Why Visit Yerevan? And why it’s proof that people don’t know what they’re talking about…

Why Visit Yerevan?Why Visit Yerevan?

If we had listened to people we would have never gone to Yerevan. “Yerevan is like Tbilisi used to be. It’s really backwards”. “Yerevan is poor, like the rest of Armenia. There’s not much to see”. Bloggers we know questioned going to Armenia at all, “We’ve explored Georgia and I don’t see Armenia being any different”.

Of course all the above came from people (mostly Georgian) who had never actually been to Armenia.

Below: Republic Square

Republic Square, Yerevan. Why visit Yerevan?


Having spent a month in Yerevan and visiting much of Armenia (after a month spent in Georgia), we’re happy that we saw Yerevan
. I’m not going to tell you that it’s an incredible, “must-see” city. But it surprised us. We found it an attractive, very liveable city with wide, tree-lined boulevards. The city center is full of parks, fountains and cafés. We found excellent, upscale restaurants which surpassed anything we experienced in Tbilisi. We were also surprised by all the boutique stores in the city center. People were well-dressed and attractive. We half expected carts pulled by donkeys after some of the things we were told. Yerevan was nothing like that and it actually feels “richer” than Tbilisi (and you won’t see all the stray dogs you see in Tbilisi). You’ll also see a lot of Soviet buildings and monuments around in Yerevan – something you won’t see in most ex-Soviet republics (where most have been torn down). Interestingly, Yerevan is known as the “Pink City” because all the buildings are built using the same pink rock.

 

 

But besides being pleasantly surprised by the city, the history and culture in Armenia is different from Georgia’s. A few things that struck us and that might interest you:

  • While Georgia is pro-West and anti-Russian, Armenia has close ties with Russia. Russia has a military base north of Yerevan where 6,000 Russian troops are stationed. Both countries are part of the Collective Security Treaty Organization. Armenia’s close military relationship with Russian is partly historical (being a former Soviet state) but mostly due to its bad relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan (see further below).
  • In Georgia English is widely spoken. In Armenia you’ll find less English and more Russian spoken – and that includes among young people.
  • We were surprised to hear about the close historical relationship between Armenia and France. France helped the Armenians during the Armenian genocide, sending boats and welcoming Armenians to settle in France. It was the first country to recognize the Armenian genocide. Armenia is actually a member of the International Organization of la Francophonie. Charles Aznavour, the renown singer, was born of Armenian parents and is one of the most famous Armenians of all time (there’s a museum dedicated to him in Yerevan). Surprise: The French “merci” is used to say thank you (for a foreigner it’s much easier than the official Armenian thank you of “schnorrhakalutsjun”). Also: Armenia has fantastic brandy and is the only country in the world (outside of France) which is allowed to label their brandy as “cognac”.
  • We knew a lot about the Armenian genocide at the hands of the Turks but it was interesting to learn about the complicated current history that Armenia has with both Turkey and Azerbaijan. Armenia’s borders with both countries have been closed since 1993. They have a good relationship with Iran though and many of the tourists you’ll see in Yerevan are from Iran.

In short, there are a lot of differences between Armenia and Georgia and they can’t be lumped together as “the same”.

 

 

Why Visit Yerevan? The “Must-See” Highlights

Yerevan Cascade

By far the most touristy site in Yerevan, this is a giant stairwell made of limestone. It is a center of art and you’ll see contemporary sculptures on the outside stairs, in the interior of the complex (where you’ll see escalators that you can take to the top), and in the gardens at the base (you’ll see a few Botero statues for example). You’ll see gardens, fountains, and when you reach the top you’ll have sweeping views of the city with Mount Ararat in the background (which is actually right across the border in Turkey). It is quite the fantastic site.

At the base are a series of gardens with more art, fountains, and cafés and restaurants which always seem to be full.

Cascade complex, Yerevan

Botero statue, Yerevan, Armenia

Views of Mt. Ararat, Yerevan

modern art, Cascade complex, Yerevan

Above: The Cascade Complex

 

Mother Armenia Monument

The Mother Armenia Monument represents the Soviet victory in World War II while commemorating the Armenians who lost their lives in the war. It replaced (in 1967) a huge statue of Joseph Stalin. It also houses a military museum which is worth a visit (closed on Mondays).

You can walk to the Mother Armenia Monument from the top of the Yerevan Cascade Complex: just walk up the large street leading away from the Cascade. You’ll see an underpass leading to the park on the other side of the street. A 10 minute walk through the park will lead you to the Mother Armenia Monument.

Why Visit Yerevan?

Why Visit Yerevan? And why it’s proof that people don’t know what they’re talking about…

downtown Yerevan from Mother Armenia monument

Above: Mother Armenia Monument…and views over the city

 

Republic Square

The City’s main square and is surrounded by pink buildings and fountains. Come here in the evening and it will be filled with people, music and you’ll see dancing fountains in the giant pool that stands in front of the History Museum.

Republic Square fountains, Yerevan, Armenia

Singing fountains, Yerevan Armenia

Above: Republic Square

 

During our month’s stay in Yerevan we toured with Arara Tours for 4 days. One of those days included a Yerevan city tour which covered a few must-see Museums which I cover below. Museums generally can be hit-or-miss – but the museums below were excellent and visiting them we really gained an appreciation for Armenia and its history. 

 

Must-see Museums in Yerevan

Armenian Genocide Museum

On a hill outside of the city is this memorial dedicated to the people who were killed in the Armenian genocide which started in 1915. You’ll see external structures: 12 giant slabs representing the 12 Armenian provinces that were lost during the war, an eternal flame dedicated to the 1.5 million Armenians killed, a large wall with the names of cities where massacres took place, and a sharp 44-meter stele (like a spike) soaring into the sky. It represents the rebirth of Armenia. Underground you’ll find the museum which recounts, in quite bold language, the atrocities committed by the Turks against Armenians in the centuries leading up to (and during)  the genocide.

Armenian Genocide Museum, Yerevan

 

Matenadaran (book depository)

The Matenadaran is officially the Mesrop Mashtots Institute of Ancient Manuscripts. A museum dedicated to ancient manuscripts sounds really boring but we had an excellent guide (arranged by Arara Tours) who made it exciting. The manuscripts cover religion, science, history, geography and other subjects and you get to see ancient books, some dating back to the 6th century. During the many wars with the Ottomans many manuscripts were intentionally destroyed and these ones survived, often by being hidden in caves or being sent elsewhere for safekeeping. These documents represent the oldest surviving remnants of Armenia’s written culture .

book depository, Yerevan, Armenia

 

History Museum of Armenia

Right on Republic Square this museum covers the history of Armenia from the 3rd Century BC to the modern. You’ll see a bit of everything, including some Khachkars (Armenian “headstones”), clothing, prehistoric bowls, as well as the world’s oldest shoe. All the above doesn’t sound so exciting but it was actually very well covered by our excellent guide.

 

 

Other Highlights

The Blue Mosque

The only Mosque in Yerevan is this Persian mosque which is administered by the Iranian government. It’s a beautiful mosque with pretty gardens – if you’ve never been to Iran it is a slice of Iran in Armenia.

Blue mosque in Yerevan

Blue mosque in Yerevan Armenia

Above: Blue Mosque

 

Yerevan Opera Theatre

A beautiful Soviet-era building, it is located near the foot of the Cascade Complex in an area of gardens and fountains.

Yerevan Opera Theatre. Why visit Yerevan

Opera building, Yerevan

Above: Opera/Theatre building

 

Moscow theatre/Charles Aznavour square

Another Soviet-era building (completed in 1936) located in the city center. An international film festival is held here every year. The building is on Charles Aznavour Square, named after the famous French Armenian singer (as I say up top, probably the most famous Armenian of all time).

Moscow theatre in Charles Aznavour square, Yerevan

Above: Moscow theatre in Charles Aznavour square

 

Northern Avenue

A pedestrian-only street where you’ll see street vendors and brand stores. But a pleasant place to walk. If you’re coming from Republic Square walk towards Northern Avenue – it’ll lead to the Opera House and, a little further on, to the Cascades complex.

Northern Avenue and celebrating 2800 years of the city

Above: Northern Avenue and celebrating the 2800 year anniversary of the city

 

The Railway Station

The Soviet authorities wanted to make Yerevan a major train hub in the region so they built this big, beautiful train station in 1956. Take the metro to get there, it is only 2 metro stops from Republic Square. I wrote about how we took the train from Tbilisi to Yerevan here.

train station in Yerevan

 

Just walk around the city center….

Parks radiate out from the city center. Lots of trees, fountains, statues and monuments, places to sit…and lots of life. I think it’s this, more than anything else, that makes Yerevan an attractive, liveable city. Some photos:

Aram Manoukian Statue, Yerevan

fountain in a Yerevan park

arcade near mother armenia, yerevan

Soviet era monuments and buildings in Yerevan Armenia

statue in Yerevan

fountains in Yerevan Armenia

old airport in Yerevan

Above: that last photo is the old airport, located right next to the new one.

 

If you had told me 5 years ago that we would ever go to Yerevan I would have thought “never”. How would we end up in Armenia of all places? Funny how things go. Sure, it’s great visiting places like Rome, Venice, Paris etc…but the beauty of travel is discovering places you’ve only heard of. Yerevan doesn’t get many Western visitors, it’s definitely off-the-beaten-path. But we enjoyed our time here and feel we learned about a piece of the world that few get to see.

Note: CNN just named it as one of “20 beautiful European cities with hardly any tourists“.

 

Related: 6 Must See Attractions in Armenia

 

 

A few tips, myths, and resources

Food. We had a lot of really good Armenian food in Yerevan. Trout (from Lake Sevan) is fantastic and the Armenians have some incredible vegetable dishes which seemed (to us) more reminiscent of Middle-Eastern food than of Georgian food. A couple of highly recommended places: Sherep restaurant just off Republic Square (they also own Lavash restaurant – but Sherep is better). Yerevan Tavern Riverside restaurant. Again, same owners but a nice, relaxed atmosphere outside the city center.

Armenian cognac (or brandy) is world famous. We drank lots of it, you can find it everywhere. Try to arrange for a tour at Ararat factory Museum if you can – we contacted them to make an appointment but never heard back…

Coffee Culture. I’ve heard people extolling Yerevan’s coffee culture (just as I’ve heard people bragging about Tbilisi’s coffee culture). Sorry they’re off the mark here. Coffee is not that great and is expensive compared to many places we’ve been. Neither compare to the place we’re returning to after Armenia…

Where to Stay. Upper end (but cheap by most standards): Golden Palace Hotel or Central Hotel( both very close to Republic Square). Great budget hotels: California Boutique Hotel or Republic Square Boutique Hotel.

Tours. I mentioned Arara Tours above. We partnered with them and participated in their 8 day Armenia & Georgia Classical Tour Package. It was the best way to see both countries outside the capital cities. I’ll have more on the highlights outside of Yerevan in coming posts (the countryside is the reason most travellers come to Armenia).

Flying in. Yerevan’s airport is Zvartnots International Airport (code EVN) and is located 15km from the city center.

Below: We use CheapOair to find the cheapest and most flexible flights
 

Related: Exploring the highlights in and around Tbilisi (Georgia)

 

Have you been to Yerevan? What did you think of it?
If you haven’t been, would you be curious about visiting?

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Why Visit Yerevan?
Why Visit Yerevan?

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15 Comments

  1. It’s really interesting because my experience it’s really similar. In Tbilisi everybody(mostly georgian people who have never been to Armenia) told me that I shouldn’t go to Yerevan, because it’s extremely poor and there is nothing to see.

    After all these comments I was expecting something more like Bangladesh (with all my respect to this country ).

    Imagine my surprise few days ago when I arrived to Yerevan and I found a very modern and developed city (much more developed than Tbilisi) full of nice restaurants and shops, fancy cars, and really beautiful women (although many women in Yerevan like too much plastic surgery for my taste)… I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, it’s so different from what I was expecting (especially after all the conversations with Georgians).

    It’s true that the difference between Yerevan and the countryside it’s extremely big (I guess in Yerevan you can notice the power and wealth of armenian diaspora… especially armenian diaspora in Russia).

    Anyway I think Yerevan and Armenia as a country it’s a very interesting place to visit.. and I’m glad I decided to come here.

    1. I agree with you in every respect Spanish Guy (including the beautiful women – who unfortunately all strive to emulate Kim Kardashian).

  2. Thank you for the interesting post.
    I have been to Georgia and I don’t want to visit it again.
    I have not been in Armenia, but one of my favorite cognac is Ararat 5* and I would like to visit this country.

    1. You’ve mentioned Georgia before. What was your issue with it Victor?
      Armenia was interesting and different. But it was really hot and the sun was out every day. We found it suffocating after 3 weeks, we would personally suggest avoiding June – August.
      The cognac IS fantastic. And as I mention you can take a tour of the factory which we wish we had done.

      1. I think it were people, cuisine, and wine. They were mediocre.
        It seems all these are better in Armenia excluding a wine (they don’t do it if I am not mistaking).

        1. Great points.

          You know our biggest disappointment on this trip Victor? Wine. I know Armenia and Georgia argue about who started doing wine first – but the fact is that wine in neither country is very good. It’s not the way they make wine, it’s the grapes. So I’m not blaming it one them, they do the best with what they have. But I was on tour with a French guy, an Aussie guy, and a South African guy. We were in a winery and they dumped their wine in the sink. They were less than impressed.

          Brandy (ie. Cognac because they’re allowed to call it cognac) on the other hand is incredible. We drank TONS of it. In Armenia that is 🙂

          As far as cuisine I also agree with you, enjoyed Armenian cuisine more.

          As far as people they were different…but can’t say we liked one nationality over another. I think they might actually be friendlier (or just more comfortable with Westerners) in Georgia. As a Russian though you might not have received much love…

          1. Thank you, Frank.
            You educate travellers with the help of your posts and even spare their money. Next time, some of them will think twice before buying a wine tour to Georgia.

  3. Thanks for this as I am currently visiting Yerevan and am in the final few days of the trip before moving to Georgia. The comparisons between the two countries are very interesting in preparation of the transfer between the two capital cities! I have been travelling around Armenia, on a tour and so have not visited all if the Yerevan places that you mentioned but they’ll be noted for a future trip!

  4. well I would LOVE to go there! The sort of town I’d like to explore and that old airport… I’d love to get in there although I suspect it probably wouldnt be advisable!

    1. I’d love to visit to old airport as well but unfortunately it seems all barricaded up. It’s steps away from the new terminal and I bet they have a lot of people interested if they made it a tourist site…

  5. Frank, thank you for introducing me to a place I have never heard of. I would definitely be curious to visit, particularly because I really enjoy going to less popular places, off the beaten track. Doing a guided tour is a great idea, you learn so much more about a place. Great post.

    1. Thank you Gilda. I was actually thinking how great it would be to go to Iran, maybe as far as Tehran. But then with all that is going on decided maybe it wouldn’t be a great idea. I’d be interesting in visiting Iran one day though. Anyway, an interesting and varied region.

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