Shiraz: Exploring the Heartland of Persian Culture

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Shiraz is the fifth most populous city of Iran mainly known for its literary history, splendid gardens, ancient sophisticated ruins and wine (used to be before alcohol got banned). The capital of Persian culture, a hub of all of human history, and the gates to the ancient city of Persepolis, Shiraz is one of the best cities that Iran has to offer.

Getting to Shiraz

Shiraz was my first city to explore in Iran. I took a 13-hours VIP night bus after touchdown arranged by my CS host in Tehran. The VIP bus cost less than USD9 came with complimentary snacks and drinks. Regular buses are about 70% cheaper but you wouldn’t want to have a cramped seat on a long night journey.

I reached Shiraz at around 09:00 and was grateful that my CS host, Yoones, was already at bus terminal waiting for me! Here’s my second experience with Iranian’s kind hospitality: Yoones was supposed to go home after his shift ended at 06:00. Instead he waited for me, sent me to the hotel where he worked and then back home which is 1-hour drive away.

Accommodation

I checked-in to Niayesh Hotel for USD15 per night for private room with attached bathroom. After speaking to a few travellers in couchsurfing forum, this is recommended as one of the best and cheapest backpacker’s hotel around in the city.

Note that there are a list of hotels which Iranian Embassy expects you to be checked-in before they decide whether to issue you the visa, but they aren’t as strict as how it’s stated on the website.

Things To Do in Shiraz

Tomb of Hafez

“How beautiful is Shiraz’s unparalleled state. God save it from harm and the hands of fate.” – Hafez

Iranians have a saying that every home must have two things: the Qur’an and the collection of the works of Hafez.

Hafez is, probably, the most important Persian poet ever, a man who mainly talked about love and wine but also religious hypocrisy. Almost every Iranian can quote his work by heart and people read fortunes by opening Hafez to a random page.

The tomb of Hafez is a famous sight, not only for locals who come to pay their respects, but for tourists as well. The tomb is found in an open pavilion, offering a place to learn about the Shakespeare of Iran. After sunset, with the tomb floodlit and sung poems broadcasting, there’s a great atmosphere of being transported back to the magic of ancient Persia.

Admission fee: 200,000Rls (~USD4.70) as of May’16

Pavilion of Hafez’s Tomb
The Marble Tombstone
Iranian women doing Qur’an recital
A night out with Saba and her boyfriend
Qur’an Gate

There are many entrance ways to the city, and Qur’an Gate is the northern entrance of Shiraz heading towards Isfahan. This gate is among the oldest gates in Iran with a holy Qur’an placed on its top, hence the name. It is a religious belief that if you leave the city through Qur’an Gate for a trip, you will return home safely as God will keep an eye on you. The book is currently kept in Pars Museum. 

Admission fee: Free

Night view of Qur’an Gate
Bazar-e Vakil and Vakil Mosque

Just a 15-minutes walk from Niayesh Hotel is the main bazaar of Shiraz: Vakil Bazaar. When visiting the Vakil Bazar, be sure to include a visit to the beautiful Vakil Mosque, another stunning example of Persian architecture.

It’s impossible to prepare Iranian’s dishes without spices
There are over 200 carpet shops in this bazaar
Arg-e Karim Khan

The Karim Khan Castle is located 20-minutes walking distance from Niayesh Hotel. Shaped in resemblance of medieval fortress, the castle was used as a living quarters for the rulers of the Zand dynasty, and later as a governing seat of the Qajar dynasty.

Admission fee: 200,000Rls (~USD4.70) as of May’16

Majestic, tall walls surrounding the castle
Inside one of the rooms
Nasir Al-Molk Mosque

Also nicknamed the “Pink Mosque”, this mosque is the most photographed architecture in Shiraz and, probably, in Iran as well. The bright colours shining through the mosaic windows create a kaleidoscope of color effect on the carpet of the praying hall.

Admission fee: 200,000Rls (~USD4.70) as of May’16

Best place to start a day in Shiraz

Don’t Miss: Iran – Things I Learnt As A Female Traveler

Day-trips around Shiraz

The Ruins of Persepolis
“The palace of the King of Kings, burned by Alexander the Great”

Listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site, Persepolis is among the world’s greatest archaeological sites. Literally known as “The City of the Persians”, it was the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire, ranks among the archaeological sites which have no equivalent and which bear unique witness to a most ancient civilization. Persepolis existed for a rough 200-years before Alexander the Great captured Persia and Persepolis burned to the ground, by accident or as an act of revenge, that remains unknown till this day.

Persepolis was one of the main highlights of my stay in Shiraz. Yoones was so kind to drive me on his off day so I saved money on booking the tour from the hotel. Moreover, he is one of the guides from the hotel and that gave me the luxury of having a personalized private tour!

Situated 70-kilometers Northeast of Shiraz, it took us about 1-hour to reach Persepolis. The site is HUGE with an area of 125,000-square meters (about 18 football field!), and took us about 3 hours to explore under the scorching hot weather of 40°C! I was immensely smitten by this historical site as Yoones explained the history and the meaning of the depictions behind each stone. This is the perfect day trip or half-day trip to learn more about Iran’s rich history.

Getting There:

You can try to go there by public bus, for very little money, or a one-way taxi will costs around 10USD. Most taxi drivers will tell you to pay a round-trip and wait for you at the entrance for two hours. However, unless you get a super deal, there is no need to do this, as there are, literally, hundreds of taxis waiting at the exit of the site.

I would recommend to join a tour as Persepolis is a pretty ruined place. Without a guide to tell the story of this site, you are basically looking at meaningless rocks and pillars.

Note: The security guard at the entrance will stop you from bringing in any bag bigger than a pouch. This is to prevent people from bringing stones as souvenir from the site. Your bag will be kept in a room where is unattended by the staff.      

Admission fee: 200,000Rls (~USD4.70) as of May’16

The Gate of all Nations, guarded by two Lamassus
Lamassus are creatures with a human’s head, a body of a lion, and eagle’s wings
Zoomorphic griffin capital at Persepolis
The oldest palace of Persepolis: Tachara, Palace of Darius
Ruins of Apadana: Audience/Throne Hall
Depiction of the Persian and Median soldiers
Best tour guide: Yoones
Don’t forget to climb to the viewpoint to truly admire the grandiosity of Persepolis

Side track from Persepolis

Naqsh-e Rustam, or famously known as Necropolis, is a 15-minutes drive from Persepolis. This site houses four tombs of Achaemenid kings carved out of a rock mountain: Darius the Great, Xerxes I, Artaxerxes I and Darius II. The four tombs are high up, and the entrance point for each tomb is at the center of each cross. 

Admission fee: 200,000Rls (~USD4.70) as of May’16

Ancient tombs cut into the side of a rocky cliff-face
Figures of the king being supported and empowered by rows of common people
Ghalat Village

Sitting 30-kilometers away northwest of Shiraz, Ghalat Village is a charming little town at the very foot of the mountains. Over the years, Ghalat village had acquired a little unofficial fame as “Little Amsterdam” due to the nearby production of marijuana. During cooler season, Iranian families come here to enjoy a relaxing day visiting the old narrow streets, picnicking by the river and partying at night. Here, is also one of the few places in Iran where you can find alcohol (illegally, of course!).

Unfortunately, I visited during Summer and it was Ramadan period so the place seemed like a ghost town.

Seems like the animals are fasting too
Old ochre walls and ruins
Empty alleyways
Hiking trail up the mountains
Dried-up stream during Summer

Moving Around Shiraz

Most sites are within a walking distance from the city, so you should not worry about taking public transportation and taxis. In any case, taxis within the city cost from 50,000 to 150,000RIs (1.19 to 3.60USD). If they are charging you more than that, they are ripping you off.

If you are planning day trips out of the city, I would recommend you joining a tour as it is useful to have a English guide bringing you around. Alternatively, couchsurfing is a good way to connect with the locals and they are more than happy to bring you around.

A day dreamer who has a passion in roaming around the world getting lost, experiencing new cultures and meeting the locals. I enjoy staying with a local home (i.e couchsurfing) and work with them (i.e workaway)!

2 thoughts on “Shiraz: Exploring the Heartland of Persian Culture

  1. Hi! I love your story in iran. I plan to do a persepolis tour like u did in shiraz. May i know if you have yoones contact no/email? Thank you?

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