Armenia Travel Guide
Updated April 2020, The Armenia Travel Guide was originally written in August 2018
Straddling Europe and Asia in the South Caucuses, Armenia is a real treat for those that venture into its borders. Without much thought and no planning, I hopped on a marshrutka in Tbilisi bound for Yerevan, not expecting Armenia to become an instant favorite. Really all I had known about Armenia prior to visiting was the Armenian genocide, that the country was a part of the USSR, Armenian Orthodoxy, that I liked the way their curly alphabet looked, and that System of a Down’s members are all of Armenian descent. Obviously I knew there was going to be a little more to it than that, and I was pleasantly surprised. Come here to explore monasteries, mountain scenes, and a little-visited breakaway region.
But Armenia has a long tumultuous history. From the 16th-19th centuries, Armenia was jostled between the Ottoman Empire and the Iranian Empire. In the 19th century, the Russians had come to control eastern Armenia, while the west was still under Ottoman control. Between 1915 and 1923 1.5 million Armenians were exterminated or expelled during the Armenian Genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Empire. Turkey still refuses to recognize this atrocity as genocide.
Eventually, Armenia would become a founding state within the USSR as the Transcaucasian SSR and eventually the Armenian SSR. In 1991 Armenia gained independence. At the time of independence, Armenia was already involved in the Karabakh War backing the Armenian ethnic majority of Artsakh (then Nagorno-Karabakh) against Azeri forces. Though, it wasn’t until 1992 that the conflict went fullscale war in the mountainous region. Azerbaijan put a halt to train and air transit to Armenia, effectively crippling the economy. Turkey quickly followed suit.
By 1994 a Russian cease-fire was signed, though the situation remains unresolved. Artsakh is a de facto independent state, not recognized as its own country internationally, but as a part of Azerbaijan. The only access point to Artsakh at this point in time is via Armenia, but you should visit Azerbaijan first as Azerbaijan will recognize your visit to Artsakh as having entered Azeri territories illegally.
In 2018 Armenia underwent a revolution. As this was only a few months after I first visited Armenia, I had first heard about it through Armenian friends I’d made and followed it after. Serzh Sargsyan, who had served two terms as president of Armenia from 2008-2018 at the end of his second term he announced he would step in as the prime minister of Armenia. Armenians recognized this power grab (likely after they’ve watched the tendency for forever-presidency among other post-Soviet nations) and took to the streets of Yerevan in protest after the detainment of opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan. 11 days of non-violent protests and civil disobedience ensued before Sargsyan resigned.
Armenia and its people remain resilient after its turbulent recent history. But because of this turbulence, Armenia is still in its early days of tourism. Which is not a bad statement, however, travel in Armenia might be a little daunting for less experienced travelers. In this Armenia travel guide, you’ll find all the information you need to plan the perfect trip.
ARMENIA TRAVEL TABLE OF CONTENTS
What To Wear
How Long To Visit
When To Visit
What To See & Do
Where To Go
Trekking In Armenia
Armenia Travel Budget
Internet & Mobile
Health & Safety
Quick Armenia Travel Info
Currency: The Dram is the currency used in Armenia. The current exchange rate in April 2020 is $1 USD = 512 AMD.
Language: Armenian is the official language. Russian is still widely understood as Armenia was a republic of the Soviet Union. English is becoming more and more popular with the younger generations. There are dialects of Armenian spoken and minority languages such as Kurmanji (Kurdish), Assyrian, and Greek in the country as well. I was able to get by easily in English and Russian (though I did make attempts at learning Armenian phrases, and butchered it massively!).
Religion: Armenian Orthodox
What To Wear: Armenians dress like most Europeans. Women’s hair should be covered and long skirts worn when entering churches (many times there’s a bin of loner scarves and tie-on skirts near the entrance).
How Long To Visit Armenia: One nice thing is that Armenia is a smaller country in size. You can hit most the highlights within a week and won’t be bored if you extend a trip to two weeks or more.
When To Visit Armenia: Late June through August is very hot in Armenia as its summertime. May, early June, September and early October are great times to visit with pleasant temperatures. Winter in Armenia is beautiful, but dress warm.
Get In: You’ll enter Armenia by road or by air. By flight: Yerevan Airport has direct connections with cities in Europe and the Middle East. Shop flights to Yerevan here. By road: Armenia borders Georgia, Iran, Azerbaijan and Turkey. Entering from Turkey and Azerbaijan is impossible. There are border crossings with Georgia and Iran. Note: You can only enter Nagorno-Karabakh from Armenia.
Visas: Many countries can visit Armenia visa free for 90-180 days or by visa on arrival and e-visa.
Get Around: The best way to get around Armenia is by renting a car or joining day tours as many of the sites you’ll want to reach are a pain to reach by public transport. Marshrutka and buses connect most cities and larger towns, but reaching more remote areas is difficult to non-existent by marshrutka and bus. Hitchhiking is possible and usually safe.
*I have included information on Nagorno-Karabakh (newly renamed the Republic of Artsakh) because Nagorno-Karabakh can only be accessed from Armenia.
Food and wine is a highlight of traveling Armenia. Most food is fresh and locally grown. Things to try are:
Lavash: A very thin, very giant flatbread that is served with everything in Armenia. Lavash also make great food transport: I watched a shop in Stepanakert wrap a full size rotisserie chicken in one and hand it to a customer.
Khatchupuri: A delicious cheese bread that’s also served up in neighboring Georgia.
Armenian String Cheese: Salty, stringy white cheese typically made from sheep’s milk. It can be made of goat or cow milk as well.
Harissa: A creamy porridge usually of wheat and meat mixed together.
Dried Fish: Fish is a common dish in Armenia, even though it’s a landlocked country. Trout is a common fish eaten.
Dzhash: An Armenian soup of vegetables, spices, and meat or a legume.
Kabob: Meat skewers you’ll find dished up all over the country.
What To See & Do in Armenia
- Explore Monasteries
- Trekking & Camping
- Visit A Country That Doesn’t Exist
- Lake Sevan
- Take a road trip. Check out my 3 day Armenia & Nagorno-Karabakh road trip itinerary here
Where To Go In Armenia
The capital of Armenia and biggest city. Make sure to check out the Yerevan Cascade, Republic Square, Tsitsernakaberd, and Matanedarin… just to name a few!
Where To Sleep In Yerevan
See the best of what Yerevan has to offer in this Yerevan City Tour
The religious center of Armenia. Come here to visit the Echmiadzin Cathedral, which is often regarded as the oldest cathedral in the world. Other sites include S. Hripsime Cathedral and S. Gayane Church.
Where To Sleep In Echmiadzin
The largest lake in Armenia, located at 2,000m. Laze on the beaches in summer and visit its monasteries.
Hayranivank: Monastery and largest khachkar cemetery in the world.
Sevanavank: A lovely monastery perched above the shores of Lake Sevan.
Where To Sleep In Sevan
Lake Sevan Tours
From food tours, to sailing, to sightseeing there’s a tour to suit just about any interest around Lake Sevan
If you want to see the biodiversity of the Caucasus, Khosrov is where to go. Home to 1/3 of the flora in the Caucasus region. Horseback riding and hiking are the best way to explore this massive forest. Don’t forget to visit the Temple of Garni, and Kakavaberd Fortress. Khosrov makes a great day trip from Yerevan as it’s only 20km west of the city.
Shamshadin & Tavush Region
Explore Armenia’s lush green hills, monasteries and villages in this region. Home to the city of Dilijan, often called “Little Switzerland”. Areas in the northeast along the Azerbaijani border are still landmined from the war, do not explore this area without a knowledgeable guide that knows the area well.
Where To Sleep In Dilijan
An epicenter of Armenian culture and history.You will likely pass through the canyon on the way down or headed to Georgia as the main road connection passes through Dabed Canyon. This is a great place to explore if you’re not yet suffering from monastery fatigue as it’s littered with them.
Where To Sleep In Alaverdi
The main draw for those coming to Tatev is the Tatev Monastery. You can take a tram, the Wings of Tatev, to reach the monastery from the town of Halizdor. 4000 AMD rt/3000 AMD one way, an additional 2000 AMD for an audio guide.
Where To Sleep In Halidzor
Where To Sleep In Tatev
A small city in Armenia with a cemetery fringed by interesting rockforms and caves scattered up a rolling hillside. Goris is a great place to base yourself for exploring southern Armenia at a slower pace.
Where To Sleep In Goris
A monastery in the Ararat Plain with stunning views of Mt. Ararat and one of the most recognizable photographed locations in Armenia. Easily visited from Yerevan.
Khor Virap is a common stop on group tours from Yerevan including Noravank & Areni Winery. Private tours to Khor Virap from Yerevan are on offer as well
A 13th century monastery on the Amaghu River. A common stop on many day tours to the south of Armenia.
Where To Sleep In Yeghegnadzor
Check out this Southern Armenia day tour from Yerevan that includes Noravank as well as a number of other great stops
A rural Armenian village with a swinging bridge across a massive gorge. The bridge connects the two sides of the village on either side of the gorge. On the other side you’ll find a monastery, ruins, caves, walnut trees, and usually a friendly local or two. The best base for exploring the Khndzoresk area is from Goris. Khndzoresk is also known for its hoodoo rock formations similar to some in Cappadocia, Kandovan (Iran), and Goblin Valley (Utah).
The newly renamed Republic of Artsakh (formerly Nagorno-Karabakh) is a region claimed by Azerbaijan, but only accessible from Armenia. You can explore the area independently or by tour.
Read my 3 Day Nagorno-Karabakh Road Trip to start planning your own visit
The capital of the Nagorno-Karabakh (recently renamed Republic of Artsakh). Easily walkable, with plenty of restaurants and shops. After you cross the border into Artsakh you’ll be instructed by the border officers to go to Stepanakert to get your visa. Head to the fringes of the city to see the iconic Tatik-Papik Monument.
Visas are now given free of charge at the border with Armenia. Should you need it, the MFA address in Stepanakert is 28 Azatamartikneri Street and phone number: +374 47941418. Visas used to cost 3000 AMD for most nationalities for a 21 day tourist visa. They will just hand you the visa, (good to ask them to not put it in your passport, just in case). If you have evidence in your passport of visiting Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh and try to go to Azerbaijan later you will be denied entry, or possibly thrown in jail.
Where To Sleep In Stepanakert
There aren’t too many hotels in Stepanakert. Armenia Hotel and Hotel Europe are a couple of options. You can shop a full list of Stepanakert accommodations here.
A fortified city mostly destroyed during the Nagorno-Karabakh War of the 1990’s. Make sure to check out the Ghazanchetsots Cathedral. You can hike the Janapur Trail from Shusha that will take you into Hunyot Canyon, Zontik Falls and beyond.
Located in Hunyot Canyon. Once to the trailhead it’s about a 20 minute walk along a trail to the fairytale like waterfall. This is my absolute favorite waterfall in the world.
A town near Sarsang Reservoir. Martakert was on the front lines of fighting between Azeri and Armenian forces.
Where To Sleep In Martakert
Much like the rest of Nagorno-Karabakh, accommodation options are small. Shop Martakert accommodations here.
A large lake not for from Martakert in the countryside. Great for camping and stargazing.
A ghost town nicknamed the “Hiroshima of Azerbaijan”. The city was destroyed during the Nagorno-Karabakh War. The few that come to Aghdam come to see the ruins and old mosque. Nagorno-Karabakh officials advise not to visit given that Aghdam is right on the border with Azerbaijan. Aghdam usually is off limits to tourists, so if the military does turn you around, act as if you got lost. Note that this is more of a ‘dark tourism’ attraction and is not for everyone.
Aghdam is about 30 minutes by taxi from Stepanakert. You can usually hire a taxi for a trip out here from Stepanakert for about 8,000 AMD
A small village north of Stepanakert. The main draw is to hike to the Gandzasar Monastery. The hike takes about 1 hour and gives panoramic views of Vank and the surrounding mountain range.
Trekking In Armenia
Armenia is a paradise for hikers with plenty of mountains, rolling hills, canyons, and forests.
- Mount Adzhadak
- Janapur Trail
- Mount Khustup
- Lori Canyon
- Mount Aragats
- Gandzasar Monastery
- Mulberry Festival
- Vartavar Festival
- Carpet Festival
- BBQ Art & Music Festival
- Gata Festival
- Areni Wine Festival
- Honey & Bee Festival
Travel Armenia By Tour
There are plenty of tours offered in Armenia from day trips that will bring you back to Yerevan every evening to multi-day trips around the country. Shop Armenian tours here.
Armenia Travel Budget
One of the many reasons why Armenia is awesome is because it’s such an inexpensive destination. Of course the sky is the limit, but my trip in Armenia cost me so little I couldn’t believe it. I paid the equivalent of $4 for a night in a very nice and centrally located hostel in Yerevan and pennies for veggies at a shop in Stepanakert.
7,250 AMD/$15 USD Per Day
Staying in hostels & camping while in the countryside, preparing your own meals, travel by marshrutka
14,500 AMD/$30 USD Per Day
Staying in double rooms, eating at cafes, traveling by marshrutka and taking some day tours
30,000 AMD/$60 USD + Per Day
Staying in luxurious rooms, dining at finer restaurants, traveling by private car hire and taking tours around the country
You won’t need to pack anything special with you to Armenia that you wouldn’t pack to most destinations in Europe. I’d recommend picking up a copy of Bradt’s Armenia guidebook to aid in planning your visit. If you plan to camp and/or trek you may want to bring the following:
- 3 Season tent
- Sleeping bag
- Hiking Boots
- Lightweight cooking camp set
- Water Purifier
- Hydration Reservoir
- Trekking Poles
- Rain jacket & Rain pants
- Inreach Explorer+
- Solar Charger & External battery pack
- Medications & Toiletries
Internet & Mobile
Many accommodations in Armenia will offer wifi and it’s easy and cheap to buy sim cards from Ucom, Vivacell and Beeline. In Nagorno-Karabakh wifi isn’t very fast and the only Armenian sim card that will work is Vivacell. Nagorno-Karabakh does have its own carrier called Karabakh Telecom and you can purchase sims in Stepanakert.
Health & Safety
Overall Armenia is a safe country. Use usual precautions as you would anywhere in the world and you’ll likely be fine. There are areas in the northeast along the Azerbaijan border and in Nagorno-Karabakh along the Azerbaijan border that do still have landmines so walking and trekking in these areas are not recommended. In Nagorno-Karabakh do not go east beyond the Martakert-Martuni Highway as this is the cease-fire line.
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