Tehran, Iran

Photo: Ninara via flickr
Photo: Ninara via flickr

First it was Colombia. Then it was Myanmar. Cuba followed. Governments relaxed. Borders opened. While countries you never, ever expected to be able to visit slowly started welcoming tourists. Now it’s Iran’s turn.

Iran has been on many wish lists for years. The Middle Eastern country is famous for its ancient historic sites—there are 19 UNESCO World Heritages Sites here alone—stunning scenery, vibrant art communities, and unparalleled hospitality. But for years, it’s been off-limits. Following the Islamic Revolution, the United States imposed sanctions and deemed the country an “axis of evil.” Iran largely withdrew from the world stage and built defensive mechanisms. But tensions have eased, thanks in part to a new Iranian president and a nuclear agreement, in the last few years. Iran is suddenly becoming a hot destination.

As you toy with the idea of your first trip to Iran, you start making a mental wish list. Isfahan, Persepolis, Yazd, and Shiraz immediately come to mind. Don’t forget Shemshak and Hamadān. Even the Lut Desert is a possibility. But Tehran will no doubt be your first stop.

Photo: Parsian Azadi Hotel
Photo: Parsian Azadi Hotel

Tehran is a big and sprawling city. The capital of Iran is both the largest city in the country and the third-largest city in the entire Middle East. Though its skyline—including Milad Tower, one of the tallest buildings in the world—looks modern, it’s built upon 7,000 years of history. While the Alborz mountain range, over which Mount Damāvand looms, stands in the background.

You have a checklist here, too, of course. You want to see the modern Tabi’at Bridge and the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art, where Picassos and van Goghs, long hidden from the outside world, are on display. You want to see the historic Azadi Tower, the Central Bank of Iran—where the Imperial crown jewels, the largest jewel collection in the world, is kept—and the Grand Bazaar. But you can’t begin to plan your itinerary in the city without a hotel.

There’s no need to worry about where you’ll stay, though. The Parsian Azadi Hotel is in Sa’adat Abad, on the northwestern outskirts of the city. The 25-story hotel is much bigger than the places at which you usually stay, but for your first time in not only this city, but this country, an elegant space that caters to international tourists is your best bet.

That’s not to say that it won’t meet your standards. The hotel reopened, after extensive renovations, a few years ago. Its rooms mix modern and traditional styles. It’s the first green hotel in Iran. There’s an indoor pool and a restaurant on the 26th floor. Plus there’s gorgeous mountain views. Your trip to Iran is no longer a dream.

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