A three day guide of things to do in Shiraz
“I wish I could show you, when you are lonely or in the darkness, the astonishing light of your own belonging” – Hafez 14th century.
These verses were written by the famous Iranian poet Hafez, who happened to hail from Shiraz. The beauty of his writing is paralleled by the exquisite city of his birthplace and makes it an absolute must when visiting Iran. To make things easier for you, I have compiled a three day guide of things to do in Shiraz for you.
Shiraz was the last stop in our two week trip to Iran and this city in the South of Iran once again proved how rich the culture of Iran is. Shiraz was actually the capital of Persia in the Zand dynasty (16th century) and architecturally has a lot of influence from the Qajar era .
While Esfahan will forever be etched in my mind as the blue city (influenced by the Saffavid dynasty), Shiraz is very much the pink city. The use of tiles is also very common in all major shiraz tourist attractions they are however more vibrant have a pink color and a floral pattern. Under Qajar rule, there was a significant increase in diplomatic missions between Iran and Europe, which had a strong influence of the art and architecture of Qajar Iran. As the dynasty progressed there was an increasing shift towards a mix of artistic styles. The Nasir Ol Mosque is a great example of this mix of styles. The mosque has tiles depicting European landscapes, which were directly imported from 18th century Europe. The Nasir Ol Mosque is one of the main Shiraz tourist attractions and a must see when visiting the city.
On a side note: For those perceptive few, Shiraz is indeed also the name of a type of grape with which shiraz wine is produced. Back in the day, this wine was indeed produced in Shiraz. Nowadays it is not legal to produce wine in Iran due to alcohol prohibition in Islam.
We visited most locations either on foot or took a local taxi which never cost us more than 5euro. The distances in this guide are described in terms of time it would take to walk from the Nasir Ol Mosque and all prices are indicated in IRR (unless otherwise stated).
Things to do in Shiraz
Free walking tour in Shiraz
If you are looking to get a good feel for the main Shiraz tourist attractions, be sure to check out this free walking tour. It will take around two hours and cover the Nasir Ol Mosque, The Vakhil Mosque and Bazaar and many more monuments.
Practical details about the free walking tour
How long is the tour: 2 hours
Price: The price of the tour is based upon tips. Please note entrance fees to the monuments are not included.
Where does it start: This will depend on the amount of people attending the tour. Make sure to register for the free tour. You will receive all the practical information straight to your mailbox. You can register here.
The Nasir Ol Mosque
The Nasir Ol Mosque is the famous “pink” mosque and one of the main tourist attractions in Shiraz. It was built in the 19th century, during the Qajar dynasty. This mosque has so many eclectic elements merging together that you could easily spend a full day taking it all in.
My personal highlight is the winter prayer hall, which is the building to your right as you come in from the ticketing booth. You might recognise the hall from one of the pictures circulating around (social) media. It contains 7 large windows inlaid with beautiful Persian Stained Glass. The early morning sun streams through the glass which illuminates the entire building and bathes it in many different colours of light. The mosque is often referred to as the Kaleidoscope mosque for this very reason. When we visited (Autumn), the light started creeping through the windows at around 08.00 and was at it’s most beautiful around 10.00 am.
Interesting to note, is that Persian Stained Glass does not depict religious iconography as is the case for many stained glass windows in churches. This has to do with the strict rules of Islamic art, which prohibit any depictions of images of icons. So they architects of the time played with geometrical shapes and light.
Aside from the stunning winter prayer hall, this mosque also has two very intricately carved niches on opposite sides of a courtyard. The tile work here is decorated with a pink floral design, and here and there you will find blueish tiles which depict landscapes. These tiles were imported from Europe and reflect the fashion for tile work at the time.
The mosque itself is not very big, but is one of the must-see attractions in Shiraz. Which means it gets very packed and that will definitely take away from the magic of this place. I really do suggest kicking your butt out of bed early and being here for the opening at 07.00 am. This will give you a solid hour of quality time with this pink beauty. Wander into the winter prayer hall, take a few snaps and then nestle yourself in a corner and watch the light stream in. Do not forget to look up and take in all the details of the (pink) ceiling.
Practical details for visiting the Nasir Ol Mosque
Entrance fee: IRR500.000
Best time to go: Get there by 7 am when it opens to have the place to yourself. The light however will not be shining very brightly through the glass windows yet. This happens a little later (between 08.00 and 10.00 depending on the time of the year)
Best months to go: In the winter the light shining through the stained glass windows covers the entire floor of the mosque and ricochets off the opposite wall. According the local guard this was the most beautiful time to visit the mosque.
Length of visit: Calculate between 2 and 3 hours to take everything in. We ended up going twice because it was that nice.
Opening hours: Open every day from 07.00 to 17.00 (closed on Monday)
The Vakhil Mosque
The second mosque in the guide of things to see in Shiraz is the 18th century Vakhil Mosque. The entrance of the mosque is decorated with beautiful pink tiles. The rest of the mosque however has zero pink tiles! But do not worry, the Vakhil mosque might not be pink, or have impressive glass artwork but it is still very much worth visiting. It was built during the Zand dynasty and extensively restored during the Qajar dynasty. The Qajar dynasty proceeded to add it’s own special flair to the place, and covered it in floral tiles. The tiles are less vibrant than those of the Nasir Ol Mosque but they are more intricate and detailed than their counterparts.
Aside from Pinterest worthy tiles, the real beauty of this mosque is the night prayer hall (Shabestan) which lies opposite the entrance way. The hall is made up of 48 pillars, with beautiful spiral carvings. In true Persian style it is perfectly geometrical and an absolute pleasure to photograph and walk around.
We visited bright and early in the morning (around 08.30) and were invited by a pair of local worshippers to enjoy a meal together.
Practical details for visiting the Vakhil Mosque
Cost price: IRR500.000
When to go: Right when it opens (08:30 ) to avoid the heat and the crowds.
How to get there: 15 minute walk from the Nasir Ol Mosque
Length of visit: One to two hours
Opening hours: Every day from 08.30 to 20.00 (autumn and winter) and 20.30 (spring and summer).
Tomb of Hafez
No list of things to do in Shiraz is complete without a visit to the Tomb of Hafez. Hafez was born in Shiraz in the 14th century and his work is seen to be the crème de la crème of Persian literature. To this day, he is one of the most well-known and respected poets in Persian history.
From an outsiders (non-Iranian) perspective, it seemed like the majority of Iranians were at least partially versed in his poetry and made reference to certain of his verses in daily conversation. It almost felt like to better understand current day Iranian culture, you need to read some of Hafez verses.
Various monuments across Iran bear inscriptions of poetry written by Hafez in the form of beautiful calligraphy etched in tiles or carved into the buildings/ Hafez’ works have been translated in many different languages. In fact the first account of an English translation dates back as early as the 18th century and is known to have influenced many great writers of the western world (Goethe, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,…).
Practical details for visiting Hafez Tomb
Cost price: IRR500.000
When to go: We went right before sundown and witnessed the spot being lit up (pretty cool). There was soft music playing and the ambience was very relaxed.
How to get there: It is a 37 walk from the Nasir Ol Mosque, so we opted to get a taxi.
Length of visit: One hour
Opening Hours: Every day 08.00 to 21.30 (Autumn, Winter) and 22.30 (Spring, Summer)
Eram Garden: A beautiful Persian garden
Next up in the guide of things to do in Shiraz are some Persian Gardens, starting of with the Eram Garden. If you have read my previous posts on Isfahan, Yazd or Kashan you will have undoubtedly picked up on the fact that Persian Gardens are anything but ‘regular ‘gardens. In fact they are so special that they have been classified by UNESCO as a world heritage, and rightfully so. Persian gardens play with symmetry and the perfect balance between land, water, plants and the space around them. They are a true oasis of tranquillity, great for a stroll or to people watch.
The Eram garden is one of the top shiraz tourist attractions, and it is not hard to see why. The garden was built somewhere between the 12th and 13th century and was built to depict the ‘beauty of heaven’. This could explain why there are over 45 species of plants in the garden, including plenty of fruit trees and cypress trees. The garden is not that large, but it does have plenty of little pathways which are great if you want to sneak in a kiss with your lover. Apparently I am not the only one with this idea, we went around dusk and there was plenty of sneaky PDA (public display of affection) going on, which in an Islamic country is not something you get to see very often.
The house built in the garden was added later, during the Qajar dynasty (18the century) which is clear when you see the floral tiles and the large stained glass windows. Sadly, it is closed for the public but you are welcome to wander around it and take in the outside.
Practical details for visiting the Eram Garden
Price: IRR 500.000
How to get there: One hour walk from Nasir-Ol-Mosque, we ended up grabbing a taxi
When to go: We came around sunset, so we could go for dinner in one of the many restaurants around the corner.
Length of Stay: We stayed for 2 hours, which included plenty of time to people watch.
Opening hours: Every day from 09.00 to 20.30
Qavam house (Narenjestan e Ghavam)
In terms of things to do in Shiraz, this house is perched firmly in spot number two (right after the Nasir Ol Mosque and the Vakhil Mosque). It was built dring the Qajar dynasty (19th century) and was privately owned by the family of a local politician (The Qavam family). And good news, you can actually go inside and visit the house.
By now you might have caught on to the fact that Persian architecture is rich with colourful stained glass, mirror mosaics and (typical for the Qajar dynasty) paintings depicting European culture. This little gem is no different, the Qavam family went all out to display their wealth in their house, from low hanging ceilings with paintings from Victorian England to the use of rich wooden carvings, plenty of stucco and of course tiles!
The house is such an eclectic mixture patterns and textures that it can only be described as quintessential (rich) Persian architecture.
Make sure to put aside some time to explore the gardens too. They are locally knows as Narenjestan, or the orange gardens because of their abundance of sour orange trees. If you go during the springtime you will be able to smell the orange blossoms. We were there during autumn so no fragrant trees for us BUT we did get to see the oranges on the trees which was pretty cool too. As is the case with the Eram gardens, Narenjestan is a perfect example of a traditional Persian garden so expect many water elements and plenty of different types of plants and trees.
I really loved walking around the garden and taking a break from the heat. Despite us going in autumn, it was still very hot. An added layer of complexity was the fact that I am not used to walking around, fully covered, in such temperatures. Therefore I found myself in dire need of a spot to sit down and grab a drink. As far as Shiraz attractions go, this little oasis should not be skipped.
Practical details for visiting the Qavam house (Narenjestan)
Entrance Fee: IRR 200.000
Length of stay: 2 hours at leisurely pace
When to go: This property is beautiful at any hour of the day.
How to get there: 5 minute walk from Nasir Ol Mosque
Opening hours: Everyday 08:00 to 21:00
Tomb of Seyed Alaeddin Husayn (shrine)
Perhaps a little bit more off the beaten path but well worth a spot on this guide of things to do in Shiraz is the Aleddin Husayn Shrine. The tomb is that of one of the sons of the 7the Shia Imam Musa al-Kadhim and decedents of the Islamic prophet Muhammad
The shrine dates back the 15th century, but has undergone many renovations due to damage done by earthquakes most notably the dome which was entirely replaced in the 1950s.
For me it was a first, visiting a shrine of someone who had been dead over 1000 years and where people still actively worshipped. Granted, I have been to many churches and temples before where relics are kept but somehow this was different. The site was absolutely bustling with people, many of them actively praying and in mourning. We were welcomed in to explore, but made clear to understand that this was a religious site and thus needed to excerpt the utmost respect.
This was the reason why we did not take our professional photography gear with us. You are allowed to take pictures as such (no flash), but perhaps you can stick to your phone this time and let your eyes take in the beauty instead.
Practical details for visiting the Seyed Alaedin Husayn Shrine
Dresscode: You will be required to wear a Chador (which is offered to you at the entrance) and you will be asked to take off your shoes to walk around the complex.
Photography: You are asked not to take any professional pictures here as it is a very religious site and still in practice these days. Please be respectful. You may take pictures with your phone, but again please be respectful
Entrace: Men and women have different entrances and explore different parts of the shrine.
How to get there: 7 minute walk from Nasir Ol Mosque
Shah Cheragh Shrine
Around the corner from the Seyed Alaeddin Husayn lies another impressive shrine: Shah Cheragh Shrine. This shrine holds the final resting place of the other two sons of the 7th Shia Imam Musa Al-Kadhim and decedents of the Islamic prophet Muhammad – Ahmad and Muhammad.
This shrine is also on the list of things to do in Shiraz because it is a little different from the previous shrine. This complex is significantly larger and has a cultural liaison officer to guide you around. Yep, we got a tour of the complex in English and absolutely free. Let’s start at the beginning
Start off by dropping your bags at the bag drop-off area. On the square, right in front of the entrance there is a small white building with an open window. This is where you need to check your bag. You will be given a token, hang on to it because you need that token to get your bag back.
Next make your way to the entrance: Women go to the far left, and men opposite the building where you dropped off you bags. Women will have to wear a Chador, the ladies at the entrance helped us put them on (there is a trick to it). After our attire was deemed appropriate, we were asked to wait. We were met by many curious glances and big smiles, it was clear that this shrine is not often visited by many foreign visitors. Ten minutes later, we were met by a lovely women who turned out to be a cultural liason. She spoke English and guided us through the most important parts of the shrine. This service was absolutely free of charge and geared towards helping us understand the importance of the site.
Important to note that a shrine, although a religious site, is in no way morbid as the word makes it out to feel. In fact the actual shrine itself is decorated with beautiful mirrored walls, stained glass and intricately decorated chandeliers. This is one of the main reasons why for me it is a must see in terms of Shiraz Tourist Attractions. It is so very different from any other religious building in the West and even in Iran.
The shrine dates back to the 12th century but as with it’s counterpart the Seyed Alaeddin Husayn it was reconstructed and restored many times due to damage that was caused by the various earthquakes across the centuries.
Things to see outside of Shiraz: Daytrips
Pink Lake (Maharloo Lake)
“Wait, what”? One of the Shiraz tourist attractions is a pink lake? Yep, Shiraz has it’s very own pink lake. Mind you it is not there for most of the year. The lake is part of a seasonal river which partially dries up in the summer months and leaves behind a white salt bed which turns pink due to an algae bloom found in the lake. As it is a natural phenomenon it is hard to predict when you can see this Shiraz attraction but aiming for the end of summer is your best bet.
Practical details for visiting Maharloo Lake
Where is it: 27 km SE of Shiraz
Price for transfer and guide: IRR9.070.000
Time spent: One hour
Best time to go: End of summer, but make sure to ask the locals for information in the year you are traveling.
No list of things to in Shiraz would be complete without a daytrip to Persepolis. The ancient capital of the Achaemenid Empire (6th-3e century BC). It was burnt down by Alexander the Great (4th century BC) after a 30 day siege. And so began the age old hatred for Alexander the Great, still felt to this day.
Although the site is mainly ruins, there are enough elements left for you to imagine life back in the day. We got ourselves some 3D goggles at the entrance. You pop them on your face and they show a visual reconstruction of the ruins. The cost price for these goggles is IRR300.000 and you can find them right at the entrance, to the left of the Gate of All Nations (pictured below). What was cool about these goggles is that they were in color. Persepolis looked to be such a rainbow of different colors and textures, which is very different from the ruins you see coming out of ancient Rome and Greece. Personally, I think I would be a lot happier running around this rainbow city than ‘plain’ white ancient Greece.
Right, so what are the two elements of the site you absolutely have to see?
The Gate of All Nations (pictured below) & The Great Double Staircase. If you are short on time make sure to look out for these two. Both parts were constructed by the king Xeres I (5th century BC), who was the successor the founder of Persepolis (Darius I). Yep you are reading that right, they are over 2000 years old and still here for you to witness. Talk about withstanding the test of time!
The Gate of all nations reportedly held two doors made out of wood and covered with ornament metal. The doors led into a great hall which was 25 meters long. The doors are no longer there, but it is not hard to imagine them when you walk through the gate. I honestly felt like royalty parading through the door it was so well preserved!
We walked the site during golden hour and by the time we came back around to the gate the sun was setting. It set right behind the entrance of the gate, could not have asked for a better setting. The sky turned a cotton candy pink and the gates were a beautiful deep orange, an absolute goosebump moment.
Let’s not forget about the Great Double Staircase. This staircase was very much fit for a king, and one with pretty good taste too. It is covered with beautifully intricate carvings, that are still here for as to ogle 2000 years later. Ok, so some of the carvings might be a bit faded … work with me here will you. The carvings depict dignitaries coming to pay tribute to king Darius I. You can spot camels, horses, donkeys and some very cool hairstyles. I have a pretty active imagination, and while I was looking over these carvings I felt like I was transported back 2000 years ago, so much so that half of me thinking “where is this magnificent king I need to pay tribute too”.
The staircase is split into three parts, each part depicts different types of ancient society:
– The northern wall: The Persian Nobels, their horseman and chariots.
– The center: The soldiers
– The southern wall: All nations that were part of the Persian Empire (if you look closely you will it contains Egyptians, Indians, Greeks and many more)
Practical details for visiting Persepolis
When to go: Right around sunset, before it closes
Where is it located: 60 km north of Shiraz
How to get there: Rent a car with a guide for the day and hit up Naqsh-e-Rostam at the Pink Lake at the same time.
Price for transfer and guide: IRR9.070.000
Time spent there: You could easily spend a good 3 hours here, especially if you can a good guide to explain the ruins for you.
Not technically a Shiraz tourist attraction but for sure worth a day trip out of the city is the Naqsh-e Rostam site. An ancient Necropolis of the Achaemenid Empire (6th-3e century BC), located about 12 km NW from Persepolis. It contains four tombs cut into the cliffs. The entrance to the tombs was in the centre of the cross, here you could find the sarcophagus of the king. The oldest reliefs goes back to 1000 BC, yep that is more than 3000 years ago. It depicts a man with a strange hat, who incidentally is the reason for the name of this place The relief is located below the depiction of mystical hero Rostam.
One of the tombs has been identified as that of King Darius I (the man who constructed Persepolis). For the other three tombs, there are unconfirmed speculations. Dear Alexander the Great looted the tombs around the same time he decided to ransack Persepolis.
Aside from it’s historical importance, stop and contemplate how in the world people built these tombs. They are literally carved inside the cliff many meters above the ground. It must have been a construction of heroic proportions which many people gave their life for.
Well documented sources have found out that workers who constructed Persepolis were actually paid, so one could deduct that the workers who carved out these tombs must also have been paid. Somehow this sounds a lot more humane than the slave culture that built most of the Roman and Greek empire, but that is just my two cents worth.
Practical details for visiting Naqsh-e Rostam
When to go: We went in the middle of the day and were met by harsh light but it was still pretty empty
How to get there: Rent a car with a guide for the day and hit up Persepolis and the Pink lake at the same time.
Price for transfer and guide: IRR9.070.000
Time spent here: Account for at least one hour
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