Tourism has become an important sector of the economy in Armenia with improved services, a better transportation, great food and a vibrant café culture. Planning a visit to the world’s first Christian state, the ancient land of Armenia? Start your tours in the capital, the vibrant and beautiful city of Yerevan, which, being one of the oldest cities in the entire world dating back to 782 BC, still manages to look surprisingly modern and diverse. Make sure you take a look at our selection of the best things to do in Yerevan.
The first thing you need to do is to get a visa and it’s not that hard because Armenia has made it easier than ever to obtain a visa by filling in an application form online. Then after you are done with the documents, the only thing, you need to think about is what to start with or what activities should be on your priority list. Whether you want a tour alone or with a group there are plenty of tour companies that will cater to your specific needs.
Tips for Travellers Visiting Yerevan for the First Time
The airport is 14 km away from the city center, and you can easily catch a taxi to the center, but be sure you ask the price beforehand, because like in many other countries, you may have tricky situations with taxi drivers in Yerevan too. Taxi fees are not expensive: 1km is 100-120 local drams, which is only 0.30-0.35$ and one hour of waiting is around 12$. Paying only 100 local drams or 0.30$ you can take a bus inside the city, which is quite convenient for budget tourists. Yerevan Metro is also a cheap means to navigate the city, but not all the parts of Yerevan are accessible by the underground. Another great thing about the buses in Yerevan is that there is a free Wi-Fi inside every bus. Actually, Yerevan understands the need to always stay connected through the social media. What is most impressive about this city is the number of free Wi-Fi spots and if you are dining or having a drink, almost all local restaurants, bars and cafes offer Wi-Fi.
You’ll be astonished how the capital of a country located in the Caucasus Mountains and locked between three Muslim countries can be so European. The Armenians are particularly conservative, but that doesn’t mean you should wear a headscarf or cover your shoulders and knees there. Of course, you have to wear a little bit more reserved clothes if you plan a visit to monasteries, but the citizens of Yerevan are rather open-minded and furthermore, you have a good chance to see some provocatively dressed women in Yerevan, especially in summer, which may be rather hot.
Some tourists travelling to distant countries with a unique language, try to learn some basic words (Armenian is actually a separate language branch in the family of Indo-European languages, like Greek). If you are up for some language challenges that’s ok, but in case you want to express your gratitude in a more convenient way rather than saying “shnorhakalutyun”, it’s acceptable to say “merci”.
Coming to Yerevan the first thing that will probably grab your attention is the abundance of white Lada Nivas in the capital. White Lada Niva is an iconic car in Armenia and you may have an impression there is a flash mob of these cars every day. Just because Armenia is a mountainous country and there may be some problematic roads out of the cities, Niva is a lifesaver. The love for this car goes back to the Soviet times when it became the main Sports Utility Vehicle in the country. So if you intend to rent a car with an affordable price, these ones can be quite a reasonable option.
As a result of growing tourism over the past few years, new hotels have popped up all over the city. Prices range anywhere between 60 to 500$ per night, depending on the season. There are several five-star hotels offering a wide range of modern conveniences. Golden Palace, Marriott Armenia, Golden Tulip, Royal Palace and Latar are the five-star hotels of Yerevan. Tufenkyan, Ani Plaza, Ararat, Erebuni are also among the well-known hotels with four and three stars. If you don’t want to pay the five-star-hotel fee, then a hostel is the right option. Hostels provide a budget-friendly lodging place, where the guests share bathrooms and kitchens and it offers an open environment for social interaction. Hostels in Yerevan have quite a high rating due to the reviews of many international tourists. If you are looking for a home away home, you can always rent an apartment. A number of travel agencies offer everything you need for your visit from hotel accommodation to car rentals, drivers, apartments and tours. Car rentals are easier than ever with recognized companies. The qualifications require you to be at least 21 years old with a valid driver license, a passport and, at least, one year of driving experience. Yerevan also has environmentally friendly options, like bike rentals offered by hotels.
What to do in Yerevan?
Visiting the Republic Square at night is highly recommended. Here you can admire the colorful dancing fountains, gathering together many other tourists and citizens who come here exactly for that purpose. A leisurely walk in this beautiful setting will be a very relaxing experience. You can also walk along the Northern Avenue, where you will see a surprising diversity of fashionably dressed girls trying to outshine each other with their glamorous appearances.
Cascade complex is another must-see in Yerevan, where you can see many samples of thought-provoking contemporary art. This unique white stairwell with fountains is the favourite place of both the citizens and the visitors. Most of the open-air concerts are organized here, so it’s a good chance to get to know the cultural life of Yerevan.
Right in the heart of Yerevan, on the South of Cascade, there is the interesting building of Yerevan Opera Theatre. The first performance staged there was Almast Opera by Alexander Spendiaryan and this event was a turning point for many young and talented artists, since lots of operas and ballets have been performed since that event, among which the national classical opera “Anush” by Armen Tigranian and the ballet ”Gayane” by Aram Khachatryan are set apart.
Depending on how you choose to spend your time in Yerevan, you can start with museums and galleries if you are an art enthusiast. The National Gallery and History Museum will satisfy your culture cravings in the best way. Being located on the Republic Square, they are easy to reach from all parts of Yerevan. The History Museum of Armenia houses a collection of hundreds of thousands of exhibits representing Neolithic and Early Iron Age periods up to the Modern times.
You can also visit some unique museums in Yerevan like the Genocide Museum, the Matenadaran (Manuscript Museum), Geological Museum to get impressions, which you will never have at any other museum in the world.
Tsitsernakaberd and the Genocide Museum are the must-sees of Yerevan. You don’t have to be Armenian to understand the sorrow of this nation caused by the tragedy of the first genocide of the 20th century in the Ottoman Empire. Tsitsernakaberd is dedicated to the innocent victims of the Armenian Genocide and is a very simple monument with an impressive emotional significance for the Armenians from all over the world. The Genocide Museum near Tsitsernakaberd contains a valuable collection of visual and textual materials about Pre-Genocide Armenia, the chronology, mapping and photos of the Armenian Genocide and represents also facts about the cultural Genocide, which is still going on in the territory of modern Turkey.
The Matenadaran is a museum and a research center at the same time, which houses a priceless collection of ancient manuscripts beginning form the 7th century, including copies of the first printed books and parchments with Armenian miniature. Here you can see some unique exhibits, like a large manuscript weighting 27 kilos and a tiny one, which only weights 19 grams.
And if you like combining cognitive tours with pleasure, then Yerevan Brandy Company called Ararat is the right spot for you! Being Armenia’s leading alcoholic beverages producer, this factory has become a famous symbol of not only the capital city of Armenia but also the entire country as well. If you would like to taste the fine Armenian brandies and wine, taking a tour to the brandy factory is what you’re advised to do, which will also let you learn details about the history of the factory and the production of Armenian brandies.
You can seize an interesting bit of history, visiting the Blue Mosque in Yerevan, which has undergone a restoration funded by the government of Iran and is the right place to get to know the Iranian traditional art outside that country.
The vibrant colors of the Vernissage flea market are one of the gems of Yerevan. This open-air market is well organized, so if you are on the hunt for unique souvenirs, typical Armenian carpets and other gifts, you should definitely invest some time to come here. The market is also located in the downtown Yerevan and is easy to find.
Those interested in the theatre can have an exciting experience watching experimental and non-professional performances by the students of the University of Theatre and Cinema. Sometimes the scenarios are written by the students, which adds a youthful vibrancy to the performances. They are very open minded and sociable, so you can even meet them after the performance and have a nice chat at one of the cafes of the city. By the way, unlike the older generation, who mostly speak Russian besides Armenian, most of the young people and students, particularly speak English, which is great if you seek a social intercourse.
Those who want to pay tribute to one of the greatest cinematographers of the 20th-century cinema, Sergei Parajanov, can visit Parajanov Museum, which is an unbelievable place representing the genius of this film director. Here you can see various collages, drawings, and eclectic artworks created by Parajanov and among these works of arts, there are some pieces that were created while he was in prison for his alternative mentality. The location of the museum is another reason to visit because from the balcony there is a fantastic view over the Hrazdan gorge.
Another great news for cinema lovers is the annual Golden Apricot International Film Festival held in Yerevan. The festival serves a kind of bridge for different cultures and civilizations through a very powerful tool: cinema. Though this festival is a smaller-scale one, compared with other international events of this kind, it’s quite respectable and is under the radar of cinema lovers. The festival usually takes place in June or July and if you have decided to be a part of it, make sure you double check the information before planning your arrival.
Those, who want to have an insider look at Yerevan, can go a little far from the city center without maps and a certain agenda. Walking in other districts of the city is the best way to understand how the people live there. If you speak some Russian, we advise hanging out with elderly people at one of the yards of the city. They are quite friendly and are looking for a company most of the time. Playing chess and backgammon is an indispensable part of their daily routine. Another favorite hobby for them is to discuss politics, which is the main subject of their conversations. Chatting with them, you may hear some amazing stories and interesting bits of history, that you will never read on any website or a book.
There are up to 20 parks all over Yerevan, among which Tumanyan Park, Lovers’ Park and Victory Park are set apart. So if you have extra time to soak up the sun and air of Armenia, buy some fresh local fruit, pastry, grab a bottle of wine and head to one of the parks armed with a picnic basket and have a couple of hours in relaxation under the shade of the trees.
If you go out in the evening to have a walk, you’ll definitely feel the European atmosphere mixed with Western Asian traditions of the city. At Malkhas Club, you can spend a wonderful evening listening to the best jazz music while sipping your evening cocktail. Many world famous musicians visit the club annually, and Joe Cocker was once among them. The legend of the Soviet jazz Levon Malkhasyan usually plays here, which is the main reason why there are always so many visitors here.
No matter you visit Yerevan in summer or in winter, Swan Lake is always a hub for different fun activities. In winter, you can go skating on the skating rink and take lessons if you are an absolute beginner. In summer, Swan Lake becomes a hotspot for many concerts and events. The most amazing one of them is probably the religious holiday Vardavar, which has come down to our age from Pagan times. It’s celebrated to commemorate the transfiguration of Blessed Virgin Mary and is also called a Festival of Roses. A large crowd of people and children gather here and splash water on one another for hours and nobody is offended. On these days, strangers behave like they have known each other for ages and that’s not a bit confusing because the essence of the holiday is the fun. Vardavar doesn’t have a fixed day, it’s celebrated on the 14th Sunday after the Holy Easter and is always either in late July or in early August.
Yerevan is a popular gateway to the most famous tourist attractions in Armenia, like the monastery of Geghart, the temple of Garni and the village of Khor Virap, which is only an hour away from Yerevan and serves a kind of observation deck, providing the best views of the legendary Mount Ararat in sunny weather.
The location of this capital city is very convenient for tourists who are in Armenia just for a few days and want to visit as many sights and cities as possible. For example, if you have decided to visit Etchmiadzin, the holy city of Armenia, it will take you more or less 20 minutes by car, because the city is only 13 km away from Yerevan. This town is the spiritual center of Armenia, because Etchmiadzin Cathedral, the center of Armenian Apostolic Church is located here. We will not exaggerate in the least, if we say that this Cathedral is the oldest Christian Church in the world because it was built between 301 and 303, just when the Armenians adopted Christianity as a national religion. The Treasury Museum of Echmiadzin is well worth a visit because here you have a chance to see some unique exhibits, which will tell you more about the 1714 years of Christian history of Armenian, than any other source. The Holy Lance and the relics of the apostles Thaddeus, Peter and Andrew are among the sacred treasures of this museum. It also houses a unique collection of miniature illustrations, manuscripts, icons and ancient Armenian carpets.
A few kilometers away from Yerevan there are two interesting archeological sites: Erebuni Fortress and Zvartnots. Erebuni Fortress was discovered very accidentally by a local farmer. Then after the excavations began the so-called testament of Armenian identity was unearthed among them: the inscriptions of Argishti I, king of Urartu. This once-neglected site is now a historical spot of great importance and draws the attention of historians, archeologists and many tourists. The nearby Karmir Blur (Red Hill) also encloses lots of secrets about the life in this territory hundreds of years ago. Here you can see the ancient ruins of a place for animal sacrifices, storerooms for wine, oil and wheat and workshops, where tools for hunting and fighting were made.
On the way to Echmiadzin, you should visit Zvartnots Cathedral, which is actually 15 km away from the capital. Interestingly, there used to be a place of worship – an Urartian temple instead of the Cathedral, and right after the Armenians adopted Christianity, the pagan temple was replaced with a basilica. The location of the cathedral is also linked to the meeting of Gregory the Illuminator and the Armenian king Tirdates III when the king himself adopted Christianity.
Lake Sevan and Sevanavank Monastery are also worth seeing. This highland freshwater lake is of rare beauty and if you take some time to come here, you’ll also have two 9th century churches to admire as an added bonus.
Food in Yerevan
Coming to Yerevan, you’ll realize what a lucky person you are to be in a city, which offers delicious food, no matter what cuisine it belongs to. In Yerevan, even the fast food is in most cases from the national cuisine. That means the food is really fast, but not junk at all. Yerevan has options for all: there are fast food chains, family-owned restaurants, coffee shops in almost every corner.
What regards cafés and restaurants, it’s even surprising how a small city like Yerevan can offer such a big diversity. Both indoor and outdoor cafes offer a rather diverse menu, containing various snacks, sandwiches and desserts. You can also find some cafes offering only Italian, Greek, Spanish or Asian cuisine. You are advised to visit La Boheme, La Piazza, Jose, Shokoladnitsa and many other cafes, which will surprise you with delicious food and chill-out atmosphere. They are usually open till late at night and after 19:00 you have a good chance to listen to live music. Most cafes offer separate areas for non-smokers while the Green Bean is a 100% non-smoker territory and is famous for the best sandwiches, wraps and soups ever with very reasonable prices.
What is really surprising is the fact that barbeque exists in almost every party, alongside some dishes from the European cuisine. The Armenians cannot imagine a single event without the barbeque and even the serving of this dish is a kind of ceremony with a special song and dances. While Ai Leoni offers the best in the Italian cuisine, Genatsvale specializes in the Caucasian cuisine and is highly recommended for foreign visitors. Among many great restaurants, we’d like to advise Florence, Kovkas, Lebanon, Dolmama, Tufenkian Kharper Restaurant, Kavkazskaya Plennitsa, where you can taste various kinds of dolmas, kash, basturma, lahmajo, harisa and the end of the dishes isn’t even in sight. It’s ok that the names don’t tell you anything about the dish. Once you are in Armenia, there’ll be many locals helping you to navigate in the delicious world of traditional cuisine. One thing to keep in mind is while in some Eastern countries “traditional” may sometimes refer to “weird” when it comes to the national food, you’ll barely find anything “uneatable” in the Armenian and Caucasian cuisine.