It might not be on everyone’s travel radar, but Iran has a well-worn tourist circuit, encompassing attractions in the ancient cities of Shiraz and Isfahan.
For those wanting to get off the beaten path, the country has a wealth of lesser-known destinations that rival the stunning beauty and historical significance of their more famous counterparts.
Here are five of the best:
Hidden in the humid green forests of Iran’s northern Gilan province is Rudkhan Castle, a medieval military fortress whose origins predate the rise of Islam in Iran.
Work started on the castle during the Persian Sassanid era, between 224 and 651 A.D.
The hike up to the castle, which is situated along two peaks of a verdant mountain, takes more than an hour, prompting many locals to call Rudkhan the "Castle of a Thousand Steps”.
After you’ve made the trek back down, it’s worth stopping off for food on the drive back on the main highway toward Rasht, the capital of Gilan province.
Bekhradi Historical House
The Isfahan’s 400-year-old inn built in Persia’s Safavid era features four tastefully decorated multi-roomed guest suites and is the oldest house to be restored in Iran.
Its renovation and artistic restoration took local interior designer and restoration specialist Morteza Bekhradi five years to engineer and complete.
Peppered with stained-glass windows and original artwork from the Safavid and subsequent Qajar eras, the house sits between two gardens replete with fruits and wildflowers.
Bekhradi Historical House is located at 56, Sonbolestan Alley, Ebn-e-Sina St., Shohada Sq, Isfahan.
A UNESCO World Heritage site in the northwestern province of Zanjan, the mausoleum of Oljaytu at Soltaniyeh is topped by one of the world’s largest domes.
Built between 1302 and 1312 in Soltaniyeh, the capital city of the Mongols’ Ilkhanid Dynasty, the monument is a mausoleum for Il-khan Oljeitu, the Ilkhanid’s eighth ruler.
Though much of the structure’s exterior coloring and tiles have faded through the centuries, the intricate brickwork, tilework and vibrant designs inside the mausoleum have remained largely unscathed.
The unique double-shelled structure of the Soltaniyeh Dome is also believed to have influenced the design of India’s Taj Mahal mausoleum.
Interesting factoid: Oljeitu was born to a Christian mother and baptized as Nicholas. He later became Buddhist and then converted to Islam.
Laleh Kandovan Rocky Hotel
About 50 kilometers outside the northwestern city of Tabriz lies the troglodyte village of Kandovan.
People here live in cone-shaped caves cut out of volcanic rock at the foot of Mount Sahand, a dormant volcano.
Nestled within the 800-year-old village, the Laleh Kandovan Rocky Hotel has been literally hand-carved into the rocky landscape, with each of the luxury hotel’s 16 modernized rooms encompassing a cave.
Guests of the hotel can take a relaxing soak in this precious liquid. If there’s a spa tub in the room, the mineral water gets pumped in directly.
Toghrol Tower is a Seljuk-era monument situated in the city of Rey, on the southern outskirts of Iran’s capital city, Tehran.
Often overlooked by visitors who tend to stick to the higher-income northern and central areas of the Iranian capital, Rey is the oldest county in Tehran province and is speckled with historical monuments, including a 500-year-old Safavid-era bazaar.
The tower is said to serve as the mausoleum for Seljuk king Toghrol Beg, who established Rey as a major administrative center of the Seljuk Dynasty until its destruction by Mongol armies in the early 13th century.