Shiraz holidays, Iran

Set in a lush valley, Shiraz has been the beloved centre of Persian culture for two millennia.
Known as a city of poets, gardens and exquisite architecture, it was one of the most important Islamic cities in the world during medieval times, and went on to become the capital of Iran during the 1700s, when many of its stunning mosques and palaces were constructed. It’s also home to the tombs of Hafez and Sa’di, two of the most beloved Persian poets of all time; and in the parched landscape to the northeast sits the ruined city of Persepolis, one of the great wonders of the ancient world and project of Darius the Great.
While the city gave its name to Shiraz wine, it hasn’t been produced here since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, but you’ll still find masterful producers creating delicious, non-alcoholic drinks from rose, mint, musk willow and walnut.

Things to do in & around Shiraz

Marvel at the city’s mosques

Some of the world’s oldest and most beautiful mosques can be found in Iran, and Shiraz is no exception. Also known as the Pink Mosque, Nasir al-Mulk dates back to the late 1800s and is one of the most photographed buildings in the country. It gets its name thanks to a breathtaking effect when sunlight streams through a rainbow of stained glass windows at dawn, creating a dazzling kaleidoscope of pink-hued light.
Further dazzling spectacles are to be had at the Shāh Chérāgh Mosque, whose oldest sections date back to the 12th century. The mosque is suitably elegant from the outside, thanks to blue-tiled domes and gold-tipped minarets, but step inside, and the real magic happens – walls and high ceilings are covered in mirrored mosaic and shards of glass, giving the impression of being within a vast, emerald mirrorball, as light reflects off every surface.

Wander the gardens

Shiraz is famed for its flowers and nightingales, so it’s no surprise that its gardens are so enchanting. Named after the bitter oranges found in its central courtyard, Bagh-e Naranjestan is Shiraz’s smallest garden, but one of its best, with a charming pavilion – complete with intricate tiles and mirrored entrance hall – right at its heart. Bagh-e Nazar, meanwhile, surrounds an octagonal pavilion, which is now home to the pint-sized and intricately decorated Pars Museum.

For greater insight into the life and works of poet and national icon Hafez, make for the Aramgah-e Hafez, home to both his tomb and a memorial garden, where you can take a drink in the on-site tea house. UNESCO-listed Bagh-e Eram, set a block north of the Khoshk River, is one of the most celebrated gardens in Iran, built in the 19th century around a Qajar-era pool and palace, and famed for its tall cypress trees and rose bushes.

Arg-e Karim Khan Fortress

This imposing fortress sits right at the heart of the city centre. Built in the 18th century during the Zand dynasty, it has the air of a medieval castle, thanks to its high walls, ornamental brickwork and soaring, crenulated towers. Over the years it has served as both a royal residence and a prison, and today it holds a museum as well as a lush courtyard garden lined with citrus trees.

Persepolis

In a remote valley 60km north of Shiraz, sprawling over 13 hectares, are the ancient ruins of Persepolis. This is one of the world’s greatest archeological sites and UNESCO’s first ever World Heritage listing, back in 1979. Initially known as Parsa, it was founded by Darius the Great as the capital of the vast Persian Empire in 520 BCE, and was designed to bowl visitors over with its grandeur. Over some 150 years, subsequent rulers, including Xerxes and Artaxerxes I and II, added their stamp to the city, leaving in their wake an impressive selection of palaces, monuments and necropolises.
Despite being ransacked by Alexander the Great in 330 BC, it retains much of its magnificent architecture. Terraces, sweeping staircases, the Naqsh-e Rostam tombs, and the colossal columns of the Apadana Palace and the Gate of Xerxes stand sunbaked in the southwestern desert, while bas-reliefs and calligraphic carvings tell of the story of the great figures who once inhabited the city.

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Best time to go to Shiraz

Spring and autumn are the best times to visit Shiraz, when the weather is warm, but not scorching as in the summer. In January and February nights can be bitterly cold, though the days are often pleasantly mild in this part of Iran. Prices are at their highest and rooms hardest to find during the New Year celebration of Nowruz in March.

How to get to Shiraz

It’s possible to fly to Shiraz via Istanbul or Doha, but you’ll likely arrive there from Tehran as part of a tailor made or small group tour around the country. Women can opt for a solo female holiday if they want to see another side to Iran (and Shiraz) that wouldn’t be available to a mixed-gender group.
Written by Nana Luckham
Photo credits: [Page banner: DAVID HOLT] [Top box: Omid Hatami] [Shah Cheragh Mosque: Diego Delso] [Persepolis: Hansueli Krapf] [Best time to visit : reibai]
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