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Ultimate Iran guide – all you need to know before your travel to Iran

iran guide - travel to iran

When it comes to travel to Iran, it’s sometimes hard to find valid and reliable information… Travel guides are often not up to date, finding information about some places on the Internet is very challenging, not to mention getting some first-hand review. That’s why we decided to gather everything you need to know before your travel to Iran in one place. Welcome to our ultimate Iran guide! 

What to know before your travel to Iran?

Lonely Planet – the most popular Iran guide

A few words about the most popular Iran guide (and perhaps the best, competition is really miserable). There’s a lot of information, even about small villages, pointing out everything worth seeing. It includes quite a lot of facts about Iran and Iranians themselves which will help you with planning your travel to Iran. City maps are very useful, and for “lazy” tourists there are even some walking routes provided. There is one small problem – this Iran guide is very, very outdated. It is a bit annoying especially when it comes to entrance fees to monuments and prices in Iran overall. For example, for a ticket to the Hafez Tomb, you have to pay 5$ instead of 0.5$ as mentioned in this particular Iran guide.

Prices of meals in restaurants also increased – I suspect it was caused by the curse of Lonely Planet (of course not everywhere! Shahrazad in Isfahan was great and reasonably priced). Knowing that tourists use this Iran guide to plan their travel to Iran, restaurants significantly increased prices, often decreasing quality. It is really worth to get Lonely Planet, but, be very careful when planning the budget. It’s better to look for more current information on the blogs!

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Accommodation in Iran

We stayed in mid-range hotels and we’ll focus on them in our Iran guide. Prices range between 40-70 EUR per night including breakfast and WiFi. In Tehran, which is the most expensive city – better hotels may cost from EUR 300 upwards (it is even more expensive than a cool spa hotel in the Alps with a full board…). Hotels we stayed were decent, we had only one, which we wouldn’t recommend in our Iran guide. Breakfast is usually served as a buffet, in one hotel was served straight to our room 🙂 WiFi speed is not amazing, but checking facebook updates is possible (of course, if you have a VPN). All rooms also have Western toilets (normally, “holes” are commonly used).

Tip: Due to the cut from the Western banking system, you won’t book your hotel with a credit card. But you can make reservations by e-mail before your travel to Iran. If you booked your hotel room this way ahead of time, remember to confirm the day before your arrival – or they could rent your room to someone else!

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Kamir Khan hotel in Shiraz – we totally recommend it!

Airplanes in Iran

Traveling by air in Iran is a good option, especially when it comes to routing between distant cities when the journey by bus would take several hours. We flew twice. First time with Mahan Air from Tehran to Shiraz (tickets bought by Skyscanner before our travel to Iran, the cost of about 30$ per person), and the other one from Esfahan to Tehran with Iran Air (tickets bought at the airport a few days earlier for about 40$ per person). Bus journey would take respectively 14 and 7 hours. You’ll get a meal on board (very good), checked-in baggage is included in the price.

Remember that there are 2 airports in Tehran, THR for domestic flights and flights to Mecca, IKA for international flights.

Tip: Buy the tickets in advance, before or at the very beginning of your travel to Iran. Planes are very popular means of transport in Iran. In front of cash registers at the airport, you will see amazing crowd willing to buy tickets last minute, for the plane that departs in 20 minutes… Amusing experience. All the seats were always fully booked!

Buses in Iran

The bus network is really good and it’s very convenient to use during your travel to Iran. You can choose from ordinary, comfort (a little cheaper than the VIP, but the same standard) and so-called VIP buses. VIP means something really luxurious – you can make your seats almost flat, they have special footrests, you get a box of snacks and drinks and there are only around 30 people aboard. Small disadvantage – none of the buses we took had a toilet. Relax, you need to have neither bladder made of steel nor box of diapers… The bus driver stops on demand.

One thing worth mentioning in our Iran guide. Remember the rule that a man shouldn’t sit next to a woman if they are not relatives – all passengers will start changing seats until the appropriate balance is set. Fortunately, seats are usually assigned while booking the ticket. You don’t have to play in hot chairs game. The same rule applies if you choose to travel around the city by a public bus – front is reserved for women, back for men.

Tip: When it comes to purchasing tickets – the sooner, the better. Although there are many buses routing between major cities, they are quite popular and if you are on a tight schedule, it may happen that you won’t get the one you would like to. The first thing we did after arriving in a new city, was buying a ticket for departure.

We traveled by bus twice. The journey from Shiraz to Yazd lasts approx. 7 hours and cost 35 000 s (approx. 10$) for a VIP bus. From Yazd to Esfahan – 6 hours and we paid 30 000 tomans (approx. 9$) per person. There are several buses every day on both routes.

Taxi in Iran

They are relatively cheap, provided that you follow one rule. At the bus station, at the airport don’t ride with these drivers which approach you, but… Go to the cashier. Yes, in most transportation hubs there is a special cash register, where you tell the route and pay in advance, get a slip, which you later handover to the driver. The hotels also usually have “their driver”, which will take you wherever you want for a reasonable price. A sample fare between the airports IKA and THR (57 km) in Tehran is approx. 15$.

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Traffic in bigger Iran cities could be terrifying

Traffic in Iran

Yes, initially we had an idea to rent a car in Iran (may be booked online with Europcar). We were discouraged by the distance that we would have to drive every day… It would be the worst idea we ever had! Traffic in large cities in Iran is enormous, super chaotic. No one really pays attention to the traffic lights, and cars – there are thousands of them! We even saw a car on a highway, which was going the wrong way… All those crazy maneuvers are of course done at full speed. I haven’t had much more traumatic experiences in my life than passing the four-lane street in Tehran. That bus driver even wanted to push the brake and I saw him pressing it, but apparently, it didn’t work! The very last second Michal pulled me aside.

Alcohol in Iran

As you probably know as every Iran guide mentions it, alcohol is completely prohibited in Iran. You can get non-alcoholic beers (0%) only.

Tip: It may happen that an Iranian invites you to a party with alcohol, but if I were you I would think it over twice. If a total stranger approaches me on a street, I would be very cautious. There are police raids at various dodgy places and the consequences are not very pleasant… Last year, police in Tehran raided a party and arrested 132 people. The penalty was 100 lashes for every participant. 

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There is no socializing without a cup of tea along with saffron sugar!

Food in Iran

It’s hard to be a vegetarian in Iran. Iranians love meat – all kinds of kabab, meat skewers roasted on a grill. Even in dishes described as “vegetable stew” you can often discover some meat… Because of religion, you can choose basically between chicken or lamb (sometimes beef) in restaurants. Meat-free dishes are limited to the falafel with lots of vegetables, samosa and lavash bread or eggplant stew.

I must admit that it’s difficult to find a decent restaurant in the city centers. Iranians love fast food and at every corner, you will find pizza, burgers and French fries. If you come across something traditional, you’ll find out quickly that most likely this is a tourist trap. Especially if you are close to some tourist attractions… or you follow the Lonely Planet recommendations. Just after entering the restaurant hall, the waiter quickly notices tourists and brings a menu in English with prices several times higher than in the Iranian menu. We saw a tea for 10 000 tomans in a very modest tea house close to the bazaar, but this place was recommended in guidebooks. He can also bring a menu without prices, and then ask you Where are you from? and based on the answers, give you the price for your dinner (still, the price is quite fair). This approach was a little bit awkward for us and we walked in only when we saw that the prices for various nations are the same. For example, in Isfahan, we can recommend you a restaurant Shahrzad, near the bridge Si-o-Seh Pol and tea room at the Hotel Abbasi.

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Gaz is an Iranian delicacy similar to nougat. Infamous Lonely Planet Iran guide on the right!

Currency in Iran

The official currency is the Iranian rial. 100 000 rials is around 2.9€ or 3.1$. But toman is widely used. 10 000 tomans equal 100 000 rials. Official prices in stores and restaurants should be presented in rial.

Cash in Iran

As Iranian banking system is completely excluded from European and American ones, your Mastercard, VISA or American Express are completely useless. You need to take enough cash with you for the entire travel to Iran. How much to take? Every Iran guide gives another sum… We have a principle to always sum up all the expected costs (visa, hotels, entry tickets, food, bus and plane tickets) in Excel and then add 20%. For a 10-day trip for 2 persons, we spent approx. 900 EUR. We slept in the mid-range hotels (**/***), took 2 bus rides and two flights (one we bought already in Germany), plenty of taxi rides (including a long one to Persepolis). We weren’t counting every cent (but went a bit crazy while visiting bazaars ;-). We also entered all attractions and had a guided tour in Yazd.

Tip: What to bring, euros or dollars? Check the exchange rate. As we earn in euro, there was no dilemma for us. It turned out that it wasn’t a bad choice. We exchanged money immediately after arrival at the IKA airport. You have to go to the 1st floor to the arrivals hall and there is a currency exchange spot with a good rate. Many hotels can exchange your money too (with a little bit worse rate). You can pay in euros or dollars for accommodation anyway.

Credit cards in Iran

As every Iran guide mentions it, you can leave your credit cards at home. You won’t be able to withdraw anything from ATMs. Of course, it doesn’t mean that the use of cards is not possible… We were extremely surprised when it turned out that we can pay with a card, for example, for a Persian rug! Well, banks from Dubai provide Iranians with card terminals.Well, I’m still curious if this doesn’t violate any sanctions, especially when you pay in USD. We were also offered to “withdraw money” for a commission at the bazaar. However, we never tried this!

Prices in Iran

Contrary to popular belief, Iran is not super cheap. The prices are quite moderate, at a similar level to Eastern Europe, sometimes a little bit higher (especially hotels). Let’s have a look on sample prices in our Iran guide:

  • small bottle of water 0.5 liter – 5 00 toman (0.15$)
  • lunch at mid-level restaurant per person – 13 000 – 40 000 toman (4$-12$)
  • 6 pieces of cake/pastry – 1 000 toman (0.3$)
  • traditional bread lavash – 1 000 toman (0.3$)
  • pizza – 10 000 toman (3$)
  • cappuccino – 8 000 toman (2.5$)
  • peeled pistachios 1 kilo – 60 000 toman (19$)
  • a box of gas (Iranian delicacy) – 7 000 – 15 000 toman (2-5$)
  • oranges 1 kilo – 3 000 toman (0.9$)
  • 12 eggs- 6 000 toman (2$)

Tip: What may be surprising, supermarkets with fixed prices can be cheaper… on a bazaar, price sometimes goes up as soon as vendor notices tourists. Haggle hard!

iran guide - travel to iran - iranian sweets

Sweets in Iran are very cheap and delicious!

Entrance fees in Iran

What you have already read in the paragraph dedicated to Lonely Planet, you shouldn’t completely trust prices given in the Iran guide from the bookstore. To safely estimate your budget, it is best to assume that admission to each attraction will cost you 15-20 000 toman per person (approx. 4-5$). Cheaper attractions are rare.

Tip: You must also take into account that if some attraction has several monuments, you would need to pay separately for each. This is the case for example in Persepolis (entrance fee to the city, another to the museum and to the nearby catacombs and reliefs). Also in Golestan Palace in Tehran (where all the fees can sum up to 15-20$).

Etiquette in Iran

Iran, as a country where every aspect of life is regulated by Islam, has many rules that also foreigners should follow. The most important ones are those related to the separation of men and women. A man shouldn’t sit next to women not coming from his family, shouldn’t shake her a hand, nor talk to her. There are separate rooms for men and families in restaurants (however it’s not followed strictly, usually one room is a “touristy” one). The most important advice in our Iran guide: If someone reprimands you, don’t argue. Just accept it with an attitude “I am a dumb tourist” and you will be fine. 

In smaller cities, these rules are followed quite carefully, but in larger ones… In Tehran we went to a park, filled with couples in love. Few meters away from them, there were some groups of friends, apparently as a “back up” in the event of a police raid. Parking lots near shopping malls are also quite popular dating sites. Lovers park their cars side by side, open the windows and can talk freely without drawing unnecessary attention. Contrary to popular opinion, girls also eagerly talked to us in big cities. In Esfahan, for example, some girlfriends asked us to help them with their English essay 🙂 Moreover, many women work in the service sector, where every day they have to talk to strangers anyway.

Tip: Many young Iranians were educated in the Western countries and can speak well in few languages. They willingly talk to foreigners and act quite freely, not paying much attention to the rules. They were eg. shaking my hands without any hesitation. As always, everything depends on the person!

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Girls celebrating wearing hijab for the first time

Hijab in Iran

Every Itan guide mentions it – if you are more than 9 years old and you’re a woman, you have to wear a scarf (hijab) on your head. When? Unfortunately, as soon as you get off the plane and in all public places… At the beginning, it’s a little bit awkward to get used to it. Especially it’s hard to master the art of some nice styling. Headscarf likes to slip and slide, so I recommend you to look for some scarf made of wool or cashmere and practice before your travel to Iran. It sticks better to hair than artificial materials or silk. In Tehran, you can be amazed while observing Iranian women scarves holding barely on the tops of the head, showing beautifully curled bangs. In smaller cities, women are carefully covered with traditional long black chadors.

The headscarf is not the only compulsory element of women’s clothing in Iran. Clothes should be loose, covering the buttocks, and only hands and feet can be left uncovered. We were there in the winter, so I just put on some bigger coat, but all sorts of cardigans, jeans, tunics, long sweaters are also fine. 

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In Iran you’ll notice black chadors much more often in smaller cities

Men’s clothes in Iran

Similar as for women, modest – shirts uncovering arms and shorts are not an option.

Travelling with kids in Iran

Although we don’t have children, we made a few observations that may help you decide whether to travel to Iran with kids. Certainly, long bus trips are tiring and boring. Attractions are also more “for adults” – but some kids like visiting monuments. There are no typical entertainment places for children (like eg. water parks). Another drawback may be the fact that if your daughter is above 9 years old, she must wear hijab… not every child will understand it. During our trip, we met only one couple traveling with a child (5-year-old boy), what of course doesn’t mean that it is impossible. It all depends on your child in the end.

Tip: Tehran is one of the most polluted cities in the world. Smog is so huge that you can’t see the slopes of Elbrus mountains, surrounding Tehran. This was the worst part of our travel to Iran. When we landed, after 30 minutes in a taxi I felt really dizzy… Michal got a headache. The smell of smoke is really everywhere (many people burn garbage on the streets). So if you have children I would advise you to put on them some anti-smog mask or simply skip Tehran…

Staying safe in Iran

In contrary to common beliefs, Iran is a safe place. Due to the severity of the penalties, there would be not many people that would dare to, e.g. rob you. Except for one case in Yazd we didn’t have any unpleasant situations. Of course, it doesn’t mean you should behave less reasonably than in your home country.

iran guide - travel to iran - photos on the bazaar

At one of the bazaars in Isfahan we met a merchant quite often visited by numerous international officials… even ex-Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs!

Photography in Iran

As in many countries of the world, there is a complete ban when it comes to shooting anything that is government or military related. You must remember that the Iranian government owns basically everything. They have shares in the largest marine companies, ports or crude oil entities. A few years ago, a Polish couple was arrested for taking pictures of Bandar Abbas port… don’t take photos of demonstrations (a small chance that you encounter one, but authoritarian governments are very sensitive to such cases… last year a Polish woman was arrested for taking such pictures on the Maldives).

We heard about quite dramatic incidents at the former US embassy in Tehran, including soldiers destroying tourists’ cameras (also we were warned about it at the hotel). I know that it’s cool to have a picture of the Statue of Liberty with skull and bones, but is it worth the potential problems? It’s not surprising that Iranians are quite nervous about this. I’ve seen photo sessions from this place on almost every travel blog mentioning Iran. At the moment Iranians are trying to rebuild their relations with the West, so “promoting” Iran with this type of images is not helping… On the other hand, probably, any other government would raise objection to tourists sharing hundreds of rather negative photos, like fights of football hooligans 😉

Iranians will be eager to take a selfie with you, even better when you send them your pictures by e-mail later. If you are a man, you should be careful with taking photos of women (they will be much more eager to take a pic if the photographer is a woman).

Internet in Iran

The Internet is censored in Iran, i.e. you won’t be able to log in to Facebook, foreign news and other politically incorrect pages (surprisingly MSN was working perfectly).

Tip: Of course, no-one cares about it and uses VPN, which redirects your signal, as if you were logged in another country. You should download the application before going on your travel to Iran. We can recommend smartphone applications like Tunnel Bear or Onavo – they work fine. Wifi is easily available in hotels, larger cafes or airports.

Travel insurance for your travel to Iran

The bad news – to get a visa to Iran, you have to get a travel insurance from Iranian company Bimeh – at the airport, you have to go to the window with insurance first. The worse news – even if you have insurance from another country (even if it covers Iran) bought before your travel to Iran starts, there is 99% that won’t be accepted at the border. I saw one case where it was accepted – some cover from the UK. Good news – Iranian insurance is fairly cheap, for 30 days we paid about 15$ per person. Yay!

Visa to Iran

If you cross the border at the IKA airport (as we did), you may apply for a Visa on Arrival (depending on nationality – please check with an embassy). You fill in a receipt, and after about 15 minutes, you get a passport with a visa back. The cost of visas for Poles is 75 EUR per person (seems a lot, but colleagues from New Zealand pay 150 EUR…). If you cross the border at any other place, you must have a visa issued by the Iranian embassy already in the passport before your travel to Iran.

Tip: The whole visa process took us maybe 30 minutes. But we were not in a very touristic month, and our plane from Athens was 70% empty… Apparently, there are days when you have to wait even for 4 hours!

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Persian rugs are stunning!

Are you planning a travel to Iran? What else can we include in our Iran guide? Read more about our adventures in Iran!

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What to wear in Iran? How much cash do you need in Iran? How to plan a travel to Iran? All you need to know in our ultimate Iran guide.

 

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6 Comments

  • Reply
    Sarah
    August 26, 2017 at 14:04

    This is such a helpful, extremely detailed post. I probably won’t be visiting Iran anytime soon, but still found all the info you provided fascinating.

  • Reply
    Brianna
    August 27, 2017 at 13:08

    You’ve provided lots of really good info! I would absolutely love to visit Iran some day. Although, I believe US citizens are still not being granted visas to visit (not that I blame them…)

  • Reply
    Emma
    August 27, 2017 at 17:15

    Very cool article ! Well done,👍🏼 .
    I am to do at least a week end in Teheran next year !

    • Reply
      Magda
      August 27, 2017 at 17:36

      Thank you 🙂 Have fun and eat a lot of pistachios! 🙂

  • Reply
    Carolyn
    October 31, 2017 at 16:14

    Might be useful also to mention that one should never flush anything besides poo down the Western-style toilets, including what appears to be toilet paper.
    Many of the “savvy”, young world travelers on our tour were not aware of this and ended up clogging the hotel toilets.
    Use the hose to clean, use the paper to dry, and toss it in the bin. This might be second nature to Europeans, but not to Americans 🙁

    P.S. To Brianna: They are indeed issuing visas to Americans!! Go soon! I recommend getting in touch with Alijeh at key2persia.com.

    • Reply
      Magda
      October 31, 2017 at 18:38

      Oh yeah! Totally! 😉😉 However, the same problem with the toilets is in, surprisingly, Greece 😂 even in some decent hotels!

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