I’ve travelled almost 20,000km by bicycle through over 15 countries. Often one of the first questions I’m asked when people discover this is, “What’s been your favourite country to cycle through?” Without hesitation I always answer, “Iran.”
For me, Iran was a mysterious country. One I knew little about. When I told my Dad I had plans to cycle across Iran, he freaked out. Sadly, western media depicts Iran as a dangerous place. Even the government travel advice is to avoid all travel to the country. In reality, Iran is home to some of the friendliest people I have ever met. I was welcomed into the country, and felt completely safe travelling around. In fact, I felt safer there than walking around the streets of my hometown.
Persian hospitality is renowned! It is also one of the reasons Iran is my favourite country for cycle touring. Every day I was riding, people would stop on the side of the road to check whether I needed anything. One hot day, a local guy, called Ali Baba pulled over. He was a friendly, chatty guy, who offered us bread, cheese, olives and tea. He was on his way to Tabriz to do some shopping for the day. After chatting for 20 minutes, he was on his way. Later that evening Ali pulled over again. He had stopped in at a popular bakery in Tabriz and bought us muffins.
Daily we received invitations for tea, dinner, a shower, or even a place to sleep. We were shown around the local towns and cities by locals, we made plenty of good friends and we never felt uneasy or in danger.
In each Iranian town or city you will find a bustling bazaar housed in a traditional Persian market hall, full of all types of local trinkets, and fragrances of rich spices and incense. Exploring these bazaars provides a sense of what the ancient Silk Road must have been like. One of my favourite things to do in Iran was to visit the local bazaar, take in the sights and smells and just watch the local people go about their daily life.
As you might expect, Iran is a country full of bright, colourful and well-preserved ancient mosques and schools, however that’s not all Iran has to offer. Each city has it’s own flavour. The country’s capital, Tehran, provides a contrast of modern sculptures, art and infrastructure, twinned with ancient bazaars and historic buildings. The desert city, Yazd provides a different taste of Iran, with it’s mud houses and ancient Zoroastrian heritage. Then there is the city of love, Shiraz, and finally Isfahan, the capital of Persian architecture and design.
When visiting Iran, you can expect to experience busy roads, crazy drivers, friendly people, stunning architecture, and amazing food. You can also expect to have a unique, cultural travel experience that will stay with you forever.