6 Things Nobody Told Me About Iran

Pink mosque Shiraz Iran

Travel to Iran… A land of paradox and mystery, myth and legend.

I had wanted to travel to Iran for many years, it is a country which has always aroused my curiosity – stunning peaks and crazy beards, friendly locals and burning flags; I have to admit, the international media had painted a confusing picture of this rarely visited place and very few people take the plunge and travel to Iran these days.

Determined to discover Iran for myself, I became obsessed with the idea of somehow sneaking in. Unfortunately, travel to Iran on a British passport is impossible unless upon an organised tour, which isn’t really my style.

And so, out of desperation and the feeling that something powerful was drawing me towards this oft-described Axis of Evil, I commenced Operation ‘Become Irish’.

Operation Become Irish took nearly a year to complete but, after much paperwork and a fair amount of begging, the Emerald Isle finally gave in and granted me citizenship on account of my Irish grandparents.

Finally, with an Irish passport, I could now travel to Iran.

Many friends and colleagues told me that travelling to Iran was bound to be difficult and fraught with danger at every turn – I was told that sex, drugs, hitchhiking and Couchsurfing, a few of my favourite pastimes, would all be impossible while travelling in Iran…

Despite almost everybody I knew having a strong opinion, there were six things that nobody told me about travel in Iran….

Nobody wears burkahs

travel to iran

Hippy chick exploring the island of Hormuz

I’ll admit it, before I got to Iran, I was kind of expecting everybody to be wearing jet black burkahs. I saw a total of zero women wearing burkahs during my six weeks travelling across Iran. Zero. Some Iranian women wear a chador, a loose fitting kind of robe but this is optional and mostly worn by older, more traditional, women. The hijab, a kind of veil which covers the hair, is mandatory (and widely unpopular) but comes in plenty of hippie trippie colours. If you find yourself hanging out with a particularly party-oriented group of girls, it’s a bit like being at a festival. Persian women, by the way, are hands down some of the most beautiful women in the world. Luckily for the wandering vagabond, backpackers in Iran appear to be quite popular, which brings me to my next point…

Tinder works in Iran

travel to iran

Checking out the local talent…

Most fun websites are banned in Iran – Facebook, Twitter, Couchsurfing, Youtube, Tinder – all banned. Luckily, you can get around this by installing a VPN on your phone – an app which bounces your phone location to another, more lenient, part of the world. Once you have installed a VPN, you are good to go! Jump on tinder in Iran and get swiping… Beware though, Persian women really are incredible, you may end up falling head over heels in love and inviting one of them to travel around the world with you. Just avoid letting her behind the wheel of your brand new party tuk-tuk (if you guys aren’t following me on snapchat yet, you really should be – @wthatton) because…

Iranians are insane drivers

travel to iran

Hitching a ride in Southern Iran.

I’ve been nearly run over in close to fifty countries around the world. The first vehicle I ever controlled, a motorbike in Vietnam, I sent hurtling off a cliff. I’ve lost more wing mirrors than you have socks, gotten a rental car stuck in a quagmire in rural Albania (fuck you google maps!) and, recently, managed to crash a segway. I understand the mad-max-madness that can sometimes descend when one is behind the wheel of a car. Or, at least, I thought I did…

Iranians take crazy driving to a whole new level. Whilst smiling, joking and gently chewing on pistachios, Iranians will tackle blind corners at a hundred miles an hour, wrenching the steering wheel from side to side in an attempt to hit as many bystanders as possible. The traffic in Tehran is particularly manic with ‘party cars’ of young Iranians overtaking, undertaking and cutting each other up whilst frequently screeching to a halt as they hit pockets of gridlocked traffic. Often, these ‘party cars’ of young, beautiful folks listening to heavy music are on their way to the local ‘single house’. Nobody even told me travel to Iran could include partying but it turns out…

The party scene is alive and kicking

travel to iran

Since I don’t want to get anybody in trouble, here are some amusing ties.

Most unmarried Iranians live with their parents but a handful have their own place, these ‘single houses’ are the go-to locations for couples wanting to spend alone time together and, of course, for the underground party scene… Parties vary hugely from substance-assisted frenzies to rather chilled out dinner parties.  Regardless of the atmosphere, Iranians love to dance and upon arriving at the party will quickly change out of conservative clothing into more, erm, Western clothing. The Iranian men-folk love a drink and take great pride in showing off their own homemade vodkas, wines and beers. Outside of the towns and cities, there are a few hidden spots where Iranians head for a few days of camping away from the watchful eyes of the authorities. It is well worth bringing a tent with you when travelling in Iran, because…

Iran is a budget backpacker’s dream

travel to iran

I celebrated by hitchhiking…

Iran is a great place to get back to the basics of adventure backpacking; food is cheap and the country has so many incredible, unspoiled, wild places that there is no point in paying for accommodation when you can easily camp. Couchsurfing is illegal but, like everything, it happens and it is very easy to find hosts in most major cities. It’s possible to get travel in Iran on less than ten dollars a day if you simply take to the road and stick out your thumb. Hitchhiking in Iran (article coming soon!) is unbelievably easy, the longest I ever had to wait for a ride was about ten minutes and although many drivers didn’t really understand the concept of hitching they were always keen to help out a bedraggled backpacker standing upon the side of the road. I hitched a total of around 2000km in Iran and found that hitching was one of the best ways to meet a very diverse group of people. Whilst in Iran, I was very fortunate to meet many, many cool people who helped me out, looked after me, gave me a ride or simply shared a cup of tea with me…

Iranian people rock

travel to iran

Upon arriving in Iran, it was instantly obvious that the people were not a bunch of crazy extremists and are in fact some of the most chilled out, down to earth, folks you are likely to meet. As time went by, I met more and more Iranians and had the pleasure of forming genuine friendships with many of the people I encountered. Iranians are, like everybody else, struggling to work out what the hell they want to do with their lives – everybody I met had dreams, aspirations and hopes for the future. Many Iranians want nothing more than to travel the world, to explore the unknown and to be free to make their own decisions. The younger generation of Iranians, in particular, are quietly challenging the status quo, striving in some small way to change their lives, their circumstances and their country. Travel to Iran can prove to be a truly enlightening experience…

Iran is a visually stunning country, a place which is changing fast and which has incredible potential to be one of the world’s next superpowers. This is a land where modern trends and ancient traditions come together with a bang as the Iranian people charge headfirst into the future. With stunning landscapes, some of the kindest people in the world, surprisingly awesome parties, beautiful Persian women and plenty of untapped adventures – the time to travel to Iran is now.

To the many incredible people I met upon my journey, thank you for making my time in Iran a truly life changing experience. For more tips you should know before you visit Iran, check out this post!

To find out more about Iran, check out my backpacking Iran travel guide.

Want to learn how to travel the world on $10 a day? Check out the Broke Backpacker’s Bible…

 

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57 Comments

  • Danielle says:

    I’m so curious about Iran and I would really like to visit, but as an American citizen that is off limits, as you said, unless I want to join a tour group. I’m particularly curious about language in Iran: I know that Persian is the official language, but how many Iranians speak English, and can you get by in Iran just speaking English? What other languages are common there?
    Danielle recently posted…Things I’d Never Heard of Before I Moved to GermanyMy Profile

    • Sahar says:

      Hi, I’m Iranian. Many of the Iranians can speak English, mostly the younger ones. I think you won’t have problem.
      Many languages are spoken in Iran, including Azari,Kurdish and … but in the cities like Tehran, Isfahan and Shiraz , Persian is the most spoken language.

    • hi dear
      yes Persian is official language in Iran . there is a lot of Accent in the people .
      about English language , yes Iranian people . mostly young guys can speaks English like me ,
      and some of theme can speaks Turkish . normally you can speak English with my people
      we would be glad to you be here in Iran to see our history and our people and speck with theme . they are so socially and friendly with Foreign guest and tourism .

      best regards
      Mirhamed Rooy

  • Ray says:

    Great to see how much your perception of Iran changed during these six weeks, Will. When you met these friendly Iranians along the way, what were their perceptions of the United Kingdom and how did it change after they met you?
    Ray recently posted…Indy Hostel – Indianapolis’ Only HostelMy Profile

  • Looks like getting into Iran required quite a bit of effort for you! Looks like a worthwhile trip though.
    Jennifer Cooper recently posted…Good Food and Relaxation in Pemuteran, BaliMy Profile

  • Nicole says:

    The Iranians like most populations don’t necessarily agree with their government’s foreign policy. You will find them, probably the most hospitable people in the world.

  • Soulmuser says:

    Wonderful post. I have been thinking of visiting Iran. I don’t think Indians have that much problems with our passport, but as a solo woman traveler in Iran? How safe is that?
    Soulmuser recently posted…An Escape To WineMy Profile

    • Will Hatton says:

      So glad you liked the post! Ive talked to a few women who’ve travelled in Iran and they said they felt ok but like anywhere you need to keep alert to your own safety at all times.

  • Jim says:

    Fucking wild! Iran looks awesome. I’ll admit that I have my western skepticism but damn! Awesome work man.
    Jim recently posted…How to Attach An Anchor to a KayakMy Profile

  • Aisleen says:

    Haha, Good on you for your dedication! Becoming Irish was an inspired move! I’m lucky enough to be able to hold both a British and and Irish passport too and it’s amazing how much more easy going some countries are on the Irish! Cheaper Visa fees too 😉 I must admit, before I went to Iran in 2010 I was really skeptical – but needn’t have been, it was really cool – i met a load of youngsters dancing and playing bongos under the bridge in Esfahan – could have sworn they were ‘on something’; most people I met were so friendly, with random people asking to take photos of them and asking us why on earth we were visiting their country; and TOTALLY agree with you on the crazy drivers – i’ve got some nuts pictures of traffic and toddlers travelling in the back of pickup trucks etc!
    Aisleen recently posted…Crikey! Ten things you never knew about Australia….My Profile

  • Sasha says:

    Loved watching your snapchats in Iran and love reading about all the stuff you couldn’t say whilst there. Definitely looks like an interesting country!

    • Will Hatton says:

      Thanks Sasha, Iran was fascinating and so much fun. Im really keen to break down some misconceptions there are about it. The adventure continues in India! Check it out on Snapchat too!

  • mehdi says:

    hi will
    i hope that i see you again in iran
    iran full of intresting and attractive places
    see jason article about iran:
    7 REASONS TO TRAVEL TO IRAN NOW
    http://matadornetwork.com/trips/7-reasons-to-travel-to-iran-now/

  • Danny says:

    Always wanted to visit Iran, so good to hear its not what CNN portrays it as (as I suspected would be the case). Have heard the skiing is awesome too. Thanks Will.

    • Will Hatton says:

      I hope you get a chance to visit at some point, Danny. Hopefully I’ll get to try out some skiing on my next visit!

      • Hamid says:

        I’m Iranian too. Thanks a lot for your nice perspective from my country. I’m a PADI Scuba Diving Instructor on Kish Island in south Part of Iran(Persian Gulf).
        Anybody is welcomed here even without a visa. You can get your Scuba diving certification here and do a lot of crazy things here. Kish is a nice ,warm and beautiful Island which is totally safe for everybody.
        I would be happy to give you other info about Iran or Kish Island.
        [email protected]
        Instagram: Happykish
        +989385213961

    • Yassi says:

      Hi Danny,

      Dont miss skiing in Iran specially ski resorts nearby Tehran. You can get to 3 ski resorts only in an hour or an hour & half.You can surf them on the net with these names: Shemshak, Darbandsar & Dizin. Or you could exprience skiing in one of the highest ski resorts in the world with approx 4,000 m from sea level which is located on north of Tehran & called Tochal. You can enjoy pow & off piste also. If you need any help regarding skiing, happy to help you any skiers.

  • Hi Will!
    What an awesome post! I’m hoping to find a way into Iran and Pakistan outside of a formal tour, as an American… We’ll see how it goes, haha…
    But way to go on breaking down stereotypes! One of the best parts of traveling is having your preconceptions shattered… And perhaps the most rewarding part of travel blogging is sharing those experiences with others.
    Keep on rockin’! Peace out and Adventure on!
    Tara- Hippie Hits The Road recently posted…Hippie Got a Liebster!My Profile

  • Pankaj says:

    Hi Will, Awesome post. I’m shocked to hear that fun websites are banned in Iran :O Anyway, good pics. You rock!
    Pankaj recently posted…Top 26 Places to Visit in JaipurMy Profile

  • Logan says:

    Hi! I really love this post. I was always very interested in Iran and mostly their language. I am not sure if my Czech passport will get me acces to Iran without being part of a tour group tho…have to look into it:D

  • Sarah says:

    I really want to visit now after reading this! 🙂

  • Nasir says:

    Thanks for this lovely share and info about Iran. Now, really plan to make a visit, great 🙂
    Nasir recently posted…Great Wall of China | Facts, Map, History and LengthMy Profile

  • Aaron says:

    I’m flying next week to Iran (planning for a VOA at Tehran airport), and wanted your advise and recommendations regarding the feasibility and rewardness of doing the trip in low budget / backpacking terms.
    So this means no tour group, stay at simple hotels / hostels, walk a lot, use public transport etc.
    Do you think this is easy to be done, could I find and book on the ground cheap choices (which I ‘d prefer) or should book ahead? It must be low season now…
    The main cities to visit are Tehran, Yazd, Shiraz, Esfahan (in 2 week trip, solo) and I’m mostly interested in seeing life there, traditions, feel a bit of the atmosphere of the country, maybe get out of the city here or there….
    If you have experiences, recommendations for simple hotels at these cities (no luxuries at all, just clean and safe) or any travel suggestions, please do share, as many as you like!
    Also, it would be very convenient if I could find train tickets on the spot, I’m a kind of train traveler when possible, do you think it is easy?

    • Will Hatton says:

      I definitely wouldn’t bother booking anything in advance – all can be sorted easily on the ground. Cheap hostels are hard to come by but couchsurfing is very much alive and well so give that a go 🙂 Hitchhiking is easy and the trains are fairly cheap 🙂

  • Merhdad says:

    Hi Will
    Thank you for sharing good practices.
    I hope that one day eliminate bad thoughts about Iran
    I invite other friends to visit Iran…

  • Mustafa says:

    Hi will,

    I read about your travel to Iran through a local internet news-agency. I am happy that your attitude has changed toward Iran and your sharing the experience. Iranians are very hospitable and friendly.
    Apart from the misjudgement of Iran in whole, the strategies of iranian government and iranian’s system of values is immensely blackwashed. There is not such a big gap between Iranian people’s values and Iranian government’s values, which is consisted on humanity, sympathy, love of fellow men, respecting the elder, morality and so on.
    Western Media is trying hard to pour oil in the fire, and sistabilize Iran. Which will be neutralized if more western visitors and tourists travel to Iran and show the truth about Iran.

  • hooman jafari says:

    Dear Will. i,m glad that u have such a lovely experience in my country. next time tell us before u coming.make u a party.
    have safe travel

  • N.Badami says:

    Dear,

    Viewing civilizations and cultures is very interesting …
    But my advice to you,

    study about where you travel,

    Myths and legends of the nations and their impact on the social system and art is still very enjoyable.

    With this vision
    You discover the magic of civilization.

    It is painful but true:

    in this country the theocratic like Islamic republic of iran (Persia), you are God’s slaves … and a slave can never be complain of the Lord. This is a new religious dictatorship …

    Barbaric regime of Iran is the world’s problem, not its people.

    And finally sorry for my English is not good 🙂

    With regards
    -Native of Persia

  • Ehsan says:

    hey there everybody
    dear will, i read your article about my country and the comments too. it was great. happy too see you liked the time you spend in iran. just wanted to say a few things about iran for the people who are planning to visit here. first of all no matter who you are and where you come from you are always welcome here. as long as you know basic rules in iran, you wouldnt have any problem. basic rules are: do not drink or buy alcohol in public and if you are female do not forget to have a scarf when you are in public places. thats pretty much all of it. and remember if you traveled to arab countries before and you think iran most be something like that, you are wrong. its a complete diffrent culture here and it ROCKS !! come see it for your self ! if anybody needs help with anything in iran, specially dear will, i would be more than happy to help. i’ll give you my email.
    looking forward to see you guys here 😉

  • carla says:

    Dude this was an awesome article~ In my next life I would love to live this way! Cheers to making the most of life and keeping it an adventure 🙂

  • Niloufar says:

    Hey Will. I am so glad you enjoyed your trip to Iran and decided to write this awesome article. Iranians are unfortunately a victim of misjudgment because of their country and political policies.
    I am an Iranian but I wasn’t raised there so I have met with people that only see what media portraits about Iran and despite their interest in our country, are scared of visiting.
    Hopefully with more positive views and articles like yours more travelers pack up and visit this beautiful country
    And by the way, you mentioned using snapchat here, what VPN did you use in order to access it?
    .

  • Sarah says:

    Hey Will,
    Got a quick question.
    What VPN did you use in order to access Snapchat in Iran?

  • David says:

    Absolutely, Iranian peoples are amazing. They have the best behavior of the world. I see different kinds of people, different images of people but Iranians are absolutely different. Actually, I am blessed of these people.
    David recently posted…Sebile Magic Swimmer: A Must Have For Every AnglerMy Profile

  • Kali says:

    Love your web! Great post on Iran, planning to visit next year. What,s the bus service like? Thanks for the info, need to check it out as I travel on a UK passport.

  • saba says:

    Hi Will
    I’m Saba from Iran , I’m so happy you had a good time here , the company I work in is trying to provide some articles and travel tips for foreigners to encourage them to visit iran , we also offer good deals for booking hotels across Iran

  • Suprimo says:

    Great post !!! Thanks a lot Will. I am planning a 3-week trip to this awesome place and your post is such a great help. I look forward to meet the friendly Iranians, try their famed kebabs and have a great time.
    By the way, would you recommend couchsurfing to staying at a hostel?
    Thanks mate.

  • Joan Torres says:

    Despite being country ruled by cleric dictators who impose their laws based on their religious faith, Iran is home to the most liberal people in the Middle East (excluding Lebanon, of course). Many women, especially in the big cities, cover their head only because they have to. I traveled to Iran by plane and still remember that, in the plane, 90% of the iranian women were not covered but they wearing Western clothes. Yeah, I agree that Iran is like a backpacking dream, especially when you get to know all those interesting and liberal people and, this is also the only Middle Eastern country where you can meet women easily. Didn’t try Tinder though 😀 !
    Joan Torres recently posted…10 awesome things to do in LebanonMy Profile

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