Fascinating villages in Iran for travellers

This post is about the most beautiful and fascinating villages in Iran. Iran is a large and diverse country with plenty of things to see and do. Most famous are the ancient Silk Road cities of Isfahan, Shiraz and Yazd, but outside of the cities there are also many places to explore. In the isolated mountains and rolling hills of the countryside are a number of picturesque and charming villages. 

The fascinating villages of Iran

My trip to Iran included a lot of cities. All of them were important trade centers on the ancient Silk Road and full of history. As much as I enjoyed them, I wanted to see a different side of Iran as well. 

How is life outside of the cities. What is life like in the villages of Iran? I didn’t want to turn up in a random place, but after some research I came across a number of interesting villages in Iran that you could visit.

Some are easy day trips from a nearby city and were very touristy, others required more effort to get there and offered a more authentic experience.  I enjoyed my time outside of the urban areas very much. The villages in Iran often have unique histories that just show the diversity of the country.

What stayed with me is the natural beauty and friendly people in the villages in Iran. My advice is to visit at least one or two. Here are some of the most beautiful villages in Iran that you should consider.

The most beautiful villages in Iran

Kandovan

Kandovan in Iran is one of the few cave towns left in this world where modern day cave dwellers carve their elaborate homes out of volcanic rocks. It is one of the most picturesque villages in Northeastern Iran and a perfect day trip from Tabriz.

Kandovan is often called the Cappadocia of Iran. Cappadocia is the more famous cave town in Turkey that also has the same kind of cave dwellings in strange honeycomb-like rock formations. Both are troglodyte villages where people have lived in caves for centuries.

However, Cappadocia is now all about tourism. Most caves are hotels and restaurants and people no longer live there. Iran’s Kandovan is the only cave village where people still use the caves as their home. Therefore, one gets a more authentic experience in an equally stunning location.

If you are interested in ancient cave towns you can also read my post about Vardzia cave monastery in Georgia.

How to get there: The quickest way to get from Tabriz to Kandovan is by taxi. Most hotels in Tabriz can organize this for you.

Cave homes in Kandovan village Iran

Palangan

Palangan is one of the beautiful stepped villages in the green rolling hills of the province of Kurdistan. Like their neighbours in Iraq, Syria and Turkey, the Kurds in Iran also have a history of discrimination, although less prominent as in other countries. 

The Kurdish mountains are home to a number of stepped villages where one can experience rural Kurdish life. Although most are rather isolated and difficult to reach, Palangan is easy to visit from the nearby city of Sanandaj.

It is a popular picnic spot for the locals so there are a few restaurants where you can eat fish from the river. Palangan was one of the most beautiful villages I visited in Iran. The traditional homes stacked on top of each other on the side of the mountain are extremely picturesque. 

How to get there: To get to Palangan it is easiest to hire a taxi or use a combination of taxi and local transport. There are frequent local buses from Sanandaj to Kamyaran and back (1 -2 hours). From Kamyaran you can walk to the taxi/ bus stand to Palangan. There is a local bus to Palangan that is very infrequent and takes a long time. My advice is to hire a taxi from Kamyaran as return transport from Palangan is also rare.

Palangan village in Iran

Masuleh

Like Palangan, Masuleh is a stepped village, but is a completely different experience. Masuleh is far removed from being an authentic rural village. Where Palangan is quiet, Masuleh is touristy and crowded.

For the people in Tehran, Masuleh is a popular destination to visit the mountains. Masuleh has a spectacular location indeed with incredible mountain scenery. It is in one of the wettest parts of Iran, but the misty clouds only add to the charm of the village. 

Masuleh is a nice place for short hikes as well and because few tourists actually go out of Masuleh it is not too difficult to escape the crowds. Just follow some of the paths up the mountains and you will be all alone with a few sheeps and maybe a herder.

Hiking is one reason to come to Masuleh and the friendly people are another. A sense of community does survive and the rooftops do not only serve as streets. It’s where children play and people meet to discuss the latest gossip. Foreign tourists are still in the minority and you will likely attract some friendly attention.

How to get there: From Rasht you have to take a shared taxi to Fuman (1 hour) that are leaving from Yakhsazi square. When you arrive in Fuman you can take a private taxi or walk the 2 kilometer to the shared taxi stand for Masuleh (30 minutes).

Don’t miss the delicious klucheh Fuman when you are in Fuman. You can find these delicious Persian cookies in most bakeries in town.

mountain sceneries with mist in Masuleh Iran

Gazor Khan

Gazor Khan is a small village in the spectacular Alamut valley and most famous for the ruins of the Castle of the Assassins. 

The Assassins were a  secret Islamic sect that fought against the ruling Seljuks. They built the castle on top of a hill overlooking the valley. The Assasins made it completely self-sufficient with an irrigation system, a giant library and beautiful gardens. 

Unfortunately, the Mongols eventually destroyed the castle. What remains nowadays are ruins, but the stunning beauty of the mountains and the magnificent views over the Alamut valley are the same.

Gazor khan is a nice place to go hiking. The village is peaceful and quiet and full of orchards with apple, apricot and cherry trees. In spring you can see the spectacular cherry blossoms. 

How to get there: From Qazvin there are shared taxi’s to Gazor Khan (200,000 – 300,000 rials 3 – 4 hours). Most leave early in the morning around 7 AM from Qaribkosh square. Beware that Alamut castle is in Gazor Khan and NOT in Alamut town (Mo’allem Kelayeh).

When arranging a taxi make sure you are specific in saying you want to go to Gazor Khan. To get back to Qazvin, ask hotel koosaran to reserve a seat in a shared taxi. Shared taxi’s from Gazor khan back to Qazvin leave at 7 AM.

Abyaneh

Abyaneh Iran is one of the most popular ancient villages in Iran. It lies only 80 kilometers south east from Kashan at the foot of mount Karkas.

Abyaneh is one of the oldest villages in Iran. It dates back to the Sassanid period around the year 300 when it was a Zoroastrian village. What makes Abyaneh unique is that you can still see many elements of the Sassanid culture up till the present day. 

The older people in Abyaneh still speak a Sassanid dialect. Once the main language of the Sassanid empire, it disappeared elsewhere in Iran a long time ago. People also still wear their traditional clothes. A black coat and wide bottomed trousers for men and colorful dresses and white head scarves with flowers for women. 

Abyaneh is also famous for its red soil and red mud brick homes. The traditional architecture resembles that of the stepped villages in Masuleh and Palangan, but also has unique features. Wooden balconies, carved wooden doors and lattice windows are some of the beautiful details to look out for.   

Abyaneh is an extremely picturesque village and it’s location is equally spectacular. But it also feels like an open air museum rather than a living village. Very few people actually still live in Abyaneh and during the day bus loads of tourists flood the streets.

How to get there: Abyaneh lies 80 kilometers south of Kashan and the journey takes about 1.5 hours. There is no direct public transport from Kashan to Abyaneh, but every hotel can organize a taxi for you.

red mudbrick homes in Abyaneh village Iran

Nain

Nain is a small town in the desert halfway between Yazd and Tehran. It is famous for having the oldest mosque in Iran. There is also an old castle and an ancient covered bazaar. Unfortunately, both are crumbling down. Yet, this makes it in a way more charming.

I found Nain to be an interesting off the beaten path place to visit. It was the only town where I saw the traditional water reservoirs still in use.

The fact that I was the only foreigner around and the abandoned bazaar made it feel surreal. Sometimes I felt like I was the sole explorer of an ancient town and I actually liked Nain because of this. 

Nain had something authentic. The historic buildings slowly fade away rather than becoming a new renovated tourist center. In the new part of town, Nain was more lively and a great place to meet its friendly people.

How to get there: There are frequent buses from Yazd (in the direction of Tehran or Isfahan) that stop in Nain.

Narenj Qaleh in Nain village in Iran
Narenj castle in Nain

Kharanaq

Kharanaq is an ancient mud brick village that was once an important resting point on the ancient silk road. The mud brick houses are now abandoned giving it an eerie ghost town atmosphere.

Kharanaq and the citadel are about a 1000 years old. It is easy to get lost in the confusing network of narrow alleys and mud brick walls. Try to get on top of one of the roofs to enjoy a beautiful view over the village and the surrounding mountains.

Unfortunately, the historic importance of this town is not recognised. Nobody seems to take care of or maintain the ancient buildings. Tourists are free to wander around, adding to the erosion and degradation of the town. 

I tried to follow well trodden paths and I did not enter homes. The latter also for safety reasons. It’s a picturesque place but hopefully tourism will lead to some renovation and management in the future. 

How to get there: there is no public transport from Yazd, but you can hire a taxi. If you hire a taxi it is easy to combine a visit to Kharanaq with the Zoroastrian temple of Chak Chak and Meybod in a single day

Abandoned mud brick buildings in Kharanaq near Yazd Iran
Abandoned mud brick buildings in Kharanaq near Yazd Iran

Meybod

Meybod is a small town near Yazd where the modern buildings have mixed with some older structures that are typical of the desert cities in this region.

I doubted whether I should include Meybod as it is more of a town than a village. With more than 2000 years of history it is an interesting place to visit though and is the perfect city escape from Yazd.

Among the things to see in Meybod are the Narin castle, several water reservoirs and the Khabutar khaneh pigeon-house. Pigeon houses were built for birds to rest in and their droppings were used as a fertilizer. The one in Meybod is one of the last pigeon houses still standing in Iran.

How to get there: Minibuses leave in Yazd from the Imam Hossein square. Don’t go all the way to the center of Meybod, but ask the driver to let you out near the Narin castle at the outskirts of town.

a pigeon house in Meybod near Yazd Iran
a pigeon house in Meybod near Yazd Iran

Villages in Iran etiquette

Life in the villages of Iran is more conservative than in modern cities like Tehran and Yazd. At the same time ethnic minorities in some of these rural areas are free to wear their traditional dress. As a result women sometimes wear more colorful clothes than what you see in the cities.

I travelled to all of the above villages in Iran as a solo female traveller. In every village I felt safe and did not have any problems. On the contrary, I was surprised, sometimes even overwhelmed, by the hospitality and generosity of the Iranian people.

That said I did make sure to dress even more conservative than in the cities. Furthermore, I was cautious in accepting invitations to peoples homes. If they were families including women and children I sometimes did. If they were men alone, I did not.

For more advice I can recommend my post about solo female travel in Iran.

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