With a rich history, centuries-old landmarks, picturesque vistas and fantastic food scene, Armenia is an off-the-beaten path destination with plenty to offer those who make the trip into the heart of the Caucasus.
Thanks to its relatively small size, visitors can see most of the highlights in a week, and it’s also very budget-friendly which makes it a great pick for backpackers.
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Sandwiched between Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Iran, Armenia’s location has resulted in generations of geopolitical struggles which can make border crossings tricky and certain areas off-limits due to ongoing conflicts. However, spend just a few minutes chatting with any Armenian and it quickly becomes apparent how proud they are of their culture and country, and how incredibly generous and hospitable they are.
From towering mountains to spectacular waterfalls to serene lakefront getaways, here are some of the most beautiful places to visit in Armenia.
While the monastery of Khor Virap is a formidable and popular pilgrimage site to visit in its own right, many find themselves at this site to take in some absolutely breathtaking views of Mt. Ararat.
It has a place in the history books as the spot where the man who would eventually become Saint Gregory the Illuminator was held in a pit for 13 years, surviving thanks to the help of local Christian women who would secretly feed him. He eventually helped turn Armenia into the world’s first Christian nation.
Khor Virap is now a sacred holy site where visitors can peer down into the pit, visit the monastery and enjoy sweeping mountain views. Most organized tours combine a trip here with nearby Noravank and the Areni Winery:
Areni Winery was founded in 1994 as a family-owned winery, and has since grown into a far larger production with a wide range of wine, cognac and brandy in various flavours. The village of Areni is in the heart of Armenia’s prime winemaking region, and one of the oldest grape varieties is grown in this area.
Noravank translates to ‘new monastery’, and this stunning spot is one of the most beautiful places in Armenia thanks to the dramatic, red rock canyons surrounding it.
A scenic drive through the gorge brings visitors to the 13th century Noravank Monastery, which overlooks the picturesque valley and is perched high on the hillside.
Founded in the 1100s, it was once the residence of the Oberlian princes and some of Armenia’s most important medieval artists worked and were also buried here. Noravank is also known for the grand Surb Astvatsatsin Church, which makes this complex one of the top Armenia attractions.
Shimmering Lake Sevan is one of the largest freshwater, high-altitude lakes in the world and significant in providing the majority of Armenia’s fish and crayfish catches.
Nicknamed ‘The Jewel of Armenia’, it’s particularly popular in the summer months when visitors can explore the peninsula, go boating or jet skiing, and walk up the hill to the Sevanavank Monastery for panoramic views.
The gorgeous resort town of Dilijan is a short drive away, located in serene Dilijan National Park which is sometimes referred to as the ‘Switzerland of Armenia’ or the ‘Armenian Alps.’
Known for its mineral spas, dramatic mountains and tranquil forest landscapes, it’s a favourite weekend escape and one of the most picturesque places to see in Armenia thanks to the hiking trails, pristine lakes and ancient monasteries.
Another destination popular among spa goers in particular is Jermuk, which is famous for its healing mineral waters and has a beautiful town centre.
Dozens of hot natural springs flow through town which are full of minerals like magnesium, sodium, iron and calcium, and can be enjoyed in one of the spas or by visiting the Mineral Water Gallery.
One of the best things to do in Jermuk is taking the five minute ride up the Jermuk Ropeway, a 1 kilometer-long chair lift that whisks riders up to an altitude of 2480 meters. The journey only takes about five minutes each way, and has panoramic views of the surrounding valley and the city at the top.
The town is also famous for the Jermuk Waterfall which is nicknamed ‘Mermaid’s Hair’ because of its unique shape, and a short pathway starts from the parking lot under the shadow of an impressive bridge then winds along the gorge to the falls. At 70 meters tall it’s one of the top tourist attractions in Armenia.
One of the top natural wonders to see when visiting Armenia is the Shaki waterfall.
The 18-metre high set of falls in the Vorotan Gorge flows down from the Shaki River, and is accessed by a short, mostly flat pathway. The sight of the powerful falls cascading down is spectacular, and there are all sorts of different viewpoints including standing right beside it and feeling the water spray down.
A visit to the Shaki Waterfall is usually combined with visits to the Tatev Monastery and Khndzoresk village.
One of the most famous Armenia tourist attractions is the enchanting Haghartsin Monastery, located near Dilijan.
Built sometime between the 10 and 13th centuries, the complex is surrounded by thick, lush foliage and rolling hills, and has three churches along with a chapel, monk’s cells, a bell tower and an underground tunnel leading to the river.
If you time your visit right, you might even get to watch a wedding!
Tatev Monastery and Wings of Tatev Cable Car
The 9th century Tatev Monastery is one of the country’s most iconic sites, located on the edge of a deep gorge.
The main church was built in 895, and eventually beautiful frescoes were carved into the interior. There are a few viewpoints around the complex with great vantage points, and a fountain with fresh spring water that you can drink right out of.
The highlight of any visit is taking a ride on the Wings of Tatev, which holds the Guinness World Record for the longest non-stop double track cable car. The 5752 metre long tramway glides over a sweeping valley between Tatev and Halidzor village, and has a birds-eye view of the hairpin turns on the road leading up to Tatev.
Exploring this ancient cave village with dwellings that date back to at least the 13th century is one of the best things to do during an Armenia trip.
Khndzoresk is in Armenia’s Syunik province nearly 1600 metres above sea level, and accessed by 425 steps leading down to a long, suspended ropeway. The walk across has stunning photo-ops of the dramatic gorge below, and can prove to be a bit of a challenge for those with a fear of heights!
On the other side you’ll find rock formations, caves, walking trails and a church, as this abandoned village used to house more than 8,000 people in the 17th and 18th centuries and some residents remained until about the 1950s. A series of ropes and ladders connected the cave homes, and if you peer carefully into the rocky hillside you can see all the cutouts.
Last but definitely not least on the list of beautiful places to visit in Armenia is Yerevan, the country’s capital city.
Dusty rose facades, lively plazas, dazzling fountains and towering Mt Ararat looming in the distance makes Yerevan quite picturesque, and the city makes a great base for day trips around Armenia as most excursions depart from here.
Stroll through Republic Square to discover some of Yerevan’s most significant buildings, make it your mission to spot as many of the city’s fountains as possible, or simply shop, café hop and nosh on BBQ like the locals.
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