If Iran is your next travel destination, you have made an excellent choice.Unlike what you can see in the media, Iran is one of the friendliest countries I’ve ever visited. From friendly people, incredible architecture, amazing beaches, to vibrant cities and mystic deserts.
In 2016 I traveled to Iran independently, on my own. It’s a fascinating country, very different from how media portrays it. While I was able to travel around the country on my own due to my Malaysia passport, even if you’re from the UK or US and require to do an organized tour you could hire a guide.
It is my personal mission to share the beauty of Iran to everyone I know, and hence I’ve compiled this list of travel tips. Whether you are backpacking on a tight budget or going for a family holiday in Tehran, I am very sure that you will find some valuable information here. So read on as you get ready for your Persian adventure!
Tips for Traveling to Iran & Things to Know Before You Go
1.What’s the best time to travel to Iran?
Iran is a big country, so temperatures differ. For instance, when I was visiting Iran in late March it was freezing cold in Tabriz and Tehran, but very warm in Esfahan.
During the summer, temperatures frequently break into the 40’s (C), so it might not be the best time to visit. Especially since you need to be covered up head to toes.
I’d say that the best time to visit Iran is spring (late February – late May).
The worst time to travel is the 2-week long Iranian New Year holidays called Navroz (for 2018: 21st March – 4th April) in fact, the worst time to visit. You won’t be able to stay with many locals as everyone is visiting families and many places are closed.
2. Iran is a great place for backpacking
Many people don’t consider a country like Iran to be good for backpacking. But they’re wrong. Iran is the ultimate backpacking destination. Iran is cheap, it has hostels in major tourist places, cheap hotels and guesthouses in others, comfortable buses, and friendly locals. What more can you want when you backpack…?
I’m usually not a fan of backpacking and hostels. But backpacking in Iran is different than in some other popular places. Travelers were more mature, interested in different cultures, and not just in partying and taking usual selfies in the morning. I might be biased, but when I backpacked in other places I was rarely able to find people who wanted to join me for a trip to the museum. Not in Iran.
3.How Much Money Do I Need for Iran?
Iran is a country that offers great value for money, even more so these days. But money is one thing you really need to plan on if you’re going to Iran, as foreign card won’t work in any ATM and you cannot pay by card. Similar to Cuba, Iran is a cash country.
Bring EUROS, not US Dollars. Many websites and travel blogs will tell you to bring only Dollars. Thankfully, I had Euros too. Dollars were very unwanted. While some people still accepted them, it wasn’t easy.
I spent approximately $20-40 per day while traveling solo and with a friend, I met on my first day. It wasn’t an extreme budget trip and we weren’t restricting ourselves. I recommend planning on bringing more, just to be safe.
4. Don’t get confused by Toman and Rial
Here’s the deal: while rial is the official currency, toman is more commonly used by locals. Just add one zero to the price (in toman) you’re quoted, and you’ll get the price in rial. For example, 10,000 toman is 100,000 rial.
Sometimes, the shopkeeper might just say “ten” and you have to figure out how much that is. Familiarise yourself with the exchange rate. This way, you can gauge how much that particular item/service you’re paying for should cost, and you’ll get the answer.
5. You Can Get Iran Visa at the Airport
If you’re worried about the hassle of getting a visa to Iran, fear not! Citizens of many countries are eligible for a visa on arrival for up to 30 days.
If you’re illegible to travel around Iran on your own, you can consider taking the Discover Persia 14-day G Adventures tour, which I’ve heard good things about. The tour doesn’t chaperone you 24/7 and you’ll have some free time, so even if you’re not a group trip person, you’ll be fine.
Another option would be Iran tours from Intrepid. They have a few options available
6. Women Must Wear a Headscarf
Iran is officially the Islamic Republic and both women and men must follow the dress code rules (yes, it’s not just for women). Men shouldn’t wear shorts, and women need to cover up their hair with headscarff and their body.
I was quite worried about having my entire scalp covered at first, but I quickly realized how ‘relaxed’ the rules are. Many young women just cover only the top of their hair.
Iranian women are super stylish, so if you’re wearing baggy elephant pants you’ll feel out of place – believe me! Also, bring a short skirt or dress as well, as in private homes women quickly change into tight shirts and skirts. You’ll look ridiculous in your conservative clothes inside and everyone will ask you why don’t you change.
7. You Need a VPN to Browse the Internet Freely
While there’s the internet in Iran, similar to China, you’ll need a VPN in order to see certain websites. You’ll need to install a VPN (virtual private network) in order to access a certain website. Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are blocked in Iran. Travel blogs who wrote about Israel are also blocked in Iran.
What’s not blocked? You’ll be able to access your Gmail account without any issues. The most popular social network in Iran is Instagram which isn’t blocked. I find it slightly ironic, knowing that Instagram is owned by Facebook that’s blocked in Iran.
Make sure to do your research and check out my other post, as not all VPNs will work in Iran.
8. Stay with Iranians if you can ( couchsurfing )
Without a doubt, the most enjoyable part of backpacking Iran is having the opportunity to stay with locals. While Couchsurfing is technically illegal is widely used, so even if you’re not a couchsurfer you might give it a go. YES – it’s safe to interact and stay with locals in Iran. Everyone is extremely hospitable and they’ll invite you to stay multiple nights.
Note that Americans, British, and Canadians citizens are forbidden from entering local homes, leave alone staying with them.
9. Try Iranian food and desserts
Iranian cuisine or Persian cuisine has introduced some marvelous dishes of all time. Besides rice, vegetables, and fruits, spices like saffron, mahleb, cardamom and green herbs play an important role. These foods are majorly spicy and tasty, being rightly influenced by Turkish, Russian, and Central Asian cuisines.
10.Restrain Yourself from Public Affection as a Couple
As in any other conservative country, PDA is not well seen. While it’s technically not illegal, you shouldn’t be holding hands with your loved one, or kissing in public places.
11.Shop at Iranian Markets
Bazaars play a huge part in Iran’s day-to-day life and you can find them pretty much in every city and small town. The largest bazaar in the world (UNESCO World Heritage Site) is in Tabriz.
If you don’t want to shop, don’t skip the markets as they’re usually beautiful even to wander around. With high ceilings and mosaics, you can walk around for a while admiring the architecture.
12. There are men and women sections in the metro and buses
I often compare the situation in Iran to UAE, where you also have co-ed carriages and women-only carriages. It’s marked special on the platform with a yellow line on the floor.
But that’s just in theory, as during rush hour in Tehran I’ve seen many men entering women-only carriages with their wives and people telling us that it’s ok for our male friend to come with us. Why? I’m not sure.
13. Learn to Drink Tea in an Iranian Way
Forget about the way you drink your tea at home. In Iran, you need to try to drink it with locals, which means that you’ll drink some sweet tea. By that, I don’t mean you put a sugar cube in your teacup. You need to put a sugar cube in your mouth and drink the tea ‘through’ that, holding it in.
14.Iranian don’t hate Americans
One of the biggest myths in the Western Media is that Iranians hate Americans. I only encountered one posted at a mosque in Tehran. But after a few conversations with people around the mosque, I quickly realized that they all agreed that some group of weirdos put it there and none really thinks that.
I had endless conversations about it with many locals and none of them expressed any hate towards Americans. In fact, American movies were shown on a local bus and people love to drink Coca-Cola.
15.Iranians aren’t Arabs
One of the most important things to remember is that Iranians aren’t Arabs, they’re Persian. They speak Farsi (and other dialects), not Arabic, and some people might feel offended if you great them with Arabic words.
Since the Arab invasion of Iran, Farsi has been written in Arabic letters with slight differences.While a lot of Arabic words have made it to the Persian dictionary, it doesn’t mean that an Arab can understand Farsi or the other way around.