Most of the world identifies Iran by its hard line theocracy and its anti-western leaders. I’ll be the first to admit that as an American and someone who spent five years in the US Marines, I was a bit nervous about my trip there. It didn’t take me long to see that the young and welcoming population were very disconnected from their government and not afraid to speak their mind. Furthermore, the few government officials I talked to like immigration or when going through check points were all polite and respectful. Iran definitely has by far some of the warmest and most open people I have ever met. As a travel destination the country offers a little bit of everything. In the north you have the Caspian Sea for water sports and Mt. Damavand; the largest mountain in the Middle East that offers great hiking and camping in the summer, and ski resorts for the winter. Throughout Iran you’ll find ruins from ancient empires, very interesting culture, and some of my favorite food!
Iran’s capital is a modern metropolis with over 14 million people living in the city and its suburbs. Tehran is green during the spring and summer while its winters can leave the city in deep snow. This modern and safe city is known for its young, open-minded population who have the same hobbies as many westerners. The Shah’s former residence, countless museums, palaces, and national icons such as the Azadi tower are popular places to visit.
Iranian’s proudly claim that Esfahan is the most beautiful city in Iran and one of the most beautiful cities in the world and commonly refer to it as Nesf-e-Jahan, which means translate as half the world. The city is packed with Persian architecture which includes dozens of mosques, enormous palaces and several beautiful bridges that are over 500 years old. Esfahan is home to several well kept gardens and beautiful walks along the Zayandehrood river.
Persepolis was the cultural capital of ancient Persia, one of the world’s first major empires. Founded in 500 BCEa, the city has long been in ruins but has been well preserved considering the passing of 2,500 years. Towering columns, detailed reliefs, and several buildings are still in good condition making this the best place in the world to see the “City of Persians”.
Like Esfahan, Shiraz is also a major cultural center in Iran with many historic buildings and important places of worship. The famous medieval Iranian poet Hafez was born in Shiraz and is buried in a tomb in the heart of the city. Shiraz is also Iran’s most romantic city; throughout Shiraz you’ll find the country’s most beautiful gardens with famous lines of poetry often engraved in the city’s ancient buildings.
Largely considered to be home of the world’s first major monotheist religion, Yazd shares the history of Zoroastrianism and is one of the few places in the world that has a practicing population. The Zoroastrian temples and remains are scattered throughout the city making Yazd one of the few places remaining to learn about this ancient religion. The culture of Yazd is also noticeably unique compared to the rest of Iran, a visit here will make you feel like you’ve stepped back a few hundred years.
Abyaneh is a small town located in the mountains north of Esfahan. The red adobe houses built along the colorful mountains make this one of Iran’s most picturesque towns. The unique architecture and small town charm make this town a wonderful day trip that is popular among both foreigners and locals.