Regions of Iran at a Glance
Iran is a big country and while cheap, efficient transport means nowhere is beyond reach, few people make it to all corners in a single trip. Almost everyone spends time in Tehran, the bustling capital, en route to or from the historic cities of Esfahan, Shiraz and Yazd in central Iran. These cities, and the mountain and desert towns around them, rank among Iran's main attractions.
Western Iran is also popular, with mountains in the north ideal for trekking and a spread of ancient sites and ethnic groups keeping things interesting. More remote and less traveled are the Persian Gulf coast, with its Arabian feel, and the deserts and Silk Road trading cities of northeastern Iran. Much of southeastern Iran is currently off-limits - check before setting out.
Culture Museums Activities
First Impressions Trump preconceptions by sipping tea with students, seeing contemporary art, joining pilgrims at the shrine of Ayatollah Khomeini and walkers on a trail from Darband.
Windows on the Past Highlights include the National Museum, the last shah's Niyavaran Palace, the Qajars' Golestan Palace and the National Jewels Museum, where diamonds (and rubies, emeralds etc) are indeed forever.
Active Pursuits Depending on the time of year Tehran's proximity to the Alborz Mountains provides the option for skiing or hiking At any time you can ride the cable car to near the summit of Mt Tochal or arrange a cultural cooking experience with Persian Food
History Culture Mountains
Cradle of Civilisation This region was the cradle of many civilizations. See the Elamites Choqa Zanbil, the Achaemenid legacy at Shush and Hamadan, the Sassanian water mills at Shushtar, and the massive Mongol mausoleum at Soltaniyeh. Ethnic Culture Azari Turks, Kurds, Lors, Assyrians and nomad groups share western Iran with the Persians. Feel Turkish 12 nationalism at Babak Castle or visit Kurdish villages in the Howraman Valley. Scenic Roads Wind through the sublime Aras River Valley, hunt lost Armenian churches and Assassin castles, explore hoodoo'd badlands, and cling precariously to Howraman mountainsides on the wildest roads in the country.
History Architecture Deserts
Footsteps of Empire Empires have bloomed and withered here. Top sights are the Achaemenid capital of Persepolis, the Sassanian center at Firuz Abad, Safavid glories in Esfahan, and the preserved desert city of Yazd. Beautiful Buildings Architectural gems include: Esfahan's wondrous Naqshe Jahan (Imam) Square, the Jameh Mosque and bridges, Kashan boasts extravagant Qajar mansions, and in Yazd, there are courtyard homes turned hotels. Desert Hospitality Experience desert hospitality: Garmeh is a classic oasis, Zein-o-din a restored caravanserai, and Bavanat a somnolent town. Or stay with a family in Farahzad.
Islands Environment Activities
Qeshm Island Dolphin-shaped Qeshm is home to 60 Bandari villages, including photogenic Laft with its wind towers and minarets, and homestays in Tabl and Shibderaz. Geology & Wildlife Qeshm's geology is so exotic it's recognized as a Unesco Geopark, and in the season you can spot hawksbill and green turtles at Shibderaz village and migrating birds in the Harra Sea Forest. Go to Hengham Island for dolphins and gazelles. Island Adventures Up the heart rate by diving the reefs around Larak, taking a boat tour through the Harra Sea Forest, cycling around Kish, and taking a ferry to Hormoz.
History Deserts Adventure
Tracing Trade Routes The ancient Silk Route city of Kerman is a big draw. Kerman's bazaar, with its teahouse and caravanserai, evokes millennia of trade and is bathed in the clear light of Iran's southeast Arid Landscapes The whole southeast is desert or semidesert. Highlights include the huge natural wandeastles' of the Kaluts. nearby desert campsites and Mahan's famous gardens at Bagli-e Shalızde. Off-the-track Travel This is frontier territory and it's easy to get off the beaten track. Stay in a centuries-old cave village at Meymand or explore the careworn but rather beautiful mud-built villages of South Khorasan.
Architecture Adventure Culture
Architectural Wonders, The Haram-e Razavi shrine has a profusion of architectural styles, and the 1000-year-old brick tower at Gonbad e Kavus is a magnificent, significant landmark. Watch also for fine caravanserais dating back to the Silk Road's heyday. Journeys Take a 4WD over mountain roads to the 'secret valley hiding Mil-e Radkan or hike over the Binalud mountains to the stepped village of Kans Poetic Pilgrimages Tus is linked with epic poet Abulqasim Ferdosi, while Neishabur is the birthplace of poet and mathematician Omar Khayyam. At their tombs, expect Iranian pilgrims to recite poems of their heroes.
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