Looming over the mysterious and ancient city of Yerevan is the bulk of Mount Ararat, now in neighbouring Turkey. Ararat has traditionally been in the land of Armenia since time immemorial and is the symbol of the entire country, much like Mount Fuji fulfils the same role for Tokyo.
Mount Ararat is also the legendary landing place of Noah’s Ark in the Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions. While Yerevan, the capital of Armenia may be one of the oldest cities in the world, it feels anything but old. Much like its neighbour (and sometimes foe), Baku in Azerbaijan, Yerevan is a wonderful place to experience!
The land-locked country of Armenia may be the furthest east of all Western countries and Yerevan is a city of contradictions – Europe meets the Orient, new meets old, modern meets traditional. Armenia became the first Christian country in the world when its king adopted the religion in 301 AD a full thirty years before Constantine the Great and there is evidence that the religion was introduced to Armenia as early as 50 BCE – less than twenty years after the crucifixion.
Armenia has always been a crossroads for new ideas and cultures. Fiercely independent, the country has been successively ruled by the strongest empires in the world, even though it was difficult to govern. The ancient Akkadians, Hittites, Persians, Hellenes, Romans, Parthians, Byzantines, Abbasids, Mongols, Seljuks, Ottomans and Soviets have all tried to subdue the warrior spirit of the region with little success.
Here’s a Pro-tip: The national language of Yerevan is Armenian, but you will find most also speak Russian and English well. The currency is the Armenian Dram, with an exchange rate of about 650 drams to one Pound Sterling.
You’ll most-likely fly into the recently rebuilt Yerevan Airport (or Zvartnots International Airport), located just the west of the city. While there are no trains to and from the airport, Airport Express #210 Minibus runs to the city centre, departing every half hour. Taxis are also available, just head for the yellow Aerotaxi stand. Depending on where you are staying your taxi fare should cost around 5000AMD (£8.00).
Once you are in Yerevan, here are some cool places to visit:
- The History Museum of Armenia is the home to an extraordinary collection of Bronze Age artefacts, many excavated at the Necropolis of Lchashen near Lake Sevan in the 1950s. This museum gives life to the ancient peoples of the region.
- Garni Temple, just outside the city of Yerevan is an intact ancient pagan temple that is simply wonderful to visit. For those who are used to climbing around ruins, this is a treat to behold.Step outside the city and back in time.
- Etchmiadzin Cathedral was built in 303 BCE and is the oldest Christian cathedral in the world. Imagine that this cathedral has seen worship continuously since before the religion was even recognised in the west!
- Geghard Monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage site partly carved into the mountains below Mount Ararat. It has incredible views and a serenity like few places in the world.
- Matenadaran – This manuscript library is a source of enormous pride for Armenians because of its incredible collection of ancient manuscripts. The outdoor gallery has carved rock tombs gathered from ancient sites around the country. Inside, there are more than 23,000 manuscripts that are considered national treasures.
- A somber but important place to visit is the Armenian Genocide Memorial and Museum. Built in 1967, the museum explains a dark period of recent Armenian history.
- Republic Square is the city’s beating heart. Designed by architect Alexander Tamanyan in 1924, the square houses both the Armenian History Museum and Armenian National Gallery (much like London’s Trafalgar square) and is known for its joyful musical fountains.
- Winery Tours are available when you have ancient-site overload. Armenian wine presses have been found that are over 9000 years old so they know how to produce a good drop. Relax and taste some of the best vintages in this bountiful land!
- Homeland, an official member of the World Free Trade Organization, is where you’ll find handicrafts made by Armenian women, serving a dual purpose by keeping traditional Armenian craftsmanship alive and empowering women in rural villages.
- Vernissage Flea Market is a great place to pick up one-of-a-kind souvenirs and most of the items here are also handmade. Whether it’s jewellery, woven rugs, purses, clothes, toys, or vintage items you’ll enjoy mingling with local residents.
After exploring this wonderful city, you’ll want to eat. Armenian food is simply delicious. Here are my favourites in Yerevan:
- Lavash is one of the city’s most sought after dining experiences. Opened in 2017 with a ‘farm to table’ concept it offers excellent Armenian recipes. Order a few sharing platters and salads and make sure to scoop everything up with the restaurants signature namesake, lavash, a thin traditional Armenian bread.
- Great restaurants named after iconic dishes are a theme in Yerevan. Dolmama’s offers guests a welcoming experience and a thoughtful take on eastern Armenian dishes. Traditionally Armenian food is meant to be shared, so you’ll want to order several dishes while you sample the restaurant’s exciting Armenian wine list.
- If you’re looking for a hidden gem, Lahmujan Gaidz might just be the shiniest. This family-run Syrian-Armenian restaurant serves some of the best lahmujan (Armenian/Turkish meat pizza) in the city. It may be a bit harder to find but you’ll be rewarded handsomely for your efforts should you accept the quest.
Here’s a Pro tip: One of Armenian’s prides is its production of some of the world’s finest brandy. I suggest a tour at Ararat Distillery. Operating since 1887, this is the oldest brandy distillery in the country. Book a guided tour of their brandy museum and end with a relaxing tasting.
Armenians love to party and Yerevan truly shines at night. Here are the places I love to visit when the sun sets:
- El Sky Bar is a perfect spot for those who like a bit of glamour and a panoramic view, accompanied by a well-made cocktail. Located on the 7th floor of Yerevan Plaza Business Center, El Sky Bar is a great place to unwind and enjoy a drink or dance the night away.
- Take in an opera or ballet at the Armenian National Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet. Named after composer Alexander Spendiaryan, this elegant, rounded building is home to two concert halls; one for music the other for dance. Its design is said to symbolise the culture of music with its graceful and seamless structure. This offers an elegant evening of theatre and culture.
- Malkhas Jazz Club is a local hot spot enjoyed by a range of elite clientele including a visit by the Kardashian sisters. This is Armenia’s most famous jazz club so dress to impress.
Here’s final Pro-tip: When visiting Malkhas Jazz club plan to stay as late. Owner and top jazz pianist Levon Malkhasyan will often take the stage just after midnight. You won’t want to miss it!
Though Armenians are known for keeping late hours, everyone needs to sleep eventually. Here are some recommendations for wonderful stays in Yerevan:
- The Grand Hotel Yerevan is probably my favourite hotel in the country. Built in 1926, it is the oldest working hotel in the city, beautifully designed by Nikoghayos Buniatyan, the chief architect of Yerevan. Relax in the spa or rooftop pool as you enjoy panoramic views of the city and Mount Ararat.
- Business travellers will enjoy staying at the Hotel National, a modern boutique hotel in the heart of the city. The hotel offers guests three executive meeting rooms alongside a wide variety of bespoke event amenities for conferences and other business ventures.
- If you’re looking to stay right in the heart of it all, the Golden Palace Hotel is a three-minute walk from Republic Square and the Opera and Ballet Theatre. Home to a luxurious spa, this is a wonderful place to stay to relax and enjoy the city.
Yerevan is a wonderful and beautiful city of contrasts. You’ll love the setting, the history, the fun but most of all the wonderful people of this delightful place!