When I think about this stunning city, it is honestly a miracle that my face doesn’t break from smiling so hard. Shiraz was the first city I visited in Iran, and jeez, what a way to start!
Shiraz is the 6th most populated city in Iran and the capital of the province of Fars. Located in the South-West of the country, it isn’t the typical jumping off point for backpackers (Tehran takes this crown) but I think it is the perfect place to start an Iranian adventure.
After arriving in the middle of the night and only managing to get about three hours of sleep (which is usually a disaster for someone who considers a 14 hour sleep the gold standard) I expected to spend my first day in Iran feeling exhausted and a little under the weather, but as it turned out, I was so excited to start exploring that not even a little sleep deprivation was gonna hold me back!
After waking up in a rather strange (in an endearing way) dorm room, I became fast friends with a Dutch traveller named Nicole who was set to depart Iran that evening. We spent the day slowly exploring a few Iranian gems and it was exactly what I needed to kick start what would turn out to be an unbelievable trip.
Our first stop was the Arg of Karim Khan – or what is more commonly referred to as ‘the citadel’. This citadel was commissioned by Karim Khan and dates back to the 1760s. Karim Khan ruled most regions in Iran from 1751 to 1779 and was the founder of the Zand dynasty. He commissioned this citadel to be used as his quarters, but over the years it has been used for many different things – at one stage it was even used as prison!
Entrance to the citadel costs 200,000 rial (approx $8) which is a pretty standard entry fee for sites of interest in Iran.
I really enjoyed visiting the citadel and found the architecture fascinating. It isn’t the sort of place where you’ll spend ages and ages though, so if you are backpacking on a super tight budget and only want to spend money on tickets for places where you will spend a lot of time, then the citadel may be something you want to skip. For me, $8 was a very reasonable price, but I did meet a lot of backpackers on a strict $20 per day budget who may not have been able to swing it.
After we had finished exploring the citadel, we tried to visit Vakil Mosque and Vakil Bazaar, but as we visited on a Friday they were both closed! This is not an uncommon thing in Iran, so make sure that if you have your heart set on visiting a place, it pays to try and do so on a day that isn’t Friday.
Even though we couldn’t go inside the Mosque, we could still look at it from the outside, and boy was it pretty!
Also located nearby is the Vakil Bathhouse. We snuck a quick peek inside and then decided that we would give it a miss. It would have been another 200,000 rials to enter and it looked incredibly kitschy. It was once a traditional bathhouse and is now full of creepy looking mannequins spread around the building to try and demonstrate how the bathhouse would have once looked. I like the idea in theory, but in practice it just didn’t really float my boat.
Once again though, the outside was seriously good looking.
Once we were done enjoying the free architecture, we decided to take a quick cab ride to the Eram Garden.
Eram Gardens and Qavam House (which lies inside the gardens) date back to at least the 13th century, with some evidence suggesting that a much less ornamental version of the gardens existed in this spot as early as the 11th century!
In the modern day, these vast and beautiful gardens are one of the 9 Persian Gardens that are considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site. They are a lovely and relaxed place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city streets. Please note that though the gardens are a public site, entrance will still cost you 200,000 rial.
After Nicole and I were done relaxing in Eram Gardens, we had enough energy to see one more historic site before we desperately needed to refuel and eat!
As it turned out, the Tomb of Hafez wasn’t too far away, so this is where we headed.
This site is famous for being the final resting place of the famed Persian poet Hafez. This was hands down the busiest tourist attraction I visited in Shiraz, but it seemed to be full of more locals than foreigners. Once again, entrance will set you back a rather steep 200,000 rials.
The tomb and its memorial hall are undoubtedly pretty, but if you aren’t a history buff and are looking to save a few bucks, this is one place that you could possibly afford to give a miss.
After I was done at the tomb, it was time to devour some truly delicious Iranian cuisine and rest up in preparation for another big day of exploring.
Getting to Shiraz: Turkish Airlines fly between Shiraz and Istanbul regularly
Niyayesh Boutique Hotel: A cheap hotel with a few mixed dorms, expect to pay around $12/night
Arg of Karim Khan: Open most days, entrance is 200,000 rials
Eram Gardens: If you only visit one Persian garden in Shiraz, make it this one!
Hafez Tomb: For more information about the Tomb of Hafez, click here
Camera: Images captured with an Olympus OM-D E-M1 in conjunction with M.Zuiko 12-40mm f2/8 lens
Remember: Many mosques and religious sites are closed on Fridays – plan your time accordingly