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Kalouts, Iran

Things to know before you go to Iran

Iran is one of those complicated countries where you really want to be prepared for some things. Otherwise it can be quite a challenge to survive not to mention spoil the enjoyment. So here are few tips and lessons we used/learned during our travels in there as well as some curiosities. Some of these we learnt the hard way. Hopefully you won’t have to 🙂

  1. To get to Iran we got our visa on arrival at the airport. We heard rumors that it’s a long process so we were surprised that ours was ready within 45 minutes. You just need to have your first address in Iran (so first hotel, friend etc) and the phone number and valid insurance which preferable says Iran. If you don’t you can buy it in the airport. We got 30 days visa for 75 euros each.
  2. People with a stamp from Israel are not allowed… And citizens of Israel even less. For them country of Israel doesn’t even exist, it’s occupied Palestine.
  3. Iran is SUPER SAFE!! Seriously we never felt safer. As a foreigner you have a status of a holy cow that no one wants to hurt especially with all the Islam stigma that they have and want to erase. In general they don’t really have a culture of stealing or anything like that. You can calmly talk to people, go to their houses etc.
  4. There is no option of withdrawing money in Iran unless you have an Iranian bank account. It means that you have to take cash for your whole stay. It can be either dollar or euro. It doesn’t matter. Many of the hotels except a foreign currency and some give their prices in USD or euro. We set up our budget on 70 euro a day for us both and we managed to keep it that way or lower. Don’t forget that you also have to pay for the visa on arrival. We paid 75 euro each.
  5. Money exchange. The rate that you get on google is way lower that the one you will be offered at exchange offices. We got 40-41 000 rials for one euro. Don’t go to banks, there you will get lower, google exchange rate…
  6. Prices are sometimes expressed in toman and sometimes in rials. Toman is generally one zero less than rials. So 40 000 rials would be just 4 000 toman. It can be very confusing so make sure you understand what you have to pay. Also many times Iranians just skip all the zeros. And so if a taxi driver says “five” he probably means 5 000 toman so 50 000 rials.
  7. Especially for woman there is a dress code. Absolute necessity is a scarf covering part of all your hair. Further you should cover your legs down to ankles and have a loose tunic and dress to cover the curves of your butt. Shoulders and arms should also be covered at least to elbow. In holy shrines and some mosques you will need to wear a chador but you can borrow it there 🙂 for men it’s pretty simple: no shorts…
  8. Drinking alcohol is prohibited so all the beer that you’ll see in the supermarkets are alcohol free and taste like a lemonade… To get some booze you would need to go a bit more underground… And generally it’s not advisable to drink in public places. We heard it’s a rather expensive entertainment as you need to bribe the police and give your booze to them.
  9. Wifi in hostels tends to be pretty bad and limited. It’s best to just get a local sim card and mobile internet. We bought a local sim card for 100 000 rials and 3 gb internet for 150 000 rials valid for a month.
  10. Many web pages are blocked so to enter Facebook, one drive, CNN, Airbnb or many other sites you need a VPN. What it basically means it that you have to send your internet through another country. You can either pay in Iran to get a VPN or you can set up your own. That’s what we did. We set up a computer in Holland and send the signal through there.
  11. Iran is all about tea! It’s a true paradise for tea drinkers. And I’m not talking about the boring black tea. Here it’s always with a little something extra like cardamom or saffron or rose petals. For coffee drinkers … well it can be complicated. Although cafés are appearing the whole time to supply that need as well:)
  12. Getting local food can be challenging because when Iranians go out to eat they mostly go for kebab and fast food. Fortunately we have visited few restaurants with local food that were great but be prepared for higher prices. For a falafel or kebab you can pay 1 or 2 euros while for a meal in a nice restaurant maybe around 6 euros.
  13. Not only the alphabet is different but also the numbers so it’s very handy to learn the numbers to be able to understand the prices:) also take a look at the books, they are written from right to left (except for numbers they are written from left to right) and the front page is our last page:D
  14. Persians are not Arabs! They will be offended when you get that wrong. They have their own language, own culture and costumes. It’s like mistaking a Polish for a Russian 🙂 Pretty bad right?
  15. Friday is their Sunday. So many things are closed although most of the museums and touristic things remain open.
  16. If you’re a couple and you want to hug and kiss, get a room. Literally. It’s illegal to display affection in public between men and women. Holding hands every now and then it’s a maximum. Man to man hugging etc is a different story … Actually men have a lot of affection for each other, they kiss on their cheeks to say hi, they hug… Maybe not in the middle of the street but almost:) Gay guys travelling in Iran could get pretty confused:)
  17. Remember to take off your shoes when going on a carpet or into a mosque!
  18. Hot shower is never a problem and also the heating in the winter is everywhere 🙂 with oil and gas being so cheap you will never get cold, you are more likely to sweat in the winter actually:) Interestingly in public toilets you might not find toilet paper but there will be plenty of soap:)
  19. Don’t throw toilet paper into the toilet!!
  20. Take a copy of your passport. Hotels and hostels will want to keep your passport while you’re there but we didn’t really feel comfortable with that so we always left a copy. They usual only needed a copy of the main page and not the visa.
  21. If Iranians offer you something like food or free ride refuse 3 times to make sure they are not just being polite. It’s Tarof and it’s like their savoir vivre.
  22. Pray before crossing the road. There is no mercy there, Iranians drive like crazy and they won’t stop for anyone. Pedestrians crossing lines and lights are there just for decoration.
  23. Bargain! You want to take a taxi, buy something or get a room. You need to bargain otherwise you will pay wayyyy too much.
  24. Most of the places are nowhere to be found online. You can’t find them on or aribnb. And they mostly don’t have a webpage. But at least in most of the cities most hotels/hostels/guesthouses are in the same area. So we just searched for options on wikitravel and then we walked around from door to door. Don’t get your hopes up from wikitravel prices, in many places they’re just ancient. Anyway any price you hear, you have to bargain. If you stay more than one night, you have a greater chance to get a better price.
  25. More expensive is not always better! We saw rooms for 60 dollars that were dark, shabby and stinky and rooms that were for 30 dollars and were neat and nice. We got an impression that star rating doesn’t say much and nor does the price. You need to see it all yourself.
  26. Bargain in local currency! Although in many places you can pay in euros or dollars, often you get better prices if you bargain in local currency.
  27. Women first. Woman can seat in the “man section” of the bus or metro. But in the “women only “part, it’s women only:) as a woman you will get offered to sit in the men section.
  28. No hand shaking. As a woman you don’t shake a man’s hand unless they initiate it. I got denied shaking hands many times.
  29. You will smell roses. Rose water and rose petals are everywhere, in food, tea, perfumes… it’s unmissable when walking around the streets.
  30. Nose job. It’s very common, especially for women to get their nose done. So you will see a lot of women and some man with plasters on their noses. Actually it’s in to wear it even if you haven’t done anything… we saw quite a few cases like that.
  31. Cats and dogs are considered unclean and not so great for the family. So we haven’t met anyone who would have them at home… But there are plenty of cats on the streets and they actually look quite good as they are fed by everyone 🙂


Hopefully this post will help you a bit to enjoy Iran to the fullest and spot more small things along the way 🙂

14 of our favorite ceilings in Iran

Architecture in Iran is truly something special. The history, the colors, the geometry, everything is thought out to perfection. But what impressed us the most were the ceilings. Every single one of them was a unique masterpiece. And every single one has its stories. We heard that mirrored ceilings, that are a huge part of the art in Iran, were invented by the Persians when mirrors were brought from Europe and they were broken in transportation. Iranians still decided to use the pieces for the ceilings which created a one of a kind effect. Especially with a bit of light.
But we'll let the art speak for itself. Here are our favorite ceilings 🙂

  1. Triple ceiling in the Pink Mosque, Shiraz

  2. Geometric beauty in Borujerdi house, Kashan

  3. Glass mirrors in Golestan Palace, Tehran

  4. Playful colors in a random street, Shiraz

  5. Infinity repetition in Grand Bazaar, Tehran

  6. Adobe finesse in Abbasiyan house, Kashan

  7. Open ceiling in Tabatabaie house, Kashan

  8. Gold splendor in Holy Shrine, Qom

  9. Green mirrors of The Holy Shrine, Aran va Bidgol

  10. Repetition like no other in Ali Qapu Palace, Isfahan

  11. Contrast of colors in Sheikh Lotfollah mosque, Isfahan

  12. Staircase ceiling on the entrance to the Bazaar, Tehran

  13. Blue poetry on Hafez tomb, Shiraz

  14. Double ceiling of the Shah mosque, Isfahan

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Tehran, Iran

9 experiences you just can’t miss in Tehran

  1. Dive into the chaos of the Grand Bazaar

You just can’t come to Iran and skip the bazaar experience. We absolutely loved the chaos, the carriages coming from everywhere, the smell of fresh tea and spices. Not to mention the architecture which is just stunning. We also went into some antique shops to take a closer look at their ceilings and staircases. Some were absolutely breathtaking. The bazaar is huge so make sure you take your time to get lost and explore it. Remember it’s closed during lunch time.


  1. Enjoy the colors and glamour of the Golestan Palace

Golestan Palace was once a royal residence and there is absolutely no doubt about it. The splendor of the place is just immense. There are ceilings made of small glass mirrors, stunning gardens, fountains and walls with colorful tiles. There is plenty to see but get prepared because it’s actually not that easy. First you have to decide what you want to see. You buy a ticket to each part of the complex. If you want to buy them all it’s 940 000 rials (around 24 euro). If not the admission is 150 000 rials (around 4 euro) which allows you to wonder around the garden. Then there are 8 parts for 80 000 each (around 2 euros) and one, the most spectacular is 150 000 rials (so around 4 euro) and it includes the Hall of Ivory, Hall of Mirror and other incredible halls. Unfortunately, in most of the places you can’t take pictures.

  1. See how the last Shah lived at Niavaran Palace

Niavaran was the last residence of the Shah before he was forced to leave the country. Also here you have to decide what you want to see. There is the main house which is the most important part. Next to it there are few museums and a library. In the main house you get an impression of the luxury of the 70s. There is a convertible roof that lets the fresh air and light in, private rooms of the kids and more than one collection of clothes of the Shah and his wife. We paid 150 000 rials admission and 150 000 rials the entrance to the main house (together around 8 euros).

  1. Calm shopping at the Tajrish bazaar

There is no chaos here, you don’t have to jump out of the way to avoid crazy men with their carriages. Here it’s where you can just enjoy the world of spices, food, carpets and whatever you want undisturbed. We were especially amazed by mountains of saffron that are available in so many shops here. In Europe one gram is very expensive, here we are talking about mountains of practically gold. Saffron next to rose seems to be the most important ingredient in local cuisine. When you’re done with saffron there is still tea waiting as well as many, many jewelry shops.

  1. Enjoy winter wonderland going up the Darband mountain

We were in Tehran during winter so we absolutely loved seeing all the snow, barbecues on the side of the road and numerous shops and restaurants. It all seemed so Christmas-like, even though Christmas is not really celebrated here. Not to mention the experience of absolute, beautiful, white winter in a country that we mostly pictured as omnipresent desert.

  1. Watch the sunset next to the Azadi Tower

Azadi Tower is one of the most prominent symbols of Tehran and it was built in 1971 for the commemoration of 2500 years of the Persian Empire. First it was called Shahyad in honor of the Shah but obviously after the revolution it had to be changed and now it’s Freedom Tower. The tower is surrounded by fountains and underneath it has a museum. When we were there, there was maintenance work going on so we could only appreciate the tower itself. We couldn’t complain as first we saw it in full splendor during day light and as the sun went down we saw it illuminated.

  1. Enjoy the panoramic view of the city from Milad Tower

Milad Tower is a kind of thing you would expect in Dubai, glamourous, modern, full of stylish detail with a local touch. There are shops there, restaurants and a stunning terrace to enjoy the views of the city. Honestly we have seen many viewpoints but never have we seen anything like it. In the evening this great metropolis is like a painting of lights. Colorful, vibrant and very lively. The only drawback is that you enjoy the views through a metal fence which makes taking pictures nearly impossible. We almost forgot to mention that it’s the 6th tallest tower in the world. Entrance to the terrace was only 120 000 rials (around 3 euro) and the views were priceless.

  1. Enjoy the power of technology on Tabiat bridge

This brand new bridge maybe doesn’t make it on many “must see” lists but for us it was one of the biggest surprises in Tehran. It’s the most extraordinary pedestrian bridges we have ever seen. Imagine two floors, with little gardens everywhere, views of the city, benches to sit on and also a few restaurants and a really nice café where you can read some books (not only in Farsi). Not to mention that as soon as the sun goes down the bridge lights up with intense green color.

  1. Former American embassy

That’s probably the sight everybody imagines. Murals with anti-american art, passing by ladies in chador, posters of Obama looking like an Islam teacher. It was overtaken in 1979 because of the religious revolution. Later on 52 American citizens were held hostage for 444 days which makes it the longest hostage crisis ever. Although it’s incredible to see where it all started, make sure it’s not the only thing you see.

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