The image of Iran portrayed in the foreign media has for decades been rather forbidding. Within minutes of leaving the airport, however, you’ll realise that the grim, grey-bearded Ayatollahs whose giant mug shots define the country in the popular imagination abroad have little to do with reality on the ground. Ordinary Iranians are exceptionally welcoming and hospitable. With sixty percent of the population under the age of 30, this is a young, vibrant country with its eyes set firmly on the future.
In the cities, you’ll come across cafés filled with hip, smart-phone carrying 20-somethings as fascinated by fashion and the arts as their counterparts in the West – even if the girls do have to wear headscarves in public. Out in rural areas, attitudes are generally more conservative but the locals no less warm. A surprising number of people speak a little English and are eager to practise it. In short, encounters with Iranians will be frequent and likely to prove among the most enjoyable aspects of your trip.
Time Zone: UTC + 3 hours 30 mins
Currency: Iranian Rial
The most convenient route for flights between the UK and Iran is to fly with Turkish Airlines via Istanbul, taking around 8 or 9 hours. An alternative is to fly with Emirates through Dubai, which will take 11 to 12 hours.
Travel Within Iran
Iran is huge – almost 7 times larger than the UK to be exact – and overland journeys between destinations are often long by British standards. That said, we use only luxury, air-conditioned vehicles with experienced drivers, and there’s plenty of exotic scenery to enjoy out of the window as you travel. For some legs of your tour it may also make sense to take the occasional domestic flight.
Dress and Etiquette
Things are changing fast in Iran, but it remains outwardly a conservative Islamic country in which women are expected to dress modestly in public, wearing a headscarf, long sleeves and long, loose-fitting trousers or ankle-length skirts, and a long coat in winter. Watch how other women dress and you’ll soon get the idea. In some religious places, women must also wear a black chador to enter mosques – there will always be a stall renting them for visitors.
In general, when chatting to Iranians avoid quizzing them about politics, and steer the subject on to less contentious ground in the unlikely event they do the same to you.
Beware taarof, the Iranian code of civility which can cause confusion for the uninitiated, particularly when shopping. Often a vendor will tell you an item is free when it isn’t. As the buyer, you’re merely required to keep insisting. It may take two or three goes, but eventually your payment will be accepted.