Armenia – Travel Guide
Marked by mountainous terrain with snow-capped peaks, medieval monasteries rife with history, and a tumultuous past that strengthened the country, Armenia is a country unlike any other. Travelers will find a breath-taking region rich in history, culture, and natural phenomenon undiscovered by crowded tourism. Locals in towns and cities across the Eurasian country warmly welcome visitors, happy to chat with new people, and share tips and places to go. Armenia’s strategic location between Europe and Asia made it a hotbed for conflict between empires. After thousands of years being ruled by different empires and nations, Armenia became an independent state before joining the Soviet Union in 1920. Its years of changing rules are marked by warfare and genocide, mainly when the Turkish government murdered millions of Armenians. However, the country and its people lived on. They carried their culture, resiliency, and perseverance into a new age, becoming an independent state again in 1991. Today, Armenia is thriving and proud, welcoming visitors to explore the region, honour the peoples’ past, and enjoy all the country offers. Start your Armenian adventure in the nation’s capital: Yerevan. As one of the world’s oldest inhabited cities, Yerevan’s culture, art, and history will keep you wandering through the streets for days. Immerse yourself in the life and storied past of Armenians with a walking tour of the city centre. Climb to the top of the Cascade to discover breath-taking views of the city. Pleasure your taste buds with flavourful and spicy Armenian cuisine, known for its use of fresh herbs and influence from neighbouring countries. Before you make your way out of Yerevan, stop at the Geghard monastery, a medieval UNESCO World Heritage site. Continue your trip to more awe-inspiring monasteries, revealing the history behind the first country to establish Christianity as its official religion. Many Armenian monasteries look over towering mountain ranges, vast valleys, and beautiful vistas, including Tatev, Khor Virap, Sanahin, and many more. A trip Armenia isn’t complete without a stop along the silk road, passing through several trading spots, including the town of Artashat, and on to the eastern shores of the Black Sea. Discover ancient buildings, exchange posts, and travel and communication stories between the east and west on the silk road. The traditions you’ll discover along the way still thrive today in Armenia’s vibrant, resilient culture.
The best way to get a visa to enter Armenia is to apply for an e-visa. The typical wait time is three days and costs 6 USD for a visitor visa up to 21 days or 41 USD for a multiple entry visa up to 60 days with six-month validity. You can apply for visas upon arrival, but the cost is usually much higher. Passports need to be valid for at least six months for entry into Armenia. Citizens from the following 45 countries do not need a visa to enter Armenia and can stay up to 180 days: Andorra, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Vatican, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and United States of America. The Armenian government provides more information on visas and entering the country here.
Language and Religion
Armenia’s state language is Armenian, but its people speak a variety of languages. Armenian is widely spoken throughout the country for business and everyday reasons and is commonly used in writing texts. The oldest surviving Armenian text is a 5th century Bible translated into the language. Armenia’s historical roots in fluctuating politics and shifting dynasties makes it a cultural linguistic hub. Russian is a common language you might hear on the streets of Armenia, mainly due to the country’s historic rule under the Soviet Union until 1991. Since then, nearly 70 percent of Armenians still speak Russian. English is also growing in popularity in Armenia, and more of its citizens are starting to learn the language. As the first country to establish Christianity as its state religion, it comes to no surprise that 97 percent of Armenians are Christian. Most Christian Armenians are members of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Founded in the first century, it’s one of world’s oldest Christian churches. Hetanism is a growing ethnic religion in the country and has roots in Armenian nationalism.
Currency, ATMs, and Credit Cards
The Armenian dram (AMD) is Armenia’s official currency. About 485 AMD equates to 1 USD. Aluminium, copper, brass, and nickel coins are produced in 10, 20, 50, 100, and 500 dram. The only dram banknotes used today are from 1,000 to 100,000 dram. There are 10-, 100-, and 500-dram banknotes, but the coins are more commonly used. Plan to bring a change purse along to keep all your coins in place! You can use ATMs in any major city in Armenia with no major issues. Most ATMs charge fee, so expect to pay about a two percent surcharge on every transaction (this doesn’t include any bank fees you might incur). Major hotels in Armenia take debit and credit cards, but local businesses, small hotels, and touristy areas only accept cash in dram. Be sure to carry small denominations (a.k.a., lots of coins!) with you. Visa is the most accepted credit card at major businesses and ATMs.
Network and SIM Cards
Armenia’s top mobile phone operators are Viva Cell, Ucom, and Beeline. All three offer 2G, 3G, and 4G service and are reasonably reliable in major cities and towns, and Viva Cell is the most widely used service. Ucom and Viva Cell are the most tourist-friendly in terms of great SIM card packages and knowledgeable employees. Viva Cell has a convenient kiosk at the airport where you can immediately purchase a data plan upon arrival. Their most popular plan offers 2 GB of data for 12 USD. Ucom’s most popular prepaid plan includes 10 GB for 2,900 AMD per month. Beeline offers 4 GB on prepaid SIM cards for 3,500 AMD (which is about $8).
Armenia’s storied history of conflict has given it a reputation as a potentially dangerous country to visit. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth! It’s true that Armenia isn’t a touristy country, but that doesn’t make it unsafe to visit. The country is stable, and the people living there are always happy to welcome visitors. It’s most important to follow safety guidelines when visiting cities like Yerevan and Gyumri. Occasional protests can turn violent, so avoid large public gatherings and stick to your travel itinerary. Monitor local media sources for daily updates. You’ll also want to stay away from the Armenia-Azerbaijan border and the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave military zones. These regions (both marked as “do not travel” areas) have had long conflicts between Armenia and Azerbaijan and are known for regular armed clashes and unmarked landmines. As many European and Asian countries, petty crime is common. If you’re traveling to the country by train from Georgia, look after your things and keep valuables secure at all times. As long as you follow Armenia’s “do not travel” list of areas and monitor the news, you’ll have a safe and enjoyable trip to a beautiful country.
Food in Armenia
Armenian food is known for relying on the freshest local ingredients and using a lot of vegetables, meat, and fish. Eggplant, lamb, and lavash bread make up the main parts of many Armenian dishes. They also use cracked wheat instead of maize or rice. Armenian cuisine is deeply rooted in its culture, and villagers will offer up hearty, delicious meals to welcome guests. During your visit, you’ll notice copious amounts of lavash, one of Armenian’s most traditional and cherished sides to every meal. It’s available everywhere, but the best lavash is fresh out of a tonir, the traditional stove used to make it. The diversity and taste of dishes get have a lot of Asian and European influences. Armenians put their own twist on dolma, which are meat-stuffed vegetables. They eat it for many major holidays, and you’ll find it on the menu of most restaurants. In the winter, khash is a popular soup whose preparation has turned into a winter tradition. Cooking khash involves boiling beef shanks for hours until the tendons fall off the bones and the water turns into a thick, juicy broth. The party dish includes a lot of crushed garlic and is served with dried lavash. For dessert, you can’t miss trying gata. This Armenian pastry is found throughout the country, and each region puts its own twist on it. You’ll find gata in a variety of shapes and sizes. If you’re a vino, you’d be pleased to know the world’s oldest winery was found in Armenia. The Areni-1 cave in the southern part of the country is 6,100 years old! These are just a few of the diverse dishes Armenians are cooking up. Whether you’re a meat lover or vegetarian, there’s something for everyone in Armenian cuisine. When to Go to Armenia Deciding when to visit Armenia very much depends on what you plan to do and where you want to go. Summers in Armenia are marked by hot and dry weather; in July, temperatures can reach 34 degrees Celsius. The long and hot days are very uncomfortable, so many Armenians head to the mountains for cooler temperatures. Winters are not ideal, either, as January can reach -7 degrees Celsius and stay very cold all day and night. Snowfall is frequent in the northern region, and many roads become difficult to traverse. If you’re staying in populated areas like Yerevan, it’ll be easy to enjoy your trip no matter the season. Summer is the perfect time to enjoy lake activities and hiking. In winter, rates are cheaper and ice skating and skiing are popular seasonal activities. If you want to head out to uncharted territories and discover the diverse villages of the countryside, the best time to go will be in the spring or fall. Late May to early June and late September to early October offer the most comfortable weather. The heaviest rainfall comes in the spring months of March and April. In May, the warm temperatures bring out blooming flowers and lush greenery. May through June are the best times to visit Armenia for ideal hiking and great views from the top of the monasteries scattered throughout the country. Fall begins in September, and the cooler temperatures are perfect to get out and explore villages throughout Armenia. It’s also harvesting season, so many dishes will have the best ingredients. It’s also the best time to visit Dilijan National Park, when many of the leaves are changing and the fall foliage brings out vibrant colors like no other.
Things to See in Armenia
Yerevan is Armenia’s national capital and a cultural hub bustling with the life of its people. The city dates to the 6th to the 3rd millennia BC, when it became part of the Armenian kingdom. Extinct volcanoes mark mountainous peaks as the city’s backdrop, and the Hrazdan River flows through the heart of Yerevan. Although Yerevan’s location (just about 15 miles from the Turkish border) made it a historically important place for trade and siege, it’s truly the cultural hub of Armenia. It’s a must-stop on any travel itinerary when visiting this unique country. Take a walking tour of the city, either guided or by yourself, and dive into the history and culture of Yerevan. The Opera House, Blue Mosque, and Cascade complex are just a few of the breath-taking spots you’ll discover. Northern Avenue is the best place to go window shopping. From picnics in one of Yerevan’s beautiful parks (Lovers Park is the most popular) to ice skating at Yerevan Water World in the winter, there are so many unique and relaxing ways to spend your time in this remarkable city. Things to Do in Yerevan As one of the oldest cities in the world, Yerevan offers so much to do in unique activities. One of your first stops should be the Cascade complex, a series of landmarks built in 1971 during the Soviet period. The Cascade is a large stairwell in the city centre that connects two of Yerevan’s major neighbourhoods: Kentron and Monument. All eight levels are accessible by climbing the stairs – though there is an elevator for the faint of heart! Don’t miss out on the astounding views you can find at the top of this landmark. Yerevan Water World attracts tourists and locals alike – especially in the summer – to cool off and enjoy various waterslides and pools. In the winter, the pools transform into ice skating rinks. Or, you can ice skate in a more scenic area on Swan Lake or next to the Opera House. In Yerevan’s city centre is Republic Square, a beautiful spot home to the History Museum, the National Gallery, and the Government House. Spend hours enjoying a beautiful day near one of the square’s fountains or exploring Armenia’s history and art. Best Places to Stay in Yerevan If you’re a first timer to Armenia, the Kentron neighbourhood is the best place to stay in Yerevan. The area includes the city centre, where most touristy spots are located. There is also a metro station for easy access to other parts of the city. Great backpacking hotels where you can stay with new friends or rent a private room include the Bridge Hostel Yerevan Armenia and the Grand Hostel Yerevan. For something on the more luxurious side, the Grand Hotel Yerevan is a beautiful spot to rest your feet nearby. Stay just outside the city centre in the Cascade complex. You’ll find the Cascade Hotel is great for families and the Royal Plaza Hotel is a luxurious, relaxing option for all ages. Where to Eat and Go Out in Yerevan Armenia’s cuisine is like no other, and the best place to dive into it is Yerevan. Whether you’re looking to enjoy a sip at Ararat, the country’s oldest brandy company, or enjoy a local dish in the Hrazdan Gorge, there’s something for every taste bud. The Hrazdan Gorge is the best place to start with basic dishes, including fish and barbeque cuisine. Mer Taghe is an affordable restaurant where you can get some of the best lahmajun (similar to a thin-crust pizza dish with meat, onions, tomato, and parsley) in the city. If you’re looking to satiate your dolma craving, Dolmama cooks up some of the tastiest in the city. The Malkhas Jazz Club is the place to go for late-night drinks in a laid-back setting while enjoying some live music. Geghard Monastery Located in a mountainous region of Armenia’s Kotayk province, the Gehard Monastery is one of the country’s beloved treasures. The complex features various churches and tombs highlighting the remarkable architecture of medieval times. The beautiful monastery is encased by tall walls and high cliffs and serves as the entrance to Armenia’s Azat Valley. Founded by St. Gregory the Illuminator when Armenia declared Christianity the state religion, the complex dates to the 4th century. The main complex completed construction in the 13th century. Today clergymen still attend the school and live at the monastery, and it has become a cultural hub for Armenia and a testament to its religious background. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is open to the public, so visitors can take in the beauty of the churches and tombs cut into the hillside. Garni Temple Another Kotayk province gem is the Garni Temple. Built in the first century CE, it was a dedicated pagan temple to the sun god, Mihr. When the country transitioned to Christianity, the Garni Temple was one of the few remaining structures from Armenia’s pagan religion. Today, the reconstructed temple is the only free-standing Greco-Roman building in the country. The Garni Temple is just 19 miles away from Yerevan and situated closely to the Geghard Monastery. It features Greek inscriptions carved into the stone, a nod to Armenia’s connections to the European country and ancient empire. While visiting Armenia, you won’t see many pagan temples, so the Garni Temple should be on your bucket list. Step into Armenia’s ancient past and discover the pre-Christianity culture visible at the Garni Temple. TSAKHKADZOR Add a relaxing vacation to your Armenian journey and visit the ski resort of Tsakhkadzor. Located just north of Yerevan, it’s a small town that offers a lot in history and attractions. The mountainous range collects a lot of snow in the winter, making it the perfect spot to hit the slopes. There are 27 kilometres of trails, six lifts to the top of the mountain, and over a thousand-metre difference in elevation. The slopes are open from December to late April. When the snow melts, the town becomes a beautiful summery mountain retreat with shops and restaurants to peruse. Khor Virap Armenia is known for its unique, ancient monasteries, but Khor Virap may be the most unique of them all. Located in the Ararat province, it’s the most popular pilgrimage site in the country and a top visited attraction for tourists. Formerly built as a prison site, it held Saint Gregory the Illuminator in a pit for 13 years – just before he got out and transformed Armenia into a Christian country. The hill he was kept in became an important holy site, and churches were constructed nearby until the Khor Virap monastery was completed. It continues to an important relic for the Armenian Apostolic Church. When you visit, you won’t be able to take your eyes away from the stunning mountain peaks on the horizon. Take time exploring the grounds and taking in the sacred place for all it’s worth.
Lake Sevan is one of the biggest fresh water and high-altitude lakes in the world, and it’s easy to visit when in Armenia. The sparkling waters change colours depending on the weather, and you might catch dark blue shades one day and sparkling azure water the next. The town of Sevan welcomes visitors to enjoy the Armenian lake life. It’s become a top summer destination for locals and foreigners looking to fish, relax at a resort, and enjoy a cabana. The most popular beaches are on the Kghzi Peninsula, and you can catch a bus from Yerevan to Sevan to get there. Visit the Sevanavank Monastery to take in unforgettable views of the lake. Take in the wonder of Noratus, the largest khachkar cemetery on the planet. There are several other monasteries and towns open to the public to explore, shop, and eat on the peninsula. Things to Do in Lake Sevan Perhaps the most visited attraction on Lake Sevan’s Kghzi Peninsula is the Sevanavank Monastery. It was once situated on an island before much of the lake was drained during Soviet rule. Get away from large crowds and visit Hayrivank, another monastery that overlooks Lake Sevan. On the northern and western shores of Lake Sevan, you’ll find peaceful hikes away from the bustling towns. If you want to get on the water, go for a swim or wind surf your way around. Best Places to Stay in Lake Sevan The town of Sevan is the best spot to rest your feet when visiting the lake. It has the most resorts and hotels available to visitors. The Jrahars Resort is right on the lake and has various luxurious amenities at an affordable price, including room service and an on-site restaurant and bar. The Lake Sevan Hostel is budget-friendly option for solo travellers looking to make friends. The Best Western Bohemian Resort Hotel and the Lord XXL are two luxury resorts and villas that offer the most luxurious experience during your visit to Lake Sevan. Where to Eat in Sevan Fresh water fish is the staple dish in Lake Sevan’s restaurants. Barbecued and fried fish are two of the most popular, and crawdads are available at most restaurants as well. One of the best places to eat is Maku Hacatun for gourmet Armenian cuisine. Semoyi Mot offers outstanding lake views while you dine on various dishes. If you meet some locals, they may invite you to a fish barbecue by the lake!
Known as Armenia’s “Little Switzerland,” Dilijan is a scenic town settled in the mountains in the north-eastern part of the country. It’s home to vast forests open to explore at Dilijan National Park, medieval sites rich in history, and some of the best food in Armenia. The mountain resort town is rising in population thanks to its scenery and relaxed atmosphere. And you can’t forget about the friendly locals who will invite you over to hear your story. Armenians are friendly wherever you go, but there must be something in the mountain air because the townspeople in Dilijan are even warmer and more inviting. Things to Do in Dilijan Dilijan National Park offers some of the best hiking and outdoor adventures available in Armenia. If you want to stay near town, the Red Deer Breeding Centre is open to the public and educates visitors on the centre’s goal to breed Caucasian Red Deer and release them into the Armenian forest. Old Town is Dilijan’s historic district located on Sharambeyan Street. Walk along the cobblestone streets and peek into craftsman workshop windows. There’s also an art gallery and a museum in the neighbourhood. Haghartsin and Goshavank Monasteries The Haghartsin Monastery is located near Dilijan, nestled in the surrounding forest. Built in the 10th century, it features crumbling archways and landmark architecture. It was once a spiritual and education centre and is made up of four churches, the Bagratuni sepulcher, and a refectory. The road to get there winds through picturesque forests and along mountain scenes. The Goshavank Monastery is a 12th century complex about 15 kilometres away from Dilijan. It was once one of the most important spiritual centres of the country and is now open to the public to step back in time and explore the country’s culture. After some reconstruction, there are now two churches, two chapels, a library, a belfry tower, and a few other buildings open to explore. Where to Stay in Dilijan Dilijan is a spa town, so there are plenty of options for overnight rests. The Tufenklan Old Dilijan Complex is in the historic district and nestled amongst the best town attractions. Workshops nearby sell various items, including jewellery, carpets, and woodcarvings. Many rooms have a private balcony overlooking Old Town and the surrounding mountains. For a more intimate experience, he Daravand Guest House is a quaint bed and breakfast with friendly owners and home-cooked meals. There are numerous bed and breakfast establishments offering a similar experience in Dilijan. Where to Eat in Dilijan You can’t visit Dilijan without trying out some delicious meals. Tava Restaurant is one of the best places to go in town for modern dishes made using traditional cooking methods. Below Tava is Losh, a small restaurant serving up homemade lavash and dips. One of the best restaurants in the country is Kchuch, located in Dilijan’s city centre. Much of the food is made in brick ovens in kchuch. You’ll dine on osso buco, chicken, and some inventive pizzas.
Tatev may be a small rural village, but it’s big in Armenian culture. Overlooking the Vorotan River, the town has spectacular views of the valley below and mountains in the distance. Established in the 13th century, Tatev was once a major political centre but is now a historic landmark with a beautiful monastery, famous tramway, and much more. The small town is home to one of the most gorgeous monasteries in the country – and in the world. Things to Do in Tatev The town of Tatev itself isn’t all that exciting (apart from the breath-taking views wherever you go), but there are still plenty of exciting things to see in its vicinity. Take a ride aboard the longest aerial tramway in the world: Wings of Tatev. The attraction stretches over the village and past the Tatev Monastery for unique views of some of the most spectacular sights in the world. You can’t miss the Tatev Monastery or the Armenian Stonehenge, series of ancient stones that may even be older than the real Stonehenge. There are also more waterfalls, monasteries, and other natural features nearby waiting for discovery. Tatev Monastery The Tatev Monastery is a beautiful 9th century monastery situated on a dramatic cliffside on a gorge, high above the Vorotan River. The monastery is rich in history as a religious and cultural hub for Armenia. Today, visitors can explore several churches and buildings that still stand today. Where to Stay in Tatev Since it’s a small village, there aren’t a lot of luxurious, high-end hotels to stay. However, there are numerous bed and breakfasts and inns whose welcoming atmosphere are a better experience than anything else. The Saro B&B has beautiful outdoor meals on the porch and even offers safari tours. The Old Tatev B&B features old-style architecture and a homey atmosphere. Where to Eat in Tatev Tatev has few restaurants but each one has delectable cuisine that will keep your stomach full and happy. One of the best is Saro’s Restaurant, where guests are treated to live music while dining on kebabs, lavash, and other cultural delights. While it’s not in Tatev, the Old Halidzor Restaurant and Hotel is close by in the neighbouring town of Halidzor and offers up gourmet dishes in Armenian style. Noravank Monastery The Noravank Monastery is hundreds of years old but looks beautifully preserved. The complex was built in the 13th century, and its architecture features an ornate style and sculpted stonework. Noravank has three churches rife with beautiful designs and crosses. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Noravank is its survivability through the Middle Ages. While the Mongols controlled Armenia during the 1200s, they went out and destroyed many historic monasteries, temples, and other culturally significant buildings. However, Noravank was spared, and many Armenians give thanks to a depiction of an almond-shaped relief of God, which seemed to appease Mongols and make them believe the relief had Asian roots. The monastery features remarkable architecture and historic sites that can’t be missed. Of course, don’t forget to take in the surrounding natural beauty! Areni Areni is a small village in the Vayotz Dzor province and is home to a 6,100-year-old winery: Areni-1. The series of caves has numerous artifacts and is where archaeologists found the oldest winery, shoe, and even brain in the world. The ancient wine press found at the site was proof that the people how lived here made wine for many years. The site was discovered in 2007 and is open to the public for tours. Guides take visitors through the cave system and back in time to the Copper Age to the site of innovative thinking.