I didn’t know what to expect before my trip to Armenia— the two things that I associated with Armenia are polar opposites. Later, I realized that that’s actually very Armenian. Armenia is a country full of contradictions, where Soviet-style concrete buildings sit next to cozy, vine-covered cafes inspired by Paris. You’ll see luxury, top-model cars racing through the streets, but most people can’t afford to have their own cars and will commute hours on the bus just to get to the work. The one thing that wasn’t contradictory though was how welcoming and warm the Armenian people are. Everywhere I went, the locals were nothing but friendly, always full of national pride and excited to share the culture they loved so much.
I was also pleasantly surprised to find a burgeoning hipster underground art scene. One night we headed to see a co-worker’s performance at a local bar, and another day, I stopped by a cafe and shop that sold another co-worker’s handmade art and goods. Many of the little shops and stores are hidden gems— they typically have a very nondescript exterior, and I would never have guessed that these plain facades hide a very unique and charming interior.
I was in Armenia for just about a week, specifically in Yerevan, the capital. What’s fascinating about Yerevan is that it’s full of rich history. It is one of the world’s oldest cities, dating back to 8th century BC. Mind blown! It took me a full 24 hours to get there— three flights and two layovers later, I finally made it to Yerevan. I had one day for sightseeing, and I was determined to make it good. With the rest of the team, we headed out to check out the beautiful Armenian countryside.
We first headed to Khor Virap Monastery, an epic site set against the stunning landscape of Mt. Ararat. It was completed in the 17th century, and is one of the most famous pilgrimage sites in Armenia. Despite its age, the monastery was in great condition, and we saw a young baby being baptized during our visit. You can also head downstairs to visit the dungeon, since it was also a prison before the main chapel was built.
Mt. Ararat is also an iconic symbol of Armenia. It’s actually a dormant, snow-capped volcano that is said to be the resting place of Noah’s Ark. You’ll find that the volcano makes its appearance throughout all parts of Armenian culture, from postcards to currency, to modern day art.
Just driving around the countryside to get to Khor Virap meant idyllic country landscapes worthy of a postcard. As you drive along, you can see vestiges of Armenia’s time in the Soviet Republic, scattered every few miles are dilapidated concrete buildings and former USSR bus stops. Really interesting to see how these buildings are still standing. We even stopped by to check out some storks, and I picked a mulberry off a tree and ate it!
Lchak is a gorgeous restaurant that has several different “rooms” that sit right on the lake. Enjoy your Armenian BBQ, also known as khoravats, with a seriously stunning backdrop. The food was also fantastic! One thing to note is that the servers didn’t speak much English, so I would recommend having a translator or going with a local, if possible. I am usually a magnet for mosquitoes, so I was a little nervous sitting right on the water, but I made it through lunch totally bite-free!
We then headed to a local winery called Areni. For those who are used to California wine-tasting, the wine here may not fit your palette. It was an interesting experience though, to see what wine tasting is like in other countries.
Our last stop, another famous Armenian monastery.
We chugged along the rolling green hills of the countryside, where blazing red-orange mountains were set against lush valleys. We even saw mini waterfalls on our way there!
Noravank Monastery dates back to the 13th century, and sits in a narrow valley right by the Amaghu River. This stunning, architecturally-significant site was once an important religious and cultural center, with a famous university.
The Cascade is a famous stairway in the heart of Yerevan, where you can get sweeping views of the city. The stairway (572 steps) is just enough challenging— not so terrible that you can’t climb up, but enough of a challenge were you feel like you accomplished something that morning. Along the way up, there’s a variety of modern art sculptures that together, make up the Cafesjian Sculpture Garden.
At the bottom of the Cascade is an open square that’s dotted with tasty restaurants, bars, and shops that are open late into the night. I love seeing everyone out in the evening, dining al-fresco on the cobblestoned streets, enjoying a hearty glass of red wine.
I love how Yerevan has these little pockets of charming Parisian-inspired neighborhoods scattered throughout the city. There was a lot more to discover, but unfortunately I was limited on time. Republic Square, Victory Park, and several museums were all on my to-visit list. Next time!
Stay tuned for my guide to all things eating and drinking in Armenia.