Recently, a friend of mine invited me to spend two weeks backpacking and couch surfing across Armenia with her. While we saw plenty of cities and towns throughout the country, no trip to Armenia would be complete without spending a few days in the country’s capital, Yerevan. Most likely you will fly into and out of Zvartnots International Airport, which is only a short cab ride away from Yerevan. My recommendation for your Armenia vacation is to spend your first couple of days in Yerevan, which will be a perfect introduction to the simultaneously ancient and modern country, and then spend your last day there as a final, familiar goodbye before you depart.
1. INDULGE IN AN ARMENIAN-MADE DRINK
Depending on where you came from and how you long you’ve been travelling, a drink may be a necessary celebration upon landing. Whatever you fancy in terms of beverages, Yerevan will have an Armenian made option to satisfy you. If you like brandy, there is the Yerevan Brandy Company/ARAT Museum, which is also served at plenty of bars around the city. Armenia is also famous for its wine, with the Areni and Getap villages being the most popular wine regions in the country. Armenian wine is not only made by large-scale operators, but also hand-crafted by locals who sell their own wine out of re-purposed soda bottles in various shops. Although types of wine will vary in quality, I will say that the homemade batches were the best wines I had while in Armenia. Or, if you’re less interested in taking a chance on domestic wine and more interested in familiar craft beer, there’s also Dargett Brewery, which has the distinction of being Armenia’s first craft brewery.
2. CHECK OUT THE ART AT THE CASCADE COMPLEX IN DOWNTOWN YEREVAN
Based in downtown Yerevan, The Cascade Complex is hard to miss, even if you aren’t looking for it. Take your time as you ascend the multiple levels of stairs and enjoy the outdoor art pieces scattered along the journey to the top. On a clear day you can see Mount Ararat off in the distance. However, while impressive during the day, The Cascade is best admired at night. Slightly less crowded with locals and tourists after dark, enjoy the peaceful isolation at the top and watch the glowing lights of the city twinkling below you.
3. COOL OFF WITH A SWEET ARMENIAN TREAT
If you’re visiting in the warmer seasons, then a sweet and refreshing dessert is one of the main ways to beat the heat. You’ll find tons of spots to enjoy delicious smoothies or, my favorite, to indulge in one of Armenia’s favorite cold treats, glace. Essentially iced coffee mixed with ice cream, you’ll probably find yourself dreaming of the next time you can get your hands on a glass of glace, regardless of the temperature outside. If you like the idea of glace without the coffee, there are a myriad of delicious ice cream options across the city ranging from convenience store coolers to homemade ice cream shops to satisfy your sweet tooth
4. TAKE A DAY TRIP FROM YEREVAN TO A CULTURAL SITE
While in Yerevan, spend a day outside of the city visiting two of Armenia’s most famous sites, Garni Temple and Geghard Monastery. Regardless of your personal religious affiliation, there is no way to truly experience and grasp Armenia’s past without them. Garni is a pagan temple and a relic of a time when Armenia was not a Christian country, and offers a chance to get up close and personal with a Greek temple outside of the Mediterranean. Geghard is one of the many monasteries throughout the country that are open for exploration. Arguably, the most famous of all due to its supposed history of housing the lance that speared Christ, Geghard is about a forty-five minute drive from Garni. Its distance from Garni (and from Yerevan) means it is less trafficked and a much more relaxing sightseeing experience. Make sure to climb up and check out the caves that the monks used to inhabit!
5. VISIT THE ARMENIAN GENOCIDE MUSEUM
If religious sites are one of the most important ways to understand the ancient history of Armenia, then the Armenian Genocide Museum is one of the most important ways to understand its modern history. Although probably not well traversed ground during your history classes, the genocide is not only influential in terms of current geopolitics and culture, but also widely believed to have influenced the Nazi regime during World War II a few decades later. I’d encourage you to take a few hours away from the excitement of touring Yerevan to experience and learn about modern Armenian history as told through locals’ perspectives.
6. EXPLORE THE BEAUTY OF YEREVAN’S BLUE MOSQUE
As your trip turns you from an excited adventurer into a weary traveler, a moment of respite from the busy streets may be welcome. The hustle and bustle of the city all seems to fall away when you enter square around The Blue Mosque. With intricate tile work and vibrant colors throughout, this is a picturesque and serene destination that carries the distinction of being the only operational mosque in the city. As this is still an active place of worship, be respectful and women should ensure that they are dressed so as to cover their legs and shoulders. (Other clothing restrictions may be necessary if you enter the buildings.)
With the vast amount of public transportation options, you can feel free to backpack around Armenia through a combination of trains, buses (called marshukas), or taxis. The real question is where you are going to head once you’ve landed in this country. While there is plenty to explore, make sure to take some time and enjoy the both sites and sounds of Yerevan.
We hope that this article has inspired you to visit Yerevan, Armenia. If you have any questions about the destination please leave these in the comments below.
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