The Armenian capital is quickly becoming one of Europe's must-see destinations.
Walking through the lamplit streets of Armenia’s enchanting capital, the first thing that strikes you is the city’s unique colours. Buildings covered in bright pink and dusty brown melt together as you mosey around, a fitting contrast of old and new. Nicknamed ‘The Pink City’, shops and café’s left and right are made from ancient volcanic stone that gives Yerevan an intriguing glow.
We arrive at Zvartnots International Airport a week before Valentine’s Day with the weather cool and slightly rainy. With its green pastures, beautiful flowers and gushing waterfalls, Lovers’ Park is a popular attraction for couples this time of year looking for an unforgettable holiday off the beaten track.
But delve deeper and we soon discover that Armenia is a growing tourist hot spot that has something for everyone (families, solo travelers, college students, adventure seekers), with its historic sites, exciting culture, extreme sports and thriving nightlife.
Strolling down high streets just around the corner from Republic Square, we couldn’t help but admire how modern Yerevan has become in recent years. Shiny new five-star hotels, high-end shopping outlets and trendy bars and jazz clubs are interspersed with history museums, arts centres and textile boutiques selling traditional Armenian dresses and garments. Tradition and modernity mixed into one.
Yerevan boasts a cool new style and swagger, which is a far cry from its Soviet-era struggles and uncertainty before gaining independence in the early 1990s. The last decade has seen Yerevan undergo a rapid transformation. It’s now considered one of the most exciting, must-see gems for European travelers itching to discover a new, modern city alive with fun and culture.
Located on the border of Eastern Europe and Western Asia, Armenia is a fascinating country with its own unique language and traditions. On our first day we are treated to a stunning rendition of an authentic Armenian dance routine at the foot of Yerevan’s famous 572-step Cascade that overlooks the city. The Cascade offers a stunning view of Mount Ararat, a snow-capped dormant volcano that is the proud symbol of Armenia.
Performed by the Karin folk group, the impressive ‘Kochari’ dance has been recognised by UNESCO on its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage. A thousand years old, it is performed during holidays, festivals and family celebrations and is open to all — regardless of age, social class or gender. It’s a moving performance that gives us an insight into the warmth, unity and proud ancient history of the Armenian people.
We slip further into the city and enjoy a delicious lunch at Lavash Restaurant. It’s here we get our first taste of the authentic Armenian cuisine we’ve heard so much about. We feast on freshly baked lavash flatbread, pumpkin soup, dolma (that’s garlic, eggplant and lentils wrapped in grape leaves), grilled meats, stuffed peppers and Tabbouleh (traditional Armenian salad).
Throughout our tour in Yerevan, our excellent local guide Lusine takes us to the History Museum of Armenia, where we see the world’s oldest shoe (5,500 years old). Cafesjian Center for the Arts houses an array of fascinating paintings and contemporary art displays and at the Photo Atelier Marashlyan dress-making boutique, you can enjoy a personalised photo shoot wearing late 19th century Armenian outfits.
As evening descends, we pay a visit to the Hike Armenia information centre, where we learn all about the country’s growing hiking culture. There are 32 hiking trails dotted throughout Armenia’s vast green countryside and mountain ranges.
The most famous is the intense ‘Transcaucasian Trail’ that runs 3,000 km from Georgia, through Armenia and into Azerbaijan. Be prepared, though... it takes about a month to complete. Hiking, skiing, paragliding and zip lining are just some of the adventure activities which are attracting tourists from all over the world.
Armenia is a country with a fascinating history and this is clear to see when we enter the halls of the Matenadaran, which is one of the oldest and richest book-depositories in the world. The depository contains over 17,300 manuscripts, 450,000 archive documents and 3,000 ancient books written in Armenian, Greek, Latin, Aramaic, Hebrew, Arabic, Persian, Old Slavonic, Ethiopic and Japanese.
With our stomachs rumbling again and craving more delicious lavash flatbread, we finish our tour of Yerevan with dinner at Vostan Restaurant, located on Abovyan Street. Here we dine on freshly-caught Armenian trout, served with Ghapama (fresh pumpkin stuffed with rice), Gata pastries and freshly brewed coffee.
Our bellies now full, we take another stroll through the streets of Yerevan as night descends and stop for a quiet drink along the way. The city has an exciting nightlife and jazz clubs serving cocktails, Armenian brandy (a favourite of Winston Churchill’s, who would drink it daily) and cigars are particularly popular on Friday and Saturday nights.
Our bones are weary after an exciting day packed with site-seeing and exploration and we check in at Hotel Ibis as the clock ticks close to midnight — conveniently located in the central hub of the city and just a short walk away from Republic Square.
Meandering through Yerevan’s modern streets and chatting with locals, it’s clear that the Caucasus is on the cusp of an extraordinary tourism boom, with countries like Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan continuing to welcome millions of visitors to explore their unique culture, traditions and exciting adventure activities every single year.
Almost 2 million tourists visited Armenia last year alone and it’s clear to see why after seeing its enchanting capital up close and personal. For years overlooked as a holiday destination, Yerevan is finally emerging as one of the most exciting cities for European travelers to come and see.
Safe, entertaining, modestly priced and packed with lively nightlife, historical sites, a hip café culture and proud ancient traditions, Yerevan is realising its full potential as one of the world’s emerging, modern city breaks.