Quick Facts

Region: Middle East & North Africa



Shi'a Islam is the state religion. Shī‘a Islam, also Shi‘ite Islam or Shi‘ism (Arabic شيعة šīʿa), is the second largest denomination based on the Islamic faith after Sunni Islam. Shias adhere to the teachings of Muhammad and the religious guidance of his family (who are referred to as the Ahl al-Bayt) or his descendants known as Shi'a Imams. Muhammad's bloodline continues only through his beloved daughter Fatima Zahra and cousin Ali which alongside the Muhammad's grandsons are the Ahl al-Bayt. Thus, Shi'as consider Muhammad's descendants as the true source of guidance while considering the first three ruling Sunni caliphs a historic occurrence and not something attached to faith.


Persian is an Iranian language stemming from to the Aryan or Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European family of languages. The oldest records in Old Persian date back to the great Persian Empire of the 6th century BC.

Area (sq. km):
1,648,000 square meters

When To Travel

Useful Travel Facts


Power sockets are the round 2 pin type found throughout Asia, Europe and the Middle East. Current is 220V AC.


Fragrant rice (برنج, berenj) is the staple of Iranian food. Boiled and then steamed, it is often coloured with saffron or flavoured with a variety of spices. When served plain as an accompaniment it is known as chelo (چلو). The two most common meat / chelo combinations are kebab variations (chelo kabāb, چلو کباب) or rotisserie chicken (chelo morgh, چلو مرغ). Flavoured rice, known as polo, is often served as a main course or as an accompaniment to a meat dish. Examples include shirin polo flavoured with orange zest, young cherries and honey glazed carrots, the broad-bean and herb heavy bāghli polo and sabzi polo laced with parsley, dill and mint. The rice and kebab dish chelo kabāb (چلو کباب)and its half-dozen variations are the most common (and often the only) items on Iranian restaurant menus. A grilled skewer of meat is served on a bed of fluffy rice, and accompanied by an array of condiments. You can add butter, grilled tomatoes and a sour spice known as somāgh to your rice, while some restaurants also provide a raw egg yolk. Raw onion and fresh basil are used to clear your palate between mouthfuls. Variations in kabāb dishes come from the meats they are served with. You will commonly see: • Kabāb koobideh (كباب كوبيده) - a kebab of minced beef, shredded onion and spices. • Kabāb barg (كباب برگ) - pieces of lamb marinated in lemon juice and shredded onion. • Kabāb makhsoos (كباب مخصوص) - usually the most expensive option, this big kebab uses the highest quality meat. • Joojeh kabāb (جوجه كباب) - a skewer of chicken pieces marinated in lemon juice and saffron. • Kabāb bakhtiāri (كباب ب‍ختیارِی) - great for the indecisive eater, this is a skewer of alternating chicken and lamb pieces. At home people most often eat rice with a thick stew (khoresht, خورشت) containing a modest amount of meat. There are dozens of khoresht variations such as the sweet and sour fessenjān made from ground walnuts and pomegranate syrup, ghormeh-sabzi based on fresh herbs, dried limes and kidney beans, gheimeh flavoured with split-peas and often garnished with French fries, and the sweet sib-āloo which uses apples and plums. Hearty Iranian soups (āsh, آش) are meals in themselves. The most popular is the vegetarian āsh reshteh (آش رشته) made from herbs, chickpeas and thick noodles, and garnished with yoghurt and fried onions. Flat bread (nān, نان) is another pillar of Iranian food. It is served at breakfast with herbs, feta cheese and a variety of jams, or as an accompaniment to meals. Sangak (سنگك) is a dimpled variety cooked on a pebbled oven while lavāsh (لواش) is a thin and bland staple.


Shopping for travellers in Iran is great compared with many other countries. The handicrafts are generally unique to Iran, high quality, and actually made by skilled craftspeople rather than manufactured in China. Enamel plates (actually made of brass or copper and covered in enamel), lacquerware and carpets are some of the items that travellers buy. Prices are pretty good, but don’t expect very low prices – the quality is good and you pay for it. Expect to bargain, but the ridiculously inflated prices you get in many countries (which you are then expected to bargain down to a fraction of the original asking price) are rare. Esfahan is a good place to buy souvenirs. There are countless shops near Imam Square, so you can browse, work out what you like and what you are prepared to pay. Shiraz is also a pretty good place to buy things. Antiques are available and generally pretty cheap, but (a) you may have problems exporting anything over 100 years old and (b) don’t forget that taking antiques out of a country can have moral implications – you’re removing pieces of history.


Visas are required for all nationalities. Two passport photos are required and women MUST be wearing a headscarf, fastened under the chin, in these photos. If women plan to apply in person at a Consulate or Embassy, they should wear a headscarf and conservative clothing to drop off and pick up their passport. The process for obtaining a visa can be lengthy – we recommend you finalise your travel arrangements approximately two months from your tour departure date and allow a minimum of six weeks before departure for this process (2-3 weeks for the authorization to be issued and 2-3 weeks applying at the Consulate or Embassy). We will assist you in obtaining the necessary authorization from Tehran, but we require additional information in order to apply on your behalf. Once your booking is confirmed, we will email you detailed information including a form which needs to be completed and returned to us with a clear, colour scan of your passport in JPG format, approximately 250kb in size (the page with your photo and details – if you don’t have access to a scanner, a clear digital photograph is usually acceptable). The form is not complex but does ask for personal information not included in your passport. Please try to complete and return the form via email as we forward the information to Tehran in this format and this minimizes the risk or errors. After a period of 2-3 weeks you are provided with a reference number, issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tehran and you can then apply for the Iranian visa at the Consulate or Embassy you have previously specified - this is your responsibility. We will need to know the Consulate or Embassy at which you are to apply for the visa, as your reference number will be sent to the specified Consulate or Embassy - so you cannot subsequently change your mind about where you will get the visa. This question appears on the electronic form mentioned above. Please note that the reference number is NOT an electronic visa or authority for visa-on-arrival – you MUST apply at the Consulate or Embassy and have a visa inserted into your passport before travel. Depending on the political climate at time of travel, some nationalities may find that they are granted a visa only for the duration of the group tour (and not for additional nights planned in Tehran). If this is the case, we will provide additional information on how to obtain the correct duration of visa. Please check your visa carefully when it is returned – it should be valid for entry within 90 days of date of issue, and there will be a specified duration. If for any reason your visa has been issued for a shorter period than you requested, please advise us. Visas can be extended after arrival in Iran, but we need to be aware of this in order to make the necessary arrangements locally.

Important: Entry to Iran will be refused if your passport contains evidence of travel to Israel, even if you have been granted an Iranian visa. Note this is not confined to an Israeli visa stamp. It also includes Egyptian and Jordanian entry or departure stamps obtained at the land border with Israel, such as the Allenby Bridge which links Amman with Jerusalem.

Please note the Iranian Embassy also now require a letter of authorisation to be submitted with your visa application form. Please speak to your agent to arrange this.

Please note that US, British and Canadian passport holders will need to book this trip at least 2 months before departure as this is the length of time it takes to get the visa processed for these nationalities. In addition, the following travel restriction applies: Passengers of the above nationalities must visit Iran on a guided tour and must pre-book all extra accommodation and airport transfers with the same operator. They will only be issued with a visa authorization code once all services are confirmed and only for the exact time they have booked the relevant services.

Useful Words & Phrases

Further Reading

Modern Iran: Roots and Results of Revolution (Paperback) by Nikki R. Keddie The Last Great Revolution: Turmoil and Transformation in Iran (Paperback) by Robin Wright Persian Mirrors: The Elusive Face of Iran (Paperback) by Elaine Sciolino Anything by Sadeq Hedayat Poetry anthologies by Ferdosi or Omar Kayyam Certain books, such as those by the author Salman Rushdie are banned in Iran. If you are caught bringing banned books into the country, you may be fined or even denied entry. Please do not bring controversial books on Iran or Islam with you. In addition to this, magazines with ‘immodest’ pictures (even women’s magazines like ‘Marie Clare’) can cause problems.