tehran · kerman · yazd · shiraz · isfahan

MAY 17 - 29, 2017 ITINERARY

12 DAYS FROM $8925

Zoom Vacations does it again, offering a unique trip to a mysterious country that you will be talking about for years. Iran is one of the hottest new destinations and this is your chance to beat the rush.  Think Cuba of the Middle East. Our thirteen-day excursion will explore the rich heritage and culture of Iran through food, art, museums, and more. Get ready for the adventure of a lifetime!

Day One ~ Arrival

Arrive in Tehran in and transfer to the Espinas Hotel.

Enjoy a welcome dinner this evening at the hotel’s Persian restaurant

Accommodations:    Espinas Hotel
Meals Included:        Dinner

Day Two ~ Tehran

Breakfast at the hotel

Enjoy a full day exploring Tehran. Compared to Iran’s other capitals Tehran is not considered an old city. Tehran remained relatively unimportant until the end of the 18th century when it was made the capital by Agha Mohammad Khan, the founder of the Ghajar Dynasty who was crowned in Tehran in 1795. It was expanded by his successor Fath-Ali Shah who built the Golestan Palace. Today it is a modern metropolis.

Morning visit to the Archaeological Museum with its fine collection including a stone capital of a winged lion from Susa and a 6th-century B.C. audience hall relief of Darius the Great from the Treasury at Persepolis.

Enjoy lunch at a lovely local restaurant.

Continue on to the Golestan Palace (Palace of Flowers) which is located on Khordad Square. When Agha Mohammad Khan Qajar (1742-1797) became king, he chose Tehran as the new capital and it was then that Golestan Palace became the official residence of the royal family. Consisting of many buildings, terraces and courtyards, the palace is set in a walled park veined with canals rushing down from the Tochal Mountains. It stands on the site of the historic Arg (citadel) of Tehran which was originally built in the time of Shah Abbas of the Safavid dynasty and remains an oasis on calm in the heart of the city. The interiors of many of the buildings are splendid and evoke a time when foreign dignitaries were invited to the Qajar court. Both the Eyvan-e Takht-e Marmar ("Terrace of the Marble Throne") and the Talar-e Aineh ("Hall of Mirrors") are famous for the spectacular mirror work that covers their walls.

End the day at the Aaran Gallery and meet with Nazila Noebashari, owner of the gallery – one of Tehran’s most important contemporary art galleries.

Return to the hotel.

This evening enjoy dinner at a local restaurant.

Accommodations:    Espinas Hotel
Meals Included:        Breakfast, Lunch, and Welcome Dinner

Day Three ~ Tehran
Breakfast at the hotel

Travel to northern Tehran to visit the Niavaran Palace and Museum, the last home of Mohammad-Reza Shah and his family located in the north-east part of the city. The complex boasts two palaces, a pavilion, Persian gardens, a museum and a smaller gallery. The main palace, the Niavaran Palace, has two floors and offers carpets and artifacts on display, including a carpet from Kerman illustrated with Iranian kings from the Achaemenian to the Qajar dynasties. Another delight is the Sahebqaraniyeh Palace which was built as the summer harem for Nasser-ed-Din Shah. Today, a refurbished structure houses the Jahan-nama Museum. This includes a beautiful little hoz khooneh (pool room), some Qajar paintings, and a tea house depicting art and architecture from the late 18th century.

Continue on to the modest home of the Ayatollah Khomeini in Jamaran.

After lunch at a local restaurant visit the Reza Abbasi Museum which is home to a superior collection of Persian miniatures.

Before returning to the hotel, drive by the former U.S. Embassy.

Enjoy dinner at a local restaurant tonight.

Accommodations:    Espinas Hotel
Meals Included:        Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner

Day Four ~ Yazd
Breakfast at the hotel

After breakfast transfer to the airport for a mid-morning flight to Yazd. Flight times subject to change.

Upon arrival visit the home of the former Governor of the city – known as the Dowlat-Abad House – to see how these wind towers work and to learn more about residential Persian architecture in the desert. Enormous domes starting at ground level would act as protective roofs for deep water-tanks which would be built twenty feet below street level. People would access these tanks by steep staircases.

Continue on to the bazaar and enjoy a stroll through it before ending at the Water Museum, located in a restored mansion, which offers an excellent introduction to “qanats” the underground water channels that which Persians have used for over 2,000 years to irrigate crops and supply drinking water.

Stop at the Haj Khalifeh Ali Rahbar pastry shop. Opened in 1916 the shop is considered the best pastry shop in Yazd. Marvel at the beautiful displays and be sure to sample a few of their sweet treats!

End the day at the Amir Chakhmaq Complex which includes a mosque and bazaar. The stunning three-story façade is home to rows of perfectly proportioned sunken alcoves add tiles laid out in intricate patterns.

Transfer to the Moshir Garden Hotel for dinner and overnight.

Accommodations:    Moshir Garden Hotel
Meals Included:        Breakfast and Dinner

Day Five ~ Yazd
Breakfast at the hotel

Marco Polo visited Yazd on his way to China and called it the “good and noble city of Yazd.” Located in the heart of Iran between the Kavir and Lut Deserts, Yazd was a major stop on the international caravan routes to Central Asia and India. The architecture of Yazd is perhaps the most traditionally Persian to be found, preserved by the dry climate and spared the devastation of the Mongols. The view from the dome of the 14th century Friday Mosque shows the sunbaked roofs and wind towers of the city. These wind towers are seen all over Iran, but are most highly developed in Yazd. Slatted towers capture the slightest desert breeze, pooling it down to the lower level where it is cooled by passing over water and circulated through the house.

Spend the morning concentrating on the Zoroastrian religion which at one time was the state creed but faded away after the Arab conquest. There are about 400,000 Zoroastrians left in the world, of which about 60,000 live in and around Yazd. Zoroastrians are followers of Zoroaster who was probably born about 550 B.C. in what is now Afghanistan. It was one of the first religions to postulate an omnipotent, invisible god. Zoroastrians worship fire as a symbol of God, and keep eternal flames burning at their temples.

Visit the Ateshkade. It is said that the sacred flame here has been burning since about 470 A.D. and was transferred from its original site to this site in 1940. It attracts Zoroastrians from around the world – the majority of who now live in Iran, India or Pakistan. Zoroastrians believe in the purity of the elements and will not bury their dead as they believe that this pollutes the earth. Cremation is also not used as this pollutes the atmosphere. Instead, until recently, the dead have been exposed on ‘towers of silence’ where the vultures soon dispose of the remains.

End the morning at the ‘towers of silence’ which were used until thirty years ago by Zoroastrians as a place for leaving their dead to be devoured by vultures, their souls freed. Enjoy a climb up along a steep, dirt path to the top of one of the towers. Around these two very impressive towers are the remains of ceremonial buildings that Zoroastrians would use before and after the dead were left at the tops of the towers.

Enjoy lunch at a local restaurant.

Continue on to the Friday Mosque where the tiled portal is crowned by twin minarets, the tallest in the country, and like many early mosques was constructed on the site of a Sassanid fire temple. Yazd’s Friday Mosque was built over a forty year period from 1324 to 1365 and is probably the best preserved 14th century mosque in Iran. The portal’s facade is decorated from top to bottom with dazzling tile work, predominately blue in color.

After visiting the mosque, begin a walking tour through Yazd’s covered streets of the old quarter of Yazd. Pass by the Bogheh-ye Sayyed Roknaddin to see the stunning portal and continue on to the roof-top of the Fazeli Carpet store to admire the sight of the city’s many wind-towers piercing the skyline. Walk by the old water tower surrounded by four wind towers before stopping at Khan-e Laari one of the best preserved Qajar-era houses in Yazd.

Return to the hotel.

Enjoy dinner this evening at a café where many of Yazd’s young professionals come to eat and socialize.

Accommodations:    Moshir Garden Hotel
Meals Included:        Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner

Day Six ~ Shiraz
Breakfast at the hotel

Morning drive to the small village called Taft where a large number of Zoroastrians still live. Walk through this medieval town along narrow streets to their main fire temple – a simple building where a flame is always lit.

Enjoy a simple, fast, but well-prepared lunch at a local restaurant.

After lunch continue driving towards Shiraz stopping en route at Pasargad which was excavated by Dr. David Stronach, now at the University of California, Berkeley. Cyrrus the Great defeated Astyages the Mede near Pasargad in 550 B.C. and, according to tradition, decided to build the first Achaemenian capital on the site of his victory. The white limestone tomb of Cyrrus stands apart from the scattered remains of gardens, palaces and temples at Pasargad. Its foundation takes the form of a high plinth of six receding steps upon which rests a gabled tomb chamber. Classical writers describe the tomb as being inside a walled garden shaped by many different kinds of trees none of which, unfortunately, exist today.

Upon arrival in Shiraz, transfer to the Zandiyeh Hotel for dinner and overnight.

Accommodations:    Zandiveh Hotel
Meals Included:        Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner

Day Seven ~ Shiraz
Breakfast at the hotel

This morning, visit the Eram Gardens. Eram is the Persian version of the Arabic work Iram which means heaven. Built during the 19th century in a quadripartite Persian Paradise Garden structure, the garden and Qavam House, which is decorated with tiles featuring poems from Hafez, are set within the Shiraz Botanical Garden.

From here drive to the Fars Museum. This octagonal pavilion was originally built by Karim Khan and was used for official receptions. It now houses a collection relating to the life of Karim Khan and other historic artifacts relating to the province.

A short distance away by foot is the citadel or Arg-e Karim Khan. The citadel was built in 1766 when Karim Khan invited the best architects and artists of the time to work on the design. High-quality materials were brought in from around Iran and from overseas and the citadel was quickly constructed. In shape it resembles a medieval fortress. During the Zand dynasty it was used by Karim Khan as his living quarters and later, during the Qajar period, it was used as the governor's seat. Today the citadel has been restored and is a museum.

Continue by foot through the bazaar of Shiraz considered by many to be the finest in Iran and, here, discover the heart of the city.

Stop at the Pink Mosque or Nasir-ol-Molk Mosque which is the oldest mosque in Shiraz and one of the most elegant mosques in southern Iran. Its foundations can be traced to the 9th century although what is seen today largely dates from a Safavid rebuilding. An unusual stone structure built in 1351 stands in the center of the courtyard and is said to be modeled on the Kabeh in Mecca. It now serves as a repository for the Korans of the mosque. The mosque gets its name due to the beautiful pink colored tiles used for its interior design. Colored glass is also used extensively in its design. Be sure to remove your shoes and step into the building on the side where the sun shines through the colored glass.

End the morning at the Narenjastan which dates back to the Qajar dynasty. Due to abundance of sour orange trees the garden was given its name Narenjastan which means oranges. Construction began in 1257 and at the entrance is a marble stone tablet containing Quranic verses along with poems by Asudeh Shirazi. The northern wing with its inlaid doors and windows along with mirror work and paintings is among the architectural feats of the Qajar dynasty.

Enjoy lunch at the delightful Shaterabbas Restaurant which serves superb Persian cuisine.

After lunch visit the tomb of Saadi, born in 1213, he became one of the major Persian poets of the time, known not only in Persian speaking countries, but also in the west. He encompassed a quality and depth of social and moral thoughts in his writings and is widely recognized as one of the greatest poets of the classical literary tradition. His works have been quoted as recently as 2009 by President Barack Obama.

End the day at the tomb of the celebrated poet Hafez which is located in a small garden. The marble tombstone engraved with a long verse from the poet’s works was placed here inside a small shrine by Karim Khan in 1773. The poet lived in Shiraz his entire life (1300-1389) and is well known to Iranians.

Return to the hotel late afternoon.

Dinner this evening at the wonderful Haft Khan Restaurant where you can sit Persian style or where there are a limited number of western table and chairs.

Accommodations:    Zandiveh Hotel
Meals Included:        Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner

Day Eight ~ Isfahan
Breakfast at the hotel

Rise early this morning and drive to Isfahan stopping en route at Persepolis, the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenian Empire and perhaps one of the most beautiful and spectacular archaeological sites surviving today. The administrative center of the Achaernenians was actually as Susa, shifting during the summer to Hamadan while Persepolis was reserved only for ritual celebrations. Persepolis stands on a limestone terrace overlooking the Marvdasht plain, at the foot of the Kuh-e Rahmat, the Mountain of Mercy. Work on the complex was begun by Darius I about 520 B.C. who created and unified an empire which eventually was larger and more efficiently ruled than any other in the ancient world. Work was carried on by Xerxes and Artaxerxes until 460 B.C. and, despite the ravages of foreign invaders and time, its unmatched splendor is still evident. In the spring of each year at the time of the New Year, the ruler and his court gathered at Persepolis to receive the tribute of subject nations and to reestablish universal order for the coming year. In this way Persepolis continued to play an important role in Achaemenian political and religious life until its accidental or deliberate destruction by fire when conquered by Alexander the Great in 330 B.C.

The most important buildings at Persepolis were crowded into a terrace of natural rock that rises over thirty feet above the plain on three sides and abuts a low mountain on the fourth side. There are about fifteen major buildings, including the Apadana, the Hall of a Hundred Columns, the Gate House of Xerxes, the Treasury, the Harem and the private palaces of the different rulers.

At the head of the monumental double-ramped staircase was the Gate of All Nations, built by Xerxes and still surviving intact. It is flanked by colossal winged bulls with human heads. Delegations to the Achaemenian court paused here before entering the Apadana or Hall of Audience of Darius the Great. The superb bas reliefs here depict the flow of ritual processions that once passed through the palaces and audience halls of the Achaemenian kings.

Enjoy an early lunch sitting in the shade of grape vines at the Laneh Tavoos Restaurant.

After lunch drive about 5.5 hours to Isfahan and the Abbasi Hotel, a converted caravanserai. The large double-storied caravanserai was originally constructed to finance the student and professors of the college but was later transformed into a wonderful hotel where guests can drink tea inside a garden courtyard with the full view of the Madrassa Chahar Bagh's magnificent yellow and turquoise dome.

This evening enjoy a Persian buffet dinner served in the hotel courtyard

Accommodations:    Abbasi Hotel
Meals Included:        Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner

Day Nine ~ Isfahan
Breakfast at the hotel

After breakfast begin exploring Isfahan, perhaps the most beautiful of all Iranian cities. Start with a visit to the Palace of Forty Columns, a charming pavilion used to receive dignitaries and ambassadors. Here the walls and ceilings are covered with frescoes and paintings and the superb wooden roof of the porch is painted with a series of geometrical decorations interspersed with flowers. The roof was waterproofed by covering it with a fresh layer of beaten egg every year, the weight of which has caused many others to collapse.

Continue on to admire some of the five bridges crossing the Zayendehrud River which is sadly now dry due to drought and the construction of a dam. Perhaps the most beautiful bridge is the two-story Khaju Bridge which was constructed by Shah Abbas II in about 1650. It is essentially a bridge superimposed upon a dam, 436 feet long, and supported by twenty-four stone arches. The oldest bridge is the Shahrestan where, over massive stone piers dating from the Sassanid period, the Seljuks built pointed arches designed to allow for the rush of spring waters.

After seeing the Bridge of 33 Arches, drive to the Armenian quarter of Isfahan. This dates from the time of Shah Abbas I who set up this colony of Christians from the town of Jolfa and named it New Jolfa. There are fourteen churches here and we have planned a walking tour beginning at the Bethlehem Church

Stop for lunch at the Hermes Café.

After lunch continue by foot to the Vank Cathedral which was one of the first Armenian churches to be established in the Jolfa district after the Ottoman War of 1603-1605. Construction took over fifty years and consists of a domed sanctuary similar to a Persian mosque but with the addition of a semi-octagonal apse and raised chancel usually seen in western churches. The interior is covered with gilded carvings and intricate paintings of Biblical stories.

Enjoy dinner at a lovely local restaurant – Shahrazd – within walking distance of the hotel. 

Accommodations:    Abbasi Hotel
Meals Included:        Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner

Day Ten ~ Isfahan
Breakfast at the hotel

This morning visit the Friday Mosque, which is like a museum with its tiled ivans, vaulted ceilings and lofty domes. The complex and magnificent Friday Mosque in Isfahan displays more than 800 years of Persian religious architecture, from the 11th to the 18th centuries, and is truly one of the world’s greatest mosques. It is an excellent spot to learn about Iranian architectural history.

From here walk to the immense Maydan-e Shah, or Imam Square. After consolidating his control, Shah Abbas I initiated one of the world’s grandest experiments in city planning, moving the capital from Qazvin to Isfahan in 1598 where it remained until 1722. Mosques, palaces, bazaars and public parks were built under the monarch’s personal supervision over the next thirty years. The square is the central focus of this fascinating city and never failed to inspire and awe European merchants and ambassadors to the Safavid court. The square is actually a huge rectangle measuring 1,674 feet by 540 feet and is enclosed by double-storied arcades. Four jewels of 17th century architecture adorn each side of the square, symbolizing the political, economic and religious spheres of Safavid Persia. Visit the Lotfallah Mosque, constructed between 1603 and 1617 which served as a private chapel for the Imperial family. The domed ceiling has the finest faience tile work of 17th century Persia. On the west side of the square is the Ali Qapu Palace and on the southern side is the towering portal of the Shah Mosque, a monument to the grand vision of Shah Abbas the Great who died shortly before its completion.

Enjoy lunch at the Bastani Restaurant, located in the heart of the bazaar.

After lunch enjoy free time in the bazaar.

Return to the hotel mid-afternoon.

Enjoy dinner at a local restaurant.

Accommodations:    Abbasi Hotel
Meals Included:        Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner

Day Eleven ~ Tehran
Breakfast at the hotel

After breakfast depart the hotel and drive to Tehran enjoying stops along the way.

Drive about 3 hours to Kashan, the epitome of everything that is typically Persian from its mosques, caravanserais and stately gardens, to its carpets, ceramics and delicate embroideries.

Enjoy lunch at the Manouchehri Hotel Restaurant.

After lunch visit the historical Garden of Fin, which was first planted during the Safavid period and kept alive with water from the nearby Sulaimanieh Spring. This beautiful garden was expanded by the Zand and Qajar monarchs, with many open pavilions added. A museum on the site displays artifacts from nearby Teppe Sialk. Also, visit a fine example of a 19th century merchant residence known as Tabatabei House. Admire its beautiful stucco dome and inlaid mirror work, with some of the best examples of existing “badgirs” (wind-catchers).

Continue on to the handmade underground city spread under the city of Noushabad at a depth of fifteen to sixty feet. The city, a masterpiece of ancient architecture, consists of many labyrinth corridors, rooms and wells that can be reached from any location in the city without being seen.

Just before arriving in Tehran, stop at the Tomb of Ayatollah Khomeni. Construction of the tomb commenced in 1989 following Khomeini's death on June 3, 1989 and, when finished, the tomb will be the centerpiece of a complex that will include a cultural and tourist center, a university for Islamic studies, a seminary and a shopping mall with an enormous parking lot. It has been reported that the Iranian government will invest US $2 billion to this development. The site is a place of pilgrimage for followers of Khomeini and is usually packed full of people who have traveled from all over the country to pay their respects. It is used symbolically by government figures and is on occasion visited by foreign dignitaries.

Upon arrival in Tehran, check-in to the Espinas Hotel.

Enjoy a farewell dinner at the hotel’s Persian restaurant this evening.

Accommodations:    Espinas Hotel
Meals Included:        Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner

Day Twelve ~ Depart
Breakfast at the hotel

Transfer to the airport for your international flight home.

Meals Included:        Breakfast


Air: International and domestic airfare not included.  However, Zoom Vacations will arrange all necessary internal flights.

Passports: Your valid passport should have at least two blank visa pages and should be valid for at least six months after your planned departure from the country you are visiting. 
Note: Passport pages titled "Endorsement Pages" are not visa pages.

Visas: Please note that the application process for an Iranian visa may take 6-8 weeks. To ensure sufficient time for securing visa paperwork, booking details must be submitted to Zoom Vacations no less than 90 days before scheduled departure.

*Land only Introductory rate, based on double occupancy. Prices are subject to change. Need a roommate? Zoom Vacations® is happy to match you with someone, at no additional charge. Or, you may pay a single supplement and go as a single.

Please read Terms and Conditions prior to booking.

For more information on entry and exit requirements, see here.