Iran doesn't have the best reputation for welcoming foreign tourists, yet signs point to that changing – slowly. From 2004 to 2010 tourism to the country grew by 12.7 percent, and while most of these visits were for reasons of religious pilgrimage, a good number made the trip to see Iran's ancient sites, to hike and ski in the Alborz mountains, and to paraglide (like these unlucky Slovak tourists who have just been released after charges of spying).
The case of the Slovak paragliders suggests that Iran still has a way to go if it wants to shake off foreign travelers' negative perceptions of its touristic potential, but a brand new private train service may help.
Commencing October 14th, 2014, the Golden Eagle Danube Express in a partnership between the Danube Express, the only private train in Central Europe to have en suite facilities, and the tour operator Golden Eagle Luxury Trains, will run a 15-day trip from Budapest to Tehran – the first European train tour to be allowed into the country. The train will also visit Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey along the way, and will carry 65 passengers who, say the company, "should be blessed with a fairly pioneering spirit." Passengers will also need to be blessed with a fairly healthy bank account as fares start at almost $14,000 per person – and that's a one-way ticket!
If you love the idea of riding the rails into Tehran (and can get your hands on a visa), but shudder at that price tag, there is another, far cheaper way. From Ankara, Turkey the weekly Trans-Asia Express runs to Tabriz and Tehran, The three-day, two-night journey involves two trains and an old steamer ferry: a Turkish train from Ankara to Tatvan pier; then a ferry across Lake Van, and finally an Iranian train from Van pier to Tehran. More details are available at European rail expert The Man in Seat 61's website.