Iran

An unquestionably unique nation in the Middle East, Iran is often shrouded in mystery. Overlooked by travellers and judged by the actions of its frequently enigmatical government, Iran doesn't always get the same attention as some of its neighbours. While it's true that the situation doesn't currently signal the best time for a visit, it's also true that Iran should always be kept on the 'maybe' list. Despite the less-than-desirable circumstances in the country as of late, Iran still welcomed over 3.2 million in 2011 and hopes to bump that number up to 20 million by 2025. Assuming stability in the country and region, that number of visitors should be possible; thanks in part to its diverse landscape and ancient culture - religious and otherwise - Iran has many things to offer those who find their way to its shores. The capital city of Tehran is a good starting place, offering up a number of palace sites such as Golestan, Sa'dabad and Niavaran, and a number of museums including the Museum of Contemporary Art and, not surprisingly, the Carpet Museum. The Iranian Imperial Crown Jewels, reportedly the largest collection in the world, are not to be missed; they are on display at the Iranian Central Bank, also in the capital. Outside of the capital, the country is teeming with things to see and do, far too many to list here. Thirteen of the more breathtaking ones, however, have been declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites and include ruins of Persepolis, Meidan Emam in Esfahan, the city of Soltaniyeh and, most recently, the Persian Garden, which consists of nine sites throughout the country. So keep your eye on things and when the time is right, be sure to go; you won't be sorry you did. ~ Samantha McDonald-Amara


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 Full name: Islamic Republic of Iran

 Population: 78.87 million (CIA, 2012)

 Capital: Tehran

 Largest city: Tehran

 Area: 1.65 million sq km (636,371.6 sq miles)

 Major languages: Persian, Azeri Turkic and  Turkic dialects, Kurdish, Other

 Major religions: Muslim, Other

 Monetary unit: Iranian Rial

 GDP per capita: US $12,200

 Internet domain: .ir

 International dialling code: +98

 Source: CIA World Factbook