I once sold my old car to a likeable and smart guy from Armenia. He invited me to his apartment to complete the transaction and his wife made sure I wouldn’t leave hungry. I still remember the smell of the coffee I was served in a traditional Armenian coffee cup. Ever since, I was eager to find out more about this far away country in the Caucasus of which most travelers, including myself at that time, know very little. Years later, when I stumbled across cheap flights to neighboring Georgia, the idea of traveling to Armenia popped up again in my mind. Eventually, in October 2016, I spent a long weekend in Armenia and its capital was nothing I expected it to be. Yerevan offered me more than I could hope for and captured my heart right away.
In this post, I’m gonna give 10 reasons why I fell in love with Yerevan and explain why you should put the Armenian capital on your travel bucket list!
1) The magic of Republic Square
Republic Square can be considered the main square of Yerevan. The Government House, the History Museum and the National Gallery, the Marriott Hotel and several other government buildings are located on this huge square. Originally designed by Alexander Tamanyan in 1924, Republic Square is the favorite hangout of the locals. With its unique pink neoclassical buildings and the reflecting pool, Republic Square can easily be considered Yerevan’s architectural highlight. What I found remarkable about this square was the unified architectural style – all buildings share the same pink-ish and yellow-ish neoclassical design.
When darkness falls, the square is lit up and the fountains in front of Government House dance to a variety of music ranging from classical tunes to rock and pop classics. In the summer months, the show starts every night sometime between 8 and 10 p.m., depending on sunset times. The fountains are also popular with the locals who like to crowd around the reflecting pool and take pictures of themselves in front of the colorful dancing fountains.
My favorite building on Republic Square was definitely the Government House. What I liked most about this building was its architectural style: the cute white clock on the wall of the main tower and the gorgeous columns and arches.
On the opposite side of Government House, there is a restaurant with a great roof terrace where you can have a cold beer and enjoy the view. I can recommend the local Armenian Kilikia beer.
2) The view from the top of the Cascade
The Cascade is a staircase that connects Yerevan’s center (Kentron) with the Monument neighborhood. It consists of multiple levels and a total of 572 steps. Apart from its architectural magnificence, the Cascade offers sweeping views of the city and, on clear days, mighty Mount Ararat in the background.
Mount Ararat is a dormant volcano that consists of two peaks: Little Ararat with an elevation of 3,896 meters and Greater Ararat with an elevation of 5,137 meters above sea level. It is the highest peak in Turkey, located behind the Armenian-Turkish border, but Armenians consider it a national symbol and a sacred mountain. Since the Armenian-Turkish border is closed, Armenians like to come to the Cascade and enjoy the view of their “holy mountain”.
The Cascade was built in order to connect the lower and upper parts of town. The idea goes back to the famous architect Alexander Tamanyan, but it was Jim Torosyan who designed the Cascade in the 1970s. Construction took place throughout the 1970s, but was stopped due to an earthquake and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Renovation works, initiated by Gerard Cafesjian, started in 2002 and took seven years. The Cafesjian Museum Foundation invested over 35 million dollars to complete the reconstruction. The Cascade was finally inaugurated in 2009, but the uppermost level still remains unfinished. Unfortunately, construction has not continued for years.
People come here for the view year-round and thanks to the massive size of the Cascade, there is always a quiet place to relax, watch people and recharge your internal battery with sunshine.
I was really excited about the Cascade on the first day of my visit and came back twice to relax in the sun.
3) The abundance and diversity of sculptures
The Cafesjian Center for the Arts is an arts museum located within the Cascade complex. It offers a variety of exhibitions and dozens of modern and contemporary sculptures by well-known international sculptors. The sculptures are scattered around Cascade Park, the green area in the lower section of the Cascade complex.
Apart from the Sculpture Garden, there are many other sculptures throughout central Yerevan. In the nearby Martiros Saryan Park, for instance, there is a monument featuring the four protagonists of a 1972 comedy film called “The Men”. Many Armenians still consider this film about love and friendship one of the best Armenian films ever made.
While some of the sculptures and monuments might look weird for foreign visitors, it appears that there is always a story behind each sculpture and a good reason why it was put up. I enjoyed discovering random sculptures in the many green areas of Kentron district and finding out more about the person or object depicted in the sculpture!
4) Street music
Whenever I walked around town, some group or individual played traditional Armenian folk music in the pedestrian area or on one of Yerevan’s major squares. Locals often sang along and danced to the performance of the folk groups. All of this created a cheerful atmosphere which I often miss in other capital cities around the world.
There were also street musicians presenting rather unusual performances. For instance, there was a street musician dressed up as an Indian Chief who danced and played the flute. These people make every effort to attract the attention of pedestrians passing by and deserve a generous tip! Make somebody’s day by leaving the equivalent of what you would otherwise spend on a beer back in Western Europe or North America.
5) Street art
Another thing I liked about Yerevan was its street art. The walls of many of Yerevan’s passageways are beautifully ornamented with murals painted by talented local artists. There are dozens of them spread across the city, featuring various subjects. The murals definitely improved the look of the passageways and add to Yerevan’s cozy atmosphere.
Street art was also present on some of the sidewalks. On Pushkin Street, for instance, somebody painted colorful flowers on the pavement. It was fun to explore the remarkably diverse paintings and graffitis which improved the look of some previously run-down buildings instead of spoiling any of Yerevan’s beauty.
6) The coffee culture
As a huge coffee lover, I instantly noted the abundance of street cafés across central Yerevan. Everywhere I looked, there were inviting and cozy cafés offering both local and international coffee varieties.
The only thing I disliked about most street cafés was the lousy and often rude service. It always took a long time for my coffee to arrive and the waiters and waitresses looked like they hated their jobs and having to serve people. To sum up, the street cafés are great as long as you are not in a hurry.
7) The food
Armenian food is simply delicious! While it is similar to the cuisine of the neighboring countries, the local ingredients and recipes make it different than Georgian, Turkish or Iranian dishes.
In Yerevan, there are dozens of great restaurants and snack bars. My personal favorite was the Yerevan Tavern on Amiryan Street, a traditional restaurant with a large menu and still very much affordable prices. The stuffed grape leaves were the best I have had in years and the lula kebab with vegetables and onions was to die for.
The best thing about Yerevan’s restaurants: whatever food and drinks I ordered, the bill was never more than 5,000 AMD (~ € 10). Which brings me to the next point…
The general price level in Armenia is very low for Western standards. One night in a single room with breakfast in a three star hotel in central Yerevan was € 40. Armenian coffee was 400-500 AMD (less than € 1), whereas imported Italian espresso coffee was significantly more expensive, starting at 1000 AMD (€ 2). A main course in a nice restaurant sets you back between 1500 and 3000 AMD (€ 3-6).
Postcards were a bit hard to find, but still available. Stamps for Europe were 240 AMD (~ € 0.45). Be forewarned that your postcards will most likely not arrive before you return from your trip. 6 weeks after returning from Yerevan, I had already given up hope that my postcards would ever reach their destination, but they eventually made it to Austria, Germany and the United States after almost two months.
9) Soviet remnants
For those of you who are interested in Armenia’s Soviet past, there are still some remnants spread across town. Russian Lada cars from the 1970s and ’80s still roam the streets and are sometimes in surprisingly good shape. Walking around town, you will discover some beautiful vintage cars that are nowhere to be found in Central Europe. I was literally day dreaming about taking one of those vintage cuties home, restoring it properly and driving it around Austria!
10) Nearby sights
There are numerous sights located near Yerevan that are easily accessible and truly worth visiting. A number of tour operators offer affordable day trips from Yerevan, including Hyur Service. I went to Kecharis monastery, Tsaghkadzor mountain and Sevanavank monastery on Lake Sevan with them and paid just 8,000 AMD (~ € 15.50) for a 7-hour trip.
To sum up, Yerevan is a great city and deserves at least three days to see it properly. Yerevan is also ideal as a starting point if you want to add day trips to your visit.
If you are still not sure if Yerevan is worth visiting, check out my video capturing some of the highlights of Armenia’s capital: