The best things to do in Iran
1. Persepolis (Shiraz)
It is really hard to pick any particular thing that stood out above other things in Iran but historically the ancient city of Persepolis was the most mind-blowing place that I visited during my time in Iran. The earliest remains date back to 515 BC and the integrity and perfect preservation of some of the remains was beyond my comprehension. More details about Persepolis in link.
2. Golestan Palace (Tehran)
Golestan Palace is a complex of several amazing buildings set around a beautiful garden in the middle of Tehran. Entry is 150,000 Rials and then it costs 50,000 for each additional building after that. The exteriors of the buildings inside the garden are beautiful mosaics, colourful and extravagant. I only entered two of the buildings and was completely blown away by both. It is up to you to decide if you want to go into all and if Tehran is your only destination then maybe it is a good idea but if you are heading onto Shiraz or Isfahan then maybe one or two are enough. Personally I would recommend the Emarat-e Bagdir building.
3. Imam Square (Isfahan)
Imam Square is an amazing area located in Isfahan. It is probably one of the places that you cant miss along with Persepolis. It is a beautifully manicured garden complete with fountains that is surrounded by the most incredible buildings I saw the whole time I was in Iran which is really saying something. The two main ones were the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque and the Shah Mosque. There is also an amazing ancient bazar attached to the square which is completely worth checking out!
4. Nasir al-mulk Mosque (Shiraz)
From the outside Nasir al-mulk Mosque in Shiraz looks like a pretty normal place of worship. The entrance is done in the normal incredible Persian fashion but once you enter there is almost an entire wall of stained glass windows that create a mind blowing explosion of colours filling the entire room, That coupled with these amazing pillars spiralling up and then arching into a brilliantly intricate tiled ceiling make it another almost impossible to miss site in Iran.
5. Vank cathedral (Isfahan)
Vank cathedral in Isfahan was the only Christian building I visited whilst in Iran but in typical Iranian fashion I was once again left breathless upon entry. Construction of the Holy Savior Cathedral was first initiated in 1606. The cathedral was dedicated to Armenian deportees that were resettled in the hundreds of thousands. It has a completely different fashion to any of the mosques I visited but the intricacies and details were still on another level. If you are in Isfahan which you should be then this should be high on your list!
6. Darband (Tehran)
Darband was actually something we stumbled across getting lost trying to find a palace. We turned the wrong way and just started walking and after a short climb up hill we found ourselves nestled into a mountain surrounded by small market stalls, restaurants and a lake. We walked through all this initially looking for the palace, when we realised we had made a mistake we were already quite high up the mountain so we decided to hike for another hour or so towards the top. When we stopped we were greeted with a pretty amazing view of Tehran and found ourselves amongst an amazing mountain range. On the way down we stopped and bought traditional sweets and food. It was a really beautiful area not far out of the city and a nice place to get away from the fast pace of the city.
7. Falafel foot long.
So almost everywhere you go you can get these foot long falafel subs. The bread is amazing and you can choose your own toppings like just pick them up yourself from a massive range of different things. It was close to the best falafel sandwich I have ever had and I was completely obsessed! I was normally getting two at a time and a zam zam cola for around 1 USD. It was almost the thing I was most sad about when I left. This was our local spot in Tehran just outside the bazar.
8. The Grand Bazar (Tehran)
When you are in Tehran no visit would be complete without heading into the ancient bazar. It is enormous, the people are amazingly friendly and the history in the architecture is out of this world. If you were to follow every path within the bazar you would walk over 10kms but I don’t think this is necessary to get a feel for it. You will also find so many amazing rugs it will be almost impossible to keep your wallet in your pocket ( I had to because I could never afford one haha). Even if you are not in the market the vendors are normally happy just to have a cup of tea with you and explain some of the history of their profession.
9. Stay with a local family.
Now this was possibly the best thing we did the entire time we were in Iran. One thing you will notice as soon as you are off the plane is that the Persians are the most friendly race of people on the planet, well the most friendly I have come across after 65 countries anyway. They will talk to you constantly, they want to show you everything and take you to lunch or dinner. They want to invite you into their houses and feed you and let you stay.
This at first all seemed very strange especially after being through Asia where this happens all the time but normally at the end money is asked for. This never happened in Iran in fact it was the exact opposite, they were trying to pay for us, for everything! After the first few days we realised how genuine the people actually were with their invitations and we gave in. It was something I am so thankful for.
We ended up staying with families in several different towns and cities. Some invited us and others we found on couchsurfing.org. Normally when I use couch surfing it is either to host or to try and save a few dollars in an expensive city but here it was completely for the cultural experience. Everyone we stayed with actually changed the way I looked at the world. I have never felt such warmth from complete strangers before. Outside of that they prepared amazing local foods and we would all sit around on the floor eating. Then at night they would pile a bunch of persian rugs on top of one another and give us a few cushions and that was where we slept. I felt like I was a visitor in the Iliad or the Odyssey sleeping amongst amazing tapestries being fed until I could no longer eat.
If you don’t have a couch surfing account I suggest making one even if it is only for this trip or even better talk to everyone you meet on the street and you will have more invites than you can possibly accept! You wont actually need to talk to anyone, everyone will approach you and ask for photos or what you are doing. It was almost like being a celebrity. Solo female travel may vary slightly just because of the cultural differences and the fact that it would not be appropriate for a man to invite an woman to stay at his house. We also had mostly male to male interactions but as a female you may have far more interaction with the local women.