When I travel, I always have this driving force behind that wills me on to go where people normally don’t for one reason or another. The thirst for knowledge and curiosity for the unknown are the main forces that are pushing me to keep doing this and could be your key ingredient to visiting Armenia. When it comes to its formation and geographical history, Armenia has had a rough past. The Greeks, Romans, and Ottomans have all at one time, or another owned this small piece of land. However, since its declaration of independence in 1918, Armenia has been proudly standing on its own.
The pride and joy of this small but beautiful country is the capital of Yerevan and that’s what I will be writing about today. Yerevan is not on most peoples’ travel list for one reason or another and I hope to change this with this article. Did you know that Yerevan is actually one of the oldest capitals of the world, dating back to 782 BC? Needless to say, you will find a lot of historic sites in the ‘Pink City’. The Soviet-era buildings made of naturally colored volcanic rocks from the surrounding landscape give the sunset in Yerevan an iconic pink shade. That’s where the nickname comes from…
Getting to Yerevan
Yerevan has only one airport: Zvartnots International Airport, located 12 km outside of the city. Unfortunately, there aren’t any public transport options leading to the city so the only way to get out of it is via taxi or rent a car. A ride to the city center will cost roughly 6,000 drams ($10 euros). Once you settle, don’t expect to cover Yerevan in a day. The city is a home to more than one million people and covers roughly 230 square kilometers. You can try to discover Yerevan in 48 hours (0r so) but it’s far better to stay at least a few days to see as much as possible.
In such a big city, the location is incredibly important because getting to places can be more time-consuming than the actual sightseeing. And one of the best locations in the center of the capital is the Armenia Marriott Hotel Yerevan which is not too far from most of the interesting sites in the city. With that being said, let’s see which are the 10 must-see places in Yerevan you really shouldn’t miss while visiting.
If you’re traveling around the Caucasus, you should also check my guide about visiting Georgia.
1. Ancient tales: the Matendaran
The Matenadaran is the world’s richest source of medieval manuscripts. The written history and development of humankind is detailed in these manuscripts as well as the very early printed books. The subjects are very varied with arts, literature, medicine, philosophy, history, religion and the very early mapping techniques. The building itself is very domineering with matte gray stone being used to create a very tall and wide stature.
Many of the manuscripts date far back over 1,000 years which is incredible seeing as the pieces on show are in a very good condition. You can really get a sense of what were the key areas of concern for the people back in the medieval times when you read the detailed explanations of certain manuscripts.
2. The Republic Square
The Republic Square is located in the center of the city, surrounded by 7 major tourist sights. The square covers staggering 30,000 square meters and you can literally spend a whole day here. The square hosts some of the most impressive landmarks in the city, such as the National Gallery, the History Museum, the Government, and even the fantastic musical fountains. One fun fact about it is that it took Armenians more than 50 years to complete this impressive square.
3. The Museums of History and the Armenian Genocide Memorial
Yerevan is a very old city with a rich history and one great way to learn about it are its museums. If you read my articles, you know I don’t talk about museums that much but Yerevan certainly has a few seriously worth visiting. One is the National Museum of history that has more than 400,000 artifacts! I can comfortably say that this is the place where you can learn the most about not only Yerevan but Armenia as a country.
Many people tend to forget the horrible Armenian genocide during WWI caused by the Ottomans. At the time Armenia was still under an Ottoman rule and in just two years (1915-1917) the Turks killed more than 1.5 million people, which almost half of the country’s population and thousands of Armenians fled across the world in horror. There’s no better place to learn about this dark era of Armenian history than the Tsitsernakaberd: the Armenian Genocide Memorial.
4. The Parks
Yerevan has a lot of parks spread across the city where you can sit back, relax, and have a picnic. However, the two that left the strongest impression on me were Lovers Park and English Park. Lovers Park was recently transformed and today features a traditional Japanese landscape. It’s by far the most popular park in the city and seems to be the oldest one as well. English Park is another very interesting place, interestingly, located on Italy Street. This is the biggest park in the city, covering almost 6 hectares of greenery.
5. The Cascade and the best view of Yerevan
The Cascade is a giant stairwell that was built in 1971 and completely renovated in 2009. Today, the Cascade is one of the key landmarks of the city that offers the most iconic view of Yerevan. This monument has over 700 steps and eight levels, out of which every next one has different monuments, fountains, and even gardens. If you’re feeling lazy and 700 steps are just too much, don’t worry, you can use some of the elevators. Additionally, every last Friday of the month, Karin, a local folk dance group organizes FREE traditional dance lessons just outside of the Cascade.
6. Erebuni Fortress & Museum
Sitting on the top of the hill, the Erebuni Fortress is one of the oldest sites in Yerevan, dating back to 782 BC, when the city was founded. It was one of the several fortresses erected in order to protect the borders of the ancient Urartu Kingdom. Successive Urartian kings chose Erebuni as a place of their residence and despite the numerous bloody invasions, the city surrounding the fort remained constantly inhabited. Obviously, this is a place full of history, one you mustn’t miss out on when visiting Yerevan.
7. The Victory Park and Mother Armenia
The Victory Park was built in Yerevan in 1950 to celebrate the end of WWII. Interestingly, the park initially featured a big statue of Joseph Stalin. However, after hid dead Stalin’s statue was replaced with an even bigger statue, known as Mother Armenia. This symbolized Armenia’s distantiation from the Soviet Union and the statue is a really important piece of the Armenian national identity. Mother Armenia is 50 meters tall and she has a sword in her hand, constantly watching over Armenia’s capital. Next to her, you will find The Grave of the Unknown Soldier, devoted to the eternal memory of the soldiers who died in the WWII and the Nagorno-Karabakh War.
8. The Blue Mosque
The Blue Mosque is the only surviving mosque in Yerevan. It was built in the 18th century when Armenia was still a part of Persia. That’s why the mosque is built in predominately Persian style. Before the Russian invasion, Yerevan had 10 mosques. However, after Armenia became a part of the Russian Empire the only one that survived was the Blue Mosque. The only reason for this is because it served as the official Museum of Yerevan from 1931 to 1999.
If you’re traveling around this region, you should also check out my article about traveling in Turkey.
9. Saint Gregory
In Armenia, you will find a lot of old churches, as the country was one of the first on to accept Christianity. However, St. Gregory is a fascinating piece of architecture and the biggest cathedral in Armenia and has a great historical significance. The cathedral houses the relics of St. Gregory, who was the founder of Christianity in Armenia.
This cathedral is so massive that it has three churches within. One is the main church, and the other two are the chapels of St. Tiridates the King and St. Ashken the Queen. This also has a symbolic meaning because Tiridates and Ashken were champions of Christianity and the greatest supporters of St. Gregory. Even more impressive, the cross on the top of the church is 54 meters from the ground, which makes it visible from every part of Yerevan. The cathedral also has 30 arches and enough room to accommodate 1,700 people at a time.
Just outside of Yerevan, you will find Geghard, another old and spectacular monastery, protected by UNESCO. Geghard is literally carved into the rocks and is a perfect demonstration of the stunning medieval Armenian architecture. The main chapel in the monastery was built in the 1200s’ but the complex was founded in the 4th century. If you want to explore the surroundings of Yerevan, this place would be a perfect opportunity for a one-day trip.
Bonus: You have to try Vardavar
If you happen to visit Armenia in July, you have to try this holiday. Vardavar is an Armenian pagan holiday where people go out in the streets with buckets of water, looking for victims to splash. People of all age group participate in this event, which makes it even more fun!
I hope this article will inspire you to visit this wonderful city. Have you ever been to Yerevan or have places you thought I missed to mention in this list? Let me know in the comments below.