It is very difficult to narrow down the most spectacular places to visit in Armenia simply because there are so many. From the trendy capital city of Yerevan to the fascinating Armenian historical sites throughout the country, the country captivates and enthralls. There is something for everyone in Armenia where the people are friendly, the Armenian cuisine is unique and the landscapes are breathtaking. Come see this collection of the most beautiful places to visit in Armenia.
I recently spent several days in Armenia sightseeing in both the little known Armenian cities as well as exploring the top Armenia tourist spots. I didn’t expect to find so many things to do and must-see Armenia landmarks. I came away with a great appreciating for the country and the Armenian culture. As a result, I can heartily recommend a visit to Armenia.
Before delving into the most spectacular places to visit in Armenia, I want to share some helpful Armenian facts and information.
FACTS ABOUT ARMENIA
- The population of Armenia is about 3 million with over one third in the capital city of Yerevan.
- Armenia was the first country to accept Christianity in 301 CE preached by Saint Gregory the Illuminator.
- Armenia is located the Caucasus region, between the Caspian and Black Seas, along with Azerbaijan, Georgia, parts of Russia and parts of Turkey.
- Currency in Armenia is the dram. There are about 476 dram to the US dollar as of this writing.
- English is frequently spoken in the tourism industry and hotels in major cities. The younger the people the more likely they are to speak some English. Older people are more comfortable in Russian.
- ATMs are readily available in major cities, less so in the countryside.
- The distance from the Yerevan airport to the city center is 14 kilometers, about 20 minutes.
- Charles Aznavour was French-Armenian. His real name was Shahnour Vaghinag Aznavourian and he is considered a national hero in Armenia having assisted greatly after the earthquakes of the 1980s.
THE MOST SPECTACULAR PLACES TO VISIT IN ARMENIA
This capital city of about 1 million residents is the type of place your could linger in indefinitely and one of the best places to visit in Armenia. The city is beautifully laid out with excellent transportation options, a lively nightlife, good restaurants, helpful friendly people and a vibrant cultural life.
The must-see destinations in Yerevan are easy to find:
Start your Yerevan city tour at Republic Square, considered the center of the city. All roads lead from Republic Square. Here’s where you find a good portion of the city’s cultural icons; the National History Museum and the Art Museum, conveniently both in the same building and worth a visit!
Another cultural icon is the Matenadaran, the nation’s repository of ancient manuscripts, gospels and other documents. Make sure to take the 30 minute tour!
A different cultural icon is the Ararat Brandy Company. Brandy has a long cultural legacy in Armenia which is well represented here. Take the tour, learn the history and taste the generous samples. You will leave happy.
A fun place to hang out in Yerevan is the Cascade, a massive staircase rising to a view of Mount Ararat (don’t worry, there’s an escalator) and the Sculpture Garden below displaying sculptures for the likes of Botero and other prominent artists.
Mother Armenia, the statue of a woman holding a sword which looks over the city from a mountain top, is a beautiful structure as well as a national symbol. Make sure to see the small museum at the base.
Shop at the Vernissage market for local crafts and souvenirs and at the Gum Market to sample traditional Armenian delicacies. Yum!!
If you want to experience the Yerevan nightlife, go wander Saryan Street until you find your perfect wine bar or restaurant. This is where Yerevan goes to enjoy the evening in their beautiful city while they snack on “lavash” (goat cheese wrapped in Armenian bread with condiments), and a glass of wine. Saryan Street is the place to be in Yerevan for wine lovers. And even if you don’t like wine, this is such a fun place to people watch, you shouldn’t miss it.
No matter what you do in Yerevan, no matter how long you are in the city, you cannot leave without visiting the Armenian Genocide Museum. This well-curated museum explains the history of the Armenian holocaust at the hands of the Ottoman Empire. It will give you insight into the culture and help you understand it.
Where to stay in Yerevan
Once you leave Yerevan, you begin to explore the Armenian countryside with its amazing landscapes. One of the most beautiful sights is the view of Mount Ararat where, legend has it, Noah’s ark rested after the flood, with the Khor Viral Monastery in the foreground. The view is picture perfect and a great photo opportunity.
Khor Viral Monastery View with View of Mount Ararat
Two hours southeast of Yerevan is Noravank Monastery, clinging to a cliff, surrounded by rust-colored rocks.
This 13-century monastery is known for its carvings, one of which is believed to be the only image of god in the country. The monastery has served many purposes throughout the centuries. It was once the residence of high-ranking clergy which made the monastery a religious center. It was also a cultural center and even a library.
Jermuk is the spa town in the area. During the Soviet Era Jermuk is where people came to enjoy fresh mountain air, lovely landscapes and “sanatoriums.” A sanatorium was a spa-type establishments that offered massages, steam rooms and saunas. The town’s principal draw has remained and flourished after the Soviets left. Today there are some pretty good spas available at extremely reasonable prices. One example is the Grand Resort.
Throughout the town you can see abandoned Soviet Era structures still standing like movie theaters and enormous hotels clinging from mountain sides. It’s fascinating to see these relics of the past and imagine what life must have been like during Soviet times.
Another town draw is the health waters of Jermuk. In keeping with the town’s reputation as a health resort, there is a fountain that sprouts what is touted as waters with health benefits from different sprouts. All the waters have different temperatures. Tourist drink the waters and have their photos taken in the arcade sheltering the fountain.
Between the towns of Jermuk and Noratus there is an ancient caravanserai. A caravanserai is an inn used as a stopping point by the caravans as they worked their way across Asia. The ancient caravanserai were instrumental in encouraging the flow of information, commerce, ideas and people along the trade routes of Southeast Europe, North Africa and Asia, particularly the Silk Route.
Today there are caravanserai that have been reconstructed and transformed into hotels serving the same purpose as they did over 1000 years ago. You can find many of them in Baku, Azerbaijan, once a central transfer point in the ancient world, similar to what major airline hubs would be today.
The Salim Caravanserai in Armenia looks exactly as it did in the 13th century. It is said that Marco Polo stayed there on his way to China.
What’s fascinating about this place is that you can see exactly what a caravanserai looked like and imagine how the people lived and travelled along the Silk Route. There are separate rooms for the pack animals; camels, donkeys and horses. The middle of the large room is reserved for cooking with an air chute still clearly visible above what was the cooking fire. Directly in front of the animal stable section is the area where the humans slept and rested.
You can almost envision these long-distance traders wheeling and dealing and planning their next day’s journey by the light of the fire. I found this to be one of the most interesting places to visit in Armenia.
Right outside the caravanserai an entrepreneurial couple sells souvenirs, Armenian delicacies and local flavored vodkas and brandies.
This is a must on your list of places to visit in Armenia simply for its uniqueness and historical value.
Lake Sevan and Sevanavank Monastery
Next stop, Lake Sevan, the Pearl of Armenia and one of the largest high-altitude fresh water lakes in the world.
Lake Sevan is a popular getaway spot for Armenians. There are restaurants around the lake offering fresh seafood and Armenian delicacies.
A short walk from the lake is the Sevanavank Monastery. Climb the 200 steps of the monastery and be rewarded by a spectacular view of the shimmering lake.
The monastery itself is also impressive. It is part of a complex that dates back to the 4th century CE.
One of the many legends surrounding the monastery is that it was built by a princess who dreamt that the 12 apostles flew over the lake and indicated to her where the monastery should be built.
Since that time the monastery has been a rehabilitation center for misbehaving monks, a center for illustrating manuscripts, a writers residence and a summer retreat for high-level politicians.
The monastery was originally on an island but during an industrialization project the lake was drained of 65 feet and the island became a peninsula although the locals still refer to it as an island.
The monastery is worth a visit for its architecture and breathtaking views of the sparkling azure Lake Sevan.
Noratus and the Khachkars
Of all the places to visit in Armenia, the cemetery in the little town of Noratus was the most fascinating for me.
I love cemeteries. I believe they are perfect history lessons about the area you are visiting. Cemeteries reveal customs, attitudes and beliefs. The cemetery in Noratus was no exception.
The cemetery at Noratus is amazing for many reasons but mostly for the abundance of khachkars.
A khachkar is a carved memorial stone frequently used as a headstone or a memorial marker. These stones, also called Armenian crosses, usually contain a cross design and are found throughout Armenia and parts of Turkey.
UNESCO has included the khachkars along with their craftmanship and symbolism in the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Dilijan is a town with a lot going for it. It is frequently referred to as Armenia’s Little Switzerland because of its spa areas, beautiful mountainous surroundings and main street, Sharambeyan Street, built to resemble a Swiss Village.
The town is situated within the Dilijan National Park and has long been regarded as an artistic center where artisans can work on their specialties and sell their creations direct to the public from their work studios.
The other big draw in Dilijan is the fabulous collection of ancient monasteries within the Dilijan National Park.
One of the monasteries in the national park that is definitely worth seeing and probably the easiest to access is Haghartsin Monastery, This ancient structure is said to have been originally built in the 9th century – no one is really sure -and renovated extensively in 2011. It is a large complex with hidden passages and soaring spires nestled on a leafy green mountainside. This is one of the most spectacular places to visit in Armenia and a photo opportunity you don’t want to miss.
Right outside the monastery is a gata stand. What’s a gata? A gata is a traditional Armenian pastry eaten as a snack with coffee or tea. They are baked with flour, sugar and butter and stuffed with a variety of fillings like nuts, raisins or various fruits. A gata can be as small as the palm of your hand or as big as a car wheel.
Gatas are eaten during certain holidays or for no reason whatsoever. Sometimes a coin is baked into a large gata and whoever finds it is said to have good luck for the coming year.
Each Armenian region has its own take on gata. The gatas at the Dilijan National Park by the Haghartsin Monastery are representative of both the Dlijan specialty and specialties from various regions.
Batches of gata are made throughout the day and its fun to watch them bake the delicacies from scratch. It’s even more fun to taste them right out of the oven. I tasted the blueberry gata and it was outstanding!
Insider tip: Get there early to avoid the crowds. This is a very popular tourist spot.
Where to stay in Dilijan.
About 130 kilometers north of Yerevan is Vanadzor, Armenia’s third largest city, the capital of Lori province and a major former industrial center in the Soviet Era.
As is the case with most of Armenia, Vanadzor is rich in archeological sites having been continuously inhabited since the Bronze Age. The city is decorated with lush gardens, pleasant pedestrian streets and broad plazas.
Vanadzor is also considered a major cultural center with many Armenians saying the country’s finest khachkars come from that vecinity. Many artists make Vanadzor home including the inimitable Bogdan the khachkar carver who welcomes visitors into his workshop and regales them with his Armenian melody’s.
On the way back to the capital of Yerevan, two fascinating places to visit in Armenia are the monastery of Geghard and Garni. These two attractions can also be visited as day trips from Yerevan.
If Geghard Monastery were in a country other than Armenia, it would be one of the top tourist attractions in the country. But in Armenia, a country that is overflowing with UNESCO World Heritage sites, it is just one more must-see, jaw-dropping, amazing historical structure.
Geghard Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was actually carved out of the mountain! When you see this place you can only imagine the effort that it took to accomplish this amazing architectural achievement.
The legend is that the spear that pierced Jesus’s side was once housed at Geghard. This made it a major pilgrimage site. Today, Geghard Monastery is visited for its religious significance as well as its architectural achievement.
This site was built in the 4th century CE although the main chapel was built in 1215. What’s fascinating about Geghard and makes it one of the most interesting places to visit in Armenia are the adjacent chapels that were literally carved out of stone almost 1400 years ago with nothing beyond human and animal power.
A short distance from Geghard Monastery is the village of Garni with its magnificent temple.
Built in the 1st century CE, this ancient temple of Garni is the only Greco-Roman structure in Armenia.
There is speculation as to the temple’s original purposes. Some historians claim it was originally built as a temple to the local sun god. Others say it was initially a tomb which is why it survived the destruction of the pagan temples when the area Christianized.
Whatever its origins, it is truly spectacular and a must-see site in Armenia.
Where to stay in Garni
The Symphony of Stone
Nearby is one of the most interesting places to see in Armenia, the Symphony of Stones.
The Symphony of Stones are basalt column formations clinging to the cliff sides of the Garni Gorge.
Just before reaching the Greco-Roman temple, there is a road that takes you down to the valley. As you descend you will begin seeing the columns which continue to the valley floor.
This is a must-see natural phenomenon you will never forget.
Armenian cuisine is not only about food, it is about culture. Besides being delicious, many of the specialties have interesting backstories or are prepared using unusual methods.
Common ingredients in Armenian food include eggplant, lamb, cheeses -particularly goat, and bulgur or cracked wheat rather than rice. These are not highly spiced dishes relying instead on the freshness of the ingredients for flavor.
The gatas mentioned above are very popular and after tasting one I can understand why. Biting into a freshly baked gata is a very rewarding experience.
Another amazing dish you will see at almost every meal is the lavash. Lavash is a thin flatbread cooked in a tandoor oven and eaten with various accompaniments like goat cheese, tomatoes, jams and herbs. It is frequently used to roll up the sides and eaten like a taco.
Just like a gata, a fresh-out-of-the-oven lavash is delightful. Lavash is found throughout the Caucasus, parts of Turkey and Iran, but it is almost mandatory in Armenia.
The lavash and its preparation is such an integral part of Armenian culture that it was declared an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO in 2014.
The most interesting thing about lavash is how it is prepared. The tandoor ovens can sometimes be underground. The dough is kneaded, placed on a cushioned platform and slapped onto the side of the oven. When it is retrieved, fully baked, it is hung to dry. It’s quite a spectacle.
Does Armenia sound like a place you want to visit? Read more about this fascinating country in these guide books.
What are your thoughts on the best paces to visit in Armenia? Let us know in the comments which of these locations most impressed you.
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