Armenia is a small country yet has enough things to see that warrants more than just a hurried visit. Travelling around Armenia is easy and convenient. From the capital city of Yerevan, you can reach pretty much everywhere in just a few hours. That means no terrible night buses or whole days spent travelling, and more time visiting various attractions. Here are 5 things to do in Armenia, which you definitely have to do while in the country:
Armenia is not Armenia without its churches and monasteries. As the oldest surviving Christian country, there is more history and culture in Armenia than you can imagine. Home to thousands of ancient churches, there is an overwhelming number of choices. The best tip I can give is to plan your route in Armenia based on the churches you would like to see. You will be surprised to find that every place you hope to visit falls nicely in line with the churches you have chosen. Check out my article on the monasteries and churches that I recommend you to see while in Armenia.
2) Spend a few days in the ancient capital of Yerevan
Yerevan is the proud capital of Armenians. It is constantly bustling with life and has everything you ever wanted of from a city, and more.
a) Climb up the “Cascades”
Look up, because the “Cascades” is not just merely a few steps. More like hundreds of steps. However, the views from above will make you want to walk up again another time. From the top, you can see the snow-capped peak of the magnificent Mount Ararat. This mountain is considered a holy mountain of the Armenians. There is a catch though: Armenians can only see this mountain from afar, because today it no longer lies in Armenia but in Turkey. The steps become increasingly crowded during sunset, for good reason.
b) Admire the buildings made from volcanic rock
The smooth, maroon bricks of the buildings in the centre of Yerevan are not easily found elsewhere. These are volcanic rocks unique to Armenia, and the colour gives Armenia its unique architectural identity. No other country in the world has buildings of such colour and grandeur. The sleek feel and smooth texture of these bricks definitely exude a classy vibe. How I wish I could build my house out of these too…
c) Wander through the central mosque
It is strange to see a mosque in the world’s oldest surviving Christian country. It is stranger to see a mosque in such splendour and beauty. The central mosque in Yerevan is decorated in thousands of pieces of mosaic, and it looks spectacular. Check out the turquoise-blue domes and the classy interiors of the mosque. Outside of prayer times, you can also chat with the English-speaking imam who cares for the mosque.
d) Appreciate the magnitude of the Armenian genocide
The Armenian genocide is real and undeniable. The magnitude of it may be debatable, but we should not ignore the fact of its existence. If there was only one museum to visit in Armenia, it has to be the Armenian genocide museum. Plan about two hours to slowly read the anecdotes and to allow the horrific pictures of the genocide to sink in. While I was visiting the museum, one guide aptly summed up how Armenians think about the genocide: “We thank the world for the acknowledgement of our pain, but our goal is not revenge. We have forgiven, but we will not forget. This piece of history reminds us that the world does not need another such tragedy in the future.” Well said.
3) Discover the “symphony of the stones”
An hour away from Yerevan is the pretty village of Garni. Surrounded by a lush green valley, Garni is not only famous for the Garni Temple and the Geghard Monastery, but also for its little hikes. Take a hike down to the valley floor. The hike along the river is spectacular. On both sides of the river are cliffs that look like a densely packed bundle of rectangular columns. To me, the cliffs looked like gigantic inverted organs, very apt for a place known as the “symphony of the sounds”. As you proceed deeper into the valley, there is also an area of cliffs that look like a cluster of tree stumps. Basically, none of the mountains here look like the mountains you were used to seeing!
4) Climb up Smbataberd fortress
The viewpoints from Smbataberd fortress were some of the best I have seen in Armenia. Built on a mountain that is wedged between two valleys, Smbataberd fortress commands a vast vantage point. I could see not only the two deep valleys on either side of the fortress, but also the main valley far beyond the fortress. The valleys were deep, the mountains were commanding and the vistas were absolutely breath-taking. Granted that the climb up to the fortress was a pant more than I expected, I would do it over and over again just to savour the great views.
5) Trek around the mini rock chimney houses at Goris
If you have been to Cappadocia, this would be mini Cappadocia for you. All over Goris are hills that look like chimneys as a result of wind and rain erosion. In ancient times, these chimney-looking hills were used as homes. Today, most of these homes have been abandoned, but you could still sneak into them for a look. The panoramic views of the chimney houses were incredible. It looked like an entire hill of chimneys punctuated with little holes. The only thing missing was the hundreds of hot-air balloons that float above these chimneys at sunrise.
Your trip to Armenia would not be without beautiful monasteries and churches. However, along the way are many other natural attractions that should command your attention too. I liked how Armenia had a variety of things to do, yet small enough to easily cover most places. If you are a fan of nature, religion or history, Armenia is a great country to visit with many things to do. In addition, if time were on your side, I would also recommend combining your trip to Armenia with Georgia and Azerbaijan.
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