“Welcome to Iran! Welcome to my country!” This is what tourists hear when taking a vacation in Iran. And you can too on what is a quick and easy trip from Kyiv this autumn
Iranians, who are part of an 81 million-strong country with almost 75 percent of the population under 35, are extremely hospitable and open-minded. As one of the youngest nations in the world, English-speaking locals are eager to help tourists explore Iran, and expect nothing in return.
I have been wanting to visit Iran for some time, and earlier this year I made it happen. My trip started in Tehran, the county’s capital city. Home to more than 15 million people with a wealth of cultural attractions, it features royal complexes which impress with mirror mosaics and chandeliers, paintings, and tilework.
Attractions outside of Tehran abound. Skiing is available even in the summertime on the Tochal mountain, a part of the Alburz mountain range, just 18 kilometers north of the city centre. For more adventurous souls, there’s sandboarding, which can be done in the Varzaneh Desert, located in the heart of the country, between the cities of Isfahan and Yazd.
Further out, look to Kashan, some 200 kilometers from the capital. It’s known for traditional Iranian merchant houses. Locals produce rose water which they add to tea and traditional dishes. Abyaneh village also known as red village, is not far from Kashan and deserves a visit. Isfahan is famed for the second largest square in the world – Naqsh-e Jahan, and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with 18 other Iranian attractions. Then there’s Yazd, a very charismatic city with nice mosques and a fire temple where Zoroastrians practice their religion.
Shiraz, a city in south-central Iran, requires several days to explore. There you will find the picturesque mirror mosque Shah Cheragh and Nasir al-Mulk mosque famous for its coloured glass façade. The most ancient sight in Iran is Persepolis, just 60 kilometers from Shiraz.
Maharloo Lake, a salt lake 27 kilometers southeast of Shiraz, will amaze you with its incredible rose-pink water.
Major Iranian cities are connected by internal flights and quick and easy trips on comfortable buses. Tourists can take a plane from Shiraz back to Tehran, where a one-way ticket costs about 50 euros, and doesn’t need to be purchased in advance. Within the cities, tourists can use yellow taxi cabs, or download the Snapp app, a local analogue to Uber, which is quite cost-effective.
The Iranian currency is known as the rial. The exchange rate is different across the country however and increases towards the south so just beware. However, hotels and some local markets will accept euros and dollars.
Head towards the bazaar for entertainment. There is one in every city and is the perfect place to get a sense of the local atmosphere and lifestyle: buy spices, handmade carpets, tablecloths, and so much more. One of the calling cards of Iran is their Persian carpets. Multicoloured, in all sizes, simple or with intricate patterns like a kaleidoscope – they’re iconic, but not cheap. A mid-size silk carpet can cost up to 2 000 euro.
I highly recommend you stay in traditional Iranian houses. These options are easily found on www.snapptrip.com, where a message via Whatsapp will get you easy accommodation. These are renovated merchant houses with beautiful gardens where guests can relax and enjoy a cup of tea.
And, by the way, Iranians love their tea – they carry thermoses in their cars, to the store, and are always ready to welcome you with a cup.
The country is also rich in dried fruits and nuts – pistachios, almonds, hazelnuts, and cashews. In addition, their local dishes – featuring lentil soup and mutton kebab, lamb and camel meat – are delicious. It is typical to eat outdoors and not unusual for passersby to be invited to join!
A trip to Iran is an opportunity to better understand a long-past ancient culture. Moreover, Iranians use the Persian calendar, and as the current year is 1396, a trip to Iran is literally like traveling back in time!
It’s easy to get to Iran – UIA offers daily direct flights to Tehran, where a roundtrip ticket costs approximately 7 000 UAH.