I have always wanted to visit Iran, but when I shared my goal with others, the image on the right is the kind of reaction that most gave me… People were horrified, shocked, almost disgusted as to why I would want to go “there.” To somewhere “so dangerous” and “anti-West” and “full of terrorists.” Someone even warned me that if I admitted that I was a Christian in Iran, my throat would be cut… Yes, that person told me that in all seriousness. Luckily, I am not easily swayed by others’ opinions and nor do I believe everything portrayed (or exaggerated) in the media, so off I went and did some research into how to get to Iran!
I had a 4 or 5-day holiday, so I decided to cover Iran’s 3 main cities- Shiraz, Esfahan, and Tehran in 4 DAYS. I did my research and realised that this could all be covered in my short time there. As an Irish passport holder, I am very fortunate and do not need to apply for an Iranian visa in advance because I qualify for a visa-on-arrival (cost= approx €70). Be aware that UK and USA passport holders must apply in advance and from what I’ve heard, it is a very costly process.
Another advantage that I had as as an Irish passport holder was that unlike UK and USA passport holders, I do NOT need to be accompanied 24/7 by a government guide (that is paid for by the visitor, believe it or not!), so I was free to take taxis, metros, and walk everywhere and anywhere I wanted!
In terms of foreign exchange, I was unable to get Iranian Riyal in Dubai, so I bought some at Shiraz airport because it was the end of Ramadan/ national holiday/ weekend and many banks and currency houses were closed when I arrived. I have heard mixed reviews about the exchange rate at the airports, so do Google it depending on which Iranian city you visit! I had no choice due to the closure of the banks etc.
Women in Iran (regardless of nationality and religion) must cover their hair and dress modestly by law, so I had my scarf ready as we exited the plane, as did every woman who was on the Fly Dubai flight with me! I visited Iran in June, so it was very hot and humid and I made the mistake of wearing a heavy lycra-cotton scarf… I would advise you to bring a lighter scarf of a more breathable material, if you visit in the summer.
My first stop… Shiraz!
I flew to Shiraz airport at 11am- the earliest flight I could find from Dubai to Shiraz, which meant that I had only 12 hours to explore and enjoy the place, as I needed to catch an overnight bus to Esfahan at midnight that night! I grabbed a taxi to bring me to the Pink Mosque but needed him to stop at a phone shop to get a local SIM card, which was about €10 with tonnes of data. As I was travelling alone, I wanted to have constant internet access to use Google Maps, Trip Advisor, and stay in touch with family and friends. My taxi driver even came with me to help when there was an issue with my phone transferring to the local network, which seems to be very typical of Iranian hospitality. From the minute I landed in Shiraz, I must say that I was bowled over by the locals’ warmth and friendliness.
TIP: Always Google the price of a local taxi from the airport to wherever you want to go or email your hotel in advance to check the price, to make sure you don’t get completely ripped off!
The picture above is the Pink Mosque, which is such a stunning place! I wasn’t able to get there until midday, but I’ve read that being there at sunrise is spectacular because you witness the sun streaming through its colourful windows and illuminating the interior.
Some street art I spotted as I walked around Shiraz very comfortably and safely!
I visited the Tomb of Hafiz, a famous Persian poet from the 14th century. In its park, hundreds of locals were chatting, dining out, eating ice-cream, and relaxing. I definitely found the locals to be less conservative in terms of dress- I didn’t see one woman wear the chador; they wore brightly coloured and loose head scarves and more Western-style fashion.
While I was at his tomb, I did some research on Hafiz’s poetry and from what I read, his words are as relevant and impactful today.Here are some of my favourite Hafiz quotes:
“I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being.”
“Ever since happiness heard your name, it has been running through the streets trying to find you.”
Next stop…. Esfahan, the cultural capital of Iran!
I took the overnight bus from Shiraz to Esfahan (also spelled Isfahan), a journey of 6-7 hours. The buses were spacious, modern, comfy, and provided drinks and snacks.
TIP: Know the bus price. It is NOT fixed and many companies will try to overcharge you, so stand firm on the price!
I slept most of the way but I still checked in early to my hotel to have a 2-hour nap! To book accommodation, I just read through Trip Advisor forums to get an idea of location and price. Then off I went to experience the cultural capital of Iran… It was beautiful but I found the locals a bit more conservative and I was stared at a lot more than I’d been in Shiraz, which felt uncomfortable at times but never threatening. Over my 2 days there, I visited the Naqsh-e Jahan Square, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that contains the Shah Mosque, the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, the Ālī Qāpū Palace, and opens onto the Grand Bazaar. That evening, I decided to climb Soffeh mountain to get an amazing view of the city at night. You can get a cable car, but I chose to brave the 1.5 hour trek! That was the night of the Iran Vs Morocco World Cup Match, which I’d originally planned to watch but later decided against it, when many locals convinced me Iran would lose badly… How wrong they were!!! I reached the summit of the mountain, had dinner at the restaurant there, and as I was on my descent, I paused and realised I could hear beeping, cheering, and general excitement from the city (a 7-minute taxi ride away). Suddenly, it dawned on me! Iran had beaten Morocco! The atmosphere was electric and I loved watching families, full of national pride, waving large Iranian flags out the window, children popping out of sunroofs with klaxons, young women with the Iranian colours painted on their faces, everyone dancing and singing on the streets…. Celebrating like every other nationality would around the world. I felt elated for them because the media tends to focus on all things negative Iranian, so here was a positive event that the whole world could see.
This is me posing outside the Shah Mosque, which is even more breathtaking in person.
Inside the mosque is equally as astonishing…. I’ve heard of the song “40 Shades of Green” in relation to Ireland, but I never realised that there were so many shades of blue until I went to Iran!
Day 3 was spent in Esfahan again…
The next day, I went to Vank Cathedral, an Armenian Christian church whose frescos were extremely detailed and ornate. After that, I spent a few hours walking around the grounds of Chehel Sotoun, which was built by a 17th century Iranian Shah to be used for his entertainment and receptions.
The fourth and final day in Tehran…
Then I took a late afternoon bus from Esfahan to Tehran, as I was flying back the next evening to Dubai. The journey took 5-6 hours and like before it was comfortable! I went straight to my hotel as it was quite late and had a bit of a lie-in the next morning, which was a bit of a mistake as I only left myself about 2 hours to do tourist things in Tehran before I had to go to the airport! In the end, I only had time to see Azadi Tower, which I am surprised I even managed to get to in one piece, as the Tower is located in the middle of a giant roundabout, with 4 to 6 lanes of speeding traffic (depending on the drivers) WITH NO TRAFFIC LIGHTS, PEDESTRIAN CROSSINGS, OR ANY SAFE WAY ACROSS!
I had wanted to visit The National Jewelry Treasury, but sadly it only opens from Saturday – Tuesday from 2:00 PM – 4:00 PM! To be honest, even though I only saw one major tourist attraction in Tehran, I am glad I didn’t spend too long there because it felt a lot more conservative and much less friendly than Shiraz. It is the capital city so that may explain why people are less relaxed and more reserved, I guess?
Then off to Tehran airport I went and flew back to Dubai on a pleasant Iran Air flight… Back to the even hotter Dubai!
Azadi Tower is this huge and impressive in real life!
I would highly recommend Iran to everyone who wants to experience a rich culture with warm people, interesting history, stunning architecture, and delicious food! As a single woman, I travelled alone the whole time and at no point did I feel unsafe or threatened. I definitely plan to return and spend more time in and around Shiraz and maybe next time buy one of those beautiful Persian rugs…
Have you been to Iran? What was your experience? Are you planning a trip there soon? I’d love to hear from you in the Comments!
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