Iran, also known as Persia, has one of the most vibrant and diverse societies in the Middle East and is preparing its infrastructure for promoting Islamic and Halal tourism, seeking to offer facilities in accordance with the religious beliefs of Muslim tourists. Foreign tourists, mainly Asian Muslims visit important pilgrimage sites in Mashhad and Qom and several organized tours from Germany, France and other European countries also come to visit archaeological sites. Tehran is a modern metropolis attracting a vibrant student culture. From international restaurants, chic cafes, teahouses and bustling bazaars to imperial palaces, art galleries and museums, there is much to keep occupied in the capital. The Museum of Contemporary Art houses the finest collection of modern art anywhere outside Europe and the United States, exhibiting Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock.
The more popular tourist destinations include: Isfahan for its culture and outstanding Iranian and Islamic architecture, magnificent mosques covered in exquisite turquoise blue mosaic tiles, UNESCO-listed Naqhsh-e Jahan Square (Iman Square) is a fine example. Tourists like to visit Yazd for its desert architecture, interested in how this ancient city has adapted to its surroundings, with water reservoirs, icehouses and prominent wind towers or windcatchers. It is also known for the quality of its handicrafts, silk weaving and confectionery. Chogha Zanbil, in Khuzestan Province, also lures visitors to see one of the best preserved ziggurats in existence. Poetry is probably Iran’s most celebrated art form and Shiraz is the cherished city of poets, where two of the nation’s greatest, sage Saadi and Hafez, were born and now rest. Shiraz is also known for its beautiful gardens, in particular the historic Persian Eram Garden. Iran reached the pinnacle of its power during the Achaemenid Empire, founded by Cyrus the Great in 550 BC. The ancient ruins of its capital, Persepolis, should not be missed close by Shiraz, a popular day trip out of the city. Mashhad is Iran’s holiest city with some 20 million annual visitors paying homage to the Shrine of Iman Reza.
Iran is the only country that has coastlines on both the Indian Ocean and Caspian Sea. Kish is a small island off the south coast which is a popular vacation destination. Due to its free trade zone status, Kish is regarded as a consumer’s paradise, with numerous shopping centres, malls and hotels. Other attractions include the wreck of the Greek ship, Koula F. Ancient underground aqueduct, also called the ‘Underground City’, partly open to tourists, and beaches where the water is so clear that fish can be seen swimming all year long. On the northern, Caspian Sea shoreline, is another sea resort favourited by Iranian holidaymakers, Ramsar. In the county of Ramsar there are also appealing hot springs, the visited village of Javaher Deh and the Alborz mountain range offering skiing in the resorts of Dizin and for more advanced skiers Shemshak.
If you want to get a real sense of the warmth and friendliness of the Iranian people, get out and mingle in the many bazaars, take a trip to the world’s largest covered bazaar in Tabriz. Best place to buy a Persian (could be magic) carpet? Persia of course!
There may be reasons for travellers to be tentative when choosing Iran as a destination, there again, the experience may fulfil an exotic curiosity into a fascinating country and bring surprising reward, feeling all the more richer for having dared to try something different.