Thursday, July 31st 2014

First time visitors’ guide to Iran

This first time visitors’ guide describes what we did and see in Iran, how we traveled around, where we stayed and what we ate. It is up to you to do more research and decide where you will go and what exactly you will do. We believe that our experience might be useful for planning your trip around Iran.

 

OUR ROUTE

We planned to visit:

  • Tabriz & North of Iran
  • The Caspian seaside
  • Tehran
  • Gulf coast
  • Shiraz, Persepolis
  • Isfahan
  • Bam castle

 

Planned route


View Iran – planned route in a larger map
 

The real route

The route has been adjusted on the way due to the following reasons:

  • More research
  • Our trip got shortened due to Airaisa suspension of the flight Tehran – Kuala Lumpur
  • Talking to other travelers


View Iran – our route in a larger map

HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR TRIP TO IRAN:

 

Other travelers & locals highly recommended:

  • Homestay in Todueshk
  • Kashan
  • Kish and Qesm islands
  • Mashhad
  • Rudkhan castle
What we recommend to visit:
WHERE WE STAYED
Tabriz: Hotel Sina (map here). We paid 750.000 Rials/night. Including breakfast and internet (only in the lobby and not good connection). It is expensive for Iran, but was ..kind of the only reasonable choice here.

Tehran: Firouzeh Hotel. The owner/manager is extremely helpful, and we highly recommend you to stay here. Price: 500.000 Rial/night including breakfast and internet.

Yazd: Kohan traditional hotel. Excellent choice. If you are looking for something more peaceful and less touristy, stay here. Price : 480.000 Rials/night including breakfast and internet.

Shiraz: Golshan Traditional Hostel. Good choice, very close to all the touristic sites. Price : 500.000 Rials/night including breakfast and internet. Many travelers choose Niayesh Hotel, which is indeed a nice place. We went there for lunch only and they have very good food and more important you can try most of the traditional dishes here. Prices are also reasonable. Recommended both hotels.

Isfahan: Couch Surfing ! Also we stayed for 1 night in a higher class hotel, as a treat. We have chosen Piroozy Hotel. It is an old style type of luxury. We liked it. For a more budget option we found :Iran Hotel, charging 500.000 Rials/night, including breakfast and internet. It looked nice and rooms were clean and newly renovated.

note 1 : all the prices are for double room with own bathroom. 

note 2: prices in hotels are usually not negotiable. you can try, but most of the times the reception price is the one requested. 

Traditional hotel in Yazd

Traditional hotel in Yazd

Traditional hotel in Shiraz

Traditional hotel in Shiraz

 

 

HOW & WHERE WE EXCHANGED MONEY

I have described in detail the situation with currency exchange in Iran during our travels in October 2012 and provided maps to best (in my opinion) places where to exchange. I also included some tips on how to get better rates and exchange safely.

Of course, the situation will keep changing but many things will be the same or similar. Read the full story.

 

PRICES AND MONEY

Prices in local currency vs foreign ones are pretty low due to the current hyperinflation. The rates are changing but most of the official prices (bus/train/airplane tickets, hotels, etc) cannot be changed, as the government prohibited that. When we came to Iran the rates were USD = 24 000 Rials, GBP = 40 000 Rials, in a week the rates were USD = 35 000 Rials, GBP = 54 000 Rials. So for our money we could afford more than a week ago.

All Iranians are using notion of Tomans instead of Rials when talking about prices and money.

1 000 Tomans equals 10 000 Rials. If a person says 5 000/five thousand/, he/she means 50 000 Rials, so you have to pay 50 000 not 5 000 Rials.

We always double checked how much a price was in Tomans and Rials.

Some prices:

  •  0,5L water = 3 000-4 000Rials
  • taxi = 20 000 – 50 000 Rials (around the city)
  • a meal in a restaurant = 50 000 – 80 000 Rials
  • 1 kg of grapes = 25 000 Rials
  • 1kg of pistachio (exceptionally good one) = 200 000 – 300 000 Rials
  • hotel room with shower, internet, breakfast = 500 000 – 1 500 000 Rials

 

 

TRANSPORT – HOW WE TRAVELED AROUND

We traveled by:

  • Train
  • Bus
  • Airplane (leaving Iran)
The most usual transport is a bus. Some of them are from 60-70s but they are fine for short distance. VIP buses have a lot of space for legs and you can almost lay down. The latter usually operate long distance and overnight routes. Tickets can be bought at a bus station or via a travel agency or a hotel.
Train we took from Tehran to Yazd was clean, quite modern and nice to travel. Ticket can be bought through a travel agency or ask for help at a hotel.
We did not fly within the country but we took a flight from Isfahan to Dubai which was cheap, with good food and nice service. I believe you can use the airplane within Iran to speed up your travel. NOTE that you will have to book through a travel agency, there is no online booking.
Ticket prices we paid:
Currency rates are changing rapidly but you can use 1 USD = 35 000 Rials for reference (at the moment of travel).
Bus
VIP Shiraz – Isfahan = 140 000 Rials (14 000 Tomans)
VIP Kerman – Shiraz = 150 000 Rials (15 000 Tomans)
Bus Kerman – Rayen = 18 000 Rials /old bus/ & 23 000 Rials /newer bus/ (1 800 & 2 300 Tomans respectively)
Bus Yazd – Kerman = 70 000 Rials (7 000 Tomans)
Train
Tehran – Yazd = 161 000 Rials
Airplane
Isfahan – Dubai =  1 700 000 Rials (170 000 Tomans)
Iranian train

Iranian train

Iranian train

Iranian train

Bus from Rayen to Kerman

Bus from Rayen to Kerman

 

 

TAXI, SHARED TAXI

Taxis are very cheap though prices increased recently. You can choose between a taxi and a shared taxi where the latter means that you will share it with other people what considerably decreases the price. But, keep in mind that most of the taxi drivers do not speak English, and explaining to them that you wish for a shared taxi might rise some challenges. We often settled to have the taxi for ourselves as the real price for a non shared taxi is not high. Usual fare within the city might be around 1$ (30000 Rials at the rate on the black market ).

We often asked at info point or just people in a bus station how much it will cost from the bus station to the center, and then went to get a taxi. Or ask at your your hotel.

For example, in Isfahan a shared taxi costs 4 000 Rials/per person. When we asked taxi drivers outside the station, they wanted 50 000 Rials for 2 of us. In the end we paid 20 000 Rials.

When we took a taxi to the Isfahan airport we were told that it costs 100 000 Rials. Once we arrived to the airport, the taxi driver wanted extra 100 000 Rials. We refused and walked away.

Our advice: always ask other people how much it costs. You will anyway pay more than locals, but at least not 10 times more. 

 

 

CITY PUBLIC TRANSPORT

Metro, buses, minibuses and share taxi are very cheap and quite easy to use.

Note : If you are a woman traveler or a couple, please keep in mind that public buses have separate entrances for male and female. There is a small barrier separating the sides, but you will need to be on different sides.It is actually quite fun ;)

Metro also has separate cars for women, however women can also join the mixed cars, and so couples can ride the train together.

Bus in Tabriz

Bus in Tabriz

Metro train in Tehran

Metro train in Tehran

Metro train in Tehran

Metro train in Tehran

WHAT WE ATE (and when)

Food is not easy to find in Iran. Sometimes we walked for 1-2 hours before we could find a place to eat. Once in Tehran we walked for 2 hours and had a 30-min ride by taxi and still could not find a restaurant.

So what we ate and liked?

  • Kebap and rice – the most typical food you will find. We got tired of eating it in about a week
  • Dizzi – traditional Iranian dish, we HIGHLY recommend it.
  • Gormeh Sabzi – traditional iranian dish.
  • Mirza Ghosemi – eggplant dish, comes as a started. Delicious!
  • Sheep head – is a breakfast dish. Try it !

Picture gallery here.

!!! Important notes:

  • Majority of the restaurants have a very limited menu. You will end up most of the times having kebab and rice. If you wish to try other dishes you will need to research about a traditional restaurant, which (trust me) you will not find if you don’t have an exact address. Or, best option, if you will be staying with an Iranian family, there is a high chance you will join them for dinner in the most traditional way and enjoy super tasty food.
  • Lunch time and dinner time are very well defined :

lunch: 12 pm -2 pm.

dinner: 7.30 pm – 10 pm.

IF by any chance, you have missed let’s say lunch time, at 3-4 pm you will most probably not find any restaurant to serve you food. Iranians have siesta. And so they close their shops and restaurants between 2 pm and 5 pm. So make sure you will have lunch within the set time frame, otherwise you will just wait for dinner.

  • Each city of Iran, has a specific area where you can find all the restaurants/eateries. Since the cities are big, make sure you know where this area is located, and be close to it around lunch time. Do NOT think that wherever you are, there must be some place to have food, or at least street food. There isn’t or maybe just in some place like Isfahan.

 

IRANIAN SIM-CARD

If you arrive by airplane we recommend you to buy a sim card at the airport. You will have to register you passport number and leave your fingerprints, but it is worth is as you will most probably not buy it later. We entered by land and repeatedly tried to buy a sim-card but always failed. I think that shops were just afraid to sell one without a proper security procedure and did not want to bother.

SAFETY

Iran is generally safe. Of course, you should watch out for possible pick pocketing. We have not heard about people being robbed or attacked or anything stolen from hotel rooms or on night buses.

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16 Comments on “First time visitors’ guide to Iran”

  1. It was a nice report, but I couldnt fint anything on Caspian sea, next time if you decided to visit Caspian Sea you are most welcome to stay in my hostel. You’ll get the chance to visit the hidden parts of Mazandaran Province (Caspian Sea) where normally many travelers miss that.

    The villa is located in a very peaceful village which is 15km from Mahmud Abad (Less than 4 hours drive from Tehran), 500 meters from the beach, near 3 national parks.(Noor, Sisangan and Chamestan) and 80 km from Chalus cable car.

    Further details: Rustic design, balcony, barbeque, private garden, wooden fireplace, internet access, easy access to local transport, markets and restaurants.
    Rate: USD 50/person/night including breakfast

    Available recreational facilities: ATV(not included in the rate) , Bicycle (free) You can explore the surroundings and go to fishing sites by bicycle.

    If you need any further information please let me know.

    Best regards
    caspianhostel@gmail.com
    Mobile: +98 935 17 39 150

    1. Hi Dave,
      Thank you for the info.
      I guess we are staying for free at your hotel next time we visit the Caspian coast, right? ;-)

      1. why not ; )

  2. GREAT guide!
    Thx Alex and Mara, to both of you.
    If I manage to get to Iran as planned next year (yeah… new plans again!) I will for sure use this as info.
    Will also reblog this one on my blog.
    You guys are missed back home.
    //C.

    1. Thank you, Clabbe. We miss our Prague friends a lot. Not so much the cold weather but people ;-)

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  4. Hi and thanks for the lovely story. I’m planning to head to Iran very shortly and was still a bit doubting which route to follow. I’m actually quite curious about your trip nearby the Caspian see. Is there anything worthwhile to see/visit in that area? Thanks and regards from Amsterdam. Halim

    1. Hi Halim,
      Thank you. Regarding the North – depends how much time you have. I did not find Tabriz very interesting. Unfortunately we totally missed the Caspian coast. Please note that distances are quite big, and travelling takes a lot of time. So if you have less than 3-4 weeks, i would go Tehran-Kashan-Yazd-Shiraz/Persepolis – Isfahan – Tehran. and visit some other places around these main points depending on your time. But if you have enough time, you can go to the North and see Rudkhan castle close to Rasht, Tariz, Masuleh, some places on the coast.

  5. Thanks Alex. My journey will indeed just be a couple of weeks and I guess I’ll skip the Caspian side. Very eager to follow the silk route. My first city will be Tabriz (I will take the transasian express from Ankara to Tabriz next week), so it’s good to know that I don’t extract too many days on that city. Oh yes – thanks for the sheephead tip, I got the chance when I was in Jordan to taste it (over there they kept the eyes intact..), but was not able to calm my stomach in order to try it, might go for it on this occassion ;-) Good travels! Regards from Amsterdam

    1. Hi Halim,
      Yes, I think you should take it slower and savour the places, especially Kashan, Yazd, Shiraz and Isfahan.
      Definitely eat the sheep head, we liked it.
      Enjoy your trip!
      Greetings from Myanmar/Burma!

  6. Thanks for posting. Visiting Iran in a few days and found your information very useful.
    Since we are great foodlovers, and we love traditional food and variety, it seems that we have to do our homework regarding restaurants before we leave.

    Thx again!

    1. Welcome, Marianne! I am sure you will enjoy the trip and the food. Yeah, it is better to know where to look for or have an exact address as we wasted a lot of time looking for places to eat, and several times were hungry ;-))
      Enjoy your trip! Share with us your impressions!

  7. your information about foods is wrong.Tehran is full of restaurants including fast foods,traditional styles,etc ,you can find cheap and tasty food every where,so u couldn’t find it,but it’s not a enough reason to say .compare to many capitals in the world tehran is one of available food city that i’ve ever seen.

    1. Hi Sepehr,
      I am not saying there is no food in Tehran or Iran. Yes, there were some fast foods, but we did not go to Iran to eat burgers and pizza. We combined our experience from various cities of Iran. To my regret once we could not find a restaurant in Tehran for several hours, even with help of a taxi driver and a lady who spoke English, who shared a taxi with us and told the driver where the restaurants are. He still could not find them. Then in Kerman in two restaurants we could not eat because these restaurants did not have food between lunch time and dinner time. And in Shiraz we met a group of people who waited (1,5hours) for a restaurant to open at 20.30 in the evening.
      We are not saying there is no food, we are saying that locations and times are different from other countries we traveled to. And just trying to help other people avoid our mistakes.

  8. Concerning the difficulty to find traditionnal restaurant (“sonati”) with choice of foods, there is an easy explonation. Most of the iranian meals require a long time to be cooked, especially the khoresh and the ash (soup). Therefore, it’s not possible to provide these meals “on demand” like the kebbab and the pizza.

    Therefore, most of the “not fast food” restaurants propose a limited choice of foods, most of the time only one or two different kind of foods.

    As you mentioned, the best solution is to be invited by a family and share their meals.

    Khoda Hafez

    Fabrice

    1. Thank you for the explanation. Good to know.

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