Want to visit Iran but don't know where to start? This classic route goes straight through the heart of Iran, from Tehran the bustling capital to the former glory of Shiraz and Esfahan, from traditional townships to the desert trading city of Yazd and ancient Achaemenid sites.
Classic Iran Itinerary: Esfahan's Sio-se Pol (33 Bridges)
Day 1: Tehran
In the morning catch the metro to Panzdah-e-Khordad station and stroll through the Golestan Palace (3 hrs, $1), then walk north two blocks to have lunch at Gol Razaeiye($6) and checkout the Synagogues, Zoroastrian Fire Temple and Armenian Church in the area. Then walk a block east to find the National Jewels Museum for the daily 2pm viewing (1hr, $4). If you still have energy why not walk deep through the bustling Grand Bazaar in the late afternoon. Then for a more relaxing evening catch a taxi to the Milad Tower to see the city lights, but you may want a feed before arriving because the food here is quite expensive.
Classic Iran Itinerary: Tehran Panorama with the Milad Tower in the background
Day 2: Tehran
If the first day didn't wear you out, let the second day be more relaxed around Tehran's north. Checkout the National Museum (2hrs, $4) to get a feel for Persia's extensive history, before heading up to Sa'ad Abad Palace Complex (2-4hrs, $2 per palace) and Tajrish for a relaxing lunch in the afternoon and explore the hip markets. Around sunset walk up Darband to try some dried fruit sweets, try the galyun 'smokepipe' with chai in a tea house over the water. Time slows down in the picturesque mountain setting, so relax for a few hours before dinner with a tasty kebab or traditional stew.
Classic Iran Itinerary: Tea house platforms next to valley stream at Darband Tehran
Day 3: Kashan
Catch a morning bus from Tehran to Kashan departing from the Southern 'Jonub' Terminal (3 hrs, frequent, $5/10). Check-in at one of the many traditional houses - we recommend the Mahinestan Raheb Traditional Hotel ($90). Have lunch at the Abbasi Traditional Restaurant & Teahouse ($5) before visiting the old houses such as Khan-e Borujerdi (30 mins, $3) and Khan-e Tabatabei (1 hr, $4) to learn about the magnificent crafts of Qajar Royals and wealthy traders in the region. For dinner try the Kashani dish gusht lubia at the Manouchehri House ($8). Checkout Kashan's historic Bazaar in the evening before 8pm, and see if you can find a pistachio ice-cream 'bastani' for desert. For the next day, arrange for a dar baste taxi (private) at your hotel to take you to Esfahan ($120) via Abyaneh, Natanz and possibly Gamsar in the spring to see flowers.
Classic Iran Itinerary: Fin Garden in Kashan
Day 4: Esfahan (via Abyaneh and Natanz)
With your driver try to see Fin Garden on your way out of Kashan, before reaching Abyaneh (1 hr) the historical village in the picturesque valley of Mt Karkas, and Natanz to see Masjed-e Jamed and adjoining Imamzadeh-ye Abd al Samad (8-4pm, Tue-Sun). These historical villages really pack a punch for hidden culture and scenery. There are a few but friendly restaurant owners in both villages for simple lunches, but wait until you get to Isfahan in the evening to splurge on better meals. Once in Esfahan there are numerous hotels for any budget, we recommend the convenient and affordable Piroozy Hotel ($80) due to it's excellent location, professional staff and comfortable rooms.
Classic Iran Itinerary: Imamzadeh ye Abd al Samad in Natanz
Day 5: Esfahan
Start by taking a walking tour of Bazar-e Bozorg and it's surrounds. Take a break for lunch before wandering the Masjed-e Jameh mosque, one of Iran's most magnificent historical buildings. For dinner seek out Restaurant Shahrzad to have their signature lamb
cutlets and natural spiced doogh to quench your thirst. For desert go for a walk through the Naqsh-e Jahan Sq to Fereni Hafez for a sweet end to your day.
Classic Iran Tour: Masjed Jameh (Friday Mosque) in Isfahan.
Day 6: Esfahan
On your second day visit the magnificent Masjed-e Shah, Masjed-e Sheikh Lotfollahand Kakh-e Ali Qapu. Find a nearby traditional restaurant and stroll through Kakh-e Chehel Sotun with it's UNESCO listed garden. In the afternoon relax over chai and galyun before walking across the Pol-e Si-o-Seh bridge to enjoy the lights at sunset. On the other side you will find the Armenian Quarter with it's striking Kelisa-ye Vank cathedral.
Sunset behind the Pol-e Si-o-Seh in Esfahan with families and youth.
Day 7: Yazd (via Naein, and Meybod)
The easiest way to reach Yazd from Esfahan, and everything in between, is leaving Esfahan early in the morning with a dar baste taxi (4hrs, $80). Alternatively go to the Jay terminal and take the Naein mini bus ($1) or bus to Yazd ($2) and ask to be dropped off at Naein. Once here eat abgusht in front of Masjid Al-Reza, visit the Rigareh Water Mill, Narenj qal’e Citadel, and make your way to the Mohammadieh loom workshops inside the man made caves. In the late afternoon ask to stop off to see the Narin Castle, Pigeon Tower, Caravanserai and Safavid-era ice house (yakh dan) in Meybod on your way to the Morshed Garden Hotel ($40) in Yazd.
Day 8: Yazd
In the morning make a trip to Ateshkadeh (Zoroastrian Fire Temple), before learning about qanats at the Yazd Water Museum. In the afternoon wonder around Masjed-e Jameh and Bogheh-ye Sayyed Roknaddin tomb, then before sunset head to 'Alexanders Prison' and the Tomb of the 12 Imams next door. After your dinner, stroll around the main square and buy some famous Yazdi sweets from Haj Khalifeh Ali Rahbar. If you're lucky we also recommend watching a traditional martial arts workout at Saheb A Zaman Club Zurkhaneh (6pm and 8pm Sat-Thurs).
Day 9-10: Fahraj
For a more relaxed pace and further away from the cities, spend a few nights at Fahraj in the Dasht-e Lut approximately 35km south east of Yazd. Here lies one of the oldest mosques in the country, a caravan lighthouse, ruined castle, a hammam (bathhouse) and an ab anbar (water stores) with four badgirs (wind towers) for natural cooling. We recommend staying at the Farvardinn Desert Inn with it's cheap and comfortable sleeting options and home cooked meals. Local buses connect Yazd to Fahraj and operate twice daily (1 hr, $1). Alternatively you can catch a dar baste taxi for around $10.
Day 11: Shiraz (via Pasargadae and Persepolis)
Touring Pasargadae and Persepolis will take the better part of a full day. But it is worth the journey because these sites are the most famous historical sites within Iran's borders. For individuals there are public buses to take you from Shiraz or Yazd to Marv Dasht, but it's usually more convenient and economical to arrange a dar baste taxi for the day. The costs usually start from around $50 per driver per day. They will take you between the sites and wait around until you're ready to return to Shiraz. You may want to take some snacks with you, otherwise buy food along the way.
Classic Iran Itinerary: Persepolis of the great Achaemenid Empire. Once the jewels of Persia, before being sacked by Alexander the Great for revenge.
Day 12: Shiraz
In the morning checkout Aramgah-e Shah-e Cheragh and learn about it's history, and if you're polite you may be able to go inside. Then around the corner is Masjed-e Nasir-al-Molk with it's beautiful architecture and interior design. Have lunch before exploring the welcoming Vakil Bazaar for any last minute souvenirs. The Tomb of Hafez is most pleasant in the late afternoon, or early morning if you miss out. After dark why not marvel at the ancient fortress of Arge Karim Khan and the many hidden treasures around, before finding some Persian traditional ice cream or Shirazi Faloodeh around the corner.
Arge Karim Khan Shiraz
Day 13: Shiraz
Arrange to visit the Vakil Bath to learn about the traditional Persian bathhouses. In the afternoon Bagh-e Eram garden is wonderful to explore, and also Saadi's Tomb with it's incredible tile work and poetic energy.
Day 14: Fly to Tehran
Take a flight to Tehran for your return trip home. Internal flights are usually less than $60, otherwise the long distance buses are usually better overnight if on a budget.