Although Armenia is an understated tourist destination, this jewel on the border of Asia and Europe calls for the attention of the travelling public. The diversity of its landscapes, spectacular mountains, and century-old religious traditions are reason enough to visit this country.
If you want to know what natural and cultural sights of Armenia are the most impressive then keep reading. Here is our list of 10 fantastic places to see in Armenia.
Many travellers arrive or exit Armenia from the capital Yerevan, but the city is more than just a jumping point to other attractive sights. In the heart lies Republic Square, the most important civic space in Yerevan. From a bench, you can enjoy the early 20th-century architecture built with orange tuff stone. One of the exotic-looking buildings houses the History Museum and National Gallery of Armenia. Both of these will give you a proper introduction to Armenia. Learn more about the country and its history in the Armenian Genocide Museum, with great exhibitions about these tragic events at the beginning of the 1900s. Yerevan Cascade is the perfect viewpoint to see the sunset over the city and the majestic Mount Ararat.
2. Khor Virap
Of all ancient monasteries in Armenia, Khor Virap has the most breathtaking scenery. This sacred site lies in the far west of Armenia and offers splendid views over Mount Ararat (approx. 5137 metres) and the valley. The complex dates back to 180 BC but became a cloister when Armenia accepted Christianity as a state religion in the year 301. There is plenty to explore in the monastery itself; the gorgeous main chapel, chambers of the monks, and even a dungeon from the time before Khor Virap became a monastery. You can take a taxi or direct service bus from the centre of Yerevan to Khor Virap. This journey takes about an hour.
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3. Mount Aragats
Mount Aragats is truly an iconic mountain in Armenia. At 4090 metres it is the highest summit in the country and a dream destination for hiking enthusiasts. Mount Aragats has 4 rugged peaks, and all can be reached by foot, although this requires hiking experience and decent footwear. The views over snowfields and Armenia’s dry plains are more than stunning.
Along the way from Yerevan to the mountain, it’s recommended to take a break at Amberd Fortress. Although the original castle was constructed in the 7th century, the current ruins were built in the 13th century, after devastating invasions. The ruins of this ancient stronghold, the 11th-century church, and the deep gorge to the west bundle into a remarkable scene.
Dilijan makes you feel like you have been catapulted back into the Soviet era; charming Lada cars can be seen everywhere, as well as traditional workshops in wooden houses. This, combined with the mountainous landscapes and forests, make this town an attractive getaway in Armenia.
Head for Lake Parz for an unwinding walk surrounded by greenery. Especially during autumn, when the leaves are glowing red and orange, this is an excellent spot to stretch the legs. Watch masters of handicrafts at work in their studios along Myasnikyan Street. Here they work on jewellery, wooden toys, and paintings.
When you drive for 30 minutes out of town, you’ll stumble upon the beautiful Haghartsin Monastery, a medieval complex encircled by bountiful pine forests.
5. Lake Sevan
Lake Sevan is the largest lake in Armenia, and even in the entire Caucasus region. With its 1242 square kilometres, it makes up for approximately 4 per cent of the country’s total size. One of the highlights of Lake Sevan is the Sevanavank Monastery, which sits on the northwestern shore of this massive basin. This complex dates back to the 800s and is located in a picturesque spot, with an outlook over the lake and mighty snow-capped peaks in the background.
When visiting you can rent a boat to explore Lake Sevan or hang out on one of the many beaches. For those after a hike then consider climbing up to Mount Artanish. Up here you can enjoy the best views possible.
6. Geghard Monastery
With a history of more than 1600 years and a UNESCO World Heritage listing for cultural significance, the Geghard Monastery is one of the most important monuments in Armenia. Geghard Monastery is based in a deep gorge, surrounded by tall cliffs. A part of the monastery is cut out from the rocks and includes tombs, ancient carvings, art and religious symbols.
Inside the main chapel, the sacred atmosphere is palpable; footsteps are all you can hear, and the only light is daylight from the windows and candles lit by visitors. The Geghard complex has many khachkars, the Armenian cross-stones carved with the Christian cross and a depiction of other religious and typical Armenian symbols.
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7. Garni Temple
Another excellent example of Armenia’s ancient architecture and the cultural display is the Garni Temple which is located 30 kilometres east of Yerevan. This former pagan temple is estimated to be created in the 2nd century BC. Its Greco-Roman style makes the Garni Temple unique in Armenia, and undoubtedly reminds travellers of the Greek Acropolis.
Besides its unique status and brilliant design, it’s also worth stopping by Garni for nature. The pagan pagoda has surroundings consisting of hills and streams flowing through the valley. Although you get a sense of the landscapes from the temple itself, it’s rewarding to follow the trail down and get closer to the rock walls Garni Temple rests on.
In terms of backdrops, the age-old cave village of Khndzoresk belongs to the most amazing in the country. This settlement, almost glued to the border with Azerbaijan, is built on a mountain slope and consists of natural and man-made caves. Unlike its almost prehistoric looks would suggest, Khndzoresk was even inhabited until the 1950s. You can scout through the caves and – if you dare – cross the suspension bridge over the gorge Khndzoresk is built in. The construction measures 160 metres and presents daredevils with stunning vistas over the canyon and cave village.
9. Etchmiadzin Cathedral
Etchmiadzin Cathedral is based 20 kilometres from the heart of Yerevan, in the town of Vagharshapat. The cathedral is the mother church of the Armenian Apostolic Church and is acknowledged to be the oldest cathedral in the world. The construction was finished in 303, only two years after Armenia had accepted Christianity as a state religion.
The interior is spellbinding, with frescos on the walls and domed ceilings, as well as impressive altars. A public bus service connects Yerevan and Vagharshapat, which makes it easy to endeavour a short trip to the church. You can enter Etchmiadzin free of charge.
10. Noravank Gorge
The Noravank Gorge perfectly summarizes the natural and cultural treasures Armenia possesses. The orange rock formations, flora, and rare animals such as the Persian leopard bestow this canyon with an unmatched appeal. In the gorge, you’ll also find the charming Noravank Monastery. With the red-yellow cliffs in the background, this 12th-century abbey even rivals Khor Virap when it comes to beautiful scenery.
If you’re interested in culture and wish to spend a good portion of your trip in stunning nature as well, Armenia is an excellent choice. Armenia has a long and intriguing history, incredibly beautiful monasteries, and countless hiking trails to feed your outdoor cravings.
Travel suggestion: Combine your trip with a visit to some of the beautiful places to visit in Georgia. If you’re visiting Georgia you can also find various day tours from Tbilisi.
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