Before we dive into the list of top cities to visit in Armenia, let’s acknowledge the fact that this country is a true hidden gem in tourism. Armenia is considered to be one of the most ancient countries of the world thanks to its old historical and cultural heritage. This small country is located at the crossroads between Europe and Asia. It is bordered by Georgia on the north, Turkey on the west, Iran on the south and southwest, and on the east – by Azerbaijan.
Armenia has a variety of cultural and historical sites, that’s why it has been recently turning into an interesting destination for travelers. If you’re planning a visit to this beautiful land, here are my suggestions for the top 5 cities to visit in Armenia.
If, after all, you decide to follow my recommendations in this post, let me know! Take pictures and tweet or instagram those to me with #ArmeniaTravelTips. I’d love to hear about your impressions from these cities.
Yerevan, the obvious must-visit city
The capital of Armenia, Yerevan, is also the largest city of the country. So, it absolutely had to make it into my list of top cities to visit in Armenia. Besides, you’ll most likely come to Armenia by flying into Yerevan’s Zvartnots airport. So, it makes sense to spend some time here.
The city is known as “the pink city”, for the color of stones used in its architecture as the city was developing under Soviet Regime. To give you a glimpse, I invite you to check out this beautiful drone footage of Yerevan.
Yerevan is an old city, in fact it is older than Rome, because it was founded over 2800 years ago. But it has a lot of modernity in it as well. The city has a lot to offer to its guests, from its beautiful cafes and restaurants to several historical museums and opera houses. You can immerse yourself into the ancient history of this land at Matenadaran library, the National Gallery of Armenia and at Tsitsernakaberd (the Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex) which is located on a hill in the western part of Yerevan.
Republic Square, St. Gregory church, Vernissage market, Ararat Brandy Factory, The Blue mosque and Yerevan Opera theater – these are the most interesting places to go to during your visit of the Armenian capital. I also recommend you check out my list of unique places in Yerevan if you’re planning to visit this city. Also, don’t miss my recommendations for where the best views in Yerevan can be found.
Besides, simply taking a good walk in the city center is a great idea. Go out, meet the locals and enjoy Armenian wine or brandy at the stairway of Cascade, while enjoying the beautiful view of the Mount Ararat. If you’re looking for something less polished and more authentic, then check out my post about Kond – Yerevan’s old town. I’m sure you’d find it interesting too! Or, maybe you want to do some street shopping or find some great places to buy souvenirs while in Yerevan. Check out those links for my personal tips.
Gyumri – the city that shows you the old Armenia
Gyumri is the second largest city in Armenia. It’s commonly known as the cultural capital of the country, as many Armenian movies of the twentieth century were filmed here. So, it’s not surprising that the city itself is quite picturesque and it has a strong historical vibe.
The black tuff buildings of the city give it a unique atmosphere. This architectural style dates back to the 19th century when the city was called Alexandropol after then Russian princess Alexandra Fyodorovna.
Gyumri has multiple beautiful churches. One of those is Yot verk church (its name can be translated as “seven wounds”), it is located next to the Vardanants Square.
Luxe, the oldest existing hairdressing salon in Gyumi, built in 1941, is not so far from it. It’s in Gayi street and I encourage you to ask locals for directions! You won’t regret it. 🙂 Visiting it provides a unique view into the old Soviet interior design practices, because the owner managed to maintain the place in a great state for all these years. Check out the video below, which shows the place pretty well. But keep in mind, seeing it in real life is priceless – no video can mediate the real atmosphere.
Dilijan is the city where you connect with nature
“Armenian Switzerland” – this is what visitors usually call Dilijan, because of its stunning nature and serenity of the environment. And that’s precisely why I absolutely had to include it into my list of top cities to visit in Armenia.
Dilijan is a spa town surrounded by forests and mountains. Besides being a popular travel destination among locals, it has become one of the country’s educational and financial centers. The Central Bank of Armenia, for example, has established its big Monetary Research Center here.
If you ask anyone “what’s the famous place in Dilijan?” you’ll hear “Dilijan National Park with its Parz Lich” (which means “Clear Lake”). It’s a “must visit” place. You can also try the zip line, which passes over the Lake. It’s fun! If you’re a nature lover, you should absolutely visit Dilijan, because you will enjoy every minute of your time spent there. To learn more about this place, check out my separate post about the Dilijan National Park and hiking there.
Take a day trip to the holy city – Etchmiadzin
Speaking of Christian tradition… Etchimiadzin is a must visit city if you’re traveling around Armenia. Maybe it’s a little difficult to pronounce the name, but you can also use the other name “Vagharshapat”, if it’s any easier. 😊 The name of the city means ‘Where Jesus descended”. This spiritual center is the 4th largest city of Armenia and the residence of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
Also, Etchmiadzin is very close to Yerevan, so it is very easy to take a day tour there. Moreover, it’s a city that hosts some of the most notable UNESCO World Heritage sites in Armenia, so you definitely don’t want to miss that!
The Cathedral of Etchmiadzin was founded by St. Gregory the Illuminator in the year 301. It’s called the Mother church. At first, it was a pagan temple. However, after Christianity was adopted as the national religion, the cathedral was built on top of the original building. On the way to check it out, I recommend you pay attention to the gates and the open-air altar at the entrance of the whole complex. Spend some time in the area, maybe consider having a nice walk in their massive, beautiful park. You can also check out their new library that’s just on the left side of the gates, it stores books in over 40 different languages. The collection is really impressive!
Etchmiadzin has a lot of old churches, such as St. Hripsime church and St. Gayane church, both date back to the 7th century. A smaller, and much more recent (17th century) St. Shoghakat church might also be interesting to visit, especially for those who prefer places with no or minimum travelers around.
Visit Machanents center while in Etchmiadzin
While in Etchmiadzin, I think you should absolutely make sure you spare at least 2-3 hours to visit Machanents cultural center. It’s a museum, gallery, restaurant, charity organisation and a bunch of other things – all in one place. They have a lot of ancient artifacts at display in the museum part, and you can also choose to sign up for one of their workshops. Pottery, traditional Armenian carpet weaving, cooking lavash bread in a traditional stone oven, and many other activities – you choose! The restaurant there is probably the best choice for food in Etchmiadzin, because they cook traditional Armenian food with local produce. Literally everyone who I ever spoke to, and who’d been there, they just can’t stop praising the quality of food at this place. They also offer a sun-cooked smoked trout on the menu! Curious?
If you are wondering what it is, you should know that I had no idea either! But it’s crazy! So… They have these massive mirror-panels in their garden, which they turn in a way to make them catch the light, and focus it on one spot. And, that’s exactly the spot where your trout is being placed. The temperature reaches 700 C. So, your food can be ready as quickly as in a couple of minutes. It’s delicious and unique! I strongly recommend you check it out. If I haven’t convinced yet, see this video on David’s Been Here channel, where he shows you everything about the Machanents center.
Outside Etchmiadzin: don’t miss Zvartnots ruins
On the way out from Etchmiadzin I recommend you visit Zvartnots Cathedral, or rather its ruins. The Cathedral dates back to the seventh century and was only excavated in the beginning of the XX century. Its design, as much as we can see of it, suggests a very strong Mesopotamian influence, and the round construction of the building is quite impressive. Separate sections of its columns have been reconstructed, but overall it’s really just old ruins, which gives the place a special spirit.
Etchmiadzin has a special meaning for the religious world, as it’s sort of another Vatican, but for the Armenian branch of Apostolic Church. Therefore, visiting Armenia, you should certainly consider visiting this city, as it plays an important role in formation of Armenian culture and identity.
Jermuk: my list of top cities to visit in Armenia won’t be complete without it
Jermuk, which means “geyser“, is the heart of sanatoriums. Most of the mineral water you find in shops around Armenia comes from this city. Since it’s such an iconic place in the minds of Armenians, I thought I have to include it into my list of top cities to visit in Armenia.
With its wonderful climate and fresh air, this city attracts a lot of visitors from different parts of the world. The most famous part of this location is the Jermuk waterfall, 2080 meters above the sea level. Don’t forget to visit the rope-way, where you can observe the city’s beauty in its full scale from above.
They also call this city “magic water”, because the mineral waters of Jermuk provide documented medical benefits. There’s a belief that in old times there was an injured deer that threw itself into the water in Jermuk area and got immediately healed. That’s how a deer became the symbol of this city. Jermuk is a great option to have a stop at during your visit in Armenia.
These are just my selection of top cities to visit in Armenia, but the country has a lot more to offer. You will most probably land in Yerevan, but I strongly encourage you to go and explore Armenia beyond it’s capital. You might be surprised to find out that calling a taxi or an Uber-like service in Yerevan for a ride outside of the capital, is a pretty viable option here. So, if your time allows for more exploration, don’t limit yourself: neither to just the capital city, nor to these five locations. And don’t forget to take pictures and tweet/instagram those to me with #ArmeniaTravelTips. I’m very curious to hear from others how they experience visiting my motherland.
Featured image credit: Photo by Sevak Mn on Unsplash