With more and more readers, friends and friends of friends asking me for tips and pieces of advice before travelling to Iran, I thought it was a good idea to gather the main questions in a single post so it can be a useful reference for future travellers to the Islamic Republic of Iran.
This article covers the “before-you-go” planning process, while the next post will be devoted to my tips on how to enjoy your trip once you’re actually there.
So, if you are ready to start, here are my best tips on how to plan a perfect trip to Iran.
1. Don’t go for Nowruz
I know, you’ve heard about the celebrations of Persian New Year and you want to see what all the fuss is about. However, when it comes to Nowruz, this is something to think about very carefully. Imagine a huge country (Iran) with millions of people (its residents) leaving their home altogether and roaming from province to province to enjoy the most important national holiday of the year. This will result in tourist areas incredibly crowded, some cities (Tehran, first and foremost) nearly empty and shops closed and, last but not least, soaring prices for hotels and sometimes restaurants.
I have experienced this only marginally, as once I arrived in Iran on the last day of Nowruz. The traditional tables, haftsin, were still set, making restaurants and hotel halls very picturesque, but in Tehran, many shops were closed, most importantly, exchange agencies were. That time, right after Nowruz was their weekend, which caused a further delay in the openings. It wasn’t my first time in Iran, so I had some Rials with me, but if it’s your first time, this can be a problem.
For as beautiful as Nowruz can be in Iranian celebrations, this is probably the first tip I feel to give if you want to know how to plan a perfect trip to Iran
2. Plan ahead
The prices of flight tickets vary quite a lot, so planning ahead and checking often the flights through the many comparison websites and travel search engines will definitely help you save good cash. There are many airlines flying into Iran international airports, from the Italian Alitalia that I usually take from Rome to Qatar Airways to Dubai’s Emirates, just to mention a few.
There are also Iran airlines, such as IranAir and the very good Mahan Air. The agreements after the Iran deal are still being discussed and signed, so keep an eye on the news as both of them are resuming their direct flights to Tehran and other Iran airports from the main European capitals right in these days.
3. Check the visa requirements
In October 2015, Iran has granted visa upon arrival to 58 nations, and it’s recent news that they are starting to issue 30-day visas to 180 nationalities, so you are likely to be fine, but just to make sure you don’t have unpleasant surprises, get in touch with the Iranian embassy in your country to check their visa requirements. I have devoted a post to the process of getting Iran visa, the different requirements depending on your nationality and what papers you need should you apply at the embassy in your country or at the airport upon arrival.
If you want to travel with the visa already glued on your passport even if you are not joining an organized tour, there is the travel agency 1st Quest that offers the visa service. You will need to fill in an online form and they will send you the authorisation code that you need to take to the embassy or consulate alongside the other documents mentioned above.
Click here for more information on how to do it and 1stQuest fees.
4. Get a tour guide
This needs a bit of an explanation. You can travel independently around Iran, especially in the most popular cities as they are increasingly tourist-friendly, and it’s very safe, also for solo female travellers. This being said, I think a tour guide would be useful if you want to travel to less popular provinces such as Khuzestan, and of course if you don’t speak a word of Persian.
I would add that, being Iran a very diverse and complicated country, travelling with a local will be more insightful if you want to delve a little deeper into its society instead of just visiting the historical buildings and main attractions. Obviously, if you have a friend there, that would work even better than booking a guide.
5. To book a room, call hotels directly
Especially due to the sanctions that are not entirely lifted yet, it’s still hard to book hotels online. It’s only recent news, in fact, that Booking.com has included two Tehran hotels on their website, but as for now the easiest way to book (if you are not on a tour package) is to call directly the hotel. Also, if you are going to apply for the visa on arrival, you will need confirmation of hotel booking, while if you are with an organized tour, the tour leader will have made the invitation letter for you so you will travel with your visa already glued to your passport.
To plan a perfect trip to Iran, you can find hotels in Tehran and other cities quite easily online or just checking your favourite guidebooks. The same Lonely Planet has compiled a list of accommodations in Iran from where you can just call them up and make your reservation.
Hopefully, Iranian banks will soon be reconnected to the international banking system and it will be easy to book hotels via the most popular travel sites like you do for most countries. For now, TripAdvisor and Hotels Combined are my go-to resources to check deals and reviews of hotels in Iran.
Whatever place you visit, I would recommend you choose a hotel in the city centre, or at least close to a metro station if in Tehran so that it’s easy to move around.
6. What to pack for a trip to Iran
A list of the main tips on how to plan a perfect trip to Iran couldn’t elude some packing guidance. In Iran, you can find pretty much everything, so in case you forget to pack something, there’s nothing to be worried about. The main news can be for clothing, especially with regards to the female dress code in Iran, as women need to pack some longer tunic or dress to wear with a pair of trousers, jeans, leggings or whatever you are used to. Most of all, don’t forget to carry a scarf in your hand luggage as you will need to wear it when you are getting off the plane. If you are going in winter, do pack some pretty warm clothes, especially if you are going to provinces such as Hamedan and Lorestan, or even Tehran.
If you take medicines, you should bring them with you. In Iran you find pretty much everything and, by law, you need to have an insurance in order to get a visa, but in case what you are looking for is not available, you are better off arriving well equipped.
Iran’s local currency is the Rial and the exchange rate swings between IR 33.000/35.000 per Euro. Although the nuclear agreement has been reached and sanctions have been lifted, changes haven’t been implemented yet, meaning that you can’t use your bank card to withdraw money from ATMs and you need to bring enough cash for the whole stay.
To plan a perfect trip to Iran, what I suggest (and what I usually do) is to try to roughly guess how much money you will need considering the unavoidable travel expenses such as hotels, food, transport and entrance fees for the main Iran tourist attractions, and then add some more in case of some emergency or personal shopping you might want to do such as souvenir and traditional handicraft.
8. If you are married, some proof of your marriage won’t harm
Granted, this is a general rule and it mainly applies to Iranians only (even if you are an Iranian-born and living abroad, you are still an Iranian and subject to controls). For foreigners, it’s pretty loose and they are hardly asked about marriage proof when renting a flat or booking the same hotel room. However, this is still the Islamic Republic of Iran, and should I get married (anytime now!), I will take with me a copy of marriage certificate or some proof of it, just in case.
9. Join the Facebook page See You In Iran
The Facebook page See You In Iran is a great resource if you need any tip from locals on how to plan a perfect trip to Iran. As a matter of fact, this post has been concocted also keeping in mind the questions and issues raised by the members of the group as they asked locals for information about tourism in Iran and how to get by in their country. In the group, you can ask both Iranians and foreigners who have already travelled to the Islamic Republic for help on different issues such as visa inquiries, best restaurants, hotels and whatever you can think of.
As you might know, Facebook in Iran is blocked by government filters, so to access it you need a VPN. The one I always use is ExpressVPN, a paid service that I found better than other paid and free ones.
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