17 things to do in Shiraz: A travel guide to Iran’s center of poetry and beauty

17 things to do in Shiraz: A travel guide to Iran’s center of poetry and beauty

Backpacking Iran: A travel guide on the best things to do in Shiraz for the independent budget traveller

This post is a travelguide about the best things to do in Shiraz.

Shiraz is Iran’s fifth biggest city and known for a good number of things. Poetry, literature, flowers, gardens and surprisingly, wine. Before the Islamic revolution the Mediterranean climate helped produce the best wine in the country. Shiraz is a city where people enjoy life whether it comes in the form of good food or in the fine arts.

Shiraz is at the heart of Persian culture and an embodiment of its soul. It’s not for nothing that the capital of the ancient Persian empire was near Shiraz, that Shiraz itself became the capital during the Zand dynasty and that two if its most famous poets were born in this city.

It’s no surprise then that there are a lot of things to do in Shiraz for those that appreciate the beauty of the Persian arts. Shirazi crafts include fine mosaic works, silver ware and carpet weaving.

One Iranian friend told me Shirazi’s are also famous for being lazy. I wasn’t there long enough to know if he was right, but with all the things to do in Shiraz I doubt it is true. One thing is for sure. Like anywhere in Iran the people are extremely friendly and welcoming and they make a visit to Shiraz into a great experience.

the vakil bazaar in Shiraz is one of the best things to do in Shiraz

The best things to do in Shiraz

1. Vakil Bazaar

In every city in Iran you will find that the bazaar is where everything happens. From the ordinary groceries, to political discussions and the production of local crafts. The bazaar in Shiraz is particularly colourful and for tourists it is among the top things to do in Shiraz.

One reason that the bazaar in Shiraz is so lively is the influence of the Qashqai nomads that live in the surrounding mountains. In the bazaar you will not only find the colourful dresses the Qashqai women wear, you will also find their unique traditional carpets.

Even if you have already visited other bazaars in Iran, Shiraz has its own charms and will offer something new. The bazaar has been around since the 11th century and it is a place where its fun to get lost in its beautiful courtyards and narrow alleyways.

spices at the Vakil bazaar in Shiraz

Qashqai traditional clothes

2. Vakil mosque

One of my favourite mosques in Shiraz was the Vakil mosque with its colorful mosaic tilings from the Qajar era. The intricate floral patterns are beautiful and the peaceful courtyard is a great place to take them in.

The mosque is in the middle of the Vakil bazaar and the courtyard also provides a quiet break from the markets chaos.

Vakil mosque in Shiraz

3. Vakil hammam

When you are in the bazaar, don’t miss the nearby Vakil hammam. It is quite similar to the hammams open to visitors in Kashan and Esfahan. The historical buildings are worth taking a look inside for the beautiful architecture. Very few are still active tough and they are more like a museum. I recommend you to visit at least one hammam in Iran and the Vakil hammam in Shiraz is a fine example.

Vakil hammam in Shiraz

4. Madraseh – ye Khan

The Madraseh-ye Khan theological college has some beautiful intricate mosaic tilings, a nice courtyard and a garden. Apparently it is not always open, but if it is closed the caretaker might let you in for a tip.

mosaic tiles st the Madraseh-ye Khan in Shiraz

5. The Karim Khan fortress

Among the top things to do in Shiraz for history lovers is a visit to the Karim Khan fortress. The castle was built to be the living quarters for Kharim Khan, the founder of the Zand dynasty. It was Karim Khan that made Shiraz the capital of Iran untill his dynasty was taken over by the Qajars.

The exteriors are still impressive with its thick walls and defensive towers. The fortress is close to the bazaar and very much worth the small detour to see, if only from the outside.

Older couple taking pictures at the Karim Khan citadel in Shiraz

the Karim Khan citadel in Shiraz

6. Shah-e Cheragh Shrine

Shah-e Cheragh is the third most important religious shrine in Iran. It is a large complex with mosques, religious schools, prayer halls and tombs, but it is most famous for its mausoleum where the sons of the 7th Imam were buried.

The interior of the main shrine is a stunning world of glitter and glamour with mirrors and pieces of glass covering every inch of the building. This is where people come to pay their respects.

The Shah-e Cheragh complex is a popular pilgrimage site for Shia muslims and an active place of worship. As a foreigner you are not allowed to visit the shrine on your own, but don’t be discouraged by this. It remains one of the best things to do in Shiraz.

You have to leave your bags at the entrance and then you will get a guide for free. They will show you around, for better or for worse. Mine was a friendly young girl eager to practice her english and I actually enjoyed her company.

The shah-e cheragh shrine is onr of the top things to do in Shiraz

7. Imamzadeh-ye Ali Ebn-e Hamze

The Shah-e Cheragh shrine is not the only shrine in Shiraz. When I was walking around I found two other shrines. They had the same peculiar mirror mosaics as the Shah-e Cheragh shrine, but were much smaller and more quiet.

The 19th century Ali ebn Hamzeh shrine over the tomb of Emir Ali, was one of the friendliest shrines I visited. Not only was I allowed to enter without a guide, I was also invited for a cup of tea.

Imamzadeh-ye Ali Ebn-e Hamze shrine in Shiraz Iran

Imamzadeh-ye Ali Ebn-e Hamze in Shiraz Iran

8. Nasir Al Molk (pink mosque)

People say Nasir al Molk is the most beautiful mosque in Iran and it is not hard to agree with that if you come early morning. When the sun is rising, the light shines through the colored mosaic windows, giving a free spectacular light show.

Unfortunately it is therefore also very crowded at that time. Even though it is one of the most photographed buildings of Iran, it will be a challenge to make a picture without other people on it. Still, this is a must thing to do in Shiraz.

Don’t miss the beautiful mosaic tilings on its exterior either. It’s why people also call it the pink mosque.

Nasir al Molk mosque in Shiraz

Nasir al Molk mosque in Shiraz

9. Alaudeen Hussain Ibn-e Mussa Kazem shrine

I found the Alaudeen Hussain Ibn-e Mussa Kazem shrine in a back street near the Nasir Al Molk mosque. A hidden gem that was not in any of the guidebooks, but was one of the most interesting experiences I had in Shiraz.

The shrine was very local and I did not see any other tourists here. However, I was welcome to come inside and free to wander around on my own. It almost felt too intimate to see the women praying and crying while touching the tomb. Some even held their baby’s up against the shrine.

So far I haven’t been able to find any information about this shrine, but it was obviously quite important for the people that were there.

Alaudeen Hussain Ibn-e Mussa Kazem shrine in Shiraz

Alaudeen Hussain Ibn-e Mussa Kazem shrine in Shiraz

10. Qavan house & Narenjestan garden

The Qavam house is an old traditional home of the 19th century family of Mohammad Qavam. The rich merchants came originally from Qazvin, but choose to built their upper class home in Shiraz.

It is most famous for the Narenjestan garden and the beautiful mosaics.

Ths Qavan house and Naranjestan garden in Shiraz

11. The tomb of Hafez

No visit to Shiraz is complete without a visit to the tomb of Hafez. One of the most famous poets in Iran. It is said most Iranian people have at least two books at home. The Quran and a book with Hafez’s poetry.

Iranians even believe the book of Hafez can be used as a sort of divine fortune-telling. Whenever one faces a difficult decision one can open the book and it is believed that the first sentence upon which the eyes of the reader falls gives the answer. Outside of the tomb men are selling Hafez fortunetelling cards. Sentences from Hafez’s poetry picked out by a parakeet especially for you.

the tomb of Hafez in Shiraz Iran

children waiting for Hafez fortune telling cards in Shiraz

12. Eram gardens

With so many things to do in Shiraz I didn’t find the time to visit the Eram gardens. A pity because they are one of the most beautiful gardens in Shiraz.

The gardens were built in the thirteenth century by the leaders of the Qashqai tribes, but became property of the Qavam family who also owned the Narenjestan gardens. Throughout its history the gardens have been modified and restored to its current beauty.

13. Quran gate

The Quran gate is where most people enter Shiraz. Two old Qurans used to be in a room on top of the gate and they say that everyone passing underneath will receive the holy blessings of the books.

It is a great place to visit in the afternoon or during sunset. Not only to receive your blessings, but also to enjoy some of the best views over Shiraz.

It is a popular spot for locals and the nearby park with the tomb of famous poet Khawju Kermani is full with Shirazi’s that come for a picknick.

Update: On 25 march 2019 a flash flood raged down the Quran gate towards Shiraz killing an unknown number of people. The quran gate now also stands as a sad memorial to the victims of the deadly floodings in Shiraz.

Quran gate in Shiraz

Quran gate in Shiraz

The best things to do near Shiraz

14. Persepolis & Pasargadae

Under Cyrus the great the Persian empire became the largest empire the world had ever seen stretching from Eastern Europe all the way to central Asia and India. Cyrus chose the site of Persepolis to become the capital and the city developed until Alexander the Great took it and ruined it.

The ruins at Persepolis are still there and a highlight for anyone that loves history. Besides Perepolis you can also visit the tomb of Cyrus the Great at Pasargadae and the tombs of other kings at Naqsh-e Rustam.

Persepolis is an easy daytrip from Shiraz. Read my post on how to visit Persepolis: Iran’s glorious past.

the entrance gate at Persepolis

15. The Zagros mountains and Qashqai nomads

Iran is a multicultural country that is ethnically very diverse and many ethnic minorities still live a nomadic lifestyle. The Turkic Qashqai tribe is one of the largest nomadic groups left in Iran and they live in the Zagros mountains near Shiraz.

The Qashqai people are herders moving with their animals to the warmer lowlands in the winter and the higher altitude pastures in summer. It is a though existence and while some settle down in the cities, most continue the traditional lifestyle.

How to get there:Several tour agencies can arrange a homestay experience in the Zagros mountains where you will stay with a nomad family. It’s a unique experience that gives you an insight into the daily routine of the nomads.

Qashqai carpets at the bazaar in Shiraz

16. Ghalat mountains

Only 30 kilometers out of Shiraz is the historical village of Ghalat in the Ghalat mountains. It’s an off the beaten path destination that still sees few visitors, but it is a nice place to escape the city.

The village is quite scenic with its narrow lanes and there are some nice hiking opportunities in the surrounding mountains with two waterfalls that you can visit.

How to get there: Ghalat is easy to reach by public transport. Buses leave throughout the day from the Qashrdasht terminal. It takes about an hour to reach Ghalat.

17. Pink lake (Maharloo lake)

Maharloo lake is a seasonal salt lake 27 kilometers south of Shiraz. In the summer as the water evaporates it turns pinkish red. Together with the white salt patches it creates an out of this world landscape full of colours

How to get there: There is no public transport to the lake, but several tour agencies can arrange a tour. Check if there is any water, the lake frequently dries up completely. The desert landscape with all its colours remains beautiful though.

The best places to eat in Shiraz

Shiraz is a great place for Iranian food. Local specialities include the simple, but delicious Shirazi salad and Kalam polo. A rice dish with cabbage and meat balls that is much better Than it sounds.

1. Saray-e Mehr

One of the nicest restaurants I visited was Saray-e Mehr in the bazaar. I had a delicious stew with eggplant. As with most Iranian stews it doesn’t look too great, but it tastes really good.

Saray-e Mehr restaurant in Shiraz

Saray-e Mehr restaurant in Shiraz

2. Niayesh boutique hostel

Niayesh boutique hostel has its own restaurant that serves decent food. The menu consists of Iranian classics and once a week they make kalam polo. They also have a nice rooftop terrace that is a nice place to have a cup of tea while watching the sunset.

Niayesh boutique hotel in Shiraz

3. Cabin cafe

Head to cabin cafe for good coffee and some of the best views over Shiraz. It’s a small place and very popular, so it can get a bit crowded.

3. Ferdowsi cafe

To have a coffee or a choice of nicely flavoured teas in the centre of Shiraz Ferdowsi cafe is the place to go. A nice place to sit down and relax for a while.

The best places to stay in Shiraz

1. Niayesh Boutique hostel

Nisyesh boutique hosyel is a scenic hostel with rooms and dorms. Service is a bit mixed. Some people are very friendly, others not so, but it is good value and the breakfast buffet is wonderful.

Niayesh boutique hotel in Shiraz

How long to visit Shiraz

There are enough things to do in Shiraz that you need at least two days to see the city. This is excluding possible day trips to the things to do near Shiraz.

Add at least one day for the trip to Persepolis. A must when in Shiraz. Maharloo lake is another half day visit.

If you want to explore the Zagros mountains or the Ghalat mountains add at least two days. I can recommend you to stay overnight to make the most oit of your time and experience either the life of the Qashqai nomads or the village in Ghalat.

spices at the Vakil bazaar in Shiraz

The best time to visit Shiraz

Shiraz gets extremely hot in summer and this is maybe not the best time to visit Shiraz. Winters can get quite chilly and even though it rarely snows in Shiraz, the Zagros and Ghalat mountains might have snow and are difficult to travel to in this time.

Spring and autumn are the best times to travel to Shiraz. Temperatures in the city are pleasant and the mountains are accesible.

How to get around in Shiraz

Shiraz on foot

Most of the things to do in Shiraz are in the area around the Vakil bazaar and can be explored on foot. Shiraz is a pleasant city to walk in and I rarely used taxi’s.

Taxi’s in Shiraz

Taxi’s are not expensive in Shiraz and like anywhere in Iran you have shared taxi’s and taxi’s dar bast (door closed).Shared taxi’s are the cheapest way to travel around the city if you have enough time, but you can always expect interesting things to happen.

My first taxi from the bus station to my hotel was shared. It had no windows and a rear tailgate that could not close. As we were stuck in traffic the driver started to warn me about the dangers of the city. I was to take extremely good care of my stuff as Shiraz was full of thieves. Apparently he was unaware of the fact that my luggage was now in the back of his car with the rear tailgate wide open for anyone to grab.

Both me and my bags arrived safe and well when it turned out that one of the other passengers had already paid for my fare and all she wanted in return was a selfie with me so she could show her mother she met someone from the Netherlands.

If you want to get somewhere quick it is best to take a taxi dar bast (private). Always negotiate the price beforehand.

If you have an Iranian sim card you can also use the Iranian versions of uber called tap30 or snapp.

How to get to Shiraz

By bus

There are frequent buses to and from Tehran (13 hours), Esfahan (8 hours), Yazd (7 hours) & Bandar Abbas (11 hours).

by train

Shiraz also has a train station.
There are comfortable overnight trains between Tehran and Shiraz (25-45$, 15 hours).

In April 2016 Iran railways has started a luxurious 5 star trainline, called Fadak between Tehran and Shiraz.

If you plan to travel by train it is best to book your tickets as soon as possible.

My next stop was Yazd. read here about the best of Yazd: the gateway to Iran’s desert.

Backpacking Iran: A travel guide on the best things to do in Shiraz for the independent budget traveller

There are 13 comments for this article
  1. mehr04 at 3:28 am

    Hi,
    – You mean taxi ‘dar bast’ meaning straight from there without sharing. Taxi ‘na dar baste’ which you have written makes no sense and lliterraly mean taxi, no closed doors’!!
    – They are not bed aheets they are called Chaador
    Interesting article but most of what you’ve written about is the mosques, shiraz is much older than all thay and I’m curious why you havent written about Takhte Jamshid – the ruins of the over 3000 yr old Persian Empire which had its capital there which a little outside Shiraz which they say nothing so majestic was ever built. Most people go to Shiraz to see that. And of course Shiraz being the city of wine and poetry with the Shiraz wine being in all of Hafez’s poetry but well the wine is now not legal sadly after the Islamic revolution but it has become world wide.
    Cheers

  2. Ashlyn at 7:27 pm

    Love this post! I have yet to tackle the Middle East myself while travelling so am definitely saving this article for when I do! There are so many amazing places to visit in this world – the more I see the more I add to that list 😉

  3. Itinera Magica at 7:50 pm

    It’s a truly beautiful and inspiring post. I really enjoyed your poetic take on this and thought about this long, long tradition of celebrating the beauty of the world… And your pictures of the mosque are stunning! Pinning this 🙂

  4. Jewels at 8:07 pm

    Wow there is o much beauty in Iran! I was blown away by the mosque pictures. They are stunning! Thanks for the comprehensive guide.

  5. Alina from Reverie Chaser at 8:13 pm

    Did you have to cover up significantly to enter the shrines? Pants ok or not? I had the experience in India that even wearing long sleeves and skirts I still had to wear some garment on top, as my own clothing was deemed insufficient… Those shrines really do look beautiful, and the pictures make it seem that it is one of those corners of the world not touched by tourism fully yet!

    • ellisveen Author at 9:56 am

      If you visit a shrine in Iran you indeed have to cover up. It is the only place you actually need to wear a chador (black cloak). However, these will be provided as many young Iranian women don’t wear them too. Of course the normal dress code for the whole of Iran applies too. meaning long sleeves, long pants, a shirt that covers your butt and a headscarf.

  6. Megan | Red Around The World at 8:20 pm

    Shiraz (and all of Iran, really) looks amazing! I would love to see it, but it’s a little tougher for Americans to visit, at least right now. Someday, though!

  7. Kiara Gallop at 12:00 pm

    Iran is on my list! Looks like such a beautiful and spellbinding place. I love all the intricate decorative detail on all the mosques 🙂

  8. Tasha at 2:44 pm

    I don’t know much about Iran so reading this post was interesting. The shrines look so beautiful, especially the Shah-e Cheragh Shrine!

  9. Jamie at 9:25 am

    Oh how I dream of visiting that part of the world… The culture seems so plentiful and I’d love to experience it! That eggplant stew looks absolutely delish. Did you have any other memorable dishes there? I’d be so curious to learn about Iranian food! Thanks for my dose of culture for the day! 🙂 xx

  10. Jeannie Riley at 8:55 am

    Your photos are gorgeous! I’ve never been to the Middle East, but would love to visit. Thank you for sharing your recommendations!

  11. Cheryl at 3:10 pm

    Wow, Shiraz looks positively magical! Your photos are gorgeous and I have to tell you, you’re my hero. I think you are very brave for traveling the Middle East as a solo female. Thanks so much for sharing!

    Live Your Adventure,
    Cheryl

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