The Persian Paradox

Few countries can boast of such an illustrious past and diversity of cultures as Iran. From Tehran in the north, to Shiraz, Yazd and Isfahan in the south and centre, this tour will thoroughly explore the extraordinary historical, archaeological and cultural legacy since Cyrus the Great founded the Persian Empire in the 6th century BC.

However today’s Iran also presents a ‘Persian paradox’ with the latest fashions, Western education, shopping malls and the parallel private lives of many citizens seemingly at odds with the fundamental tenets of the Islamic Republic of Iran founded in the 1979 Revolution. Add to this the geo-political implications of Iran’s place and role in the Middle East and the country’s new political and military détente with the Western world. Where Iran is today and where is it going?

Join Christopher Allen, classical scholar and art critic of The Australian, for a thorough view of this fascinating country from its ancient past to its fast changing present and future.

Suggested departure from Australia on Emirates via Dubai to Tehran.

Arrive Tehran in the morning and transfer to your hotel located in the centre of the city.

This afternoon, begin your exploration of Tehran with a visit to the fabulous National Jewels Museum, housed in the vaults of the Central Bank of Iran, displaying the most dazzling and priceless collection of jewels and gems in the world.

Tonight join Christopher Allen and fellow travellers for a welcome briefing and dinner. (D)

This morning visit the Reza Abbasi Museum displaying objects from the pre-historic era until the 20th century. The two galleries in this museum show different schools of painting and calligraphy from various periods in Iran’s history.

After lunch continue to the Archaeological Museum, displaying an authentic collection of pottery, bronze and valuable pieces from millenniums BC until the Islamic era. (BLD)

Following a morning talk, continue your exploration of the wonderful museums of Tehran with a visit the Glass and Ceramics Museum with a beautiful collection of glass and pottery from different periods. Finish at the Golestan Palace and Museum Complex, the former residence of the 19th and early 20th century Qajar Kings of Iran, with several museums including the Marble Throne Room and the Ethnographic Museum.

In the afternoon visit the Carpet Museum, which has an excellent collection of Persian carpets from different regions of Iran on display, and a selection of private art galleries for a view of the contemporary art expression in Iran. (BLD)

Transfer from your hotel to Tehran Airport for a flight to Shiraz. Afternoon arrival in Shiraz. (BLD)

Following a morning talk visit Persepolis, one of the most important sites of the Ancient World. It is the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid kings with remains of the palaces of Darius the Great,

Xerxes and Artaxerxes. See the famous bas-reliefs, depicting kings and courtiers and gift bearing representatives of tributary nations of the Persian Empire.

At Naghsh-e-Rostam see Ka’be-Zardosht (fire temple/sanctuary) and the Royal Tombs as well as the seven magnificent Sassanian rock-reliefs including the relief depicting Shapur the First’s famous victory over Roman Emperor Valerian.

Return to Shiraz for visits to the delightful Eram Garden and the tombs of Iran’s greatest lyric poets, Hafez and Sa’adi, which are set in pleasant gardens with a charming “Chai-Khaneh” (tea-house). (BLD)

Morning excursion to Firuzabad, once the capital of Ardashir I (224–241AD) who founded the Sassanian Empire, the last ancient Persian Empire before the arrival of the Arabs. At Firuzabad visit Ardashir’s great palace, probably the finest Sassanian monument in all Iran with its great iwan and domed audience halls, as well as a fine rock relief celebrating his accession to the throne.

After lunch visit the Qajar period Nasir-ol-Molk Mosque, popularly known as the ‘Pink Mosque’ because of its colourful tile decorations. Finish the day with a visit to Vakil Bazaar. (BLD)

Full day excursion to Bishapur to visit the remains of the Sassanian city built by Shapur 1st (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. (BLD)

Today journey to Yazd (438 km, 7-8 hr including breaks). En-route stop in Pasargadae to visit the remains of the palaces and tomb of Cyrus the Great, the Founder of the Persian Empire, located in the magnificent Dasht-e-Morghab. Stop in Abarkuh, a typical desert town. Enjoy tea under the shade of a 4,000-year old Cypress tree before arriving in Yazd in the afternoon. (BLD)

Full day sightseeing in Yazd, the centre for Iran’s small Zoroastrian community who, seeking refuge from the invading Arabs, found a safe haven within its fortified walls. Visit 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.

See the active Zoroastrian Fire Temple, the fire of which has been burning for about 1500 years. Among Yazd’s Islamic sites is 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. There are also many beautiful old houses in Yazd, among them the Dowlat Abad Garden, with an 18th-century feudal hexagonal house. (BLD)

Today travel from Yazd to Isfahan (313 km, 7-8 hr including stops). En route stop to visit the caravanserai and Zilu textile museum and shop at Meybod. Continue to the village of Mohamadiye, to see the traditional workshops weaving the camel cloaks worn by the Moslem clergy in Iran. Also stop in Na’in, another charming desert town to visit the 10th century Friday Mosque and the 17th century Pirnia House, containing the Ethnographic Museum. Arrive in Isfahan in the afternoon. (BLD)

Enjoy a full day tour of the beautiful city of Isfahan, the 17th century capital of the Safavids, referred to as Nesf-e-Jahan (Half of the World). Start with a visit to the famous bridges of Shahrestan, Khajou and Sio-se-pol, the Armenian Quarter with several churches, including the important Cathedral of Vank.

After lunch, explore the buildings surrounding one of the world’s grandest squares, the Maidan-e-Naghsh-e-Jahan. See the Ali-Qapu Palace with its enchanting music rooms and balcony overlooking the Maidan, from where the Safavid Kings watched polo games, and two of the Islamic world’s greatest mosques, the Sheikh Lotfollah and the Shah. Finish with a visit to the Qeisarieh Bazaar with hundreds of shops displaying the arts and handicrafts for which Isfahan is world-famous. (BLD)

Following a morning talk continue your exploration of Isfahan with a visit to the magnificent Friday Mosque, and its famous Uljaitu Mihrab (Prayer Niche) of the Il-Khanid period. The Friday Mosque is considered a museum of a thousand years of Persian religious architecture and is truly one of the world’s greatest mosques.

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

Full day drive to Tehran (460 km, approx. 7-8 hr, including stops).

First, stop at the town of Natanz to visit a beautiful Islamic complex consisting of the Friday Mosque, Monastery and Tomb of Sheikh Abdol Samad Isfahani.

Continue to Kashan and visit one of the most important archaeological sites in Iran known as Tepe Sialk. Later, visit the historical garden of Fin, which was first planted during the Safavid period. 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. (BLD)

Day at leisure (late check-out included) until transfer to the airport for evening departure (8.00 pm) on Emirates via Dubai to Australia. (BL)

Evening arrival in Australia.

Per person, twin-share

AUD 8,950

Single supplement*

AUD 1,550

Deposit per person

AUD 500

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

Final payment due

19 July 2017

Tour code


Fitness level

Above average

Please see booking conditions for fitness level definitions.

Suggested airline


Please contact Renaissance Tours for assistance with current airfares and flight reservations.

Tour price includes

  • Accommodation in centrally located hotels with private facilities and daily breakfast (B)
  • Transfers on arrival and departure if travelling on suggested flights
  • All meals as per itinerary (L=Lunch, D=Dinner) Soft drinks, juices and tea / coffee included
  • Comprehensive sightseeing, visits to museums and attractions including entrance fees as per itinerary
  • Lectures and talks with your tour leader throughout
  • Gratuities for local guides and drivers
  • Hotel porterage (one piece per person)

Tour price does not include

  • International airfares
  • Transfers on arrival and departure if not travelling on suggested flights
  • Items of a personal nature, including telephone, laundry, taxis etc.
  • Airport porterage
  • Travel insurance
  • Visa on arrival (current cost EUR 50)


Australian and New Zealand passport holders require a visa for Iran. As of 2016 visas for a stay of up to 30 days can be obtained on arrival at Tehran Airport after prior application online.

NB. At time of brochure printing UK, USA and Canadian passport holders must obtain their visas in advance of arrival.

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 will be required to wear a head-scarf, long-sleeve shirt, trousers, and a trench-coat (to the knee) at all times. 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
Teheran – Espinas International*****
Shiraz – Homa*****
Yazd – Moshir Garden****
Isfahan – Abbasi*****

NB. Hotels of a similar standard may be substituted