Armenia is one of the most underrated country we have ever visited. What’s more, we consider it as the most fascinating destination in Transcaucasia – even more interesting than popular Georgia and surprisingly, Azerbaijan. Armenia is full of breathtaking nature wonders as well as impressive man-made attractions. For this reason, we wrote for you a detailed Armenia Travel Itinerary with many useful practical tips how to deeply explore this region on a tight budget. Read more as you’ll find here everything you need to know about this stunning place!
How To Get To Armenia
The main airport in the country is located not far from the capital city – Yerevan. Unfortunately, it serves mainly seasonal routes and traditional carries, which hardly offer flights in good prices. The only country, which is connected reasonable inexpensive with Armenia is Russia. But still the one way tickets usually goes for at least $65…
That’s why most tourists decide to land at one of the airports in Georgia and then they head overland to Armenia. During our trip around Armenia, locals admitted to us that they also tend to fly from Georgia rather than from their home country as it’s much cheaper, even including the transport to Georgia. See our post THINKING ABOUT GEORGIA TRIP? GOOD CHOICE!, in which we described step by step all issues concerning budget flights to Georgia and backpacking through this country.
There is an overnight train between Yerevan and the capital of Georgia – Tbilisi every second day. The ride takes 9-10 hours.
You can choose between 3 types of carriages: 1st class is a 2-berth cabin, 2nd class is a 4-berth cabin and 3rd class called “platzkart”, which is an open carriage with 54 beds and it looks like hostel dorm onboard the train. Of course, the last option is the cheapest one and despite being the least comfortable, it’s the most adventurous! This type of carriage is picked mostly by locals and you can meet lots of interesting people there and get to know their culture and habits. However, you should speak at least basics of Russian to communicate with them, because English is rarely understood in this part of the world. Also, there’s no dining service onboard in all trains in this region, so prepare all your food and drinks before the ride and bring them with you.
As the tickets are not available online when departing from Georgia, you can buy it only at the counter at the station. A ticket for a bunk in the 3rd class costs 35 GEL (approx. $14). For journeys starting from Yerevan, you can easily get the tickets online for 8 060 AMD (approx. $17) for the 3rd class bunk. The sale is conducted by the official website of Armenian railways.
However, every summer the route and the schedule is changed. During summer holidays, overnight trains depart every day and the route Yerevan-Tbilisi is extended to Batumi – the city by the coast of the Black Sea in the west of Georgia. The whole route including Batumi takes almost 16 hours. The departure time is different than the schedule out-of-season, but besides that everything remains the same.
Instead of trains, you can take a minibus called marshrutka from/to Tbilisi. However, it can be a good alternative to railways as marshrutkas are slightly cheaper: 30 GEL (approx. $12) and reach their destination faster than slow trains (in only 5-6 hours). On the other hand, they are less comfortable and goes only during the day, so you will waste your day sitting in the bus.
The choice is up to you – we recommend trains.
Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict – Essential Information
It’s a very important issue for all tourists visiting this region. The conflict between these countries is related to the land of Nagorno-Karabakh, which officially belongs to Azerbaijan, but in fact is controlled by their enemy – Armenia. The dispute is very severe and lasts over 30 years. Systematically, when the diplomacy doesn’t manage to calm the situation down, they restart the war and open fire on the lands of the disputed territory.
If you have ever been to Azerbaijan before, Armenian border officials won’t be glad when they’ll see your passport stamps from Azerbaijan. Although Armenian border guards are not so strict like Azerbaijan ones, you can still expect additional questions from them about your journeys.
Moreover, keep in mind that direct traveling between Azerbaijan and Armenia is not possible. All border crossings are closed. There are no air or overland connections at all. Even phone calls or post services between these countries are cut off. For this reason, you must use some other country for transit. The best option of visiting the South Caucasus region is to visit Georgia in between conflicted countries, as the capital city of Georgia – Tbilisi, has good railway connections with both Armenia and Azerbaijan.
How To Get Around Armenia
Armenia contains one big city with over a million of citizens – Yerevan and a lot of much smaller towns, villages and inhabited lands. That’s why the easiest way to describe the transport in this country is to split it into two parts: transport within Yerevan and in the rest of the country.
TRANSPORT IN YEREVAN
The simplest and fastest mean of transport in the capital city is the metro. Although there’s only one line, it covers most of important sites in Yerevan. Instead of tickets, there are plastic tokens in use. All you need to do is to buy a single-use token at the station (by cash or card) and then insert it when passing through the metro gate. If you struggle with difficult Armenian language or Russian, which is widely spoken there, you can just show the cashier how many tickets you need with your fingers.
There are no time limits of using the metro. When you decide to go out from the station and later use the metro again, you just need to spend the next token. If you plan to ride the metro frequently, it’s better to buy more tokens at one blow. One token costs only 100 AMD (approx. $0.20).
Buses and marshrutkas are also available in Yerevan, but it might be pretty complicated and confusing to use for foreigners.
THE REST OF THE COUNTRY
Despite Yerevan is quite well-developed, we can’t say the same about the rest of the country. It’s hard to explore the country on your own using the public transport, because it would be difficult to reach the most fascinating Armenian attractions hidden in far and remote areas deep inside the country. Buses and minibuses are cheap and available, but also time-consuming and usually don’t go exactly to the destination you would wish. Definitely, it’s not a good idea, especially for first-time visitors. We understand that it may look like the most adventurous and backpacker-style option, but it’s not worth an effort. We love backpacking, but it’s better to give up on it this time.
The most convenient way to explore the country is to take an organized tour. You can pick long tours that takes couple of days, but the best and the most popular ones are intensive one day tours. They enable you to visit many interesting faraway spots in Armenia, but don’t require to pay for the accommodation on the road, which usually highly increase the total cost of the tour. The trip starts in the early morning from some assembly point in the center of Yerevan, where a comfortable minibus waits for participants. The groups are rather small, about 10 people. You are given an English speaking guide. On the way you have a couple of longer and shorter stops to sightsee attractions as well as a few rest stops too. You’d better to take some snacks and drinks with you as there are very limited food stores by the road and near attractions. When the trip ends, which sometimes is late in the night, they drop you off at the assembly point in Yerevan.
There are plenty of tour agencies in Armenia and even much more tour offers. For sure, you’ll find the most suitable option for you as the range of tours is really wide. But be careful, because the prices of tours may vary a lot among agencies. Some companies offer similar trips like other ones, but charge twice or three times more. That’s why we’d like to recommend very reliable and the cheapest tour agency in Armenia – One Way Tour. It’s an easygoing company that offers cool budget tours. We picked the most popular one – a daily tour to the south of the country: Tatev, Khndzoresk and Karahunj with a stop in Areni winery. It costs 7500 AMD + additional 3500 AMD for Tatev rope-way, so it total we spent just 11000 AMD per person (approx. $23). And it was a brilliant choice! All details you will find below in the section about The South of Armenia.
What To See In Armenia
— YEREVAN REGION —
REPUBLIC SQUARE IN YEREVAN
Republic Square is a beating heart of the capital city. It’s a unique spot on the map of Yerevan with its historical buildings of original architecture around. Definitely it’s worth to hang out there especially in the evenings when there are dancing fountains shows.
It’s a massive structure and well-known landmark of Yerevan. You can either take escalators that will transfer you through the gallery of modern art or climb 540 steps to reach the highest point. From the top, there are great views over the city and Mount Ararat in the far background. Everything is free of charge.
Mount Ararat is a snow-capped and dormant volcano of the height of 5137 meters. One of the biggest volcanoes in Asia. Although this giant mountain is located on the Turkish side of the border, the most spectacular view of Ararat can be seen from Armenia. It’s even considered as the symbol of Armenia and you’ll find it at plenty of Armenian postcards. The best viewpoint of Ararat is by the inconspicuous monastery of Khor Virap nearby Yerevan. However, if you take any tour in the southern direction, you will pass this area and still be able to snap a few quick pictures, after all.
It’s a representative avenue available only for pedestrians in the center of Yerevan. It’s the home of everything what is luxury: elegant boutiques, posh restaurants and world-wide known hotels. Nice to have a walk there and feel the modern look of the city.
— THE SOUTH OF ARMENIA —
TATEV ROPEWAY AND MONASTERY
After a long, 250 km ride to the bottom of Armenia, you’ll finally reach a village called Halidzor. The main point of visiting this place is Tatev Monastery – 9th-century Armenian Apostolic church. The monastery is situated behind the mountains over the huge gorge.
The only way to get there is to take a jaw-dropping, 2.7 km in length cableway Wings of Tatev. It holds the Guinness World Record for being “Longest non-stop double track cable car”. It reaches the height up to 320 meters and the ride takes 12 minutes. People with a fear of heights should be prepared for scary moments there, because it really makes a terrific impression. Being cramped in a small cable car with plenty of other people and flying over the abbys fall in memory.
Two-way ticket costs 3500 AMD (approx. $7) and usually it’s not included in the price of the tour, so you must pay it extra.
It’s a former cave village, which was inhabited until 1950s! When we were wandering around small caves, we couldn’t believe that people used to live there not so far ago. It was during our grandparents’ youth times! We could see the dishes that were in use then and simply how the daily life of those people looked like. In front of the caves there’s also a swinging bridge leading to the other side of the village, which is a nice place to take some pictures.
It’s a cluster of prehistoric stones, which are often called as Armenian Stonehenge. The size of them range from a half to three meters and the weight is even up to ten tons. It’s hard to set the period they were constructed, but some sources dated them to be 7000 or even 8000 years old. Scientists and archeologists still debate what they were for. One of the theories presents that it was used to by prehistoric people to observe the sky, making them the oldest existing world’s observatory. Another refers to the religious aspects and describes it as a site of worship. What’s even more mysterious, each stone has one hole in it and its reasons are unclear as well. So, what is the truth about Karahunj? Nobody knows…
Armenia is famous for its wines and everything started in Areni village. Exactly in this place historians announced the discovery of the earliest known winery. They find it to be over 6000 years old. Moreover, it contained wine press, fermentation vats, jars and cap, what proves that producing wine was already well-developed that time.
Now the village preserves its heritage and there’s a winery in Areni where tourists may try their wines. For every tour group, there is a free degustation of wines of various tastes and age. You can even try a 20-year-old wine completely for free! If you like it, you can buy the whole bottle. In addition, along wines there’s something else, but only for hard players… Armenian vodka Oghi. It’s a tough case, because our Oghi contained 60% of alcohol, but we handled it! ;) All in all, the taste was good and we can strongly recommend all drinks we tried there.
Sleeping, Eating, Safety & Other Tips
Accommodation is Yerevan is a very cheap and easy issue. If you on an extremely tight budget, there are some convenient options for you as well. Cheapest beds in dorms go for $4-$6. If you need a double room, you can find one for as little as $9-$10. So, if you travel as a couple, don’t bother about hostels and pick a private room. All of budget lodgings are located within the walkable distance from the city center.
Armenia is not only beautiful and fascinating – it’s also tasty! The most common dish on Armenian tables is shaurma, alternatively called shawarma. It’s a popular specialty in Middle East & Trans-Caucasia. If you’re not sure what it is, we’d say that it’s an equivalent to world-wide known Turkish doner kebeb: meat pieces with various vegetables and sauce, all rolled in a soft pita.
The best shaurma in Yerevan you’ll find right in the city center. If you make a turn when walking through famous Northern Ave, you’ll find Tumanyan Street and the tastiest restaurant Tumanyan Shaurma. This place is present there for over 20 years and serves the best shaurmas in the city. You have a few kinds of meat to choose and many vegs as well. Simply, you’ll get your shaurma just like you want. Polite staff and nice music inside is a plus too. In addition, you can have it for a bit less than 2000 AMD (approx. $4) for a large potion, which is more than enough to be full.
We were surprised that buying food in an average store in Yerevan turned out to be pretty expensive, especially in relation to low prices of accommodation or dining on the town. It’s hard to give exact prices, but there were noticeably higher than in neighboring Georgia and much higher than in Azerbaijan.
Armenians welcomed us with open arms. Local people always were very nice to us and often approached us to have a short chat. We felt totally safe during our walks around Yerevan, both in daylight and at night. When we needed any advices, every time some men were willing to help us. Truly adorable experience!
About safety, you should check the current situation of Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict beforehand. Directly it concerns only the lands of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is rarely visited by tourists, but it’s advised to be up to date with these important issues. All other regions of the country are free from military tensions.
✓ The best time to go to Armenia are summer months from July to August when it’s warm outside and it rains very seldom. The highest temperatures can hit over 30°C that time.
✓ Speaking at least basic Russian is not only helpful in Armenia, but also increase your happiness of this trip as you would have a bigger chance to meet nice local people and understand their culture and habits better.
✓ Payments by card are accepted in many places in Yerevan. In addition, ATMs are available across the city and run with foreign cards.
✓ You may be confused when using Armenian currency – dram. As its rate is very low, you’ll be operating in thousands of drams for a little shopping. To not to get lost in huge numbers it’s a good idea to install an offline currency converter app on your smartphone.
How Much Does It Cost? (per person)
Trains Tbilisi-Yerevan-Batumi: $30
Accommodation (2 nights): $20 / 2 people = 10$
Metro: 800 AMD (approx. $2)
South Armenia tour + Wings of Tatev ticket: 7500 AMD + 3500 AMD = 11 000 AMD (approx. $23)
TOTAL (for 3 days): $99