4th December 2019
One of the lesser-known countries at the heart of the Caucasus region, Armenia is small and mountainous with a surprisingly cosmopolitan capital, Yerevan, one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world.
With a rich history and an ancient culture, Armenia adopted Christianity in 301 AD and was the first country in the world to make it their state religion. Beautiful churches and monasteries pepper the region amongst verdant forests and snow-capped peaks, some are even UNESCO listed sites, such as the monasteries of Haghpat and Sanahin.
Armenia is well-known for its hospitable and resilient people but it’s also home to the worlds oldest winery and their cognac is so good even Churchill himself was a fan. There are many pleasant surprises to embrace in Armenia, but where are the best places to visit in Armenia? We sum up the must-visit places for your next trip.
High up in the Aragats mountain lies Amberd Fortress and Castle dating from the 10th-13th centuries, part of the family estate of the Pahlavouni Princes. It is one of the few feudal castles preserved in Armenia. The fortress was built on a promontory surrounded on three sides by ravines.
Beyond the fortress walls lies a now ruined castle but fragments of its water supply, as well as the baths and a secret passage to the canyon, are preserved. In 1206 a church was built on the territory of the fortress, commissioned by the famous Armenian warlord Vahram Pahlavouni.
Surrounded by a heavily forested area of mountains, Dilijan is a popular spa town, famous for its mineral water and the surrounding countryside is home to a great variety of fauna as well as 240 species of birds. The 19th century quarter of Dilijan has been restored with some fine two-story mansions and workshops.
There is also a museum and gallery. Near Dilijan are some of the most interesting monasteries and churches in Armenia, including Hagartsin Monastery. This includes the church of St. Gregory, the church of St. Stepanos and the refectory where visitors and pilgrims were received. It is possible to visit Lake Sevan and Dilijan on a long day trip from Yerevan.
Dzoraget is a small, riverside village nestled among the forest-covered hills and rocky slopes of the Lori region. The village sits midway between the Georgian capital Tbilisi and the Armenian capital Yerevan, providing an interesting influence of cultures and cuisine. The surrounding area has many monasteries, monuments and villages which are great stops whilst exploring the beautiful landscapes.
Echmiadzin is a holy place for Armenians, the site of their most important Orthodox Cathedral and the residence of the Supreme Patriarch Catholicos of all Armenians. St Gregory the Illuminator is said to have founded the first church on this site in 303. Other fine churches dating from the 7th century can also be found in Echmiadzin, including the shrines of St. Hripsime and St. Gayane. Nearby is the ruined church of Zvarnots dating from 641 which was reputedly one of the most beautiful churches of its day.
With magnificent views of the surrounding mountains, the pagan temple at Garni was built in 1st century AD in the Greek style. After the Armenian's conversion to Christianity, their rulers built a summer residence alongside the temple (now ruined) in the 3rd century AD.
Stands in a deep, heavily wooded valley and is a fantastic example of medieval Armenian architecture. Begun in 4th century AD it consists of the 'Mother of God' Cathedral and two chapels carved deep into the rock. It is said that the holy lance that pierced the body of Christ was kept here.
Many Armenians visit Geghard on weekends and feast days and some offer lambs or chickens as sacrifices. You will see wishing trees dotted on the way, strips of cloth tied to their branches, each one denoting a wish or prayer and the mountains are popular with picnickers.
Winding roads through gorges and along lakes lead you to the pretty town of Goris. The main town set down in the valley has leafy streets with traditional buildings, and a church with sheep shaped gravestones. Across the river is a cave town with houses carved into the cliff face.
When in Goris, visit the Aksel Bakunts Museum, which is in our Best Things to do in Armenia >
Travelling south from Yerevan, the road leads through the plains of the Ararat valley to the magnificent monastery of Khor Virap, set against the backdrop of towering Mount Ararat. The monastery is a place of pilgrimage and is the site of the prison where St. Gregory the Illuminator (who brought Christianity to Armenia in 301 AD) was imprisoned. The town of Artashat nearby was the capital of Armenia from the 2nd to the 4th centuries AD and a major city on the Silk Road.
The largest and highest lake in the Transcaucasus, Sevan holds a special place in the heart of the Armenian nation. With its cool azure waters and fresh mountain air it is a popular holiday resort and is famous for its 'ishkan' trout and other freshwater fish. In recent times Lake Sevan has shrunk due to the tapping of the Razdan river.
One result has been the uncovering of forts, houses and artefacts more than 2000 years old. Sevan monastery built in 874 on a small peninsula overlooking the lake, is a wonderful example of Armenian architecture and is especially picturesque.
The southern region of Armenia stretching down to the Iranian border, consisting of the provinces of Vayots Dzor and Syunik, is mountainous and unspoilt, with fast flowing rivers, waterfalls, caves and cliffs. In the valleys and on sunny mountain terraces there are villages quaint enough to paint.
The highlights include Noravank Monastery and Gladzor, which was the oldest and most famous university in Armenia. Jermuk resort is one of the most popular spa and health facilities and also worth a visit. Lastly since the 9th century, Tatev Monastery in Syunik province has been recognised as one of the religious and spiritual centres of Armenia and definitely worth a visit.
Tatev monastery is situated near the village of the same name in part of Zangezur - ancient Syunik. The monastery was founded in the ninth century in place of a tabernacle well-known in ancient times.
The main monument is the Church of Pogos and Petros (Peter and Paul) built in 895-906. It reproduces the type of domed basilicas of the 7th century but has several new features. Again, the location is spectacular, high up in the mountains with great views.
Yerevan, Armenia's capital is arguably one of the best places to visit in Armenia. With a population of over 1 million people, is an attractive city of wide tree-lined boulevards and stylish buildings built of the local pink volcanic tuffa stone. From most places in the capital, one can see the towering peak of Mount Ararat, the reputed resting place of Noah's Ark.