I spent 21 days backpacking Iran in 2017. On the back of that, I have created this Iran Travel Guide. It includes a lot of good recommendations for hostels and the best sights to see in each city. Find these within the my Iran city guides linked below and also in the map in the sidebar.
Iran borders against a few countries that have been wracked by war and conflict in recent times. Namely Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Many travellers make the assumption that Iran is therefore not a safe place to travel to, or that it is unstable and unfriendly. This is absolutely not the case. I found Iran to be one of the friendliest and most welcoming countries I have visited.
For a more detailed personal account of my travels than you will find in this Iran travel guide, check out my Iran Travel Blog.
Visa on Arrival
No Iran travel guide is complete without a guide to getting a Visa on Arrival. As part of my Iran Travel Blog, I wrote a guide based on my experience applying for a visa on arrival at IKA international airport in Tehran. Read my visa on arrival guide here.
Working out pricing and currency exchange rates in Iran involves a bit of mental gymnastics. The official currency is the Iranian Rial. Exchange rates are easily available online and changing money in the country is very easy. However there is more to due to a complications, read on!
Official and Free Exchange Rate
The current official Euro to Rial exchange rate is shown in the box below.
However, the exchange rate you will receive in Iran, is not the official rate (the one reported online) but rather the free market rate. During my time in Iran, the official rate reported on foreign exchange websites was 1€ = 34 000 Rial. However, when changing money in the country, I would receive a rate of 1€ = 41 000 Rial, an improvement of about 20%! Take this into account when you are heading to Iran. Whatever is reported as the live official rate, see above, will not be the rate you receive. But rather you will receive the free market rate which will be in your favour by a further 20%.
Rial and Toman
There is another complication. Iranians don't like using so many zeroes on their prices, so they often speak in terms of Toman instead of Rial. 1 Toman = 10 Rial. Using the Toman allows Iranians to remove a zero from prices. It is important that you do not misunderstand this concept. There is still only one single currency in Iran and it is the Iranian Rial. But when quoting prices either verbally or in written form, often people will use the Toman which means one less zero is used. If there is any confusion when you are purchasing something just politely ask if the price quoted is Toman or Rial. No one is trying to rip you off, it's just the way things are in Iran.
Still Too Many Zeroes
One last complication! So let's say you go to a small bakery to buy some snack. You see the price quoted as 2 Toman. What does this mean? Well, when using Toman to display prices, it is common to remove a further 3 zeroes. So 2 Toman actually means 2,000 Toman, which in turn means 20,000 Rial or about 0.5€.
- The only currency is the Iranian Rial.
- The free market rate is about 20% better than the official rate.
- Prices are often quoted in Toman rather than Rial which means one less zero is displayed.
- Sometimes a further 3 zeroes are removed again when prices are displayed in Toman.
Purchasing a Sim Card
Using the internet in ran can be a frustrating experience. WiFi in cafes and public spaces is far less common than you are likely accustomed to. Hotels and Hostels do provide WiFi connections for guests, but they connections are notoriously slow, prone to disconnections and require a VPN in order to access social media.
Accordingly, getting hold of an Iranian sim card is a decent idea. It's not a necessity, but certainly useful to have mobile internet. MTN Irancell is the provider that appears to be the most popular with travellers. MTN Irancell have a booth in the international airport in Tehran. If you are not able to purchase a sim at IKA, there are also a few locations in Tehran that you can buy them from. A list of Irancell service centres is available on the Irancell website here. There are sometimes Irancell kiosks inside major subway stations including this one inside the Imam Hossein Subway Station.
The sim you should purchase from MTN Irancell is the visitor sim. All pricing details for the Irancell visitor sim can be found here.
Finding and then booking a hostel in Iran is not as easy as in more common backpacking destinations like Europe or SE Asia. Websites such as Hostelworld.com and Booking.com do not operate in Iran. Furthermore, foreign bank cards and credit cards can not be used to make online bookings.
However, there are few Iranian websites that you can use to find hostels and to make bookings. I used hostelsiniran.com extensively. This website is run by the owner of Seven Hostel in Tehran, one of the first hostels in Iran. It allows you to search for hostels in each city and make bookings. No money is handled by the website directly, however I suspect they take a small commission from each referred customer.
The other way to find accommodation is of course through word of mouth. Make sure you pick a popular hostel in Tehran and you will find plenty of people willing to share their recommendations.
You will find details on inter city transportation inside the individual city guides listed below. The main form of inter city transport in Iran is by bus. The buses in Iran are large, comfortable and relatively inexpensive. I prefer to take day buses in Iran rather than night buses, check out the reasons why on my blog post, Why you should take day buses in Iran.
Iran City Guides
Tehran is a cosmopolitan city, with great museums, parks, restaurants and warm friendly people. Tehran was described to me by a local as a city that never sleeps, and one where you can get whatever you want and be whoever you want. In a country like Iran, where freedoms are often limited, the attraction becomes obvious.
Kashan sits in between Tehran and Isfahan. If you have the time to spare, a few days in Kashan is definitely worth it. There are some lovely old traditional houses and a beautiful bazaar. In Kashan you can also visit the Fin Gardens, an oasis sandwiched between the mountains and deserts of Iran.
Isfahan is often mentioned as ‘one of the most beautiful cities in the world’. When you arrive it is immediately obvious to see why. The first place most other visitors head to in Isfahan is the Naqsh-e Jahan Square. It is located very close to the centre of the city and it is home to the Isfahan Grand Bazaar as well as the famous Shah Mosque and Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque.
Shiraz was my favourite city Iran (big call I know!). The Pink Mosque was just beautiful and I got quite lucky with lighting and got some great photos. The Shah Cheragh Shrine was a complete surprise to me and really blew me away with its stunning architecture and brightly coloured mosaics. Throw in a day trip to Persepolis and you have an extremely enjoyable few days of travel.
Yazd is a desert city in central Iran and an ancient city dating back to the Sassanian Period. Yazd is the driest major city in Iran, with an average annual rainfall of only 60 millimetres and summer temperatures regularly over 40°C. The major attractions here are outside the city. These include Kharanaq, Chak-Chak and Meybod.