Between the Pink City and the resting place of Noah’s Ark
Reaching the next destination in this trip, entering country number 90! Armenia. Not a long journey from Tbilisi to Yerevan, the capital where we would make the next and last base in order to visit not only the capital, but the plenty of sites and sights, many of which UNESCO World Heritage listed in the nearby in a radius of 40 kilometres from the city centre. For now, another of the great capitals of the former Soviet Union (talking about recent times), full of history through the millennia and impressive architecture every corner.
Considering this is one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities with foundation roots back to the 8th century BC (although evidence in the southern districts date to 3200 BC), and then the seat of one of the oldest dioceses in the world, the Araratian Pontifical Diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church, then one can only imagine all the chapters of history that has passed through it. But before I continue, let’s name “an event” of world-wide importance: the national symbol of Armenia are the sacred mountain of Ararat. Visible from most parts of the city, these are in fact 2 extant volcanoes however for Christianity, this is the resting place of Noah’s Ark. Well whether you believe in that or not, religion aside, it is an incredible beautiful national park all around it, and by all means one of the highest peaks in the whole of Europe, acting as a natural border with Turkey.
The city survived many times destruction, reconstruction and rise with every ruling power at the time: The ancient kingdom of Urartu; Iranian Median, Achaemenid Empire, Ancient Kingdom of Armenia, Sasanian, Persian Empire, Bagratid, Byzantine, Seljuk, Mongol, Aq Qoyunlu and Kara Koyunlu tribes, Iranian rule, Russian Empire, Soviet Union and finally the independent Republic of Armenia we know today. Of course, no one expects you to know all about such empires, tribes and ruling powers, nor I will go in detail explaining about, for that we have the internet and Wikipedia excelling on it. But a quick resume on the direct impact of this past, is the heritage you are about to experience and see, with constructions of every era and a great selection of museums displaying countless artefacts.
There was nevertheless a very recent and radical change in the look of the capital. It was during the Soviet years that was a massive project by architect Alexander Tamanyan to make way for the perfect city. His vision was a neo-Classical town with wide avenues to resemble Paris, Vienna or Saint Petersburg. The urban layout was changed and corrected, entire medieval neighbourhoods torn-down and priceless old buildings destroyed, however the new city rise with a great design and taste for architecture, while not everything old was lost, but implemented and recently restored with countless projects still going on. Yerevan as Tbilisi, both have enormous potential and are becoming the new tourist destinations boom.
Then considering the incredible unique sites near the capital and within the country; all of which making up the top ranking of places to visit in Armenia with many of these been listed by the UNESCO as World Heritage Sites, it is for sure guaranteed your stay will be something memorable. After all, coming to Armenia is not just about Yerevan, but the countless other cultural sites all across the country and the unforgettable landscapes. Lucky for anyone visiting, distances between them are sort of acceptable and easy to reach even if you do not have your own transportation, still, reaching the northern territories and the southeast are a different story. Perhaps for another trip in the future, that’s a great reason why to return to Armenia!.
For more information about Yerevan check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Armenia’s currency is the Dram (AMD). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Yerevan
- Erebuni Fortress Built in 782 BC by King Argishti I at the hill where the city of Yerevan was founded. Also known as Arin Berd, meaning “Fortress of Blood”. Not much remains from the ancient times. In order to reach this place you will need a taxi or mini van as it’s located southeast outside of the city
- Nor Butania This district at the south is home to the main railway station, but other than that there is nothing else worth to mention for the average tourist. It’s mostly residential with the usual somewhat ex-Soviet look of commie blocks and industrial areas
-Railway Station One of the Soviet landmark buildings with its main tower featuring the symbols of communism: red star, hammer and sickle.
- Kentron District This is the city centre itself. The main thoroughfares are Tigran Mets Avenue connecting the railway station with Republic Square, and Northern Avenue from Republic Square with Opera/Freedom Square and the Cascades.
-Zoravar Andranik One of the major intersections of streets and transport hub, shopping area and the Cathedral.
-Ayrarat Cinema Although not serving as a cinema anymore, but turned into a shopping mall retaining its great Soviet brutallist architecture.
-Saint Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral The largest cathedral of the Armenian Apostolic Church in the world, was consecrated in September 23rd, 2001 in coincidence with the 1700th anniversary of the proclamation of Christianity as a state religion of Armenia.
-Circular Park Starting from the Cathedral and all the way up north counter-clock wise to Opera/Freedom Square.
-Russia Square Northwest from Zoravar Andranik, it is one of the major public spaces within the city centre, area which together with the parks facing the eastern side were created in the Alexander Tamanyan’s urban plan for the city.
-City Hall Completed in 2004 has an eclectic style combining many Armenian traditional symbols.
-Museum of History Right behind the City Hall along the eastern side.
-Yerevan Ararat Brandy Factory Founded in 1877 during the rule of the Russian Empire, the current building dating from 1938 occupies the place of the former Sardar Palace. It’s most famous and world renown bard is Noy.
-Saint Sarkis Cathedral Behind the City Hall and Russian Embassy, overlooking the river. Consecrated in 1841 built in place of older structures that once stood; even with the current look once could think it’s much newer, but it’s the restoration project done in 1972.
-The Red Bridge One of the oldest across the Hrazdan River, from the 17th century although nowadays ruined. You will find it behind the brandy factory by the river.
-Blue Mosque Dating from 1768 and still in operation, the only one in Armenia. Located a block north from the park right along the east side of the City Hall.
-Republic Square With beautiful fountains in the open square, and one of the most beautiful metro stations in the city just behind the museums with another great fountain implemented. The buildings all symmetrical have the traditional Armenian arches on their facades.
-Marriott Hotel Built in 1958 aligning the western side.
-History Museum and National Gallery Founded in 1921 in an eclectic neo-classical building.
-Sakharov Square Few meters beyond the Republic Square along the street that starts there, Nalbandyan street. Nice building around this area.
-Charles Aznavour Square A block away from the previous square, is another of the great public spaces in the city surrounded by great architecture.
-Moscow Cinema Built in 1936 in place of the 5th century Saint Paul and Peter Church. Yes plenty of atrocities were done in architecture during the Soviet times.
-Northern Avenue Starting at Republic Square and terminating by the Opera/Freedom Square it is a major thoroughfare in Yerevan, and major business and shopping district. Unfortunately to create this, the old historic buildings were torn down.
-Opera/Freedom Square One of the masterpieces in the urbanism created by Alexander Tamanyan. The largest square and open space in the city with a great taste in architecture and design.
-Opera Theate Opened in 1933 it does contain 2 separate halls, both the inside and outside being a great example of Soviet architecture.
-Holy Mother of God Chapel One of the oldest Christian churches still standing in the city, dating from the 4th century. From the Opera gardens, it is few meters ahead along Sayat-Nova Avenue.
-Zoravor Surp Astvatsatsin Church Two blocks west from the Opera. Built in 1694 in place of the previous monastery that here stood until the 1679 earthquake.
-Monumental Cascade Just behind the opera gardens. Envisioned in 1971 during the Soviet era, was completed in 1980 with the first phase, and in 2009 the rest of the project creating a magnificent space for the arts and culture in beautifully landscaped fountain at various levels with gardens and plenty of works of art. From the very top, the views of the entire city below and Mount Ararat are unparalleled.
-Matenadaran Library Specialising in ancient manuscripts and Middle Ages bibles. While there is a museum inside, the building itself is worth from the outside. Located east of the Cascades, you can reach it as you head up the cascades itself along the Antarain Street.
-National Assembly of Armenia Located on Baghramyan Avenue which starts from the gardens behind the opera towards the west.
-National Academy of Science Along the same avenue where the Assembly is, few meters ahead of this.
-Presidential Palace the next building along the avenue. Beautiful yet careful as taking picture should be discretionary and might not be allowed.
- Sites across Armenia There are so many beautiful and historic villages, cities and ancient churches and castles everywhere the country that it can easily take anyone some days to explore. Unfortunately for the average tourist time is their limitation, but the good news are that most of the UNESCO sites and key sights in the country are within easy reach from Yerevan. Listing below the ones we managed, the best would be:
-Lake Sevan One of the largest lakes in the Caucasus, offers great landscapes and views towards the mountains and even Mount Ararat in the distance. All around it are several sites, ancient to modern, and great monasteries and churches, being the most famous Sevanavank Monastery in the northwest.
-Geghard UNESCO listed, is a spectacular medieval monastery partially carved from the mountain at the side. Its full name is Geghardavank, meaning “the Monastery of the Spear” which originates from the spear that wounded Jesus at the Crucifixion, and allegedly brought to Armenia by the Apostle Jude. This is now located in the Etchmiadzin treasury. It is a large site, hence do not rush your visit, it is the landmark tourist destination number one in the country.
-Garni Near the monastery of Geghard further down the Azat River. The only Greco-Roman building in Armenia and the whole of the former Soviet Union, therefore a symbol of pre-Christian Armenia, and one of the major tourist destinations in the country which you can easily visit in combination with Geghard. It costs 1500 Drams to access the site, or just 125 to students of any field or art/architecture.
-Zvartnots UNESCO listed, in this case the 7th century ruins of the centrally planned aisled tetraconch type Armenian cathedral. Located not far from Yerevan at merely 18 kilometres west, near the airport. Not much there remains, however this is a tour perfectly combined with Echmiadzin nearby. It costs 1300 Drams to access the site, or just 75 to students of any field or art/architecture.
-Etchmiadzin Cathedral Another of the UNESCO sites listed in Armenia, and just 5 kilometres west from Zvartnots, is the mother church of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Originally built in 303 by Armenia’s patron saint Gregory the Illuminator following the adoption of Christianity as a state religion by King Tiridates III, this means it is the oldest Cathedral in the world although its current look dates mostly from the renovations of 1441, and later additions through the centuries. It’s 1500 Drams to access the Treasury where you can see some very important relics to the Christianity such as The Holy Lance (said to be the one that wounded Jesus at the Crucifixion), the Relic of the True Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ and a reliquary containing a piece of Noah’s Arc.
-Metsamor Nuclear Power Plant Fancy getting closer to the most dangerous nuclear power plant in the world? Here you have the chance. At just few more kilometres west from Etchmiadzin, it does not even have containing chamber in case of a leakage.
-Mount Ararat While this is visible from half of the country, and great views from Yerevan itself, the closer you get the nicer and clearer pictures you will get. The entire land now belongs to Turkey, but this was not the case for thousands of years in Armenian soil. It is said to be the resting place of Noah’s Arc.
-Khor Virap Driving through the southern roads of the country, parallel to Mount Ararat, you reach one of the most famous monasteries with unrivalled views to the Mount and all around.
-Areni In the south of the country, along the route towards the east, you will be at merely 2km from Azerbaijan, 5 from Turkey and 10 from Iran at one point. The same southern motorway crosses a little piece of land claimed by Azerbaijan (no border, so all fine to drive through), and eventually you reach this beautiful little village. From the bridge across the river you can capture a nice picture.
-Noravank Monastery A little bit farther after Areni, this is one of the real icons of the country. Set in an astonishing place between the mountains, perched from a hill. The finest time to visit is in the afternoon when the sun is hitting directly the limestone and the mountains. Right behind it, there is the path leading towards the mountain where you get the view of the monastery and the valley behind in its full glory.
Zvartnots International Airport is 14 kilometres from downtown Yerevan and main port of arrival into the country. Very modern with a modest size, if offers a growing network through Europe and the Middle East. The public mini bus number 18 connects if with the city centre form 250 Dram. In comparison, it is around 3000 Dram for a taxi therefore that unless strictly necessary, take convenient bus option.
Coming overland is only possible via the neighbouring country of Georgia, with a super fast and straightforward border crossing. Unfortunately crossing over to Turkey and Azerbaijan is forbidden, borders are closes. The most common connection is towards Tbilisi the capital of Georgia, and the coastal resort of Batumi. Cheap either by train or bus, but lengthily. If you have the chance opt for the marshutka (mini buses), these are double the expensive but instead of 10 hours to Tbilisi, it takes little over 5. These depart from Avlavari Square every 2 hours, very nice Mercedes mini vans, and arrive in Yerevan’s Kilikia Central Bus Station costing around 35 GEL. They might quote you 40, try to set it at 35, however it’s not big difference considering the distance. The train does only run on every odd day of the month when in the direction Tblisi to Yerevan, and on even days in the opposite way.
Once in the city, there is a wide network of public buses and mini buses, and a metro line. This is one of the less used metro in the world considering Yerevan is a city of over 1 million inhabitants, however expenditure for the system has always been frozen for decades. It costs just 100 Dram for a ride, you can buy the tokens at any cashier in the stations. As a tourist, it is half way convenient to move around fast towards the end points of the historic centre, while the rest is easily walkeable everywhere.
Although being the largest city in the country and its capital, the selection of big hotels was somewhat poor, and the big chains are having some alarmingly high rates per night. Nevertheless, there is a great choice of local hotels and family ran smaller businesses with great quality and fantastic value for money. As usual the most reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
We managed to find a great deal at the Hotel Yerevan Deluxe. A small property with some of the best reviews from all the hotels in the city, which turned to be beyond our expectations in the good way. The staff was amazingly friendly, helpful and polite at all times, the building and all its areas well cared and very clean; but something that was really a treat are their 2 rooms with a full private spa all for yourself within the room! As you hear this, the room is 45 square meters, with a sauna and a cold water soaking pool for after the sauna. From the many hundreds of hotels we’ve been, this was the first on this! Then the breakfast, also included in the rate, was nice and good enough to start the day. As of location, it’s nearly 15 minutes to the metro station, and a good choice of supermarkets, bars and restaurants in the nearby area. And if you are landing at the airport upon arrival, they offer free pick-up service! Absolutely a hotel recommend to anyone.
The city of Yerevan
Sites across Armenia