Things To Do In Yerevan
Long battled over by warring countries (Turkey and Russia), the city of Yerevan survived hundreds of years of foreign invasion and gained full independence only after the downfall of the USSR . This capital city is the heart of Armenia, a rugged country located along the Little Caucasian Mountains, characterized by deep gorges, lakes, and rushing rivers. Most people speak the Armenian language, which is unlike any other and has its own alphabet. The city of Yerevan has a strong artistic tradition that includes religious music and the making of decorative stone carvings called khatchkars. Geghard Church is perched against a rock in the gorge of the Granny River, southeast of Yerevan City. Armenia is also the first country in the world to make Christianity its official religion.
When To Go:
With a chilly semi-dry atmosphere, Yerevan experiences prolonged and humid summers and cool winter seasons. The winter season (March to April) is not a favorite time to visit because of cold footpaths and foggy roads especially along the mountainside. Other times of the year are better for a vacation, especially the long summer season (June to September). Spring (October until November) offers a pleasant yet frequently wet climate, with loads of green slopes and wildflowers. Summer is extremely hot, however the long, late nights at the bistros, and the seasonal, locally-grown foods are stunning. The season of Autumn (January to February) is also very popular, with flawless climate and clear skies over the city.
Visit these top attractions and the great variety of things to do when in Yerevan City:
The Monastery of Geghard
The Monastery of Geghard is one of the most beautiful monasteries in Armenia. This monastery is about an hour's drive from Yerevan and a visit is absolutely necessary --along with one to the beautiful temple of Garni, which is a bit older (it is the first Greek temple to the East of the Mediterranean world.) The place is spectacular because it is surrounded by mountains. Particularly interesting are the adjacent cells of the monks: tiny rooms carved into the living rock. Very nice to look at are the ancient khatchkar that are in front of the cels and the doors, and the bas-reliefs of the main church.
If you visit on a Sunday morning you will be able to attend Holy Mass (11 am as in all Armenian churches). The service is not to be missed (you can photograph and film without problems), for both the celestial songs that go with it and for the actual celebration of the Mass that in general projects a kind of elevated mysticism. Outside there are interesting and photogenic food stalls that are located across the parking lot, selling mainly the characteristic sweet bread of Yerevan City.
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this monastery carved into the rock is full of silence and charm, like all monasteries of this enchanted land. St. Gregory the Illuminator founded it, after he came upon a cave where there was a spring of water that is considered sacred. If you want to enjoy an adventure in mysticism, wear comfortable shoes and bring enough drinking water to hydrate you during the short hike. Immerse yourself completely in the medieval atmosphere!
Matenadaran (The Museum of Ancient Manuscripts)
A visit to the Matenadaran (Museum of Ancient Manuscripts) is a fundamental step toward understanding Armenia’s significant responsibility in preserving its civilization is all about. It is highly recommended to visit this museum if you are on a journey to Armenia. The beauty of the manuscripts preserved here is unspeakable and full of interest. The tour guide is even more interesting and will also help you better understand the profound spirituality that pervades this unique population.
Unfortunately, the extraordinary ancient culture of Armenia is absolutely misunderstood, if not unknown. This interesting museum makes up for that shortcoming by providing the opportunity to see a rich collection of manuscripts from various eras of the Armenian language, and the evolution of its whole varied alphabet. The statue of Mesrop Mashtots -- the father of the alphabet as well as the individual credited with unifying the population, greets visitors at the entrance of the dark building.
This museum of ancient manuscripts is housed in a modern building; more than 15,000 unique testimonies of the Armenian culture and civilization are included in the collection. The gray color and metallic structure of the building's exterior clashes with the bright and well-lit fixtures of the large rooms and its interior corridors. The manuscripts are very valuable and cover all kinds of religious, historical, and ethnographic details about Armenia. All of the manuscripts are dated as far back as the Middle Ages and Renaissance era, and they are not allowed to be photographed. This museum holds the heart of civilization, culture and spirituality of the Armenian people.
Khor Virap Monastery
Although there are many monasteries in Armenia, and perhaps some are a bit similar to each other, The Khor Virap Monastery is a big exception. It is often referred to by locals as the little Armenian Petra, as part of the monastery is carved into the rock. When you come to visit, you will be extremely impressed with the dark and damp atmosphere --through which you can glimpse the few beams of light that illuminate the rooms and the sacred engravings carved into the rock. All this is made even more impressive by the sound of the small waterfall that washes sacred part of the salt. This is considered a holy place in Armenia.
The monastery with Mount Ararat in the background is an image widely known in this country, even for those who have never set foot on its grounds. It has become a significant place both in its own right and because of this mountain. Just across the border is the Turkish territory. The monastery is built on what was once the place of imprisonment of St. Gregory the Illuminator, the much-acclaimed evangelizer of Armenia who was held for 13 years in a well and then released after curing the same King who had captured and tortured him. This act was considered a miracle and led to the adoption of Christianity the King and all of Armenia.
In this picturesque monastery (the first you find going from Yerevan to Goris and the Karabakh Nagarno) you can still see the incredible well where St. Gregory survived for so many years. The structure of the monastery is still original, even if only partially rebuilt after the earthquake of 1998. It is a must-see attraction in Yerevan (about a half-day trip from the city.) A tip: wear comfortable pair of sneakers, otherwise you will not be able to get off the vertical scale that leads through a narrow opening at the symbolic well of St. Gregory.
The visit to this house-museum of film director Sergei Parajanov is extremely interesting and allows for appreciating the creativity of an artist as well as an important director (The Legend of the Fortress of Suram, The Color of Pomegranates, etc.). The Parajanov Museum is the last residence of its eclectic and irreverent artist who was opposed to life under the Soviet regime, and yet greatly admired for his films with Fellini and other major international filmmakers who were his contemporaries. The Armenian traditional home also houses some paintings, photographs, and weird inventions that are truly amazing.
Yerevan Republic Square
This square is the nerve center of the capital; from here you can branch off to the main roads that connect the downtown with the neighborhoods of the capital and other major attractions. The Yerevan Republic Square, like the other former Soviet capitals, is very large. It is home to the main offices of the ministries, with their interesting mix of architecture -- and includes vestiges of Soviet Armenia, along with the Armenian History Museum and the National Gallery. If you visit the Square, you must see the big fountain with beautiful water features -- accompanied by a choreography of classical music and colored lights, whose beams carry amazing designs and shapes making the show even more charming and fascinating. Along with all the other sights and attractions, the Republic Square is sure to top your list of things to do and see while in Yerevan. It is stunning, especially at night!
Republic Square is not only the geographical center of the capital Yerevan but also the symbolic center of the whole of Armenia. It is large, circular in character, and full of life. During the day, the buildings on the square are full of meetings -- many of the most important offices of the Armenian government are there. At night the area is filled with people, the large fountain is illuminated and the water moves together in harmony with the notes of the most beautiful music in the world. It is a very pleasant gathering place that is surrounded by pedestrian streets with nice shops and amazing locals.
The Cascade is one of the best gathering-places to check out after the Republic Square. Located near the center of Yerevan, it's a long flight of steps with four intermediate stops that feature fountains and monuments. For those who do not want to work hard, there are escalators provided indoors. It is another wonderful place to spend your free time visiting with friends -- especially if you are young, because the area is a hangout place for young boys and girls. Or just enjoy a short walk along its promenade after dinner, although it is not recommended to climb the whole staircase on a full stomach -- the stairs seem to never end!
There are beautiful illuminated fountains at every level of the giant staircase, and perhaps even better is the small garden in front of the huge monument; it is very well maintained, well lit and has an exhibition of artworks including some typically exaggerated statues by the important Colombian sculptor Fernando Botero. The internal staircase also presents some beautiful works of modern art, and the Swarovski museum is housed on the premises at the foot of the stairs. It is all well worth a visit despite the many steps to climb -- really a must for anyone who is in Armenia. This square also has a great view of the Caucassian Mountains.
Garni is an ancient pagan temple built in Greek / Roman/ Hellenistic style architecture and is a testament to the ancient splendor of this city. It is like the Parthenon in the heart of the rocky Armenia! There is no other way to describe this amazing neo-classical Greek temple that stands on a rocky outcrop overlooking a valley characterized by long and amazing rock formations. Do not miss a visit to the ruins of the Roman baths -- where some original mosaics are still well preserved.
An area that cannot be missed -- because it offers more insight into its people -- is the nearby community. The farming village shows various aspects of poverty with dignity and humanity; they sell many things beside their fruit stands (dry goods that you can take home as a souvenir). Not far from the temple you can also enjoy a typical lunch: you can really observe Armenian tradition, because before sitting down at the table you will be shown how to prepare the meal together with the entire family -- you learn how they bake their own bread (thin, flat bread with a hint of Sardinia), and grill their meat and fish. Do not expect great wine for it is not a land of wine -- but the beer is very good.
The Tsitsernakaberd is a place of melancholic memory. This is definitely the darkest of all monuments in Yerevan, but that is why it is justified: this area is home to the important memorial in honor of the victims of the Armenian Genocide. The memorial is a unique monument consisting of 12 blocks the center of which is the Eternal Flame -- the real heart of the Memorial and the place where anyone can lay a flower in memory of the victims.
Noteworthy also is the high obelisk-shaped stem and the park with little pine trees that have been planted by foreign leaders during official visits. The beautiful thing about the place is that you can admire Mount Ararat in all its grandeur.
On the grounds of the memorial is a museum with an exhibition of photographs that are rather crude -- pictures taken during the genocide and deportation of survivors. Although this may be a particularly sad event in Armenia’s history, the memory is one you will never forget when you visit Yerevan city.
The memorial is in the shape of a flower that opens, a sign that Armenia is destined to be reborn, the Flame that burns perpetually feeds the memory, and the Garden with the inscriptions bears witness to the passage of distinguished visitors. Those who forget the mistakes of the past are condemned to repeat them, so it is a civic duty and moral power to preserve a nation’s historical memory no matter how painful it is.
The Caucasian Mountains offer enchanting scenery alternating with barren rocks and upland plains, blue skies and a horizon full of colors. In particular, one of the best things to do while here is to climb the Selim Pass at almost 7900 feet high, in order to visit the complex of Caravanserai. It really shows evidence of what was one of the most important stations of the Silk Road era. What is striking in the Caucasian highlands of Armenia is the great diversity of flora -- present in abundance in some areas and completely absent in others, both ends of the spectrum full of incomparable beauty. The same is true of the views of Mount Ararat and Mount Aragat from its top portion.
History Museum of Armenia
The History Museum of Armenia is located in the city center and preserves the ancient remains and relics of Armenian civilization, its birth and evolution. Particular emphasis must be given to the geographic maps carved on stone, the pottery, and the paintings hanging on the walls of the museum. They represent the evolution and development of the Armenian kingdom over the century that has passed since its peak -- from an area of about 116 squaremiles to the current almost 10 thousand square miles. This great little country has its own historical museum that is linked to the legend of the birth of the nation or the Armenian Hayastan. The town of Hayk is well described in this museum especially through the ancient scrolls and books with its strong Middle East and Persian influence.
From north to south, through places ranging from high mountains, to plains to verdant rocky cliffs, the Yerevan area is an awesome city to discover. You can go through so many attractions and each of them will offer something different, interesting bits of information, and new things to discover about a historic place. One of the greatest assets of this large city is undoubtedly the immense and boundless landscape, with majestic mountains and countless rivers that frame and shape the surrounding territory. The best reward is that Yerevan offers unique and breathtaking scenery and a plethora of things to do. Yerevan is a must in your travel itinerary and one of the amazing cities in Asia that you must see at least once in your lifetime.