How much it costs to go backpacking in Iran

NOTE: The prices in this post are from 2017. No doubt they have changed due to ongoing sanctions & Covid-19.

I thought up this piece while trying to sleep on a bench at Kaveh bus terminal in Esfahan at 0500 hours in the morning, in 2’C weather.

It wasn’t very pleasant. But it was the exception in a trip that featured ancient cities, jaw-dropping Persian architecture, gorgeous Muslim shrines and so.many.friendly.people. Just like my Oman budget report last year, I’m writing this to convince you – especially you Singaporeans – that Iran is a great, safe and beautiful place to go to. And even better, you can use this to learn from my piss-poor planning and not spend a morning in the cold.

  • I flew to Iran on Thai Airways, via Bangkok for S$498.
  • If prefer to see this whole write-up summarised in a detailed excel sheet, here you go.

The exchange rate I’m using is S$1 = approximately 31,000 Iranian Rial


  • Total trip costs: S$1307.67
  • Average cost per day in Iran: 1,452,040 IRR (S$46.90)
  • Average cost of food per person per day: 256,300 IRR (S$8.30)
  • Average cost of accommodation per person per day: 510,050 IRR (S$16)
  • Average cost of transport in-country per person per day: 381,255 IRR (S$12)

Tehran (Dec 3-4, 14-15) 

Let’s get this out of the way: Tehran is a sprawling urban mass. The capital of the Islamic Republic has bustling crowds, Bangok-esque levels of traffic and a veil of smog constantly hanging around the city. Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport is where you’ll will likely take your first step on Iranian soil.

Still, Tehran is a great introduction to Iran. The lack of shopping centres means that its cavernous Grand Bazaar is still the commercial heart of the city. Though touristy, Golestan Palace hearkens back to the over-the-top architecture of the Shahs of Iran. Tehran is also a good place to try regional food of the north and east, with new arrivals opening restaurants that remind them of home. On a clear day, you’ll see the snowcapped Alborz mountains looming over Tehran from the north.

People watching at Tehran’s Grand Bazaar

Sample costs:

  • 1 night in a twin room at Bibi Hostel: 545,500 IRR ($17.50)
  • Tehran Metro card: 50,000 IRR (S$1.60)
  • Admission to Golestan Palace & the Main Hall: 300,000 IRR (S$9.60)
  • Overnight VIP bus from Tehran’s Jonoub (South) Terminal to Shiraz: 680,000 IRR (S$22)

Shiraz (Dec 5-7)

The city of Shiraz has many faces. Shiraz is the city of literature, where the great Persian poets Hafiz and Saadi are buried. It’s also the city of flowers, attracting visitors in spring to its blooms. For the more religious, it is the city of shrines, featuring several important monuments to Shia Muslim saints.

Shiraz is also the staging point for visiting the UNESCO site of Persepolis, the ruined old capital of the Persian Empire.

As the largest city in Iran’s south, Shiraz is surprisingly diverse. Nomads sell their carpets in the bazaar, Baluchis (from Pakistan) trade tropical fruit, and Central Asian pilgrims throng the shrines.

The Tombs of the Persian kings at Nasqh-e-Rostam (Necropolis)

Sample costs:

  • 2 nights in a dorm bed at Niayesh Hotel: 858,000 IRR (S$28)
  • Tour with guide & snacks to Persepolis and Nasqh e-Rostam: 1,092,000 IRR (S$35)
  • 1 bowl of Faloodeh: 30,000 IRR (S$0.90)
  • Admission to Masjid Nasir ol-Molk (Pink Mosque): 200,000 IRR (S$6)
  • Taxi to Shiraz bus station: 100,000 IRR ($3)
  • Bus to Yazd with booking fee: 410,000 IRR (S$13)

Yazd (Dec 8-10)

At the very edge of the desert, Yazd is a whole world away from elegant Shiraz or busy Tehran. It is a dust-coloured oasis, with minarets and domes rising from the city against a severe blue sky. Walking through the UNESCO-listed, mud-bricked old city, one feels as though this place is seriously ancient – as if nothing has changed for the last 2000 years.

Some historical quirks make Yazd stand out. Its desert weather means the city is famous for its wind towers, huge structures that help ventilate houses. The monuments to the Zoroastrian faith thrive on the city’s outskirts. And in the Yazdis have developed a distinct food culture: hearty soups, numbingly sweet candies and sheep liver kebab.

Yazd skyline
A rooftop view of Yazd

Sample Costs

  • Taxi from Yazd bus station to old city: 60,000 IRR (S$2.00)
  • 2 nights in a dorm bed at Yazd Hostel Oasis: 1,250,000 IRR (S$40.30)
  • Four-hour tour of Fahraj and Sar-Yazd with driver-guide: 1,000,000 IRR (S$32.20)
  • Two sticks of Jigar (sheep liver) kebab with bread and doogh: 100,000 IRR (S$3.30)
  • Overnight bus to Esfahan: 150,000 IRR (S$4.90)

Esfahan (Dec 12-14)

Oh Esfahan! We got off on a bad start in the bus terminal, but there’s no denying that you’re beautiful. The most ‘Persian’ of all the cities, Esfahan was the capital of the Safavid Persians under Shah Abbas I, who added gardens, the jaw-dropping Shah Mosque and bridges. Most of these monuments are clustered around Naqsh-e Jahan Square, the second largest square in the world.

As a former capital, Esfahan has retained many of its cosmopolitan features. Its bazaar sells everything from fancy copperwork to hand-printed fabric (Kalam Kari). South of the city centre, the Armenian district in New Jolfa is famous for its Persian-style churches and cafes. But my favourite is still the food: a local Esfahani dish called Beriyani, and a rosewater-flavoured nougat called gaz.

Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque
Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, at Naqsh-e Jahan Square

Sample costs:

  • Admission into Vank Cathedral: 200,000 IRR (S$6.45)
  • Breakfast: 2 cups of tea, bread & Omlet-e Gojeh Farangi (Tomato omelette): 75,000 IRR (S$2.50)
  • 2 nights in a three-person room in Howzak House: 1,420,000 IRR (S$45.80)
  • 1 serving of Esfahani Beriyani: 120,000 IRR (S$3.90)

Miscellaneous Travel Tips

1. Changing Currency

Because Iran is cut off from the international banking system due to sanctions, the rate can fluctuate wildly. The Iranians see foreign currency as a source of stable investment. So the rates are favourable when changing into IRR, but not the other way around.

Currency offices in Iran accept USD, Euros, Chinese Yuan and, in Tehran, Malaysian Ringgit. There’s a very good moneychanger on the departure hall at Imam Khomeini Airport in Tehran, which gave me the best rate in the country. If you can’t change at the airport for some reason, Ferdowsi Square in Tehran is where all the moneychangers are. However, they do not begin business until the Central Bank sets the exchange rate at 12 noon.

North Tehran from Tabiat Bridge
North Tehran, seen from the Tabiat Bridge

2. Accommodation 

For the budget-conscious, new hostels and guesthouses have opened recently in Tehran and Yazd, which are experiencing an influx of tourists. However, the range of budget accommodation is still limited. Expensive, business-style hotels are the norm.

Outside the business-y types, most hotels provide shared dormitories with breakfast thrown in. When dormitories are not available, traditional guesthouses (mosāferkhaneh) are the next best thing. They may be far from the city centre, but provide the opportunity to interact with local tourists. Every Internet guide to Iran encourages visitors to Counchsurf. I didn’t try it out, so I cannot vouch for how common or convenient it is.

3. Food & Meals

Eating in Iran can be ridiculously cheap or ridiculously expensive. On one end of the spectrum, local ‘fast food’ is widely available under S$3. This can mean anything from palm-sized burgers with unidentifiable meat or non-meat falafel sandwiches stuffed with vegetables that put Subway foot-longs to shame. Street food stores commonly sell Ash, a local soup with noodles, in the winter. When all else fails, go to a bakery and buy freshly-baked bread like the locals.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are sit-down restaurants with service, buffets and live music. While these restaurants charge premium price, I can say that portions are generally much bigger and sharing is commonplace. Eating at these places is a must sometimes to try regional delicacies found nowhere else, like Tahchin in Tehran.

Inside the Shrine of Ali Ibn Hamzeh, Shiraz
Inside the Shrine of Ali Ibn Hamzeh, Shiraz

4. Transportation

Given the ageing planes in Iran due to decades of sanctions, I will leave out domestic flights in favour of other means of transport (also, I didn’t take any):

Getting around cities

Unless you’re in Tehran or Esfahan, taxis dominate the streets. Bargaining is a must, especially to or from out-of-town locations. An adventurous alternative is to use Snapp, the Iranian Uber, which is cheaper but harder to use since it’s mostly in Persian. I had a guesthouse owner key in the pickup and drop-off locations for me.

In Tehran, the metro is the most efficient way to get around the city. Rides are priced at a standard 10,000 IRR (about 30 cents), or cheaper with a metro card. Esfahan has a fairly efficient bus service, which connect bus terminals, Nasqh – Jahan Square and Jolfa, all for 20,000 IRR.


Overnight trains are a good way to cover long distances cheaply. Iranian trains have an Orient Express vibe, with generous room and lots of wood panelling (again, sanctions have kept trains old). Sleeper trains normally sleep 4 per cabin, with linen, pillows and snacks provided. Book early, because seats sell out fast.

Esfahan Railway Station
Esfahan Railway Station, 2200 hours

Inter-city Bus

Long-distance buses are the default way to travel between cities in Iran. For comfort, use VIP buses: they have ample legroom, snacks and enough space to lie back almost horizontally. Since bus travel so common, you can show up almost to any bus station and book a bus within the hour to most major destinations. If you want to check schedules (and not end up stranded in a bus station in the cold), or grab Internet deals, use

Any questions? Feel free to leave a comment below. If

If not, venture forth and explore on your own!

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