- 79 million
After George W deemed Iran part of the Axis of Evil, Lonely Planet founder Tony Wheeler named it one of his favourite countries with some of the world’s friendliest people. We’re willing to take his word for it – he has, after all, been around the travel block.
Iran is the mountainous home to one of the world’s oldest continuous civilisations. In the big cities, like Esfahan and Yazd, you can hone your bargaining skills in ancient bazaars. There’s romance to be discovered in Shiraz, the city of poets, literature, wine and flowers. At ruins like Persepolis (meaning City of Persians), relive the glory days of Persia. Mosques (open to non-believers unlike in nearby Saudi), nomads and deserts all add to its allure. You’ll savour kebabs, khoresht (a thick stew of meat and veg) and doogh (a traditional drink of yogurt, water or soda and dried mint). But mainly you’ll be soaking up the curiosity and goodwill of the locals.
Don’t let the country’s bad rep scare you off; it’s safe, easy and rewarding to travel around. Plus, the locals are curious and gracious, welcoming visitors into their worlds and often their homes.