From ancient Persian civilisation to beautiful architecture, the dryest place on earth to green mountains where the 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 weapons 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.
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.
- Is Iran safe for travellers
- Credit cards don’t work in Iran
- Cost of living for Tourists
- Cell Phone Network and Wifi
- Type of Power sockets
- Public Hygiene and Toilets
- Roads and Transport
- Must-have mobile apps
- Food and Beverages
- Alcohol and smoking
- Code of Conduct
- What to see in Iran and when
- Tipping Culture
- Bonus tip – Iran & its Political situation
Is Travelling in Iran safe for tourists?
A look by a stranger when I took only one cube of sugar & he took four!
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. 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.
Avoid border areas and take the usual precautions you would take in any other country – It will be fine. 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.
Travelling in Iran rewards you with views like this
What scams should I be aware of when travelling to Iran
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.
What is the Iran currency called?
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. This is the most confusing currency in the world. Hence you need to read a separate post to understand it.
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 .
What payment methods are available in Iran?
Even the smallest Lavashk seller 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 They delivered our card personally at the Tehran hostel.
Cost of Travelling 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 boutique hotel) 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.
Which SIM card is best in Iran?
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.
Travel Adaptor for Iran
They use TYPE C & F. Indians need to carry Travel Adaptors.
Is Iran clean nation?
All parts of Iran where we travelled were 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 didn’t cause us 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.
What are the toilets like in Iran?
Public toilets were free for everyone near the Bazaar areas and Tehran’s Metro stations. Most public toilets/hotel room toilets keep jet sprays. 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.
What type of transportation is used in Iran?
Iran follows Right lane driving.
How do people drive in Iran?
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 a one-way street, always check either direction for vrooming motorbikes.
Does Iran have airports?
Tehran airport is clean, and serves its purpose. Since Iran is encouraging tourism recently, the airports are yet to be developed regarding their amenitie. 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)
Does Iran have railways?
Our Iranian buddy Arya in Iran says he enjoys train journeys more than anything in Iran. Travelling by Iran railways are the most preferred mode of transport among locals. So railways are almost always full, book seats in prior. There is a separate compartment for women in the trains. If you travel with your spouse of the opposite gender, you both can sit common that compartment. Use Alibaba Iran to book train tickets.
NOT TO CONFUSE – THE HORSE CARRIAGES ARE JUST A SHORT RIDE, NOT A MODE OF TRANSPORT IN IRAN
How do you get around in Iran?
Most cars you see in Iran are taxis. Yellow & Green cars are the official taxis, while the rest are private cars that give you a 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.
In Iran, travelling by Metro is the fastest way to get around in cities like Tehran, Isfahan & Mashad.You must buy a Metro card to use them. The Metro card can be used for public buses too.
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 on Tehran Metro.
There is no public transport to places like Abyaneh, you have to book either a private taxi or a group tour.
What apps can I use in Iran?
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 –You have to use a browser in iPhone to access Snapp.
- Hostel/Hotel room/domestic flights/ trains / E-Visa/Insurance we used – 1stquest
- To find restaurants and their reviews, use Four square.
- For maps and directions, 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.
What does Iranian food taste like?
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.
Indian dishes like Biryani, Jamun, Nan, Jalebi are of Persian Origin.. The sweet dish called Gaz is similar to our Soan Papdi. Halwa is common in both Iran and India.
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.
What is a typical meal in Iran?
- The typical breakfast ( what we had in Tehran Heritage hostel) included flatbread, butter, thick whipped cream, bright white cheese and fruit jams.
- Snacks- Baieh ( tastes like churros without chocolate dip), Dried fruits, fruit rolls (Lavashak), and fruits dipped in sugary fruity sauces are something you must not miss. Darband or Northern Iran is your best place to buy these.
How to Survive as a Vegetarian in Iran?
Vegetarians must 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.
What kind of food do they eat in Iran?
NON VEGETARIANS – Bad news for you too! YOU ARE GONNA GAIN WEIGHT; THEIR FOOD IS IRRESISTIBLE. Baghali Polo, Koofteh, and 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.
What is the national drink of Iran?
Iranians 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.
Is smoking banned in Iran?
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.
Can you drink alcohol on Iran?
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.
Iranians and their culture
What language is mostly spoken in Iran?
Iranians speak Persians, not Arabic. They are two different languages with similar alphabets. A few common words of Hindi and Persian are –
- Rang (colour)
- Namak (salt)
- Sefid (white)
- Zyaada – More
- Some numbers sound similar to Hindi ( 1- Ek, 2-Doh, 4 – Chahar, 1000- Hizar).
- Ishqaam – Darling.
- Paneer- Cheese.
- Khub – Nice
- Ejaz- Permission
Knowing the basics of Persian can help you since English isn’t that common. Especially when you talk to taxi drivers asking for addresses of 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.
Zorashtrianism was born in Iran, but 75% of Iranians are Shia Muslims now. 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 a local’s house.
- Iranians eat with hands for bread-like items & Spoons and forks for rice.
What do female tourists wear in Iran?
- 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.
- Women driving cars is common in Iran.
Why you should not go to Iran?
Avoid sitting next to strangers of the opposite gender on any kind of transportation.
To be on the safer side, tell them you are married to your travel partner of another gender though you aren’t. We even had carried our marriage certificate in case some hotel asks.
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.
Walk away from the protesting crowd if any. Don’t click pictures of train stations, groups of soldiers and protestors.
Few things about Iran that we read before going and what we witnessed in reality
- 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 hands. Only religious people don’t shake hands with the 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.
What are Iranian traits?
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.
What to see in Iran and when
What is interesting in Iran?
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.
When should I visit Iran?
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, Phalangan might be dreamy – but you might end up somewhere on the road stuck due to heavy snowfall during this period. 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.
Travelling to Iran in summer (June-September) is a bad idea as temperatures reach as high as 40*C
January is when we visited Iran. Perk – Low prices because of the non-touristy season. Jerk – Very cold, especially in late evenings. The picture above – Cars & humans frozen in Darband.
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 to 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 into 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 the 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 life of freedom. Some want to stay back to bring Socialism.
Achaemenid Emperors to kings, monarchs, military rule and the 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 – After travelling in Iran, spread the fact worldwide – Iran is safe for tourists, Iran is beyond beautiful and it 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 are neither kidnappers, nor terrorists; but the kindest people you meet in the world.
Thanks to our buddy Arya for all his advice on this post.
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