Iran is quite simply an extraordinary country, where visitors are welcomed with open arms by friendly people who have redefined the word ‘hospitality’. The architecture is amazing with breathtaking mosques, stepped hillside villages, cleverly-designed wind towers (badgirs) and impressive structures such as the Zoroastrian Towers of Silence. The country's history is astonishingly rich, having embraced and been dominated by countless civilisations. The Archaemedians, Alexander the Great, the Parthanians, Sassanians, Arabs, Seljuks, Mongols, Safavids and many other groups have all left their mark over the centuries. The current culture is in many ways a fusion of all the influences. Ancient Persepolis is just one of the many reminders of this rich history – words can’t describe just how impressive this site is. The country’s religion is predominantly Islam (mainly Shiite, but some Iranians are Sunni), although we will probably also encounter Jews, Zoroastrians, Christians and Baha’is along the way. Although Iran is portrayed by some Western media as being ruled by a dour and repressive regime, we will find that it is a land full of warm, lively and friendly people. Join us for this foray into one of the world’s most fascinating and least-visited countries.
Day 1 - Tehran
- On arrival at Tehran Airport, you are met by our representative and transferred to your hotel.
- This is simply an arrival day so you may arrive in Tehran at any time, though please note that hotel rooms are generally only available after midday.
- The rest of your day is free to explore the surroundings. There will be a tour briefing in the evening, please refer to your hotel noticeboard or contact reception for more details.
Enghelab Hotel or similar
Day 2 - Tehran
- The Iranian capital is a very large metropolis with a population of 14 million people, a big jump from the 250,000 in 1900.
- Our sightseeing today focuses on the Sa'd Abad Palace and Museum complex. This 104 hectare park houses over 10 buildings, most of them museums. Aside from the artifacts contained within, the palaces offer a fascinating glimpse of the opulent lifestyle of the shah and his guests - with their decoration the height of fashion for the day.
- Don't miss the bronze boots of Reza Shah outside the White Palace - all that remains of a massive statue that was 'cut down to size' at the revolution.
Enghelab Hotel or similar
Day 3 - Hamadan
- Today we drive from Tehran to Hamadan, a city known to classical scholars as Ecbatana, with a history that can be traced back to the 8th century BC when it was the Median capital.
- It's fortunes rose and fell in the successive centuries, becoming the summer retreat of King Cyrus in the 6th century BC, but falling foul of the marauding troops of the Mongols in 1220 and Timur in 1386.
- The city today has a contemporary feel having been totally redesigned in 1929 by the German engineer Karl Frisch.
Buali or similar
Day 4 - Hamadan - Kermanshah
- We have a busy day of sightseeing today, visiting the many places of interest in Hamadan before continuing to Kermanshah.
- Our city tour includes the tomb of Avicenna (also known as Abu Ali Ibn Sina), a philosopher, physicist and poet widely considered to be one of the founders of modern medicine.
- We also visit the fascinating Esther and Mordecai tomb, once the most important Jewish pilgrimage site in Iran and supposedly the resting place of the Old Testament's Esther.
- As we begin our drive to Kermanshah, we visit the cuneiform rock carvings of Ganjnameh. These carvings date from the 5th Century BC and contain messages of thanks from the Achaemenid king Xerxes to the Zoroastrian god Ahuramazda.
- As our drive continues, we also stop at Kangavar to visit the 2300-year-old Anahita Temple - little remains of what would once have been a major place of worship, but we can get a sense of its scale nevertheless.
- The major attraction of our day however, comes at Bisotun, a UNESCO-protected cliff area with bas-relief carving and inscriptions. The most impressive of these honours Darius, with inscriptions in Elamite, Akkadian and Old Persian language.
- Although you can walk a short way to the base of the cliff face, the carvings are some way up and detailed, so you may like to use a zoom lens or binoculars here to inspect them more closely!
- We arrive in Kermanshah in late afternoon, where we spend the night.
Azadegan or similar
Day 5-6 - Kermanshah - Shiraz
- Our desert journey continues today as we travel via Shush and Ahvaz to Shiraz.
- Once as grand and important as Persepolis, Shush today is a pleasant small town with several places of historical interest.
- We visit the ancient city and the Tomb of Daniel, a Muslim pilgrimage site with intriguing links to both Judaism and Christianity, as the relics here belong to the same Daniel who fell foul of the lions' den in the Old Testament.
- Our next stop is at Choqa Zanbil, where the splendid Elamite-era brick ziggurat has earnt UNESCO World Heritage protection and the astounding condition of the bricks belies their great age.
- We drive on to Ahvaz and overnight there before continuing to Shiraz the next day.
- These are long days of travel, but the Pearl of Persia awaits us - Shiraz. Its very name brings forth visions of tranquil gardens, lavish palaces, philosophers, artists, poets and our sense of anticipation grows as we approach Iran's cultural capital.
Fars or similar
Day 7 - Persepolis & Pasargadae
- We take a morning excursion to visit the remains of Persepolis, one-time centre of the Persian Empire and one of the great cities of the ancient world.
- The Takhte Jamshid complex of palaces, considered the historic marvel of the country, was constructed in the reign of Darius I and took about 150 years to complete. The grandeur of these monuments is certainly impressive.
- In 330 BC invading armies led by Alexander the Great Macedonian destroyed the city by setting it on fire, so today only the small ruins remain from those once-magnificent edifices.
- We then visit Naqsh-e-Rostam, a cave-tomb containing the bodies of several Achaemenid kings. There are seven reliefs dating back to Sassanid era, each of which depicts a battle that glorifies a Sassanid king. At one time a Zoroastrian religious centre, perhaps once the most important in the world, was located here.
- After lunch we visit Pasargadae, another ancient city that actually precedes Persepolis. It is not as well-preserved as the latter, but still well worth a visit. The centerpiece is a large hall with eight columns made of white stone. Another characteristic of Pasargadae are canals made of white stone, which were used for irrigation.
- We continue onto Shiraz, arriving in the afternoon.
Hotel Arg or similar
Day 8 - Shiraz
- This morning we embark on a city tour that covers the highlights of this celebrated historical city.
- We visit the lovely Eram Garden or Garden of Paradise (Bagh-e Eram), which has an impressive collection of cypress trees as well as a pond and a small 19th century palace.
- Following this we visit the tombs of Hafez and Sa'di. Hafez was a Persian poet who was born in Shiraz around 1310. After several years of travelling round the world, he returned to Shiraz and remained there until he passed away. His works were very surreal and mystical and he is still regarded these days as a bit of a folk hero in Iran.
- Sa'di, another great poet and writer from Shiraz, was more of a scholar. His tomb is also set in a garden, beside a fish pond. Paying homage to both these men enables us to understand their continued relevance and importance in Iranian society, as well as appreciate the intricate artwork on their marble tombs.
- We finish our tour by walking around the Bazar-e Vakil, regarded as one of the finest and most evocative bazaars in the country.
- We spend another night in Shiraz, perhaps visiting one of the many Iranian restaurants for a Persian feast!
Hotel Arg or similar
Day 9 - Shiraz - Abarqu - Yazd
- We leave Shiraz and make our way to Abarqu, where we visit the mosque and a 4000-year-old cypress tree.
- We then drive to Yazd, one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world.
- After a short rest, we visit impressive Jameh Mosque, notable for its twin minarets that tower above the city at 48 metres each.
- From here we are ideally placed to explore the old part of the city also. We also take a look at the Fire Temple and Towers of Silence - both vestiges of the city's Zoroastrian heritage. This religion, which dates back over 4000 years, was at one time the state religion of Iran before the arrival of Islam.
- One of the most distinctive features of Yazd are the wind towers ('badgirs') that capture even the softest of breezes and send them through the buildings below to cool them.
Dad Hotel or similar
Day 10 - Yazd - Esfahan
- On our drive to Esfahan (300km) we stop at the quiet town of Na'in, a place very well known for its Persian rugs.
- We visit the 10th century Jameh Mosque, which is one of the oldest in Iran, as well as the Kavir Museum and the old part of town.
- From here it is a three-hour drive to Esfahan - the jewel in the crown of Persia and undoubtedly one of the highlights of our trip.
- This evening, we may stroll to the Zayandeh River and have a look at its historic bridges, which seem to have come straight from a fairytale! At several of the bridges local people gather to talk, drink tea and sing beautiful folk songs. This is truly a magical place to wile away some time and one of the most atmospheric places in all Iran.
Hotel Sheykhbahae or similar
Day 11-12 - Esfahan
- A full program of sightseeing enables us to take in all the glories of Esfahan. We spend two whole days here.
- The city reached its peak during the reign of Shah Abbas I (Shah Abbas the Great) in 1587, when it became the capital. After an Afghan invasion in 1722, the city declined and the capital was subsequently moved to Shiraz and then Tehran.
- We start our tour at the immense Iman Square (formerly Naqsh-e Jahan Square) which covers an area of 82,500 square meters and is surrounded by many grand buildings such as Ali Qapu Palace, Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, Qeysarieh Portal and the majestic Imam Mosque. As the second largest square in the world, it is truly an amazing sight to behold.
- In the Safavid era, this square was a place for parades, military reviews, polo games and festivals. Located in the west of Imam Square, the Ali Qapu Palace cover six floors and was originally built as the main palace of Shah Abbas, who used it to receive guests and foreign ambassadors. Its plaster works and paintings are considered as masterpieces of the Safavid era.
- We also visit Vank Cathedral. This church is located in Jolfa, the Armenian quarter of the city, and is most striking with its gilded ceiling and painting. There is a museum in this church that contains some very historic manuscripts. Armenian Christians were originally brought there by Shah Abbas I, who valued their skills as artists and merchants. They have been allowed to practice their religion in peace, but are confined to this one area in town.
- Esfahan also has a wonderful bazaar where we can browse for fabrics, spices, jewellery and other treasures. Tucked away near the bazaar mosques is a lovely teahouse - the perfect place to rest tired feet and refresh your spirit with tea.
Hotel Sheykhbahae or similar
Day 13 - Esfahan - Abyaneh
- After breakfast we leave Esfahan and drive to the lovely and quaint village of Abyaneh, which is located at the foot of Mount Karkas (3899m).
- We have free time for a stroll through the winding streets lined with mud brick buildings. This is a traditional village that with dwindling opportunities for young people has become home to an increasingly aging population. Please be mindful with your cameras - officially photography is not allowed here, however you may be able to get permission from some of the villagers to snap away.
- Iranian people are incredibly hospitable and very keen to interact with you, though do be respectful of cultural sensitivities. It is generally advised to approach people of the same sex, but Iranians are so welcoming that you may find yourself inundated with locals, curious to find out about your life at home and thoughts on their country.
- We overnight in a small, family-run hotel tonight, enjoying this lovely countryside location.
Hotel Abyaneh or similar
Day 14 - Kashan – Tehran
- This morning we drive on to Kashan,visiting the Fin Garden (Bagh-e Tarikhi-ye Fin). A historic and classical Persian garden it contains Kashan's Fin Bath, where Amir Kabir, the Qajarid chancellor and a nationalist hero, was murdered under the orders of King Nadir al-Din in 1852.
- We also stop by Borujerdi House (Khan-e Borujerdi), which was built in the 1840s for the affluent Tabatabaei family. A fascinating place to visit, we get to see a traditional Persian residential home, which contains features such as a 'biruni' (where visitors and guests are entertained) and an 'andaruni' (the private part only open to family members).
- We then continue our journey back to Tehran.
Enghelab Hotel or similar
Day 15 - Tehran
- After breakfast we embark on a city tour that covers the remaining major attractions of Tehran.
- The Archaeological Museum is also known as the National Museum of Iran and houses artifacts that originate from various excavation sites around the country. After passing through an entrance that is built to resemble a palace of the Assassins, we marvel at the impressive collection of carvings, pottery and ceramics that reflect the country's rich history.
- The museum consists of two buildings; one is dedicated to the pre-Islamic collection while the other contains material from after the country converted to Islam.
- Golestan Palace (Palace of Flowers) is an extravagant complex that was constructed for the Qajar rulers in the mid-19th century. It is made up of several palace buildings set around a beautiful garden. During the Pahlavi Era (1925-1979) the palace was used for formal royal receptions.
- The Carpet Museum exhibits over 100 pieces of exquisite Persian rugs from all over the country, with some pieces dating back to the 16th century. It was designed by the last Queen of Iran, Farah Diba Pahlavi. The perforated structure around the museum's exterior is designed both to resemble a carpet loom and to cast shade on the exterior walls, reducing the impact of the hot summer sun on the temperature inside the museum.
- Tonight is our last night together as a group, and we can arrange an optional final dinner. Perhaps at the Armenian Club - one of the only Christian establishments in Iran - and a place where ladies aren’t required to wear their hijab!
Enghelab Hotel or similar
Day 16 - Tehran
- Our adventure in Iran ends today after breakfast.