Let’s be honest, Armenia isn’t exactly a well-known travel destination. In fact, most probably can’t point to it on a map. But despite it’s lack of international acclaim, Armenia is a hidden travel gem waiting to be discovered by the international travel industry.
Armenia is a small country in the Caucasus with only three million people. Though completely landlocked, the country has a striking mountainous landscape. Armenia was formerly in the USSR, and has a lengthy history that dates millennia. It was the first country in the world to adopt Christianity as its official religion, and as such it has a number of historic churches and monasteries.
Yerevan is its capital city and the place where most travelers first arrive. It’s a bustling city of over one million people, and it has a beautiful setting in the shadow of Mt Ararat—the supposed landing place of Noah’s Ark.
The city very much has a cafe culture and there are tons of cafes, restaurants and bars around the city. Otherwise tourists will enjoy strolling through Yerevan’s many parks or shopping in its markets.
Republic Square is at the center of the city and is flanked by palatial government buildings. At night there is a performance of singing fountains that attract a great deal of tourists and locals. In the summer there are often concerts and festivals in the square.
Another attraction in Yerevan is the Cafesjian Center for the Arts. This modern art museum is housed in an impressive building that is designed to look like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Its multi-level, step-like design is definitely unique, and from the upper levels of the museum there are fantastic views of the city and Mount Ararat in the distance. The museum’s collection is no slouch either, as there are a number of works from renowned artists like Andy Warhol and Armenian-born Arshile Gorky.
Escape from Yerevan for a day to explore some of Armenia’s rural areas. One popular excursion is a visit to the Geghard Monastery, which is only 1.5 hours outside of Yerevan. The monastery is built into the side of a mountain, and exploring the dark, cave-like rooms of its still-active Orthodox church is definitely an experience. The only light comes from either small slits in the walls or prayer candles, ancient Armenian hieroglyphics are carved into the pillars and walls, and there’s even a small stream running through a room in the monastery.
Hyur Service is a tour company that offers regular day trips from Yerevan to the Geghard Monastery and other countryside attractions. Guests are transported in private and clean cars, accompanied by a driver and an English-speaking guide. The prices are affordable and the service is excellent.
All nationalities are eligible to purchase an electronic tourist visa for their visit to Armenia. These visas cost US$10-40 and are valid for 120 days. The main airport in Yerevan is the Zvartnots International Airport and there are regular flights from Europe and the Republic of Georgia. Because of Armenia’s tense relationship with Azerbaijan, there are no travel links between the two countries.