In this guide we will tell you all about travelling in Iran on a budget, including what to see, where to stay and how to get there.
Simply put, Iran is one of the most fascinating countries that we have ever visited. Shrouded in mystery and negative international media coverage, we had zero idea of what to expect from Iran. Despite our families’ worries about us visiting, it turned out to be one of our favourite destinations. It is a beautiful country with an incredibly rich history, and the array of Islamic buildings is stunning. The people are the friendliest we have ever met – they always up for a chat and a cup of tea. The Iranian people may become the highlight of your time there.
As a tourist destination, Tehran is very divisive. A fair chunk of visitors to the city try to get out as soon as possible. However, while it may be big and a bit dirty, there is a huge amount of stuff to do in Tehran. Once you’ve found your feet it’s a great place to spend a few days!
Spending at least two days in Tehran will allow you to see the National Jewellery Museum, Golestan Palace, the National Museum of Iran, Azadi Tower and the Tehran Bazaar. Some attractions are closed on Fridays (like the Tehran Bazaar) so it pays to check opening hours. Weekends in Iran are on Thursday and Friday.
TRAVELATOR TIP: Tehran has an amazing coffee and cafe scene. This is where local Tehranis hang out, drink great coffee, eat great food and listen to live music. Our pick is Nazdik Cafe – they do an amazing breakfast and serve some of the best coffee we had in Iran.
The historical city of Kashan is becoming increasingly popular and once you arrive you will instantly know why. After spending some time in Tehran, Kashan is the perfect change of pace with it’s beautiful bazaars, stunning old mansions and Islamic architecture.
In a full day you will be able to explore the Kashan Bazaar, Sultan Amir Ahmad Bathhouse, Agha Bozorg Mosque and your pick of one of the many beautiful old mansions. Our favourite mansion was Borujerdi House. A spot often overlooked is the stunning Shrine of Hilal ibn Ali. The Shrine is around around 20 minutes drive from Kashan, a taxi should cost 200-300 rials return. We highly recommend visiting at night!
TRAVELATOR TIP: If you are needing a taxi driver/guide look no further than Ebrahim Kazarin. Unfortunately we only spent a few hours with Ebrahim but he was the nicest person we met in Iran and gave us incredible insight in to his country. He will be able to help you out with anything you need. You can reach him via his email – firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yazd instantly transports you back in time. The winding alleys through mud-brick buildings, the labyrinth-like bazaar and the city’s Zoroastrian heritage all combine to make Yazd perhaps our most enchanting stopover in Iran. If you are looking for a change from kebab, Yazd is also home to some touristy restaurants that dish up a surprisingly good pizza.
You can spend a plenty of time simply wandering the streets in Yazd. Make sure to squeeze in a visit to the Jame Mosque, Amir Chakmagh, Dowlat Abad Garden, the Zoroastrian Fire Temple and the Museum of Zoroastrians History and Culture. A visit to the Zoroastrian Towers of Silence is also a must when in Yazd. You will need a taxi to reach the towers – a return trip from the Jame Mosque should cost around 300,000 rial. Try to arrive at sunset for the ultimate view.
Shiraz is a beautiful city, but its proximity to the magnificent ruins of Persepolis is what draws most visitors. Aside from the ruins, Shiraz has an incredible array of sights to warrant a few full days of sightseeing around the city.
If you’re not completely bazaar-ed out, the Vakil Bazaar is a great place for a stroll. The light in the Nasir al-Mulk Mosque is perfect for photos around 8am. We also enjoyed wandering around the imposing Arge Karim Khan fortress, but for us the real highlight of Shiraz was the Chah Cheragh shrine. Entry is free and you will be taken on a guided tour of the complex.
Outside of Shiraz, Persopolis and the neighbouring Necropolis (Naqsh-e Rustam) are the main attractions. Pasargadae is also doable with Persopolis and Necropolis on a full day tour, but the reviews we heard on Pasargadae were pretty underwhelming so we gave it a miss. We took a half day tour with Pars Travel Agency for $30USD per person. We would highly recommend the tour – the guide spoke great English, all entrance fees were included and we even got ice-cream!
Noted as having the finest collection of Islamic architecture in one city, Esfahan is the tourist epicentre of Iran. It lives up to the hype with ease. Based around the awe-inspiring Imam Square (Naqsh-e Jahan Square), Esfahan packs in a huge array of incredible sights. For those looking for a change the Armenian Quarter (Jolfa) offers an interesting change of scenery.
We managed to squeeze everything into two days, but we were rushed. Use your first day to explore Imam Square and Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, then walk from the incredible Majed-e Shah through the Bazaar to Jameh Masjed – it’s a trek, but a highly rewarding one. On your second day, head down to the Armenian Quarter and visit the Vank Cathedral before strolling back to the main part of town via the Siosepal Bridge.
TRAVELATOR TIP: For some truly astonishing views, head to Imam Square at sunset. The exteriors of Masjed-e Shah and Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque make for some amazing photos!
Where To Stay
You will probably be staying at guesthouses and cheap hotels. However, there are also quite a few hostels popping up around the country that are good quality.
TRAVELATOR TIP: Iran is a touch behind in the online booking website game at the moment, so most accommodation options will not appear on websites such as Booking.com or Hostelworld.com. We found our preferred option on TripAdvisor, then contacted the hotel directly. Many accommodation providers will have their own website. Here are a few we recommend:
- Tehran – Denj Hostel – a recently opened hostel in a quieter part of Tehran. The location allows you to escape the hustle and bustle of Iran’s largest city, while still close enough to walk to the metro.
- Kashan – Kamalolmolk Traditional Guesthouse – set in a beautiful old building in a quiet alleyway, Kamalolmolk is in the perfect location to explore Kashan by foot. The staff are fantastic.
- Yazd – Yazd Hostel Oasis – relatively new to Yazd this hostel is in a prime location in the centre of Yazd. The rooms are set inside an old mud brick building with a pretty interior courtyard, making it a great escape from the harsh Yazd sun.
- Shiraz – Taha Hostel – Taha is probably one of the best known hostels in Iran. Amazing staff, fantastic location and a great courtyard. Book ahead.
- Esfahan – Hotel Iran – Hotel Iran is slightly more expensive than our other options but is worth the money. Huge rooms, helpful English-speaking staff and a generous breakfast.
By the end of your time in Iran you will probably be tired of this staple, but for the first week you will love every kebab you come across! Usually served as lamb or chicken with a side of rice, grilled tomato, raw onion and peppers. You can find kebab everywhere and it’s usually dirt cheap.
Found pretty much everywhere that serves kebab, tahchin rice is a crunchy rice cake made up of rice, egg, yogurt and topped with barberries. Mostly you will find it served as a side or accompanied by a large piece of citrus spiced chicken – delicious!
A vegetarian staple, this eggplant dip is usually served as an appetiser. Using a mixture of grilled eggplant with garlic, onion, walnuts, mint and yogurt, it’s best consumed with some bread. It makes an awesome addition to any meal.
You will mostly be travelling on trains or buses. There are two types of buses: normal and VIP. VIP buses only cost a couple of extra dollars, and we think they are worth it. Plenty of leg room, air conditioning and snacks!
Book your bus or train tickets a day or two in advance either through your hotel or hostel, or a travel agent. Travel agents will charge a small commission.
You can also buy tickets from the ticket sales desks at bus and train stations on the day of departure, but in high season seats may sell out. At the bus station, each company will have its own ticket sales desk. If you have a ticket voucher from a travel agent, you will need to visit the bus company’s ticket sales desk at the bus station to exchange your voucher for a ticket.
Tehran has an excellent clean and cheap metro system. Other cities (like Shiraz) also have metros, but don’t go to places of interest for travellers.
Taxis are cheap and plentiful for shorter trips. Be prepared to bargain – expect to pay around 75% of the originally quoted price.
For more info check out our Ultimate Iran Travel FAQ page.
Getting In and Out
Iran is quickly becoming more accessible to the outside world thanks largely to the reduction of sanctions by Europe and the US.
Tehran is the easiest place in Iran to access via air with major airlines flying from the Middle East. Some cities in Europe such as Paris, London, Amsterdam and Berlin now also have direct flights to Tehran. Other larger cities such as Mashhad and Shiraz are also becoming more accessible, especially from Dubai.
Iran shares land borders with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan and Pakistan – so there are plenty of options! Information on the most common routes are below:
- Armenia: There are direct overnight buses from Yerevan to Tehran via Tabriz and vice versa. You can buy tickets at the Kilikia bus station in Yerevan or through Tatev Travel (around US$50). You can also catch a minibus from Yerevan (Sasuntsi Davit Metro Station) to Agarak, catch a taxi to Jolfa (US$10-15) then catch a minibus to Tabriz (50,000 rial).
- Azerbaijan: There are direct buses between Baku-Tehran, and Baku-Tabriz. You can also catch a train from Baku to the border town of Astara , then catch a minibus from the border to Rasht. There are frequent bus connections between Rasht and Tehran.
- Turkey: The Gurbulak–Bazargan is the busiest border crossing. There are buses between Ankara and the border town of Dogubayazit. You can catch direct buses between Dogubayazit and Tabriz. You can also catch a minibus from Dogubayazit to the border, then another minibus onwards to Tabriz.
- Turkmenistan: Take the bus from Mashad to the border town of Sarahks. The journey will take approximatley 3.5 hours. From the border, catch a bus or shared taxi to Mary (2-4 hours, up to US$15 per person).
Due to chronic inflation in Iran it is slowly getting more expensive to travel here. However, it is still reasonably cheap with a budget of US$85 per day per couple allowing you to travel very comfortably. On this budget we stayed in private rooms in guesthouses/hotels, took VIP buses, ate in restaurants and visited most attractions. You can definitely travel in Iran more cheaply, especially if you are Couchsurfing.
Best Time to Visit
Whatever you do, avoid summer! The centre of Iran can reach temperatures of up to 60 degrees Celsius,. That’s right, I said 60! As with most countries, the best time to visit is in spring (March – May) or Autumn (September – November). Iran has come fantastic snow skiing so if that’s your thing, so why not visit in winter?
Still need more information about Iran? Check out our Ultimate Iran Travel FAQ page and our guide to getting your Iranian visa! You can also read about our journey from Tabriz to Yerevan via the beautiful village of Meghri .
Are you interested in visiting Iran? Tell us your thoughts about travelling here in the comments below!
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