16 Day of Cultural Jewels Expedition

Best season: Oct. to Des. & Mar. to May
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Expedition Summary in sixteen days, you’ll be exposed to the jewels of Iran’s rich and diverse history, culture and landscapes. To summarize, you will:
  • visit the charming city of Shiraz, a treasure trove of Persian culture
  • walk with the great Persian emperors in the magnificent Persepolis
  • go back 12,000 years in time, at the rock village of Meymand
  • discover Kerman, where rough and tough desert is turned into World Heritage Persian gardens
  • follow the trail of Persia Carpet in middle Iran and learn how is it woven with love and care
  • ride on sea and salt, as you pass one of the most beautiful roads in Iran
  • visit Yazd, flourished on the knowledge and wisdom of its people
  • get familiar with Zoroastrian, Christian and Islamic religions and their footprints in Iran
  • visit Isfahan, where Half The World is gathered in one place
  • wander in Kashan, a center of Prehistoric Civilization of 9,000 years old, still flourishing
  • visit Tehran, the dynamic, multicultural capital city and the beating heart of the country
  • enjoy the fantastic food and sweets the country has offered the world for long
Itinerary Details:

Day 1. Arrival in Shiraz, hooray

Upon arrival in Shiraz, your driver guide will welcome you at the airport and transfer you to your hotel. Depending on the time of your arrival, we can spend the rest of the day touring the beautiful and diverse city of Shiraz. Perhaps we can visit the Bagh-e Eram (Eram Garden) and Saadi’s Tomb if time permits. Or we can spend the evening in a traditional restaurant with a delicious Persian cuisine. Saadi’s Tomb, where one of Iran’s greatest poets is buried. It houses a beautiful garden, while it’s porch with its tall columns of pinkish marble is a traditional feature of Persian architecture. And Bagh-e Eram (Eram Garden), is a stunningly beautiful complex. It contains a colorful Palace and a vast Persian garden with a network of small artificial rivers flowing throughout the entire area. During our expedition, we will visit several Persian gardens that are registered as UNESCO World Heritage sites, and Bagh-e Eram is one of them. Persian gardens symbolize Eden and the four Zoroastrian elements of sky, earth, water and plants.
Your expedition will officially kick off tomorrow, with the tour of Shiraz. (L/D) You’ll stay overnight at your hotel in Shiraz.

Day 2. Shiraz, city of Poets, Gardens, and Wine

Today is the start of your wonderful expedition in central Iran and wow! An incredible journey is ahead of you. We will begin our journey from Shiraz, a treasure trove of Persian culture. Shiraz is the city of poets, gardens, wine, nightingales and flowers, and the celebrated birthplace of the great Persian poets, Hafiz and Saadi. Shiraz people are the most subtle, ingenious and vivacious people in Iran, as the writer of the book “A Year Amongst Persians” truly suggests.
After breakfast, we’ll head out to visit some of the monuments built during the Zand dynasty led by Karim Khan, who declared Shiraz as their capital. We will start with Arg-e Karim Khan (Citadel) an architectural wonder on exhibit, combining residential and military architecture together as it was both the home of Karim Khan and the army center of the dynasty. The Citadel is surrounded by 12 m walls covered by ornamental brickwork with 14 m high circular towers in each corner.
Then, we will walk to Hammam-e Vakil (Vakil Bath), an old public bath in Shiraz. It was a part of the royal district constructed during Karim Khan Zand’s reign, with beautifully decorated central chamber, vaulted ceilings, pillars, and pools. And then, it’s time for lunch and a short break. We’ll have lunch in Seray-e Mehr Teahouse with a charming atmosphere to relax, eat and sip tea.
After lunch, we will head to Bazaar-e Vakil (Vakil Bazaar), commissioned by Karim Khan to transform Shiraz into a great trading center. The Bazaar has beautiful courtyards, caravansaries, bath houses, and around 200 old shops selling all kinds of Persian rugs, spices, copper handicrafts, and antiques. It is a Zand architecture masterpiece, designed in a way to keep the interior cool in summer and warm in winter.
To freshen up, we will try Faloodeh, an Iranian cold dessert originally from Shiraz, and one the world’s earliest forms of chilled desserts, existing as early as 400 BC.
We will spend the rest of the day in Hafezieh (Hafez Tomb), where Hafez, the greatest Persian poet and the literary master of the 14th century is buried.
We’ll call the day off after a pleasant dinner in a traditional restaurant. However, before you sleep, there is still one thing to do. Tomorrow is a big day, as we will be visiting the magnificent Persepolis. To make you even more excited and prepared, we will watch the movie “Persepolis Recreated”, which is a 3D recreation of the grand Persepolis. It will give you an insight of the complex before you visit the actual site, so that you can better appreciate how vast and majestic the Persepolis is and was in the Achaemenid era. (B/L/D)

Day 3. Magnificent Persepolis, the true City of Persians

It is time to head to the magnificent Persepolis complex, one of the highlights of our expedition. In Iran it is called Takht-e Jamshid, which literally means “City of Persians”. It was the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire (ca. 550–330 BC) and is now one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Achaemenid Persia played a very influential role among the great civilizations of the ancient world. In 550 BC, Cyrus the Great laid the foundation of the largest empire the world had ever seen. His empire was unique because it was built based on the ideology of tolerance and respect for other cultures and religions. After Cyrus, Darius the Great extended the Persian Empire from the borders of India east to Greece on the Mediterranean, down to Egypt and Ethiopia in Africa and up to what is now Russia and Eastern Europe. Twenty-eight different nations were brought together under the rule of a man who was hailed as “the King of the Kings.” It was under his rule that for the first time, a standard weighing system was devised, old Persian cuneiform script was invented, and gold and silver coins were minted and used throughout the Empire.
We will spend the whole morning exploring the complex and wandering through the gates, chambers and palaces, including the Grand Staircase, Gate of All Nations, Apadana Palace and Staircase, Palace of 100 Columns, Hall of 32 Columns, and other private palaces.
We will have lunch in an old-fashioned boutique restaurant close to the compound, and then head to visit the wonderful Naqsh-e Rostam rock tombs. Four tombs belonging to Achaemenid kings are carved out of the rock face at a considerable height above the ground. One of the tombs is explicitly identified by an accompanying inscription as the tomb of Darius I the Great. There are also seven impressive Sassanid stone reliefs depicting royal ceremonies and victories of the kings.
We will then drive to Bavanat in the afternoon for an overnight stay before we head to our next destination tomorrow.
Total drive for the day: 240 km

Day 4. Time Machine, go back 12,000 years!

Today, we will drive to the ancient village of Meymand extremely old village believed to be the earliest human residence in the Iranian Plateau, dating back to 12,000 years ago. Many of the residents live in the 350 hand-dug houses amid the rocks, some of which have been inhabited for as long as 3,000 years. Stone engravings nearly 10,000 years old are found around the village, and deposits of pottery approximately 6,000 years old attest to the long history of settlement at the village site. The very difference of Meymand from other rock villages around the world is that it is still inhabited and alive. Meymand is awarded the UNESCO-Greece Melina Mercouri international prize for the safeguarding of its cultural landscapes.
We will visit some of the awe-inspiring monuments of the village, houses, public bath, school and mosque, all dug in the mountain by hand during hundreds and thousands of years.
We will stay overnight in one of the cave houses to fully absorb the beauty and charm of the village; it’s an opportunity of a lifetime no one wants to miss, even your tour guide! (B/L/D)
Total drive for the day: 215 km

Day 5. Kerman, jewel of South-East Iran

After a refreshing breakfast, we will drive to Kerman. Kerman is among several cities in Iran with a strong cultural heritage, which is expressed in the local accent, poetry, local music, handicrafts and customs that Kerman has introduced to the world of culture. It is famous for its long history and strong cultural heritage. The city is home to many historic mosques and Zoroastrian fire temples.
In Kerman, we’ll visit several monuments including the Ganjali Khan Mosque complex, the historic Grand Bazaar and Jabaliyeh Dome. If you are interested, we can also visit the only anthropology museum of Zoroastrians in the world, which showcases the ancient history of Zoroastrians and is located in Kerman’s Fire Temple.
In the evening, you’ll check-in to your hotel in Kerman and relax overnight. (B/L/D)
Total drive for the day: 220 km

Day 6. Gardens and Castles

Today we’ll drive to Mahan to visit a part of the paradise on earth, named Bagh-e Shazdeh (Prince’s Garden) which was built in 1850 during the governorship of Qajar dynasty. The garden is 5.5 hectares and consists of an entrance structure and gate at the lower end and a two-floor residential structure at the upper end. The distance between these two is ornamented with water fountains that are engined by the natural incline of the land. The garden is an excellent example of Persian gardens that take advantage of suitable natural climate.
After lunch, our journey continues to Rayen to visit Arg-e Rāyen (Rayen Castle). The medieval mud-brick city of Rayen displays all the architectural elements of a deserted citadel. It is extremely well preserved, despite numerous natural disasters that have destroyed similar structures nearby, and it is one of the most interesting sites in Iran believed to be at least 1,000 years old, may in fact have foundations from the pre-Islamic Sassanid era. The monument covers a 20,000-square-meter area, remaining a symbol of the residential fortresses during the ancient times. Just like other fortresses, it consists of the public quarter and the aristocratic zone. The essential sectors such as Zoor khaneh (gymnasium for a traditional Persian sport), mosque, and stable can be seen in the citadel.
Stay overnight in a local house, while you enjoy a nice Persian barbecue and tea. (B/L/D)
Total drive for the day: 100 km

Day 7. History, Culture, and Sweets!

After breakfast to freshen you up, we’ll hit the road again for a 300 km drive to Yazd, a historic city in the middle of Iran. Yazd is of foremost importance as a center of Persian architecture. Because of its climate, it has one of the largest networks of Qanats in the world, and Yazdi qanat makers are considered the most skilled in Iran. To deal with the scorching summers, many old buildings in Yazd have brilliant Badgir’s (wind catchers) and large underground basements. Because of generations of adaptations to its desert surroundings, Yazd is an architecturally unique city. It is also known in Iran for the high quality of its handicrafts, especially silk weaving, and its confectionary.
Tonight, it’s time to relax after the long road trip you had today! So, you’ll check-in to your hotel when you arrive in Yazd, and have a short break before you head out to stroll around the city. Your guide will show you the Amir Chakhmaq complex; a stunning three-story building is one of the largest Hosseinieh (worship site) in Iran. Then, you will head to Haj Khalifeh Ali Rahbar, a leading original Yazdi confectionary to try and admire the traditional Yazdi sweets. You will spend the rest of the day walking through the streets of the older city district which is one of the oldest towns on earth according to UNESCO.
In the evening, we’ll head back to your hotel in Yazd and call the day after a delicious dinner in a traditional restaurant. (B/L/D)
Total drive for the day: 300 km

Day 8. City of Badgirs (Wind Tower)

Today you will continue exploring the city of Yazd, one of the largest cities built almost entirely out of adobe. Your guide will show you the city and its historical most famous sites, Bogheh-ye Sayyed Roknaddin, Dolat Abad Garden, Khan-e Lari (house) and Bazaar of Yazd. You’ll also visit the Jameh Mosque of Yazd built in 12th century and still being in use, and an example of finest Persian mosaics and excellent architecture. Its minarets are the highest in the country. If time permits, we’ll visit the Saheb-A-Zaman Club Zurkhaneh in the evening to experience its Iranian brand of body building.
By now, you should be able to say the difference in the designs of Badgirs (Wind Towers) in Kerman and Yazd! And wait; there is one more city to check.
After a gourmet dinner in a traditional restaurant, you’ll have another relaxing overnight stay at your hotel, to get ready to hit the road again tomorrow. (B/L/D)

Day 9. Fire burning for Zoroastrians

It’s time to say goodbye to Yazd and continue our expedition, but there is one place we have to visit first. Atashkadeh (Fire Temple) is a holy place for Zoroastrians around the world with a flame that is said to have been burning since AD 470.
If time permits we’ll have short stops in Meybod and Naiin to get familiar with their rich history.
Then we’ll go to the great Isfahan and will stay overnight in hotel. During your stay in Isfahan, you’ll stay in fabulous Abbasi Hotel. Built at the time of Safavid dynasty about 300 years ago as a caravansary to provide lodging for passengers, it is beautifully renovated to become the most beautiful hotel in Isfahan. (B/L/D)
Total drive for the day: 320 Km

Day 10. Isfahan, Half the World

Today, we’ll focus on the Isfahan’s magnificent Naqsh-e Jahan Square. The square contains two mosques, a palace, and the bazaar. The square is the largest historic public square in the world after Tiananmen Square in Beijing, and it is one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.
In Naqsh-e Jahan, we’ll visit the Ālī Qāpū (The Royal Palace) from early 17th Century. It is forty-eight meters high, in seven floors each accessible by a spiral staircase, and is rich in naturalistic wall paintings with floral, animal and bird motifs.
Then, we will visit the Imam Mosque in Nag Naqsh-e Jahan Square. Built during the Safavid period, it is an excellent example of Islamic architecture in Iran and regarded as one of the masterpieces of Persian Architecture. It is registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its splendor is mainly due to the beauty of its seven-color mosaic tiles and calligraphic inscriptions.
We will also visit Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque. One of the architectural masterpieces of Safavid Iranian architecture, this mosque is considered to be the most beautiful in Iran. The mosque was designed to be a private mosque for the royal family and therefore it does not have any minarets. There is a tunnel from the mosque to the Royal Palace, across the Naqsh-e Jahan square.
And later, we will stroll around the vast and diverse Shahi Bazaar of the square for a real treasure trove, where amazing handicrafts are on display, from Carpet and Kilim to miniature and Khatam.
We’ll try mouth-watering Isfahani’s sweets and delights during our walk in the bazaar, to keep us up until a late lunch in an amazing traditional restaurant in Naqsh-e Jahan square.
After lunch, we’ll walk to Kakh-e Chehel Sotun (Chehel Sotun Palace), a beautiful Safavid complex built as a pleasure pavilion and reception hall. Chehel Sotun means “40 pillars” that is coming from 20 wooden pillars reflected in the long pool in front of the palace. Apart from the magnificent Throne Hall, the palace’s garden is also a UNESCO’s World Heritage listed monument and is an excellent example of the classic Persian Garden.
In the evening, we’ll head to Si-o-Seh Pol (Bridge of 33 Arches) on the Zayandeh River. This 298 m long bridge was built in 1,600 and served as both bridge and dam. After walking on the bridge, we will go under the bridge to a teahouse for a nice Persian tea and sweets beside the rushing water.
After a day of sightseeing and exploring, it’s time to head back to the hotel for dinner and calling the day. (B/L/D)

Day 11. Isfahan, a world of World Heritage

Today we’ll continue our tour in Isfahan, Iran’s number-one tourist destination. We’ll first visit the Masjed-e Jameh (Jameh Mosque), a veritable museum of Islamic architecture that still functions as a mosque. In a couple of hours, you can see and compare 800 years of Islamic design, scattered in more than 20,000 sq meters; it is the biggest mosque in Iran.
From Masjed-e Jameh, we will walk through the Bazar-e Bozorg (Grand Bazaar) which is one of Iran’s most historic and fascinating bazaars. It is a maze of lanes, domes, and halls linking the Masjed-e Jameh to Naqsh-e Jahan Square stretching 1.7 km.
Isfahan is a city of different religions. Today, we will head to the Armenian quarter of Isfahan, which is a colony of a community of around 5,000 Christians. Kelisa-ye Vank (Vank Cathedral) is the historic focal point of Armenian Church in Iran. The interior is covered with elegant paintings, gilded carvings, and rich tile work. The delicately blue and gold painted central dome depicts the Biblical story of creation of the world and man’s expulsion from Eden.
Depending on your taste, we can now either walk for 10 km back to Isfahan to get a more in-depth feel of the life in the city or can drive. Either way, the next destination will be Pol-e Khaju (Khaju Bridge), the finest bridge in the province of Isfahan, 110m long and built in two levels of terraced arcades.
In the evening, we’ll go back the Naqsh-e Jahan Square to admire its beauty at night before we head back to the hotel. (B/L/D)

Day 12. Kashan, a center of Prehistoric Civilization

Today, we will drive to Kashan, dating back to 9,000 years ago, where scientists believe is the first place that man started to live in a city. It is an important center for the production of high-quality pottery and tiles. The name Kashi, meaning “Tile” in Persian, is coming from the city name of Kashan. By some accounts, Kashan was the origin of the three wise men who followed the star that guided them to Bethlehem to witness the nativity of Jesus, as recounted in the Bible.
In Kashan, we will visit the World Heritage Site listed Bagh-e Fin (Fin Garden), which is a historical Persian garden. Completed in 1,590, the Fin Garden is the oldest extant garden in Iran.
Kashan has hundreds of large traditional houses built by wealthy merchants during the Qajar era. There are four particular buildings that are of most importance are Khan-e (house of) Tabatabaei and Khan-e Boroujerdi. We will visit the Khan-e Tabatabaei today and the Khan-e Boroujerdi tomorrow.
If your travel is in late April and early May, we will drive in the evening to Qamsar or Neyasar, large and flourishing villages with extensive gardens with fine roses used for the manufacture of rosewater. Qamsar is the biggest center in the Middle East in production of rose water. During April and May, there is a festival with lots of demonstrations of the whole process of distilling rose-water from rose blossoms. Picking flowers is done early in the morning, therefore, to see the entire process, we will stay overnight in the beautiful village in our camper trailer, besides the vast rose farms.
And in the other seasons, we will stay overnight in a traditional house in Kashan. (B/L/D)
Total drive for the day: 220 km

Day 13. Wander among Kashan’s historic architecture

If you are traveling during the rosewater season, in the morning we will start chasing, and maybe helping the farmers to pick the rose blossoms and see how they set up the pots and distil rosewater. It’s an incredible experience that many people from Iran and around the world gather to enjoy. Or we can visit Tappe Sialk, a pre historic hill which contains thousand years of civilization in Iran.
Apart from rosewater festival, we will spend the second day in Kashan to visit the Khan-e Boroujerdi house. Also, we will wander in the historic Bazaar of Kashan, which is one of Iran’s best bazaars with a broad range of goods, lots of historical monuments, mosques, caravanserais, and public baths. We’ll also try the delicious biscuits and snacks that Kashan has to offer.
In the evening, we will drive to Tehran, the dynamic capital of Iran. It house mind-blowing 14 million people with diverse culture and ethnic backgrounds. Tehran is a relatively old city; as such, it has an architectural tradition unique to itself. Archeological investigations and excavations in Tehran demonstrate that this area was home to civilizations as far back as 6,000 years BC in the village of Rey, which is now incorporated into the city.
After a such tedious day, we need to get relax for the rest of day and get ready for wandering in Iran’s capital, so we’ll go to hotel. (B/L/D)
Total drive for the day: 245 km

Day 14. Glories and excesses of the Qajar Rulers

Today, we will visit the central Tehran, where many monuments to the glories and excesses of the Qajar rulers are established. We’ll first visit the Golestan Palace complex, the former royal Qajar compound in Tehran. The Golestan Palace, the oldest of the historic monuments of Tehran and a UNESCO World Heritage site, belongs to a group of royal buildings that were once enclosed within the mud-thatched walls of Tehran’s Historic Arg (citadel). Golestan Palace complex consists of 17 structures including palaces, museums, and halls. Almost this entire complex was built during the 200 years ruling of Qajar kings. These palaces were used for many different occasions such as coronations and other important celebrations.
Later, we will head to Grand Bazaar, a huge maze of corridors each specializing in various types of goods, including copper, carpets, paper, spices, and precious metals. Although Tehran’s Grand Bazaar economic influence has diminished somewhat in recent years, it remains the largest market of its kind in the world. In Grand Bazaar, we will have lunch first in Sharaf-ol-Eslami restaurant, one of the best and most popular attractions for food lovers. Then we’ll walk in Grand Bazaar towards the Imam Khomeini Mosque for a quiet finish to our hustling and bustling bazaar tour.
After an afternoon break at your hotel, we will go to Tajrish in the evening to experience the nightlife in Tehran and stroll in its narrow alleys and busy shopping centers. We’ll head back to your hotel after dinner in a new-age contemporary restaurant in Tajrish. (B/L/D)

Day 15. Royal living of Pahlavi Dynasty

Today, we will head to the cultural and historic Sa’adabad Palace complex, established on 110 hectares of spectacular parkland in the ever refreshing foothills of Tehran’s northern mountains. During Qajar dynasty, this area was used as the summer palace of the Royal family. After the coup of 1,921 by Pahlavi, it expanded to a greater area with the addition of new gardens and became the summer residence of the kings of Pahlavi dynasty. It’s a vast complex of 18 buildings including royal houses and palaces, art galleries and house museums, guaranteed to keep you amazed.
If time permits we’ll visit Niavaran Palace complex which was the primary residence of the last Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and the Imperial family until the Iranian Revolution. It is set on 5 hectares of beautifully designed Persian gardens and has five separate museums.
By this, we will wrap up our Tehran history tour, but no visit to Tehran is complete without a visit to Darband that towers over Tehran. Darband is the northern neighborhood within Tehran’s city limits, the beginning of a very popular hiking trail into the Mount Tochal. The initial start of the trail at Darband is about 250 m long and is dotted with a number of small cafes and restaurants. These are quite popular and are busy in the evenings as locals and tourists alike visit for delicious traditional food, tea and hookah in a beautiful and relaxed atmosphere. (B/L/D)

Day 16. “Bedrood”, va “Be Omid-e Didar”

It is time to say “Bedrood” (goodbye) and “Be Omid-e Didar” (hope to see you again). Today is the last day of your tour, and we will arrange it as you wish. Depending on your departure time, we can have short walks in the city, spend some time shopping “Soghati” (souvenir), visit a museum or whatever else you wish. We’ll take you to the airport for your departure, and start missing you already! (B)

Best Time to Travel:

Most of the places you visit have dry climates with high temperatures. The best time to travel is between March to May and October to December when the weather temperature is moderate. January and February is winter in Iran with usually cold temperatures. June to October is summer, with extremely high temperatures in central Iran.

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