What to see in Yerevan? I found virtually limitless opportunities to stroll the city’s picturesque streets, sample the food and wine, learn about the ancient culture and much more.
The charming capital city of Yerevan is Armenia’s largest city and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. There is archaeological evidence of people inhibiting the Yerevan since the 4th millennium BCE. That alone was enough to pique my interest. That and the fact that Armenia is not on the major tourist routes. I love off-the-beaten-track destinations dripping with history, and Yerevan is a perfect example. There are plenty of things to do in Yerevan to include in your Yerevan itinerary and create your own perfect Yerevan city tour.
So where is Yerevan? As capital of Armenia, Yerevan is in the Caucasus region which lies between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. Other Caucasus countries include Azerbaijan, Georgia, parts of Russia and parts of Turkey.
Transportation in Yerevan is efficient making it easy to get around. The Yerevan metro system is fast, clean and cheap, only 100 dram, about .25 US cents. Most of the 10 stations are marked bilingually. Between walking and the metro, you can easily get to all the things to see in Yerevan.
English and other western languages are spoken in the tourism industry and ATMs are readily available in Yerevan but less so in other parts of the country. Many street signs in the central streets of Yerevan are written in English.
It is a compact city easy to navigate with a map. The city is beautifully laid out in ever-widening concentric circles with Republic Square roughly at its center.
What to See in Yerevan
Most visitors to the city start their Yerevan city tour at Republic Square, a broad plaza surrounded by some of the country’s most important buildings including the Government House, History Museum, National Gallery and various ministries. In the center of the square is a large fountain.
One striking feature of Republic Square is the tufa stones used to construct the buildings. This native Armenian stone comes in shades of pink, cream and grey. In the evenings when the fading sunlight hits just so, the square takes on a soft magical golden glow.
The avenue leading directly north from Republic Square is Northern Avenue, with high-end stores and restaurants on either side. The street is great for window shopping. Although mostly a commercial avenue, there are also luxury condominiums on the avenue where the wealthiest local are said to reside. Underground, running the length of the avenue is an underground shopping center offering everything from food to furniture.
At the other end of Northern Avenue is the Opera, a massive, round structure that presents all types of the performing arts; opera, symphony, drama, music.
Further north is the Matenadaran, a great source of pride for Armenians. The Matenadaran is a repository of manuscripts and a research organization. It houses the world’s largest collection of Armenian documents; over 23 thousand manuscripts and gospels some dating as far back as the 9th century.
According to Rouben Poul Adalian, Director of the Armenian National Institute in Washington D.C., “The Matenadaran is the repository of Armenian civilization.”
You can take a tour of the Matenadaran but don’t imagine you will only see old books written in Armenian. A tour guide will present the history of Armenia through the manuscripts many of which are gloriously illustrated. The tour only takes about a half-hour. It is a great example of what to see in Yerevan that will help you understand the Armenian culture and history better.
Cascade and Sculpture Park
Yerevan’s Cascade and Sculpture Park are really two destinations in one.
The Cascade is a giant limestone structure of stairs rising to a platform top. From there you can enjoy unobstructed views of the city as well as the legendary Mount Ararat. It’s quite a climb but fortunately, there are several escalators behind the stairs to whisk you to the top. The cascade is decorated with beautiful sculptures interspersed throughout.
At the bottom of the Cascade is the Sculpture Garden populated with artwork from the likes of Botero and others. It is a large, open-air area great to walk around and take photos.
On either side of the Sculpture Garden are traditional Armenian restaurants and cafes. This is a major entertainment destination for tourists and locals alike. On designated days there are also concerts in the garden.
The Vernissage Bazaar
This wonderful bazaar adjacent to Republic Square is a massive gathering of local arts and crafts. The space takes up about two city blocks. The weekends are the best because that’s when the city’s carpet vendors lay their goods on display. This is an organized chaos of colors, aromas, and sights. An excellent place to buy local clothing, art, souvenirs and more! And don’t forget to bargain!
This is a fun place to spend a morning or afternoon wandering among the vendors, exploring the local crafts and drinking coffee.
Armenian Genocide Museum
If you’re debating what to see in Yerevan, make sure you don’t miss this moving exhibit.
The Armenian Genocide is one of history’s most brutal holocausts. It describes and immortalizes the expulsion and mass extermination of 1.5 million ethnic Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman government during the years 1914 to 23. Most of these ethnic Armenians were at the time citizens of the Ottoman Republic.
The Armenians were arrested, deported and most were eventually massacred. This ethnic cleansing took place in two stages; first, the able-bodied men were deported so the rest of the population wouldn’t have protection. Then the women, children and elderly were led on death marches and also murdered.
The majority of the Armenian communities found today in places like the United States, France, and other countries as far as Latin America, are the direct result of this diaspora resulting from the genocide.
As can be imagined, this is a moving exhibit. The displays pull no punches and many of the photos and translated documents are hard to take. You will need a couple of hours to view the entire exhibit and you will probably want to take a guided tour.
Mother Armenia is a statue in Yerevan of a woman holding a sword that represents Armenia. The symbolism is that, although Armenia is benevolent, she will defend herself against all enemies.
Completed in 1962, the stature replaced a statue of Joseph Stalin. While the statue of Stalin was being taken down, one soldier was killed, and others were wounded. The local observation was that, even long after death, Stalin was still killing Armenians.
The statue is 51 meters high with the pedestal and it sits in Victory Park with a spectacular view of the city of Yerevan. There is a little museum at the base. The overall impression of the park and statue is that they are definitely worth a visit.
Gum Food Market
One can’t-miss activity in Yerevan is the Gum Food Market. This lively, multi-level market takes up about a city block and sells just about anything you can imagine; all types of food, clothing on the upper level and live animals on the periphery of the market.
If you linger at one counter more than a few seconds the vendor will approach you and offer samples of everything from cheese to dried fruit. This is an excellent place to stock up on souvenirs and sample the local snacks.
The market is in the center city so it won’t be out of your way and visiting it can easily be combined with other destinations.
The Ararat Brandy Museum
The Ararat Brandy Museum is the unique place representing the history of Armenian brandy. Offering tours in 5 languages, it covers all the milestones of the Ararat history. You have to book a tour in advance.
Wander the Wine Bars of Saryan Street
Saryan Street is a long, trendy street with cute, inviting wine bars and restaurants on either side. It seems a mix of New York City’s Greenwich Village and London’s SOHO with a dash of Eastern Europe thrown in for authenticity.
The restaurants spill out onto the street in little, cozy cafes. The area is busy throughout the night as the restaurants are open late. Some of the wine bars double as art galleries or book stores making the area a place to linger and savor the Yerevan night scene.
By far the best things to see in Yerevan are the streets. Getting lost in winding streets, broad avenues, squares and leafy parks of the city is the best way to get to know this fascinating capital.
Get Out of Town – Day Trips from Yerevan
The culturally important sites of Zvartnots Cathedral, Saint Gayane Church and Echmiadzin Cathedral are all close together and just a short distance from Yerevan. As a result, they can all be seen on a one-day trip from Yerevan.
Although in ruins now, Zvartnots Cathedral is a unique example of Armenian architecture from the early Christian period.
Church of Saint Gayane
This 7th-century church is very near Echmiadzin, the spiritual center of Armenia and within walking distance of the cathedral. The church has remained virtually unchanged since it was built in 630 CE and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The dates in Armenia just amaze me. I find it fascinating to imagine people walking around in the 7th century on the same streets that we walk today. And the structures they created!…so graceful and symmetrical. It is a pleasure to see these. The church of Saint Gayane is one of those memorable buildings.
Gayane was the name of the abbess who was martyred with thirty-eight other nuns in the early 2nd century CE. She was tortured and martyred at the site of the church. Later she was canonized Saint Gayane.
As impressive as the outside of the church is, it is the inside that truly grabs your attention. It is full of colorful murals detailing the story of the saint. Of particular interest in the mural of the martyred nuns ascending to heaven.
Echmiadzin Mother Cathedral
This is the soul of Armenian spirituality, the center of the Armenian Apostolic Church, also known as the holy city.
Echmiadzin Cathedral is located in the town of Vagharshapat, less than an hour from the capital city of Yerevan. The cathedral is to Armenians what the Vatican is to Catholics.
The cathedral was founded by Saint Gregory the Illuminator around 300 CE. According to scholars, the cathedral was the first built in Armenia. Many consider it the oldest cathedral in the world in one of the oldest inhabited cities on earth.
Surrounding the cathedral are beautifully landscaped gardens. Also on the grounds is the cathedral museum containing many relics of great significance to Armenian believers. These include the lance that pierced Jesus and a piece of Noah’s Ark.
In 2000 UNESCO declared Echmiadzin a World Heritage site.
What to Eat in Yerevan and Where to Eat It
Armenian food is very tasty, but not spicy-hot. Meals generally begin with a salad and continue with meats accompanied by vegetables. The dolmas (stuffed vegetables) that you see throughout the Middle East are also present in Armenia. Other Middle Eastern-type specialties in Armenia include hummus and babaganoush.
One Armenian specialty that I had not seen anywhere else is lavash. Lavash is a thin bread pancake stuffed with mostly goat cheese and garnished with scallions, cilantro, or sometimes cucumber and tomatoes. You wrap it up taco-style and eat it like a taco or eggroll. This treat is amazing, especially when the bread is right out of the oven!
Some good Yerevan restaurants specializing in traditional cuisine include: Danal and Taverna Yerevan. There are also great snack bars around the Cascade and sculpture park. They are always packed but a little patience and you will be rewarded with lavash!
Know before you go to Yerevan. Explore these reference materials to get a good understanding of the city first.
What are your thoughts on the beautiful city of Yerevan? Is this someplace you’d like to visit? Let us know in the comments.
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