Visa-free 15-day Iran trip plan: Places to visit, what to see, and more tips
What can you do in Iran in 15 days? Here’s a travel guide for all you explorers out there to plan a two-week holiday in the ancient land
Indians have yet another country to explore without a visa. From February 4, Indians holding ordinary passports are being allowed visa-free entry into Iran for a maximum stay of 15 days, once every six months, only for tourism purposes and by the air route.
Hence, it’s time to make the most of this opportunity. So, what can you do in Iran in 15 days? Here’s a travel guide for all you explorers out there to plan a two-week holiday in the country that may be in news for all the wrong reasons these days but has an unmatched cultural heritage that is worth a look.
How to travel to Iran
There are several flights between Iran’s capital Tehran and the Indian cities of Delhi and Mumbai. However, most flights are one-stop, that is, there will be a change in Doha or Istanbul or some other city in the Middle East.
But Tehran will not show up in the list of destinations on popular travel booking websites such as MakeMyTrip or Yatra. That is because US and international sanctions bar booking sites from listing any Iranian airport online.
However, you can book offline through an agent or book directly through the airline concerned or call up a platform such as MakeMyTrip and ask them to book a flight offline for you.
Places to visit in 15 days
Tehran (2 days)
It will take you around an hour to drive from Imam Khomeini International Airport to the heart of Tehran. Over two days, you can visit the Golestan Palace, which was once the seat of the Qajar dynasty and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Right next to Golestan Palace is the famous Grand Bazaar. You can get a taste of some authentic local food in the bazaar, at eateries such as Moslem Restaurant, Shamshiri Restaurant, and Sharaf El Islami. After you have had your fill of kebabs and pilafs, you can make a trip to Mt Tochal for a view of the city of Tehran.
On the second day, you can visit the northern parts of Tehran, including the Sa’ad Abad Palace, the residence of the Pahlavi Dynasty, Tajrish Bazaar, and Emamzadeh Saleh Mausoleum. You can also visit Darband, some 4 km from Sa’ad Abad Palace. It is an old village in Shemiran.
Kashan (1 day)
Kashan, in Isfahan province, is some 245 km south-east of Tehran and will take around 2.5-3 hours by road. You can take a bus to Kashan, which was once famous for its textiles, rose water, and ceramic work.
Start with the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Fin Garden, one of the oldest surviving Persian gardens with 400-year-old cypress trees and water channels. You can buy the local specialty, rose water outside the site.
Next, you can visit Tabatabaei’s and Boroujerdi’s traditional houses that were built some 130 years ago, in the days of the Qajar dynasty. There is also a traditional bathhouse called the Sultan Amir Ahmad Bath. Spend the rest of the day exploring the picturesque city of Kashan.
Isfahan (2 days)
Make your way to Isfahan via the ancient village of Abyaneh. It will take about an hour. Abyaneh, marked by its red soil and houses, is also known as the “Red Village”. The clay houses are built following an ancient architectural style with latticed windows and wooden doors.
Continue to Isfahan, some 170 km south. It was the 17th-century capital of the Safavid Empire and the heart of the Persian Empire that stretched from the Euphrates in modern-day Iraq to the Oxus in Afghanistan. It is still renowned for its stunning Islamic architecture.
Visit its centuries-old bridges of Sio-se-pol and Khaju spanning the Zayandeh River. Other sites to visit are the Naghshe Jahan Square, a UNESCO world heritage site that includes the stunning Imam Mosque, the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, and the Ali Qapu Palace.
Do not miss the Qeisarieh Bazaar where hundreds of local vendors specializing in traditional arts and crafts sell pottery and enamel products, jewellery, and delicately inlaid board games. Other UNESCO World Heritage Sites are Chehel Sotun Palace, and the Masjed-e Jamé.
If you have time to spare, visit the Hasht Behesht Palace and Garden, the city’s Armenian quarter and the Music Museum, which is a repository of Iranian instruments.
Yazd (1 day)
It will take you 4.5 hours to travel from Isfahan to the desert city of Yazd via Naeen, which is an ancient settlement with origins in the 8th century.
After a stop in Naeen, continue to Yazd, which is known for its Zoroastrian heritage and traditional architecture. Visit the Tower of Silence, and take a stroll through the old city with its narrow streets and mud-brick buildings, and the Dowlat Abad Garden. The Jame Mosque is one of the oldest in Iran.
Shiraz (2 days)
The journey to Shiraz will take 5.5-6 hours by road from Yazd. The city of Shiraz is known for its gardens and cultural heritage.
Among the sites to visit are the Nasir al-Mulk Mosque, also called the Pink Mosque, the Eram Garden, a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Persepolis, a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Pasargadae, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Naqsh-e-Rustam, the Zandieh Complex, and the Vakil Bazaar.
Bushehr (1 day)
It will take some 4.5 hours from Shiraz to reach the port city of Bushehr, located on the Persian Gulf coast.
Some of the mush-visits are the Bushehr Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the Abdulazim Shrine, built during the Qajar dynasty.
Bandar Abbas (2 days)
It will be a long way from Bushehr to the coastal city of Bandar Abbas, located on the Strait of Hormuz. The journey by road will take some 9-10 hours. You can rest yourself on the first day and check out the Old Bazaar for local handicrafts and spices and Hormuz Island, known for its red soil and striking landscapes.
Kerman (2 days)
It will take you some 6.5 hours by road from Bandar Abbas to Kerman, the cultural capital of Iran. Some spots to visit are Arg-e-Bam, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Ganj-Ali Khan Bathhouse, a traditional Persian bathhouse, and the Zarand Mountains.
On the second day, make a day trip to the medieval mudbrick city of Rayen and the stunning Kaluts Desert. Rayen is believed to be 1,000 years old. Kaluts, or the Lut Desert, is known to be the world’s hottest place, with temperatures reaching up to 70 degrees Celsius.
On the 14th day, take a flight from Kerman to Tehran and onward flights back home. Your total trip ends within 15 days. If you do not want to cut it too tight, you can skip a destination or two in between.
Where to stay
Iran has all kinds of tourist accommodation, from luxury to budget. Budget hotels in Iran start from around Rs 2,000 per night.
Women must wear a headscarf or shawl to cover their heads and clothing that covers their arms and legs. Men should also avoid revealing their arms and legs.
Due to international sanctions, your foreign debit and credit cards will not work in Iran. Carry enough cash in either US dollars or euros and exchange those at the authorised exchange offices or banks. You can also obtain an Iran Tourist Card or Mah Card. These work like prepaid debit cards and can be loaded with Iranian currency.
There are plenty of buses and trains for intercity travel. Or you can hire taxis which are not too expensive.
Best time to visit
March to May and September to November.
Make your bookings through a local travel agent if you are on a tight schedule. It will save you a lot of hassle.