Traveling to Iran is safe
Iran is generally a very safe place to travel, so much so that many travellers describe it as the ‘safest country I’ve ever been to’, or ‘much safer than travelling in Europe’. Violent crime against foreigners is extremely rare and, indeed, if you do your best to fit in with local customs, you are unlikely to be treated with anything but courtesy and friendliness – that applies to Americans, too. We have hitchhiked across deserts, stayed in the homes of strangers and left bags in restaurants and cafes without any problem. 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 solo, 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.
Uniformed police and military are ubiquitous but have no interest in hassling foreigners. In cities such as Esfahan, Shiraz and Mashhad you’ll find helpful Tourist Police – usually including an English-speaker – in conveniently located booths.
Like many other people who have the idea of traveling to Iran, you might have heard about Iranian hospitality. So what is especial about Iranian Hospitality that everybody talks about it?
To clarify what I`m going to talk in this article, let me bring some examples! Have you ever been offered to stay with a random local person that you just met five minutes before? Have you ever been in a place where people generously offer their food and snack without expecting anything back? If the answer to these questions is “not yet”, you should definitely travel to Iran to experience Iranian Hospitality! Iran is a place where you would never be worried about accommodation, food and loneliness! You can see it everywhere – from shy smiles, to curious questions about where you’re from, Iranians are welcoming to visitors and are generally happy to see travellers coming. In traditional hotels and houses, they’ll treat you like family and you might even be invited for a homemade meal, just from a person on the street!
Beside the cultural part of this attitude, Muslims are advised to treat their guests with so much respect and love. This fact plays an important role in Iranian hospitable culture as well.
A long history
Iran’s history is one of the region’s greatest stories ever told. It is, above all, a story of civilisations, ancient and great, of Islam’s complicated march, and of some of the most heroic names in world history, among them Cyrus the Great, Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan. Fast-forward to the 20th and 21st centuries and Iran has again returned to centre stage and remains a key player in one of the world’s most turbulent regions.
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.
Iranian architecture or Persian architecture is the architecture of Iran and parts of the rest of West Asia, the Caucasus and Central Asia. Its history dates back to at least 5,000 BC with characteristic examples distributed over a vast area from Turkey and Iraq to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and from the Caucasus to Zanzibar. Persian buildings vary from peasant huts to tea houses and garden, pavilions to “some of the most majestic structures the world has ever seen”. In addition to historic gates, palaces, and mosques, the rapid growth of cities such as the capital, Tehran (Architecture of Tehran) has brought about a wave of demolition and new construction.
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.
Traditionally, the guiding formative motif of Iranian architecture has been its cosmic symbolism “by which man is brought into communication and participation with the powers of heaven”. This theme has not only given unity and continuity to the architecture of Persia, but has been a primary source of its emotional character as well. 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.
Having visited the beauty and ancient history of the Persian civilization, the great Iran has more to offer in its arts and handicrafts industry, as memorable and exciting as all those historical monuments. Due to the very old civilization, rich culture and geographical location, Iran plays an important role in the world of arts and crafts. 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.
Iranian cuisine, also known as Persian cuisine, includes the foods, cooking methods, and food traditions of Iran.
Iranian culinary styles have shared historical interactions with the cuisines of the neighboring regions, including Caucasian cuisine, Turkish cuisine, Levantine cuisine, Greek cuisine, Central Asian cuisine, and Russian cuisine. Through the Persianized Central Asian Mughal dynasty, aspects of Iranian cuisine were adopted into North Indian cuisine.
Typical Iranian main dishes are combinations of rice with meat (such as lamb, chicken, or fish), vegetables (such as onions and various herbs), and nuts. Fresh green herbs are frequently used, along with fruits such as plums, pomegranates, quince, prunes, apricots, and raisins. Characteristic Iranian flavorings such as saffron, dried lime, cinnamon, turmeric, and parsley are mixed and used in some special dishes.
Iranian cuisine is gaining popularity in multicultural cities such as London, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Vancouver, Toronto, and the San Francisco Bay Area, which have significant Iranian populations. Los Angeles and its environs, in particular, are well known for the number and quality of Iranian restaurants, which are usually centered around kebab, but also serve various Iranian stews and other traditional dishes.
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 of 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.
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.
As a general rule the prices of groceries, food, sights, transport (except private taxis) and most things with a price tag attached are fixed. But virtually all prices in the bazaar are negotiable, particularly for souvenir-type products and always for carpets. In touristed areas, such as Imam Sq in Esfahan or the Bazar-e Vakil in Shiraz, bargaining is essential.