It was a long bus ride from Shiraz to Yazd and it was late when I arrived, but it was still very warm. I was sweating under my headscarf and it was only April. This was the first place that my dress code felt too much for me.
I can not imagine how hot it must be in summer, but the women in Yazd seem to be used to this. In general, Yazd looked more conservative to me and I saw many older women wear the black chador. One lady was even wearing a wintersweater underneath despite the hot temperatures.
The old town in Yazd is built to deal with the heat. So called wind towers were made to cool down the houses and water storages. Yazd is a true desert city that reminded me a little bit of Kashan. It claims to be one of the oldest continously inhabited cities in the world and was part of the old Silk road.
The old trade route linking East and West going from China to Europe. It is here that cultural and political ideas were exchanged between traders of multiple countries. Nowadays it is not traders that come, but foreign tourists keeping the tradition of cultural exchange alive.
The best things to do in Yazd
1. The blue mosque
The blue mosque in the old town is a must visit, especially at night when the lights deepen the blue colours of the tiles. For me, this was the most beautiful place to visit in Yazd and I was lucky my hotel was right next to it so I could visit it multiple times.
2. The towers of Silence
Before Iran adopted Islam they practised the Zoroastrian religion, the first monotheistic religion in the world. A minority still practices Zoroastrianism. The towers of silence are no longer in use, but they used to be sky burial sites where bodies where left for birds to eat. In Zoroastrianism they believe the earth is holy and should not be polluted by burying the death.
3. The Zoroastrian Fire temple
The towers of silence are now remains of the past, but our next stop was a still active fire temple. The holy fire inside is said to be burning since 470 AD. There is also a small, but interesting museum with explanations about the Zoroastrian faith and customs.
4. Old Town
You will find the real beauty of Yazd by walking around in the old town. The narrow streets with the yellow sandstone houses are peaceful and quiet. You might get lost, but it is the kind of place where that doesn’t matter.
5. Khan e Lari
There are several old houses in the old town. Honestly, they were not as impressive as the houses in Kashan and a little bit of a tourist trap. I visited the Khan e Lari and the only interesting thing I saw was a white room with old pictures of smoking ladies.
If you did not visit the traditional homes in Kashan it might be worth the entrance fee, otherwise you will not miss much. Chances are, that your traditional hostel is more beautiful.
6. Alexander Prison
Alexander Prison is busy with tourgroups, but for me this was another tourist trap in the old town. It is not at all sure this building was built by Alexander the Great and there is nothing special to see inside.
The courtyard in front of it is a nice place to sit and watch people tough. It is in the midst of the old town so you will likely pass by anyway. The old town itself is the attraction though and not the Alexander prison.
7. Visiting Ab Anbars & The water museum
We came across several ab anbars or water reservoirs in Yazd. They are interesting dome structures in which water is stored underground and cooled by wind towers. Some of them are still in use but most of the ones we saw were deserted and used for trash.
Also we never found out where the water that used to be stored inside of them was coming from. There is also a water museum near the Amir Chakmakh square with more information about the use of water in this desert city.
8. Visiting the Zurkhaneh
While walking through town, two men invited us to their woodworkshop. They were making meels for the local zurkhaneh. A traditional gym for Iranian men where men make impressive moves with the meels on upbeat music.
We got a free demonstration on how they were used and were then encouraged to try it out ourselves. They were extremely heavy and our efforts were witnessed by much joy and laughter. Later on we passed by a zurkhaneh and were able to have a quick look inside.
9. Amir Chakmakh mosque
The Amir chakmakh mosque is a beautiful structure on a large square. Near the square are several things to see such as a zurkhaneh and the water museum. Therefore it is well worth the gentle walk from the old town to the Amir Chakmakh square.
10. Eating liver or heart kabab under the Amir Chakmakh mosque
Another reason why it is worth heading to the Amir Chakmak mosque is because it is the best place to have a variety of kebabs. My favourite is liver kebab, but here you can also find heart kebab, kidney kebab or kebab of pure sheep fat.
11. Try sweets in Yazd
Yazd is known for its sweets and near the Amir Chakmakh mosque you will see several stores selling a variety of sweet things for you. Haj Khalifeh Rahbar is supposed to be the best. It is a tradition in Iran that whomever goes to Yazd brings back home candies for everyone to enjoy. Some of it’s specialities are
Ghotab: deep fried almond filled pastries
Haaji Baadam: almond cookies made with nutmeg and chickpea flour
Bakhlava: The Yazd version of baklava using rose water syrup.
Pashmak: Iranian cotton candy
Loze nargil: coconut sweets with rose water
Cake Yazdi: Iranian cupcakes
If you want to read more about Iran’s food read my post here on the Persian food guide: eating your way through Iran.
The best things to do near Yazd
Kharanaq is an old mud brick village that apparently was once an important resting point on the ancient silk road. The mud brick houses are now abandoned and crumbling down. I honestly tought it was a bit of a tourist trap and was more impressed by the surrounding countryside than by the ruins.
13. Chak Chak
Chak chak is a Zoroastrian water temple with a beautiful view on the desert. Zoroastrians come here to pray for the water that drips out of the mountain side. They believe that the daughter of one of the old kings came here to pray to Ahura Mazda, the god of the Zoroastrians. In response the mountain opened up and took her in to protect her. The ever dripping source of water are believed to be tears of grief in remembrance of the princess.
Meybod is another desert town where the modern buildings have mixed with some older remains such as a castle, several water reservoirs and a pigeon-house. Such houses were built for pigeons to rest in and their droppings were used as a fertilizer.
Nain is a small town in the desert halfway between Yazd and Tehran. Most tour groups only make a quick stop to see the first and oldest mosque in Iran. Wikitravel convinced me that there is more to this town than the oldest mosque alone and promised me a variety of things to see such as an old castle and a bazaar.
Old it was, but the reality were abandoned buildings that were falling apart. The old bazaar had closed down with most merchants moving to the newer parts of town. The mud brick structures were left alone to crumble down.
A pity, as this town obviously has a lot of potential if things were maintained. At the other hand, it is very quiet with no other tourists around and this made the old town a great place to shoot pictures.
At the oldest mosque I met the author of the travel guide on Wikitravel. He is trying to promote Nain as a tourist destination and is collecting photos of Iran to sell as post cards to the tour groups visiting the mosque.
I am not sure Nain will ever be the next tourist destination, but it certainly was an interesting place off the beaten path with friendly people. It was the only place where I saw the water reservoirs still in use.
In the new part of town Nain was more lively. A men invited me to his sweets factory to try out the Iranian version of Nougat called Gaz. It was absolutely delicious. It’s a white nougat with pistacio nuts inside.
The best hostels in Yazd
Nain: MosaferKhaneh Gholami (400,000 rials for single room without bathroom)
Yazd: Orient Hostel (Highly recommended, one of the best restaurants in Iran. Very good fesendjoon and also try shuli. Vegetarians will like it as well as they have several options too)
How to get to Yazd
Nain: there are frequent buses to Yazd (3 hours), Esfahan (3 hours) & Tehran (6 hours)
Kharanaq, Meybod & Chak Chak: There is no public transport, but it is easy to hire a taxi to visit all three places in a day.
Ellis is a travelblogger from the Netherlands with over 20 years of experience as an independent budget traveller in more than 50 countries. She has a Master degree in Cultural Anthropology and Global Health with a specialization in South Asian cultures and the Caucasus.