11 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Iran
Inhabited for more than 6,000 years, Iran, also known as Persia, has a rich and fascinating history. The country was known as Persia until 1935, when Reza Shah made the politically motivated decision to change the name.
The nation is famously home to the awe-inspiring ruins of ancient cities like Persepolis and Shiraz, yet today many of the country's most remarkable destinations are concentrated in just a handful of urban centers: Esfahan, Shiraz, Persepolis, Shiraz, Tabriz, Tehran, Yazd.
This includes Persian Empire cities like Kashan, with its stunning tomb and superb mosques and gardens; Isfahan, the glittering jewel of the Persian Gulf; the expansive deserts of central Iran; mountain resort towns like Yazd, Ardabil, and the great capital, Tehran.
The top sites in Iran are varied and fascinating. With summer heat averaging as high as 120° F, in most of the country temperatures will rise. Bring layers of clothing for all types of weather. Come winter, the weather is chilly. In early December, the southwest experiences temperatures at freezing point.
Enjoy a top-notch vacation experience in Iran. Plan your trip with our list of the top attractions in Iran.
Located in the central part of Iran, Mashhad is the third largest city in the country and the second most populous after Tehran. At the beginning of the 13th century, a renowned Muslim scholar and mystic named Sheikh Abd al-Rahman was invited by the Seljuks to found a city and mosque where all the Muslims would gather. The resulting city was called the city of Qom and he founded it at the city of Jam, which means center. The mosque in the center of the city, which still exists today and is one of the holiest Islamic shrines, is called the Tomb of the Sheikh, where many religious pilgrims visit each year. Mashhad was first mentioned in books of Islamic history in the 11th century and is believed to have been a small village in the past. It is said that 30,000 Muslims came to visit the shrine annually in the 16th century and now it is the fifth largest Muslim pilgrimage site in the world.
Although often called the "Venice of the East", the capital of Iran's Islamic Republic, Esfahan (Espah-ye Naqadeh) is more accurately described as the Venice of the Near East. The city's monumental cultural heritage includes a complex of mosques, caravanserais, and royal palaces that have been standing for some 500 years. The most splendid buildings are found within a vast walled citadel, constructed to protect the city from the western deserts and the Isfahan Shahr, a steppe that is the center of winter fairs and markets. Dominating the citadel is the magnificent Khorshed mosque, a repository of Persian architecture where it's still possible to see the beautiful vaulted ceilings, delicate stucco decorations and the pure white marbles that adorn its interior walls.
Azerbaijan is a country of the Caucasus in Central Asia bordered by Armenia, Georgia, Turkey, and Iran. Due to Azerbaijan's recent independence from the USSR, traveling to Azerbaijan is relatively easy. Visas are obtained upon arrival. Azerbaijan's capital, Baku, is a refreshing place to wander around, with lovely tree-lined avenues and a pleasant park. The city is characterized by many cafes, modern architecture, and world-class art galleries. Baku also boasts a varied dining scene, ranging from Iranian-influenced and a vast number of European restaurants to trendy and ethnic eateries. An aquarium with large sea tanks full of fish and other animals is located near Baku's ocean. Hyrcania National Park, the capital's largest zoo, is located just 15 minutes away. Travelers will find a vibrant nightlife in Baku and will find large, international party zones in the old town and the centre of the city. The entertainment district includes a number of dance clubs, some very small pubs, trendy restaurants and bars. Nightlife in the city center and in Baku's suburbs are much more concentrated in the old town. However, there is a large club district in the suburb of Shiraz.
The capital of Iran and, after Singapore, the world's third most-populous city, is also the largest metropolis in Asia with a population of almost 9 million, making it a real contender for the title "Asia's New Capital." Much has changed since Reza Shah ruled Iran in the early 20th century, most significantly the rise of the shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Tehran is a relatively modern city with skyscrapers, the latest design trends, and a booming art scene. But it is also a country within a country and its revolutionary ideology, along with its influence in neighboring states, may cause visitors and residents alike to pause and reflect upon their time here. As a former capital, the city's center is quite lively and there are some great museums, a burgeoning art scene, and an emerging culinary scene. Tehran was ranked eighth in the World Happiness Report, a list that considered economics, life expectancy, freedom to make choices, generosity, and absence of corruption. Apart from Iran's rich Islamic culture and architecture, Tehran is an engaging city for a short trip or weekend break. A popular starting point for visitors is the Jaleh Park in the north, a remnant of the once beautiful Khaju Zamin Park, with its three elegant marble arched bridges. It is important to note that there are almost always street names in use here and it is important to be aware of your route and change as needed. It is also advisable to follow local laws to respect certain times, days, and hours.
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Known for its famous fortress city of Shammam, its lavish mosques and churches, and its spectacular natural environment, Qeshm is the largest island in the Iranian archipelago. Often described as the 'Venice of Iran' due to its low-lying islets, coves, and bays, the island is located just south of Iran's Gulf coast. With a population of 8,000, Qeshm is one of the most developed and least polluted islands in the region and provides numerous outdoor activities. The archipelago itself contains some 20 islands, most of which are home to small fishing villages, ruins, and secluded beaches.
Founded in the 8th century, the city is the capital of Iran's South Eastern Province and home to Iran's most magnificent Persian Mughal architecture. It is located in a mountainous region watered by the rivers Karoun and Karun and protected by the high mountains of the Zagros range. Sightseeing is one of the major attractions in Shiraz. A trip to one of the many sights and museums in the city such as the famous Takht-e Soleyman and the Sa'di mausoleum provides an excellent introduction to Shiraz. Other interesting places to see in Shiraz include the ancient botanical gardens, the gardens of the Vakil al-Molk Mansion, the Niavaran Palace and the Sa'adatabad fortress.
The city of Qom in Iran is more a town than a city, with numerous cultural and spiritual sites, as well as great shopping, restaurants and nightlife. Originally located near the banks of the central Amol River in an area which, until the 6th century AD, was a hunting ground for the king of Shapur, the first of the Sassanid Dynasty, it became the spiritual and cultural center of the Iranian world. The city of Qom is famous for its active and productive role in Islamic Shi'ite culture. Among its spiritual sites are the mausoleums of the sixth and seventh Shi'ite Imams, Ali and Mahdi; the holy city of Kashan, Iran's holiest place; and the huge town of Najaf, in southern Iraq.
Bandar Abbas is a small town in the southeast corner of Iran on the Persian Gulf, about 120 km from the Gulf port of Hormuz. It is the second largest city of Hormozgan Province, with a population of roughly 500,000. To get there, take a bus to Hormozgan and the transfer will be in Bandar Abbas. Bandar Abbas is a fascinating historical place, once the site of a very important port. The view of the sea from the walls of Bandar Abbas has been described as the most beautiful in the world, as it stretches for miles to the southeast towards Hormoz. The area has been inhabited for many years, but in the recent past has seen more and more western influences, such as restaurants and hotels. Today, Bandar Abbas is probably best known for its bazaars, especially the Aba Sa'id Bazaar and the Dhakh'erieh bazaar. You can explore the city's ancient history as well. It is still possible to visit some of the ruins of the ancient city of Bakhshan, which was the capital of Iran in the 8th century. The famous Chah-e Kabira palace is also worth a visit, as is the Ma'moura Tower and the Baqir Chai Mosque. The biggest attraction of Bandar Abbas is, however, the city's very unique atmosphere, one of spice, but also the aroma of the sea, mud, and the grit that makes up the city. Although not the best beach on the Persian Gulf, Bandar Abbas is an interesting place to visit and a perfect stop for a short holiday.
Naqsh-e Jahan Square
More than 1,000 years old and the biggest surviving example of its kind in Iran, Naqsh-e Jahan is a plaza where pre-Islamic religious figures were once kept. Several square mounds of different size lie here, with a smaller mound in the center. On top of this mound, the tomb of Shah Ismail I stands. Also on this mound are some white tile figures and a gray brick sarcophagus with paintings in gold color. On the eastern side of the square stands a pavilion called Behistun Caravanserai, where there is a tree of a unique cedar, which is the oldest living tree in Iran. The square was built by Shah Abbas I in the 17th century. Nowadays, it is a popular attraction in Yazd.
Hamedan is located in the west of Iran at an altitude of almost 1,700 meters. To the west of this mountain range lies an open steppe and to the east a rolling plain with a length of 30 kilometers. In this city many old archaeological ruins can be found which are famous worldwide. The main attraction of this city is the Zoroastrian fire temple of Bagh-e Zarathushtra (the tomb of Zoroaster). In this city the most important historical centre of Iran, the Medresse Zarathushtra (School of Zoroaster), stands at the south-eastern outskirts of the city and is surrounded by the descendants of Parsis from all over the world. In the city there are more than a hundred of places which are related to Parsis, Zoroastrians and the fire temples of Zoroastrianism. The city has an international airport and is served by domestic and international flights. It is about one and a half hour drive from this city to Bam, the capital of Iran and Buseftek city. The most beautiful province of Iran which is located to the west of Hamedan is Kermanshah. Hamedan is an ideal city for those who wish to learn more about Zoroastrianism and Persian history.
This rugged chain of mountains lies in the north of Iran. The border region between Iran and Turkmenistan is part of the Alborz, which extends south to the Bactrian desert in the Turkmen border and west into Uzbekistan. The mountains have always been an important feature of Iranian society. For as far back as we know history, these ridges have been used for military training, mountaineering, and skiing. They have inspired poets and sculptors, travelers and game hunters. Most travelers to the region are passing through Teheran on their way to one of the ancient cities of the Zagros Range, Shiraz or Persepolis. Many head for the near-mythical high peak of Mount Damavand, which boasts the very first Starbucks in Iran. To the east are the ancient Lake Urmia and its holy Lake Gomushk or Ma'mul. To the west lies the Bactrian desert and the Syrian border. Despite the threat of political repression, Teheran is by far the region's most visited city.