One week in Armenia – travel itinerary
Updated: Jan 4, 2020
There are so many wonderful reasons to visit Armenia: the indomitable, welcoming spirit of the locals who are delighted to see your interest in their world; the delicious food, rich in flavours from the local farms; and all the religious buildings – Armenia is proud to be the first country in the world to adopt Christianity as its state religion.
Plus... the lack of (other) tourists!
Armenia has closed borders with two of its four neighbours: Turkey and Azerbaijan. This means, that the easiest land-route into the country is from Georgia.
During the 20th century genocide, half of the population was killed, resulting in mass migration: there are now 3 million Armenians in the country but a diaspora of 8 million. Most of the tourism is the external Armenians from around the world.
Due to time constraints, we were limited to a week so we chose to hire a car for a few days. It is possible to go by public transport or hitch-hike (like a young Belgian we met in Sevan) but this will of course take longer.
Route: Tbilisi to Yerevan
Cost: 40gel (£10.40)
Time: 5 hours of terrifying driving (9am – 2pm)
From Avlabari metro station (1 stop from Liberty Square on the red line), we took a comfortable minivan to Yerevan, with a Spaniard, an Armenian grandma and two Turks.
It is possible to take a cheaper marshrutka instead but fellow travellers told us that it had taken them 9 hours and the bus broke down several times...
In Yerevan, have lunch at Lavash where you’ll be served exquisite Armenian fare with drama and flair (3 course lunch for around £25 for two people).
Walk off lunch by climbing the stairs of the Cascade to get brilliant views of the ‘Pink City’ and Mt Ararat. And this arty lion:
Then wander over to the National Opera Theatre and see if you can get tickets for an evening show – the posters are outside on the walls.
Start with a kachapuri at Diamond restaurant, next to Freedom Square, and start a walking tour with Tigran at 11am. We had the best experience with him as he included food and drinks to break up the walking.
Later on, have lunch at the Khinkali restaurant and make sure to have the deep fried khinkali and lamb hashlama for a party of flavours.
Fill the rest of the day with sightseeing of markets and looking at the European-Soviet buildings.
Maybe even try sending a postcard from the central post office (at Freedom Square) as it’s rumoured that they use camels to transport the mail which is why it can take years for it to arrive at its destination.
Route: Day trip to Garni Pagan Temple, Geghard Monastry & Amberd Fortress
Transport: Hire car - www.caravan.am (£65 for 4 days, inclusive of full-waiver insurance)
Enjoy a lazy breakfast and pick the car up for midday, missing the rush hour. Drive over to see Geghard Monastry which is half built out of the mountainside.
You might like to stop before/after at Garni Pagan Temple, a pre-Christian building which is still in use.
To get to Amberd Fortress, you have to go back on yourself towards Yerevan but it's well worth it because you'll have missed all the tour buses and likely have the place to yourself.
The roads to the Fortress are barren and beautiful.
(It's 200dram (32p) to park at all of the above places).
Route: Yerevan to Lake Sevan & Sevanavank Monastery
Transport: Hire car
Accommodation: Homestay with Ando (£13 double room, including breakfast)
After the Yerevan rush hour, we headed out to Lake Sevan peninsula and enjoyed walking up to the beautiful monastery.
I chatted with the local artist on the way up and bought one of his pictures which was still wet!
It was very chilly when we visited but I hear that in summer you can do water sports and relax by the lake.
It was an early night to Mountain Lake Villa where we played Yahtzee (and lost) with our fellow Belgian traveller. We were all happy guinea pigs for Ando’s Armenia-British fish & chips practice dinner (he wants to open a fusion restaurant in Sevan!).
Route: Lake Sevan to Hayravank Monastery, Noratus Cemetery and Noravank Monastery
Transport: Hire car
Accommodation: Homestay with the Babayan family (£12 for double room, breakfast & dinner)
After breakfast with Ando, we set off to experience Hayravank Monastery in the morning solitude.
A short drive down the coast lead us to the Noratus Cemetery to see the intricate, hand-carved khachkar headstones, some of which date back to the 9th century.
This was a unique insight into Armenia culture and it was quite emotive seeing the generations of their history all laid out in one graveyard.
On the way south, we stopped to buy a bit of road-fish from a chap selling them from his Lada.
The deserted mountain roads were spectacular in their arid beauty.
Noravank Monastery is set in a stunning 8km gorge which allows it to make quite the impression as it suddenly appears above you.
We were welcomed like family by our hosts for the evening and enjoyed a fabulous vegetarian dinner made with fresh produce from their garden and bee hives, plus bread and cheese from the village.
Route: Novarank to Yerevan, via Khor Virap Monastery
Transport: Hire car
Accommodation: Rafael Hostel (£10 for two beds in mixed dorm)
We had to get the car back to the city for midday, so we stopped only briefly at Khor Virap Monastery. In good weather you can see Mt Ararat but it was pouring with rain so all we saw were sodden tourists unhappily alighting from the tour buses.
Back in Yerevan, it is highly encouraged to visit to the Yerevan Genocide Museum to learn about the grim war history of the country but also about Armenia's contributions to world culture.
You can walk up there but it’s an unpleasant trek along busy roads.
For our final night in Yerevan, we splurged on a sensational dinner at Sherep as we had spent so little on hostel accommodation for the evening.
Route: Yerevan to Vanadzor Spa Town
Transport: Marshrutka minbus (1000amd, £1.60)
Accommodation: The Vanadzor Spa Hotel
Vanadzor, a small town in northern Armenia, is famed for its natural mineral springs. The Boyfriend and I had booked into a fancy hotel for two days of relaxation: a gym, full spa facilities, games rooms and buffet menus. A glorious end to one week in Armenia!
The little bus at Kilikia Yerevan station was almost full when we bought our ticket to Vanadzor. Sadly, my foreigner butt is not appropriately sized for Armenian minibus seats, thus I took up an extra half on the back row. But marshrutkas tend to leave when they are full and that half a seat represented a potential full customer.
Soon, a young man who could have tried out for the first row of the national rugby team poked his head onto the bus. The driver pointed to the half seat next to me. The rugby player looked unconvinced.
The driver yelled at him; the old lady in front snarled at me and started muttering something about tourists. The prop scrummed his way down the aisle and somehow squeezed into the space by the window. I sat back down, half on his lap and half on The Boyfriend’s leg.
But at least it was only a 4 hour journey.
We inadvertently ended up in the Fawlty Towers Hotel of Vanadzor so we checked out after one day and returned to Tbilisi. However, in the high season, I'd definitely suggest a couple of days of relaxation after all the touring/driving on Armenian roads.
Route: Vanadzor back to Tblisi
Transport: Marshrutka minibus (4000amd, £6.50)
Accommodation: Apartment near Freedom Square (£13)
According to the Armenia Tour website there are buses at 8.30am and 2pm; however, when we spoke to the bus ticket people, they said 9am and 11.45am.
We took the 11.45am minibus which arrived 30 minutes late. The journey took 4 hours with a relaxed border crossing back to Georgia. We all got thrown out on the outskirts of Tbilisi so we had to take the metro to Freedom Square (easy).
Things to expect in Armenia
Few ATMs outside of Yerevan – bring cash
Lots of Lada cars
Crazy overtaking, worse than in the Balkans
Innumerable stalls at the side of the road selling fruits, wine & treats
Warm hospitality and helpful people everywhere
Delicious food, made with fresh, local ingredients (7 Armenian Foods You Have To Try!)
Next post (The Lada and the Blue Lake)