Armenia travel guide
2 MINUTE SUMMARY
Situated on the continental confluence of the Silk Road, Armenia is often overshadowed by its three large neighbours. This is good news for cultural travelers as it has remained somewhat untouched, especially in the rural towns and mountain villages. As a landlocked country, Armenia shares several aspects of religious and cultural heritage with each of its neighbours, although Orthodox Christian Georgia is looked upon more like a brother than the predominantly Islamic nations of Turkey and Azerbaijan.
Scattered across Armenia you’ll find epitaphs to Christianity with the world’s oldest cathedral, Etchmiadzin, and the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Geghard Monastery, just two instances of how important the church is to the Armenian people. Aside from ecclesiastical examples it’s the landscapes that steal the show with Lake Sevan, the Lesser Caucasus and the dominating snow capped peaks of Mount Ararat creating iconic backdrops to accompany unique and exciting cultural heritage tours.
Read on in our Armenia travel guide.
Armenia map & highlights
MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR TIME
Lake Sevan, an hour east of Yerevan, features Armenia’s only beaches as well as Sevanavank and Hayravank monasteries, the khachkars of Noratus and a 70km hiking trail that runs along the Gegham Ridge towards the Ararat plain. Wind your way through the Vardenis Mountains via the Vardenyats Pass and you’ll find a well preserved caravanserai from the Silk Road, whilst the artisan spa town of Dilijan promises hiking heaven accompanied by Haghartsin and Goshavank monasteries. Much further south, in Syunik province, sits Armenia’s answer to Stonehenge, Karahunj, whilst the disputed borders of Nagorno-Karabakh to the east and Mount Ararat to the west offer iconic scenes alongside political posturing.
Church and religion is really important to the people of Armenia and the UNESCO site of Etchmiadzin Cathedral, not too far from Yerevan, holds regular Orthodox services that can get pretty full on. Even though the exterior isn’t overly ostentatious, Etchmiadzin is nonetheless impressive and as the world’s oldest cathedral it fully deserves a visit alongside several other medieval churches that you’ll find nearby.
This UNESCO site was built amongst the towering cliffs of the Azat River gorge on top of a sacred freshwater spring within a cave, and features several notable khachkars as well as churches carved from the surrounding rock face. A combined visit to the nearby colonnaded Temple of Garni is a must with the nickname Garni-Geghard coined by the marketing board or perhaps a visiting Australian.
There are several beaches and a few places to eat around Lake Sevan and you’ll find lots of families having traditional summer picnics or going on boat rides. Sevanavank and Hayravank monasteries, both located on the lake’s western shores, make great alternatives to lazing about with the country’s largest collection of khachkars to be found nearby in the medieval cemetery of Noratus.
Khor Virap Monastery
On the fenced border with Turkey, Khor Virap was where Armenia’s patron saint, Gregory, was imprisoned for trying to preach Christianity, and has become one of the country’s most popular pilgrimage sites, with regular church services still held to this day. Views over the green fields and vineyards of the Ararat plain ascending the snow capped Mount Ararat are some of the country’s most endearing.
Regarded as one of the bastions of Armenian culture as well as a stopping point on a world record breaking double track cable car, the 9th century Tatev Monastery features three churches as well as stunning views from the top of the Vorotan River gorge. A visit to Tatev is a fantastic opportunity to take in the surrounding scenery and if you’re feeling fit there’s a further 2km walk to view Tatev from above.
Despite being one of the oldest inhabited cities on the planet, Armenia’s capital, Yerevan, is pretty darn cosmopolitan with a charming blend of historic memorials, flower filled parks and aesthetically beautiful buildings, especially surrounding the Republic Square. Monuments and statues are everywhere, a fine example being a 75ft Mother Armenia who gazes down from a position once occupied by Stalin.