Tips for your trip to Iran

Ancient Persian civilisation to beautiful architecture, dryest place on earth to green mountains where world’s best saffron is grown, Iran is beyond beautiful. What used to be a country that everybody believed was filled with terror and nuclear weapon keeper has opened its arms to tourists worldwide. Travelling in Iran may not be a cakewalk, but it isn’t as difficult as the media portrays it. So here is your complete guide to travelling in Iran as a tourist – the country that we loved most and are sure of visiting again- Perhaps the most underrated nation in the world.

HEADS UP –If there is proof of recent entry to Israel in your passport, it is tough to enter Iran. UK & US, citizens cannot travel to Iran without a guide.

  1. Is Iran safe for travellers
  2. Iran Currency
  3. Credit cards don’t work in Iran
  4. Cost of living for Tourists
  5. Cell Phone Network and Wifi
  6. Type of Power sockets
  7. Public Hygiene and Toilets
  8. Roads and Transport
  9. Must-have mobile apps in Iran
  10. Food and Beverages
  11. Alcohol and smoking
  12. Religion, Code of Conduct, People and Language
  13. What to see in Iran and when
  14. Tipping Culture
  15. Bonus tip – Iran & its Political situation

Is Iran safe for travellers

A look by a stranger when I took only one cube of sugar & he took four!

SAFETY –IRAN IS ONE OF THE SAFEST COUNTRIES IN THE MIDDLE EAST COUNTRIES FOR TOURISTS when you follow local customs which aren’t difficult to follow. Iranians aren’t terrorists; they are the warmest people on earth. The police are extremely kind, and they want to help tourists. The crime rate is low, and tourists are hardly victims of any assault. It is only when you refuse to follow customs, locals politely request you to do so. So flashpacking/backpacking is an ideal way to savour Persia.

If you are still worrying, registering yourself under your country’s embassy once you arrive in Iran is good.- We do this every time, everywhere, whether it is Netherlands or Egypt.

ISFAHAN

Tourist scams in Irsn: 

Honestly, Iran is one nation where I can’t write about any particular scam! Beware of the usual pick-pocketing, Fake Visa application sites, unofficial guides, mobile snatchers on motorbikes and fake Persian carpets.

Iran Currency

That Price per litre is 3000 Toman, which means you have to pay 30000 RIAL

The official currency is Rial, but locals use the term “Thoman”. So 100 Rials is 10 Tomans. Also, in common, people don’t consider 3 more zeros from Toman. Read our post “Money Matters” to know more.

Euros are most preferred for money exchange, and USD is almost rejected throughout. The exchange rate you see on the internet and what works in Iran are different. Instead of exchanging currency at airports, do it in the city. Or you can open a temporary account through a Daric Pay travel card along with cash to your room in Tehran. 

Which Credit cards to use in Iran

Even the smallest Lavashk seller shop accepts cards – But it is not your International bank Visa/Amex/ Master cards. None of the international cards works in Iran. You have to have an Iran bank’s debit card to use. We booked a debit card from Daricpay prior by transferring money from India. They delivered our card personally at the Tehran hostel.

Cost of living for Tourists in Iran

Cheap & best restaurant- Moslem near Grand Bazar of Tehran

It is cheaper than all the countries I have ever been to till 2020. Globetravellers like Drew Binsly and Alex Reynolds also suggest one of the 10 cheapest countries for travellers. The trendy cafe in Kashan served a tasty apple cake for less than 60 INR (0.6 EURO). The bazaars are extremely cheap; hence locals also go there to shop for their usuals.

A luxury hotel like Saraye Ameriha ( An old palatial historic mansion converted into a boutiques hostel) cost us 12000INR (150 Euro/ night/room). A similar hotel in India costs 18k-20k INR.

As a mid-range budget traveller, we spent 3400 INR OR 45 EUROS/person staying (INCL- stay in a hostel/local guest houses, 3 times local restaurant food, little shopping, public transport, entrance fees. EXCL- International & Domestic flights)

Cell Phone Network and Wifi

We opted for a local SIM from a servicer provider called Iran cell along with our DaricPay travel card. That gave us coverage even in the remote village of Abyaneh. 

Forget about Public wifi; hotel wifi is also very slow. Tehran and Shiraz airport wifi was almost non-existent.

Type of Power sockets

TYPE C & F. Indians need to carry Travel Adaptors.

Public Hygiene and Toilets -Iran is clean

SMALL TOWN KASHAN

All parts of Iran where we travelled was spotless. People don’t have a habit of throwing garbage on the streets. So their civic responsibility in keeping their neighbourhood clean is great. The most crowded places like Tehran’s Grand Bazaar’s alleys were almost thrash-free despite being busy always. Street food and local tea sellers by the street sides didn’t cause any health upset.

Saying so, we won’t deny the fact that Iran’s modern buildings aren’t aesthetically pleasing. Other than ancient heritage buildings, most modern buildings in Tehran looked grey and dull because of the dirt and smoke. So Tehran is not a great looking city. Isfahan & Yazd are better, and Shiraz was similar to Tehran. Nevertheless, the streets are excellent for your morning walks and evening strolls since most roads have designated pedestrian walkways, usually corbelled.

TOILETS – Public toilets were free for everyone near the Bazaar areas and Tehran’s Metro stations. Indians need not worry about wiping. Because most public toilets/hotel room toilets keep jet sprays. So whoever are wipers and not washers, carry toilet paper rolls. But the jet sprays in public toilets are just like a pipe- without a porous plate. So washing your butts feels like washing your car here. Squat toilets are common in public toilets, and they were ultra-clean even in the busy Bazaars of Isfahan.

Roads and Transport

  • Iran follows Right lane driving.
  • Roads & Traffic – Cairo, Colombo, Bangkok, Bangalore, Mumbai,Tehran – All have one thing in common. UNBELIEVABLY CHAOTIC TRAFFIC AND PEOPLE NOT FOLLOWING LANES/TRAFFIC SIGNALS.
  • The road condition and infrastructure is good, but the way Iranians drive is scary. The two-wheeler riders hardly wear helmets and rarely follow traffic signals. The cars overtake from whichever direction possible. Self-driving in Iran is as stressful. Even If you want to cross an one way streets, always check either direction for vrooming motorbikes.
  • Airports: Tehran airport is clean, serving the purpose. Since Iran is encouraging tourism recently, the airports are yet to be developed regarding their amenities. Tabriz in Northwest Mashad in East. , Tehran, Isfahan , Yazd, Shiraz are international airports. Shiraz international airport was still under construction but had begun operating. So don’t expect to have a sleepover or a nice layover surrounded by eateries and shops while you are in Iran. (as of 2020)
  • Railways –Our buddy Arya in Iran says he enjoys train journeys more than anything in Iran. Iran’s railways are the most preferred mode of transport among locals. So railways are almost always full, book seats in prior. There is separate compartment for women in the trains. If you travel with your spouse of opposite gender, you both can sit common that compartment. Arya uses Alibaba Iran to book train tickets.
  • Buses are the cheapest and most common form of transportation between cities.

NOT TO CONFUSE – THE HORSE CARRIAGES ARE JUST A SHORT RIDE, NOT A MODE OF TRANSPORT IN IRAN

  • Taxis / private cabs – Most cars you see in Iran are taxis. Yellow & Green cars the official taxis, while the rest are private cars that give you ride if they are going in the same direction as you. Strangely, most taxis we used are the old Iranian automaker SAIPA & IKCO CARS – SAIPA is Iran’s pride.
  • Metro – Fastest ways to get around cities like Tehran, Isfahan & Mashad is Metro. You must buy a Metro card to use them. The Metro card, can be used for public buses too. Heads Up – In Tehran Metro, there are two compartments. One common compartment for all and the other for women only. As a couple, you can sit together in the common compartment, you need not split from your lady to travel in Tehran Metro. You need to buy a Metro travel card to use it even if it is just one time ride.
There are no public transport to places like Abyaneh, you have to book either a private taxi or a group tour.

Must-have mobile apps in Iran

The general apps/websites banned in Iran areBooking.com, Ola, Uber, Whatsapp, Facebook, Telegram, Youtube. To use these, you just need a VPN. We used Express VPN.

You may see lots of hoaxes about the apple I phone not working in Iran. Iran cell SIM worked well with our phones.

  • For local taxis, use Snapp –Not available on Apple store, but available for Android Play store). You have to use a browser in iPhone to access Snapp.
  • To find restaurants and their reviews, use Four square. 
  • For maps and direction, use Waze map – we found it more accurate than Google maps in Iran.
  • International flights – Though MakeMyTrip says you can book tickets to Iran from another country, it always showed us “No flights found” Go through different middle eastern airlines like Qatar Airways and Emirates and book flights on their website itself.
  • Hostel/Hotel room/domestic flights/ trains / E-Visa/Insurance we used – 1stquest 
  • For desert tours/ homestays in the countryside, use Apochi.

Food and Beverages

Many dishes commonly used in India are of Persian Origin. Biryani, Samosa, Jalebi, Sharbat, Faloodah, Gulab Jamun, Naan. The sweet dish called Gaz is similar to our Soan Papdi. Halwa is common in both Iran and India.
Rice and bread are the staple foods of the Iranians. There is some great aroma and flavour in their plain rice itself. So a spoon of Ghee and roasted saffron itself can be a lunch for Vegetarians. In addition, they eat meat and vegetable dishes along with herbs and yoghurt.

The typical breakfast ( what we had in Tehran Heritage hostel) included flatbread( similar to Naan, but lighter), butter, thick whipped cream, bright white cheese and fruit jams. 
Snacks- Baieh ( tastes like churros without chocolate dip), Dried fruits, fruit rolls (Lavashak), fruits dipped in sugary fruity sauces are something you must not miss. Darband or Northern Iran is your best place to buy these.

Boasting alert: The largest portion of Iran’s rice import happens from India. To be precise, Iran receives the highest quality Basmathi rice grown in our home state Karnataka.

Vegetarians, carry some packed veg food along when you travel in Iran. Or else be ready to eat rice without curry. Very few veg dishes are available, and most of them are made using Brinjal (Eggplant). Northern Iran and Tehran are filled with lots of fresh fruits like Oranges & Pomegranate. So fruits & vegetables are available all over the country. There were times when Sahana had to have more of Doogh, Shirin and fruit juices.

NON VEGETARIANS Bad news for you too! YOU ARE GONNA GAIN WEIGHT; THEIR FOOD IS IRRESISTIBLE. Baghali Polo, Koofteh, Kubideh are my favourites. You find plenty of Ghee, Dill leaves and saffron as dressing or topping in most Iranian dishes in both Veg and Non-Veg dishes.

Beverage: Iranian’s hot favourite is tea. Their chai is without milk and is brewed from dried black tea leaves.

Usually, tea is served with Sugar cubes. Sometimes, you are given an orange sugar stick called “Nabaat”, which is created by crystallising sugar with added herbs, particularly saffron. Dip the stick and stir until you have sweet enough as per your standard.

Smoking & No alcohol

Men smoke in public, and it is rare to see women smoking in public. But it is no offence if women do so unless their head is covered with a scarf. Qalyan (Shisha) is very famous; you can find it in many traditional cafes.

Iran is officially a dry country. But locals know their way out. Consuming alcohol in public is 100% banned, but locals get it for private gatherings. Arya says many of them even prepare wine at home.

Religion, Code of Conduct, People and Language

Language: Iranians speak Persians, not Arabic. They are two different languages with similar alphabets. Urdu & Hindi are similar, while both are related to Persian. A few common words of Hindi and Persian are –

  • Chai-tea
  • Rang (colour)
  • Namak (salt)
  • Sabzi(veggies)
  • Sefid (white)
  • Zyaada – More
  • Some numbers sound similar to Hindi ( 1- Ek, 2-Doh, 4 – Chahar, 1000- Hizar).
  • Ishqaam – Darling.
  • Paneer- Cheese.
  • Khub – Nice
  • Ejaze- Permission

Most Beautiful Terrace I have ever seen – Bath House, Kashan

Knowing the basics of Persian can help you since English isn’t that common. Especially when you talk to taxi drivers, shopkeepers, restaurant waiters, asking for addresses with locals, you have to either use google translator or speak basic Persian. The way they pronounce place names differs from what we do – Many couldn’t understand when we asked for directions to “Golestan place” and Agha Bozorg Mosque. We showed an online image of the place, and the locals corrected our pronunciation and showed us the way.

Religion – Zorashtrianism was born in Iran, but 75% of Iranians are Shia Muslims. Therefore, their legal codes and laws are integrated with Islam’s Shariah Law. That is why there is a strict code of conduct comes from.

Some things you must follow as a tourist in Iran are –

  • Don’t ask an Iranian if they are an Arab – They are Persians.
  • Remove footwear when you enter local’s house.
  • Iranians eat with hands for bread like items & Spoons and forks for rice.
  • Women always must wear a Hijab (in public areas) & conservative clothing.
  • Remove Hijab in private houses / private taxis if only your host/driver is OK with it. .
  • If entering a mosque or shrine, wear a chador that they give you at the entrance if you aren’t carrying one.
  • Avoid sitting next to strangers of the opposite gender on any kind of transportation.
  • To be on the safer side, tell you are married to your travel partner of another gender though you aren’t. We even had carried our marriage certificate if in case some hotel asks.
  • Walk away from the protesting crowd if any. Don’t click pictures of train stations, group of soldiers and protestors.
  • Single women, don’t keep quiet if any man misbehaves with you just because you are in Iran. Call out for help,scream at the man who tried bothering you. Iranian women are stronger and bolder, the other gentlemen will always come for your help – Tip by our receptionist from Tehran Heritage hostel.
Rocking in a hijab – Golestan Palace

Few things we read before going which weren’t always true –

  • PDA – We saw many couples holding hands and walking in the cities. In Chaharbagh Abbasi Isfahan, a couple standing in front of us to get their chicken fry kissed each other! Definitely, kissing each other like how you do in Paris or Madrid isn’t fine. But holding your spouse hands while walking was still OK.
  • Men & women must not greet each other with a handshake – Not really. Most bazaar shop owners shook hands with Sahana..When they see someone as a friend or know them before, they shake hand. Only religious people don’t shake hand with opposite gender
  • Playing music in Cars is banned – Open music concerts are banned, but not using earphones. Many of them love to listen to music. So many taxi drivers plaid Persian music. The hostel staff were doing a Karaoke night in Tehran Heritage hostel. Also some people play music in parks, it is good to tip them.
  • Women driving cars is common in Iran.

Never in our life, as tourists, we had ever received so much love and warmth from strangers. This is a place where we hitchhiked for the first time in our life(short distances). Whenever we looked clueless on the street, a stranger approached and helped us with the roads. Whenever Sahana’s Hijab fell down, locals hinted politely, smiling. A cafe owner in Kashan gave his personal phone number if we need any help while travelling in Iran. Arya from Daric Pay, who came to hand over our Travelcard and currency, has become a great friend of ours, and we are in touch with each other through WhatsApp always. The country’s economic and political conditions may be feeble, but not their kindness and hospitality. Read our post “Why do I admire Iranians most” to know more.

What to see in Iran and when

WHAT

Beaches in southern Iran, Snow mountains & lakes in northern Iran, Cold deserts and sand deserts in Central Iran & colourful mosques + palaces all over! From ancient villages to scenic beauty, Iran has something for everyone. Read our post “Detailed Iran Itinerary” to know more.

WHEN

November to February is the best time to visit Southern Iran for beaches, deserts, and Central Iran. On the other hand, visiting Northern Iran like Tabriz, Plangann might be dreamy – but you might end up somewhere on the road stuck due to heavy snowfall during this period, and it is a good time for skiing.

March to May is the perfect time for camping in Northern Iran But remember – March 21st is the Persian new year. So a WEEK BEFORE AND AFTER the new year season, most of the hotels & guesthouses will be full of domestic travellers.

Iran’s summer heat peaks from June and usually lasts till September. Therefore, avoid travelling at this time to save yourself from sunstroke.

January is when we visited Iran. Perk – Low prices because of non-touristy season. Jerk – Very cold, especially late evenings. Picture above – Cars & humans frozen in Darband.

Tipping Culture.

Not Mandatory. But you will end up doing it because Iranians are honest and do their best in whatever service they give you.

Bonus tip – Iran & its Political situation

Do not discuss the political issues of Iran in public. Fundamentalists, Religious, Liberals, atheists, liberally religious – all kinds of people in Iran. So talking disrespect of their supreme leader may get you in trouble. We are there to enjoy the beauty of their country and experience the culture, not to poke our nose in their national issues. Few women don’t want to wear HIjab, while some are OK with it. Some want to go more fundamental and abolish little socialist laws that they have. People aren’t happy about the high petrol price they pay though they have Oil reservoirs. Iranians can’t marry a person from another religion and the same gender. Many Iranians move out of the country for a better and free life. Some want to stay back to bring Socialism.

Achaemenid Emperors to kings, monarchs, military rule and 1979 Islamic revolution – Iran has gone through radical changes from being a liberal nation to the most religiously orthodox one.

You are a foreign tourist; you go there to exchange your culture, not preach yours. It is their battle; they will figure out their ways. So all you can do is – Spread the fact worldwide – Iran is safe for tourists, Iran is beyond beautiful, Iran is more than the desert, Iran’s mountains are magical, Iran’s history and architecture are great, Iran’s Non-Veg food is delicious, and Iranians aren’t kidnappers or not terrorists; but the kindest people you meet in the world.

Thanks to our buddy Arya for all his advice on this post.

Did this inspire you to travel to Iran? Let us know in the comment section below.

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