You’ve been pondering, mulling over, thinking about it, even planning, yet you still haven’t booked your ticket to Iran. You don’t even know why, maybe holidays for you are synonymous with beach so you head to Thailand, maybe you think spices are only available in India, or maybe you think ancient history can only be experienced in Rome. Whatever has been keeping you from booking that flight, here are my ten reasons why you should travel to Iran as soon as possible and overcome your doubts.
1. It’s safe
Is it safe to visit Iran? Whether you travel alone or in a group, whether you are a woman or a man, or whether you arrive day or night time, Iran is a very safe country. I traveled for two weeks with a friend of mine (woman, Iranian), and apart from one flight, we moved from city to city and province to province by night buses, night trains and taxis, and given the large number of women traveling alone I can only gather this is a common practice.
2. It’s hitting the headlines all over the world
Let’s face it, now it’s totally Iran moment. Listed by many publications as one of the most popular travel destinations for 2014, after soaking in massive tourist crowds for two weeks I can only say that this year is only the beginning of what will finally be an era of never-ending tourism flow for this west Asian country.
Iran is also the country of hospitality, the kind I’ve only seen in Sardinia so far, and not just because “welcome” is possibly the most popular English word there, but because it’s an essential feature of their culture. From Tehran to Tabriz we took the night train, and one of our cabin mates was a woman from Tabriz who, within the first two minutes of the conversation, has managed not only to invite us to her house, but also to insist. And if you think this degree of hospitality is reserved to foreigners only, you clearly haven’t come across any taarof moment, which is understandably as this is a very “between-Iranians” prerogative. I had the chance to come to grips with taarof because I was traveling with an Iranian, and this is really the only reason why after each and every single ride the taxi drivers suggested we didn’t need to pay. I really doubt with foreigners they would try such a stunt, they probably know we would simply thank and leave, albeit pretty startled.
4. A long history
Hardly in need of any introduction, Persepolis is possibly Iran’s most famous ancient site, even though not the only one. From ancient Persia to modern Iran, from the Achaemenid Empire to the Sasanian era, from the Safavid period to the Qajar dynasty, to finally the Pahlavi family and the Islamic Revolution, Iranian history is as stormy as it gets, and traveling all around you can soak in every period and delve into the nation’s tangled past.
Be it a mosque, a palace or a bazaar, Iranian buildings are finely decorated and glow with ornamental elegance. Pastel colors gracefully interact with bright hues, tapering minarets and seemingly ubiquitous domes outline the landscape. Whether you are inside or outside a building, the elaborate architecture is definitely something tourists in Iran marvel at.
Each province, each city, each village has their own handicraft. In Yazd you will certainly buy beautiful termeh, handwoven silk and wool fabric (and baklava sweets), in Isfahan tiles and blue decorations, in Tabriz (and everywhere else) carpets of all sizes, colors and patterns. Wherever you travel in Iran, rest assured that you’ll get back home with the loveliest of gifts.
From pistachio to black tea, from saffron to kebab, from Mirza Ghasemi to Ghormeh Sabzi, the heavy presence of aromatic herbs makes Iranian cuisine appetizing and addictive, especially when it comes to pistachio and baklava, if you ask me. While there are national dishes that you can find everywhere, like herb stew Ghormeh Sabzi, there are others that are exclusive, or at least typical from a particular region, such as the aforementioned eggplant-based Mirza Ghasemi, typical from Gilan province, or Dizi, too meaty and heavy for me but still a national treat, typical from Ardebil.
8. It’s cheap
Be it for the sanctions or for the dropping of their currency, traveling to Iran right now will turn very cheap. You can spoil yourself with a royal treat without spending too much, saving enough for your inevitable shopping spree.
9. You will have a truly authentic experience
Probably due to sanctions that allow little commercial exchange with other countries, especially in the West, Iran can boast its own products on a variety of manufacturing areas, from food to textiles to ceramics. Apart from goods on sale, Iranians are very proud of their culture and traditions, and they will never miss the occasion of illustrating what you might be seeing, eating, drinking, listening to, and so on and so forth.
10. You will enjoy a relaxed atmosphere
Contrary to common belief, the atmosphere in Iran is very chilled out, and contrary to many places at least in Italy, you can take pictures just about everywhere. Vital to complete the breezy and somehow devil-may-care scene are obviously Iranians, very friendly, always up for a chat, seldom if ever worried about timetables and surprisingly happy to be the subject of your next photo.