Hello, I’m Yngwie Scheerlinck, a student in journalism and a freelance photographer. Thanks for stopping by my Iran travel guide. I grew up in Geraardsbergen, Belgium – a rather small city close to the capital.
Since Belgium is a super crowded place with a lack of nature, we used to travel to the Alps each summer. That’s where my big love for travelling started. Eventually this led to my passion for travel photography.
Years went by just doing landscape photography until the point when I started studying journalism at university. At this moment in life, I realised a picture should also include a story. So I started searching for deeper meanings and ended up falling in love with documentary photography.
Now my main goal is to show the truth about misunderstood parts of our planet, mainly the Middle East which is such a beautiful part of the world.
Inspiration to Visit Iran
I’m always interested in showing a different image about a country than what the media tells us. Many destinations have been on my bucket list but Iran stood out for one reason: its hospitality. I heard so many stories from other travellers about the kind people and spirit of Iran.
Stories about how welcoming Iranians are and how beautiful the country is. I just felt like this was an opportunity for me to travel to a safe place (despite what others think) and show people that it’s not a war torn or troubled country. Then January, 2020 arrived and things changed.
The tensions between Iran and the US grew bigger than ever and on January the 8th a plane crashed and 176 people lost their lives. We were all touched by these tragic events and thought of cancelling our travel plans.
We talked about it between the three of us and decided that it would be a good time to go to Iran and learn from the locals. Iran was on the news globally – all in a negative way – so it was our job to make a small difference there and to make a tribute to the amazing Iranian people.
Two Weeks Travelling in Iran
Sadly, we could only travel to Iran for two weeks since that was the only time we had available in our schedules. However, these two weeks were easily the best of 2020 for sure! We started our trip at the end of January which was a bit scary because of the plane crash and tensions.
Anyway, we forgot about the travel warning and flew to Tehran. That was where our journey began. From Tehran we headed to Kashan – a town in the middle of the desert with the warmest people I have ever met. It was just one day there and we were already invited into someone’s house.
We had no clue that this was just the beginning of endless invites coming our way. After Kashan we drove off to the mountains and decided for ourselves that we needed a good mix of culture and landscapes. So after each city, we were off to find the silence of Mother Nature.
The road from Kashan to our next destination, through the mountains, was just stunning. We never expected to see that much snow just a few kilometres from the desert. Our route went on to the most beautiful city I have ever visited, Isfahan. Everyone who visits Iran should go there.
The buildings are insanely beautiful and the size is unbelievable. That’s not even mentioning the incredible colours and mosaics. Later, we headed to the sand dunes and the salt lake of Varzaneh and continued our way to the furthest point of our trip – the beautiful desert city of Yazd.
This city is almost entirely made out of mud and consists of endless small streets. I remember that the vibe of the city was just pure peacefulness. After Yazd it was time to head back to the Iranian capital, Tehran.
We decided not to lose much time and took an overnight train all the way back to Tehran. Eventually this turned out to be quite a funny adventure since we slept with six people in a very small compartment. We ended our trip with a sightseeing day in the fascinating city of Tehran.
Favourite Place in Iran: Isfahan
It’s a difficult decision to pick a favourite place in Iran because the whole trip was photogenic. Especially since you don’t see these types of places in person very often. But I can say that I found a new style of photography in Iran: street photography. It all started in my favourite city of Iran, Isfahan.
On our way from the hostel to the city center, we walked through these small streets full of life. I immediately fell in love. So many things were happening and so many people were smiling. We saw dozens of artisan shops too. At this moment, I realised I was exploring the real Iran.
I was immersed with Iranian people living out their regular lives and I was away from tourist attractions. It was a “pinch yourself” type of moment.
Iran Travel Guide: Best Things To Do
1. Wander Off the Beaten Path in the Streets
First of all, for any location, go off the beaten track and wander through the streets to enjoy the hospitality. In five minutes you’ll be spoken to by a friendly local who’s wondering why you love Iran and who’ll want to know every step of your journey to make sure you have everything you need.
The hospitality of this country is famous for a reason. So make sure you have your phone with you to save all those new WhatsApp contacts.
2. Enter the Exquisite Shah Mosque in Isfahan
I guess I’ve been pretty clear about what the best part of Iran is, namely the people. Now I’ll get deeper into the locations. The most incredible place in Iran, in my opinion, is the Shah Mosque in Isfahan.
The size and colours are amazing. Once you enter the square in the middle of the mosque, the sounds from outside disappear. It’s truly majestic, especially if you come at the right time when the sun is on an angle and the light and shadow game creates wonderful drawings on the walls.
3. Attend a Traditional Gym Session in Yazd
If you want to experience a unique evening with Iranian locals and great music, then this is the place to be. Here they dance and jump to the beats of traditional music while doing their daily sporting activities. It’s wonderful to watch and you really feel part of their close community.
4. Hike in the Mountains around Yazd
Escape the hustle and bustle of the city by hiring a driver and then going for a hike in the shadows of Shir Kuh Peak – a 4050 metre high mountain. In less than two hours we were hiking at 3000 meters above sea level!
5. Explore the Grand Bazaar in Isfahan
A stroll through the busy markets is incredible. You’ll see many handcrafts and you’ll feel totally overwhelmed by the different smells of food.
6. Camp in the Desert for Sunset/Sunrise
Iran isn’t all desert despite what many people may think, but it does have them of course, and they are just stunning. Make sure to visit one of them and stay until sunset. Keep in mind that it can cool down quite quickly in the desert. So grab some dry wood and enjoy the campfire.
7. Take a Night Train across Iran
You would not expect this to be in a top 10 list, but taking a night train in Iran was a great experience. These trains are cheap and it’s the perfect place to feel like a local. You’ll end up talking to others for the evening. I have to admit it wasn’t luxurious but this added to the experience!
8. Discover the Immense Varzaneh Salt Lake
Forget Salar de Uyuni for a minute, every traveller has been there or has that place on his or her travel list. The salt lake in Varzaneh has the same beauty, the same vastness and you can take the same funny pictures. The only big difference: you are all alone without any disturbing tourists.
9. Spend a Few Days in the Authentic Kashan
This city is rather small – and there aren’t many crazy things to see and do – but that’s what many people like about it. Kashan is quiet and extremely authentic. Since it is one of the first cities you’ll pass on your way to Isfahan, it’s also a perfect place to have your first experience of Iran.
10. Visit the Capital City of Iran, Tehran
A big contrast to Kashan, yet it’s a city that can not be missed on your trip through the country. The skyscrapers and majestic boulevards are a huge eye opener for many people. Iran is just as sophisticated as many other countries on the planet. That’s just not what you’ll see in movies.
Iran Travel Guide: Heart-Warming People and Culture
When you travel to a country like Iran you expect a culture shock and that’s exactly what you get. Not in a bad way, however. The country is more modern than I anticipated it to be and the locals treat you in such a heart-warming way. I was taken aback by the friendliness of the people.
Respect for travellers is a big thing in Iran. Many people will help you whenever they can and you’ll feel extra safe because of them. During our two week trip to Iran we met over 30 people who wanted to chat with us about our travels. Iranian people are just so genuinely interested.
Already on the first day, people came up to us and called their family to give us a free tour around the city. This was the best welcome to a country ever. We are still in contact with some of the people we met in Iran today.
Iran Travel Guide: Persian Cuisine
The Persian cuisine is really worth it. You’ll taste many things you never knew existed. It’s nice that you’ll never have just one kind of meal. There is always a big combination of flavours complementing each other. My three favourite dishes were: Khoresh-e Fesenjan, Khoresht-e-mast and Dizi.
But the thing I liked the most about Persian food was the way they eat. Multiple dishes are served for one group and everyone eats from the dishes, and this while sitting on the ground or a carpet. A place that should be in every Iran travel guide is Naghshe Jahan Restaurant in Isfahan.
Iran Travel Guide: Where to Stay
For this Iran travel guide, I advise people to stay in hostels like we did. Many Iranian people travel in their own country and they often stay there. This means that it’s the perfect place to learn about Iran’s people. In Isfahan we stayed at Mahbibi Hostel, which at the time won the prize for best hostel.
Lucky timing I guess because they took all the people who stayed in the hostel (including us) to a great party, Iranian style of course. Besides hostels, you’ll receive many invites to stay with locals. If you do that, make sure to give them at least something in return for their hospitality.
Of course, they won’t ask for it but they will really appreciate the gesture.
Iran Travel Guide: Favourite Memory
While travelling from Isfahan to Yazd, we decided to hire a driver for two days to take us to the desert and the salt lake located in between both destinations. When the driver Mahdi arrived it became clear he didn’t speak a word of English. This meant we couldn’t speak to each other at all.
Still, we had a great time together and grew a strong bond. He really cared for us like he was our dad. Being stuck in the sand with the small taxi car made us laugh so hard that we did not need any language anymore.
I embraced these two days because it’s so important to realise that you don’t always need to talk to each other or know everything about each other to feel connected and to care for each other. A language barrier is just a poor excuse not to go on an adventure and meet new people.
Iran Travel Guide: Tips for your Visit
First of all, say “Yes”! It may seem strange to accept every invite from a stranger but in Iran this is the way it is. If people want to give you a tour you should go with the flow. You’ll learn and see more of the real Iran by doing this, and your average tourist day will change into real travelling.
Don’t plan too much for your trip. Iran is a place of surprises and you’ll discover many things when you’re there. If your travel schedule is too strict, you’ll miss out on opportunities from locals for the upcoming days.
We could have (for example) stayed in someone’s house high in the mountains for two nights, but sadly we had already booked a driver and hostel in another part of Iran for the upcoming days. It was a shame!
Instead of planning, search for Iranians on Facebook and Instagram. Groups like “See You In Iran” are perfect to connect with locals beforehand. By doing this you’ll know people before you go and this will smoothen things up. Remember: “People know people who know people…”
Keep in mind that you can not pay by card or make money transfers in or to Iran. You’ll have to bring all your money in cash to change it at the airport. Make sure you ask a local to help you get the best exchange rate. However, nothing to worry about, because Iran is a cheap place.
Last tip: don’t be afraid! Don’t let people scare you from travelling to Iran. The media will show you the bad side of the country and many tourists will blindly follow this. So don’t be a tourist, be a traveller! Thanks for reading my Iran travel guide. I hope you enjoy this country as much as I did.