Should I or should I not visit Iran?
You’ve been pondering, mulling over, thinking about it, even planning, yet you still haven’t booked your trip to Iran. You don’t even know why, maybe holidays for you are synonymous with beach so you head to Thailand, maybe you think spices are only available in India, or maybe you think ancient history can only be experienced in Rome.
Whatever has been keeping you from booking that flight, here are my ten reasons why you should visit Iran as soon as possible and overcome all of your doubts.
1. Traveling to Iran is safe
Is Iran a safe country to visit? Whether you travel alone or in a group, whether you are a woman or a man, or whether you arrive day or night time, Iran is very safe. I traveled for two weeks with a friend of mine (woman, Iranian), and apart from one flight, we moved from city to city and province to province by night buses, night trains and taxis, and given the large number of women traveling alone I can only gather this is a common practice.
The Iranian government devotes plenty of resources to keep their border safe so terrorists and drug dealers from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq don’t threaten Iran’s security. It’s without hesitation that I can say that Iran is the safest country in the tormented region.
2. It’s hitting the headlines all over the world
Let’s face it, now it’s totally Iran moment. Listed by many publications as one of the most popular travel destinations for 2014, after soaking in tourist crowds for two weeks I can only say that this year is the beginning of what will finally be an era of never-ending tourism flow for this west Asian country.
Among the reasons people are flocking in Iran, curiosity is definitely a big draw. If you add the pride of saying you have traveled to the Islamic Republic, saw that things are not as mainstream media say, that you challenged all prejudices and warnings from family and friends, I say, book your ticket now.
If you ask me, one of the reasons why you should travel to Iran soon is to go before the crowd gets too big!
Iran is also the country of warm hospitality, the kind I’ve only seen in Sardinia so far, and not just because “welcome” is possibly the most popular English word there, but because it’s an essential feature of their culture. From Tehran to Tabriz we took the night train, and one of our cabin mates was a woman from Tabriz who, within the first two minutes of the conversation, has managed not only to invite us to her house, but also to insist. And if you think this degree of hospitality is reserved to foreigners only, you clearly haven’t come across any taarof moment, which is understandably as this is a very “between-Iranians” prerogative.
I had the chance to come to grips with taarof because I was traveling with an Iranian, and this is really the only reason why after each and every single ride the taxi drivers suggested we didn’t need to pay. I really doubt with foreigners they would try such a stunt, they probably know we would simply thank and leave, albeit pretty startled.
Whatever city or province you go, friendly locals will be a great part of your Iranian journey.
4. A long history
Hardly in need of any introduction, Persepolis is possibly Iran’s most famous ancient site, even though not the only one. From ancient Persia to modern Iran, from the Achaemenid Empire to the Sassanian era, from the Safavid period to the Qajar dynasty, to finally the Pahlavi family and the Islamic Revolution, Iranian history is as stormy as it gets.
With so many historical places to visit in Iran, traveling all around the country you can soak in every period and delve into the nation’s tangled past. After you enjoyed your Persepolis tour, don’t forget to add to the list also other Iran points of interest such as the Golestan Palace in Tehran, Ali Qapu Palace in Isfahan and the Fire Temple in Yazd, just to mention some.
If this is not a reason to visit Iran, I don’t know what is.
Be it a mosque, a palace or a bazaar, Iranian buildings are finely decorated and glow with ornamental elegance. Pastel colors gracefully interact with bright hues, tapering minarets and seemingly ubiquitous domes outline the landscape, symbols and traditional calligraphy coexist in a charming interplay.
Whether inside or outside a building, the sophisticated Persian architecture is always something tourists marvel at every time they visit Iran.
Also the architectural styles and features evoke the dynasty they belong to. For example, Nasir al Mulk mosque in Shiraz is clearly Qajar dynasty with all its pink roses and small images of French churches, while the stunning Yazd Grand Mosque is all about overlapping styles, symbols and eras.
Getting enchanted by mesmerizing decorations, fine carvings and elaborate paintings is one of the best reasons why you should visit Iran.
Each province, each city, each village has their own handicraft. In Yazd you will certainly buy the beautiful termeh, handwoven silk and wool fabric (and baklava sweets), in Isfahan tiles and blue chalices and plates to decorate your home or use to offer sweets to your guests with a Persian touch.
Different cities different handicraft. Visit Tabriz (and everywhere else) for their particular carpets of all sizes, colors and patterns, or their nuts, get to Hamedan for their colorful pottery, or spend a day or two in Nishapur for their turquoise stone jewelry.
Wherever you travel in Iran, rest assured that you’ll get back home with the loveliest of gifts and Iranian souvenirs.
From pistachio to black tea, from saffron to kebab, from Mirza Ghasemi to Ghormeh Sabzi, the heavy presence of aromatic herbs makes Iranian cuisine appetizing and addictive, especially when it comes to pistachio and baklava, if you ask me.
While there are national dishes that you can find everywhere, like herb stew Ghormeh Sabzi, there are others that are exclusive, or at least typical from a particular region. Among these are the aforementioned eggplant-based Mirza Ghasemi, typical from Gilan province, or Dizi, too meaty and heavy for me but still a national treat, typical from Ardebil.
If for food you consider also the single ingredients, Iran is famous for its saffron, much cheaper than in Europe in case you are thinking about some Persian gift shopping, or their delicious pistachio.
8. Visit Iran because it’s still cheap
Be it for the sanctions or for the dropping of their currency, traveling to Iran right now will turn very cheap. With the cost of public transport ranging from the 8 euro (roughly 10$) of the night train from Tehran to Tabriz to less than 3 euro (4$) of the bus from Ardebil to Lahijan, and the accommodation, usually 4-star hotels, around the price of 30 euro (40$) per night per double room, you can spoil yourself with a royal treat without spending too much, saving enough for your inevitable shopping spree.
It mostly depends on the exchange rate, by since now euros, dollars and pounds are still strong compared to the rial, try to visit Iran as soon as possible before things change too much.
9. You will have a truly authentic experience
Probably due to sanctions that allow little commercial exchange with other countries, especially in the West, Iran can boast its own products on a variety of manufacturing areas, from food to textiles to ceramics. Apart from goods on sale, Iranians are very proud of their culture and traditions. This is why they will never miss the opportunity to illustrate what you might be seeing, eating, drinking, listening to, and so on and so forth.
This will give anyone who decides to visit Iran a great chance for a genuine local experience. This is also what allows you to better delve into the society and understand an ancient culture preserved with pride.
Iran tourism is living its boom season, and all Iranians are taking part in showing off their country that for too long has remained isolated from the travel industry.
Now that travel agencies are literally being created every day, you have a lot of Iran tours and packages to choose from. However, if these are too expensive or you are more into independent travel, locals will make you feel welcome and for sure will add to the value of your trip.
10. You will enjoy a relaxed atmosphere
Contrary to common belief, anyone who decided to visit Iran has talked about the laid-back atmosphere. Contrary to many places at least in Italy, you can take pictures pretty much everywhere. Obviously when it comes to people it’s always better to ask for their permission, but often they will agree, sometimes they will also show up in front of your camera with a “V” pose even before you have the chance to ask.
Vital to complete the breezy and somehow devil-may-care scene is obviously the Iranian friendly attitude. People will always be up for a chat, seldom if ever worried about timetables, surprisingly happy to be the subject of your next photo, and always willing to have you as guests in their house.
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