Scenic Northwestern Iran would definitely deserve a separate / dedicated trip of several weeks, one that enables you to really go Off The Beaten Track, enjoying some of the most impressive sceneries in Iran and a different cultural experience in the Azeri & Kurdish parts of the country. Unfortunately, I had not sufficient time at hand and solely discovered a few cultural & historic highlights and had to skip the more remote areas… Well, a good reason to go back!
Beware that further afield in this part of Iran, public transport is scare, making travel time much higher… Except if you have your own wheels or if you charter taxis from place to place, making it much more costly, especially if you are traveling solo as I was.
Of course, if you visit Northwest Iran, you cannot skip Tabriz, the largest city in this area, actually also a good entry point if you are flying from Europe. Read more about the Top 10 Things To Do In Tabriz…
There are not many reasons to stay in Zanjan as a tourist, except if you are on the way from Tabriz or Teheran to Takht-e Soleiman or Sultaniyeh, as you might then have to stay there overnight. Even if there is not much to see or do in Zanjan, the city is not unpleasant… The Park Hotel is a decent option (40 € for a singe room), and the Doorchin restaurant is an outstanding opportunity to sample some great Iranian Cuisine (10 € for a meal).
The main reason to visit this small city approx. one hour from Zanjan is the UNESCO World Heritage Sultaniyeh’s Dome, or Gombad-e Sultaniyeh, a spectacular 48 meters high, 14th Century domed Mausoleum. This turquoise, brick dome is said to be the third largest one in the world… And yes, it is quite a sight! Other “attractions” around the dome are by far less impressive, and in my opinion not really worth the 20 to 30 minutes walk in each direction…
Sultaniyeh is easily reached by shared taxi from Zanjan, a one hour ride that will cost you less than 1 € for each trip…
Takht-e Suleiman, the “Throne of Solomon”, is probably one of the most enigmatic sacred sites in Iran: situated in a green valley, a flat stone hill is rising twenty meters above the surrounding lands. The dark lake at the center of this hill has something mysterious, almost mystical.
Takht-e Soleiman was one of the greatest religious sanctuaries of Zoroastrianism for nearly a thousand years. The name “Throne of Solomon” was actually invented in the 7th Century, when guardians of the temple tried to protect the site from the invading Arabs: realizing Islam’s reverence of biblical prophets, they created a tale of Solomon residing here once, to avoid the temple’s certain destruction. This was a success!
Nearby Zandan-e Suleiman is also quite a site: the dramatic, 97 meters high conical peak dominates the surrounding valley. The crater, a 85 meter deep cone, is breathtaking… Legends say that King Solomon used it to imprison demons…
Of course, you can visit Takht-e Suleiman on a day-trip from Zanjan, but that means 6 hours in a chartered taxi… It is nonetheless better to use Takab as a hub, which can easily be reached by buses that leave Zanjan at 10:30 am (4 hours) or by “Savaris” (shared taxis that leave when full, less than hours). Beware that the direct bus to Teheran from Takab fills quickly, so book it at least one day in advance. In Takab, there is only one decent hotel, Hotel Ranji, and the owner, Ayub, is a true character, who knows the area very well and will help you in organizing your trip.