Recently I visited Iran. Below I’d like to share some useful information about trip.
First of all, the map. I only had nine days so I chose only three cities to visit: Tehran, Shiraz and Isfahan.
Where to stay
CouchSurfing. Definitely try that. But of course, have a backup plan: before the trip I’ve noted some hostels where to stay, but actually I stayed only in two of them:
- Niayesh Boutique Hotel in Shiraz. Address: No. 10, Shahzadeh Jamali Lane, Bibi Dokhtaran Mausoleum Lane, Namazi junction, Lotfali Khan-e Zand St. Phone: +98-711-2233623. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. I stayed there just one night and was exhausted, so I just needed a bed. But the place seems nice, the price was IRR 300000 for a dorm with breakfast included.
- Amir Kabir Hotel on Charbagh st. Phone: +98 311 2227273. Email: email@example.com. Also not a bad place, a little bit old, but with nice staff. The price was also IRR 300000 for a dorm with breakfast.
Where to eat
Anywhere, really. In Isfahan make sure to try beryan. Also check out the awesome cheese and yogurt, but you won’t miss them.
How to get around
In Tehran there’s metro, bus and taxis. I mostly used metro, a one-trip ticket will cost you IRR 7000, two-twip IRR 10000.
In Shiraz and Isfahan I just walked or used taxis. Always negotiate with the driver, I think it’s the only advice I can give you.
A few videos from Google Photos
Day one. 2016.01.22. Madrid / Istanbul
At one o’clock or so I arrived at Madrid Barajas Airport. Quickly passed all the security checks, passport controls and went to the gate. Pagasus Airlines flight to Istanbul was almost on time, just a slight delay for about 20 minutes. During the flight I watched a couple of episodes of some series, took a nap and landed in Istanbul’s Sabiha Gökçen Airport at 19:30 local time. Here I spent the next five hours, this flight was also delayed for half-hour. As I was told by couple of travelers from Ukraine and Lebanon, it’s totally normal with Pegasus, they’re always late.
Next thing to do was to have dinner and here I made a mistake – ate in Sbarro. No, the food was ok, it’s just across the hall there was a bar where they give you free Internet access if you order something for 20 liras or more. And apparently Turkey has some Internet problems, it’s the only place with “free WiFi” in the whole airport. So, I had to pay ten more for two hours of access.
Around half past twelve we finally departed in direction of Tehran. For some reason I thought that it will be a four hour flight, but it was only 2,5 hours. So, I didn’t get to sleep normally and around five in the morning local time we landed in Tehran.
Day two. 2016.01.23. Tehran
Next question to solve was the visa question. Before the trip for 25 euros I obtained some reference code from the website goiran.ru which I think was not needed. At least, I didn’t see one in other traveler’s hands.
In the visa window a guy told me to go get the insurance. In the insurance stand was another tired guy, to whom I gave my passport and my Adeslas insurance card, which wasn’t valid according to him. Although in the company they’ve told me a different thing. Looks like they need some printed paper insurance. So, I paid another 15 euros for the insurance policy and returned to the visa window, from where pretty quickly I was directed to the payment window to pay the visa fee of 40 euros. With the receipt I went back. Maybe there was a sense in obtaining the reference code, as my passport was taken one of last and returned among the first.
After leaving the security zone I changed 50 euros to iranian rials at the rate of 32 thousand something for one euro. It was a wise decision as later in the city the rate was almost 40 thousand. On the airport exit I was greeted by taxi drivers. The rate is fixed and 600000 if you take the local Samand car and 650000 for a Toyota. Also I was offered if I wanted to share the ride and pay 400000. But afterwards the driver started saying that I have to pay 500000 (I guess starting now I’ll omit the three zeros in the end) as the address is hard to find. And a hundred more as a tip. Well, being totally exhausted, I didn’t want to discuss anything. So he took me the place of my CouchSurfing hosts, called them and we have parted our ways.
Following the advice of my Iranian friend, I thought I’d try CouchSurfing and before the trip found a nice looking profile and contacted them. When I got to their place I received a very warm welcome, and was offered if I wanted to take a nap. I gladly lied down on the couch. After an hour or so I woke up because of a lot of voices: two more girls had arrived, who were going to stay here this night, one from Ukraine and the other from Switzerland. I wasn’t planning to stay here this night as I had a flight to Shiraz in the evening. My hosts were kind to buy me a ticket from a local web site as it was impossible to do from outside of Iran. Soon another guest woke up, a French guy, and altogether together we sat down to have a breakfast. As I’ve noticed in a lot of places, for breakfast Iranians have thin bread, from which you tore off a piece and put some cheese on it. Oh this cheese. It’s just awesome. Also it’s possible to use butter, different kinds of jam and, of course, tea. It’s actually very tasty, especially with cheese. During breakfast we were joined by a friend of hour hosts, a very positive guy with a lot of energy.
After breakfast our international company went to take a stroll through Tehran. On the way we got ourselves local SIM-cards in the Irancell office, they cost 150, you will need a passport and they will take your fingerprints. A card activates in an hour. In my case after working for a couple of hours it stopped and calling to support didn’t help. Thinking I ran out of credit, I topped it up for another 150 which didn’t help.
Afterwards we took a bus to Fredowsi street.
Getting our hands on a few million rials, we went to see the Golestan Palace on they cheching out other sightseeing stuff.
Golestan Palace is a pretty beautiful place, although I think it’s better during warm time of the year. Inside it’s divided into seven parts and the admission is separate. Seeing all of it will set you back a million. So we just went to the main throne chamber for 300.
After the palace everybody was pretty hungry so we stopped at some restaurant, the name was Arta, for a delicious kebab accompanied with rice or bread. And of course this awesome cheese. Really good. The traditional way of eating is similar to that of breakfast: wrap a piece of bread around meat, dip it into some yogurt and eat. Or don’t wrap it and just eat it with rice. For drinks we had dough, it’s a kind of a yogurt, similar to ayran. Also, the portions are big, one can be good for two.
After finishing with food we went to nearest metro station, which name I don’t remember, got on the train and went to see the bazar. By the way, the carriages here are separated: part is for women only and another part for everyone.
After the bazar the plan was to go up the mountains, but unfortunately I didn’t have time left as had to be in the airport to catch my plane to Shiraz. My host helped me get a shared taxi to the airport for 120. The airport for domestic flights is a different one than for International and is located almost in the city center, not far from Azadi Square.
So, the taxi driver dropped me off near the terminal, did all the usual checks and started waiting as the plane was late for half an hour. During that time I talked with a few people, Iranians are very friendly and always eager to talk to foreigners. Around ten I landed in the Shiraz airport.
A guy from CouchSurfing was stuck at work until very late at night so I needed to find a place to stay. Of course I had noted a couple of hostels just in case, but with a non-working SIM-card it was a little bit difficult to find if they have a place for me. An Iranian guy from Australia came to help me out and we even shared a taxi. At the end I got off near Niayesh Boutique Hotel, a night in a dorm costed 300 with breakfast included. When I saw the bed, I immidiately fell asleep.
Day three. 2016.01.24. Shiraz
It’s been a long time since I slept that well, the 38 hours almost without sleep tend to have this effect. For breakfast they serve here different salads, normal eggs, eggs mixed with something and of course tea. During the breakfast I met a Belgian guy who was unhurriedly going home from Australia. We talked a bit and I found out that a taxi to Persepolis costs $30.
After that I checked out and went to see the city.
My first stop was the Citadel of Karim Khan-e Zand, entrance fee is 200 and during winter it’s not really something great to see. Should definitely be better in spring or summer.
Next stop was Vakil Mosque.
And old 18th century mosque, entrance 50.
Near the mosque are located the Vakil terms, an old public batch, entrance 150.
After that I went to Vakil Bazar. This one I liked better than the one in Tehran, it’s way bigger. During this stroll lots of local people approached me talk and welcome to Iran. With one of the shop owner I had a really long talk, he was very interested in the point of view of a Russian person on all of the things happening in the world.
Following his advice I went for lunch to a restaurant called Saray-e Mehr where I had a delicious kebab.
During lunch I was invited to join the table of a couple of travelers from Korea and Japan, who were here in a company of a local girl. They had plans to see the same things I, so we joined forces. Also the girl invited me to stay with all of them at her place and I kindly accepted this offer without thinking a lot.
So the four of us went to see the main mosque in Shiraz – Shah Cheragh.
This place is really cool and without entrance fee. And they even give an English-speaking guide. The halls are amazing, the walls and the ceiling are decorated with thousands of small mirrors, an exceptional piece of work. Just wow.
After the mosque we went in the direction of the car…
…and drove to see the tomb of the poet Hafez. Entrance is 200 and the place is very beautiful and peaceful. Recommended.
In the souvenir shop suddenly I found some clocks or something like this with Masha and the bear:
It was getting late and we went to parent’s home of our host, where we got acquainted with almost all of her family, had some tea, talk and together with her husband and daughter were on the way their house. The evening was spend talking about Iranian life, traditions, country situation while drinking tea and smoking shisha. This Iranian family was a totally normal family, everything like everywhere. At home women don’t cover their head, in the kitchen you can find alcohol, the government is disliked. They told us that around 30% of population are fundamentalists and 70% modern, but the power is in the hands of the former. So, a lot of people have pretend that they support them. In the public. A lot of girl, however, dress pretty European and cover only the back of their head.
Around midnight we got pretty tired and went to sleep.
Day four. 2016.01.25. Shiraz
I woke up around nine, we had breakfast and were on our way to Persepolis at about eleven. With our hosts offer it was $20. The weather actually sucked, it was raining. But we were lucky and when we got out of the car, it stopped.
For a long time I wanted to see Persepolis, since sixth grade. For some reason the pictures from the book of ancient history stuck in my head. The entrance is 200. The complex’s territory is huge, but unfortunately not a lot of stuff is left and, as people say, the current government is not trying to preserve it as it has nothing to do with the state religion. That’s sad.
We spend here around three hours and got back into the car it started raining again.
On the way we stopped to have some Iranian burgers, they’re bigger than in McDonald’s and way cheaper – only 80.
The evening was also filled of talking, there were a lot of guests who wanted to talk with foreigners. And our company, I guess, was pretty exceptional – a Russian, Korean and a Japanese girl. Among the guests was a very interesting person – a guy around 60 who could speak 12(!!!) languages. I talked with him in Russian, looked like he really missed the language. It turned out he was living in Russia (where his former wife and daughter are still living), in India, in China and in USA. And now he’s a teacher of foreign languages at university.
Well, with sweets and tea we sat until midnight.
Day five. 2016.01.26. Shiraz
In the morning we didn’t want to go anywhere, just relaxing a little. And only at twelve got ourselves together. I said my goodbyes to this very friendly family and we went to the bus station to get tickets to Isfahan. The road led us along the river without water and residential districts on the other side. Nothing special really. Only the people. Still couldn’t get used to this friendliness. Everybody was asking where we are from, where were headed, gave us advices. And they are not trying to sell you anything after the talk is finished, they’re genuinely interested.
In about 30 minutes we arrived at the bus station. A few taxi drivers asked if we need one, but without any imposing. Then another guy came to us and asked what we were looking for, so we told him about our plans and he took us to the ticket selling office. We thought he’ll take us to an office he knows to get afterwards some commission but it turned out that the office was only one, an official one. That was so nice, he just helped us. Amazing. I got myself a ticket to the VIP bus for 23:50 to Isfahan, my fellow travelers for the next day for a normal bus. VIP costed 300, normal 170.
And we went to look for some food and being pretty hungry, went to the first place we saw. Ordered a small pizza each, but for some reason they made us big ones. Looks like we had to finger point the right one. 170, but we were full.
Next stop was Nasir al-Mulk moscque, nicknamed as The Pink Mosque as it has a lot of pink colors in the décor. Entrance was 100. Actually, we wanted to see how the sunlight passes through the colorful windows and leaves an awesome picture on the floor. However, it was possible only in the morning, during surise. But anyway the mosque was bueatiful. In the praying hall we say an interesting situation, a local guy and a girl were just laying on the floor, discussing stuff and laughing. Never saw something like in a mosque before. A tourguide who was giving a tour also noticed that and pointed that out “Can you imagine something like this in Turkey? It’s a free country here.” And you really get this impression. Totally adequate people, just the goverenment not really.
On the exit we chatted with the guy who was selling the tickets and when he found out that we haven’t been to Qur’an Gate, insisted that we get there. And that was our next stop, however my companions said they were tired and went alone.
In about 30 minutes I was there, the night fell and a magnificent view of night Shiraz presented itself from the gate. Entrance 200.
At the end of my Shiraz trip I wanted to get back to Shah Cheragh mosque to take some night pictures, so I went there. Thankfully it’s open 24h.
I was welcomed very hospitably, the guys in the security booth offered be some sweets while I was waiting for the guide. This time the guide was even more positive than the one before and once I told him my mother is Muslim he kindly allowed me to take photos of everything inside.
After I was finished with photos, he invited me to the International Affairs office, it’s a place where guides hangout while waiting for tourists. I acquianted there with some positive guys, they didn’t seem religious at all. I was offered to join their dinner: bread, this awesome cheese and another strange but delicious thing. And of course tea. So we talked and laughed until ten, they gave a post card as present with kind words written on it, I wrote some kind words in their comments book and after that they took me to the bus station, helped find the bus and we said goodbyes.
With every passing day here I liked Iran more and more.
Day six. 2016.01.27. Isfahan
The bus was certainly comfortable, but my seat not that much. I couldn’t stretch my legs enough so I a good was impossible.
Around six in the morning we arrived at the Isfahan’s Kaveh station. After a look at map I saw metro stations and tried to find out where it is. It turned out that the metro is still under construction and is supposed to be operational next year and the only way to get to the city was a taxi. At the exit there were plenty of them, one of the drivers approached me and offered a ride to the hostel where I was thinking of staying for 120, in the end we agreed on a 100. In Amirkabir Hostel a dorm costed 300 with a breakfast. Once I got there, went straight to sleep, around nine woke up and went to find out about breakfast. For 70 they got me one, all the usual: bread, cheese, jams, eggs and tea.
During breakfast I met the Belgian guy from Shiraz with two guys from New Zealand and afterwards we took a taxi to Armenian quarter to see the church. The taxi was 25 per person. Entrance to the church 200. Honestly, an Armenian church like and Armenian church. Remarkable for being situated in Iran. Or maybe it just me.
On the other hand in the church’s museum there were a few interesting things: the smallest printed book in the world, of course, it’s a Bible. And some handwritten letters from XIX century, nowadays people just don’t write that beautiful.
In the church our company became a little bigger, we were joined by another guy from New Zealand and we walking around the town. Along the way had some coffee, walked along the seafront until the Bridge of 33 arcs.
From here we with the new guy took a taxi to the Zoroastrian Temple of Fire. It’s not a walking distance, 100 one way. On arrival we agreed with the driver that he’ll wait for us. The temple itself is just ruins, but on a small mountain from where you can get a nice view of the city.
We hanged out there for about an hour and headed back, decided we’ll pay the driver a 50 more as he was waiting for us a pretty long time. Also the time for lunch came and we went to the bazar, which is situated around the Naqsh-e Jahan square. For lunch we had bayrani, a local delicacy – lung of lamb. Really delicious. Especially with this local yogurt. And only for 125.
After the repast we walked around bazar, this guy was already known here, looks like he spent here a lot of time. The stroll ended with a coffee, around five I was starting to feel tired, a sleepless night on the bus manifested itself.
So I said goodbye and went to the hostel, thinking of visiting the nearby Irancell office to ask them about my ill-fated SIM-card and to the airline tickets agency, as I wanted to get some quality sleep before my last day in Tehran. The Irancell office I couldn’t find, but someone told me that it was closed anyway and I should go there in the morning. Finding the tickets agency was a whole story, I entered some store to ask for directions, they told a kid of about twelve years old to accompany me, but he didn’t know where to go and asked some guys passing by for directions. The two guys also didn’t know but offered to help me find it. So we ended up walking about twenty minutes searching for office and talking, and we found it. But the nearby exchange office was already closed I didn’t have enough local currency, so just pointed it out on my map and went back to the hostel.
Day seven. 2016.01.28. Isfahan
I woke up a little earlier than usual, at eight. My neighbor turned out to be a Russian from Ekaterinburg, originally from Tadzhikistan, and he could talk Farsi. It’s a really useful skill here.
During breakfast I met my Asian friends from Shiraz, we agreed to go somewhere later. About the normal bus they said it was ok, they could sleep.
After breakfast with my Russian neighbor we went to the Irancell office to try to find out what’s wrong with the SIM-card. At the small nearest one they couldn’t help us and advised to go to the big one. Over there we were my card wasn’t registered for some reason and told me that it should work tomorrow. At least not on the last day.
Upon returning to the hostel, said goodbye to my neighbor as he was flying home, discovered that my Shirazian friends were asleep and went to buy the plane ticket. Set me back for 1300.
Afterwards took a bite of burger and went to see the Naqsh-e Jahan square. The square is magnificent, that’s the second largest main square in the world after Tiananmen in Beijing. But regarding bueaty, definitely the first.
While I was walking there I few students approached me and offered to be me guides in this place. Around forty minutes were talked, they told me a lot interesting things and stories, very positive guys. At the end of the tour one offered me to convert to Islam).
Sometime after another guy started a talk with me about literature, he was interested in the Russian one. Wants to be a writer. During the talk he offered me to go to his brothers carpet store to have some tea as it was getting cold. I kindly accepted. They didn’t offer me to buy a carpet. Amazing, although I was starting to get used to this hospitality.
Afterwards I talked with a few more people and then I went to the bridge to take some night photos.
While I was walking I got frozen a little and went to a nearby mall in search of a hot coffee. And found a really nice café on the fourth floor, it’s called Café Ribar. For 70 you can have a really nice capuchino with some cookies and chocolate.
Once I finished with coffee it was already dark and I went to the bridge. Certainly beautiful.
And after that again to the main square to check it out at night as well.
So, that ended my day.
Day eight. 2016.01.29. Isfahan and Tehran
The SIM-card still didn’t work and on Friday everything is closed. Look like if it will, only on my last day. I’m still not losing hope.
My last day in Isfahan I spend walking around with my friends from Shiraz. Took a stroll along the seafront, although sometimes there was no water, saw all of the bridges, went to the square, where today was a massive prayer. Because of that wasn’t able to visit the Imam’s mosque. Unfortunate.
Got some magnets for 30 a piece, maybe it’s a little bit expensive, but I didn’t want to spend my last day in Tehran searching for magnets.
While we were walking on the Charbagh boulevard a local guy running catch up to us just to say hello and welcome us to Iran. He ran to do that, astoundingly.
Then we had burgers for lunch and the time has come for me to go to the airport. The taxi was 230. Isfahan’s airport is nice, beautiful, small and cozy.
The plane was and old Boeing M82, but ok.
Upon arrival in Tehran I consulted the map, figured that a kilometer is nothing, went to the metro. By the way, about crossing the roads in Iran. It’s the same as in South East Asia: you just go and see what happens. The difference is that in place of motos here are cars which makes it a little bit more challenging.
The metro is new, nothing fancy, but a comfortable mean of getting around. For navigation there’s an app called Tehran Metro and it’s in English. One fare is 7, for 10 you get two trips. Also it’s possible to buy a rechargeable card for 20 and get some discounts. And sometimes you can enter for free if the metro employee is talkative and likes Russia)
So, in about an hour I was at my host’s home, got a little bit confused with directions but a some girl was very kind to show me the way. The evening we spent mostly talking and drinking some alcohol free apple beer.
Day nine. 2016.01.30. Tehran
I woke up pretty late, at nine. Around eleven went with my host, who had work that day, into the city. We got on the bus and went to Ferdowsi street, where I wanted to change some money. There’s also a metro station with the same name.
Then I went to the Imam Khamenei street and from there it’s not far to National Museum.
Museum is expensive, 300, but worth it.
They have all the stuff from the ancient history book of sixth grade. Only the Hammurabi law pillar is enough. Really cool.
Next stop was the National Treasury, which is located in the Central Bank building. Entrance is 150. Here I found out that I’m not a fan of all this jewelry, well, yeah, it’s sparkling and all that, but I kinda wasn’t touched.
Then had a falafel for lunch in some small street restaurant. Tasty thing.
And went to Azadi square to check out the Tehran’s symbol, passing the theatre building.
After that on metro I got to the Meydan-e Englehab-e Eslami station and from there took a taxi for 200 to the Milad tower to see the Tehran at night. Entrace 120.
Asked the driver to wait for me as I didn’t plan to stay there a long time. But couldn’t, spend there about an hour and when I got he wasn’t there. Fortunately there were some taxi around and for 230 I was able to get one to Valiasr square, where I met with my hosts and they’re friend, who also wanted to say goodbye.
Together we went for dinner to a place called Reza Lojhme where they make delicious mini-shawarmas: meat wrapped in thin bread with salt vegetables and airan. Very tasty, the local even queue up. It was a really nice ending for this trip.
After that we went to their home for some and I went to the airport.
Overall, this trip to Iran has left exceptionally pleasant impressions, the expectations didn’t coincide with really. The country is impressive in its hospitality and kindness of the people. And it really is genuinely and not to sell you something afterward. I was amazed.
Also, the country is very safe to travel and leaves the impression of being pretty developed economically. The smallest shop or a seller on the street has a device to accept payment with a card, it’s just because of the sanctions it’s impossible to use Visa or Mastercard.
I definitely recommend a visit to this country and will be return as well once I have the chance.