Iran is a huge country that swells with diversity. Every Iranian province has its own unique cuisine, handicrafts, industries, dress, and language.
Travelers who have the time can easily spend two or three months having a good look around Iran. But realistically most visitors only come for a week or two.
If you’re planning on spending seven days in Iran, I’ve prepared an itinerary on what not to miss while you’re here.
Day 1 and 2: Tehran
Most international tourists will fly into Imam Khomeini International Airport (IKIA) which is located about 40 kilometers south of central Tehran. Connecting with the metro or a taxi/transfer service, it is a 60-minute commute into Tehran.
Tehran is by far Iran’s largest city with the population estimated to exceed 15 million. Tehran will delight visitors with the regular charms of a mega city – traffic, pollution, crowded subways and a good level of grunge. I’ve lived in Tehran for almost three years now and I have a love/hate relationship with the city. It is absolutely huge and as a tourist, it can be overwhelming hard to find cool places to hang out. Also check out: Discover Tehran
On the day you arrive, I recommend resting and exploring near your hotel to get acclimatized. It’s Tehran, you are sure to find something wild nearby! Also, take the opportunity to find a sim card and exchange some cash. If you don’t want to carry cash, you can contact 1stQuest to arrange an Iranian debit card.
For the next day, Tajrish is a good place to start. Located at the foothills of the Alborz Mountains (Tehran’s personal mountainscape), Tajrish is the buzzy center of northern Tehran. Tajrish has its own bazaar complete with street food vendors, carpet sellers, and handicraft shops. Ladies, the bazaar is also a good place to pick up some fashionable head scarves and longer jackets if you’re envying the local women’s effortless and elegant hijab!
After having a look around the Tajrish bazaar you can wander down the iconic Vali Asr Street. Stretching 18 kilometers, Vali Asr is Tehran’s longest street. Lined with towering poplar trees, the northern end of Vali Asr Street is a jumble of shops, museums, parks, and office blocks. You can book Tehran hotels easily through 1stQuest.
Only about 500 meters from Tajrish is the Cinema Museum. The museum is surrounded by a manicured garden, art installations, and al fresco cafes. The museum building itself was once a residence of the royal family. With an impressive pavilion and ornate facade, the buildings alone is well worth the visit. The museum is a tribute to Iranian cinema over the years and they regularly hold screenings of both Iranian and foreign films. Also check out: Things to do in Tehran
From here you can hail a taxi on Vali Asr Street to take you to Sadabad Palace Complex, about 2 kilometers away. Set on a 180-hectare estate, this palace was built in the 1920s. Like most remnants of the former monarchy, the palace grounds have been converted into museums and art galleries. The palace contains an impressive collection of Mahmoud Farshchian, a contemporary Iranian artist who’s mystical paintings provide perfect imagery to Persian poetry and is often used to illustrate Hafez and Rumi. Also, check out the best hotels in Tehran
As evening comes you can take a short walk up the street from the palace to Darband, Tehran’s own version of fairyland. Set in the mountains this old village has become a popular hiking and dining precinct for Tehran locals. As you walk up the cobble-stoned paths, you will see the twinkling lights of traditional restaurants nestled into the mountainside serving kebab, tea, and shisha. Diners will most likely be seated on a traditional day bed beside the running mountain stream.
Day 3 & 4: Isfahan
Isfahan is probably Iran’s most visited city by Iranian and international tourists alike. Isfahan is set on a high plateau about 400 kilometers south of Tehran. Like most settlements across Iran, mountains surround and protect the city.
With only 2 million occupants, Isfahan is much smaller than Tehran and Iran’s 3rd largest city. Up until the 17th century, Isfahan was the capital of Iran and one of the biggest cities in the world. Many architectural delights from that era still stand today.
I recently wrote Architectural treasures of Isfahan: 5 must-see landmarks, so check that out for my sightseeing tips. If you are in Isfahan for two full days I recommend spending a day in Isfahan and one day in the surrounding area. In the city, be sure to see:
- Naqsh-e Jahan Square together with the surrounding mosques and temples
- Si o Se Pol(33 Bridges in English); and
- the neighborhood of Jolfa.
On the second day, I suggest you make your way into the desert for a day trip or an overnight stay.
1stQuest can connect you with desert tours.
Overall, the people of Isfahan are a lot more conservative than Tehranis. Tourists should be mindful of this and respect local customs. Isfahan’s famous dish, beryani, is like an Iranian haggis made with lamb’s offal and spices. A must try for all meat eaters! You can book Isfahan hotels easily through 1stQuest.
Day 5 & 6: Shiraz
Shiraz, oh Shiraz. Situated in central Iran, about 500 kilometers south of Isfahan, Shiraz the city of love, literature and good living. Shirazi locals are notorious among Iranian’s for being chilled out, to the point of laziness but are also overwhelmingly friendly and warm toward tourists.
I also recently wrote a post: 3 Days in Shiraz – What Not to Miss! Be sure to check that out for my tips and suggestions for your time in Shiraz.
The Pink Mosque, Vakil Bazaar and a trip to Persepolis are absolute musts. Also, the Sufi Restaurant in Sattar Khan is a great place to see live traditional music. You can book Shiraz hotels online through 1stQuest.
Day 7: Tehran
Welcome back to Tehran for your last day. Before you fly out there is still a lot to see – you are yet to explore downtown!
Golestan Palace in downtown Tehran was built by the Qajar dynasty. With beautiful mosaic tiles, mirror halls and ornate frescos the palace will transport you back to the 16th century, when it was built.
Next to Golestan Palace is the Grand Bazaar. I recommend shopping at the Tajrish Bazaar or Vakil Bazaar in Shiraz, however, visiting the Grand Bazaar is an amazing experience. Historians estimate trade in the Grand Bazaar started around 4000BC! With over 10 kilometers of shop fronts, you can really get lost in the maze!
A short walk away is Tehran’s museum precinct: Si Tir Street. Here you will find the National Museum of Iran, Museum of Glassware and the Ceramics Museum as well as a nice selection of Armenian delis serving top-notch espresso and sandwiches. Also check out: 1 Day in Tehran
One of my personal favorites is the Treasury of National Jewels in the vault of the Central Bank of Iran on Ferdowsi Street. Go subterranean and see the crown jewels and generally more bling than any Kardashian could possibly handle. This museum will really appeal to some people (you know who you are!). Also, check out: Tehran hostels
Checklist: 7 days in Iran
If you’re just in Iran for 7 days there are a few quintessential Persian experiences you cannot miss.
You must visit:
- a bazaar (Vakil Bazaar in Shiraz is my favorite)
- a traditional tea house (Azadegan Cafe off Naqsh e Jahan Square in Isfahan is the best)
- a Persian garden (Eram Garden in Shiraz is a perfect example of Persian design)
- a royal palace (Golestan Palace in Tehran steals the show)
- a mosque (Isfahan’s Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque is my recommendation)
The distances between Tehran, Isfahan, and Shiraz are pretty significant. Budget travelers can consider overnight buses to save on hotel costs and airfares. Buses in Iran are remarkably comfortable and some buses have lounge-chair style seats and free snacks.
Another transport option is domestic flights, which are also inexpensive and run regularly.