Few countries can rival Iran for cultural and archaeological attractions of world importance, and in our grand 15-day tour of Iran we travel beyond Tehran to explore the best known and the lesser known. We’ll also explore regional cities and towns to find a country that can claim to be like no other; from its ancient Persian past and pivotal role in Antiquity to the modern Iran of today that is ethnically and socially distinct from its Arab neighbors.
This is a region where Empires were formed and others fell – and Iran has more than a dozen UNESCO listings as proof. Highlights of our tour include exploring the ruins of Persepolis, once the capital of the Persian Empire and now home to some of the world’s best preserved ancient ruins; and in Tehran stepping inside the opulent buildings of the Golestan Palace, where kings and shahs were crowned for hundreds of years. But we’ll also take in some of the country’s further flung UNESCO-listed sights. At Takht-e Soleiman, perched on a former volcano, are the remains of an ancient fire temple built by the Zoroastrians, while the Church of St Stephanos from A.D. 62 is testament to the region’s role in biblical times.
You’ll also get a chance to understand the complicated country of Iran today, with visits to bazaars and tea houses in some of its most interesting regional centres. Tabriz is considered the most western influenced city in the country, where Islam rubs up against modernity, while romantics have been attracted to Shiraz for decades - its famous residents and famous gardens have earned it the nickname the city of poets, literature and flowers.
Fly to Tabriz, via Istanbul on an overnight flight.
After an early morning arrival into Tabriz transfer to the hotel for a rest. After a late breakfast enjoy a city tour of Tabriz. Visit Arg-e Alishah (or Tabriz) and the informative Azerbaijan Museum before exploring the highlight of the city the truly stunning Blue Mosque. Constructed in 1465 the site suffered huge damage in two earthquakes before being reconstructed from 1951. End with a visit to the popular covered bazaar which was once an important trading site on the historic Silk Road. Overnight Tabriz. (B,L,D)
Drive to the border city of Jolfa. Visit the Aras Valley and the river border between Iran and Azerbaijan and the Church of St Stephanos, a UNESCO World Heritage site which dates as far back as AD 62. Return to Tabriz for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
A long day’s travel today. Journey south to explore the troglodyte homes of Kandovan which have been carved out of the rocks and is often compared to Cappadocia. Continue to Visit UNESCO World Heritage Soltaniyeh which dates back to the early 13th century. One of the best preserved structures, the Mausoleum of Oljaytu, is a classic example of early Islamic architecture. Continue to Takht-e Soleiman (Throne of Solomon) which sits in a lush volcanic landscape and was once the spiritual centre of the then religion Zoroastrianism. Overnight Zanjan. (B,L,D)
Drive to Tehran, the bustling capital of Iran. En-route visit the Castles of the Assassins which is famed for sheltering the 12th century Ismaili sect’s assassin followers. Also stop to visit Qazvin’s Jamie Mosque and Shazdeh Hossein Shrine. End the day in Tehran with dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Spend today exploring Tehran. Visit the popular Jewels Treasury which houses a jewel collection dating back to the Safavid Empire. Look for the Darya-ye Nur, the ‘Sea of Light’, a pink diamond weighing an impressive 182 carats and the largest uncut diamond in the world. From here explore the National Museum of Iran which offers a real insight into Iran’s colourful history and the nearby Abgineh (Glass & Ceramic) Museum which is housed in a 90-year old building originally built as a private residence. Continue to the gloriously lavish Golestan Palace complex which was once the royal residence and seat of power in the country. The site comprises several grand buildings set around a perfectly manicured garden and offers the chance to discover architectural gems from the Qajar era. End the day with a memorable journey on the modern Tehran metro to the covered bazaar which has been in operation for almost 1000 years. The stalls cover more than 10 kilometres of twisting, winding and often bewildering madness selling everything from shoes, books and flags to nuts, spices and cookware. (B,L,D)
Further exploration of Tehran is the order of the morning. Visit the Azadi Tower which was built in 1971 to commemorate the 2500th anniversary of the first Persian empire. Continue to the Sa’d Abad Museum Complex for further exploration of some of the complex’s 18 buildings dedicated to various aspects including automobiles, fine art and military artefacts. The afternoon is left free at leisure to explore. (B/L/D)
Board a local train today for the journey south to Kashan, a great way of travelling through the country. Enjoy the passing Iranian scenery. Arrive into Kashan and enjoy a visit to a local merchant house to get an idea of life as a wealthy 19th century trader. Visit the UNESCO World Heritage Persian Gardens which date back as far as the 6th century and feature sophisticated irrigation systems, buildings and pavilions. Also visit the popular bazaar which is a great place for a cup of tea and a spot of people watching. (B,L,D)
Depart Kashan and drive to visit historic Abyaneh village which is well known for its twisting, warren-like lanes of red pigmented mud-brick homes. The aged population of the village is less than 500 and many still speak an ancient dialect which largely died out in the rest of the country centuries ago. Continue on to one of the highlights of the trip, Isfahan. This afternoon visit the Vank Cathedral, also known as the ‘Church of the Saintly Sisters’, located in Jolfa, the Armenian Quarter of the city. The interior of the building contains a fascinating mix of Christian and Islamic architectural styles and remains the focal point of the Armenian Christian community. Continue to the Shaking Minarets to witness the minaret’s ‘wobble’ for yourself and if time allows visit the Fire Temple which offers great views of the city and surroundings. End the day with a panoramic tour of the famous Zayandeh River Bridges, a popular place for locals to enjoy an early evening walk: enjoy a sunset stroll along one of these iconic images of the city. (B,L,D)
Today enjoy a further full day in beautiful Isfahan. Start from the Masjed-e Jameh which is the oldest preserved structure of its type in the country, a focal point of the city and an important place of worship. Discover over a thousand years worth of Islamic art including the ablutions fountain and some Mongol-era stalactite mouldings. Enjoy free time to explore the Great Bazaar. In the afternoon visit Kakh-e Chehel Sotun, Kakh-e Ali Qapu and Imam and Lotfullah Mosques before ending the day at the awe inspiring Naqsh-e Jahan Square, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the second largest square in the world, second only to Tiananmen Square in Beijing. (B,L,D)
Drive to Yazd, a historic trade city and home to a large population of Zoroastrians. En-route visit a traditional textile workshop. Explore the city with visits to Masjed-e Jameh with its stunning mosaics and tiles, the Fire Temple of Ateshkadeh which is said to have been burning since AD 470. Also visit the Wind Temple, the Towers of Silence and impressive Amir Chakhmaq Square (called by Mirchakhmaq by locals). (B,L,D)
Enjoy further touring in Yazd today before an early evening departure from the city for the drive to Zein-o-Din and your unique accommodation the night, a traditional caravanserai. The property, built as part hostel, part fortress to protect traders, dates back to the 16th century and sits along the ancient Silk Road route: experience the life of a Silk Road trader, even if just for one night! Enjoy a spot of star gazing away from the glare of the city lights and a traditional dinner complete with homemade local bread.
Note: accommodation here is more basic where rooms are separated by curtains and guests sleep on mattresses on the floor in traditional style. (B,L,D)
Depart the caravanserai and drive towards Shiraz, the cultural heartland of the country. En-route visit Pasargadae, a smaller and less well known site built in the style of Persepolis and entered into the UNESO World Heritage list as part of the Persian Gardens. Also visit Abarkuh and see the ancient icehouse. End the day in Shiraz and visit Shah-e Cheragh (access is subject to permission by shrine authorities). The evening is at leisure.(B,L,D)
This morning is dedicated to one of the highlights of Iran: Persepolis. Founded in 518 BC, Persepolis, originally called Parsa, was the ancient capital of the Achaemenid Empire. Built on the ‘Mount of Mercy’ Mt Rahmat the site was built to awe and impress and for many years was the focal point of the region until it was razed to the ground by Alexander the Great and lost for centuries under sand and dust. Also included is a visit to Naqsh-e Rostam and Naqsh-e Rajab, the nearby rock tombs. In the afternoon return to Shiraz for a tour of the city. Visit Shohada Square, Masjid-e Vakil and Naranjestan. Also referred to as Qavam Orangery, Naranjestan boasts a large courtyard of orange and palm trees and seemingly out of place Victorian era European paintings. Stop at the Aramgah-e Hafez, the tomb of the popular Iranian folk hero Hafez (or to give him his full title Khajeh Shams-ed-Din Mohammed). (B,L,D)
Today is entirely free at leisure. Why not explore the historic Bazar-e Vakil for some last minute souvenir shopping?
Enjoy dinner before departing for the airport for the late flight home to the UK.
(Late check-out is included) (B)
15 day tour, from £3495 per person
(Single person supplement + £420)
- Return economy class flights with Turkish Airlines from London Heathrow via Istanbul
- All airport taxes & security charges
- Accommodation in a range of 3, 4 and 5-star hotels
- Meals as specified (B= Breakfast, L = Lunch, D = Dinner)
- All transfers and transportation
- Entrance fees and sightseeing with English-speaking guide
- Visa support for Iran
- Travel insurance—please make sure your travel insurance covers you for Iran
- Iranian visa
- Tips and gratuities
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