Few nations have histories as ancient, complex, and laced with tragedy as Armenia. The first country to adopt Christianity as its official religion over 1700 years ago - and the first country to make chess compulsory at school level! A capital city older than Rome and ancient monasteries perched atop misty mountains. It's not an easy destination to explore as roads can be rough, public transport hard to find, and language a challenge. As Armenia straddles Europe and Asia, East and West, so does Armenian culture. Armenia is a surprise waiting to be discovered.
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ARMENIA QUICK FACTS
Currency: Armenian dram
Area: 29,743 km2
Population: 2,976,372 (July 2006 est.)
Religion: Armenian Apostolic 94%, other Christian 4%, Yezidi (Zoroastrian/animist) 2%
Electricity: 220V/50Hz (European plug)
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ARMENIA PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
6 January, Armenian Orthodox Christmas
28 January, National Army Day
24 April, Genocide Memorial Day
9 May, Victory and Peace Day
28 May, Restoration of Statehood Day
5 July, Constitution Day
21 September, Independence Day
Also, Easter, the Transfiguration, the Dormition, and the Exaltation of the Cross.
BEST TIME TO VISIT ARMENIA
Peak tourist season from the middle of June to around the end of August and this period is generally marked by dry, moderate weather. with temperatures getting as high as 35 °C at times. Although it does get somewhat busier over this period, prices are similar to the rest of the year and as Armenia is still off the radar of most tourists it's definitely not overrun.
The best time to visit Armenia if you want to avoid the hottest period is the shoulder season months of May to June and again September - October. During these times you will find mostly mild weather - suitable for outdoor activities. That said, May and June are the wettest months and you should be prepared for some thunderstorms on occasion. If you plan to travel to Lake Sevan, June through September will be the best time.
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
SNOW SPORT IN ARMENIA
The snow sports season in Armenia is from November until April.
HIKING & CYCLING IN ARMENIA
The best time for outdoor activities in Armenia is from May to September. July and August can be hot but perfect for hiking the higher altitudes.
BEACH OPTIONS IN ARMENIA
Armenia may not have a coastline, but it does have the beautiful Lake Sevan with it's many 'beaches' which can be enjoyed over the hot summer months of June to September.
KITESURF IN ARMENIA
If you're desperate for some wind sports on the water in Armenia, check out Lake Sevan.
ARMENIA TRAVEL COSTS
If you have the budget and can split the cost, by far the best and most convenient way to get around Armenia is by car. To rent a car you will need an International Driving Permit (IDP) which you should get while in your home country.
If you will be making use of public transport you will find that the infrastructure is not the best and information is a bit thin. Most of the public transport websites are not available in English and you should ask at your accommodation for assistance in helping with information on local and intercity buses.
Intercity transport in Armenia is best done by bus and minibus (marshrutka). There are three main bus stations in Yerevan, as well as a railway station. Intercity buses are relatively inexpensive but navigating the bus stations can be tricky as English isn’t widely spoken.
The best would be to ask the day before at your accommodation to help find the right bus and on the day get there early and look out for it. Bus fares are cheap and usually based on an hourly fare. Note that even short routes may include plenty of stops which will end up taking much more time than expected.
There are also trains on a daily schedule which connects Yerevan to Gyumri (3 hours), Yeraskh (1.5 hours), Araks (1 hour), Arrat (1 hour), and Hrazdan (1.5 hours). During summer months the Hrazdan line will extend all the way to Lake Sevan. There are also affordable trains to nearby cities outside of Armenia such as Budapest and Prague. Depending on the route and the train it could be uncomfortable and painfully slow or surprisingly modern with air-conditioning.
ARMENIA TRAVEL TIPS
Armenia isn’t going to break the bank and a budget traveller will be able to get by with well under $40 per day. You will find plenty of free activities, especially if you enjoy the outdoors, which almost makes it hard to spend a lot. Throw in cheap food, beer, and accommodation, and you can really stretch your budget.
SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF ARMENIA
Armenia’s capital, Yerevan, is one of the world’s oldest continually inhabited cities - 29 years older than Rome. Throughout its 2,800-year history, kingdoms, invasions, Communism, and dictatorships have come and gone. Today, Yerevan is a city of one million, with a European ambiance, lined with wide boulevards and sidewalk cafes. Yerevan is cosmopolitan, safe, and affordable—with museums, hotels, overly generous portions of food and wine, and even a night at the opera-going for friendly prices.
The holy city of Echmiadzin was the capital of Armenia from AD 130-340 and the location of the Cathedral of St Gregory the Illuminator. The cathedral's treasury contains some fascinating artifacts including a spearhead believed to have been used to pierce the side of the crucified Christ.
Cable car to Tatev
Wings of Tatev, a cableway from Tatev to Halidzor village was opened in October 2010 and is reputedly the world's "longest non-stop double track cable car". The ride will take around 15 minutes to cover almost 6 km and deposit you at the medieval monastery of Tatev.
The ghost town of Old Khndzoresk
About 10 km from Goris along a somewhat bumpy road you will find the abandoned town of Khndzoresk. Dug into volcanic sandstone on the slopes of Khor Dzor, the village was inhabited from as far back as the 13th century but after a devastating earthquake in 1931 was completely abandoned. The collection of 17th-century churches and the ghost town of caves makes for some fascinating exploring.
Carved from the rock face of the Azat River Gorge Geghard Monastery makes for Armenia's most dramatic sight.
Praised for its crystal clear waters and stunning mountain setting this lake is the largest in the Caucasus and known as the "Armenian Sea".
Army of Stones
The prehistoric, archaeological site of Zorats Karer near Karahujn is often referred to as the "Armenian Stonehenge". The stone monument site is rich with stone settings, burial cists, and standing stones arranged in a large central circle along with northern and southern arms amongst other arrangements. In total 223 stones have been identified as part of the arrangement.
Shikahogh State Reserve
Armenia’s second-largest forest reserve, Shikahogh is located in southern Armenia in the Syunik Province. It has been largely unaffected by Armenia’s massive post-Soviet deforestation due to its remote location and care shown by residents of nearby villages and is home to diverse wildlife including leopards, bears, wild goats, and vipers. This is the spot for prime, if somewhat rustic, mountain hiking trails that will lead you past ancient tombs, medieval churches, abandoned villages, crystal clear springs, and waterfalls.
WHAT TO EAT IN ARMENIA
In Yerevan, you will find a booming restaurant scene with international cuisine available everywhere. Much Armenian cooking is based on lamb, either grilled and served as shashlik with flatbread, or prepared as soup or stew - often in combination with fruit or some form of nut.
Some local specialties:
Shampours - skewers with marinated meat and vegetables.
Ghapama - pumpkin stew with rice, raisins, apples, and cinnamon.
Khash - A broth made from ham-hocks and herbs with a tradition going back centuries.
Take a wine tasting tour:
Considering that Armenia has a 6 000-year-old history of making wine it's probably unsurprising that the region produces 500 unique and native varieties of grapes - virtually unknown to the world outside Armenia. If you are a wine lover, taking a wine tour is a must. Sadly most of the wineries were shut down during the Soviet era but over the last decade, Armenia has rediscovered its winemaking roots.
LGBTQ IN ARMENIA
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights in Armenia are not legislated in both the legal and social spheres. Same-sex marriage and civil unions are not legal in Armenia and The Constitution of Armenia limits marriage to opposite-sex couples. Although homosexuality has been legal in Armenia since 2003, the situation of LGBT citizens has not changed substantially.
Homosexuality remains a taboo topic in many parts of Armenian society with even the younger generation of Armenians still not knowledgeable about many LGBT issues. There is no real legal protection for LGBT persons whose human rights are violated regularly. Many LGBT Armenians fear being socially outcast by their friends and families, causing them to keep their sexual orientation or gender identity secret.