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One Month Backpacking Iran | Top 10 Experiences

Was backpacking Iran crazy? On our one way ticket to the Far East we never planned on stopping in Iran, a country we knew little about. However, we had heard some amazing stories from backpackers who had visited Iran.

So we decided to go for it! And boy are we happy that we did. We spent one month travelling the country, from the date palm trees in the south, through the deserts in the west to the freezing mountains in the north.

Iran seems to offer everything a nature-lover can desire, where you can enjoy four seasons all-year round. Here you’ll find the hottest deserts on earth, the world’s largest water cave and the tallest mountains in the Middle-East. Not to mention, being repeatedly titled the most hospitable nation in the world by experienced travellers, with an unrivaled cultural heritage of ancient Persia.

Backpacking Iran

backpacking iran

But is it really safe to visit Iran?

At first our ignorant minds wandered about the Islamic State in Iraq and Afghani Taliban. How can it possibly be safe to travel to Iran, bordered between these two unstable countries? But we were wrong! After filtering through media propaganda and US embassy warnings, we found heaps of real travel stories, all mentioning how safe it is to visit Iran.

After spending 30 days in the country we can now share our own personal experience. We felt safe from day one! Even when wandering the streets after nightfall. Iranians have the utmost respect for travellers and make their efforts in convincing you that Iran is safe, disproving the media rumors. As a result of a strict Islamic regime, violent crime rates are low, even lower than in the US.

That being said, every country has its own set of rules and Iran might have stricter rules than most countries, but as a travelers it is your responsibility to respect them. These rules might bother some, for instance gender separation and strict female dress codes. Women must cover their hair by law and dress appropriately. However after a few days in Iran this gets into habit and by respecting their culture you will not face any trouble. Also, keep in mind that many Iranians disagree with the opinions of the ruling government. So don’t let your own thoughts of the islamic regime keep you away from visiting this beautiful nation.

So now that your safety concerns are out of the question, let’s have a closer look at what the country really has to offer.

backpacking iran

10 things to experience while backpacking Iran

1. Enjoy Iranian cuisine, sitting on a Persian carpet

You won’t find many restaurants in the country, since Iranians prefer to cook at home. Most dishes include rice and meat (lamb, chicken or fish) mixed with various herbs and spices. Kebab with saffron rice is a popular dish, but the Fesenjan, a savory stew featuring duck, pomegranate and walnut, is a must try! Sitting on the carpet floor is the usual way of dining for most Iranians, whether poor or rich. At first we had some difficulties finding a comfortable position, but with every meal our muscles and ligaments seemed to get more and more used to the strain. Somehow sitting together on a beautiful Persian carpet makes the atmosphere more relaxed and less formal than dining at a dinner table.

backpacking iran

2. Go back to ancient Persia and visit Persepolis

Did you know that Iran is home to one of the world’s oldest civilizations and hosts thirteen UNESCO World Heritage Sites? Persepolis is one of them and one of the greatest ancient UNESCO sites in the Middle East. Built over 2500 years ago, Persepolis was the capital of the Persian Empire, back when it reached from Greece to India. The world empire was thought to have inhabited 44% of the world’s population during these times (the highest such number of any world empire). Its glory came to an end when Alexander the Great burned and sacked the city 333 BC, leaving Persepolis in ruins ever since.

backpacking iran

3. Climb the Kalouts of the Shahdad desert

The so-called Kalouts are a rare formation of towering sand rocks, scattered around in the Shahdad desert. Here you will also find one of the hottest spots on earth, with ground temperatures reaching as high as 70°C during summer. Here you won’t find any living creatures, except maybe the toughest bacteria.

backpacking iran

4. Meet the locals and learn how to Tarof

Iranians are famous for being one of the most hospitable nations in the world. You won’t have to wait long to test this reputation. We hadn’t even landed in Iran, but already we were starting to get invitation to stay for dinner or overnight from complete strangers. Accept these offers once in a while and get to know the unique etiquette of Tarof, where denying a cup of tea at least three times before accepting is considered courteous.

backpacking iran

5. Go skiing in Dizin

In the Alborz mountain range, north of Tehran, you’ll find one of the highest ski resorts in the world, Dizin. This resort has a good number of pistes to choose from and at the top (4000 m) you’ll get a perfect view over Mt. Damavand, Iran’s tallest mountain.

backpacking iran

6. Try the local wine in Shiraz

Shiraz is a beautiful city with many places worth visiting, from holy mosques and shrines to busy bazaars and botanical gardens. Many might be familiar with the city’s name from its reputation of producing the finest wine in the Middle East. Apparently, making wine for export is legal but consuming alcohol in Iran is illegal! Despite that, many Iranians in Shiraz will invite you their own homemade wine, but behind closed doors.

backpacking iran

7. Visit half of the world in Esfahan

Once a capital of Iran and known for being one of the most beautiful cities in the world, with tree-lined boulevards, historical bridges and Islamic architecture. There is a famous rhyme in Persian “Esfahan nesf-e Jahan”, meaning “Esfahan is half of the world”.

backpacking iran

8. Get lost in Abyaneh, the ancient mountain village.

Often referred to as the Red Village for its red mud brick houses and the surrounding mountain terrain (bearing the same colour due to iron oxides). The village is at least 1500 years old originating from the time of the Arab invasion, when many of the Persians fled to the mountains and deserts to escape forced conversion to Islam.

backpacking iran

9. Sail into the largest water cave in the world

Take a 2.4 km boat tour inside Ali-Sadr cave, the largest of its kind. On the walls inside you’ll find pictures of animals and hunting scenes dating back to 12.000 years ago.

backpacking iran

10) Bargain for a Persian carpet at the bazaar

It can take one person up to 6-12 months to weave a 1.5 x 1.0 m carpet depending on how dense you weave it (knots per square inch). They can cost you up to 5000$, but you can get them for cheaper, with fewer knots made from cheap wool instead of silk, colored with chemicals instead of organic dyes, but we couldn’t get our eyes off the irresistible and shiny silk carpets woven to perfection. Take your time, drink tea with the owners and visit a few different shops. When you find the right carpet, remember to bargain heavily!

backpacking iran

So, those are your top 10 things to do in Iran!

If you are looking for a country off the beaten path, then Iran is the place for you. The tourism is quite underdeveloped and it’s remarkable to see how Iranians stay close to their old traditions. Due to sanctions and poor economy, the lack of foreign influence seem to have locked in the true Persian culture and way of life. This makes Iran a rewarding place to visit especially for curious travelers who want to learn the basis of the country, who its people are and what their culture stands for – ignoring political propaganda and news headlines. So hurry up while you can, you never know when the sanctions will be lifted off, blowing in a gust of Western influence.

Pin these backpacking Iran tips for later:

backpacking iran

from ice to spiceWe are two Icelandic travel addicts; Ása, a 24 year old engineer graduate, and Andri, a 26 year old freshly baked medical graduate, who decided to leave our daily life to pursue our lifelong dream of longterm travelling. Growing up on a little isolated island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, we naturally have always been curios to experience the rest of the world. At the beginning of 2015 we headed off for a one-way ticket journey, starting with the Middle East, and decided to share our encounters along the way on our blog, . Connect on , , , and .

2018-01-05T21:49:56+00:00

About the Author:

Rachel Jones left a career in nursing and lived on the beaches of Goa, India for the five years. Now she lives in Mexico where she gives advice on the 40+ countries she’s visited in the last 10 years. She’s the author of two India travel e-books: Guide to India and Insider’s Guide to Goa. Her blog, Werkenntwen, like its name, is a contradiction combining off-beat adventurous places with glamorous and bespoke travel. Werkenntwen has been featured in ELLE, Marie Claire, Grazia, and Cosmopolitan magazines. She’s a writer for Bravo TV.

19 Comments

  1. I absolutely love this piece. Well done! I’ve been to Egypt, Tunisia, Qatar and Turkey. I would love to go to Iran one of these days but trouble tends to follow me around so I’ll follow you instead LOL!

  2. Renuka May 25, 2015 at 10:41 pm - Reply

    Wow! Iran looks so amazing! Thanks for clarifying the safety issue, too.

  3. Emma | banquets and backpacks May 26, 2015 at 4:24 am - Reply

    I’ve noticed a few travel bloggers are heading over to Iran – a country I wouldn’t have considered a safe place to visit. This is a really eye opening post, so, naturally, Iran has been added to my wish list!

  4. Alana - Paper Planes May 26, 2015 at 1:16 pm - Reply

    It looks beautiful!

  5. Elen Turner May 27, 2015 at 2:42 am - Reply

    Thanks so much for sharing this! There is a serious lack of travel blogging on Iran and other destinations that aren’t ‘mainstream’, especially for American travellers (which I’m not). I have a question about costs though- I have looked into going to Iran before, and could never figure out what the costs on the ground really are. Plus, I know you have to take all your cash with you because of sanctions with the banks etc. Could the authors of this maybe give some indication of costs? Thanks :)

    • Rachel Jones May 28, 2015 at 11:35 am - Reply

      You can go to their blog and email them for more info :)

  6. Tim UrbanDuniya May 27, 2015 at 1:27 pm - Reply

    I love travelling in Iran!! One of my favourite places to travel – easy, safe and enjoyable. Thanks for reminding me of so many happy memories…

  7. Sarah Lynn May 27, 2015 at 2:03 pm - Reply

    I adored this post!
    Thank you for the introduction to “From Ice to Spice” and the great information on Iran, a country I know so little about.
    The pictures are simple stunning!

  8. De'Jav May 28, 2015 at 1:59 pm - Reply

    I’ve heard good things about Iran. It’s crazy how the media can deter our thoughts about a place by only showing the violence not the good.

  9. Nordin October 26, 2015 at 2:12 am - Reply

    Hey, thank you for the nice blog. My girlfriend and me are going to Iran in december. How did you guys travel in the country by car or bus. We are not sure if we want to rent a car because we are thinking its nicer to be more in with the Iran people in busses or trains. But there are a lot of places to visit where there is no public transportation going….
    So perhaps do you hafe some tips for us, that would be greate.

    Greetings Nordin

  10. iman January 31, 2016 at 1:53 pm - Reply

    salam rachel
    Thank u for sharing your exprince about my country. there is so many places remains to u people must come and visit. and i guarantee that the people of iran waiting for u hippie people with wide arms. i live in city near hamedan called khorramabad(near 200 km away from hamedan to the south) if u someday come back to iran and want to have different exprince of one of the ancient and strange culture of iran call me(not tarof :) i am serious come and see). another thing, i want to come to goa for hippie parties and find how hippie culture is, can u guide me about that?
    thank u and khodahafez

  11. Judy Freeman August 2, 2016 at 2:59 pm - Reply

    Hi Rachel Can you clarify something please

    Did you write this piece on Iran or was it written by Asa and Andri. I’m a bit confused

    Thanks

  12. Anne September 10, 2016 at 8:07 pm - Reply

    Hi Hippi in Heels (cool name)

    Greeting from denmark

    When was your Iran trip? and did you travel alone? Planning going there in january and looking for good websites for help/info – Did you do backpacking or more ahead off planed trip?

  13. toiranvel January 3, 2017 at 9:34 pm - Reply

    hi……good blog

  14. Lily July 3, 2017 at 11:34 am - Reply

    Iran has been near the top of my list for a long time but I’m not sure what the visa situation is like at the moment for Americans. I know for a long time it was fairly straightforward as long as you went with a tour but I’ve heard since January (cough) they aren’t issuing them. Anyone have any ideas?

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