Persian Paradox

From Tehran in the north to Isfahan and Yazd in the centre and Shiraz in the south, explore the extraordinary historical, archaeological and cultural legacy of ancient Persia in modern Iran.

Few countries can boast such an illustrious past as Iran, encompassing the glory of Persepolis, the beauty of Shiraz and the magnificence of Isfahan. However, today’s Iran also presents a ‘Persian paradox’ with the latest fashions, Western education, shopping malls and the private lives of many citizens seemingly at odds with the tenets of the 1979 Revolution.

Join Christopher Allen, classical scholar and art critic of The Australian, for an in-depth journey through this fascinating country, from its ancient past to its fast-changing present and future.


This tour is part of the World Art Tours program organised by the Art Gallery Society of NSW in partnership with Renaissance Tours.

Departure from Australia on overnight Emirates flights via Dubai, connecting with suggested Emirates group flight EK971 departing Tuesday, 25 September at 07.45 to Tehran. (Airfares not included in tour price. Renaissance Tours or your travel agent can assist you with your travel arrangements.)

Arrive in Tehran at 10.25. Transfer from airport to hotel is included.

Enjoy a morning and lunch at leisure before beginning your exploration of Tehran with a visit to the fabulous National Jewellery Museum, housed in the vaults of the Central Bank of Iran, which is home to the most dazzling and priceless collection of jewels and gems anywhere in the world.

In the evening join Christopher and fellow travellers for a welcome briefing and dinner.


Following a morning talk, visit Iran’s impressive National Museum, consisting of two separate museums: the Archaeological Museum and the extensive Islamic Museum. These museums display some of the finest treasures of Persian history, ranging from stone tools to sculpture, pottery, painting and glasswork, and cover a period of some 9,000 years.

Continue your exploration of the wonderful museums of Tehran with a visit to the Glass and Ceramics Museum, whose collection ranges from simple clay pots from 4,000 BC to ornate 19th century European glassware.

After lunch, visit the Museum of Contemporary Art, founded just two years before the downfall of the last shah, whose collection contains more than 3,000 drawings, prints, paintings and sculptures of Western and Iranian contemporary art.


This morning, begin with a visit to the Carpet Museum, which displays an excellent collection of Persian carpets from the various different regions of Iran. Continue to the Golestan Palace and Museum Complex, the former residence of the Qajar Dynasty shahs in the 19th and early 20th centuries, which contains several museums including the Marble Throne Room and the Ethnographic Museum.

In the afternoon, visit the Reza Abbasi Museum, which displays objects from the prehistoric era until the 20th century. The two galleries of this museum show different schools of painting and calligraphy from various periods in Iran’s history.


After breakfast, check out from the hotel and transfer to Tehran airport for a flight to Yazd (included in tour price).

On arrival in Yazd, transfer to your hotel. Yazd is the centre for Iran’s small Zoroastrian community who, seeking refuge from the invading Arabs, found a safe haven within its fortified walls.

After lunch enjoy some time to rest, before visiting the active Zoroastrian Fire Temple, the fire of which has been burning for about 1500 years. Continue with a visit to one of the two Towers of Silence (Dakhma), dating back to the 18th century, where until some 40–50 years ago, the dead were carried and left to decompose and be devoured by birds.


Spend a full day sightseeing in Yazd. Visit Yazd’s Islamic sites, including the Friday Mosque (1324AD), with the highest portal and minarets in Iran. Other notable Islamic monuments in Yazd are the Seljuk shrine dedicated to the Twelve Shi’ite Imams, and the Ziaieyeh Theological School, known as Zendan-e-Eskandar or Alexander’s Prison. Enjoy a guided walk in the old town and conclude the morning with a visit to the Water Museum.

Return to the hotel for a rest and an afternoon talk before travelling out to the desert city of Meybod, for dinner at a caravanserai.


Today, journey to Shiraz, stopping en route in Abarkuh, a typical desert town. Enjoy tea under the shade of a 4,000-year old Cypress tree. Continue to Pasargadae to visit the remains of the palaces and tomb of Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Achaemenid Dynasty and of the First Persian Empire. Arrive in Shiraz in the early evening.


Today, visit Persepolis, one of the most important historical and archaeological sites of the Ancient World. Serving as the ceremonial capital of Persia during the Achaemenid Dynasty between the 3rd and 6th century BC, it only declined after Alexander the Great conquered Persia and incorporated it within his Macedonian Empire. Persepolis still contains the remains of the palaces of some of Ancient Persia’s mightiest shahs – Darius I the Great, Xerxes I and Artaxerxes II. See the famous bas-reliefs, depicting kings and courtiers and gift-bearing representatives of tributary nations of the Persian Empire.

At Naqsh-e-Rustam, see Ka’ba-ye Zartosht, the enigmatic cuboid building which is thought to have served as a Zoroastrian fire temple or the mausoleum of an unknown shah. Gaze up at the Egyptian-inspired Royal Tombs of the great Achaemenid shahs and the seven magnificent Sassanian Dynasty rock-reliefs, including a relief depicting the famous victory of Shapur I over the hapless Roman Emperor Valerian in the 3rd century AD.

Return to Shiraz and visit the tomb of Iran’s greatest lyric poet, Hafez, along with Imamzadeh shrine.


Begin with a visit to the Qajar period Nasir-ol-Molk Mosque, popularly known as the ‘Pink Mosque’ because of its colourful tile decorations. Continue to Firuzabad, once the capital of Shah Ardashir I (r. 224–242 AD) who founded the Sassanian Empire, the last ancient Persian Empire before the arrival of the conquering Arabs. At Firuzabad, visit Ardashir’s palace, probably the finest Sassanian Dynasty monument in all Iran, with its great iwan (open-ended reception gateway) and domed audience halls, as well as a fine rock-relief celebrating Ardashir’s accession to the throne.

Finish the day with a visit to Narenjestan Garden before returning to the hotel.


Depart for Bishapur to visit the remains of the Sassanian city built by Shapur I (241–273AD), the second Sassanian king. The building complex includes a central chamber, a large courtyard which had been covered with impressive mosaics, plus the remains of a temple dedicated to Anahita, the goddess of water and fertility. At Tang-e Chogan, on either side of a narrow gorge, there are six Sassanian rock-reliefs commemorating Shapur’s victories over the Romans and other adversaries.

Following lunch at Nourabad, continue to Yasuj, situated at the foot of the Zagros Mountain range and home to various nomadic tribes.


This morning travel to Isfahan, arriving in the early afternoon. Following lunch, visit the Armenian quarter, the Orthodox Cathedral of Vank and the famous bridges of Shahrestan, Khajou and Sio-se-pol, which stretch serene and golden across the languid Zayandeh River.


Enjoy a full day tour of the beautiful city of Isfahan, the 17th century capital of the Safavid Dynasty shahs. For hundreds of years, Persians have quipped ‘Isfahan nesf-e Jahan’ – ‘Isfahan is Half the World’ – and you will soon see why.

Admire the Chehel Sotun Palace, built by Shah Abbas II in the 17th century. Its twenty wooden columns reflected in the surface of the pool give rise to its name ‘The Palace of Forty Columns’.

Spend the afternoon at leisure.


Following a talk, visit the magnificent Friday Mosque, and its famous Uljaytu Mihrab (Prayer Niche), an elaborate stucco work of the 14th century Il-Khanid Dynasty. The first construction on the mosque started in the 8th century with successive dynasties having added to it right up to the 20th century. Isfahan’s Friday Mosque is considered a museum of a thousand years of Persian religious architecture in one building.

Explore the buildings surrounding one of the world’s grandest squares, the Maidan-e Naqsh-e Jahan (meaning ‘Image of the World’). See the Ali-Qapu Palace with its enchanting music rooms and balcony overlooking the Maidan, from which the Safavid shahs watched polo games, and one of the Islamic world’s greatest mosques, the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque.

Round out the day exploring the hundreds of shops and teahouses in the markets surrounding the square.


Depart for Tehran, stopping first at the town of Natanz to visit a beautiful Islamic complex consisting of the Friday Mosque, a monastery and the tomb of Sheikh Abdol Samad Isfahani, a 13th century Sufi.

Continue to Kashan and visit Tepe Sialk, whose 5,000-year-old ziggurat is one of the most important archaeological sites in Iran. Stroll through the historical garden of Fin, which was first planted during the Safavid Dynasty in the 17th century when the area served as the shahs’ vacation retreat. This beautiful garden was expanded by the Zand and Qajar monarchs, who added many open pavilions. Also visit a fine example of a 19th century merchant residence known as Taba-Tabai House.

Arrive in Tehran in the early evening.


Spend a day at leisure (late check-out included till 18.00), then transfer to the airport for an evening departure (18.10) on suggested Emirates group flight EK980 via Dubai to Australia. Transfer from hotel to airport is included.


Evening arrival in Australia.

Per person, twin-share

AUD 9,950

Single supplement*

AUD 1,750

Deposit per person (at time of booking)

AUD 500

*Single travellers may request to share.
Please advise at time of booking.

Final payment due

24 July 2018

Tour code


Fitness Level

Above average
Please see booking conditions for fitness level definitions.

Suggested airline

Please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for current airfares and flight reservations.

Tour price includes

  • Accommodation in centrally located hotels with private facilities and daily breakfast (B)
  • Meals as per itinerary (L=Lunch, D=Dinner), including soft drinks, juices and tea / coffee
  • Lectures and talks throughout with Christopher Allen
  • Economy class flight from Tehran to Yazd
  • Comprehensive sightseeing including local guides and entrance fees as per itinerary
  • Transportation throughout on comfortable air-conditioned coaches
  • Airport transfers on arrival and departure in Tehran
  • Gratuities for local guides and drivers
  • Hotel porterage (one piece per person)

Tour price does not include

  • International airfares (please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for assistance)
  • Airport porterage
  • Travel insurance (a condition of travel; please contact Renaissance Tours or your travel agent for assistance)
  • Items of a personal nature, including telephone, laundry, taxis, room service etc.
  • Visa on arrival


Australian and New Zealand passport holders require a visa for Iran. Visas for a stay of up to 30 days can be obtained on arrival at Tehran Airport after prior application. Renaissance Tours will coordinate your visa application.

PLEASE NOTE – If you are NOT travelling on an Australian or New Zealand passport, please contact Renaissance Tours to check Visa requirements for Iran.

 Visa Restriction: Entry will be refused to travellers with any evidence of visiting Israel: not just Israeli entry stamps. If you wish to visit Iran and have visited Israel you should renew your passport.

Dress code

The most visible daily expressions of Iran’s Shi’ite Islam are the modest dress code, and rules for behaviour at mosques both of which apply for men and women.

 Dress code for Women: Women are required to wear loose-fitting clothing which covers the arms and legs (long pants), a coat or top that comes down to mid-thigh (light weight trench-coat), and a headscarf. During visits to some mosques women will also be required to wear a special robe provided at the entrance.

Dress code for Men: Men are required to wear trousers and shirts with either long-sleeves or half-sleeves. (No singlets). Shorts are not permitted.

Food & Alcohol

Iranian cuisine is heavily based on rice, bread, fresh vegetables, herbs and fruit. Meat is mostly lamb or mutton. The national drink of Iran is chai (tea), always served scalding hot, black and strong. All sorts of delicious fresh fruit juices, milkshakes and yoghurt drinks are available throughout Iran. Alcohol is strictly forbidden. Do not take any alcohol into Iran.


Your hotels
Tehran – Espinas International or Parsian Azadi Hotel *****
Yazd – Moshir Garden ****
Shiraz – Zandiyeh Hotel *****
Yasuj – Hotel Azadi ***
Isfahan – Abbasi *****

 NB. Hotels of a similar standard may be substituted