If you’re a woman considering visiting Iran alone but are afraid, I encourage you to do it. Traveling to Iran as a woman can seem intimidating, but I have been there and can tell you my solo trip to Iran was not only safe, it was a wonderful experience that greatly exceeded my expectations. I know you probably have plenty of questions, though, which is why I put together this guide to Iran for solo female travelers.
There’s no way to announce you’re going to Iran without causing a stir. And if you’re traveling to Iran as a woman alone? Prepare for some serious questioning of your sanity. “But why Iran?” “Alone?” “What are you hoping to find there?”
Note that these questions always come from people who have never visited the Middle East. Many will even confuse Iran with Iraq. So how do they know what should you expect from Iran?
The short answer: they don’t. If you’ve been to Iran, you know as well as I do how safe and friendly this country is. But they clearly don’t.
If you’re a woman interested in visiting Iran alone, I encourage you to do it. I did it and I can tell you it was a safe and incredible experience that greatly exceeded my expectations.
I decided to travel to Iran right after facing disappointment in love. I was looking for an adventure somewhere I could heal my broken heart. What I didn’t know was how much Iran would give me. Iran taught me life lessons in humbleness, intercultural friendship, and hospitality. Iran also taught me kindness, and in my opinion, kindness is a superpower.
In Iran, I felt safe and at home, and I’m sure you will too! So if you’re flying solo, read this guide to learn all you need to know about traveling to Iran as a woman alone!
Female Solo Travel to Iran: Is It Safe?
After hearing so many people tell me I was crazy for wanting to travel to Iran alone, I have to admit I got a little anxious. After all, words are powerful. They can empower us or cut us down, especially when they come from people we love. And even though I always try to ignore negative comments from people about places they’ve never been, when the time came to fly to Iran, I was afraid.
This anxiety, however, completely vanished after spending a few hours in Tehran. In Iran, I always felt safe, and other travelers I met confirmed my first impressions. There was nothing to worry about!
Of course, as women, we always need to be cautious and exercise common sense. Inevitably, there will be situations that will make us uncomfortable. It happens in Iran, in Turkey, and even in Europe. Creepy men, unfortunately, are something most women have to deal with at some point in their lives, regardless of where they are in the world.
I’m not going to lie: it happened to me in Iran too. Guys stared at me and chased me a couple of times, and one even physically grabbed my butt. But as annoying and infuriating as that was, these are definitely not the memories that stand out from my three weeks in Iran. For every creepy guy I ran into, I met ten who were perfect gentlemen. Meeting such amazing people was the most remarkable part of visiting Iran. They made my trip memorable and they made me feel safe the whole time I was there.
I remember one time, I was being chased by a guy in the bazaar in Tehran. I noticed him, but he didn’t stop following me until he physically touched me. This has happened to me before in other places, and I’ve since learned that the best response is public shaming. If someone disturbs my inner peace, they deserve to be called out and humiliated for it. When I feel someone has gone too far – and experience tells me that instinct is usually right in these cases – I tell them to f**k off and leave me alone as loud as I can. Trust me, this always works. In these situations, people around you will always be on your side and protect you if you need help.
It wasn’t comfortable, but again, this could just as easily have happened in Turkey or Spain. And in my opinion, being uncomfortable once or twice doesn’t mean a place is dangerous. I never once felt physically threatened or at risk. Honestly, I felt safer in Iran than I did walking alone in the streets of London, Paris, or NYC.
A good piece of advice for women traveling alone is to not be alone. Group up with other travelers you meet in your hotel, or even better, find a local friend you can trust. This is surprisingly easy to do in Iran. Use Couchsurfing to connect with people before your trip and you can be sure most of them will have the best intentions.
Arriving in Iran
If you have an EU passport, you can easily get a 30-day visa on arrival at any major international airport in Iran. You can check if you need a visa here.
American, British, and Canadian passport holders cannot get a visa on arrival. Citizens of these countries are only allowed in the country on an organized tour with a guide. Regardless of your nationality, you cannot enter Iran if you have an Israeli stamp in your passport.
In my experience, getting a visa on arrival is quick and easy. I only needed to show my return ticket, my first-night hotel reservation, my passport, and proof of travel insurance (which I bought at the airport for €14). I paid €75 for a visa, but the price may vary depending on your nationality.
After attaining a visa, going through passport control, and picking up my luggage, I met with a driver from Tehran Hostel, who was waiting for me at the airport exit. I recommend you hire someone to pick you up for €20 to make your arrival easier.
Most travelers in Iran, myself included, take the route from Tehran to Shiraz, which passes through Kashan, Isfahan, Yazd, and possibly a desert village. You can easily take this route by bus. Traveling by bus in Iran is a safe, comfortable, and fascinating experience.
Be prepared to be the center of attention, though, because everybody will want to talk to you! Enjoy these casual conversations: the locals are the biggest treasure of this country, and buses in Iran are the perfect place to make new friends! As I mentioned in an earlier post on why you should visit Iran, if Iranians invite you to their homes, I highly recommend you accept. These interactions with locals will definitely be the best part of your trip!
These are the places I visited during my three-week trip to Iran:
I stayed in Tehran for three days. To be honest, I found the city even more chaotic than my crazy Istanbul, but I definitely enjoyed it! I walked a lot and visited the Embassy of the United States, the neighborhood of Darvand, the Golestan Palace, and the Grand Bazaar.
After Tehran, Kashan was a wonderful and relaxing escape. I was impressed by the saffron-colored town with its historical houses and the sunset views from the roof of the hammam. From Kashan, my wonderful Couchsurfing host also took me on a day trip to the beautiful ancient town of Abyaneh.
No trip to Iran would be complete without visiting the impressive city of Isfahan! The city is so beautiful that people call it “half the world” because if you visit Isfahan, you will have seen half of the beauty in the world.
The best moments of my trip were in Isfahan, not just for the gorgeous city but for the people I got to meet there. I made amazing friends and I was even invited to an Iranian wedding! In Isfahan, I visited the Shah Mosque, the Jameh Mosque, the bridges of Isfahan, the Chehel Sotoun Palace, the historical Abbasi Hotel, New Julfa (the Armenian quarter), and the absolutely stunning Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque.
After Isfahan, I visited Varzaneh. This small town is known for its spectacular desert, one of the most accessible deserts in Iran.
Yazd is the center of Zoroastrian culture and another city you can’t miss while in Iran. I absolutely loved getting lost in this old adobe city and visiting the Dowlat Abad gardens, the Jameh Mosque, and the Amir Chakhmaq Complex. I was also impressed by the Towers of Silence. When visiting Yazd, I recommend watching a sunset on the rooftop of the Yazd Art House and having lunch in the Silk Road Hotel Restaurant.
Shiraz is the center of art, culture, and poetry in Iran. I found it much more open-minded than the cities in the north, probably because I was lucky enough to have a wonderful host and friend who showed me a more modern face of Iran (thank you, Milad!). The must-sees in Shiraz are the stunning Nasir al-Molk (aka the Pink Mosque), the Tomb of Hafez, the Eram Garden, and of course, the ancient ruins of Persepolis, which are over 2500 years old and one of the greatest wonders of the ancient world.
Where to Stay in Iran
Unfortunately, most Western accommodation-booking services like Airbnb and booking.com don’t work in Iran. At the moment, the best website to check for hotel deals in Iran is HostelWorld. Another option I recommend is checking the Lonely Planet Iran Travel Guide to find suitable places to stay, then contacting the hotel directly (you can send an email or have an Iranian friend call the hotel for you). The selection of hotels and guesthouses is not very big, so I recommend planning your trip well in advance.
Apart from the first night I spent at Tehran Hostel, I didn’t have to book any hotel rooms because I always stayed with Iranian locals. Sometimes I contacted them via Couchsurfing, and sometimes people I met on my travels invited me to stay with them.
Although it is officially illegal and the website was blocked in 2017, Couchsurfing still works in Iran (as long as you use a VPN!) and is very safe.
For peace of mind, only send requests to people who already have references from other travelers. Another option is to create a public trip for the cities you’ll be traveling to. Be prepared for a flood of invitations from people who are hoping to practice their English with you, or even who just want to say hello and welcome you to Iran!
It is uncommon for Iranians to live alone, so you’ll most likely end up staying with an Iranian family. Don’t worry, though: it’ll be one of the best experiences ever!
Female Dress Code in Iran
One of the most important things to be aware of as a woman traveling alone to Iran is the dress code. Here are the 10 golden rules:
- Wearing a hijab or headscarf is mandatory whenever you’re in public, but you don’t have to worry too much. You can wear it loosely, as many Iranian women wear their headscarves as far back as possible without taking them off completely. Showing some hair is acceptable.
- Be colorful! Nobody says you have to wear black. Take the hijab imposition as an opportunity to add more color and light to your photos. While in Iran, I wore headscarves in my favorite colors: green, blue, and red.
- Choose a loose outfit that covers your backside and hides your curves.
- Skinny jeans are allowed, as long as you wear something over them that covers your body to your mid-thighs.
- You can wear tight leggings, but they must reach down to your ankles.
- Good news! You’re allowed to show your feet and even have painted nails. Take full advantage of this because it’s the only part of your body that will be able to breathe freely.
- Your sleeves must reach past your elbows.
- Wear as much makeup as you want! You probably won’t reach the level of makeup most Iranian women wear anyway.
- Beware of the heat! Choose airy fabrics like linen and cotton, preferably dyed in bright colors.
- You will only be required to wear a chador while visiting some shrines and mosques.
How to Get Around in Iran
As previously mentioned, I highly recommend traveling by bus. They are really comfortable and reliable. Fun fact: I was always required to fasten my seatbelt, which has never been an issue in Europe! You’ll be served snacks on the bus, and other passengers will probably want to feed you too, so you’ll never be hungry. Standard buses are fine, but there are also VIP buses, which are more luxurious.
Taking the bus in Iran is a fun experience and a great way to socialize with locals and make new friends!
What to Eat in Iran
As a vegetarian, I couldn’t try everything in Iranian cuisine, but I remember it wasn’t hard to find delicious food. I remember enjoying Bademjan (eggplant and walnut dip) and Kuku Sabzi (a Persian herb-and-vegetable omelet). There was also an interesting green soup called Ash that I liked, and of course, I ate lots of saffron rice and falafel. Another food I really enjoyed was Iranian dates, the most delicious dates I’ve ever tried!
What I most enjoyed was the homemade food by the Iranian mothers who hosted me. Not only did they feed me amazing food, they even adapted to my dietary restrictions, cooking meat-free meals just for me!
Generally speaking, traveling to Iran is cheap, but there are a few things to keep in mind. Entrance fees are different for locals and tourists, and as you’d probably guess, the tourist price is way higher. Accommodations can cost between €15 and €30 per night.
Keep in mind that your Iranian friends will try to pay for everything, but please don’t take advantage of this. Try to give back, even when it seems impossible! I recommend bringing some small gifts from home to surprise them with, like postcards or souvenirs.
Also be aware of taarof. Sometimes Iranians will try to be polite and respectful by saying things they don’t necessarily mean. For example, a taxi driver may refuse your payment, or a cashier may tell you that you don’t need to pay for your groceries. In these situations, they are simply being nice and you are expected to insist until they accept your payment. Taarof can be confusing for tourists, so every time you are offered something for free, insist to pay at least three times to make sure the offer is sincere.
Speaking of money, you should know that international credit and debit cards are completely useless in Iran, so you’ll need to bring all your money in cash.
Understanding currency in Iran is difficult. The official currency is the Iranian rial (IRR) but in practice, all prices are given in tomans. One toman is equal to 10 rials. If someone asks you to pay 5000, they most likely mean tomans, which is 50,000 rials. It can be hard at first when you have no idea how to interpret prices in Iran, but thankfully Iranians are pretty good-natured and generally don’t take advantage of tourists’ confusion.
Other Useful Tips
- You can buy a sim card to stay connected during your trip. I bought an Irancell card and had enough data to last the three weeks I stayed in Iran.
- You’ll find lots of additional information, tips, and advice on the Facebook group See You in Iran. This is one of the most helpful groups you can join, and it will certainly inspire you to travel to Iran!
- If you plan to use Facebook at all, don’t forget to download a VPN before arriving in Iran! Many websites like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter are banned in Iran. I downloaded a VPN that turned out to be useless. Once in Iran, I was unable to download a different one, so I couldn’t use the internet freely while I was there. I recommend downloading multiple VPNs to make sure at least one will work.
- Remember that alcohol is completely forbidden in Iran. If nothing else, it’s a great opportunity to detox!
- Spend some time learning Persian numbers, which are similar to Arabic numerals.
The time I spent in Iran was one of my best travel experiences, if not the best. Despite the cultural differences and challenges, I always felt safe and loved in Iran, thanks especially to the amazing people I met during my trip. Two years later, I still smile when I think of them!
At this point, there’s not much else I can say except go and see for yourself what a wonderful country Iran is! I hope this guide will help you see that traveling to Iran as a woman can be a wonderful and fulfilling experience, even if you’re going alone. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions, and inshallah someday, I will see you in Iran!