On The Edge Visiting Armenia
There are some places that we have been that really stick with us, and Armenia is one of those countries. Small and tucked into the base of the Caucasus mountains, not too many people put it on their bucket list and even fewer will go. What a shame! Just like a Starburst Strawberry candy, it makes a huge impact.
It was hard to pare it down, but we’ve come up with the top ten things to do in Armenia. Of course there are many more, but it you decide to buy that ticket, and you do the things on this list, you can be sure that you’ve gotten a great taste of Armenia.
Our first few recommendations are all located in the capital of Yerevan. Chances are this will be the way you enter the country, although we entered by driving south from Tbilisi. When we do fly into a city, we will usually rent a car and go outside the capital for a few days, however we rely on public transportation or our own feet while we are there. Luckily, Yerevan is very walkable and you can see these top sights all in one or two days.
Top Sights in Yerevan
Downtown Yerevan is such a contrast to the rest of the country. It is modern, filled with cafes, restaurants, malls, and cinemas. There is plenty to do, and wandering around, grabbing a tea and a sweet whiling the day away window shopping is always a great idea. While you are out, you can look for some typical Armenian souvenirs such as woven textiles, items made from obsidian, or some sweets such as chocolate or dried fruits.
Parliament Square – Built in 1924, Parliament Square is the center of Yerevan and is surrounded by many important buildings, like the Government House and the History Museum, but what makes the square so popular is it is where families go to walk around, play a bit of soccer, eat an ice cream, and just get outside and talk with the neighbors. The architecture and fountains create a beautiful surrounding for an evening sabbatical.
National Gallery – This art museum is one of the must-sees in Armenia. The permanent exhibit has works of art from ancient to modern times highlighting artists from the region as well as a few from world famous artists like Chagall. Cost: 800 AMD for adults and 300 for children over seven. Hours: Tuesday through Sunday 11:00 – 17:00.
Opera House – A gorgeous building, it’s easy to spot the Opera House. Shows and concerts are frequent and inexpensive. Check out their website for upcoming events, or just go to the box ticket office in front and see what is available.
Lover’s Park – One of many green spaces in the city of Yerevan, this sprawling park is well manicured, a quiet respite from the chaotic city traffic. It’s a great place to take a stroll or sip on a coffee or tea.
Sights Around Yerevan
After leaving the capital, it can be challenging driving Armenia’s roads, but it’s well worth it. The rest of our recommendations can be done in a two day road trip.
Armenia is famous for its monasteries and many are listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Up on the top of a hill, in a small town are two very worthwhile ones you should visit: Sanahin and Haghpat. We loved the steles that decorated the floor of Sanahin.
However, the Geghard Monastery was our absolute favorite stop on the trip. It’s not far outside of Yerevan, and it has an other-worldly peace that surrounds it. It is situated deep in the Azat Valley right next to the river. The complex was hewn from the rock, and as you walk among its narrow corridors, up steep steps, you can feel the ancient-ness of this holy place. We were lucky enough to hear some A Capella singers give a short concert while we were there, and we also marveled at the amazing Kachkar crosses that UNESCO has inscribed on their list of notable intangibles.
The Hellenistic Temple of Garni is also well worth a stop. It’s very close to Geghard and can easily be done before or after your visit there. Garni is located in the town of the same name and was built in the 1st century and continually used until Christianity became the official religion in the early 4th century.
Both Garni and Geghard are very popular tourist destinations, but even still you can out-wait the buses and have plenty of time by yourself on just about any day.
A little further afield is Lake Sevan. At an altitude of over 6,000 feet, it is a beautiful sight with lots of recreational activities available as well as restaurants and cafes. There is a hill you can climb to visit two monasteries at the top, so be prepared for a hike.
One of the smallest, but most fun sites that Jim and I visited was the Armenian Alphabet Monument, built in 2005 to celebrate the invention of this Christianity-based lettering system. It was raining the day that we visited, but it did not put a damper on the cool steel letters surrounded by a beautiful landscape and creek.
One of the largest sights that everyone wants to see while in this fascinating country is Mt. Aragat which is famous, renowned as the mountain where Moses’ ark finally came to rest on land.
And finally, no visit to Armenia would be complete without trying some of its delectable food. We loved everything from the stuffed grapeleaves (tolma) to the lamb stews, but the dish that we will remember the most is lavash. Lavash is a traditional flatbread made in deep kiln-shaped ovens. It was one of the things I was most looking forward to experiencing, and when we finally chanced upon a spot where they were baking bread it was awe-inspiring. The baker makes a simple dough, rolls it into small balls, then meticulously (and surprisingly quickly) pulls it out to a see-through thinness. Then the flat dough is slapped on the inside of a very hot oven with the fire blazing at the bottom. In seconds the dough bakes, is darkened in a few spots and is ready…and delicious!
You may not have heard of this small, less-visited country, but Armenia really is worth a trip. You can do almost everything in one short week, and it’s pretty inexpensive as well.
Go ahead, travel on the dge. Life is never broign that way! If you’re daring enough to go, you should really check out some of these hotels in Yerevan!
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