Armenia is an increasingly popular destination; in recent years, tourist numbers have shot up, and it’s very easy to see why. Blessed with dramatic, mountainous landscapes populated with deep gorges, sparkling lakes, and gushing rivers, the scenery is stunning wherever you go. As such, there is loads of great hiking to be had.
Due to its strategic location in the Caucasus, everyone from the Romans and Byzantines to Persians and Soviets have passed through the region. Throughout all this turmoil, Armenia impressively and resolutely retained its rich language, culture, and heritage. As it was the first nation to embrace Christianity, there is a myriad of incredible old monasteries, churches, and chapels to explore, and these are invariably located in the most scenic settings imaginable.
Map of Armenia
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With so much astounding history, culture, and nature on show, Armenia really does have it all. Whether you have a penchant for learning about the past or are keen to see some remote and wild wonderlands, you’ll find what you’re looking for in Armenia.
Home to some gorgeous scenery, Dilijan National Park in the northeast of the country will delight nature lovers and outdoor aficionados alike. The peaceful, rolling hills and mountain ranges that make up most of the national park’s territory are covered in endless forest, with twinkling streams and babbling brooks coursing through the undergrowth.
Alongside the diverse array of fauna and flora are some beautiful lakes for you to check out, as well as some wonderful old monasteries that date back to the 10th and 11th centuries. Of these, Hagharstin, Goshavank, and Matosvavank are particularly worth visiting. As a myriad of paths and trails snake through the magnificent scenery, Dilijan National Park is a lovely place to go hiking.
Lying on the banks of the Vararak River in a scenic valley hemmed in by mountains, Goris in the southeast of the country is a lovely place to visit. There are many fascinating historical and cultural landmarks for you to check out, alongside its amazing landscapes. The planned city’s tree-lined streets are perfect for ambling peacefully along.
As you stroll around, you’ll come across lots of charming old stone houses, a fantastic archaeological museum and art gallery, as well as a beautiful basilica that dates back to the fourth century.
Goris is a pleasant and peaceful town in which to spend a couple of days. The surrounding mountains and countryside are home to lots of enticing trails and paths, with Tatev Monastery and the fascinating Old Khndzoresk Cave Village both nearby.
Home to an astonishing array of little villages and towns, which each boast their own unique look, feel, and identity, traveling through the Debed Canyon is a magical experience. Linking Armenia to Georgia, the canyon weaves through some breathtakingly beautiful landscapes, with charming little villages dotted here and there.
Each village has a wealth of fascinating historic sights for you to check out, with churches, chapels, and forts all on display. Two of the main must-see attractions are the fabulous monasteries of Haghpat and Sanahin which lie along the route. With lots of great hiking trails snaking their way from the small villages into the surrounding mountains, Debed Canyon offers the perfect mix of history, culture, and nature.
As grapes and vineyards have been cultivated here for over 6,000 years, it should come as no surprise to learn that the Areni Wine Country boasts some of the nation’s most delicious wines. Set among some stunning mountainous scenery, the vineyards blanket entire mountainsides and valley slopes, with charming little farmhouses and wineries punctuating the countryside.
While its fantastic local produce is what most people come for, the region also has some very interesting sights for you to enjoy, such as the ancient church of S Astvatsatsin and the Areni-1 Caves, which are home to a fascinating archaeological site.
Set among some absolutely jaw-dropping scenery, the Khor Virap Monastery is well worth a visit. A popular pilgrimage site, the monastery is renowned throughout the country for its stunning backdrop that sees Mount Ararat in Turkey loom dramatically in the distance. Its exquisite chapel was remarkably built all the way back in 642 AD, with later additions and extensions added over the centuries.
Meaning ‘deep dungeon,’ it is in Khor Virap that Saint Gregory the Illuminator was imprisoned in the third century. After being released, he helped convert the local king to Christianity, which led to Armenia becoming the first Christian nation.
Located just a short distance away from Yerevan at the foot of the Khosrov Forest State Reserve, Garni is an enjoyable place to spend some time – although most people visit primarily to see its magnificent first century AD temple and delightful monastery. Perched atop a cliff edge overlooking ululating hills and mountains, the Temple of Garni displays some beautiful Hellenic architecture.
The 11th century Geghard Monastery has a fantastic fortified compound for you to explore, which encompasses a magnificent old church, elaborate carvings, and hot springs. Although these two historic sights are deservedly its main attractions, Garni has much more to offer: the surrounding countryside has a plethora of great paths and trails for you to hike, cycle, or horseback ride along. In addition, the center of town has lots of fine restaurants on offer, as well as some beautiful old churches, while the nearby Garni Gorge is also well worth checking out.
The largest lake in the whole of the Caucasus, Lake Sevan’s tranquil waters seemingly stretch off into the distance forever. It is a popular holiday destination among both locals and foreigners alike due to the plethora of amazing recreational opportunities that it boasts. Impressive old monasteries and churches, such as Sevanavank and Hayravank, can be found dotted along its scenic shores. However, it is the lake’s myriad of fantastic beaches that entice most holidaymakers, who come to lounge on their golden sands or enjoy the incredible array of watersports on offer.
Lying at around 2,000 meters above sea level, Lake Sevan is widely considered to be the ‘jewel of Armenia.’ Swimming in its inviting waters or sailing on its reflective surface are both popular pastimes, with hiking and cycling along its coastline also popular. While some villages and towns along the lakeshore are very laidback and make for a quiet getaway, others have lots of bars and nightclubs should you want a more lively holiday.
Surrounded by ruddy red cliff walls, this incredible 13th-century monastery is one of the most popular tourist sites in the country, and with good reason. Sporting some beautiful facades that are full of elaborate carvings and motifs, Noravank is a delight to visit. Visitors can clamber up a steep stone staircase that winds up the side of the building if they want to explore the second floor.
While the architecture is certainly stunning for its intricacy and age, the surrounding Amaghu Valley is no less bewitching. Hiking through the gorge is a delightful affair as the red-brick walls tower above you. While the Surp Astvatsatsin Church is the site’s most photogenic feature, there are a couple of other lovely chapels and khachkars – Armenian cross-stones – for you to check out.
Lying on the outskirts of the picturesque town of Garni, Geghard Monastery is a very popular day-trip destination from the capital and is certainly worth visiting if you have the chance. Carved out of the mountainside, with majestic peaks overlooking it, the famous monastery has a beautiful church for you to wander around. There are also a number of gorgeous chapels showcasing some elaborate and intricate carvings, with some parts of the complex dating all the way back to the fourth century.
The monastery’s scenic setting is absolutely stunning. It’s no surprise that it has long been a place of pilgrimage, with people having visited the site long before Christianity first found its way to Armenia. A must-see when in Armenia, Geghard Monastery certainly won’t disappoint with its incredible rock-hewn churches and chapels and beautiful setting in the Azat River gorge.
Despite being one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, Yerevan has surprisingly little to show for it in terms of historic buildings and monuments. This is because Soviet planners knocked down most of them in the 1920s in an attempt to create a ‘perfect city’ in the vein of Paris or Saint Petersburg. As such, Armenia’s capital now makes for a fascinating place to explore as Soviet-era buildings lie alongside wide avenues with some delightful old buildings and churches to be found scattered here and there.
While Yerevan is certainly not a pretty city, it does have a lot going for it as its streets positively thrum with life and countless cafes and terraces occupy every street corner, square and park. As well as being home to a third of the country’s population, the city also boasts lots of great cultural institutions in the shape of its many museums and theaters. Of these, the haunting Armenian Genocide Museum is simply a must visit if you want to understand the horrific events that so profoundly impacted the nation and its people. With so many different sides to it, it is well worth spending a few days in Yerevan before heading off to explore the many incredible landscapes and age-old historic sights that dot the country.