The Definitive Guide to Living in the Capital , Cairo , Egypt

Sights & Travel

Iran: An Alternative Escape From Cairo

Iran: An Alternative Escape From Cairo
written by
Amira El-Naqeeb
Although Iran is an off-the-beaten-path travel destination, given all its restrictions, when the chance of visiting presented itself, we clutched at the opportunity. One of the oldest civilisations in the world, and an aesthetically beautiful one at that, the land once known as Persia is now open to Egyptian visitors without any visa requirements. 

A unique aspect to Iran is that one can experience the four seasons within one day; up north you can go skiing, while in the south the weather can be suitable for swimming; however, autumn and spring are the most recommended times to visit.

Qatar Airways, Emirates and Turkish Airlines offer round-trip flights to Iran with a stop in Qatar, Dubai or Istanbul, respectively, at 3800LE-4300LE.


Landing in Tehran, and before leaving the plane, women are expected to cover a portion of their hair in accordance with the local Islamic dress code. However, the general dressing habits for women are relatively normal and not the least bit as conservative as is perceived by mainstream media. The veil, or the covering of the hair, is just a formality and these rules are somewhat lax for foreigners.

Upon leaving the airport we discovered that most of the locals understand English, even if they don’t speak it. It’s easy to find a taxi outside the airport, and prices are fixed if you take the airport’s service. Getting stuck in Tehran traffic is quite a nightmare, so it’s imperative that you select a hotel with a strategic location in regards to sightseeing.

Parsian Esteghlal International Hotel is a good option; located in the Parkway area, its proximity to the highway facilitates easy access to almost everywhere in Tehran. Its level of cleanness, service, and food, were also up to par at the time of our visit.

Sadly, Tehran is somewhat of a concrete jungle. Like many major cities in the world, its aesthetic value can leave much to be desired; however, this all changes when the sun rises on the city, unfolding the mountains that stand tall and majestic as a backdrop. The whole scene becomes like one from an abstract painting; the mountain’s coffee hues contrasted against the buildings’ haphazard heights and colours.

A must see spot is Saheb Qaranie Palace and Niavaran Cultural/Historic complex. Upon stepping through the gate, a complete transformation takes place, where only outstanding nature prevails. The beautiful landscape, and the open vista, with the mountains as the backdrop once again, creates a different work of art, one that is more harmonious. Within this complex, Niavaran Palace, where the late Shah Mohamed Reda Bahalawy and his family – now buried in Aswan, Egypt – resided, sits grandly.

Tehran Bazaar is a nice place to spend an afternoon; walking through its labyrinth, following its twists and turns, it’s a great place to taste local food from the street vendors. The kabab copide – grilled minced meat with local spices like saffron – is a must-try meal, where one portion is 15LE.

Most restaurants offer lunch from 12PM till 3PM, then they take a break till 7PM to prepare for dinner service – this is with the exception of fast food restaurants.

If you‘re craving international cuisine while in Tehran, Kivano is a fusion restaurant that offers a nice atmosphere and a great variety of Asian food. Located in the ASP complex, on the Kurdistan Highway, the tables are equipped with a grill where one has the option of ordering meat, chicken or fish, and grilling it themselves. A big dinner, with beverages for two, would cost around 170LE. Estaghlal Hotel also houses an upscale Italian restaurant, which offers premium food and excellent service.

Esfahan: Nesf Jahan (Half of the World)

Located south of Tehran, it was once believed that Esfahan possesses half the beauty of the world and was labelled Nesf Jahan, meaning ‘half of the world’, accordingly. Although it’s a five-hour drive from Tehran, you have the option of taking either the bus or a domestic flight from Tehran. The advantage of driving, however, is that you can make stops and visit several different sights along the way.

One of the most interesting of these places is the old village of Abyana; a historical sight that maintains its distinctive features and architectural heritage. The houses of the village are beautiful shades of coral and terracotta, their walls made of mud and straw. Taking a walk in the winding narrow alleys of the village, where old women sit in front of their houses, greeting visitors, is like stepping into another era. The locals are friendly, welcoming and appreciative of the little money they make selling their handcrafts, dried local food and other delicacies. Abyana has an air of times gone by and unspoiled beauty.

Esfahan city itself, on the other hand, hasn’t been able to preserve its architectural heritage in the same way. Most of the streets are bland and the buildings are quite similar; square, yellow and made up of three or four storeys. 

However, Imam Midan remains an architectural jewel that you could spend the whole day in. Walking and browsing its shops, which sell an array of handcrafts, you could easily end up finishing your whole budget for the trip in one day. The midan has more than one historical mosque in its vicinity, but Imam Mosque is the one to choose if crunched for time. No words can give this mosque justice and it must be seen.

Roozegar Café, with its choice of cinnamon, cardamom, or saffron tea – as well as its mouth watering chocolate cake and cosy atmosphere – is a great spot to relax after the excitement from shopping and sightseeing simmers down.  

Waking up early in Esfahan isn’t a hard task since there aren’t a lot of options for nightlife. So make it a point to spend an early morning exploring Sofeh Mountain. The mountain is located south of Esfahan and can be reached within thirty to forty minutes. There is a promenade, which is ideal for a languid walk, but adrenaline junkies can choose to climb the mountain and enjoy a real hiking experience.

For lunch, head to the Jolfa area, where the biggest Armenian community in Iran resides. Have a walk in the cobbled stoned alleys and stop by Jolfa Midan, where there are many cafés that offer delicious snacks and hearty coffee.  For dinner, try Shahrazad restaurant, which offers delectable, authentic food that is invigorating and rejuvenating; perfect fuel to replace energies exerted during the day.

Iran offers an eclectic and unique travelling experience. With its beautiful landscape, friendly population and rich history, Iran is a wonderfully alternative way to spend your vacation.