Did you know that Iran is the home to one of world’s oldest civilizations?!? The country’s rich cultural legacy is reflected in part by its 21 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the 3rd largest number in Asia and the 11th largest in the whole world! It is today a multicultural country comprising numerous ethnic and linguistic groups, most inhabitants are Shia Muslims and the official language is Persian. And we recently had the great opportunity to discover some of the impressive sights of this amazing country!
Even if we got the information that Iran is a very welcoming country, we (especially I) arrived with mixed feelings at the airport and were prepared to get an hostile welcome. But what a mistake! From the first moment we set foot until the last one before leaving the country, we were only in contact with nice, helpful, generous and open-minded people! Well, ok, as a woman you need to wear a scarf around your head, wear leggings or jeans under a dress or a tunic and cover your arms up to your wrist, but they are not that strict: women over there wear really nice and colorful head scarves and tunics, matching the occidental fashion. Men dress normal, except for shorts which are prohibited.
Our trip to Iran brought us to Tehran, the 2nd most populous city in Western Asia and ranked 29th in the world by population of its metropolitan area (up to 9 million inhabitants). We discovered famous landmarks like the historical Azadi Tower, the Milad Tower or the impressive Tabiat Bridge where you can take great panorama pictures of the city and its surroundings.
We strolled a whole day through the city’s bustling, labyrinthine Grand Bazaar, the traditional economic and commercial heart of the city since centuries. You will find everything over there! Located in the traditional center of Tehran, the Grand Bazaar is a wide, covered market packed with shops in covered alleys, divided into sections each with their specialty, such as the jewelers’ bazaar, the carpets’ bazaar, the shoemakers’ bazaar, the coppersmith’s bazaar…
We also discovered Darband, « door of the mountain », nowadays a neighborhood inside Tehran’s metropolitan limits. It is the beginning of a popular hiking trail into Mount Tochal, which towers over Tehran. The trail heads up into the hills past a picturesque succession of teahouses, restaurants and fruit-conserve stalls: it’s one of the most relaxing places in Tehran to kick back with tea and a qalyan, with a mountain-village feel.
There are a lot of spots to discover in this amazing city, like for example:
- The Golestan Palace complex, a World Heritage site and a masterpiece of Persian decorative arts and crafts
- The Crown Jewels Museum in the Central Bank of Iran Building
- The prestigious National Museum of Iran and its artefacts dating back up to 30.000 – 35.000 years
- The historical Niavaran Palace complex, consisting of several buildings, monuments and a museum
- And you never will run out of Palaces and museums to visit
Our stay in Iran took us also to Isfahan, designated as one of the most 35 beautiful cities you must see before you die by The Telegraph. We spent a whole day there visiting the Naghsh-e Jahan Square – a World Heritage Site and the second largest manmade square in the world, where the Ali Qapou Palace and Shah and Sheikh Lutfullah Mosques can be found -, strolling around the local, covered bazaar and drinking tea in the quaint and weird Azadegan Café. We had a lot of fun getting our picture taken, all dressed in national costumes!
When staying in Isfahan, either book a room or go for dinner at the Abbasi Hotel (formerly known as the Shah Abbas Hotel), built about 300 years ago at the time of king Sultan Husayn of Safavid and which is known as one of the most beautiful and picturesque hotels of the country…
Don’t miss the Khaju Bridge by night, the finest bridge in the province of Isfahan. Serving as both a bridge and a dam, it connects the Khaju quarter on the north bank with the Zoroastrian quarter across the Zayandeh River. Architecturally functioning as a bridge and a weir, it also served as a primary function as a building and a place for public meetings. Nowadays it attracts the youth of the area at night…
What we won’t forget of this trip: it can take up to 45 minutes after ordering a tea and receiving it! On the other hand, you will find tea booths on each street corner! No alcohol is served, except you are at someone’s home. Worst traffic jam ever experienced!!! And the taxi drivers can be quite cool, even if it’s quite unusual. We had one who wanted to listen to western pop music, pulled up the volume and sang along with us. A quite amazing driving experience!
The shisha bars (i.e. Ziafeh or Dejavu) are quite unavoidable and needed to be explored until closing time… On the restaurant side you can either eat very local like Moslem restaurant, which is said to serve the best tah-chin – composed of rice, buttery chicken and saffron – in the city next to the Grand Bazaar or try the more modern approach like the Divan restaurant to enjoy modern Persian cuisine in stylish surroundings. If you want to enjoy a good cup of coffee, then you have to go to Sam Coffee Roasters, one of Tehran’s many fashionable cafes and chief hang-out of the city’s privileged.
We need to go back to discover some of the other amazing cities like i.e.
- Mashhad, home to the world’s largest mosque; the Imam Reza shrine,
- Pasargadae, another ancient city and World Heritage Site with the Mausoleum of Cyrus II, one of the most notable remains
- Shiraz, home to the Eram Garden which dates back to the 13th century and its Rose Mosque
- Susa, one of the country’s newest World Heritage Site with the remains of a settlement founded around 4200 BCE
- The ruined city of Persepolis (dating back to 515BC)
- You even can ski in Iran: Shemshak is Iran’s second largest ski area
- And many more…
We had a great time over there and will for sure go back in the future…