Iran: Empire of the Mind: A History from Zoroaster to the Present Day by Michael Axworthy
A well documented history of the country
Land of the Turquoise Mountains: Journey Across Iran by Cyrus Massoudi
Autobiographical journey by a British-Iranian author travelling across the country upon which I could draw some parallels
Garden of the Brave in War: Recollections of Iran by Terence O’Donnell
This is a lovely book that gives a really touching insight on the Iranian soul and the people
By city: this list is not exhaustive but those are my personal recommendations based on my experience! It was difficult to choose but I wanted to keep it to the bare essentials if your travelling time is limited.
Stay: Hannah Boutique Hotel
Visit: Treasury of National Jewels
Eat: Kubaba Restaurant
Buy: Tavazo Nuts and Spices (the best quality and value you will ever find! Worth the taxi ride)
Stay: Khorram Gardens
Visit: Lut Desert (booking of a guide is compulsory so plan ahead)
Eat: Keykhosro (drinks/lunch/dinner)
Hamam-e Vakil Chaykhaneh (for tea)
Eat/Buy: Kolompeh (date-stuffed spiced biscuits)
Stay: Taha Hotel (but make sure to ask and double check that you are in the main original building
Visit: The Pink Mosque
Persepolis (book a guide for the day beforehand, I highly recommend Key2Persia)
Eat/Buy: Balo Persian Cuisine (short menu but delicious fresh food and a rooftop)
Visit: Old City then relax on the rooftop of the Art Centre to watch the sunset
Chak-Chak (Fire Temple, on the outskirts, book a guide and driver beforehand)
Eat: Oriental Hotel (off the bazar, known for its camel meatballs and fantastic rooftop view across the city)
Buy: Zoroastrian related souvenirs
Silk fabric (carpets or ‘termeh’ by the metre)
Stay: of course the world-renowned Abbasi Hotel!!
Visit: Ali Qapu Palace and Masjed-e Shah
Jolfa, the Albanian quarter
Eat: Ghasr Monshi (delicious and varied buffet with friendly helpful staff)
Ash-e Reshteh (Abbasi Hotel speciality)
Buy: Hossein Fallahi atelier (miniature painted boxes where you can see the Master of this traditional art working. Prices vary a lot depending on the details and colours but the work is exquisite. Worth going even just to have a look)
Gaz (nougat with pistachio and/or almonds). Go for the highest percentage of nuts as they are better quality. You can buy some with or without rose flavour depending on your personal taste.
Stay: Ehsan Historical Guesthouse (could not be more central)
Visit: Abyaneh (picturesque village in the mountains, you will need to book a driver)
Hammam-e Sultan Mir Ahmad and its complex of traditional houses
Eat: Manouchehri House (we only stopped for a drink)
Negin Hotel (dinner)
Buy: Rose water
Recommended tourist agency:
If you need an authorisation code for the VISA and other bookings (trains, taxis etc) and tours, I recommend to contact Ahmad at the Iran Tourism Center. He has been super super helpful!
What to be aware of:
- Crossing the road can be tricky and slightly terrifying at first. Find some Iranians and cross the road with them. Even if you feel like you might get run over, you are safest crossing with locals as they have mastered the technique! There is no point waiting at a pedestrian crossing unless you feel like standing there all day. Be aware that motocycles often don’t respect red lights and drive on pavements or on the wrong side of traffic. However, I found that I quickly got used to it and by the end I could cross the road without the help of Iranians!
- I felt that Iran was a very safe country, probably one of the safest places I’ve ever been to. However I was told to be a bit careful around Kerman but I suppose common sense should prevail wherever you are in the world!
- If prices are not indicated on a menu, enquire beforehand. It has happened to me to be charged up to 40% more for a drink for being a foreigner as opposed to a local. However this only happened once or twice in more touristy areas but worth noting just in case. During the whole trip I always felt that everyone was very honest so perhaps I was just unlucky those two times!
- Sun cream!! If your skin is as sensitive as mine plan to take some cream, especially in Kashan where it was scorching hot!
- Change your money bit by bit as the exchange rate fluctuates a lot (usually in favour for us, unfortunately in disfavour for Iranians). Note that there are two exchange rates: the official international one (roughly 1€ = 50 000 toumans/500 000 rials) whereas the local rate (in May 2019) varied from 1€ = 150 – 165 000 toumans/ 1 500 000 – 1 650 000 rials) so change your money locally and gradually. Also note that you cannot take money out or pay with your card (Visa, MasterCard et) as they use American IT systems banned in Iran. So make sure you have enough cash for your whole journey.
- Although the official currency is rials, because of inflation and devaluation most people will use toumans. For toumans divide rials by 10. It can be confusing at first when both currencies are alternatively used but you soon get your head round it! Iranians are very honest and have helped me when I accidentally gave them ten times more than expected and always gave me the correct change!