Travel

A beginner’s guide to Armenia: Culture, churches and celebrities

Welcome to the birthplace of Ararat brandy and the Kardashians.

Taking a trip in and around the Middle East, doesn’t just have to be about luxury resorts. If you’ve visited the usual suspects, from the Maldives to Muscat, or want to go off the beaten track, we have an alternative destination: Armenia.

Armenia has a rich cultural heritage. History buffs can explore Armenia’s powerhouse past, as it is the world’s first country to adopt Christianity, and has ten UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Foodies can dig into its burgeoning restaurant scene with basturma, boerag and brandy. And, pop culture kids can visit gram-worthy spots, from gardens to galleries, and follow in the fashionable footsteps of the Kardashians – it is their ancestorial home, after all.

Most visitors will land in Armenia’s capital, Yerevan, which is keen to put itself on the map. After gaining independence from the Soviet Union, Armenia is often paired with trips to its neighbouring Georgia. On our visits, we met a wave of locals, who once lived abroad, returning to take part in the tourist revolution. Armenia has a population of 2.7 million, and spans 29,743 kilometres squared. So, if you want to see what this small but mighty country has to offer, now is the time. Here’s our beginner’s guide to Armenia. 

Guide to Armenia
When to visit Armenia 

Armenia is situated between Asia and Europe, and is located in the mountainous Caucasus region. The all-year-round destination has highs of 33 degrees Celsius in the summer, and lows of -3 degrees Celsius in the winter. The offerings change with the seasons, from summer strolls in the city to skiing in the snow-capped mountains. Plus, given that the country lays claim to the first church in the world, Holy Etchmiadzin, it’s well worth visiting during Christmas, as the capital Yerevan has a towering tree and markets.

Guide to Armenia

Hotels in Yerevan 

We stayed in the Best Western Plus Congress Hotel Yerevan, which is popular with business travellers and has a restaurant, two bars and a swimming pool. We also stayed at the Republica Hotel Yerevan, which has a hip vibe and the trendy outdoor bar, Tap Station. Both are four-star hotels, which are in walking distance of Yerevan Square’s tourist sights. If only luxury will do, we’d suggest the Armenia Marriott Hotel Yerevan, which was rumoured to once have Soviet spies tapping the rooms. Oh, and Kim and Khloe Kardashian checked into the hotel in an episode of Keeping up with the Kardashians

Yerevan

Restaurants in Yerevan 

It’s easy to spend like a pauper and eat like a king in Yerevan. The Cascade Complex and Northern Avenue are lined with restaurants. We loved the heartwarming soups in Tavern Yerevan, and the great grills in Ararat Tavern. If you want to dine like an A-lister, the fanciest restaurant is Dolamama. The menu serves traditional Armenian food including lamb tjvik, rabbit stew and veal cheek. Famous diners include Hillary Clinton, Kanye West, Kim Kardashian and Vladimir Putin. Sherep was so good, we visited twice – we’re fans of the Middle Eastern and Eastern European cuisine, paired with a glass of wine and live music. Tip: book Sherep in advance, as it’s a popular spot.

Yerevan

Nightlife in Yerevan 

Armenia is famous for its brandy. This was the tipple of choice for Agatha Christie, Frank Sinatra and Winston Churchill. According to local legend, the country has been distilling brandy since the 12th century. Bar Phoneix is a stylish spot to raise a glass or three of brandy. In Vino has an extensive wine collection and indoor as well as outdoor seating, which offers unexpected people watching. If you want to dance the night away, live music venues range from Kami Music Club to Malkhas Jazz Club.

Kami Yerevam

Arts and culture in Yerevan  

Republic Square is a super starting point for museums and galleries, from the History Museum of Armenia to the Modern Art Museum. A must-visit is the Museum of the Armenian Genocide, which is a fifteen-minute drive from the centre. The memorial site, from the monument with flowers and a flame to the garden playing classic music, offers a space for reflection. 

The Dancing Fountain in Republic Square puts on a choreographed show to a soundtrack ranging from James Bond to Star Wars, and attracts daily crowds from around 8pm. Hidden gems include Blue Mosque, an 18th-century Shia mosque, and Vernissage Market, which sells traditional handicrafts. Be warned: the cultural scene is not as woke as the rest of the world. We did a walking tour with a local who made inappropriate cultural comments. Plus, Photo Atelier Marashlyan lets you – if you’re Justin Trudeau-inclined – dabble in cultural appropriation and dress up in traditional clothes for a shoot.

Guide to Armenia

How to get around Yerevan 

The infrastructure for tourists travelling around Yerevan is not smooth sailing. The best option is taxi apps such as GG Taxi, Yandex Go and UTaxi. From our experience, taxis are a safe mode of transport, but some will not have working seatbelts. Note: many of the drivers do not understand English. So, greet them with barven dzez (hello), and sign off with shnorhakalutyun (thank you).  

Yerevan

Day trips from Yerevan 

Armenia offers beautiful trips outside the capital. Thrill seekers can try hot air balloon rides, paragliding and ziplining across the country. Tsaghkadzor is a stunning ski resort, Lake Sevan is a serene spot, and Geghard Monastery is an 800-year-old monastery, and all are a one-hour drive. Mount Aragats, which is the country’s highest point at 4,090 metres, has great hiking trails and is a two-hour drive. If you’re looking to make a day (and night) of it, check into Dream of Bjni, a boutique guest house in Bjni, which boasts mountain views.

Guide to Armenia

Flights to Armenia 

The UAE runs direct flights to Armenia. Wizz Air operates flights from Abu Dhabi, which take three-hours. Emirates, FlyDubai and FLYONE operate flights from Dubai, which take three and a half hours. Happy travels.

GO: Visit https://armenia.travel for more information. 

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Kohinoor Sahota - Deputy Editor
A sucker for a good story, if you invite Kohinoor to a gallery, comedy night, new restaurant, hiking trip, cycle ride, pool day or just about any activity, preferably with the promise of wine, she’ll probably say yes – that is if she isn’t busy planning her next adventure.

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