Armenia is a small country tucked away in the Caucasus Mountains of Eurasia. It is a destination that is often overlooked by travelers. The few who make it are rewarded with gorgeous mountains, pristine national parks, and well-preserved historical sites. Armenia is a budget-friendly destination with a plethora of unique attractions and a relatively sparse tourist presence. If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-path travel destination, then perhaps Armenia might be for you.
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Table of Contents
- Is Armenia Worth Visiting?
- Is Armenia Safe to Visit?
- Do You Need a Visa to Visit Armenia?
- How To Get To Armenia
- Quick Facts About Armenia
- Best Travel Destinations in Armenia
Is Armenia Worth Visiting?
Armenia is a wonderful country, but I’d only recommend visiting if you plan on doing a longer trip and combine it with Georgia. Flights to Armenia can be pretty pricy. With how expensive it is to fly to Armenia, I wouldn’t advise going for just a few days. Part of the reason why Armenia has stayed off tourists’ radars is that it isn’t the most accessible travel destination.
I took a three-week trip from Turkey, spending two weeks in Georgia and one week in Armenia. I felt that was perfect for each country. If you have three weeks or more to spend traveling around these countries, then yes, please visit Armenia.
While there is enough to do in Armenia to fill your time for a week or so, I found that it was quite similar to Georgia in many ways. The food, natural landscapes, and historical sites were similar to what you’d find in Georgia, but I preferred Georgia for all of these categories. I’d recommend spending the majority of your trip in its neighbor to the north. I spent most of my time in Yerevan, with some time spent in Areni and Gyumri. I skipped over Dilijan National Park, which is considered to be one of the highlights of Armenia. However, after spending weeks hiking in the stunning Svaneti Region of Georgia, I was told that it’d pale in comparison to my experience up there.
There’s no comparing the experiences, of course, but I was all hiked out at this point. I was all in for a relaxing few days spent in the cushy capital of Armenia. Yerevan is a cool city with a ton of history, and it is neck and neck with Tbilisi for my favorite city in this region.
Is Armenia Safe to Visit?
Yes. Armenia is frequently ranked among the safest countries to visit as a traveler. Crime is practically non-existent, even in the capital city of Yerevan. I felt safe at all times in Armenia, even having no qualms with hitchhiking in the countryside. Just exercise your usual caution and common sense should get you by without any problems.
Oh, and before you head out, make sure to have good travel insurance handy while you’re off adventuring across the world. I use SafetyWing to keep me covered throughout my travels for as low as $40 a month.
Do You Need a Visa to Visit Armenia?
Armenia is a visa-free country for pretty much every country in the world. U.S. citizens are able to visit Armenia visa-free for up to 180 days. One should have no issues getting in or out of the country. Neighboring Georgia is also visa-free for up to a year, so it makes sense to visit both of these places on the same trip, with no time constraints or pressure to see everything quickly.
How To Get to Armenia
The fastest way to get to Armenia is by flying to Yerevan. Flights from Istanbul and other airports in the region can be relatively cheap. Pegasus Airlines is the budget airline that serves the region, and what I used to fly from Istanbul to Tbilisi. If you’re a backpacker on a budget, use Skiplagged to find the cheapest flights possible. It’s free to use and I’ve saved thousands of dollars on flights since I started using it religiously.
If you’re traveling by land from Georgia, you have a few different options. The land border between Georgia and Armenia is relatively drama-free. Buses and minivans go to and from Georgia to Armenia, with the most popular route being from Tbilisi to Yerevan. There’s even a night train from Tbilisi that goes to Yerevan and vice versa. Keep in mind that the border crossing sits at an awkward time in the middle of the night. You’ll get to Yerevan in the morning, but probably not as well-rested as you’d like.
I traveled from Akhaltsikhe to Gyumri. The border-crossing was quick and painless, but we made the mistake of not sorting out a way to get from the border to our destination. We ended up hitchhiking to Gyumri and then getting on a minibus to Yerevan. The people in Armenia are very friendly, so it didn’t take us too long to find a ride. If you want a guarantee that you’ll get to your destination, then book a bus or train to Yerevan.
By any means necessary, avoid having to cross over between Armenia and Azerbaijan. These two countries do not like each other, and will give you trouble when crossing from one to the other. As a tourist, it is usually okay, but I’ve heard some horror stories about travelers being detained in Azerbaijan simply for having also visited Armenia. It seems less of an ordeal if going into Armenia from Azerbaijan.
Quick Facts About Armenia
Currency and Money in Armenia
The Armenian currency is the dram, which as of fall 2022, hovers around 400 dram to one U.S. dollar. There are ATMs all over Yerevan, and none of the ones I used charged any extra fees for withdrawing money. There are money exchanges all throughout the country, including at the border crossings.
In Yerevan, most places will accept credit card. However, if you’re traveling in the rest of Armenia, cash is king. Always have cash handy, just in case. Yerevan is very modern compared to the rest of the country, so card and contactless payments are accepted in most places in the city center.
Transportation in Armenia
Similar to Georgia, the main way of getting around in Armenia is the shared minibus, or the marshrutka. It’s cheap and reliable. With Armenia being a pretty small country, you never have to stay in one for too long, anyway. If you don’t mind being in a bus with a bunch of strangers for three hours, then marshrutkas are the way to go.
Hitchhiking is also an option, but keep in mind that outside of Yerevan, not many Armenians speak English. However, Armenians are very kind and helpful. They’ll always be willing to help regardless of the language barrier.
Yerevan also has a metro station, although it only has ten stops. The metro costs 100 dram, or $.25 to use. You don’t need a public transport card or anything of the sort. You just give cash to the ticket salesman and they’ll give you a small plastic token to insert into the turnstiles. It’s a basic and outdated metro system, but it does the trick.
Ubers and Taxi Apps
Instead of Uber, the main app to use to order rides is Yandex or GG. I’ve used both and the prices are similar. Both are very affordable. I didn’t have to pay more than $4 for anywhere within Yerevan. These apps are also available in other parts of the country, but it is most reliable in Yerevan.
Accommodation in Armenia
Armenia can be hit or miss when it comes to accommodation. As a backpacker, you’ll likely be staying in hostels. However, hostels aren’t all too common everywhere in Armenia. In Yerevan, you won’t have any issues finding hostels. Prices for shared rooms usually hover between $10-20 per night. We heard great things about Envoy Hostel, founded by Australians and located in the heart of Yerevan’s nightlife street.
Elsewhere throughout the country, you might have to resort to guesthouses or hotels. There likely won’t be any shared dorm options, but the private rooms are affordable and cozy.
SIM Cards in Armenia
SIM cards are cheap to buy in Armenia. You can get unlimited data for about $25 U.S. Alternatively, one can purchase an eSIM, which I’d recommend if you don’t plan on staying for too long. A gigabyte of data was $9, which is pricy but if you just use it for getting around and texting, it’s more than enough. I barely used half of my data plan during my week in Armenia. I use the app Airalo, which has eSIM plans for almost every country in the world. Use the code ELIJAH933 for $3 off your first eSIM.
Languages in Armenia: Do They Speak English?
Can you get by with just speaking English in Armenia? Well, it depends where you go. We had a nightmare of a time getting from the border to anywhere. Since we crossed by land over a border crossing that hardly ever saw anyone, let alone tourists, we had a rough time finding anyone who spoke English. Eventually, we were able to have a Google translate conversation with a taxi driver who had been pre-arranged to meet two other people at the border. They graciously let us pile in to their car and we sucked our guts in for the two hours to Gyumri, Armenia’s second-largest city. Even there, it was hard to find anyone who spoke English.
Once we got to Yerevan, many people spoke English, young people especially. What I’d recommend is using Yerevan as your home base and just taking day trips from there to elsewhere in Armenia. I don’t usually do guided group tours, but it was much easier than trying to figure everything out yourself. It also helped having a guide who spoke English and could actually tell us about the things that we were seeing. Until Armenia’s tourism infrastructure improves, it’s the best way to go.
The Best Travel Destinations in Armenia
Armenia is an incredible country with a wealth of attractions and experiences that everyone should experience. Soak up the culture, explore some fascinating history or simply relax and unwind in a stunning setting. However you choose to spend your time in Armenia, it’s hard to go wrong. Here are some of the best things to do in Armenia.
Yerevan is the lively and vibrant capital of Armenia filled with culture, history, and art. It is beautiful, budget-friendly, and has a bustling underground (literally) nightlife scene. This millennia-old city is as modern and progressive as it is historic. Wander through the streets of Yerevan’s Old Town, soak up some sun at Republic Square, take in beautiful views from Mount Ararat and sample delicious cuisine at the hundreds of local eateries around the city. Sampling local snacks at the Gum Market and then shopping for trinkets at Vernissage’s sprawling street market were big highlights of Yerevan.
Be sure to start your trip with a free walking tour of Yerevan. The one I did didn’t involve much sightseeing but it was very informative and gave me a good grasp of Yerevan and Armenia. If you know very little about the country, then this is helpful to know how things work around here. Be sure to ask a lot of questions. Guides are very knowledgeable and can tell you everything you need to know about Armenia. From foods to try to how to get from place to place, they’ll have an answer or recommendation.
Be sure not to miss the Memorial and Museum of the Armenian Genocide. The genocide took place in the first 20 years of the 1900s, with it escalating rapidly during World War I. The museum, filled with artifacts, articles, photographs, and countless stories is a somber, but important place to visit.
Areni is the wine region, and although you may not hear much about Armenian wine, it is home to some of the oldest in the world. A visit to Areni’s Bird Cave shows you the active excavation site where some of the earliest remnants of civilization have been found. The region of Areni also boasts gorgeous landscapes, especially its crimson canyons.
Noravank Monastery is one of the highlights of Armenia. The landscapes were reminiscent of Zion National Park, with red, rocky canyons and desert landscapes. Many religious sites were built in remote locations to prevent them from being found by invaders, which if you know Armenia’s history, was quite an important factor. Armenia’s been invaded by every empire that set foot in the region, from the Persians to the Mongols to the Ottomans. Noravank Monastery has an interesting history in a breathtaking location.
Khor Virap Monastery
A visit to Khor Virap Monastery gives you gorgeous views of Mount Ararat. Although Ararat is technically in Turkish territory, it remains one of the symbols of Armenia. Khor Virap is a great place to get a beautiful view of the iconic mountain.
Dilijan National Park
Dilijan is a town located in the Tavush province of Armenia. It is known for its picturesque setting in a mountain forest, and is often referred to as “Armenia’s Little Switzerland” because of its alpine-like scenery. For hikers and nature-lovers, this is the premier national park in Armenia. It is filled with lush forests and beautiful lakes. The town is surrounded by beautiful nature and it’s a great place for hiking, trekking and eco-tourism.
Overall, Dilijan is a great destination for those who want to experience the natural beauty, cultural heritage, and traditional way of life of Armenia.
Lake Sevan, often called the Pearl of Armenia, is the largest body of water in the Caucasus and one of the highest alpine lakes in Eurasia. It’s a beautiful place to visit and you’ll find a number of historical sites and monasteries along the coastline of the lake.
Surprised to see something like this in Armenia? No, we’re not in Greece or Italy. This temple dates back to 2000 years ago, built before Armenia became a Christian nation. It’s stood the test of time, and is the only standing Greco-Roman structure in Armenia.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is an amazing place to visit if you aren’t tired of all the monasteries by now. It feels like something straight out of Game of Thrones, a medieval structure hidden away in the mountains.
This is a good starting point for deciding what to do in Armenia. However, I had such a limited time in Armenia that I wasn’t able to go as off-the-beaten-path as I hoped for. Well, Armenia’s quite less-treaded to begin with, but there are so many gems to visit in this country. The natural beauty is gorgeous, and had I arrived before the onset of winter, then I would’ve absolutely taken advantage of the many hiking trails and treks throughout the country.
With its rich history, stunning landscapes, incredible cuisine and plethora of activities to choose from, Armenia is truly a hidden gem of a country.
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