This post is all about breathtaking places to visit in Iran.
If you’ve had enough of mosques, palaces and gardens and you’re looking for unique experiences and some unprecedented places to visit in Iran, look no further!
I’ve got you covered.
Iran is so much more than historical buildings and dazzling tile work. While I totally get the first-time traveller’s urge to visit the classic route (read Tehran, Esfahan, Shiraz and Yazd), the most popular destinations in Iran have a rather similar landscape – desert and dry cities!
No wonder why many former travellers still portray Iran’s scenery as dry and bare.
They just haven’t seen the rest of it!
But if this is your second trip to Iran or you’ve got enough days to travel off the beaten track in Iran, then you’ve come to the right place.
If this your first trip to Iran, We’d highly suggest reading our ultimate guide to Iran.
Your first trip to Iran: read our Ultimate Iran travel guide
Here are 17 best offbeat places to visit in Iran
#1 Palangan, Kurdistan province
When it comes to less touristy places to visit in Iran, a stepped village will always make a scene. There are quite a few of them in Iran as they were considered a great architectural solution for building houses in mountainous areas. And unlike common perception, we have quite a few of those.
The most famous of these stepped villages is Masouleh in Gilan province of Northern Iran. But Masouleh has lost much of its authenticity due to mass tourism. There are too many souvenir shops, restaurants and cafes for my taste and quite a few people who want to sell you their services.
I still think Masouleh is absolutely beautiful to visit in the less crowded seasons like autumn and winter, but for a real authentic experience of a stepped village, you need to go further to Palangan.
Palangan gives you a genuine experience of village life in Iran. It’s jaw-dropping landscape, hospitable locals and unique culture are nothing short of magnificent. Located in Kurdistan province and very close to the Iraqi border, this village is truly worth the extra mile.
If you’re interested to visit, read our guide to visiting Palangan.
Island hopping is not really something you hear people doing in Iran. But if you’re travelling in winter or don’t mind the summer heat and humidity, then the islands of the Persian Gulf are some of the best places to visit in Iran.
Hormuz is by far my favourite. It’s big enough to have you exploring for a good 2 days and small enough to be wrapped up in a day if insisted. Its nature and unique landscape are definitely not to be found anywhere else in the world. Imagine an island with fascinating natural wonders, colourful soil and crystal clear water. Jackpot!
Hormuz is easily accessible from Bandar Abbas or Qeshm island by ferry but you can read all its detailed information on my dedicated post to visiting Hormuz island before planning a trip there.
#3 Lut desert (Kaluts), Kerman
Of all the natural places to visit in Iran, deserts are the most popular among tourists. People often look for soft sand dunes and camel rides, but that’s not impossible to find outside of Iran.
However, what you can’t everywhere else, is Kaluts! Massive rock/sand formations that have taken millions of years to reach their current state. The Lut desert in Kerman province offers all that and more.
Getting to the Kaluts as difficult as it sounds. It’s a 2-hour drive from Kerman. Any hotel or travel company based in Kerman can easily arrange an excursion to Kalut as its the most popular destination for tourists. The closest town to the Kaluts is Shahdad, so if you manage to get yourself there, then you’re almost halfway through your journey.
I understand that for many travellers coming from countries with greener landscapes, Iran’s forests and mountains might not sound very exotic. That’s why deserts and sand dunes end up being some of the popular natural places to visit in Iran by foreigners.
But here’s where you’re making a mistake:
Iran’s forests, mountains and vegetation are very different from places like Europe. We have some of the tallest mountains. In fact, Mount Damavand is the 12 prominent peak in the world!
Visiting somewhere along the Caspian seashores or the Zagros mountains is highly recommended if you’d like to see Iran’s diversity.
Gilan province is usually the closest bet. It’s easily accessible from Tehran and has some of the most beautiful villages. Olsebelangah is one of them. In fact, it’s one of my favourite places to escape the summer heat for amazing weather.
The best time to visit is summer as Olsebelangah is located in high altitudes. Spring and autumn are doable but the village would be covered snow during winter and probably very difficult to reach.
Here’s a complete guide to planning a road trip to Olsebelangah.
Khuzestan is by far the most diverse province I’ve visited in Iran. There’s everything from lakes and lagoons, to deserts and lush meadows. But during our trip around Khuzestan, it was Pamenar that stole the spotlight.
This small village of Pamenar located right next to the Dez lake has some of the most pristine views. Sprawling trees, jewelled waters and staggering views are absolutely guaranteed. You could either choose to stay at one of the local houses beside the lake or camp on the island’s only island and reserve the night for stargazing instead.
There are numerous boats that could take you to the island or offer a tour of the lake. A dip in the lake is also not to be avoided, 😉
Feel free to read all about our trip to Pamenar, Khuzestan.
#6 Zeinnodin Caravanserai
Apart from the list of offbeat places to visit in Iran, there’s one specific experience I’d highly recommend: Staying the night at a caravanserai.
Iran has hundreds of caravanserais which were initially built to accommodate merchants crossing the silk road. Today a few of them have been restored for tourists but my number one choice is the caravanserai of Zeinoddin.
Zeinoddin is one of two rounded caravanserais in all of Iran. The rest either have a square or rectangular plan. It has been perfectly restored and is run by a bunch of Baluchi guys who know what they’re doing.
The Zeinoddin caravanserai is located somewhere around a 100km from Yazd on the road to Kerman. But even if Kerman is not somewhere you’re considering to visit, making the trip to Zeinoddin and staying for the night is absolutely worth it.
#7 Khalid Nabi cemetery
And we finally get to the Penis cemetery…
You read it right! Imagine a cemetery where gravestones are in the shape of male genitals. But that’s not why everyone goes to Khaled Nabi. Well, it probably is, but it’s not the whole thing. 😉
Located in the north of Golestan province, the road to this cemetery goes through some of the craziest landscapes. The car can get your pretty close to the cemetery but there will still be about 30 minutes of hiking. If you’re up for more hiking, a different route will take you to the small mausoleum of Khaled Nabi as well.
If you happen to make it here during spring, consider camping.
#8 Minab Thursday Market
It doesn’t matter which city you decide to visit on your trip to Iran as every one of them will have an interesting bazaar to visit. However, if you’re looking for the most authentic bazaar experience that is not filled with souvenirs or handicrafts, try Minab Thursday market. Minab is by far the most colourful and original bazaar experience I’ve ever had.
The bazaar is dominated by local women dressed in gorgeous colourful clothes selling everything from tobacco to fabrics and baskets. It’s located in the small town of Minab, 2 hours drive from Bandar Abbas. There’s really not much else to explore in Minab but if you happen to be anywhere close on a Thursday, visiting this bazaar is bound to become your top bazaar experience ever.
Shushtar is a small town in Khuzestan province but it has so much history and culture that makes it to the list of top places to visit in Iran. Once home to the Elamites, Shushtar was surrounded with a fortress protecting the city in the old days. Today there are ruins of palaces, old historical houses and the magnificent historic hydraulic system that keeps Shushtar worth the visit.
The city is less than an hour drive from Ahvaz.
Read more: Four-day itinerary for Khuzestan on a budget
Only a few hours from Tehran and located on the altitudes of Alborz mountains is the village of Filband where over the cloud sunsets are guaranteed.
If you’re interested to get a peek of the landscape of northern Iran but don’t have too many days to spend, Filband gives you all of that in a few hours. There’s even the possibility of doing it in one day but I’d personally recommend staying the night and not missing out on the glorious sunset.
I’ve written a long detailed post about a road trip to Filband here.
Kandovan is Iran’s version of Cappadocia that has still kept its originality and is not flooded with tourists. A rock village close to Tabriz, here in Kandovan the locals live in houses carved into the rocks.
Getting a taxi from Tabriz to Kandovan is fairly easy. You could either stay at local homes or the 5-star rocky Laleh hotel.
#12 Alamut Valley and Ovan Lake
Alamut valley has recently become a popular offbeat place to visit in Iran by foreign tourists. Most people buy it for the story. Legends say that the castle of Assassins was located here.
There’s not much left from the castle, but the uphill hike is rewarded with pristine views.
Alamut valley is almost an hour drive from Qazvin and you can easily find a driver willing to take you there. But once you’re done with the castle, don’t forget to drive a few extra kilometres to Ovan lake. The mirror-smooth lake is a famous picnic spot for the locals. Pedal boats are also available for rent.
#13 Choqa Zanbil, Khuzestan province
If you’re interested in ancient history and a sight that dates as far as 650 BD, the ziggurat of Choqa Zanbil is for you. Even if you’re not into ancient ruins, getting to see this massive structure in such a barren atmosphere is surreal.
Choqa Zanbil is a huge brick ziggurat – some kind of a shrine. It dates back to the Elamites and was the main structure of the town of Dur Untash. Dur Untash flourished during the 12th century BC and was later sacked by Ashur banipal around 640 BC.
Can you believe Choqa Zanbil was lost for 2500 year after? In fact it was only rediscovered in 1935.
#14 Qeshm Stars Valley
Qeshm has become popular among the top places to visit in Iran in sinter. I guess the exotic culture and impressive landscapes give it all the credit.
The Stars Valley of Qeshm is among the most popular sights on the island. Thousands of years of land formation and winds have created this incredible landscape. Locals like to think that the valley was hit by a star and hence named it the Star’s Valley. Due to the strange sound of winds blowing in between the tall rock statues, it’s a common belief that jinns and ghosts are to be found at dark!
To us, the valley very much safe and sound. But then I wouldn’t dare stay the night. 😀 Find everything else you could do in Qeshm island in our travel guide.
#15 Shirez Canyon, Lorestan Province
Iran is the land of many canyons and we’ve been lucky to hike through quite a few of them. Shirez canyon, however, is so far our favourite. We had the chance to hike Shirez during our last trip to Lorestan. The views were absolutely insane and the river crossings were great during the summer heat.
#16 Uraman Takht, Kurdistan Province
Visiting Kurdistan during spring means luscious greenery all around. Kurdistan is among some of the wildest places to visit in Iran. With its jaw-dropping villages on the slopes of Zagros mountains, rich culture and the kindest people, it would be my top suggestion in western Iran.
Uraman Takht is another staircase village surrounded by unprecedented nature. There are plenty of hiking trails in the surroundings and a river that flows under the village.
#17 Esfahak Village, Tabas
If you’re looking for that perfect mud-brick village dotted with palm trees, then Esfahak is the place to go.
The small village is located further away from Tabas. There are a few newly built eco-lodges in the village and tourism is getting popular. However, due to the earthquake that hit the city around 40 years ago, it’s almost empty. There are a few families who have come back home and are trying to promote their village as a tourist destination. Make sure you go before everyone else gets there! 😉
You can read all about our guide to visiting Tabas and Esfahak on the blog.
Offbeat places to visit in Iran can be a little tricky to reach if you’re not an experienced traveller or it’s your first time in Iran. Nomad travel company based in Germany offers some great offbeat itineraries in Iran and around the world. Make sure you check out their tours if this is your type of travel.