Iran was one of the best destinations my boyfriend and I visited during our long overland journey from the Netherlands to Indonesia, and that was for the most part thanks to the locals. During all of my travels, I have never met such hospitable people. From spontaneous chats on the streets to offers for a dinner or a place to stay, we have experienced it all. In this country, the guest is truly king. Are you planning to travel to Iran? Then this blog post is a good start to get prepared. I will show you a perfect 3-week Iran itinerary, how to get around, and how much we spent during our Iran trip.
The ideal 3-week itinerary Iran to see all the highlights
Tehran: the loud honking metropolis
A trip to Iran starts for most travelers in the capital Tehran. Even though the Iranian capital is not the prettiest city in the country (hello smog!), it does have a few nice sights. I recommend visiting the Golestan Palace, the Darband hills, the former U.S. Embassy, and the Tajrish Bazaar. In theory, you can do all these things in two days, but in reality, everything takes longer. At least, in our case it did. Tehran is a gigantic city, so going back and forth takes time. Plus, there are constant traffic jams, and also the metro is overcrowded in the mornings and late afternoons. So my advice would be: keep your schedule flexible.
How many days: 4
Where to stay: Tehran Heritage Hostel or See You In Iran Hostel
Read more: A practical guide for Tehran with 7 great things to do
Kashan: the charming historical houses
Kashan was my favorite city and this was because of the lovely host family where we stayed. For three days, they fed us with the most delicious homemade food. We chatted, laughed and danced until deep in the night. The family’s son also gave us a city tour and proudly took us around. How did we end up here? We said yes to a spontaneous street invite from mom and daughter during their weekend trip to Tehran. We had no clue to what we said yes to, but we would not have wanted to miss it. I can also highly recommend Kashan as a city. Not too small, but also not too big. Visiting the historical houses and the Agha Bozorg mosque are top things to do in Kashan. Personally, I think that the Agha Bozorg Mosque is one of the prettiest mosques in the country.
Isfahan: Iran’s largest city square
Isfahan is engraved in my memory as a water city because of the Zayandeh River and the many beautiful bridges. This is the place to see the local life. The bridges are a popular spot for locals to meet up after sundown (evenings are less hot). Iran’s number one hobby is picnicking, and that is something you will see a lot in the evenings. Also, locals love to paddle and walk through the water. Despite this watery image of Isfahan, it is good to know that water is absolutely no guarantee in Isfahan. Iran is dealing with a severe drought and from time to time the rivers will completely dry up.
To most tourists, Isfahan is known to tourists for its large city square. In fact, it is one of the largest in the world: Naqsh-e-Jahan Square. It truly is an impressive square and a good starting point to visit the Shah Mosque and the bazaar. Also visit Isfahan’s Armenian quarter with the stunning Vank Cathedral.
Yazd: the romantic desert city
Yazd is Iran’s fairytale city and it (rightly) is a beloved honeymoon destination for newlyweds. However, I would strongly advise avoiding visiting this place during the summer, because this was the hottest place during our July trip to Iran. The mud-brick historical center makes Yazd a photogenic place that you will not see anywhere else in Iran. Getting lost in Yazd’s alley labyrinth is not a punishment at all. Also, don’t forget to visit the beautiful Jameh Mosque with the tall blue entrance gate (it’s even on the 200 IR banknote) and go look for the best rooftop terrace to get a good view of this remarkable city. I can highly recommend Yazd Art House, also for a good lunch.
How many days: 3
Where to stay: Tarooneh Traditional Hotel
Read more: 7 reasons why you should visit this charming desert city
Shiraz: the city with the Pink Mosque
Shiraz was our last stop in Iran, before traveling back to Tehran. Even though it is a fairly big city, Shiraz’s city center feels quite pleasant. I recommend visiting the pink mosque (not really pink but famous for the colorful light that passes through the stained windows), the Shrine of Shah Cheragh, and the bazaar. Good to know: the best time to visit the pink mosque is in the early morning. I visited it in the late afternoon and the light was beautiful but less bright. Also, don’t forget to reserve half a day for the nearby ruin city Persepolis and the other excavations in the area.
And that sums up a total of 18 days, a little under three weeks. We needed a few extra days to sort our visas for Turkmenistan and China, but you could use this time to take day trips from Kashan and Yazd. Visit Abyaneh, the red village of Iran, or head over to the ancient mudbrick village Kharanaq.
Two week trip to Iran: possible?
Could you do the same Iran itinerary in two weeks’ time? Personally, I would recommend removing at least one stop to not feel rushed. You could drop Kashan, but that would be a shame. Kashan is a smaller city and gives travelers a completely different experience than the popular highlights. Also, traveling in Iran is quite intense, at least I felt it was. It’s busy, hot (in summer) and everywhere you go people want to have a little chat. Don’t get me wrong, I truly loved these chats and our experience in Iran would not have been the same without it, but it just meant that I had to plan a little more time for regular sightseeing. So three weeks gives you more flexibility, but two is possible.
Other stops to include in your Iran itinerary
Do you have four weeks or more to explore Iran? Then consider adding these stops to your Iran itinerary:
- Tabriz & Rasht: these cities are located on the northwest side of the country and are a lot less busy than other cities.
- Qom: the most religious city in Iran. It is on the route from Tehran to Isfahan.
- Qeshm & Hormuz islands: Iran has a few extraordinary islands. For example, Hormuz has a red beach and Qeshm offers a beautiful canyon. Adding these stops would be a nice change of scenery during a longer trip to Iran.
Transportation in Iran
Metro is the best way to get around in Tehran
For getting around in Tehran I recommend using the metro. The service is frequent and it is easy to navigate. However, you should avoid peak hours, because then you might have to wait one of two metros. Iranian metros also offer separate women’s carriages, where men are not allowed to sit. This doesn’t mean that this is the only place where women can sit, you can sit anywhere you want. The same with the platforms. There is also a separate women’s seating area, but women can sit anywhere. To get a metro ticket, you can buy separate tickets each time, but you also go for the Metro EZ Pay Card (50,000 IR). I used this card and would recommend it. The EZ Card is a top-up public transportation card to swiftly check-in and to check-out of the metro system.
To navigate the Tehran metro system, I used the Tehran metro app (also works offline).
Getting a taxi is super easy with Snapp
Is the metro not an option? Then I recommend booking a Snapp taxi with the app. Snapp is the Uber/Grab of Iran and is very convenient for quickly getting around. In all the cities that I visited in Iran, Snapp always worked. In addition to Snapp, the taxi app Tap30 is also quite popular. Download both apps on your phone and see which one is faster. As for hailing a taxi on the street, I would not recommend doing this. Drivers often don’t speak English, any car could be a taxi (they’re not always yellow) and they never have a meter. We did it once and wondered the entire ride if we were going to the right place.
Buses are the best way to get around Iran
For long-distance rides, I recommend using the bus. Iranian bus companies offer regular buses and VIP buses. Always go for the VIP bus, it is still very affordable and it comes with comfortable luxury chairs and free snacks. The VIP bus was by far the best bus of our entire overland trip. Moreover, the buses run to every major city and tickets are always available.
To give you an idea of what we paid for the bus rides in Iran, here’s an overview:
- Tehran – Kashan, VIP bus: 250,000 IR per person, the drive took 3 – 4 hours
- Kashan – Isfahan, VIP bus: 195,000 IR per person, the drive took 1,5 hours
- Isfahan – Yazd, VIP bus: 230,000 IR per person, the drive took 3 hours
- Yazd – Shiraz, VIP bus: 500,000 IR person, the drive took 5 – 6 hours
- Shiraz – Tehran, VIP bus: 880,000 IR per person, the drive took 10 – 11 hours
Check the schedules and fares of long-distance buses on 1stQuest. I bought bus tickets last minute at the bus station, and it always worked out.
Trains are possible but often not very convenient
Iran does have a train network, but not every major city is connected by train. Trains are often more comfortable than buses, but in Iran they run less often, most of the time stations are located outside the city and you need to reserve a ticket in advance. The most popular train for tourists is the overnight train from Tehran to Shiraz (or the other way around). During our Iran trip we took the train once, from Tehran to Mashad. We paid 1,050,000 IR per person (for a shared 4-bed compartment) and the ride took 14 – 15 hours. Our hostel in Tehran was so kind to book these tickets online for us.
Check the schedules and fares on Iran Rail. Also, check out this useful page on Caravanistan.com for more information on trains in Iran. To buy train tickets I would recommend asking your hostel to help you out.
Our budget and spending in Iran
We traveled in Iran for about three weeks and had a daily budget of 50 EUR per day for two people. Sticking to this budget was very easy. In 21 days’ time, we spent 862 EUR total. This covered accommodation, transportation, food, and sightseeing. Per day this was 41 EUR for two people. The most expensive expenditure in Iran was accommodation (20 – 25 EUR per night for a private room), while transportation was surprisingly cheap. Out of all the countries that we visited during our long overland trip Iran was absolutely not an expensive one, but at the same time not dirt cheap.
And that’s it: a 3-week itinerary Iran and a bunch of practical tips. Would you visit Iran?
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