Yerevan’s modern aesthetic might just take you by surprise. Located in the Caucasus, this neat capital city is more Westenised then you might imagine and yet is deeply rooted in a turmoil of history from the barbaric Armenian genocide to over half a decade of repressive soviet rule. And yet against all odds it has come out the other side, offering a plethora of high quality experiences for the traveller, from delicious traditional foods to well presented museums.
This is the perfect place to visit for the budget backpacker, where you can enjoy a pint of beer in a cafe for as little as 800 dram (£1.20) and entry to some of their top museums for only 1000 dram (£1.50). We loved Yerevan’s relaxing setting and ended up staying for 5 nights, enjoying the fresh bread from the bakeries and climbing up to the viewpoints over the city. As far as capital cities go, this one feels very homely and there is plenty of activities to make this a must-visit destination. Here are our top picks of things to do in Yerevan....
Appreciate Armenian Craftsmanship At The Centre of Popular Creation
This small museum is home to some of the finest examples of folk art in Armenia, and holds a strong collection of woodwork, metalwork, textiles, carpets, traditional costume, lace and embroidery. The collection has developed over the last 90 years and still to this day the museum supports and displays works of current Armenia artists and craftsmen. We were told that many artefacts were lost during their troubled history, in the years of the genocide and then later in soviet rule, which is why lots on display has been created in a strange time-hoping timeline. We were particularly impressed with the woodwork, the hand-carvings of geometric patterns and inlays are so intricate and immaculately done that we left feeling very inspired. The museum is quite small and not very busy, but definitely worth a visit for only 1,000 dram. Entry is from 11am-5pm and is closed on Mondays.
Enjoy A Refined Breakfast At Lavash
Everyone needs a treat once in a while, and what better way to treat yourself than to eat some tasty food in an enjoyable setting. In warm months you can sit outside and enjoy breakfast in the fresh air, with a coffee in-hand choosing from a menu of delicious sounding dishes. The mushroom crepe is a must and comes in two parts so you can share with a friend, and the honey, walnut and butter wrap is probably one of the most intense things we have ever eaten! An insanely sweet pudding with a thick wedge of butter inside. We didn’t know whether to love it or hate it.
We’ve heard that the traditional Armenian cheese balls are a hit but didn’t get round to trying them, maybe you can let us know how they were. The decor is pleasingly natural-looking and considered, imagine speckled plates and crisp glassware neatly laid out on tables. Generally the portion sizes are quite small, but the richness of the food seems to make up for it, so order an extra plate to share if your budget allows. Lavash is open 8.30am-12am and they open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Our bill came to £7.85 for 2 dishes and 2 coffees, so not the cheapest, by local standards but great by European. It’s worth the splash out for a high quality experience.
Visit The Armenian Genocide Memorial & Museum
You can’t help leaving the museum with the heaviest heart and anger at what happened a hundred years ago to the Armenian people. During Turkey’s last empire, The Ottoman Empire, the imploding Young Turks government callously exterminated 1.5 million people in Armenia including men, women, children and the elderly on the basis that they were Christian, which they believed diluted the strong Islamic traditions of the empire. The Ottoman government used World War I as an opportunity to invade and coverup their atrocities, as they knew the focus would be elsewhere at the time. It wasn’t until years later that the rest of the world became aware of the scale of the massacre, and it was too late to stop it. The modern museum is dedicated to explaining the atrocities of the genocide, the invasion by the Ottoman Empire and the devastating impact it had on the people of Armenia. It’s pretty heavy going as you can imagine, but it’s important to raise of what happened as recognition of the genocide. The museum is situated on the top of the hill on the western side of Yerevan city and has an amazing view of Mt Ararat, along with a contemporary metal sculptural memorial marking the remembrance of the genocide. Entry is free and is open from 11am - 4pm, closing on Mondays.
Have A Rummage At Vernissage Market
This open air handicraft market covers handmade, mass produced and second-hand Armenian products, from laser cut wooden items to resin jewellery, and antique brassware to musical instruments. It makes for an interesting afternoons stroll wondering down the long market lanes browsing the wears. Some of the products are standard tourist fair, but actually lots of the stalls are offering something different from one another. Refreshingly, the sellers are not too pushy, maybe just keen to show you their items if you vest some interest. There are a number of locals selling antique Armenian carpets and throws, many of which are in mint condition and are as old as a century. Another highlight is seeing the hand painted artworks by the local artists. The content of the artworks is generally quite traditional, so expect to see fruit bowls, landscapes, cheesy horses running through water etc, but occasionally you’ll see someone doing things a bit differently. It’s best to visit at the weekend when more sellers turn out, and if you are looking to do a bit of haggling this may not be the place. The price given does tend to be the final price but there’s no harm in trying to get a better deal. The market is open 7am - 6pm daily.
Eat Lahmacun With The Locals
If you don’t already know, Lahmacun is a delicious flatbread with a spicy layer of meat on top and is served like a pizza. You can get Lahmancuns in many neighbouring countries but in Armenia they are also known as Armenian pizza. The locals love eating this as a snack, and they like to fold each slice over before taking a bite. If you head to the restaurant next to Lavash on Tumanyan street, you will see many locals eating Lahmacuns there, and if meats not your thing then they also do a vege alternative with Zatar (middle eastern herbs, sesame seeds and oil) on bread. Both pizzas are utterly morish, and for 900 dram and 750 dram, you really can’t go wrong. If you also fancy a pint to wash it down then they sell draught beer for 800 dram, which is cheap for Yerevan.
Get Up To Date At The History Museum Of Armenia
This national museum holds the largest collection of historical artefacts in Armenia, many of which were discovered in 1950’s when the water level at lake Sevan decreased by 20 meters in height and revealed acres of unseen before land. The museum collection is extensive and consists of Bronze Age artefacts, ceramics, arms and weapons, information on the Armenian genocide, and an incredible wooden chariot excavated from Lchashen near the lake. The signage is generally good and each room has an information board explaining the timeline of events and all other relevant info. It’s strictly no photography inside the museum and there are many invigilators walking round to enforce the rule. Entry is 2,000 dram for adults and the museum is open 11am-6pm daily but closed on Mondays.
Try Some Traditional Dishes At Tavern Yerevan
This restaurant popular with the locals is a great place to get to know Armenian cuisine as the menu is extensive, the dishes are freshly prepared and the prices are affordable. There are a few of these restaurants scattered around Yerevan and the one we went to on Teryan street had an open bakery kitchen where you could see some very skilled workers baking the bread that they serve, rolling out flat breads the size of small tables and putting them into a tandoori oven in the ground. We were mesmerised by the speed that they were making them and ordered a bread basket for only 300 dram to sample the yummy goodies. The plates are starter size so you can order a few to share, or a couple for yourself if you are dining solo. You will leave feeling very full after two plates. We went for the pumpkin soup (which was deliciously creamy), tabouleh salad (very well seasoned), stuffed aubergines and bread which came to 4,400 dram between two people. That’s really not bad for fresh food, bready entertainment and great service. The only problem you will have here is choosing from the 20 page picture menu! Tavern Yerevan is open daily from 10am-12am.
Climb The Cascade Complex
This impressive outdoor limestone staircase offers incredible views of Yerevan city and the stunning Mt Ararat. It was designed in the early 70s during the Soviet rule and was only completed in 2009, 18 years after it Armenia became its own republic. The structure is unique in style, like nothing I have ever seen before, and has a strange contemporary yet minimal Soviet theme. Water fountains are formed by 3D geometric patterns protruding from the limestone, with half circle curves that look like they’ve been borrowed from an Art Deco building. The water fountains weren’t on when we visited, which perhaps even added to the oddness of the design. The climb up the giant staircase might be a challenge for some, so take a few breaks and enjoy the view of the city behind you. If you don’t feel like walking then you can jump on one of the seven escalators that run up the inside. This is a must-see when in Yerevan and is free to access. The monument is open at all times of day and night.
We really wanted to visit the Cafesjian Centre For The Arts but run out of time on our visit, so if you are into contemporary art then why not pop into this gallery at the same time as seeing the Cascade Complex (it’s situated just inside).
We hope you find our article helpful, let us know if you have any questions or other ideas!
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