Destinations

10 Incredible Stops in Armenia

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Writer Vic Gerami takes in the nightlife.

Armenia is one of the most fascinating places in the world to visit, with a rich history, ancient monuments, majestic countryside, and lush highlands. I have family ties in Armenia and I’ve been there three times, the latest this year to shoot a documentary film. It may be a conservative nation still grappling to come out from the shadows of the Soviet Union, but that doesn’t stop LGBTQ+ from being an integral part of the country, especially in the capital of Yerevan.

There are several prominent LGBTQ+ organizations, the two largest being Pink and Right Side NGO. Pink serves the greater LGBTQ+ community while Right side NGO is mostly a trans organization.

One of the oldest nations in the world, Armenia is a destination for all kinds of travelers. The small country (about the size of Rhode Island) in the farthest part of eastern Europe has incredible natural beauty, cultural wealth, and artistic tradition.

Vic marvels at Ararat Valley & Mount Ararat, site of Noah’s Ark landing.

Host to the oldest churches, cathedrals, and monasteries in the world, Armenia has many UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Mount Ararat and Ararat Valley, where Noah’s Ark landed; Pagan Temples such as Garni from the 1st century; and the world’s oldest winery at 6,100 years old.

Armenia is known for its wine & cognac on the world stage, ancient astronomical sites and petroglyphs.  There is a wealth of outdoor activities offered in Armenia, from hiking, caving, and rock climbing, to rafting, paragliding, and hot air ballooning.

There’s also a rich music tradition in Armenia, from symphonies to opera, jazz, to hip hop. The country has world-class casinos, and ski resorts.

Crime in Armenia is very low, much lower than in western European nations. Natural disasters are uncommon, and health considerations are like Europe–there aren’t many. Despite last year’s attack by Azerbaijan on the autonomous region of Artsakh (Nagorno-Karabakh), which is over three hours by car from the capital of Armenia, the nation has never been in any danger. The 44-day assault ended Nov. 9, 2020, and it never affected Armenia’s national security or safety.

You will feel safe traveling to Armenia and will be encouraged by local people’s friendliness, hospitality, generosity, and willingness to help strangers. There are tourists from all over the world, as are international students studying at various universities, including the American University of Armenia.

The best news? Armenia is inexpensive for North American and European travelers. Armenians are very friendly, and most people in Armenia speak English to various degrees.

Are you wondering about Grindr and Scruff? If you dare to turn on those apps, you might be inundated with messages within minutes. Armenians love visitors and it’s no different on dating apps.

Below are my 10 favorite places to visit in Armenia, a hotel recommendation, restaurants, and nightlife.

YEREVAN

By far the largest city in Armenia, it is home to the grand Republic Square while climbing the Cascade to see the city’s monument to Soviet victory in the Second World War is a must. Yerevan is a deeply historic city and visiting the Armenian Genocide Memorial is to learn more about the nation’s troubled past. The vernissage flea market is worth visiting too – it is open on the weekend – while a walk through the Hrazdan gorge is also highly recommended. Much of what Armenia offers can be explored during day trips from Yerevan, known as the City of Cafes. Yerevan is also home to Levon’s Amazing Underground World, one of Europe’s most unusual attractions.

LAKE SEVAN

Lake Sevan, found in the heart of Armenia, is the country’s largest lake and a beautiful place to visit for a break in the country. The lake is surrounded by some stunning monasteries – the most impressive of them being the Sevanavank Monastery – providing a glorious scenic backdrop to a relaxing trip. Windsurfing is among the recreational activities at the lake, while a wide choice of excellent seafood restaurants await along its shore. Lake Sevan has several famous beaches. This is the best place in Armenia to sunbathe, with Sevan Bay and its surrounding mountains providing spectacular scenery.

KARAHUNJ OBSERVATORY 

Often referred to internationally as Armenia’s version of Britain’s Stonehenge, Karahunj is one of the most fascinating places to visit. Located close to the city of Sisian in the Syunik province, Karahunj is made up of well over 200 massive stone tombs. At the same time, the main area sees 40 stones standing in a circular formation, supposedly built in honor of the Armenian main God, Ari, named after the Sun. A small museum in Sisian is dedicated to findings that have been made at Karahunj, which is claimed to be the oldest observatory of its kind in the world.

ARENI WINE COUNTRY

As grapes and vineyards have been cultivated here for over 6,000 years, it should come as no surprise to learn that the Areni Wine Country boasts some of the nation’s most delicious wines. Set among some stunning mountainous scenery, the vineyards blanket entire mountainsides and valley slopes, with charming little farmhouses and wineries punctuating the countryside.

While its fantastic local produce is what most people come for, the region also has some fascinating sights for you to enjoy, such as the ancient church of St. Astvatsatsin and the Areni-1 Caves, which are home to a fascinating archaeological site.

Vic at ancient Temple of Garni.

GARNI

Located just a short distance away from Yerevan at the foot of the Khosrov Forest State Reserve, Garni is an enjoyable place to spend some time. Most people visit primarily to see its magnificent first century AD pagan temple and delightful monastery. Perched atop a cliff edge overlooking breathtaking hills and mountains, the Temple of Garni displays some beautiful Hellenic architecture.

GEGHARD MONASTERY 

Lying on the outskirts of the picturesque town of Garni, Geghard Monastery (pictured top of page) is a popular day-trip destination from the capital, built in the 4th century. It is certainly worth visiting. I fell in love with it in 2018, when my nephew was christened here. Carved out of the mountainside, with majestic peaks overlooking it, the famous monastery has a beautiful church for you to wander around.

TATEV MONASTERY 

Yet another one of Armenian monasteries with a spectacular location in Southern Armenia, the fortified Tatev Monastery was built in the early 9th century at the edge of the deep gorge in the southern part of the country. It always played an essential role in the spiritual, cultural, and educational life of the country.

WINGS OF TATEV

The world’s longest nonstop reversible cable car soars through spectacular scenery to the medieval Tatev Monastery. Wings of Tatev stretches over 3.5 miles between the Armenian village of Halidzor and the famous Tatev Monastery, a center of education and religion in the Middle Ages. The aerial tram holds the Guinness title as the longest nonstop double-track cable car in the world.

ECHMIADZIN CATHEDRAL 

Echmiadzin is the equivalent of the Vatican for the Armenian Apostolic Church. Armenia is very proud to be the first nation to adopt Christianity as the state religion. Today, over 90% of the residents are of the Christian faith. Echmiadzin, also called Vagharshapat, is the center of the religion. The priests come to study here. It’s also a UNESCO site.

The main church contains the Treasury, which holds the most valuable relics owned by the Armenian church. Amongst the items on display is the “Holy Lance,” the spear that pierced Jesus’ side, a bit of Noah’s Ark, illuminated bibles, and two wall hangings that had small bits of the cross.

JERMUK

A spa town and home of a mineral water factory, Jermuk has plenty of posh hotels and wellness centers. It’s the site of the largest waterfall in Armenia, known as the Mermaids Hair Waterfall.

A windy road reaches it into the river valley, followed by a short walk along the riverside. The waterfall runs down into the river, and you can climb several meters up the side of it.

Where to Stay:

GRAND HOTEL YEREVAN

I’ve been to Armenia before and stayed at fine establishments, but nothing can compare to the Grand Hotel Yerevan. It is an elegant and modern hotel for travelers and sightseers. The charm of the 1928 neoclassical building that houses the hotel is timeless. A luxury hotel, located in a prime location at the center of Yerevan, the Grand Hotel represents the embodiment of modern and ancient Armenian history and culture. Despite being an exceptional hotel ideally located in the heart of town, their rates are very reasonable, starting at $110 per night.

Travel to Armenia:

I had flown to Armenia and other Transatlantic destinations many times through different routes and airlines. But on my most recent flight, I flew Air France business class, and it made all the difference. The route, through Paris, was short and effortless. The plane was brand new and state-of-the-art. The service was impeccable and the food delicious.

Armenia’s beautiful four-seasons make it a place to visit year-round. Whether you are a history buff, antique enthusiast, skier, wine & cognac connoisseur, outdoorsy, foody, or want to see one of the most magical places on earth, Armenia has it covered.

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Vic Gerami is an award-winning journalist, columnist, media commentator, and the host of the prime-time national news & politics program "The Blunt Post With Vic," (TBPV) on Independent / Progressive Radio KPFK 90.7 FM (Pacifica Network). Vic is also the editor-publisher of "The Blunt Post." He is also a contributor for some of the most prominent publications in the nation, including GoWeHo, The Advocate, Windy City Times, California Courier, IN Magazine, OUT Traveler, The Fight, Bay Area Reporter, among others.

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