yazd desert city

Travel through the dusty desert and suddenly the surrounding mountains aren’t the only peaks in sight. First, you see the Yazdi minarets and then the famous badgir towers, a form of medieval air conditioning which funnels any passing gust of wind down into the baking city below. Yazd is so incredible because it doesn’t seem natural for a city to thrive in the middle of a desert, yet UNESCO lists it as one of the oldest towns on earth, with an estimated 2000 years of permanent human settlement.

Indeed, it actually couldn’t be better located. A vast web of underground water channels have irrigated Yazd and other desert cities for centuries, with a system which relies on gravity so that water flows along a gentle gradient to its destination. Yazd was the optimum central axis of Iran and as a result trade flourished. So while the ruddy mud-brick fortress appears austere from the outside, the old city’s rich history comes alive within the walls. It’s full of bustling markets and narrow, winding walkways which lead to beautiful houses owned by the rich merchants of old. Pack for walking around in scorching heat during the day and breezy evenings perched on rooftops watching the sun go down at night.

The perfect day

Walk around the maze-like town of old Yazd in early morning solitude. There are still lots of Yazdi people living in the ancient mud houses; take a moment to watch them go about their daily lives, children playing football on the street – this is the best way to get a feel for this dreamy desert city. Find a rooftop café to rest and sip tea (there is a well-known one close to the tourist information point) then pay a visit to Lari House, the old dwelling of a wealthy Yazdi trading family. Go for lunch at the Silk Road Hostel, where delicious shuli (camel meat) and more-ish date shakes will keep you sustained throughout the afternoon. Next up, make your way to a Yazdi gym, known as zurkhaneh, where locals pump iron to ritualistic music and traditional Iranian songs. Leaving the old town, make a stop at the Water Museum where you can find out about the qanat system of irrigation which brought Yazd into existence. Then head out to the Zoroastrian Fire Temple and gaze in awe at the Atash Behram, which has been burning for over 2000 years. Around sunset, take a taxi to the Towers of Silence to be part of a weird and wonderful Zoroastrian ritual.

TO STAY

Moshir-Al-Mamalek Hotel

A charming old Yazdi house turned into a hotel with a dreamy garden and fountains. This is the place for a more traditional stay, close to the town centre and with a great restaurant.

Safaiyeh Hotel

Safaiyeh Hotel is a new construction and one very few big hotels in Yazd. With its modern set up, it offers many amenities expected from larger hotels such as a well-equipped gym and high-speed wifi.

Laleh Hotel

Another traditional garden hotel, slightly bigger than the rest of its kind, Laleh Hotel is very close to the Zoroastrian Fire Temple. Famous for its Indian restaurant, it also has a café which is the perfect place relax after a long day on your feet.

Silk Road Hotel

For a more wallet-friendly option, Silk Road Hotel is super central and has a very nice, spacious restaurant which attracts people on all budgets.

TO EAT

Malek-o Tojjar

This beautiful old building is a maze of nooks, crannies and passages until you emerge in a vast covered courtyard with a glorious buffet to boot. Head to the side-rooms to tuck into some food or lounge on a wide sofa in the the central area alongside friendly locals.

  • Panjeh-Ali Bazaar

Silk Road Restaurant

Silk Road Hotel is usually the backpacker’s destination but it’s restaurant is equally popular among locals. Soak up the cosy atmosphere on a high bench bed in the roomy courtyard and order some shuli with a side of saffron rice, washed down with a date shake or doogh (a minty yoghurt drink).

  • No.5 Taleh Khakestary Alley
    Jame Mosque St

Hamame Khan

Set inside a hammam, this is quite the dining experience as the chatter of diners and clinking of cutlery reverberates off the walls and domes of the bathhouse. Try the dizi (Iranian stew which varies hugely depending on where you are) and enjoy the the ceremonial tea service.

  • Ghiam St., Meidan-e Khan

TO DO

Towers of Silence

The Zoroastrian ‘Towers of Silence’ are fortress-like structures situated on two small hills outside of Yazd. The views from here over the sleepy desert city and surrounding mountains are simply stunning, while the history of these monuments is equally incredible. Zoroastrians placed their dead on top of these towers to be disposed of by scavenger birds while priests kept watch over them. They believed that if the bodies were buried or burned they would lose their earthly wholeness and purity.

Stroll through the old town

Walking through Yazd feels like being in a Hollywood film set; don’t stick to the map, let your curiosity guide you. The little streets are jsut asking to be explored, so allow yourself to drawn into the city’s incredible and very unique architecture. You’ll pass simple courtyards turned galleries selling local art, while signposts beckon you up a flight of rickety stairs to a rooftop café. Note the city’s ancient walls, constructed from mud and brick. This is a place where getting lost is a good thing.

Zoroastrian Fire Temple

This Fire Temple is of the highest order in that the fire the most care and effort to build; it is the only one in Iran and one of only nine Atash Behrams (Victory Fire) in the world. The fire has been burning for over 2000 years – read the fascinating story of the different concepts of fire and water in the Zoroastrian faith and the various temples in which eternal fires burn.

  • Kashani Road

Day trip to Kharanaq

Hop into a cab 50 minute north of Yazd to the desert village of Kharanaq. It has some of the oldest existing mud-brick architecture in the country and you can properly explore, climbing in and around the old sites – make your way to the highest building to enjoy the view over the roofs and into the desert. Look out for a quaint little mosque by the river just south of the village. If you have time, go via Meybod to see the yakhchals (ancient structures built to function as fridges) and the pigeon tower. Still got time? Drive through the mountains surrounding Yazd to the holy Zoroastrian village of Chak Chak – but beware, it’s said to be haunted (though we’re told the ghosts are friendly…).

Moshir-Al-Mamalek Hotel

Safaiyeh Hotel

Laleh Hotel

Silk Road Hotel and Restaurant

Panjeh-Ali Bazaar

Hamame Khan

Towers of Silence

Old Town

Zoroastrian Fire Temple

Kharanaq

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