Armenia never was on the top of my travel list. To be honest, I don’t think it was ever there at all! It came to me as a surprise when my husband suggested this destination for our summer family holiday. It was even bigger surprise to see how beautiful Armenia is! What a hidden treasure.
The trip did not start good at all. After 10 hours flight, we finally safely landed in Yerevan only to find out that our suitcases were left behind in Moscow. I was due to meet my in-laws for very first time in few hours, therefore our first steps led to the shopping mall on the Northern Avenue, which is located under the ground of the city’s old promenade. As much as unique this is, I wasn’t really appreciating it at the time as I was desperate to find something suitable to wear for the occasion. Later I learned that this modern shopping mall was build underground so that it does not disrupt the historical architecture of the city, which is preserved from ancient Greece and remarked by Soviet-era. Yerevan is one of the most historical cities in the world. Some call it an ‘open-air museum’, for me it was like a gateway into history.
If you asked me what comes on my mind when someone mentions ‘Yerevan’, I would say with no hesitation – old-school cars, delicious food, great brandy, and fantastic markets. Additionally, I will never forget seeing watermelons floating in the public swimming pool to cool down and then being sold in the nearby cafes. Somehow, that scene perfectly defined Yerevan’s character – chilled, simple and unique.
There are some drawbacks here that you should know before you go. Firstly, the customer service is basically non-existent. Tourism is still not a thing in here, and most of the time I felt like we are bothering the locals by wanting to eat or by asking for directions etc. We were turned away from many restaurants that were not willing to put tables together to sit a party of fifteen. The most common word used at the hotel reception was ‘NO’. Zero proactivity or willingness almost everywhere we went. Even though Yerevan is the capital of Armenia, people do not speak English much, so it can be a bit difficult sometimes to find your way around. Finally, beware that public transport is not well signed, and it is practically impossible for foreigner to use it. If you do manage, please let me know how! However, the cab prices are very budget friendly, and I think that is the best way to get around Yerevan as well as out of Yerevan. We were using a mobile app ‘gg’, which worked great.
Ok, so now when we are clear on all pros and cons, let’s talk what places to visit. The first checkpoint is so-called ‘the heart of Yerevan’ – the Republic Square. It has an oval shape and there are musical fountains in the top part. The square is formed by five important buildings – The National Art Gallery and History Museum, The Government House, The Central post office, The Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources and The Marriot Hotel. There are also plenty of restaurants and cafes all around. Altogether, this has a bit of Cuban vibe and is worth a visit both during the day and in the evening.
Markets. Oh boy, where do I start…? We spent hours and hours browsing local markets. It’s like a collection of uniqueness, antiques, and delicatessens. Although, be careful not to be tricked. Locals are really convincing when they are trying to sell you what they claim to be ‘original’ goods. For example, my mother-in-law is obsessed with Czech crystal (no wonder why!). Therefore, it did not surprise us when she headed towards a stall packed with shiny kitchen bowls and huge signs ‘Czech Crystal’. I, as a Czech national, did not believe even for a second that this crystal was real…. It just wasn’t as ‘sexy’ as our original pieces. The lady was very persistent that one would eventually believe her if there weren’t Polish writings on a sticker on the bottom of the bowl. All in all, don’t let their charm to trick you and pay only for the value you are getting.
As you walk through the city, there are few high streets with shops all around where you can do some more shopping. But, make sure to keep enough free time for some art. Spend some time around the Yerevan’s Opera Theatre. There are street artists in that area and art exhibitions in a local park. Then make your way towards the Yerevan Cascade (although if you are visiting Armenia in a summer, I recommend visiting the Cascade either in the early morning or late afternoon because of the heat). The Cascade is a strange modernist sculpture – it is neither monument nor a building. Although, it serves as both. Its’ original purpose is to connect the downtown and the residential areas. The staircase really is the main element of this sculpture – currently, there are 2,780 steps (I later learned that there is one for each year since Yerevan’s founding at the time when this was built). Don’t worry, there are also lifts and escalators. The whole Cascade is filled with modern art and it worth to explore every floor. Not to mention, there is a beautiful view from the top.
When in Yerevan, you cannot get away from tasting Ararat brandy. The legendary Armenian brandy and wine are local treasures. There are two Ararat factories in Yerevan that you can visit. The entrance fee includes a factory tour, museum visit, cellar visit (you will go down via the world’s oldest elevator) and a tasting session. Besides brandies of different age, we also got to taste local delicatessen – apricot and pomegranate wine. Without a doubt, day well spent.
Short drive from Yerevan, you can find beautiful Lake Sevan and the Sevanavank monastery. Perfect for a one-day trip! The lake is surrounded by nice beaches and there are many water sports that you can entertain yourself with. We also hired a boat (you can do it for a very cheap price there) to see the area from its very center. A stunning scenery opens up when cruising around the lake. After the boat trip, get yourself some refreshment from a local market and make your way uphill towards the monastery. Get ready, it is quite a hike. But totally worth it. The monastery is beautiful and the view from the top is breath-taking. We stayed up there for a sunset and that was my highlight of this trip.
To relax or to have a bit of fun after all the sign seeing, you can visit Water World which is located 20 minutes’ drive from Yerevan city center. There are more places in Armenia apart from Yerevan that worth a visit, for instance, the Ararat mountain which is at the border with Turkey. Sadly, we were too far from there and did not have enough time. However, Ararat is still pending on my bucket list. That means I will be surely returning to beautiful Armenia one day….