Yazd, along with Rasht and Shiraz, are in my top 3 favorite cities in Iran. As the capital of Yazd province in Central Iran, it is a historic city built in the desert. Yazd is considered a more conservative town with a rich history dating back 3000+ years. The culture is known to be laid back with a population of only about 530,000 people (out of 81 million in Iran). You can easily relax for a few days here as a break from the busier cities of Iran. There are a few tourist sites you must visit which paints the bigger picture of this historic town, its diverse culture, and people. I share a list of top things to do in Yazd which can easily be completed with only one day in Yazd or done at leisure in a few days.
Yazd has been the epicenter for Zoroastrians since the 3rd century AD. The word “Yazd” means God or ‘Place of Worship’, derived from Yazdegerd I, a Sassanid ruler of Persia. After the Arab conquest of the 7th century, many more Zoroastrians migrated to Yazd from neighboring provinces as a safety ground. By paying a heavy tax, Yazd was able to remain mainly Zoroastrian even after the Muslim Conquest. Populations of Persian-Jews have also lived in Yazd though many have since moved out of Iran.
Geography of Yazd
Because of Yazd’s remote desert location (in the Central Plateau of Iran, between two major deserts, Dashte-kavir and Kavir-e Lut), this area became mainly immune to large wars and battles. Today, Yazd is considered a UNESCO city and is one of the safest cities in Iran. In addition, it is one of the most technically advanced cities with at least three main industrial areas, each containing over 70 different factories.
Top Things to Do in Yazd
Zoroastrian Fire Temple
Start your Yazd tour at the sacred Fire Temple, located in the heart of Yazd. The entrance takes you into an outdoor garden with a fountain in the middle. Zoroastrians have been practicing their religion here since 400 BC. What makes this Zoroastrian temple incredibly sacred is that it is the only “Atash Bahrams”, meaning “Victorious Fire” in Iran today. The other 8 are located in India. Dating back to 470 AD, it is one of the highest grade fires that have burned since which visitors can still see today inside the temple. Simple, traditional design, there is some verbiage in English that gives you brief insight into the Zoroastrian religion as you enter the grounds.
Note: To fully respect the temple and their religion, it is recommended to wear lighter or white colored clothing while visiting.
More on Zoroastrianism: There are less than 200,000 Zoroastrians left in the world. The majority are in India, referred to as “Parsis”. Living in the cities of Mumbai and Pune, the majority of them fled after the Muslim Conquest of Persia to avoid being persecuted or forced conversion. The Indian government today has given financial incentives to procreate more Parsis in an effort to preserve the heritage. For a child to be considered Zoroastrian though, the father must be.
Though there are very few left, the Zoroastrian faith has historically influenced Judaism, Christianity, and Islam with its teachings of a single deity. And the idea of a dualistic universe of good versus evil, and a final day of reckoning.
Towers of Silence
After visiting the Fire Temple, the Towers of Silence is a natural transition to your exploration of Zoroastrian religion, culture and history. Step back 3000 years ago and learn about a very different funeral process called “Dakhma”, a ‘sky burial method’. Practiced by those of the Zoroastrian religion, dead bodies are believed to be impure to those living. Therefore, the corpse must be carried away from human life to ensure a peaceful and pure afterlife.
Once a person passes, the physical body is believed to be impure and can be contaminated by demons “Nasu” which can hurt those living on land. To avoid this, loved ones of the deceased take the body to these sacred towers (cylindrical structure) in the desert (far away from civilization). After the family gathers for mourning and ritual in the small huts on land, the body is cleaned and then taken up this tower by professionals. Vultures and elements of the sky consume the flesh down to its bones. A few days later, their bones are thrown into a center hole on the top of this tower. This process prevents putrefaction. Dakhma was used up until 50 years ago. Though today, it’s purely a touristic site and a place for families to revisit their ancestors.
It seems gruesome to those not familiar with this tradition, the dominant religion of the region before the Arab conquest which converted the majority of the population to Islam. But according to Zoroastrianism, this practice avoids dead bodies from contaminating the natural elements of our world or of the living.
Zoroastrian’s Belief in Dakhma:
If we cremate them, it may contaminate fire (which the Zoroastrians see as most sacred).
If we spread their ashes in the water, it contaminates the purity of it. In which, water gives life.
If we bury the bodies, it can contaminate dirt. Another natural element in our ground and soil.
Read more: Iran Culture Facts
Old City of Yazd
The Old City of Yazd is near the old Spice and Silk road. Besides being a tourist site today for some shopping and food, it bears testimony to how life in the desert can work. Water is supplied through an underground system here called the Qanat. And despite its intense desert heat, wind-catchers on roofs and courtyards built below ground level provide cooler climates. Today, Yazd Old City is like the other Medinas or Bazaars you’d see in Morocco or any Arabic and Central Asian countries (but way less crowded). Except for its unique earthen architecture, which has survived many generations of modernization in Iran.
Here, you can go on a classic carpet shopping tour through vendors that are less aggressive than those in neighboring countries.
Carpet Shop: Yazd has always known for the quality of its silk and carpets. Today, it remains as one of Iran’s industrial centers for textiles. Besides that, Yazd is also known for jewelry, ceramics, unique confectionary and construction materials industry.
Located steps away from the Old City of Yazd. Come explore the famous Jameh Mosque who’s photo is on the back of a 200 Iranian Rial note. Jameh is a “congregational mosque” built in Azari style architecture, originally in the 12th century during the Sassanid Dynasty. Since, it has evolved through 3 different mosques. The entrance is crowned with a pair of minarets, the tallest in Iran (52 meters in height), which can be seen from miles away. This was particularly important in the ancient days as it was a symbol of where travelers and tradesmen on camels could spot as a resting stop. Hence, the name “congregational” which can arguably be viewed as the center of Yazd. Here, they held meetings, rested, were fed by locals and shopped/traded goods in the surrounding Medinas.
This is the oldest bazaar in Yazd dating back to the 9th century. Today, it’s connected to the Yazd Bazaar where one can explore for textile, leather goods, handwoven cloth, accessories, jewelry and more. You’ll typically get more bang for your buck in this bazaar so I recommend doing your shopping here.
Museums in Yazd
Museum of Zoroastrian History and Culture, also known as the “Markar Museum”, this museum has exhibits explaining the history of Zoroastrianism. Including culture, music, art, ceremonies, clothing, and food.
The Yazd Water Museum opened in 2000 which features exhibits of historical tools, technologies and water storage vessels used for the past 4000 years. The main attraction is the underground waterways, called “Qanats“, which was connected to the city and field locations for agricultural uses. Before the Romans built their aqueducts, Iranians had already built an extensive system of underground Qanats. Many of these aqueduct systems still function today, including one under the museum. The building was once a merchant’s house, built in 1929, named Kolahduz-ha.
In the old Fahadan neighborhood is the structure of “Alexander’s prison”. Despite the misleading name, this is actually a school and a mosque. Its clay dome is painted in azure and golden watercolor, resembling the popular colors of many designs found throughout Iran. Why the name then? Rumors range from it being referenced in one of Hafiz’s poems, to an underground room that was built by Alexander the Great. Regardless, this is a beautiful place to take in a view of Yazd city.
Read more: On Hafez and the Greatest Persian Poets of all Time
Amir Chakhmaq Square
Amir Chakhmaq is named after a governor that ruled in the 16th century. This prominent structure is known for its symmetrical sunken alcoves. Here, you’ll find the Amir Chakhmaq Mosque, a mausoleum, old bathhouse, a Bazaar for some shopping and water reservoirs. The “Nakhl”, a giant wooden palm in front of the Hussainiya, is a significant wooden structure which commemorates the battle of Karbala, a defining yet tragic moment which shaped Islamic history.
Dolat Abad Garden
The tallest Windward was built in the center of this garden, making it an incredibly popular touristic site in Yazd. Dolat Abad is also one of 9 Persian Gardens named in the 24 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Iran.
Restaurants in Yazd
We dined at the Silk Road Hotel which is a popular restored Bed and Breakfast located within the Old City. Here, they also serve breakfast, lunch and dinners to those not staying at the hotel. The setting is fun and light, designed in a spacious desert setting indoor. Their rooftop provides visitors with a 360 panoramic view of Yazd. Here, try the Camel Stew.
Across the street from Dad Hotel is a small bakery that makes fresh Sangak bread. I highly recommend trying some, along with some Mast O’Moosir (yogurt with shallots you can find at the market) and/or feta cheese to eat it with.
- Khane Dohad and Fooka restaurant (traditional restaurants)
- Shooli Yazdi to taste the authentic cuisine of Yazd
- Order the “Shooli”, a favorite local soup cooked with dill, spinach, beetroot (or turnip), lentil and flour
- Must go Café: Shir Hossein Faloudeh & Bastani
- Taste the Faloude Yazdi or its ice cream
Though Iran has endless amounts of high-quality, delicious food, there are also other varieties to try. For a break from Persian food, dine at Caesar Restaurant in Yazd for some Italian and Western food. There you can find some Pizza, Pasta and Calzone.
You might also be interested in reading: Best Restaurants in Tehran + Things to Do
Where to Stay in Yazd
Dad Hotel is my favorite hotel (and experience) in all of Iran. Pronounced “Dod”, it translates to . Situated on the main street, this is an 80-year-old hotel in the historic center of Yazd. The building that Dad Hotel stands on was built by “Haj Abdul Khaleq-e Dad” as both a hotel and a place for exchanging goods in the year 1927. In 1993, his descendants began restoring the building, retaining its historic identity. In 2001, this 4-star hotel became fully renovated with 88 available rooms. Today, it is still the most popular and favored hotel in all of Yazd.
Dad Hotel is walking distance to shops, cafes and restaurants any time of the day (or night). Once you enter Dad Hotel, you enter into the ancient desert world of Persia. The architecture is typical of traditional Iranian design. Breakfast is included with a widespread of Iranian and Intercontinental options. The courtyard is a perfect place to relax after a day of sightseeing. And best of all? The hotel is environmentally-friend, ran by Solar Energy, as part of Iran’s sustainable tourism group.
Cost: During my visit in 2019, the cost was only about $30 USD per night.
As with many other hotels throughout Iran, breakfast buffet is included with the stay.
How to Get to Yazd
You can easily reach Yazd by car from any of the major cities. Most flying into Iran will arrive in Tehran or Shiraz international airport. I arrived in Shiraz at the start of my trip and Yazd was the next city north that we visited. From Tehran, all the way to Shiraz, with stops in Isfahan and Yazd, it takes a total of about 13.5 hours without a stop.
- Shiraz to Yazd: 5-hour drive (442 Kilometers)
- Isfahan to Yazd: 4-hour drive (311 Kilometers)
- Tehran to Yazd: 6.5 hours (621 Kilometers)
For Americans, Canadians and British citizens traveling to Iran, by Iranian law, you will need to hire a licensed Tour Company. I recommend you go through Visit Our Iran, the largest Iran Tour Marketplace to help plan your trip. They have readily organized trips available or you can design your own trip. And they will also help apply for your visa which can take 2-3 months.
Just some thoughts on my travels to Iran: Traveling, reading, learning about history, culture and religion sheds many different perspectives that occurred thousands of years ago. As well as traditions still occurring in our world today. The point of anthropology and ethnographic studies lead many to see that there are very few truths in the world. The more we travel, observe and immerse ourselves in other places and people, the more we become even more confused. But this challenge of taking ourselves out of our comfort zone and element is what sparks so much joy in the fellow wanderlusts of this world. It becomes an addicting experience, the adrenaline of sort of always seeking new adventures and knowledge.
Read more on Yazd: https://www.visitouriran.com/blog/yazd