Travel through the marvellous mountain and desert landscapes of Persia and visit some of the most remarkable monuments in the ancient and Islamic worlds. This 23-day tour explores the art and history of Iran, from Tabriz and Tehran in the north, to Isfahan and Shiraz in the south. The tour visits ancient Achaemenid palaces and royal tombs, mysterious Sasanian fire temples, and enchanting mud-brick cities on the desert fringes, and explores Islamic Iran with its enchanting gardens, caravanserais, bazaars and stunning mosques. Throughout we encounter the unsurpassed friendliness and hospitality of the Iranian people.
Tehran’s wonderful museums and palaces including the Golestan Palace complex
Tabriz’s Ottoman-influenced turquoise mosque and Grand Bazaar
The Caspian Sea and northern Iran
Sasanian watchtowers, palaces and fire temples at Takht-e Soleiman
Wandering through the gardens of Shiraz, where Persia’s poets are celebrated
Classical sites of Persepolis and Pasargadae
Evocative Zoroastrian and medieval sites in the desert city of Yazd
UNESCO World Heritage-listed Isfahan, centre of the ‘renaissance’ Safavid period
Days 1–3: Explore Tehran’s palaces and museums.
Days 4–7: Drive to the Caspian Sea, then to Tabriz to visit the Blue Mosque, Azerbaijan Museum and the troglodyte village of Kandovan.
Days 8–9: Travel to Zanjan and examine the Sasanian ruins of Takht-e Soleiman.
Days 10–14: Investigate Bishapur, Persepolis and Firuzabad from Shiraz.
Days 15–17: In Yazd, visit Pasargadae and the Zoroastrian fire temples.
Days 18–21: Visit the Maidan and Chetel Sotun palaces and the Armenian Quarter in Isfahan.
Days 22–23: Return to Tehran via the merchant houses and water gardens of Kashan.
The tour begins and ends at our hotel in Tehran. Emirates and Qatar Airways offer daily flights from most Australian cities into Tehran. Contact us for quotes and bookings.
Included meals are shown with the symbols B, L and D.
Friday April 3: Arrival
Arrive into Tehran where you will be met and transferred to our hotel. In the afternoon visit the Carpet Museum to see the extensive collection of old and new Persian carpets and rugs sourced from the major carpet-weaving centres of Iran. Overnight Tehran (D)
Saturday April 4: Tehran Museums
Today is devoted to visiting some of Tehran’s Museums, demonstrating the rich cultural heritage of the country. The visits will include the archaeological and Islamic sections of Iran’s National Museum, displaying an authenticated collection of pre-historic and ancient artefacts with pottery dating back to 6-7 millennium BC, and the Golestan Palace and Museum Complex, the former residence of the 19th and early 20th century Qajar Kings of Iran, incorporating several museums including the Marble Throne Room. Overnight Tehran (B, L, D)
Sunday April 5: Golestan Palace
This morning we visit the Reza Abbasi Museum where the exhibits of fine Iranian art are arranged chronologically from the 2nd millenium BC to the end of the Qajar era in the early 20th century. After a break for lunch we visit the fabulous State’s Jewels Museum. It showcases some of the magnificent jewellery belonging to the last kings of Iran, including the Darya-i Nur (Sea of Light), the largest uncut diamond in the world, and the ‘Globe of Jewels’, a map of the world in emerald, sapphire, ruby, and diamonds. Overnight Tehran (B, L, D)
Monday April 6: The Caspian Sea
Departing Tehran we travel north through the picturesque Elburz Mountains and then along the shores of the Caspian Sea via the port of Anzali. We stop for lunch overlooking the Caspian Sea before continuing to Astara and our hotel on the lake backing onto the mountains. Overnight Astara (B, L, D)
Tuesday April 7: Ardebil to Tabriz
A pleasant morning’s drive brings us to Ardebil to visit the magnificent Mausoleum of Sheikh Saffi-eddin Ardebili, a widely revered Sufi Philosopher of the 14th century, who made Ardebil his home. He was the forefather of the well-known Safavid Kings of Iran and his mausoleum has been the mecca of thousands of pilgrims and dervishes throughout the centuries. Ardebil sits on a high plateau and if the day is clear we should have good views of Mt Sabalan on our way to Tabriz. Overnight Tabriz (B, L, D)
Wednesday April 8: St Stephanos
We travel outside of Tabriz for a full day excursion to visit the Armenian church of St Stephanos, set amongst spectacular mountain scenery in the Aros River Valley. The church features typical Armenian architecture with a bell tower and cylindrical tower with a conical roof. Overnight Tabriz (B, L, D)
Thursday April 9: Exploring Tabriz
This morning we visit the Blue Mosque, known in the world as the Turquoise of Islam, the Azerbaijan Museum, displaying a fine collection of pre-historic and historic artefacts found in the area, and the extensive bazaar. After a break for lunch, we take a short excursion to the intriguing troglodyte village of Kandovan, up in the heights of Mt Sahand, a volcanic mountain. Here the people have carved their houses in the rocks and still live in them as in ancient times. Overnight Tabriz (B, L, D)
Friday April 10: To Zanjan
Today we travel to Zanjan and visit the magnificent Mausoleum of Uljaitu, constructed during the reign of Sultan Muhammad Khoda Bandeh (1304-1330). Its huge dome, which is about 51 metres high, ranks amongst the largest in the world; the stucco-work, tile-work, and the designs decorating this monument make it unique. Overnight Zanjan (B, L, D)
Saturday April 11: Takht-e-Soleiman
We embark on a full day’s journey into the Zagros Mountains where we visit the site of Takht-e-Soleiman located in a broad and remote mountain valley. What remains are the massive stone walls and remnants of the thirty-eight watch towers, palaces, the fire temple and the Anahita temple, built around the conical crater lake mainly by the Sassanians in the 6th century. Overnight Zanjan (B, L, D)
Sunday April 12: To Shiraz
This morning we return to Tehran by coach before boarding our domestic flight to Shiraz. Overnight Shiraz (B, L, D)
Monday April 13: Firuzabad
We travel south to the city known today as Firuzabad to visit the enormous palace of Ardashir, of unique architectural design with its huge arch and three domes. On the ancient road to Firuzabad we pass by two bas-reliefs, depicting Ardashir defeating the Parthian king Artabanus and receiving the crown of kingship from Ahuramazda, as well as the Qaleh-i Dokhtar, built by Ardashir as a fortress guarding the entrance to the valley. Overnight Shiraz (B, L, D)
Tuesday April 14: Bishapur
Today we travel to Bishapur to visit the site of the Sassanian city built by Shapur 1st (241-273 A.D.), the second Sassanian king. We investigate the building complex which includes six Sassanian rock-reliefs at Tang-e-Chogan, commemorating Shapur’s victories over the Romans and other adversaries. Overnight Shiraz (B, L, D)
Wednesday April 15: Exploring Shiraz
In the morning we visit the tomb of the great 14th century poet Hafez. Set in a peaceful garden, the marble tombstone is engraved with a verse from the poet and many Iranians treat the tomb as a site of pilgrimage. We visit the wonderful Bagh-i-Eram garden with a grand residence overlooking the fountains and botanic gardens; and Nasr el-Molk mosque with its unusually deep blue tiling, finely carved pillars and exquisite stained glass. The afternoon is free for further shopping in the bazaar or visiting more of the many monuments of Shiraz. Overnight Shiraz (B, L, D)
Thursday April 16: Persepolis
We depart for Persepolis, one of the most important sites of the Ancient World, is our destination today. It is the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid kings with remains of the palaces of Darius the Great, Xerxes and Artaxerxes, and its famous bas-reliefs, depicting kings and courtiers and gift-bearing representatives of tributary nations of the Persian Empire. At Naghsh-e-Rostam we see the Achaemenid fire temple Ka’be-Zardosht and Royal Tombs plus seven magnificent Sassanian rock-reliefs (including Shapur the First’s famous victory over the Roman Emperor Valerian). Our hotel is conveniently located next to the site at Persepolis. Overnight Persepolis (B, L, D)
Friday April 17: Pasargardae
On the way to Yazd we visit Pasargadae, the site of the tomb and remains of palaces of Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Persian Empire, all located in the magnificent Dasht-e-Morghab. Driving through the typical desert town of Abarkuh we stop and have tea under the shade of a 4,000-year old Cypress tree before arriving into Yazd and checking into our hotel. Overnight Yazd (B, L, D)
Saturday April 18: Zoroastrian Yazd
The Zoroastrian religion was the main religion of Iran from at least Sassanian times and perhaps even earlier. It emphasises the manifestation of divinity in nature, and its centres of worship are nature itself or the fire temples in each city or town. Today in Yazd, the centre for Iran’s small remaining Zoroastrian community, we visit one of the two Zoroastrian abandoned Towers of Silence (Dakhma), and 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, with the highest portal and minarets in Iran. There are also many beautiful old houses in Yazd, among them the Dowlat Abad Garden, which we see this afternoon. Overnight Yazd (B, L, D)
Sunday April 19: To Isfahan
Leaving Yazd we drive to Isfahan, with a stop en-route at the village of Meybod where we visit the fine Zilou museum and ceramic shops. We continue to Na’in, another charming desert town and visit the 10th century Friday Mosque, and the 17th century Pirnia House and Ethnographic Museum, with a walk through the old part of town. After a break for lunch we head to Isfahan and check into our hotel. Overnight Isfahan (B, L, D)
Monday April 20: Exploring Isfahan
Our full day tour of the beautiful city of Isfahan commences with a survey of the city’s three famous bridges – Shahrestan, Khajou and Sio-se-pol – each with its own design and architectural features. We also visit the Armenian Quarter and several of its churches, including the important Cathedral of Vank, decorated in a mixture of Islamic tile designs, Christian imagery and wonderful frescoes. In the afternoon, we visit one of the world’s grandest squares, the Maidan-e-Naghsh-e-Jahan, including the Ali Qapu Palace with its balcony overlooking the Maidan. We also visit two of the Islamic world’s greatest mosques – the Sheikh Lotfollah and the Shah – both with magnificent architecture and tile work. Our touring today concludes with a visit to the Qeisarieh Bazaar. Overnight Isfahan (B, L, D)
Tuesday April 21: Isfahan
Our sightseeing in Isfahan continues with a visit to the magnificent Friday Mosque, with the 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. Our exploration continues to the Chehel Sotun Palace, where its wooden columns reflected in the surface of the pool give its name ‘The Palace of Forty Columns’. In the afternoon we have free time to return to the main Maidan for a further visit to the shops and bazaar. Overnight Isfahan (B, L, D)
Wednesday April 22: At Leisure
Today is at leisure to further your explorations of Isfahan. Overnight Isfahan (B, D)
Thursday April 23: Return to Tehran
Today we return to Tehran by road, firstly stopping at the town of Natanz to visit a beautiful Islamic mosque and dervish complex. Next we travel to Kashan, to visit one of the most important and ancient archaeological sites in Iran, the ziggurat known as Tepe Sialk. We also visit the historical garden of Fin, which was first planted during the Safavid period and kept alive with water from the nearby Sulaimanieh Spring. A museum on the site displays artefacts from nearby Tepe Sialk. Before departing Kashan we visit a fine example of a 19th century merchant residence known as Borujerdi House with its beautiful stucco and painted decoration. Arriving in Tehran this afternoon, we check into our hotel with time to freshen up before we gather for our farewell meal. Overnight Tehran (B, L, D)
Friday April 24: Departure
Flights depart Tehran throughout the day. Your tour consultant can assist with arranging the best possible connections and booking a late check out at an extra cost if required. (B)
Dr John Tidmarsh
An archaeologist, former lecturer and current Co-Director of the University of Sydney excavations at Pella in Jordan.
Dr John Tidmarsh is an archaeologist who has conducted excavations in Syria, Jordan, Greece, and Cyprus. He is currently Co-Director of the University of Sydney excavations at Pella in Jordan and also Co-Director of the Australian Mission to Jebel Khalid, Syria. He is an Honorary Associate, Department of Classics and Ancient History, University of Sydney and was previously Senior Investigator of the University of Sydney excavations in Torone, Greece and Associate Director of the University of Sydney excavations at Paphos, Cyprus.
He has travelled widely in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East and since the 1980s has led numerous tours to Jordan, Syria, Turkey, Iran, Oman, and Greece.
His main interests are in the art, archaeology and history of Alexander the Great and the Hellenistic period in the east, and in the Islamic World. He has written many articles and conference papers on these areas and has co-authored several books on the excavations at Jebel Khalid in Syria. He is soon to complete his book on the Hellenistic and Early Roman periods at Pella in Jordan.
John has a BA (Hons), MA (Hons) and PhD from the University of Sydney where he was previously tutor, then part-time lecturer in Classical Archaeology. He is a former President of the Near Eastern Archaeology Foundation at that university.
He is also a Clinical Endocrinologist (MBBS, FRACP) who worked previously in private practice and at Bankstown Hospital in Sydney, and is now at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.
We asked John, what motivates your passion for travel?
“Since I first joined the excavation team in 1978 at Pella in Jordan I have become addicted to travelling and working in the eastern Mediterranean and Middle East.
Along with my fascination for the detective work and discovery which archaeological excavation entails, one of my greatest joys is introducing my tour groups to worlds very different from those they have encountered while travelling in the USA and Europe. It is a source of real pleasure for me to see those first-timers to the Middle East, who often approach the region with slight trepidation though they may have travelled widely elsewhere, become quickly entranced by the marvellous mountain and desert landscapes and monuments that these countries possess and, more importantly, by the unsurpassed friendliness and hospitality of both Arabs and Persians alike.”
While every effort has been made to provide the best available accommodation and services, not all tourist services are at western standards. Where possible, all hotels on this tour are three to five-star – though this does not necessarily imply the standards of four and five-star hotels in Western countries.
What is included in the tour price?
Unless otherwise stated in the itinerary, our tours include the following:
Any flights mentioned in the itinerary that take place during a tour
Land travel by private air-conditioned coach. Where appropriate public transport is also used for short distance travel on some tours
All accommodation in hotels or apartments as stated in the itinerary
Breakfasts, lunches and dinners specifically stated as included in the itinerary
Drinks at welcome and farewell meals. Other meals may not have drinks included
Background talks on tour, site notes and online resources
Services of tour leader throughout tour
All entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary
Local guides at some sites
Tips for drivers, local guides and restaurants for included meals
Tours begin either at the arrival airport or the first hotel, depending on the itinerary. If you have booked your international flights with Academy Travel and arrive before the tour commences, we will provide airport to hotel transfers to the closest main city on your arrival, and to the closest airport at the end of the tour. These may be either individual or group transfers.
What is not included in the tour price?
Open-age tours do not include the following:
Return international/domestic air travel unless those flights take place during the tour
Special taxes and airport levies that can only be paid in cash at the destination. We will advise you of these charges (if any) before you depart
Costs involved in obtaining visas for countries visited, where required
Travel insurance. We require all participants to have comprehensive travel insurance. A typical policy for one of our tours will cost from $160 upwards, depending on your age, pre-existing medical conditions, the countries you are visiting and the overall length of your trip
Lunches and dinners not specifically mentioned as included in the itinerary
Personal expenses such as laundry and phone calls
Costs associated with any activity mentioned as “optional” in the itinerary, or any suggested free time activity
You will be asked to sign an acknowledgement of these conditions when you book a place on a tour.
A deposit of $500 per person is required to confirm your booking on a tour. Final payment of the tour fee, insurance and any additional travel will be due 60 days before departure.
If you decide to cancel your booking the following charges apply:
More than 60 days before departure: $500*
60-45 days before tour start: 25% of total amount due
44-15 days before tour start: 75% of total amount due
14 days or less before departure: 100% of total amount due
*This amount may be credited to another Academy Travel tour within 12 months of the original tour you booked.
Unused Portions of the tour
We regret that refunds will not be given for any unused portions of the tour, such as meals, entry fees, accommodation, flights or transfers.
Academy Travel requires all participants to obtain comprehensive travel insurance. We offer a comprehensive policy with a reputable insurer if required.
Passport and Visa
A valid passport is required for all international travel. If you do not hold an Australian passport you may require a re-entry permit. Some countries require a visa to be issued before you depart Australia. We will advise you of all passport and visa requirements, but it is your responsibility to ensure that you meet passport and visa requirements before you depart.
Will the tour price change?
If the number of participants in a tour is significantly less than budgeted, or if there is a significant change in exchange rates Academy Travel reserves the right to amend the advertised price. If this occurs you will be given the option of cancelling your booking and obtaining a full refund. If an Academy Travel tour is forced to cancel you will get a full refund of all monies paid.
Will the itinerary change?
Occasionally circumstances beyond the control of Academy Travel make it necessary to change airline, hotel or to make slight amendments to daily itineraries. We will inform you of any changes as soon as they occur.
Full and final payment for the tour, airfare travel, insurance and any additional travel you book is due 60 days before departure. Payment may be made by bank deposit, cheque, cash or credit card. Please note there is a surcharge for payments made by credit card.
Academy Travel reserves the right to decline the booking or terminate the holiday of any traveller.