Modeled after Paris, Vienna and St Petersbourg, Armenia’s capital was built to be the perfect city. With the towering, snow-capped and culturally revered Mount Ararat ever in the background, Yerevan receives less than two million visitors each year. This is a beautiful, serene city, with incredibly friendly people, begging to be explored. Here are 10 things to do in Yerevan.
1 – WATCH AN ARMENIAN PLAY
The majestic Opera Theatre, in the centre of the city, has theatre shows and operas several days a week, and tickets start at around $5 USD. I saw an Armenian folk dance/play which was bizarre and fantastic in equal measure. It’s a great way to get a flavour of Armenian folk culture and have a totally unique night out too (and it’s a bargain!).
2 – WATCH THE SUN GO DOWN AT THE CASCADE
The huge staircase that sits prominently at the North side of the city centre is the Cascade Complex. Made of limestone, it was originally constucted in the Soviet era, but when money ran out, work was halted before completion, and work only started again nearly 30 years later. Even now, it’s not quite complete – a museum is planned to be built at the very top but work is yet to commence. Regardless though, it is the place to go at sunset. Young lovers and friends canoodle, chat and drink coffee and beer while the sun goes down, with Mount Ararat ever present, watching over the city.
3 – LEARN ABOUT THE ARMENIAN MASSACRE AT TSITSERNAKABERD (ARMENIAN GENOCIDE MUSEUM)
You’d be forgiven for not knowing the true extent of the Armenian Genocide given it’s lack of coverage in Western education and media. In the early 20th century, over 1.5 million Armenians were systematically exterminated by the Ottoman Government (now Turkey). The Genocide Museum walks you through the history with painful, brutal honesty. In order to understand this city and this country, you have to understand this period of history, and the museum takes you through it step by step. It’s at the top of the hill just to the west of the city, and I’d suggest taking a taxi (use the Bolt app) up, and walking back – it’s a nice stroll through the town and starts with a great view of the city – all the more powerful after understanding the hardship the people of Yerevan and Armenia have been through.
4 – REPUBLIC SQUARE
In the very centre of the city is Republic Square, where you’ll find the Government offices, the National Museum and National Gallery, as well as the occasional large live event or even protest. It’s where many of the free daily walking tours commence (usually starting at 10am) and is a good location from which to start your own tour of the city on two feet or sit with a coffee and people watch.
5 – SHOP ON NORTHERN AVENUE
Yerevan’s most significant western shopping street is a fairly chilled affair with the usual retail suspects lining the streets. On the weekend though, it becomes far more interesting, with independent stalls taking over, punting all manner of locally made jewelry, art and various other knick-knacks that, if you’re anything like me, could easily end up filling up your bag and cluttering up your mantelpiece. Partners of hoarders: you have been warned.
6 – BARGAIN HUNT AT VERNISSAGE MARKET
If you are a fellow hoarder and don’t have anyone keeping an eye on your knick-knack habit, Vernissage Market is the place to go. It’s a huge market with a royal mix of everything from cheap plastic crap all the way to incredibly cool and random second-hand stuff that you won’t find anywhere else; old communist goodies, random art, old cameras, as well as T-shirts, etc, etc. Strike up a conversation with one of the sellers and you might find yourself with some new friends too.
7 – TASTE THE WORLD’S OLDEST WINE (AND BRANDY)
The valleys of South Caucasus (Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan) have been producing wine for over 6000 years by many estimates, making it the oldest wine-region on earth. Although Armenian wine never quite made it to the cellars of the majority of Western collectors, it’s been big in Russia for years, and together with Georgia, is still producing some unexpectedly excellent bottles. In addition to wine, brandy is mahoussive in Armenia (a country which one produced over a third of the brandy consumed in the Soviet Republic). Yerevan and it’s surroundings is home to a number of brandy companies and vineyards, and the most famous is Ararat, which occupies a prominent building on the banks of the Hradzan river. Note that you need to book a tour in advance.
The best Armenian wine producers are based in regions outside of Yerevan, but practically any Armenian restaurant in the city serves locally produced bottles – one of my favourites is Abovyan 12, a hidden restaurant accessed through a little gift shop on Abovyan Street with a beautiful courtyard, regular live music, and a fantastic local wine selection.
8 – EXPLORE GEGHARD AND GARNI
Yerevan has a number of worthy half and full-day trip options up it’s sleeve. Around 45 minutes drive from the city (and easy to get to via bus or taxi or even by hitch-hiking), Geghard Monastery is a site to behold. Carved into mountains in the 4th century, the UNESCO heritage site is nestled in the midst of a stunning gorge and surrounded by towering cliffs. The complex is home to churches and caves, many literally entirely cut into the rock. On weekends you might be lucky to catch some singers in the monastery building (although expect it to be much busier). Not far away, the Temple of Garni is one of the few surviving Pagan structures, and although it was rebuilt in the 70s after being excavated, giving it a fairly “unblemished” look, it’s location, on top of a cliff, overlooking a valley and surrounded by hills, makes it a worthwhile visit.
9 – WITNESS THE INCREDIBLE KHOR VIRAP
If the medieval visuals of Geghard and Garni didn’t wow you, the amazing Khor Virap will. Barely a kilometre from the Turkish border, the tiny monastery of Khor Virap is perched precariously on a little hill, peering up at the looming, snow-capped Mount Ararat just to the West. It’s a visual you’ll never forget. If you don’t suffer from claustrophobia and are feeling brave, clamber down the narrow ladder that leads to a tiny room in which one of Armenia’s most important leaders was once held prisoner. Gregory the Illuminator was apparently locked in a tiny dungeon for 12-14 years, kept alive thanks only to a kind lady who worked for the (literally) crazy King Tiridates III. When the King recovered from his madness, Gregory was released, and went on to not just baptise his captor, but also convert the entire nation to the Christian faith. He’s regarded as the Father of the Armenian Apostolic Church, is revered by Armenians and you’ll see his statue and image on the wall of every Armenian Apostolic Church in the country.
If you’re feeling adventurous, I thoroughly recommend taking a bus to the main road near the monastery and then walking the remaining 3-4km to Khor Virap. You’ll be treated to incredible views the whole way, and if you’re lucky enough to be there during apricot season, you’ll be treated to literally thousands of free apricots that literally fall of the hundreds of apricot trees en-route too (just make sure they are on public land!).
10 – SEE LAKE SEVAN
2 hours drive North of Yerevan and 1900m above sea level, Lake Sevan makes up over 1/6 of Armenia’s territory and provides 90% of Armenia’s fish. In the 1930s, the lake was earmarked by Stalin’s Soviet government to help provide water and irrigation to surrounding industry, and the lake lost an incredible 20m of depth. After a massive project to re-fill the lake started in the 60s, Lake Sevan is now recovering. Today it’s the only place in landlocked Armenia where you’ll find beaches, and is home to the picturesque Sevanavank Monastery, which was once built on an island and only became connected to the “mainland” after the draining of the lake in the 30s. Although it was apparently much more picturesque before the lake dropped, it’s still a beautiful spot and one of the best vantage points from which to see Lake Sevan.
Please Like, Share and Follow Travelist, and if you have any questions or any great dishes you’d like to recommend to other travelers going to Armenia, or I’ve missed any of the best things to do in Yerevan, please make a comment below!