Back in December, my Russian and I were invited to Armenia to attend a friend’s wedding. We, along with a few other friends from home, spent 5 days sightseeing, sampling local cuisine and drinking plenty of Armenian cognac.
Prior to my trip, I admittedly knew very little about the Armenia other than what I learned from the Kardashians. Embarrassing, I know! After spending some time exploring the country, I discovered so much more about this ancient land and plenty of fun facts beyond just its association with a reality star.
Armenia has a fascinating history, rich culture and so much beauty to discover. There is plenty to see and do and I’m glad we managed to squeeze in so much in our short stay. Below are some highlights that you’ll want to add to your itinerary when planning an Armenian adventure. And be sure to check out my packing list for Armenia if you’re planning to visit in the winter!
Chances are if you’re taking a trip to Armenia you’re going to spend some time in the capital city of Yerevan. It is the center of activity in the country with plenty to see and do.
You’ll definitely want to carve out some time to visit the sculpture park and walk up the over 500 steps of the Cascade to the lookout point for some stunning views of the city (map it!). Sadly, it was incredibly hazy when we were there, but in the spring this area is vividly colored by all the flowers in bloom.
If you’re eager to sample some traditional Armenian delicacies, head over to Baklachoff. The interior is actually modeled after a classic Russian film, which plays on loop throughout the restaurant. In addition to delicious cuisine, Bchlalaoff also thrills its guests with live performances every hour. It’s quite a treat and not to be missed!
If you find yourself in Yerevan, you won’t want to miss sampling Armenia’s signature drink- cognac! Armenia has been producing cognac for generations and its two main distilleries are located in the center of the city. Take a tour of the Ararat Museum and learn how the cherished liquid is made.
There are also a ton of beautiful (and affordable) hotel option in Yerevan. Our group stayed at the Tufenkian Historic Yerevan Hotel, which included a delicious breakfast and was located across the street from a local market where we picked up all our souvenirs. It was perfect, but if we go back I’d love to stay at this dreamy hotel.
Armenia’s symbol is Mount Ararat, a double peak, snow capped dormant volcano that touches four countries – Turkey, Azerbaijan, Iran and Armenia. It is known as a biblical mountain and considered the traditional site of the resting place of Noah’s Ark. Unless you’re a skilled climber, you won’t be able to actually visit the Mountain, but you can still marvel at its beauty. On a clear day, the beautiful range can be seen at many points throughout Armenia, such as Yerevan as well as the ancient Khor Virap Monastary, located 50 minutes south of of the capital city.
Khor Virap Monastery
Armenia is not only an ancient country, it holds historical significance as being the first nation to adopt Christianity as a state religion. It is also home to some of the oldest churches in the world.
You could easily spend an entire trip just touring Armenia’s ancient monasteries as several are remotely located and can only be reached by car. If you’re so inclined, the following are Armenia’s most famous churches:
Khor Virap: Originally built in the year 642, this church is where religious leader Gregory the Illuminator was imprisoned in a pit for 14 years for spreading Christianity. He survived thanks to the nuns who dropped food and water down to him. Today, visitors can enter that very dungeon. It’s a harrowing climb down a narrow metal ladder that puts into perspective the shocking conditions Gregory endured.
Noravank: Located in the Noravank mountains, this monastary is stunning particularly at sunset. The church stands in front of a rocky backdrop and comes to life during golden hour. The main chapel is located on the second floor and can only be accessed by a narrow stone staircase along the side of the building. Don’t forget to hold the rope, and whatever you do, don’t look down!
Sevanavank: The Sevanavank Monastery sits on the shores of Lake Sevan, near the town of the same name. Monks who had been deemed sinners were sent to this monastery to contemplate their deeds. The idea being that the seclusion would serve as a punishment and provide solitude for reflection and repentance. After seeing the beauty of Lake Sevan first hand, I’m not sure how much of a punishment this would really be!
Tatev: The Tatev Monastery is located in the Syunik province in the south and is unique in that it is the only monastery that can be reached by cable car. That cable car system, known as the Wings of Tatev was named the longest non-stop double track cable car in the world.
Etchmiadzin Cathedral: Built between years 301 and 303, the Etchmiadzin Cathedral is considered the oldest cathedral in the world. It is one of the most visited sites in Armenia and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.
If the name sounds familiar, that’s because in addition to being a popular tourist destination in Armenia, it is also an international mineral water brand. The city of Jermuk is known for its mineral wells, which are thought to have healing medicinal properties. Over the years, several health and wellness spas have developed in the area attracting locals and tourists alike. There is even a mineral water gallery that is open to the public where you can sample the water at various temperatures. Jermuk is popular year round, but particularly during warm weather months when the water café opens on the Yotnaghbyur Lake across from the gallery.
One of Armenia’s main attractions also happens to be its largest. Sevan is a 480 square mile lake and is considered one of Armenia’s national treasures. It is also an integral part of Armenia’s economy as it provides low-cost energy, fishing and tourism to the country. Our friend and guide, Edik, referred to the lake as Armenia’s Miami as it is a popular destination for locals during the summer months. If you find yourself on the northern side of the lake, be sure to check out Collette, a waterfront restaurant serving up some of the best seafood in Armenia.
Armenia may not be at the top of your travel list, but as you can see there are plenty of reasons why it should be!
Would you consider embarking on an Armenian adventure? What activities would be at the top of your itinerary? Share your comments below!