Tell somebody you want to go to Iran and most of the times, you’ll get a look like this:

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Well they ain’t seen nothing yet! Friendly people, rich history and breathtaking landscapes – there is so much more to this wonderful country than the bad rep they get from mainstream media.

1. Iranian hospitality is unbeatable

Anyone who has visited can vouch for this – Iranians love pleasing their guests. Invitations to join picnics and a few nights’ stay at their homes may surprise you. A country that was once cut off from the rest of the world, they are happy to tell you all about Iran and want to know more about you too!

Credit: Dyland Arnell

If you’ve never couchsurfed before, this is your chance. It’s quite popular there, and you’ll get to learn about Iran through the eyes of a local!

#HHWT Tip: Bring a gift for your host, preferably something reflective of where you’re from!

2. It’s home to an ancient civilization!
The gates of Persepolis

Credit: Wikipedia 

Dating back to around 500 BC, the Persian empire is one of the greatest the world has ever known, and Persepolis, its centre. This UNESCO heritage site is also known as Takht-e-Jamshid, or “the throne of Jamshid”.

Reliefs like these can be found everywhere in the ceremonial complex

Credit: Wikimedia

Usually visited on a daytrip from Shiraz, expect to be wowed by the monumental gates, palace halls and the grand stairways.

#HHWT Tip: It will be scorching hot so don’t forget your sunscreen and shades!

3. It won’t burn a hole in your wallet

Good news for the traveller who wants great value for money! (Who doesn’t?) Prices for accommodation, transportation and food are affordable. Tipping is not compulsory but do leave a gratuity if you’ve hired a driver or a guide. Bargaining during shopping is a norm, especially in markets.

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Please note that credit cards and ATMs are pretty much useless for foreigners. It is advisable to bring all you need in cash (US dollars or Euros) and change them into Iranian Rial at the local exchange offices.

4. Their architecture will leave you mesmerized
Watch colours change as the day passes in Nasir al-Mulk Mosque

Credit: Wikipedia

Iran houses many architectural treasures, especially that of the olden days. It will be tempting to fire the camera shutter away, but why not take some time to appreciate the complex geometry and kaleidoscope of colours with your own eyes?

The 33 arches of the Si-o-seh pol or Allahverdi Khan Bridge in Isfahan

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Some of the must-see places include the Naqsh-e Jahan Square, Khan-e Boroujerdi, Golestan Palace and the Imam Reza shrine. The Armenian Quarter in Shiraz also doesn’t disappoint!

Golestan Palace

Credit: @luqmanrashdi on Instagram

Arches, columns and latticework so intricate, it’s mind-blowing!

Credit: @luqmanrashdi on Instagram

When in Tehran, be sure to visit the more modern buildings such as the Teatr-e Shar (City Theatre), Sharifi-ha House, and Tabitat bridge.

The Azadi tower at night

Credit: Wikipedia

5. The delightful cuisine!
Zereshk polow, rice with barberries

Halal-food seekers and meat-eaters can rejoice! The aromatic spices and herbs used in Iranian cuisine is so tantalizing, you will ask for a second serving of that zereshk polow and ghorme sabzi. 

Omelette gojeh farangi, or tomato omelette

Credit: The Persian Fusion

You’ll notice that tomatoes are huge in Iranian dishes, and this is no different! Similar to the Moroccan shakshouka, this dish is a favourite for breakfast. It is especially popular with hikers in the mountains, due to its simple ingredients and method of cooking. Slurp it up with bread and feta cheese!

For happy tastebuds – try the tabriz kofte or traditional meatballs

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6. The lively bazaars!

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Local marketplaces are a must each time I travel – simply because I think it captures the essence of a place and their people! Artwork, accessories, food items and textiles are everywhere – all you need to do is wander around the alleys.

Dried rose buds and other herbs

Each province is known for their own craft. For example, decorative tiles in Isfahan and baklava/sweets in Yazd, so drop by some of them if you have the time.

Qalamkar, the art of wooden block printing

Credit: Samira Jamali

#HHWT Tip: If carpets are too much of a hassle to bring back as a gift, get a qalamkar instead!

7. The countryside is GORGEOUS!

Credit: VU Students

Visiting the Iranian countryside is a great excuse for a road trip! Untouched by outside influences, the Kurdish province of Palangan is truly unique. The rectangular stone houses are built on steep gorges, giving a staircase appearance.

If you’re looking to go somewhere nearer to the Caspian Sea, head over to Masouleh. Also a UNESCO heritage site, it really is one of the most beautiful villages. Traditional customs remain and motor vehicles are out of sight.

Even the windowsills in Masouleh are pretty!

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8. The amazing natural wonders
It is said the waters of Badab-e Surt have healing properties

Credit: Wikimedia

Maybe you’ve seen the travertines of Pamukkale in Turkey, but Iran has its own too! The orange hot spring terraces get its colour from the iron oxide deposits. The Badab-e Surt hot springs are located in Mazandaran.

Traversing through a different planet… sort of.

Credit: Wikimedia

Did you know that the world’s largest water cave could also be found in Iran? Now you do! The Ali Sadr cave is 11 kilometres long and its walls reach up to 40 metres. It is a favourite among tourists, and the only way to travel through this cave is by taking a boat tour.

The kaluts of Dasht-e Loot

Credit: Jaepyl on Reddit

This place is all sorts of magical. The kaluts are huge sand castle-like structures that stand in the middle of the salt desert. Known to be the hottest place on earth, this desert also has high potential for finding meteorites!

9. Your sweet tooth will thank you

… but not your doctor! Iranians take their sweets seriously, and most of them have retained the traditional recipe. Saffron, honey, spices and nuts are key ingredients.  Yazd is famed for their sugar high tidbits such as qottab, sohan and gaz. Best enjoyed during teatime (which is pretty much all the time in Iran).

Sohan asali

Credit: brotundliebe.net

While you’re there, taste the earliest frozen dessert ever made – faloodeh! Originating in Shiraz, the stringy delicacy is made from cornstarch vermicelli. Flavoured with lime juice, cherry syrup and rose water, it is usually served alongside Persian ice cream (bastani).

Faloodeh

Credit: The Persian Fusion

Havij bastani, fresh carrot juice with a scoop of saffron and rosewater ice-cream

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10. The slopes are a skiing enthusiast’s dream

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Plan a trip to Dizin ski resort, all the way up in the Alborz mountain range. About 2 hours’ drive from Tehran, the resort is up to par with international standards. Only 1% of the skiers are actually foreigners! Don’t worry if you’re a beginner – equipment is available for rental and you can always hire an instructor.

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#HHWT Tip: Ski season lasts from mid November – mid May. Alternatively, you can also hike Mount Damavand, the highest peak in the Middle East!

With much to discover, Iran is perfect for those yearning for an eye-opening and offbeat destination. If you haven’t added this to your list of countries to visit, you totally should! What better way to debunk myths than by experiencing it first-hand?

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