Iran is a big country, with hundreds of kilometers between major cities. Trains are a good way to bridge those long distances.
On long distances, trains are faster, more comfortable, safer and more environmental friendly than buses. In addition, overnight trains allow you to save on accommodation and extend your daytime sightseeing hours. The major downside is that you need to plan your journey in advance; most trains are sold out in advance.
Most trains are operated by private companies, which means standards of quality differ from train to train. None are awful though, at a minimum, service is average. A high-speed train service connects to several destinations.
As Iran is slowly coming out of its international isolation, it has started updating its infrastructure. Second-hand European rolling stock is gradually being replaced with newer wagons. Expect new trains and lines to open up over the next 10 years as Iran enters a new construction boom.
Booking train tickets
Currently, if you want to travel by train, you need to buy your tickets in advance. If there is a holiday like Nowruz or Ashura, book minimum 1 month in advance to be sure of a seat.
- Tehran-Esfahan (all trains), Tehran-Shiraz (all trains), Tehran-Mashad (Pardis and quality overnight trains), all trains to Mashad from other cities: at least 2 weeks before departure
- Tehran-Yazd (Pardis): at least 1 week before departure
- Tehran-Tabriz, Tehran-Ahvaz, Tehran-Kerman, Tehran-Bandar Abbas, Tehran-Zanjan: 4-5 days before departure
All other trains should be bookable 2-3 days before departure, but consider that not all connections run daily. Trains to certain smaller destinations do not get booked out in advance; an example is the short Mashad – Sarakhs train.
Timetables and prices
You can find timetables and prices for all trains at Iranrail.net. Examples:
- Tehran – Shiraz: 25-45$/15 hr
- Tehran – Esfahan: 8$/8 hr
- Tehran – Yazd: 12$/6 hr or 9-15$/8 hr
- Tehran – Tabriz: 10-16$/12 hr
- Tehran – Mashad: 17-60$/8-14 hr
Women and men are segregated on city buses and metro lines, but on trains and long-distance buses, men and women sit together. Although unrelated Iranian men and women would not sit together, as a foreigner you are exempt from harassment from the morality police.
Most trains have a choice between first and second class, but what that means exactly depends on the type of train and the train company.
Iranrail is the biggest and the best Iranian rail website. You can book online with them, paying with Visa, Mastercard and Paypal, but understand it is not truly online booking. A travel agent still needs to book the train ticket for you, scan and e-mail it to you. Service charge is 6 euro for a delivery within 7-10 days. Express service is delivered within 24 hours and costs 16 euro.
Other travel agencies can deliver the same service, possibly for a lower price. Your experiences are welcome.
If you are already in Iran, you can hop into a travel agency and order a ticket through them, book at the train station or possibly have your hotel or host do it for you.
The train experience
Different types of trains roll around Iran. Everything that needs to be said about them has been said before – I direct you again to Iranrail.
Tips on route planning
The Ankara – Tehran train has been cancelled until further notice due to the ongoing war in Turkish Kurdistan. You can get as far as Salmas, Jolfa or Tabriz, from where you need to cross the border by other means. Once in Turkey, you can catch a train again in Kars.
Additionally, you can travel from Nakchivan to Mashad by train since December 2016. Reports are welcome.
A typical “Jewels of Iran” tourist circuit would include Tehran, Esfahan, Shiraz and Yazd at a minimum. Here is how to do that by train.
- Tehran to Shiraz: overnight train, leaving in the afternoon and arriving in Shiraz the next morning.
- Shiraz to Esfahan: this route is not served by train! Tehran to Shiraz trains do not stop in Esfahan. The bus is your best alternative.
- Esfahan to Yazd: Afternoon train with arrival in Yazd 3 and a half hours later, running every other day.
- Yazd to Tehran: daily express trains (Pardis) in the morning or in the afternoon (5 hours) or overnight train.
On your return you can stop over in pretty Kashan, where Yazd – Tehran trains call at comfortable hours. For this trip we would recommend you to book at least 3 weeks prior to your departure.
Bikes on trains
Iran is a big, hot country and cyclists might want to traverse part of it off the bike. You can put your bike on a train in Iran, as well as on a bus. Prices will be similar. On the train, your bike must be checked as cargo, for which you need to pay separately.Comments have closed. If you have questions or remarks, head to our forum’s transport section.