Armenia has had a long, turbulent, and sometimes tragic history. Hemmed in by bigger neighbours, Armenia has always struggled to remain free. If it wasn’t the Romans and the Parthians fighting it out over their territory, than it was the Russians and the Turks. Finally after the break-up of the Soviet Union they once more became an independent nation.
With its own alphabet and church, called the Armenian Apostolic Church -- also the oldest Christian church in the world -- Armenia clearly likes to do things differently. All this historical swashbuckling, combined with its independent streak and a stunning location, has endowed Armenia with a plethora of tourist sights, some sobering, others not.
Start in Yerevan with its theatres, museums, cafés, and the edifying genocide memorials, to understand Armenian history and present culture. Once you get that down, head into the countryside and visit some of the beautiful churches, with Echmiadzin Cathedral, equivalent to an Armenian Vatican and the oldest cathedral in the world. Climb Mt. Aragats for a magnificent view of Armenia and nearby Mt. Ararat (in Turkey) where Noah’s Ark supposedly made landfall. Make your way to Debed Canyon and visit the World Heritage Site listed monasteries of Haghpat and Sanahin, or go south to Tatev Monastery with its incredible location on the edge of Vorotan Canyon. And all along the way, don’t forget to enjoy the warm hospitality of the Armenians!
Don’t count on getting by in English. Your best bet is Russian or learning some Armenian words, people will love you for it!
Highlights from Armenia
- Yerevan, especially the genocide museum, and it is fun to try and find all the hidden churches, sometimes found in apartment block courtyards!
- Visit Echmiadzin, Armenia’s Holy See, also known as Etchmiadzin, to understand what the Armenian Church is all about
- Climb Mount Aragats, Armenia’s highest mountain
- Go up north and visit Haghpat and Sanahin monasteries
- Turn south and head to Khor Virap at the foot of Mount Ararat, where Armenian Christianity all begun
- Wind your way further south, passing Norovank Monastery along the way with its dramatic setting, until finally reaching Tatev for the best view you have ever seen
- Get yourself invited by a friendly Armenian family and enjoy some good food and wine
- Take a dip in cool Lake Sevan, a blue watery pearl in the middle of Armenia
Hints and Tips for Armenia
- Most Europeans don’t need a visa for Armenia anymore, Americans should also be able to enter visa-free as of 2015. For other nationalities, you can get a visa at the border.
- If you are planning on entering Armenia overland, understand that neither the Turkish, nor the Azerbaijani borders are open. You will have to enter either via Georgia or Iran.
- Armenians speak Armenian, which is its own language. Russian is also an alternative and English isn’t widely spoken.
- Getting around is fairly simple with buses and minibuses servicing most places.
- If you want to visit Azerbaijan after Armenia, beware that you might be refused entry by the Azerbaijanis if they see an Armenian stamp in your passport. You will certainly be refused entry if they see that you have visited the contested region of Nagorno-Karabakh!
- Nagorno-Karabakh is an Armenian controlled area which formally belonged to Azerbaijan, and you can only enter it from the Armenian side. Remember that Nagorno-Karabakh is still recognized by the rest of the world as being part of Azerbaijan.