Well, once we arrived and changed some precious money avoiding traps described in Iran budget travel – part one, several next challenges appear – mainly where to stay, how to move in the cities and inside the country, find good and inexpensive food, and telecom service.
In Iran, Couchsurfing is very popular and many will be happy to host a foreign traveler; if someone likes this kind of experience, it can be a good idea. Just remember, you will need a VPN app to use it in Iran. If however, it is not your preferred way – in Iran, there are hundreds of hostels and cheap hotels.
The main international resource in the case of hostels is www.hostelworld.com, full description and lots of travelers’ reviews will help in your choice, but you can check also the local smaller web www.hostelsiniran.com.
As of December 2019, there are lots of hostels, also in Tehran, offering stay with unlimited breakfast for 4 or 5 euros/night; in dorms of course. The hostel staff is usually very well informed about all your possible questions, speaks good English and can give you advice about local landmarks and how to get there.
As for the typical hostel breakfast, you can have a look here (based on Heritage Hostel, Tehran): My Persian breakfast experience in Iran.
Interestingly, while dorms are now incredibly cheap – these hostels have also some private rooms offered on rather prohibitive 20 to 30 euro prices. Just in case a desire for a small luxury becomes irresistible – there are cheap “1-star hotels” in many less touristic places – in Tehran for example in South Saadi street (close enough to metro Saadi and Great Bazaar). Just asking for curiosity (without trying to bargain), I was offered private rooms for 800 000 rials, some 7 euros – but no breakfast included. These hotels serve mainly locals and hardly you can find them on English language websites, so if interested – ask Iranians (in case you do not find them walking around).
In other Iranian cities using public transport, consisting mainly of common buses will be a bit difficult without a local helpful to tell you which line of local bus is best for you. I stayed several days in Shiraz and found out how to use to my benefit 2 or 3 bus lines, avoiding kilometric marches. There is always one linking bus terminal in the city center, others to run along main streets, it is good to use them, tickets are very cheap, people pay for drivers. If you need to go to a specific place far away and have no way to use the city bus – try in first place Snapp, the local Uber-like service. Try to avoid a regular taxi if possible!
By the way, in other big Iranian cities there is a limited metro service, (networks are under construction), actually consisting of 2 lines in Mashhad and just one operating in Tabriz, Esfahan, and Shiraz. On some occasions it can be also useful for tourists, so – why not try?
The most budget-friendly way to travel across Iran is without any doubt by using intercity buses. Even more, the night buses – saving you a hostel fee and also a full day for a new destination.
Tehran has 4 bus terminals, other cities just 1 or 2 – from each one you can pick a normal (Maamuli) or luxury (VIP) intercity bus. Maamuli is a typical tourist bus, usually not the newest one, with some 50 passenger capacity. Another story for VIP – luxury extra large seats, lots of space for legs, great comfort during the journey, some 25 seats altogether – obviously the best choice for a long journey. Unfortunately, there is the price tag – VIP costs around 80% more than a normal bus, to give a fresh example, my recent trip Babolsar – Tehran, some 200 km: Maamuli 240 000 rials (2 euros) vs. VIP 420 000 rials (3.7 euros). Btw in any Iranian bus voyage, there is a bottle of water and a small snack included!
The best way is to ask an Iranian to book for you using local websites – or doing yourself a trip to terminal, there are at least several companies and their hawkers, initially insisting you should take a VIP bus. If you resist and insist on Maamuli, you will be able to buy the cheaper one, of course!
Avoid English language bus booking sites directed to tourists – it is easy, but you’ll pay double or triple. For example on one such “helpful” website, my Tehran – Babolsar tickets were for “only” 5 euro – in real exchange 700 000 rials at that moment – for Maamuli bus – while I paid for the same ticket 240 000 rials (2 euros), like normal Iranians, at the bus station.
There is quite a good railways network, but tickets are more expensive, and often no places available in immediate days. As for local airlines, it can be an idea in case you want to do a really long jump – f. ex. Tehran – Bandar Abbas flight can cost around 30 euro (at this time). Always ask an Iranian to help you, using local booking sites; if you do it by an agency or English language website – you will pay more.
BlaBlaCar does not include Iran, unfortunately (neither AirBnB).