A thawing of relations is opening up Iran for tourism

Lotfollah Mosque Isfahan Iran

A thawing in relations and renewed Foreign Office advice is opening up Iran for tourism for the first time since the 1970s. Director investigates…

Anybody sceptical about Iran’s ‘back in business’ status need only look at the number of European trade delegations to have touched down in Tehran recently. Since July, when the country struck a historic deal with western politicians to limit its nuclear development powers in exchange for the UN lifting sanctions, trade missions have flooded in. They’ve arrived from Italy, Germany and the UK – when a group led by foreign secretary Philip Hammond (including the IoD’s director general Simon Walker) witnessed the re-opening of the British embassy after four years.

Wherever trade goes, of course, tourism follows. “No other industry in Iran will see a bigger boost than tourism as a result of this deal [Vienna nuclear agreement],” said vice-president Masoud Soltanifar, who aims to attract 20 million tourists to the Islamic Republic within a decade. With the Foreign Office recently declaring almost all of Iran safe for travel (bar the borders with Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan), UK travellers are expected to contribute to that rise.

Most tourists bypass polluted capital Tehran to visit scenic Isfahan, with its turquoise-tiled mosques, teahouses and grand bazaar. Iran’s ancient civilisation can be explored via the ruins of Persepolis, Yazd’s mud-brick alleys or Chogha Zanbil’s impressive ziggurat. Meanwhile, exotic skiing holidays are on offer at the Alborz mountain resorts of Shemshak and Dizin, while the Persian Gulf’s Kish Island is the nearest thing Iran has to Waikiki.

British visitors, however, can still only visit the country on organised trips, but a host of operators offer tours. Persian Voyages runs a 15-day ‘Highlights of Iran’ package (£2,350 per person), alongside horse-riding and skiing holidays. Golden Eagle Luxury Trains offers the Danube Express from Budapest-Tehran (£9,895) while Journeys Beyond the Surface has a 12-day architectural tour (also visiting nomadic families) from £1,822.

Those who’ve already travelled return enthusing about the legendary hospitality. One European family was so impressed by Persian bonhomie, they emblazoned ‘Iran Is Great’ across their van (attracting the interests of UK counter-terrorism police). Is Iran truly great? There’s one way to find out…

More on Iran

Read Simon Walker’s blog about his Tehran trip





About author

Christian Koch

Christian Koch

Alongside his work for Director, Christian has written features for the Evening Standard, The Guardian, Sunday Times Style, The Independent, Q, Cosmopolitan, Stylist, ShortList and Glamour in an eclectic career which has seen him interview everybody from Mariah Carey to Michael Douglas through to Richard Branson with newspaper assignments including reporting on the Japanese tsunami and living with an Italian cult.

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