Shiraz: Exploring the Heartland of Persian Culture

Known primarily for its literary history, splendid gardens, ancient sophisticated ruins, and its former reputation for wine before the alcohol ban, Shiraz is the fifth most populous city in Iran. 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 9am 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 in less than 24-hours: 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 an hour drive away.

Accommodation

I checked-in to Niayesh Hotel for US$15 per night for an en-suite room. 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.

Do note that the Iranian Embassy expects you to check into a list of hotels before they decide whether to issue you the visa, but their requirements are not as strict as they are 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. An open pavilion houses the tomb, providing 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

Qur’an Gate

There are many entrance ways to the city, and Qur’an Gate is the northeastern entrance into the city. Adorned with beautiful calligraphy and tilework, Qur’an Gate is a place of reverence and spirituality. The gate is home to a large Quranic inscription, and believed that passing under the arch brings blessings and protection to travellers.  

Admission fee: Free

Bazar-e Vakil and Vakil Mosque

Just a 15-minutes walk from Niayesh Hotel is the main bazaar of Shiraz: Vakil Bazaar. The bazaar features a series of arched passageways and domed corridors, which are not only architecturally impressive but also provide shade and relief from the city’s warm climate. Adjacent to Bazar-e Vakil, is an architectural masterpiece that exemplifies the elegance and craftsmanship of Islamic architecture. The Vakil mosque’s prayer hall features a grand prayer niche (mihrab) and an exquisite, colorful dome that adds to its splendor.

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Arg-e Karim Khan

The Karim Khan Castle is located 20-minutes walking distance from Niayesh Hotel. Resembling a medieval fortress, the castle served as the residence for the rulers of the Zand dynasty and, later as the administrative center for the Qajar dynasty. The fortress also houses a charming courtyard, complete with a delightful garden, providing a peaceful escape from the bustling city. This captivating historical site allows visitors to step back in time and immerse themselves in the rich heritage of Shiraz and the Zand dynasty.

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

Nasir Al-Mulk 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

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”, Persepolis existed for a rough 200-years before Alexander the Great captured Persia. The whole empire was burned to the ground, by accident or as an act of revenge, that remains unknown till this day.

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

Situated 70-kilometers Northeast of Shiraz, the drive took about 1-hour to from the city. Yoones was so kind to drive me on his off day, saving me from booking a 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!

You can try to go there by public bus, for very little money, or a one-way taxi will costs around US$10. Most taxi drivers will tell you to pay a round-trip and wait for you at the entrance for two hours. I would recommend to join a tour as Persepolis will seem like a meaningless ruined place without a guide to tell the story of this site.

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 at your own risk.      

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

Necropolis

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

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!).

Regrettably, my visit during the Summer coincided with the Ramadan period, turning the place into what seemed like a ghost town.

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 3.60 USD). If they are charging you more than that, they are ripping you off.

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

Lastly, if you want to keep a track of all my photos and travels, remember to follow @wanderrsaurus on Instagram.

Pin this post for your next travel to Iran!

Aloha! I'm Bunzy, a curious dreamer who is passionate about roaming around the world getting lost, experiencing new cultures and meeting the locals. My superpower is to be able to sleep anywhere, anyhow!

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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