10 Things You Have To Do On Your Trip To Yerevan
Yerevan is an old-world city that is quickly modernizing. Its history is deep, complex, and vibrant. Everywhere you look, you see remnants of the past. The old mixed with the new. Deep culture mixed with modern flares.
After spending two years living in this city, I found my favorite recommendations for my visitors coming to Armenia for the first time. Many attractions are within walking distance and can be seen in one day. Others, you may need to take a taxi to visit.
If you’re looking for ways to spend your time in this ancient city, look no furhter!
1. The Matanadaran
The Matanadaran is more commonly known as the manuscript museum. And before you bail on me, I know exactly what you’re thinking. Why on earth would that be at all interesting to visit – but hear me out!
The Matanadaran really is a truly fascinating because it houses some of the world’s oldest, rarest, largest, smallest, and most interesting manuscripts, which in themselves are works of art.
In addition to being a museum full of manuscripts, the Matanadaran is in part an homage to Mesrop Mashtots, the creator of the Armenian alphabet from the early fifth century. In true Armenian fashion, the building’s facade is adorned with statues and carvings of Mashtots and his work. Fun fact, the street leading up to the museum is none other than “Mesrop Mashtots Avenue.”
Armenia loves its artists.
When you go, I recommend hiring a guide to enhance your experience as most of the pieces in the museum are not placarded with story or explanation. This can be done while purchasing your entrance ticket. It is extremely affordable (even for the budget traveler) and will allow you to fully appreciate the museum.
Time recommendation: 1.5-2 hours
2. Armenian History Museum and National Gallery of Art
Yerevan’s History Museum and the National Gallery of Art are actually two separate museums co-located in the same building in the most prominent location on the northern face of Republic Square.
While evidence of Yerevan’s long history are all over the city, nowhere is this more on display than the History Museum. Filled with thousands of artifacts from the first homo sapiens, the history museum of Armenia is an anthropologist’s dream.
This museum truly puts time into perspective. It is excellently curated and allows for self-exploration through the thousands of artifacts. Perhaps the most interesting item on display, one that Armenians are particularly proud of, is the world’s oldest shoe, made of leather and over 6000 years old!
Be aware that photography is not allowed in this museum, so you will have to find other ways to create mementos of your trip.
This isn’t really a museum to take the kids. There are a lot of very old things out in the open to touch. TBH, I was tempted to touch the large clay wine vats that dated over 6,000 years old… but I didnt… I swear.
Anywho! You can absolutely choose to visit both, but I would make sure you allow enough time as each is fairly large!
Time recommendation: 2-3 hours per museum
3. Victory Park and Mother Armenia
Overlooking the city, Victory Park is an excellent place to get away from the traffic of Yerevan.
There isn’t too much to do in the park other than take a leisurely walk to see the Mother Armenia statue, and perhaps a snack vendor or two.
The entire complex is a tribute to Armenian (and Soviet) military history. You will see on display several war machines from the first half of the 20th century.
The Mother Armenia statue is one of the most prominent in the city and is meant to represent peace through strength. At its base, there is a small museum with free admission that recounts important moments in Armenian military history and recognizes its war heroes. Unfortunately, if you do not read Armenian, you’re slightly out of luck, however, the information is fairly clear to infer.
Time recommendation: <1 hour
4. The Cascade
The Cascade Complex is a large installation in the northern part of the city. Part open-air sculpture garden, part art museum with a adorable performing art center at the top, it’s a multi-level complex with stairs going all the way up to the Monument neighborhood.
The staircase may seem daunting, but the steps are shallow and have art instillations and entrances to the inner art museum along the way.
On the street level, the Cascade is lined with restaurants and cafés and serves as a meeting place within the city in addition to hosting live music from time to time. Some of my favorites? Make sure to check out Wine Republic and The Green Bean (as featured in the Best Cafés in Yerevan)
If you visit on a clear day (which is a rare treat in Yerevan), I recommend climbing all the way to the top to get spectacular views of both the city below and Mount Ararat.
Time recommendation: If you’re having lunch and exploring, perhaps 3-ish hours.
5. Opera Theater and Freedom Square
The Yerevan Opera Theater is an exquisite building close to the center of town. If you have the time, I highly recommend attending a performance here. Tickets are very cheap and the shows are world-class. Check out toms.am for more information on schedules and tickets.
To the south of the opera house is an area known as Freedom Square. This open courtyard is lined with outdoor cafés and filled with vendors selling rides on miniature motorized vehicles for children. So, parents, have fun with that!
Also, take a walk around the neighboring Swan Lake which turns into an ice skating rink in the winter!
Time recommendation: <1 hour (if not attending a show)
6. Visit the Vernissage
No voyage to Armenia would be complete without a trip to the Vernissage, Yerevan’s large open-air flea market where you can buy literally almost anything. Antiques, cooking untensils, chess boards, paintings, medical supplies… you name it, this is your place.
Skip the souvenir shops and just go here. While some of the shops only sell kitchy touristy trinkets, the Vernissage is a place to find real artistry, antiques, and more carpets than you can stand.
Time recommendation: perhaps 2 hours, depending on how thoroughly you like to shop
7. Armenian Genocide Memorial
Armenia has a dark side of its history as well. Sitting on a hill overlooking Yerevan from the west, the Genocide Memorial stands to mark the tragic events of April 1915.
The external monument is somber with stark lines and an eternal burning fire. Inside, a museum is layed out to chronical events and tell the story.
The memorial is moving, the story is emotional, but the photos are graphic. This site isn’t for everyone, and I actually don’t recommend taking your kids. My son refers to this as “the sad place.” But if you are interested in history, particularly early 20th century, I would considering paying this memorial a visit.
On a clear day, there are spectacular views of the surrounding hills and mountains in the distance and if you visit in April, around the anniversary of the event, you will witness the pilgrimage of Armenians who come to lay flowers at the memorial.
Entrance to both the the museum and the memorial is free and there is a small book shop.
Time recommendation: About 1 hour
8. Take a tour of the Noy or Ararat brandy factories
One thing that Armenia is well known for is cognac. Made from local grapes, they are known to use the terms “cognac” and “brandy” interchangeably.
I think what I love most about Armenian cognac is the pride and legend that goes along with it.
There’s a story that floats around that Armenian brandy once made it’s way over to the cognac region of France, where the French masters were so impressed by it’s taste and quality that they henceforth permitted the use of the title “cognac” for Armenian brandies.
Another cute tale that is often told is at the end of World War 2, Winston Churchill was gifted a bottle of Armenian brandy, quickly winning him over and furthermore becoming his liquor of choice. I mean, if Churchill loves it, it must be good.
Great pride is taken in the ceremony surrounding cognac and it has a special place in Armenian tradition. At any large gathering or meal, there will often be bottles of brandy or vodka (or both), with many toasts made over the course of the meal. (Remember those drinking pants I mentioned?)
The two largest brands are Noy and Ararat. They’re easy to find, because they literally face each other in giant towering factories on opposite sides of Victory Bridge.
If you would like to book a tour, I recommend you call ahead as they do not always have an English guide on hand.
Which is better? It’s all a matter of opinion, and I think you’ll be safe with either. Personally, I can’t tell the difference between the two, never mind the different ages of cognac.
Time recommendation: 1-2 hours
9. Take a Tour of the Megarian Carpet Factory
This won’t be a surprise to anyone who has spent any time in the surrounding region, but in addition to brandy (and apricots), Armenia is a culture well known for their intricate handmade carpets.
This was an indulgence I may have dabbled in a few too many times while I lived there… Woops.
To truly appreciate the artistry and labor that is put into even a small carpet, you should visit the Megarian carpet factory for a tour of their operations. You’ll learn about the natural dyes and elements used to make colored wools and the technique of handweaving.
While you can probably get a better price for a rug out in town (or perhaps at the Vernissage), Megarian is the place to go to learn more about the process.
If you time it right, you might even be able to coordinate a dinner at the factory which pairs a tour with a traditional Armenian khorovats meal. It doesn’t get much more Hayastan than that.
And yes, this was a rug that was specifically made for George and Amal Clooney after they visited Armenia in 2016. NBD.
Time recommendation: 1-2 hours
10. Take a day trip!
You’re coming all the way to Armenia, get out of the city!!
It’s fairly easy and affordable to hire a driver for the day to take you to any place out of the city that you wish.
When you live in a city (and don’t leave it much), it’s easy to forget what lies outside of the urban limits. It never failed to take my breath away every time we drove out of the city to see the stark contrast between built-up Yerevan and the surrounding country.
The surrounding landscape is filled with green hills, rural roads, completely untouched by construction in thousands of years – quite easy to forget if you spend too much time inside the city!
So get out of town!! The real beauty of Armenia is in the countryside! Very soon, I will be sharing with you my favorite day trips to take from Yerevan, so stay tuned!
For more awesome info on Armenia, check out my other posts!!
- Get to know: Armenia
- The First-Timer’s Guide to Visiting Yerevan
- Best Cafés in Yerevan
- Why Thanksgiving Will Always Remind Me Of Armenia