Every since I got to visit Iran in May 2015 I received numerous emails each week from you, asking about many aspects of traveling to this unknown yet fascinating country. I’m really surprised how many people plan to go there but at the same time I totally understand you! This is one of the most misunderstood countries in the world, with the most hospitable people ever and world greatest monuments. At the same time it’s full of secretiveness and so many misconceptions no one really knows what to expect from the place known also as the ancient Persia. If you plan to visit Iran now is the time to go as the country is changing really fast and you don’t want to miss the best that it has to offer! I really hope those Iran practical information will help you plan your trip there!
Table of contents
- 1 When to visit Iran?
- 2 Visa to Iran
- 3 How to get to Iran
- 4 What to see in Iran?
- 5 Accommodation in Iran
- 6 Food in Iran
- 7 How to travel around Iran?
- 8 Money in Iran
- 9 Internet in Iran
- 10 Safety in Iran
- 11 Solo female travel in Iran
When to visit Iran?
Iran is a huge country and the climate varies from north to south. You might be wearing winter clothes in Tehran and on the next day a short sleeves t-shirt at the desert. The best time to visit Iran would be in spring (March-May) and autumn (September-October) when the weather is the most pleasant. In other months it’s either too hot or too cold. I visited Iran at the beginning of May and it was just fine, even if there were days (especially in Yazd) when it was a little bit uncomfortable with all the clothes I had to wear. The downside of travelling in spring was that in some places there were pretty many people but Iran is still far from being the top tourist destination and it’s not difficult to escape tourists anyway!
Visa to Iran
That’s always the biggest issue for anyone travelling to Iran as there’re so many myths about visa situation there. First of all – citizens of the US, United Kingdom, Canada and 8 more countries can’t travel around Iran independently, they always need to be accompanied by the government approved guide or be part of the tour group. As for the rest – you’re free to travel around the country easily and independently, in many cases you can even get the visa on arrival (apparently now it’s issued for 30 days). Your government most likely doesn’t recommend this way of entering Iran but I’ve only heard of few cases when someone wasn’t let it when applying at the airport. When you apply at the embassy first you need to get an authorization code – it’s recommended for the visa on arrival too – (you can get one here) and then everything depends on the consul’s mood. I was refused the visa in the Iranian embassy in Warsaw but got one at the airport in less than 2 minutes! The fee for Polish citizen was 50€. When applying in the embassy I needed to have the code, filled questionnaire, passport, picture and insurance; at the airport they only asked me for the code (didn’t want to see it), my plans in Iran and a hotel reservation (again didn’t want to see it), I was also asked to buy the local insurance but it turned out the one I have from Poland is just fine. Really, it’s not as difficult to get a visa to Iran as everyone says!
By the way, you need to have the Iranian insurance to go with your visa. You can get one online, click here to check the options and buy one!
You can read my whole story with visa as well as more practical information about it in my post “Visa to Iran (when you plan to travel solo there)“
How to get to Iran
Of course the easiest way is to fly there, it also the bonus of visa on arrival issued at 6 Iranian airports. I flew with Qatar Airways as it offered me the best deal on my Tbilisi-Tehran-Berlin route but there’re numerous airlines from Europe and Middle East serving Iran. The cheapest one always seems to be Pegasus Airlines (with layover in Istanbul) or Germania but best would be to look at some website comparing flights to find your best option. The majority of flights arrive / depart in the middle of the night and that’s when the airport is crazy busy! When I arrived at noon it felt kind of abandoned! Anyway, I paid for my flight 300€ when booking 3 weeks before the departure but you can get return flights from Lviv or Berlin to Tehran even for half of that price!
Once a week there’s a train going from Ankara, Turkey to Tehran. The journey should take around 59 hours (including the ferry ride through Lake Van) but the delays are very common. There’s also a daily bus from Yerevan, Armenia to Tabriz and further on to Tehran – that’s how I planned to get to Iran!
What to see in Iran?
Iran is a huge country with so much to offer! Spectacular mountains or the seaside, desert and volcanoes – you can find all wonders of nature there. But most of all there’re some of the oldest cities in the world with one of the most breathtaking architecture you will ever see! Ancient Persia was one of the greatest countries and you can see its remnants just about everywhere. Every single person who visited Iran fall for the place and you will be the same, trust me!
Iran in 10 days – my itinerary
I spent 10 days backpacking Iran. Not too much but I managed to see the most important places without rushing too much. I started in Tehran where I spent 2 days. From the capital I headed all the way south to Shiraz for another 2 days (including half-day trip to Persepolis). Then it was time for another 2 days in Yazd from where I headed to Esfahan also for 2 days. My last stop in Iran was Kashan where I stayed for 2 days as well. I could have seen some more places during this trip but I just wanted to take things easy and actually spent much more time than I expected just relaxing in wonderful yards of historical houses I’ve stayed in. Next time I’m around I’m definitely going off the beaten track in Iran!
You might want to read the following posts I wrote:
-> Top 5 things to do in Tehran (and my impressions of the city)
-> I really don’t know why I’ve decided to visit Shiraz
-> Persepolis images – a gallery from the most known ancient city in Iran
-> Yazd, Iran – the most beautiful desert town I’ve seen
-> Isfahan, Iran – kind of disappointing highlight of Persia
-> Fairy-tale-alike Kashan – my last stop in Iran
Accommodation in Iran
It’s not so easy to find a cheap accommodation in Iran. There’re no hostels but in some places they have a dorm room that can be a good value. There are few Iranian websites that offer accommodation booking online, like 1stQuest – I used one for my first night as I needed to have a hotel reservation to get the visa on arrival in Tehran. As for the rest of my time in Iran I just showed up in the hotels, asking if they have a free room and in all but one cases they had but it was really stressful and I would have gladly booked everything beforehand. The prices and quality varied but overall I didn’t have a bad accommodation. In Tehran and Shiraz I was probably the only foreigner in the hostels while in Yazd and Kashan there were no Iranians staying there, only tourists (but those were the hotels recommended by Lonely Planet). The difference between those two were huge, Iranian hotels were simple yet functional and tourist oriented were fancy and charming. Both were equally interesting to stay at. While I usually stay away from places recommended by Lonely Planet in Iran I’d suggest you staying at them, it’s part of the Iranian experience, even if obviously made for tourists!
I stayed in following places: Tehran – Mina Hotel (1.000.000 IRR for a single room), Shiraz – Anahita Hotel (1.030.000 IRR for a single room, it was the worst of all actually), Yazd – Silk Road Hotel (200.000 IRR for a bed in 8 bed dorm), Kashan – Eshan House (1.500.000 IRR for a single room). In the last one they also offered dorm rooms but since I was left with so much money and it was my last night in Iran I’ve decided to splurge a little bit – best decision ever before the long way back home. It was the high season when I visited Iran so prices might have been a little bit more expensive. Also if I booked my accommodation in advance I could have got better prices.
Couchsurfing in Iran
Oficially it’s illegal but the Couchsurfing website isn’t blocked by the government and the local community is pretty active and very helpful. Even if people won’t be able to host you they will still do their best to help you, give you their phone number to contact in case of any questions, ask their friends or family to welcome you and so on. Iranians are called one of the most hospitable nations for a reason! I used CouchSurfing once, in Esfahan, where I stayed with the amazing couple. It was probably the best lesson of life in Iran I could ask for! Many of my friends who visited Iran also used Couchsurfing and everyone had nothing but good experiences! If you decide to go for it you will easily find a host, I’m sure of that. Just remember not to disclose your CS plans when applying for the visa and to other officials!
Food in Iran
Everyone was raving about food in Iran! Well, I can’t confirm that as I don’t eat meat and this was the main ingredient of the Persian cuisine. But it definitely looked and smelled good! Also, remember that alcohol is forbidden in Iran but this didn’t stop me from drinking wine one day, local people find their ways!
Vegetarian in Iran
I must admit it was a small challenge to be a vegetarian in Iran. There were basically only two options available – kashk-e bademjan and mirza ghassemi – both were really delicious and were made of eggplant (which I just adore). In bigger cities there were fast food joints with pizza or small falafel shops. But since Iran is all about bazaars I also ate a lot of fruits and nuts and they were just the best!
How to travel around Iran?
I only used buses when moving between cities and I can definitely recommend you those. They’re really comfortable, very affordable and just seem like the best way to travel around Iran. The best ones are VIP buses (first class) with air-condition, wide, reclining seats (1+2 in a row) and snacks while the second class buses are just regular ones, similar to what we see in Europe. The price difference between those two is very small so wherever you can just go for the VIP option. And in long distances or night journeys it’s a must! I don’t think I’d have survived my 15 hours long trip from Tehran to Shiraz in second class bus but in the first class I slept like a baby, I couldn’t have asked for a better trip!
Good news! Now you can book online the bus connections in Iran! Click here to check the deals and book the tickets!
Bus prices in Iran:
Tehran – Shiraz, VIP, 15 hours, 570.000 IRR
Shiraz – Yazd, VIP, 6 hours, 220.000 IRR
Yazd – Shiraz, second class, 4 hours, 170.000 IRR
Kashan – Tehran airport, second class, 3 hours 150.000 IRR
On longer distances it’s worth considering domestic flights as those aren’t that expensive (I’ve heard of 60$ for Tehran-Shiraz) and saves so much time! There’re also trains in Iran but the network is really limited. I haven’t used trains (it’s so not like me!) but I met some people who did and they were satisfied too!
Just like buses, now you can book online domestic flights in Iran! Click here to check the offers and book your flights!
Money in Iran
First and most important thing – you have to take all the money in cash with you to Iran! There’re numerous ATMs around but they don’t serve Western banks hence our Visas and Mastercards are of no use there. I had 550$ with me for 10 days and at first I was really nervous if this will be enough but at the end I still had 200$ and I went for the fancy accommodation on my last night, I had to spend those money somehow. That’s another thing in Iran – it’s easy to exchange money to rials but much more difficult the other way around.
The currency is probably the most confusing thing when you visit Iran. Officially it’s rial (IRR) but in everyday life people use tomans. The money itself is the same one but the value varies. To make it even more complicated even toman can have different value. Sometimes 1 toman is 10 rials and sometimes it’s 10.000 – it all depends on the person you’re talking to. For example 200.000 IRR can be either 20.000 tomans or 20 tomans. Go figure! I double or triple checked every single time I had to pay for something!
Where to exchange money in Iran?
Since you can’t use your card in Iran you need to get the local currency somehow. There’re banks but I’ve heard there’s so much paper work involved it’s not worth the hassle plus the rate is not the best one. There’re also exchange points that are your best option! There’re not too many of them but your hotel or Lonely Planet will definitely direct you to the nearest one. I had US dollars with me (apparently they’re much better to exchange than Euro) and exchanged them twice – at the airport in Tehran and in Yazd. In both cases I got around 33.000 IRR for 1$, while the official bank rate was 28.000 IRR at that time. Oh, and while everywhere you’re advised to avoid exchanging money at the airport in Tehran you’re actually very welcome to do it, the rate was the best of all there (and many people confirmed that). When you arrive you need to go to the upper floor and the exchange booth is next to the escalator.
Prices in Iran
At first I thought that Iran is expensive. But it was just my misunderstanding of the confusing prices and too many zeros. At the end it was a really affordable destination and the most expensive part was accommodation and entrance fees. Everything else felt like a bargain sometimes!
Here are some of the prices in Iran (from May 2015) – 1$ = 33.000 IRR
big bottle of water – 10.000-20.000 IRR
can of coke – 10.000-20.000 IRR
ticket for Tehran metro – 10.000 IRR for 2 rides
falafel sandwich and cola in a local shop in Shiraz – 35.000 IRR
famous ice cream in Shiraz – 20.000 IRR
lunch in the restaurants – 100.000-200.000 IRR
fresh, still warm bread – 2.000 IRR
pot of tea – 50.000 IRR
entrance fee to monuments between 50.000 and 150.000 IRR. Some places are worth it, others not really – you have to judge it yourself. I limited myself to two monuments per day. Example prices: Golestan Palace in Tehran – 150.000 IRR for the park and 50.000 IRR for every palace; Pink Mosque and Hafez Tomb in Shiraz – 150.000 IRR each; Persepolis – 150.000 IRR; Khan-e Lari house in Yazd – 50.000 IRR.
Internet in Iran
Another issue with so many myths about. Internet in Iran is slow but easily available in the hotels. A lot of websites are blocked, including Facebook and all news pages (even Polish ones). But it’s not difficult to access them anyway! You need to have a VPN app installed on your devices – it connects you with network abroad (for me it was usually Switzerland, Germany or the Netherlands) and let you surf online and visit banned websites. For my phone (Android) I used Hideninja and for my computer (Windows) – Cyberghost. Both were free.
Safety in Iran
Before I went to Iran I’ve heard from 90% of people around me that I will be murdered, kidnapped etc, basically that I will not return in one piece. Well guess what – Iran was probably the safest country I’ve ever been to! In this whole time I only had one situation that was just unpleasant. Other than that it was all fine, people were incredibly hospitable, willing to help and for all the time I felt really taken care of. If safety is a big concern for you and stops you from traveling to Iran forget about it and just go, it really is a normal country with normal people!
Solo female travel in Iran
So I did this crazy thing and went solo to Iran. And it was just fine! During my time in Iran I didn’t meet any other solo female traveler but I’ve heard of two. And I know couple of people who did it (Silvia for example) so really, there’s nothing to be afraid of.
I wrote a long post about solo female travel in Iran, you should find all the answers there!
Would you like to visit Iran? Do you have any more questions about the country? Leave a comment and I will gladly help!
If you think of visiting Iran or just want to read more about the country take a look what else I wrote about it!
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