8 Reasons to Travel to Iran Now
MIR has a long-standing love for Iran‘s complex and captivating culture, developed over 15 years of leading tours throughout the region. Recently, intrepid travelers and media outlets have buzzed with excitement over Iran’s fabulous bazaars, amazing archaeological sites, and unfailingly warm and friendly people.
There’s never been a better time to visit than now – discover for yourself why it deserves a place at the top of any traveler’s list.
1. A Fascinating & Ancient History
Iran is home to one of the oldest civilizations on earth, with a history that can be traced back more than 2,500 years. As the seat of the mighty Persian Empire, it conquered a vast swath of territory on par with ancient Greece and Rome; under Samanid rule witnessed a Golden Age of mathematics, astronomy, philosophy and the arts; and from the 16th-18th centuries during the Safavid dynasty saw the beginnings of a modern unified nation.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites like Persepolis, the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid kings, and the ruins of Pasargadae, founded by Cyrus the Great in the 6th century BC, remind visitors of Iran’s vast history and influence.
2. Extraordinary Art & Architecture
If you’re a lover of the arts, then you’ll find Iran to be a treasure trove of creativity. Graceful arched bridges, brilliantly tiled mosques and minarets, and shapely azure domes represent just a fraction of the country’s architectural marvels waiting to be discovered. Some of the most extraordinary sights can be found in Isfahan, including Imam Square, one of the largest public squares in the world; the picturesque bridges over the Zayendeh River; and the Masjid-e Jameh, or Friday Mosque, encompassing over 800 years of Islamic architectural styles.
Poetry and the written word are celebrated just as actively in Iran: beloved Iranian poets Hafez and Saadi are honored in Shiraz, a fabled city with a long history of literary, artistic and intellectual patronage.
For lovers of modern art, the impressive collection at Tehran’s Museum of Modern Contemporary Art features works by many of the greatest 20th and 21st century artists, including Jaspar Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Edgar Degas and Marcel DuChamp.
3. Fabulous Food
Iranian food is unbelievably flavorful and varied. Rich, hearty stews, fluffy mounds of rice scented with saffron, and delightfully herbaceous salads and sides grace Iranian dinner tables with exotic scents and tastes. Traditional Persian dishes such as fesenjan (a sweet and tangy stew of chicken or duck simmered in a pomegranate and walnut sauce), gormeh sabzi (a green stew made with kidney beans, lamb and handfuls of fresh herbs) and bademjan (a savory eggplant and tomato stew) are some of the standout favorites to try.
On every corner, vendors sell fresh vegetables, fruits and nuts – produce stands overflow with tomatoes, peppers, olives, pomegranates, dates and figs, pistachios and almonds, tangerines, oranges and sweet lemons, and fresh-squeezed juices are always available. For a real treat, be sure to try a bowl of creamy Persian ice cream flavored with rose water, saffron, almonds, honey or sour cherries.
4. Cultural & Ethnic Diversity
It’s perhaps surprising for some to learn that Iran is not a country made up of one people, but rather a mosaic of diverse ethnic groups, cultures and religions. Azeris, Kurds, Lurs, Turkmen, Baluchi and Arabs are just some of the many different nationalities coexisting with Persians today.
Though Islam is the dominant religion in Iran, Christianity and Judaism have had a long and important history here. Today, Christianity is the nation’s largest religious minority, and Iran also has one of the largest Jewish populations in the Middle East, outside of Israel. Their shared heritage with Islam can still be seen in cities such as Isfahan, home to both the Christian Vank Cathedral and the old Juibareh, or Jewish Quarter.
Long before Islam spread throughout the Middle East, Zoroastrianism was Iran’s primary religion. There are still practicing Zoroastrians living in Iran today; the largest number can be found in the city of Yazd, left largely untouched by Arab invaders due to its remote location. The city’s Fire Temple in the old town enshrines a fire said to have been burning continuously since 470 AD.
5. Bustling Bazaars
Bazaars in Iran are wonderful places to people-watch and immerse yourself in a slice of everyday local life – they’re also great places to buy wonderful (and affordable) souvenirs of your trip. Isfahan is renowned for its gorgeous blue tiles and ceramics; Kerman for its hammered copper crafts and richly woven carpets and tapestries (which are now allowed into the U.S. since the lifting of international sanctions); and Yazd for its textiles, particularly termeh, a type of silk brocade that has been produced here for centuries.
Metalwork, scarves, leather bags, jewelry, art (Iranian miniatures are very popular), picture frames and inlaid wood are some of the other local handicrafts you might find. Iranian saffron is a popular buy from any of the fragrant spice shops lining the bazaar, and many travelers also opt to bring home plenty of the traditional Persian cookies and confections that Iran is famous for.
6. Romantic Gardens
Though largely a desert country, Iran harbors over 6,000 recorded species of ferns and flowering plants. But you don’t have to go out into the wild to find them: gorgeous trees, ferns and flowers can be found in the beautifully tended gardens of many of Iran’s major cities.
Nine of the country’s classical Persian gardens have been designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites, famed for their architectural elements and beauty, and are wonderful spots for a quiet stroll. Sophisticated Shiraz is a favorite of many travelers with its exquisite mosques and gardens, in particular its stately Eram Garden, built during the 19th century.
7. Natural Beauty
As the second largest country in the Middle East, Iran is home to an amazingly varied and awe-inspiring terrain. The central part of Iran is extremely arid with salt lakes and vast stretches of desert. On the other end of the spectrum, the Caspian coastline is lush and subtropical, and the area is sometimes called the “Jungles of Iran.” In between, the country is dotted with soaring mountain peaks, forests, fertile green valleys and coastal islands.
Iran also has some of the most diverse wildlife on the planet, including several species that can only be found here, such as the Asiatic cheetah and the Persian leopard. Over 500 species of birds call this country home, including flamingos, cranes and the endangered Egyptian vulture.
8. The Warm & Welcoming Iranian People
Iranians have a centuries-old tradition of hospitality. Even during the last decade’s tensions between the governments of Iran and the U.S., the people of Iran continued to be welcoming and hospitable to visiting Americans. On the whole, MIR travelers are surprised and pleased with the overwhelmingly warm reception they receive.
We’ve been told countless stories of their interactions with the ordinary people of Iran. MIR frequently hears from past travelers that they’ve never received as warm a welcome as they have in Iran, and still treasure the small acts of kindness from the people they’ve met.
Travel to Iran with MIR
MIR has more than 15 years of experience hand-crafting tours to Iran. Our full service, dedication, commitment to quality, and destination expertise have twice earned us a place on National Geographic Adventure’s list of “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth.”
- Small Group Tours
- Rail Journeys by Private Train
- Custom Private Journeys
- If you have special interests or specific destinations in Iran you’d like to explore, MIR can work with you to create a custom, private journey that reflects your desires and timeline. You can also travel on one of MIR’s hand-crafted private independent travel itineraries, Essential Iran or our new Essential Iran Enhanced.
Chat with a MIR destination specialist about travel to Iran by phone (800-424-7289) or email today. Our team has an insider’s knowledge of what to do and see in Iran, and we would love to help you craft a tour that satisfies your curiosity about this ancient and modern country.
(Top Photo: A sunset view in Mahan from the top of Shah Nematollah Vali’s mausoleum, honoring the 14th century poet, mystic and founder of the Nematollahi order of Sufis. Photo credit: Peter Guttman)
PUBLISHED: May 12, 2016