Journey through the history, geography and contemporary culture of Iran
Wander one of the many bazaars, and experience the organized chaos of sights, sounds, and smells that will tempt you at every turn. Discover the 2,500-year history of Persian carpets. Marvel at the bridges and squares and other gathering places, and witness a thriving culture where people enjoy spending time together. Consider life under a theocracy, with no separation of church and state, where actions are closely controlled. Meditate at one of the mosques or temples, reflecting what daily spirituality means to this culture. Experience the history, the architecture, the ruins, and their inspiration. Imagine travel along the Silk Road via camel. Take pleasure in the landscape, from grandiose mountains to high plateaus to desert valleys, baked in the sunlight and illuminated at night by millions of stars.
Iran is a fascinating place. Once--and by many still--it was deemed too dangerous to visit. But look beneath the veil of politics, and we discover an incredible warmth emanating from the people. A people who would very much like to be our friends. Visitors are considered a gift of God, and are treated with generous hospitality. Join us and be one of the few lucky travelers to receive a warm welcome from this exotic and unfamiliar destination.
15 days moderate touring, some long drives
- Journey through Iran and visit five UNESCO World Heritage Sites—Persepolis, Saint Stephanoes, Soltaniyeh, Pasargadae, and Meidan Emam
- Travel with expert guide Saied Haj Hadi (aka Hadi), who has been leading tours in Iran for almost 20 years
- Immerse yourself in 2500 years of continuous history
- Wander the bazaars and experience the cacophony of sights, sounds and smells
- Experience the warmth and friendliness of the Persian people
Duration: 15 days Start Location: Tehran End Location: TehranDownload Detailed Itinerary
Day 1 : Tehran (This entire trip is below 6,000')
Early in the morning, arrive at the international airport in Tehran, the capital city and modern heart of Iran. A Mountain Travel Sobek representative will meet you outside the customs and immigration area at the airport, brief you on your immediate arrangements, and escort you to your hotel. There will be a group meeting with your leader.
Our hotel is situated adjacent to Laleh Park, a large park similar in function to New York’s Central Park—well kept with multiple green areas and walking paths. It is adjacent to Tehran’s Museum of Contemporary Art, which not only has an interesting collection of works by modern Iranian painters, but is also thought to have the largest collection of valuable Western modern art outside the U.S. and Europe. Our afternoon tour includes a visit to the Carpet Museum, which features more than 36,000 square feet of exhibition space, has the largest collection of Persian carpets on the planet, and includes a permanent exhibition as well as rotating exhibitions of carpets, kilims, and carpet designs.
Day 2 : Tehran - Tabriz
After a buffet breakfast, we drive to the city center to visit one of the gates of old Tehran, then spend the rest of the morning visiting the National Museum of Iran which contains items dating from the 5th millennium BC, pre-historic, Median, Achaemenid, Selucid, Parthian, and Sassanid periods, After lunch we pay a visit to the Crown Jewels Museum of Iran, by far the largest and most dazzling collection of jewels in the world located in the National Treasury of Iran, inside the Central Bank of Iran. We then transfer to Mehrabad airport to fly to Tabriz.
Day 3 : Tabriz
Morning visit of the ruins of Arg-e Alishah, the biggest Jame’ mosque in town, dating from the 13th century Mongol period. After that we proceed to the Azarbayjan Museum, and the 15th-century Masjed-e Kaboud (Turquoise of Islam), then we drive to Jolfa and enjoy a picnic lunch or lunch in a local restaurant. We visit Saint Stephanos Monastery, passing by an 11th-century Seljuq tomb tower, we’ll encounter the ruins of a sizeable 16th century Safavid caravanserai. We’ll also see an early Christian chapel, the Nakheirchi (literally cattle herder or shepherd) Chapel, built by a cattle herder so that shepherds and other cattle herders would not be deprived of the blessing of prayer taken within a church while tending their animals outside the village. The Saint Stephanos church is one of the architectural masterpieces of northwestern Iran and is constructed entirely of stone. Back to Tabriz, we’ll have dinner tonight in the adjacent 17th- century pavilion park restaurant, El-Goli, and take an after-dinner walk back to the hotel.
Day 4 : Tabriz - Zanjan
After breakfast we’ll drive 30 miles southwest of Tabriz through a scenic valley to Kandovan, in the foothills of Mount Sahand (12,162'), in the Osku district of eastern Azerbaijan. Kandovan (plural for kando, which means bees’ nest) is a scenic and unique volcanic village, set with rock dwellings reminiscent of Turkey’s Cappadocia. Then we take a lovely drive through the passes, villages, and cities of Azerbaijan in the northwestern part of Iran via the Alborz mountain range. We stop for lunch on the way and arrive in Zanjan later in the day.
Day 5 : Zanjan - Tehran - Shiraz
This morning visit the 14th century tomb-tower, Soltaniyeh, with wonderful Islamic calligraphies and decorations. It is recognized as the tallest religious building of the time and is considered to be a peer of Santa Maria Del Fiore in Florence, Italy. Our next stop is in Qazvin where you’ll see the 11th century Seljuq period Jame Mosque and the 17th to 19th-century art of tiles and mirrors in the mausoleum of Shazde-Hussain. After lunch, we take the freeway to Tehran (2 hours driving) to catch our flight to Shiraz
Day 6 : Shiraz
This morning we’ll head out on a full-day tour of Shiraz, “the town of roses and nightingales." We’ll begin with Bagh-e Eram (Eram Garden) with its collection of magnificent roses, followed by a visit to the tomb of Hafiz, the 13th-century mystic and the most celebrated Persian poet. Later we’ll enter the old quarter of town, with its heavy traffic and noise, to pay a visit to the 9th-century old Jame’ mosque, Khan theological school, and the colorful nomadic bazaar.
Day 7 : Shiraz
Today may very well be the highlight of our trip, with an excursion to Persepolis, the ancient ceremonial capital of Achaemenids, 30 miles from the city, and on to the royal necropolis in Naqsh-e Rostam, just a few miles northwest of Persepolis.
Persepoliswas home of the King of Kings for over 200 years. It once was a vast complex located on an elevated terrace, with a series of ceremonial palaces, halls, the royal treasury, and tombs. Burned to the ground by
Alexander the Great in 330 b.c., today we’ll find the incredible remains of several monumental buildings including the Gate of All Nations, Palace of 100 Columns, Palace of Darius, Xerxes’ Palace, Central Palace, and Apadana Palace.
After a tour of these exquisite antiquities we’ll dine in a local restaurant and relax before returning to Shiraz. Back in Shiraz, we’ll have free time in the 18th-century colorful, traditional, and crowded Vakil Bazaar, where you’ll find Persian rugs, spices, copper handicrafts, and antiques. We’ll end in Saray-e Moshir, an urban caravanserai at the south entrance of the bazaar that now functions as exhibition space for Iranian handicrafts.
Day 8 : Shiraz - Yazd
Leaving Shiraz we’ll drive to Yazd visiting Pasargadae, the first Achaemenid capital and the site of Pardises, the ancient Persian royal city-gardens 135 kilometers from Shiraz. We then turn right in Surmaq to cross a kavir (a desert without any vegetation), and have a stop at the Grand Mosque of Abarqu and walk around a 4,000 year old cypress tree. Our picnic lunch here will become another of the “memories” the tree will now hold. As we leave Abarqu we’ll go via Shirkuh ("Lion") Mountain toward the Zagross mountain ranges.
Day 9 : Yazd
Yazd is considered as having very studious and religious people and is also a center of Zoroastrian culture in Iran. Our first visit here is in the “Tower of Silence”—a circular, raised structure used to expose the dead, much like the traditional Tibetan “sky burial.” Then we’ll visit the Zoroastrian fire-temple. Still in use today, it holds a fire that has been kept alight continuously since 470 A.D. We move on to explore the 15th-century Mirchakhmaq Square, followed by a visit to the 14th century Jame’ mosque. Yazd mosques are very well known for their high and lofty minarets and you can find the tallest one on the Jame’ mosque. From here, we’ll stroll through the spiral back alleys of the old quarters of the city, visiting the prison of Alexander, the 12-Imam Mosque, and Lariha House. Built in 1286, Lariha House was built as a house for a fabric merchant. We enjoy lunch in an 18th-century public bath-house, recently converted into a traditional Persian restaurant. The 18th-century Dowlat Abad Garden and its lofty wind tower (badgir) is another wonder of Yazd that we’ll visit today. Wind towers, also referred to as wind trappers or ventilation towers, are an inseparable part of the architecture of central and southern Iran, and have provided natural air conditioning in this hot climate for thousands of years. The wind tower in this garden stands almost 110 feet tall, and is considered an architectural masterpiece. We’ll catch a glimpse of what Yazd was like centuries ago.
Day 10 : Yazd – Isfahan
Drive to Isfahan. Upon arrival, visit one of the early 11th century Seljuq mosques, an 18th century Safavid Persian traditional house and take a walk around the town’s ancient citadel and old neighborhoods in Na’in. We'll enjoy lunch in a traditional mud-brick restaurant.
Day 11 : Isfahan
Isfahan (also spelled Esfahan) is a wonderful and colorful city filled with Islamic art and architecture. Twice the capital city of Iran, most recently in the 16th and 17th centuries under Shah Abbas the Great, the Persians called it Nesf-e-Jahan (half the world), meaning that to see it was to see half the world. Our tour begins with the Vank Cathedral, also known as The Church of the Saintly Sisters, which belongs to the Armenian Christians who came to this area in the early 17th century by the order of Shah Abbas the Great. In addition to the cathedral, it houses a museum, a historic printing press, and a large library which includes the first book printed in Iran, as well as an array of Armenian textiles. From here we’ll walk (if time permits, otherwise we’ll drive) on the Sio-Se-Pol and Khajou bridges to Chehel-Sotoun Palace, which we’ll view large frescoes depicting court life, counterbalanced by miniature paintings of the 17th-century Safavid dynasty. Later we’ll visit the Jame’ mosque where you can study and enjoy the thousand-year history of the art and architecture of the Islamic world in Iran. At the end of the day we’ll have some time to watch the beauty of a Persian carpet show in a fantastic carpet shop.
Day 12 : Isfahan
We’ll begin another fascinating day with a walk in the harem garden of the 17th-century Hasht Behesht (Eight Paradises) Palace, where the family of the king used to live. You’ll be enchanted by the peaceful sound of water fountains and birds throughout the garden. A short walk leads us to Naqshe-Jahan (Royal) Square, the second largest square in the world. The square was an entertainment site and the main polo ground for the Safavid kings, the first place in the world where polo was played at night. You can imagine the neighing of the horses, struggling and pushed to the limit during the matches amid the roaring applause of the crowds. The eternal eyewitness to these games and parades is Ali-Qapu Palace, with a large platform from which the court boasted the power of their king. Crossing the square, we’ll visit Sheikh Lotfollah, the first ladies’ mosque in the Islamic world. It was a place where women of the court used to come via the underground tunnel to say their prayers in privacy. Although missing its minaret and courtyard, its great double-shelled dome still glistens in the sun. Inside the dome, we’ll find a magnificent mixture of calligraphy and tiles, with a peaceful ambience created by the soft lighting system.
As we depart the ladies’ mosque, you can window-shop your way through the covered bazaar on your way to the Imam Mosque (in Meidan Emam). Shah Abbas built this mosque, his own glorious Jame’ of Abbasi. It is a main gathering place, especially on Fridays, containing an ocean of blue tile work that embodies a spirit of peace and tranquility, with a pool in the center of the courtyard. We’ll relax and meditate for a while, followed by enjoying a cup of tea at a traditional Sufi teahouse.
Day 13 : Isfahan – Tehran
We’ll take a very scenic drive today through the central mountains of Iran, the Karkas (Vulture) moutains. En route, we’ll have a look at the façade of a Khanegah (monastery or Dervish house), visit a Sufi tomb with its magnificent stalactite decorations, and observe a skillful artist in a ceramic workshop in Natanz. We then move on to the remote and traditional village of Abyaneh, a village that has maintained its identity over the course of centuries. Closed to the world, the people of Abyaneh have kept their ancient traditions, costumes, and dialect intact for hundreds of years. They converted to Islam 400 years after Islam’s arrival in Persia, but their present dress dates back to the 17th century Safavid era. Then we’ll drive to Tehran via Kashan, where we’ll visit Bagh-e Fin (Fin Garden), a prime example of the Persian-style gardens of the 17th century--with a huge spring and two pavilions. A short drive will take us to the 19th-century tiled mausoleum of Emamzadeh Ebrahim, where we’ll see exceptional tile and mirror work, unique to Persian art. After this, in the old quarter of town, we’ll visit a traditional 19th-century house. After lunch in a local restaurant we’ll head back to Tehran, passing by Qom, the main Shia cleric center in Iran and one of the main hubs for Islamic studies. The tomb of Imam Khomeini in the vicinity of Tehran is the last monument we’ll see before checking into our hotel in Tehran.
Day 14 : Tehran
After our buffet breakfast we’ll begin a morning tour of Sa’ad Abad Palace Complex, the former residence and working office of the Pahlavi kings (Shahs). Walking through the hills of this huge complex of palaces you’ll feel the difference in temperature between here and the main city. Later, we’ll take the freeway to Reza Abbasi Museum, where you’ll find the best gold and silver collections of Achaemenid and Sassanid artifacts. Calligraphy and miniatures are also featured in this museum. We’ll have lunch at a local restaurant before returning to the hotel to rest and pack for tomorrow’s flight.
Day 15 : Departure
Transfer to the international airport to fly home.
DATES: Best time to go: April, September Departures: Sep 21, 2014 - Oct 5, 2014 May 11 - 25, 2015 Sep 22, 2015 - Oct 6, 2015
$400 internal airfare
$400 internal airfare
Properties shown are representative of the accommodations we use on this trip, may not be inclusive of all accommodations we use, and are subject to change.
Expert leadership is the key to an exciting, unforgettable experience. Our trips feature gifted leaders for whom leading trips is a true vocation. Besides showing you wonders you’d never find on your own, they make sure everything runs smoothly and safely without a hitch. They are knowledgeable about all aspects of your trip, and take great pleasure in sharing their insights with you. More than just guides, they positively elevate your experience by being teachers, companions, and the best of friends. You’ll be in good hands with them every step of the way.
Saied Haji Hadi (goes by Hadi)
Saied Haji Hadi (aka Hadi), a native of Iran, always dreamed of traveling and interacting with other cultures. He started his career as an air traffic controller, including three years of education in the United States. After 20 years, Hadi completed a tour guide course, and traded in his sky-watching days for tour guiding in his home country. Now, after 23 years in tourism, Hadi has led over 285 tours for Western groups, along with a position of leadership as Chairman of the Iranian Tour Guide Association (ITGA) for six years. Aside from leading tours, he spends considerable time exploring the nooks and crannies of Iran and other parts of the world. Hadi has returned to the US on many occasions, and leads tours in incredibly diverse destinations in Africa, Europe, and the Far East. Hadi keeps up his passion for the skies by collecting war-bird planes, building and flying RC model aircraft, and seeking out aviation museums abroad. A diligent student of cultures and of life, Hadi is a warm and incredibly knowledgeable resource, the perfect person to impart understanding of Iranian culture on this cultural odyssey.