The Best Things to do in Yazd: Iran’s desert city
This post is about the best things to do in Yazd Iran. Yazd is a historic city in the southern desert of Iran with a rich history and culture that dates back thousands of years. It is known for its unique architecture, including its historic mud-brick buildings and windcatchers. Within the walls of the historic center, Yazd is a journey back in time.
Yazd is rightly popular among travellers and there are a variety of things to do in Yazd. Besides the historic sites, Yazd is also surrounded by beautiful deserts and mountains.
Why visit Yazd?
Yazd was quite different from other places I had visited so far. I loved the laid back atmosphere and the fact that it didn’t feel like a city. The traffic wasn’t as crazy, streets were less crowded and even in the bazaar it was relatively quiet. It was all more easygoing in Yazd and it was the perfect place to take it slow for a couple of days.
One of my favourite things to do in Yazd was simply wandering around the winding lanes of the old town. Every time I discovered something new. A hidden mosque, a shrine, a wind tower, an ancient water storage dome or a traditional zurkhaneh.
A history of Yazd
Yazd is a city full of history. Despite its remote location in the desert and the harsh climate, Yazd claims to be one of the oldest continously inhabited cities in the world. Whether the claim is true or not, it certainly was an important town on the ancient Silk road.
Marco Polo himself described Yazd as a good and noble city. Trade caravans, all the way from China and Central Asia brought fine silks to the city and then continued to the Persian Gulf.
It was here that cultural and political ideas were exchanged. Nowadays it is not traders that come, but foreign tourists keeping the tradition of cultural exchange alive. Yet, Yazd has kept its own traditions as well. Its one of the few places in Iran that still has an active and sizeable Zoroastrian community.
Yazd is a city that keeps its history alive and blends it with modern Iranian culture. The result is that there are plenty of things to do in Yazd. It will be tempting to spend most of your time in the city, but Yazd is also the perfect gateway to explore Irans stunning desert and nearby Zoroastrian villages.
Yazd: a desert city
Yazd is a true desert city like Kashan. It was the first place where the dress code felt too warm, even though it was still April. I can only imagine how hot it must be in summer.
Yazd is well adapted to this climate in several ways. The city’s existence in the dry dessert of Iran was made possible by an ancient underground irrigation system (qanat) that drained water from the nearby mountains.
Wind towers were made to cool down the houses and the so called ab anbars were built to store and preserve water. The domes of the underground water storages have a wind tower on each side and are still a common sight in Yazd.
Unfortunately many water storages and wind towers are left abandoned. The question is for how long they will survive before crumbling down. For now, finding them in the small neighbourhoods of the city is one of the more interesting things to do in Yazd.
The best things to do in Yazd
The blue mosque
One of the top things to do in Yazd is a visit to the blue mosque. The Blue Mosque, also known as Masjed-e Kabud or Masjid-e Jameh, is a historic mosque. It was built in the 14th century during the Timurid dynasty, so it is approximately 700 years old and resembles the architecture of similar mosques in other places on the Silk road like Samarkand and Turkestan.
The mosque in Yazd has undergone several renovations and restorations over the centuries, and it remains one of the most important and beautiful examples of Islamic architecture in Iran. During the day the blue tiles are already impressive, but they truly come alive at night when the lights deepen the blue colours.
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. Each time I noticed different details.
Old Town of Yazd
One of my favourite things to do in Yazd was simply wandering around in the old town. It is there that you will find the real beauty of Yazd. The narrow streets and winding lanes with the yellow sandstone and mudbrick houses are a journey back in time. You might get lost, but it is the kind of place where that doesn’t matter.
Khan e Lari
There are several traditional old houses in the old town of Yazd inviting you to have a look inside. If you have been in Kashan you will not be impressed by them. I honestly felt it was a 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.
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 the Alexander prison is a much nicer place to sit and see the building from outside. It is in the midst of the old town so you will likely pass by anyway.
The khan bazaar in Yazd has been around since the 9th century. I didn’t find it as lively and colorful as other bazaars in Iran, but it is the best place to buy termeh.
Yazd is famous for its traditional handwoven silk and wool fabrics called termeh. Keep in mind that most of what you see in the bazaar is machine made and not real silk. Regardless, they still make great souvenirs to decorate your home.
Amir Chakmakh square and mosque
The Amir chakmakh mosque is a beautiful structure on a large square near the old town. Nearby are several fun things to do in Yazd such as a zurkhaneh that is open for visitors, the water museum and some of the best kebabs and sweets in the city.
Try Kebab under the Amir Chakmakh mosque
The Amir chakmakh square is the best place in Yazd to have a variety of different kebabs. My favourite is liver kebab, but here you can also find heart kebab, kidney kebab or kebab of pure sheep fat.
Try sweets in Yazd
Yazd is known for its sweets and trying them is one of the best things to do in Yazd. Near the Amir Chakmakh mosque you will see several stores selling Yazd’s mouth watering candies. 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
The Zoroastrian Fire temple
Yazd is one of the few places in Iran that still has a small Zoroastrian minority. The towers of silence might be a thing of the past, but the fire temple in Yazd is still an active place of worship.
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. It is among the best things to do in Yazd to see the still active Zoroastrian community in practice.
The towers of Silence
Iran’s history is full of things that we hear little about in the west. Did you know for example that the oldest monotheist religion comes from Iran and it is not Islam.
Before Iran adopted Islam, they practised Zoroastrianism. The first monotheistic religion in the world that is believed to have had a huge influence on the development of christianity.
After the Arab conquest of Iran Yazd was allowed to remain Zoroastrian and many believers migrated to Yazd. Islam initially developed slowly in Yazd and it is somewhat contradictory that currently it is one of the more religious conservative cities in Iran. However, it is also quite tolerant and an active Zoroastrian community is still present.
The best thing to do in Yazd to learn more about Zoroastrianism is a visit to the towers of silence. Zoroastrians believe the earth is holy and should not be polluted by burying the death. Instead they used sky burial sites where bodies where left for birds to eat. They are no longer in use as such, but are now a popular tourist attraction.
How to get there: the towers of silence are at the outskirts of town. It is possible to get there by bus (line 436) if you have good Farsi skills. However, a taxi is much easier. It should cost between 100,000 or 150,000 rials.
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.
There is also a water museum near the Amir Chakmakh square with more information about the use of water in this desert city.
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 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.
Unfortunately we weren’t able to see a show, but if you can it certainly is one of the most fun things to do in Yazd.
The best things to do near Yazd
Yazd is not a large city and it is easy to see everything in a day or two, but there are also a lot of things to do near Yazd. You can make several exciting daytrips into Iran’s stunning desert.
Among the things to do near Yazd is a visit to the ancient mud brick village of Kharanaq. Kharanaq was once an important resting point on the ancient silk road. The mud brick houses are now abandoned and crumbling down giving it an eery ghost town atmosphere.
How to get there: there is no public transport, but you can hire a taxi. If you hire a taxi it is easy to combine a visit to Kharanaq with chak chak and Meybod in a single day
From all the things to do near Yazd I was most impressed by chak chak. High up on a mountain in the middle of the desert is an ancient water temple where Zoroastrians come 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 drops of water are believed to be tears of grief in remembrance of the princess.
How to get there: there is no public transport, but you can hire a taxi. If you hire a taxi it is easy to combine a visit to Chak Chak with Kharanaq and Meybod in a single day
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.
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: Meybod is nothing spectacular, but combined with Kharanaq and Chak Chak it makes a nice day trip from Yazd.
Otherwise it is a relatively easy half day trip by public transport. 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.
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 ancient covered bazaar. Unfortunately, both are left to crumble down. Yet, this makes it in a way even more photogenic.
Like Yazd, Nain is a real desert city. If you want to know more about visiting Iran’s desert, Naomi from Probe around the Globe wrote a very useful post about the best places to see the desert in Iran.
How to get there: There are frequent buses from Yazd (in the direction of Tehran or Isfahan) that stop in Nain.
18. Sadri Garden in Taft
The Zoroastrian village of Taft is a nice and peaceful place that is known for its scenic fruit gardens. Because it lies in a hilly area it is slightly cooler than in Yazd and a nice place to visit in the afternoon to cool down.
The best garden in Taft is the 200 years old Sadri Garden that has been renovated in recent years. There is the possibility to see parts of the ancient water irrigation system (qanat) that made this garden possible.
Yazd Travel tips
The best places to eat in Yazd
In yazd you can get the usual Persian food, but there are also some regional specialities worth trying. My personal favourite Yazd speciality is shuli. A delicious filling vegetable soup of beets and selery that is worth a try if it is on the menu. This is a great dish for vegetarians. If you are more into meat you can try Tas kebab e Shotor. A delicious camel meat stew with potatoes.
Orient hostel: One of the best budget restaurants in Yazd is the rooftop terrace of the Orient hostel. They have delicious fesendjoon (chicken in a walnut pomegranate sauce) and shuli. Their sister restaurant in the silk road hotel is also good and has Tas kebab e shotor
Amir Chakh Makh complex: For the best kebabs head to the Amir chakh makh mosque. Here you can try anything from liver, heart to kidneys and fat.
The best hostels in Yazd
Booking hostels in Iran online is rather difficult. Because of the sanctions, most regular sites like Booking.com or Airbnb won’t work.
To book your hotel beforehand you either need to contact them directly or use 1stQuest
Orient hostel: Orient hostel is a great place to stay. The hotel has a wonderful rooftop restaurant with a beautiful view on the blue mosque that serves delicious food. They have a varied menu including vegetarian options.
Besides the restaurant the Orient hostel has nicely decorated rooms and a lovely courtyard. For backpackers there are dormitories including a female only dormitory.
Silk road hotel: The same owners of the Orient hostel also run the similar Silk road hotel, The silk road hotel also organizes tours and excursions such as daytrips to Kharanaq, Chak Chak and Meybod.
How much time do I need for Yazd?
Yazd is not a big city and most things to do in Yazd are in the old town. Two days will give you enough time to explore Yazd in a comfortable way.
Add another day if you want to make a daytrip to Kharanaq, Chak chak and Meybod or Taft.
The best time to visit Yazd
The best time to visit Yazd is during the spring and fall seasons, which are from March to May and from September to November respectively. During these seasons, the weather is mild, and the temperature is generally pleasant, making it perfect for outdoor activities and sightseeing.
Summers in Yazd can be very hot, with temperatures often exceeding 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit). However, if you do choose to visit during the summer, it is best to plan your activities for early morning or late afternoon when temperatures are cooler.
Money matters in Yazd
Due to the sanctions, Iran has been cut off from the international money transfer system. There are no ATM’s in Yazd that will work with a foreign bank card. You will have to bring all your money in cash (euro’s or dollars).
Safety in Yazd
Iran, including Nain, is generally a safe destination for travelers, and millions of tourists visit Iran each year. The city has low crime levels. However, it is always important to exercise caution and take necessary safety precautions while traveling.
Update 2023: A wave of protests erupted throughout Iran in 2022 and 2023. Although this is not a reason to avoid Iran, it is good to know that these protests can become violent. Due to the political situation, it is even more important to be aware of your surroundings. Avoid political demonstrations, expressing strong political opinions and respect the local rules of law. As a foreigner it is better to be safe than sorry.
For solo female travellers I wrote a post with tips and advice about traveling as a woman in Iran.
How to get around in Yazd
Yazd on foot: Most tourist attractions are in the old town or near the Amir Chakmakh complex. They are not far from each other and Yazd is therefore best to explore on foot.
Taxi’s in Yazd: 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.
How to get to Yazd
You can check the bus times and book your bus tickets on the 1stQuest booking system.
Yazd also has a train station with limited services to Tehran (6 – 8 hours) and Kerman (7 – 8 hours). You can check the latest timetables at Iranrail. The train from Tehran to Yazd is often sold out so it is best to book as soon as possible.
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. The Silk Road hotel and other travel agencies in town (12-15 dollars) can organize cheap daytours.
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Last updated: december 2020