What Are the TOP 20 Tourist Destinations in Iran?
Iran is so steeped with history, culture and nature that picking only the top 20 tourist destinations in Iran would do injustice to the rest of its priceless treasures. Even the 24 UNESCO world heritages the country enjoys are only a part of the vast, diverse, and rich country Iran is. But I’ve done my best to collect the bests of the favorite places you can visit in Iran. Here are some of the unmissable places that give you a genuine picture of Iran as a tourist destination.
TOP 20 Tourist Destinations in Iran (Top sights in Iran)
1. Persepolis (UNESCO)
This absolute must-see was once the capital of the first Persian Empire and the birthplace of Persian civilization. Once upon a time, majestic kings like Cyrus the Great, Darius the Great and Xerxes roamed the palaces of Persepolis complex, making it one of the world’s main centers from 5th century to 3rd century BC, and of course top on the list of top 20 tourist destinations in Iran.
Location: 60 km to the northeast of Shiraz
Some of Persia’s greatest emperors are resting peacefully on their majestic rock tombs in the heart of a mountain near Persepolis complex. Reflecting the beliefs, the artistry and the elegance of its creators, Naqshe-e Rostam Necropolis is a top Iran tourist destination. The elegantly carved cliff includes tombs of great Achaemenid kings, Sassanid rock reliefs, and ancient inscriptions.
Location: 67 km to the northeast of Shiraz
3. Naqsh-e Jahan Square (UNESCO)
Ringed with a number of architectural masterpieces from the age of Muslim kings, and gilded with the intricacies of Islamic patterns and calligraphy, Naqsh-e Jahan Square is definitely on of the unmissable tourist destinations in Iran. Ali Qapu Palace, Shah Mosque, Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, and the Grand Bazaar are all manifestations of the 16th century glory of the city.
The main charm of this historic beloved of Shiraz is that its colorful sach windows turn it into a kaleidoscope in the morning. Breaking from the usual architectural traditions of mosques, this beauty features rosy-hued tiles, floral patterns and some western elements. The Muqarnas works of the Pink Mosque is also of the most beautifully intricate of its kind. All these make the Pink Mosque a photogenic tourist destination in Iran.
A mosque of mesmerizing beauty, a bathhouse of mind blowing architecture, and a bazaar of oriental magic make Vakil Complex one of the most favorite tourist destinations in Iran. The 18th century king who built these mementos for the people of Shiraz preferred to be called ‘the Advocate of the People’. His Vakil Mosque is now an acclaimed masterpiece of Persian-Islamic architecture, his Vakil Bathhouse is an ingenious beauty that still intrigues us, and his Vakil Bazar is a memento of traditional architecture, still a lively hub perfect for finding Persian souvenirs.
6. Golestan Palace (UNESCO)
This 19th century royal Qajar complex is one of Iran’s top museum palaces. The refreshing garden, the diversity in the architectural traditions, the delicate interior design, and the Iranian and European relics of the 18th and 19th centuries make Golestan Palace the fanciest and top on the list of Iran tourist destinations. The Mirror Hall, the Throne Room, the Reception Hall, and Edifice of the Sun are of the most fabulous pieces of the complex.
You couldn’t possibly not get impressed by such exquisite ceilings, such charming frescos, such unique architecture, and such refreshing courtyards! Tabatabai House is THE finest example of traditional Persian mansion architecture and the epitome of Iranian artistic taste and elegance. This puts this breathtaking historical house in the list of top 20 tourist destinations in Iran.
8. Sheikh Safi Al-Din Khaneghah and Shrine Ensemble (UNESCO)
The tomb of Sufi mystic leader, Sheikh Safi Al-Din, is now a complex of a Sufi Khaneqa (place for the gatherings of Sufi brotherhood), library, mosque, school and tombs of Safavid kings. The fascinating architecture of Sheikh Safi Al-Din Khaneghah and Shrine Ensemble reflects not only the mastery of its Persian architects and designers but also the principles of Sufi mysticism.
This feat of engineering is an ancient irrigation system from 2500 years ago. The Achaemenids who built this marvelous and still charming infrastructure had a civilization’s water supply system in mind. Today, watermills, waterfalls, tunnels, bridges and other pieces of this igneous mechanism make Shushtar Historical Hydraulic System a must-see tourist destination of Iran.
Location: Around 98 km from Ahvaz
10. Fin Garden (UNESCO)
The peace that the combination of Iranian architecture, delicate decorations, refreshing trees, and pleasant water ponds and streams have created make Fin Garden a must-visit Iran tourist destination. What makes this UNESCO-recognized and historically-significant Persian Garden even more fascinating is the genius system of water engineering and supply that makes this kind of garden charming.
11. Tomb of Hafez
One of Iran’s most popular, most quoted, and most cherished poets is resting peacefully in the middle of a garden of roses, trees, poems and romance in Shiraz. The love of Iranians for Hafez’s book of poetry, his worldview, and his spiritual knowledge has added a unique atmosphere to the beauty of the mausoleum’s symbolic architecture and the charming garden around. This top Iran tourist destination is a nice place to discover Persian culture, spirituality and literature.
12. Shahdad Desert
As a unique piece of the amazing Lut Desert (UNESCO Natural World Heritage), this fascinating manifestation of nature is one of the most special tourist destinations in Iran. With its stunning Kaluts (Yardangs), Shahdad Desert is one of the rarest places in the world. Now add the breathtaking sunsets, the otherworldly nights, the tranquilizing peace, the exciting adventures and the geological wonders, and there you’ll have a land of beauty, peace and wonder
Location: around 90 km from Kerman
13. Fahadan Neighborhood
The present center of Zoroastrianism, Yazd, is home to a unique neighborhood of oriental and traditional atmosphere. Taking a walk in the winding alleys, in the middle of the wind towers, mud-brick houses, and the many historical treasures is just charming. This top tourist destination in Iran also treats you to random teahouses and confectionary shops.
14. Hormuz Island
Unique landscapes, lovely beaches, and a special culture make this adorable little island of the Persian Gulf one of the top tourist destinations of Iran. What makes Hormuz Island most special is that it is a rainbow of volcanic rocks and soils. Shades of red, yellow and orange cover hills and beaches of Hormuz and together with its unique valleys turn it into a heaven for geology and nature lovers.
Location: the Persian Gulf
15. Valley of Stars
This magical place is one of the most well-known pieces of Qeshm Island (UNESCO Natural World heritage). The Valley of Stars is a geological masterpiece created by centuries of wind and rain erosion. The valley is so otherworldly that it attracts jinni stories. The locals believe a meteor once fell there and created this Iran tourist destination. With a bit of imagination, the otherworldly rock formations of the valley turn into animal figures and human faces.
Location: Qeshm Island
16. Chogha Zanbil
This 13th century BC Ziggurat is as mysterious and marvelous as the Ziggurat movies you have seen! As a remnant of the Elamites’ empire, this ancient wonder is part of the sacred city of the great kingdom. Chogha Zanbil used to be crowned with a temple dedicated to the Elamite divinities Inshushinak and Napirisha. This mudbrick building is a manifestation of the culture, the beliefs and the rituals of these ancient people, making it one of the top tourist destinations in Iran.
Location: Around 120 km to the north of Ahvaz
17. Pasargadae (UNESCO-listed Persian Garden)
As the first capital of the great Achaemenid Empire, Pasargadae (UNESCO) was the first example of the world-famous Persian Gardens. This means that the multi-cultural empire that Cyrus the Great founded, the one that spanned from the Eastern Mediterranean and Egypt to Hindus River, started here. Today, from the glorious palaces and gardens of Pasargadae, only the modest tomb of Cyrus and some scattered ruins remain.
Location: Around 135 km from Shiraz
18. Chehel Sotoun
This lovely memento of Shah Abbas, the king of the golden time of Isfahan, is a precious work of art and architecture. Located near the royal complex of Naqsh-e Jahan, Chehel Sotoun is a refreshing royal palace that highlights an Iwan of twenty pillars. The reflection of the pillars in the large pool in the middle of the garden gives the picture of the Chehel Sotoun (literally meaning 40 pillars). The interior of this fabulous Iran tourist destination will treat you to fine works of Iranian art.
19. Imam Reza Holy Shrine
This golden and sparkling beauty is hallowed ground for many Iranians. As Iran’s main religious destination, Imam Reza holy Shrine is a large complex of vast courtyards, towering minarets, Islamic architecture, and flowing fountains. Beside a walk in the peaceful atmosphere of the shrine and finding pilgrims praying, the complex treats you to a museum with a collection of carpets, rugs, manuscripts and other precious stuff. Shopping for fine turquoise rocks, as well as Iranian barberry and saffron is also a great choice in the nearby bazars.
20. Bam Citadel
With 4th to 6th century origins, Bam Citadel (UNESCO) became the crossroads of major trade routes from the 7th through the 11th century. With stunning antique structures made of mud bricks and a genius underground irrigation system (qanats), this top destination in Iran is a fine example of a fortified Medieval town.
Location: Around 190 km from Kerman
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