Destination at a glance - Iran - Perspolis

Destination at a glance: Iran

All is not what it seems in Iran. The simple stereotype is of an oil-addled desert land flush with scowling mullahs and anti-Western feeling. Oh, and nice carpets. Don’t be fooled! The reality is far more complex and far more diverse. Iran boasts a sophisticated culture where poetry is valued over dogma and hospitality trumps austerity. Visitors are more likely to be welcomed by men cycling the wrong way down four-lane highways than they are to encounter suspicion or slogans.

Islam retains an important place but is not overwhelming, and the Iranians, despite the trials of a long history and modern politics, are upbeat and genuinely interested in meeting travellers. Like those famous carpets, Iran is textured, subtle and richly coloured.


April to June and September to November



  • The arched market arcades and beautiful mosques of Imam Square in Esfahan
  • Winding lanes and wind towers in the mud-brick old town of Yazd
  • The tea terraces and hills surrounding Masuleh on the Caspian Sea littoral
  • Magnifi cent Persepolis, now in ruins, but an awe-inspiring reminder of the might of the ancient Persian Empire
  • The domes and minarets of the Holy Shrine of Imam Reza in Mashhad


  • Settle in for an afternoon of banter, bluffi ng and tea while haggling for a carpet
  • Listen to the silence amid the date palms of Garmeh oasis
  • Accept an invitation to someone’s home for dinner – you are sure to receive one – to experience first-hand Iranian hospitality
  • Escape the smog and rumble of Tehran on the walking trails of Darband in the foothills of the Alborz Mountains


  • Read The Way of the World by Nicolas Bouvier, a rollicking tale of a 1950s road trip; and Mirrors of the Unseen by Jason Elliot, an observation of modern Iran
  • Listen to the sombre melodies of Persian epic poetry sung to traditional accompaniment
  • Watch Gabbeh, directed by Mohsen Makhmalbaf, a colourful evocation of nomadic life; or the Lizard, by Kamal Tabrizi, a comedy box-office smash
  • Eat mouthwatering mirza ghasemi (mashed aubergine with garlic, egg and tomato); or kababs in all sorts of varieties
  • Drink chay (tea) at a chaykhane (traditional teahouse); or ‘Islamic’ – i.e. no-alcohol – beer


Khosh amadin (Welcome!)



Turbanned mullahs; chadors; carpets; bazaars; desert citadels; oil refineries; poetry; the Islamic regime



Iranians use Arabic script, but their language, Persian, entirely unrelated to Arabic, is related to European languages

Lonely Planet

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