10 amazing and overlooked travel sites in Iran

July 26, 2021 - 19:50

TEHRAN— For those wanting to get off the beaten track, Iran has a wealth of lesser-known destinations that rival the stunning beauty and historical significance of their more famous counterparts.

The well-worn tourist circuit of the country ranges from ancient villages, fortresses, bridges, mosques, towers, and houses to scenic, forests, canyons, mountains, deserts, and waterfalls to name a few. Here are ten of the best:

Toghrol Tower

Situated in the city of Rey, on the southern outskirts of Tehran, the Seljuk-era Toghrol Tower is often overlooked by visitors who tend to stick to the higher-income northern and central areas of the Iranian capital.

The tower is said to serve as the mausoleum for Seljuk king Toghrol Beg, who established Rey as a major administrative center of the Seljuk Dynasty until its destruction by Mongol armies in the early 13th century.

Rey is the oldest county in Tehran province and is speckled with historical monuments, including a 500-year-old Safavid-era bazaar.

Rey was one of the capital cities of the Parthian empire (3rd century BC–3rd century CE). According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the city was briefly a capital under the rule of the Seljuqs, but in the 12th century.

In 1220, Rey was almost destroyed by the Mongols, and its inhabitants were massacred. Most of the survivors of the massacre moved to nearby Tehran, and the deserted remnants of Rey soon fell into complete ruin.

Raqaz Canyon

Situated in the southern Fars province, Raqaz Canyon embraces countless waterfalls and natural pools. Visitors of the canyon could go on a breathtaking 2.5 km-long journey that begins easily with short jumps down into crystal clear pools.

Trekking deeper into the canyon with its higher waterfalls, however, especially the highest at 65 meters, requires some technical equipment and a bit of experience. But whether you climb down or stay to plunge a few times in the easier parts, this canyon won’t disappoint.

Rudkhan Castle

Hidden in the lush green forests of northern Gilan province is Rudkhan Castle, a medieval military fortress whose origins predate the rise of Islam in the country.

All in all, few foreign tourists have visited the site, which is a popular attraction among Iranians.

Work started on the castle during the Sassanid era, between 224 CE and 651. Followers of the Ismaili sect (known as "Assassins") are believed to have renovated and completed the fortress during the late 11th to 12th centuries.

The hike up to the castle, which is situated along two peaks of a verdant mountain, takes more than an hour, prompting many locals to call Rudkhan the "Castle of a Thousand Steps."

Laleh Kandovan Rocky Hotel

Some 50 kilometers outside the northwestern city of Tabriz lies the troglodyte village of Kandovan. People here live in cone-shaped caves cut out of the volcanic rock at the foot of Mount Sahand, a dormant volcano.

Nestled within the 800-year-old village, the Laleh Kandovan Rocky Hotel has been hand-carved into the rocky landscape, with each of the luxury hotel's 16 modernized rooms encompassing a cave!

Kal-e Jenni Canyon

Jinni Canyon, or as local people say, Kal-e Jenni, is one of the most mysterious and stunning valleys in the country situated in South Khorasan province.

Located some 30 kilometers north of the city of Tabas, a bunch of palm trees and marches in a wide valley, mark the scenic start of the journey, however, romance mixes with horror as the trip continues.

This name consists of two parts: Kal + Jinn. ‘Kal’ is referred to any valley which has been formed by a water stream in the long run. And according to the Oxford Dictionary, ‘Jinn’ is “an intelligent spirit of lower rank than the angels, able to appear in human and animal forms and to possess humans.”

There are many reasons to attribute this 16-kilometer-long valley to jinns. Firstly, many mysterious-looking arcs, columns, and walls in the canyon are made by erosion but local people could not find a better constructor than jinn for them.

The next reason is related to wind. When the wind sweeps through the valley, it makes strange sounds due to the structure of walls which can make you think that supernatural entities are living around. Also, pebbles will hit your face as you walk in the valley in windy weather; locals believed that jinns are throwing the pebbles to defend their territory.

Bekhradi House

Bekhradi House is a 400-year-old inn that features four tastefully decorated multiroomed guest suites and is the oldest house to be restored in the country.

Its renovation and artistic restoration took local interior designer and restoration specialist Morteza Bekhradi five years to engineer and complete.

Peppered with stained-glass windows and original artwork from the Safavid and subsequent Qajar eras, the house sits between two gardens replete with fruits and wildflowers.

The house's furniture was designed by Bekhradi using wood from the chenar (plane) trees that line the streets and historic gardens of Isfahan.

The designer says he sought to stay true to the setup of the original home, which he says is believed to have belonged to a Safavid-era aristocrat.

Even the traditional heavy Iranian wooden doors lining the entryways of the upstairs suites belonged to the original house and were restored using chenar wood. Doors throughout the rest of the historical residence, which boasts an intricately decorated traditional "hojreh" room for cooling and relaxation, are chenar-wood replicas of Safavid originals.

Soltaniyeh Dome

A World Heritage site in the northwestern province of Zanjan, the mausoleum of Oljaytu at Soltaniyeh is topped by one of the world's largest domes.

Built between 1302 and 1312 in Soltaniyeh, the capital city of the Mongols' Ilkhanid Dynasty, the monument is a mausoleum for Il-khan Oljeitu, the Ilkhanid's eighth ruler. Though much of the structure's exterior coloring and tiles have faded through the centuries, the intricate brickwork, tilework, and vibrant designs inside the mausoleum have remained largely unscathed.

The unique double-shelled structure of the Soltaniyeh Dome is also believed to have influenced the design of India's Taj Mahal mausoleum.

Rainbow Valley

Located in Hormuz Island of the Persian Gulf, Rainbow Valley is a geologist’s dream and an inspiration for artists and nature enthusiasts. Imagine a narrow valley with multi-hued earth and sand and colorful mountains in shades of red, purple, yellow, ochre, and blue – the result of the uneven cooling of molten rock. On all sides, patches of color form geometric patterns. This awesomely photogenic natural site is at its best in the late afternoon.

The entire southernmost island is made of Rainbow Mountains and you can freely walk through most of the middle of it. But this spot is a good place to stop and check out all the colors. In close vicinity of Silence Valley, lies the mesmerizing valley of more than 70 shades of minerals, rendering the valley a perfect subject of Geology studies.

Mamraz Lake

Mamraz Lake features breathtaking sceneries with thousands of dried trees inside, which may seem scary at first glance.

Situated some 12 kilometers away from Noshahr city in Mazandaran province, the lake is 700 meters long and 300 meters wide and is listed as one of Iran’s National Heritage sites.

Because of its horrific landscape and strange silence of the lake, it is known as “The Ghosts’ Lake”.

Next to the lake, a lush forest is located and there are many dry tree trunks in the water, known as dead trees. The water of this lake is very clear and the reflection of the trees’ images on the lake adds to the beauty of the site. It is a pristine area and a spectacular natural attraction that is less known to tourists and adventurers.


Located in the northern Mazandaran province, the village of Filband is known for its untouched nature and the sense of being lost above the clouds.

Full of hillside meadows dotted with grazing sheep and cottages peeking out from behind the trees, a weekend in the tranquil village promises to quiet your mind and sweep away your troubles from big city life.

Furthermore, visitors may cherish every second in this rural idyll where chickens and hens roam freely and carefree locals tend to their daily chores, while enveloped in puffy white clouds.


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