will see spices from China and India sold alongside some of the most delicate silks and decorative carpets. For us Tabriz has some of the best street food that we tasted in Iran. We were told to try the mashed potato and hard boiled eggs, smothered in thick slabs of melting butter, sprinkled with dried mint and wrapped in a warm flatbread. The cuisine of the province of Giles is famous for its’ river fish and caviar but if you are a vegetarian this is the place to be with its’ fresh Aubergines and garlic appearing at every meal, alongside the mounds of fresh coriander, parsley and dill. A speciality of Fuman is small pastries filled with ground walnuts, cinnamon and cardamom and you can buy these at one of the stalls throughout this small village.
Shiraz is famous for its’ roses and these days the distilled rose water is mainly used in desserts such as faloodeh an aromatic and refreshing rosewater and lime sorbet with frozen vermicelli.
Try a saffron and rosewater custard ice-cream flecked with toasted pistachios in Isfahan you won’t be disappointed.
No visit to Shiraz would be complete without a visit to the Nasir-al-Mulk Mosque (Pink Mosque) a classic example of Iranian architecture. The simplicity of the facade from outside gives no hint to the beauty that lays within. Visit the mosque early morning and watch the morning light through the stained glass windows cast a kaleidoscope of vibrant colours onto the tightly woven Persian carpet of this beautiful mosque. One hour from this beautiful city lies the well preserved ruins of Persepolis. These ruins still speak eloquently of the magnificence of the Persian Empire as it was nearly two and a half millennia ago.
One of our go to places when visiting Isfahan is the Imam Square, the world's second largest square. The intricacies of the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque situated in the square is enough to leave you speechless. The stunning blue-green tiles and soaring roof will leave you in awe, again another perfect example of the exquisite craftmanship of the masons of the Safavid times. Visit the mosque at night and you will see how the lit-up facade majestically watches over Emam square.
The Sultan Amir Ahmad Bathhouse in Kashan is simply stunning with its’ vaulted ceilings, exquisite paintings and mosaics and in our opinion one of the best preserved historical bathhouses Iran has to offer. Check out the roof top, it offers a 360 degree view of the city and all its’ surroundings. For some down time head to Fin Garden possibly the oldest and most authentic Persian garden in existence. Built during the Safavid period, it features long pools, shady ancient cypress trees and fine Safavid era tilework.
With a nickname of ‘The City of Wind-catchers’ due to its sheer volume of wind-catchers and adaptation to the desert surroundings it is no surprise that this is one of our favourite cities in Iran. Yazd is purported to be the ‘oldest living city on Earth’ given that it’s been continually inhabited for about 7000 years so one can understand there is a wealth of history in this city. Visit Masjid-e-Jame (Friday Mosque) it is one of the best examples of Persian architecture and beautiful mosaic work.
A visit to Meybod should be on every travellers list. It’s roughly 52km north of Yazd and is a mud-brick town approximately 1800 years old. Check out the massive mud brick 300 year old caravanserai you won’t be disappointed. Don’t forget to check out the Meybod Ice House a gigantic conical shaped mud-brick structure with a deep bowl sunken into the ground, used to keep food cool throughout the year before the luxury of fridges. During the winter, ice and snow would be packed into the chamber where it was kept in a cool dark ice-house to prevent melting. Perishable food such as meat was stored in there until such a time as they were needed.
The first thing one notices is the unique architecture of this beautiful village as the buildings cascade down the hillside. Much similar to that of Masouleh the roofs of some of the houses are used to serve as the courtyard for the houses higher up the slope. It is interesting to watch the villagers go about their daily lives in much the same way as was practised over the centuries.
From carpets to qurans, ancient artefacts to modern day art Tehran is indisputably home to some of the best annually to ask for blessings and it is said that more miracles happen at this site than anywhere else.museums and galleries. Although it does not have the illustrious history of Isfahan, Shiraz or for that fact Kashan you will discover in Tehran more about Iran’s 20th century upheavals from the tarnished grandeur of the Pahlavi palaces to the many fading murals in praise of Khomeini and the Iraq war martyrs.
Let’s face it everybody’s heard the negative talk about Iran being unsafe and dangerous but believe us it is one of the safest places we have ever visited. With visa policies relaxing and sanctions being lifted Iran will be one of the next hot spot destinations on your bucket list. But the thought of applying for a visa simply blows your mind as travel warnings continue and diplomatic relations become strained. So that you don’t miss out on visiting this incredible country we have put together some useful information on obtaining a visa either by way of applying to an Embassy or picking your visa on arrival in Iran.
Please note however if you have an Israeli passport or an Israeli stamp in your passport you will be refused entry into Iran.
The Ministry of Iran announced on 14th February 2016 that airports have been directed to issue 30 day visas for nationals of the 180 countries.
Non-eligible nationalities for Iran Visa On Arrival are Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Canada, Colombia, India, Jordan, Pakistan, Somalia, USA and UK.
Before you can apply for your visa (3 months but with maximum stay in Iran of 30 days) you have to apply for an Authorisation Number. EVERYONE has to have one of these and it will determine if you are granted an application for a visa or not. For those who have to travel in a group i.e. UK, USA, and Canada), this code will normally be processed by your tour company, for everyone else, you can use IranianVisa.com. We found Let’s Go Iran (https://www.letsgoiran.com) based in Shiraz pretty good in obtaining our Authorisation Number. Note that when completing the application form to obtain an authorization number you will need to state which embassy you wish to pick your visa up from also include completed application for, colour copy of your passport page and current passport photo of yourself. If you are applying on-line here is a link to the Iranian Embassy in Canberra http://www.iranianvisa.com/index.htm
The wait for your Authorisation Number can take anywhere between 1 week to 1 month. If you have gone with a travel agent they will send you the Authorisation number. This number is connected to your LOI which has been sent to the Iranian Embassy that you have designated on your form. Conversley if you have applied on line they will send you an email with this number. The cost is USD$50 – USD$70.00 dependent on what service you have applied for. This fee however is not static and could change.
OK so now we have our Authorsation Number what do we do! The following is what the Iranian Embassy will require regardless if you are going to pick the visa up at the designated embassy or opt to post.
• The visa authoirsation letter
• Your passport
• 2 passport photos (females must be wearing a hijab)
• Completed visa application form
• Copy of your travel insurance
• The visa fee for Australians AUD $160 by way of Money Order and made out to the Iranian Consulate
We have clients that travelled to Canberra to pick up their visas and waited for 5 hours – fee to pick up is AUD$240.00 for same day service. If you are posting your documents to the embassy don’t forget to send in a registered enveloped and include a self addressed registered envelope. Some of our clients received theirs back within 10 days and another client it took 4 weeks – no rhyme or reason!
WELCOME TO IRAN YOU NOW HAVE A VISA
OBTAINING A VISA ON ENTRY INTO IRAN
Don’t be mislead you still have to apply for a Visa Authorisation Number if you decide to opt for getting your visa on arrival. In an effort to boost tourism and streamline the visa process, Iran now offers a 30 day Tourist Visa On Arrival to all nationalities, EXCEPT those holding passports from the UK, USA, Canada, Pakistan, Somalia, Bangladesh, Iraq, Jordan and Afghanistan. The cost is between €30-80 and you will have to show valid travel insurance and an onward air ticket. The Visa on Arrival can be extended for up to 3 months. Here are some easy steps for applying for your visa on arrival.
On arrival head on down to Bordoer control, but before you can pick up your visa you will need to go to the insurance desk first. Here you will need to pay for mandatory insurance or get your existing insurance policy stamped. Iranian insurance will cost you approximately USD$16 for 30 days. You can now go back to the visa desk handover your passport, authorisation number, proof of insurance, application form and passport photos x 2 as well as a booking confirmation of your first night’s accommodation and phone number of the place you intend staying. It is not unusual for the immigration officer to call your accommodation to confirm you are actually staying there! They will in turn give you a piece of paper with the amount that you have to pay for the visa, the fee however will depend on where you are from. You will need to go to the payment window next door, give them the piece if paper and the money. Payment can only be made in cash either USD or Euros. They will in turn give you a receipt which you have to sign and take back to the visa window. They will tell you to take a seat and the process can take as little as 45 minutes to 3 hours if the queue is long.
WELCOME TO IRAN YOU HAVE A VISA