Iran is often mentioned on Western news outlets, but what do you REALLY know about this ancient country?
“Iran; friendly faces, open arms, ancient cultures, timeless charm.”
So reads the catchphrase of Iran’s tourism board at the latest WFTGA Convention held in Tehran from January 28th to February 1st. Anyone who has been to Iran will identify with these words.
Hardly someone who visits Iran leaves disappointed, very likely travelers wish to go back someday. History, great food, breath taking landscapes, and a mesmerizing artistic heritage will all play a great role in making your Iran holiday unforgettable, but without a doubt, the most striking feature you will be met with is Iranians’ great sense of hospitality and welcoming smiles.
Whether you are planning or even only starting to think about it, here are six things you might not know but that will actually make you want to visit Iran as soon as possible.
6 Things You Might Not Know About Iran
Persian Hospitality is a Form of Art
In Iran the concept of hospitality is not limited to a warm welcome and a cup of tea, it resembles more to a form of art.
For example, whether you are paying a taxi, buying a dress or paying for a service, get ready to be refused acceptance of payment. The taxi driver will guarantee that you don’t need to pay, that you can totally pay him next time you meet. The woman in the shop will wish you that your blessed hands won’t hurt too much if you pay for the clothes you are buying. And at the restaurant your host will apologize that they couldn’t serve you properly or that the food wasn’t good.
They will also assure you that it’s not taarof, the elaborate Persian etiquette, but don’t fall for it, that’s taarof, too. Even though they will tell you that your presence is a honor enough for them, please, do pay for your shopping.
All of this is directly related to the Iranian sense of hospitality. In Iran the guest is sacred, and Iranians are masters in making you feel at home and welcome.
Iranians will immediately open the door of their house for you, they literally have your room and glass of tea ready before you even step over the threshold. It’s not unusual that when you ask for direction they will pay the bus ticket for you and don’t be surprised if they always manage to find time to show you around.
Once you make a friend in Iran, he will always be available to help or meet you. This might be a tad off putting for someone unused to Iranian hospitality, but it really shouldn’t be. After all, when people refer daily to such a saying ‘Our sustenance arrives with the feet of the guest’, their welcoming manners shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Iran Possesses a Rich Cultural Heritage
The relics from the great Persian civilization, a stunning architecture, tapering minarets dominating the skyline and a charming literature are all aspects of a rich cultural heritage and a thousand-year old civilization. With an increasing collection of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Iran has something to show in every region.
From the vestiges of the Mithraism, Persian cult adopted also by the Romans, that you can find in different provinces such as Gilan and Kermanshah, to the Zoroastrian fire temples, from the ruins of the Achaemenid Empire in Persepolis to the majesty of the Safavid rule and architecture, any province you decide to visit in Iran will show you a piece of their glorious past.
The Iranian Landscape is Gorgeous
Unlike what many people might think Iran is not a huge desert. While it does boast some pretty cool desert dunes, the Iranian natural landscape is very diverse.
The northern Caspian regions are blessed with luscious greenery, random waterfalls, forests, beaches and greatly fertile soil.
Central Iran is the go-to place for your desert safari, while Qeshm Island is quickly imposing itself in the ecotourism field also thanks to its unusual geologic features.
Meanwhile, the Sar Ein (near the historical city of Ardebil) is popular among Iranians for its hot mineral water springs.
The capital of Tehran itself, framed by the Alborz mountain chain, offers beautiful natural views. On a clear day visitors in Tehran will be treated to sights of Damavand Mount, which is Iran’s highest peak (5610 mt). Skiing on Damavand has become increasingly popular, and adds yet another facet to outdoor activities in Iran.
Iranian Cuisine is Absolutely Delicious
With a great choice of different kebabs, stews, spices, nuts, herbs, rose water and orange blossoms, the flavors of Persian cuisine are intoxicating. Home to the world’s largest production of saffron and pistachio nuts, these are also some of the ingredients hardly missing from Iranian daily life.
Ancient and diverse Iranian cuisine has been influenced by the cultures and populations they have been in touch with during the long and storied history of the country. Much local cuisine draws its reputation from delicious dishes belonging to the different provinces and their respective traditions.
Dishes like vegetable stew Ghorme Sabzi, Zereshk Polo (saffron rice with barberries), eggplant-based Mirza Ghasemi and an endless list of kebabs, from chicken to beef to lamb cooked in a thousand ways such marinated in pomegranate juice, grilled, with diced meat and many more, populate the mouthwatering Iranian tables.
Iranians Are Proud of Their Traditions
What’s most fascinating about the Iranian society is that it’s very traditional. By traditional I don’t mean obsolete but, on the contrary, a fast-developing modernity that goes side by side with customs and social habits embedded in the local life. Festivals, poetry, religion, and history are all components of a culture every single Iranian is proud of and inevitably misses should they go live abroad.
So don’t be surprised if in the middle of a conversation an Iranian will recite Hafez poems by heart, or if they refer to some historical fact happened some centuries ago. Iranians love to show off their culture, and this is why when Iran began to open up to the western countries in the last couple of years and made it easy for most European citizens to get visa on arrival, tourism promotion started with grassroots initiatives involving private citizens who couldn’t wait to welcome foreigners to their land.
Basically, many Iranians are waiting for new people to share their rich and multifaceted culture with.
Iran is Very Ethnically Diversity
You might know Iran is a big country, but what many people ignore is that the Iranian population is a diverse mix of ethnic groups. Persians, Bakhtiari, Kurds, Lors, Gilakis are only some of the ethnicities that populate this big Middle Eastern country.
If you go to Shiraz you will be in the heartland of Persian civilization, in Khuzestan you can visit a mozif, traditional dwelling typical of the Arab community, while in Tehran you can enjoy a mix of everything as people from the different provinces move to the capital for work.
Not only each region, but within each province, every single group, tribe, ethnicity has their own, language, traditions, festivals, dishes, dress code and social habits. This inevitably makes Iran fascinating, and an ideal travel destination that never gets old.
Want to read more on Iran? Check out 18 Things to Know Before You Travel to Iran.
About the Author
Angela Corrias is a freelance journalist, blogger and photographer who travels and works between Italy and Afghanistan with her husband. Her work appeared in different publications around the world such as Al Jazeera, Forbes Travel Guide, Global Times and Diplomatic Observer. You can read more from Angela at Chasing The Unexpected.
Want to Join the Just a Pack Team?
Do you have a travel story you have been dying to write about and publish? Do you consider yourself an expert in any given location? Have you ever wanted to write a guide to your neighborhood, city, or country? Do you want to learn how to become a travel writer? If you are interested check out our dedicated submission page for more details.