Armenia in 1 week, a self-drive itinerary
My second ever trip to the Caucasus region, after Georgia, I had high expectations from Armenia, especially in terms of the landscapes, monasteries, mountains & hikes, and the vibe in the capital city of Yerevan. Armenia and Georgia have a […] The post Armenia in 1 week, a self-drive itinerary appeared first on Hopping Feet.
My second ever trip to the Caucasus region, after Georgia, I had high expectations from Armenia, especially in terms of the landscapes, monasteries, mountains & hikes, and the vibe in the capital city of Yerevan. Armenia and Georgia have a lot in common so if you loved the latter, you’re bound to enjoy your visit to the former.
Armenia is a popular destination for people travelling from the UAE due to the short distance, low-cost airlines (Wizz Air from Abu Dhabi, journey time: 3 hours, cost of air ticket in August: 150$), and the ease of access (UAE residents get a visa on arrival). However, even if you’re not a UAE resident and aren’t entitled to a visa on arrival, most nationalities are eligible for an e-visa (including Indians) which takes 3 working days to process and costs $7 only.
Armenia itself is not too expensive; a good hotel in the city center of Yerevan will cost about $50 a night, whereas in the smaller towns and villages, you can get decent hotels / guest houses/ bnbs for as less as $20 - $30 a night. Renting a car (which I highly recommend) costs about $50 a day, and food + wine will set you back by about $30 a day in a mid-level restaurant. One can go really low budget in Armenia (stay in a hostel, eat food from the food trucks / street eateries, rely completely on public transportation, etc) and survive on $40 a day all inclusive but I chose to go mid-level on this trip and spent $110 a day all inclusive, which wasn’t a lot according to me.
Armenia was also a solo trip for me, and I felt mostly safe wherever I went. Yerevan was completely safe even late at night, but smaller villages (like Tatev) didn’t feel as safe, so I recommend that if you’re a solo female traveller, planning to stay in the smaller towns or villages in Armenia, try to stick around to your guesthouse or hotel after dark hours. While taking a taxi or relying on shuttle buses is a good option for someone who doesn’t want to drive, renting a car gives you a lot more flexibility and saves a lot of time!
Here are some useful tips before getting into the recommended 1-week itinerary for Armenia:
- Carry USD or Euro for currency conversion: The best currency conversion rate for Armenia is in the exchanges at the city center. However, the airport is also an option, and the best conversion rate is available for USD or Euro vs any other currency. 1 USD = 380 Armenian Dram approx.
- Get a local sim at the airport, with unlimited data and local calls in Armenia for as low as $11! This was extremely helpful throughout my trip. While I usually prefer to buy an esim from MobiMatter, the deals available on the app vs the cost of the local sim & the offers convinced me to go for the latter.
- Download Yandex Go app for cheap, convenient, and efficient taxis availability, especially intracity. I don’t recommend driving within Yerevan as it is crowded, and people aren’t the best followers of rules. Rent the car only when planning on leaving Yerevan to the outskirts.
- If you’re going to be on the road, Yandex Maps work much better than Google Maps at providing the perfect routes with the updated and correct information.
- A useful app for intercity connectivity (because buses aren’t easily available in Armenia), is GG Taxi. While this also a ride hailing app like Uber or Yandex Go, I prefer booking taxis on Yandex and using GG Taxi only for the shuttle buses between cities (such as Yerevan & Gyumri).
- While the roads (and drivers) in Armenia aren’t the best (like those of Europe), they aren’t terrible If you’re a regular, confident driver, you can manage! Most places are accessible without a 4WD though if you have the budget for one, then it’s likely to make things a lot easier.
- Summer can get really hot these days in Armenia so the best time to visit for the perfect weather, and hence a fantastic experience, is either May or October. I visited at the beginning September, and it was still 36-38 degrees during the afternoons, making it impossible to explore.
1 week in Armenia
Yerevan makes for a great base in Armenia because most of the places that you will visit on this 1-week itinerary for Armenia are located either to its north, northeast, southeast or west. It’s a fair assumption that your flight will arrive in Yerevan and while it makes for the perfect base to explore the country, the city itself doesn’t have a lot apart from great vibe, food & wine. One of the most interesting facts about Armenia is that it is (considered to be) the birthplace of wine! This will be obvious from the moment you leave the airport in Yerevan, where a massive installation of a bottle of red wine from one of their most popular local wineries will greet you at the exit. Armenia is a wine-lover’s haven, as much as it is a place for nature and landscape enthusiasts and seekers of tranquil countryside experiences.
Day 1: Yerevan
Yerevan is a large city with a nice vibe. Here are the places to explore in Yerevan within the day.
Republic Square: The central and most iconic square in Yerevan, surrounded by government buildings, including the National History Museum and the National Art Museum. It serves as a focal point for cultural events, celebrations, and gatherings in the city, and one of the key events that happen here every evening is the musical fountains during the summer months. You’ll almost always find this place crowded, and it also connects to several lanes/ streets full of cafes, restaurants, and shops. Apart from the museums and the fountains, there’s not a lot to do in the square except walk around, observe the pink-ish architecture and then dissipate into one of the streets for a glass of wine or a meal!
Blue Mosque: The Blue Mosque, or the Iranian Mosque, is one of the few mosques in Yerevan and the only functioning one now. It is named for its striking blue and turquoise tilework on its exterior. The mosque was built in the 18th century during the Persian rule of the region. The mosque is quite the contrast to the rest of the city in terms of its architecture and while there’s only a blue-tile gate on the main street, once you enter the complex, you’re transported into another time and place.
Lovers’ Park: I recommend this especially during the summer afternoons, when it’s too hot to be roaming the streets. Featuring beautiful landscaping, walking paths, fountains, and sculptures, the park provides a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of the city and is an ideal spot for a leisurely stroll or a picnic. There is also a café within the park where you can enjoy a refreshing drink on a warm day.
Cascade Complex: A very interesting and monumental place, it features a cascading stairway that connects the city center to the Victory Park neighbourhood. It is an impressive architectural and artistic landmark, with a mix of modern and contemporary sculptures and art installations. You can climb the stairs to enjoy panoramic views of Yerevan and Mount Ararat. I specially recommend visiting here for sunset views! Mt Ararat may not be visible on most days in summer due to the haze.
Yerevan Vernissage: A bustling open-air market, close to Republic Square, it is a popular place for shopping for local handicrafts, souvenirs, artwork, antiques, and Armenian crafts. You can find a wide range of items such as rugs, ceramics, jewelry, paintings, and woodcarvings. It closes at 6 pm so be sure to make it there before!
Saryan Wine Street: A vibrant and picturesque street in Yerevan known for its lively atmosphere, outdoor cafes, and wine bars. It's a great place to explore the local wine culture and sample Armenian wines while enjoying the city's street life.
North Avenue: Another lively street, it's lined with shops, restaurants, cafes, and boutiques, making it a popular spot for shopping and leisurely walks. The avenue is often the site of various events and festivals.
Ararat Wine & Brandy Factory: The Ararat Wine & Brandy Factory is one of Armenia's renowned producers of brandy and wine. It is famous for its Ararat brandy, which has received international recognition and awards. Brandy enthusiasts can take tours of the factory to learn about the brandy-making process and enjoy tastings too.
Suggested mid-budget place to stay in Yerevan’s city center (located in Republic Square): Erebuni Hotel
Day 2: Day trip to Zvarnots Cathedral, Etchmiadzin Cathedral & Voskevaz Winery
You could choose to rent a car on this day as most of these places fall outside Yerevan and having a car will give you great flexibility. Alternatively, Yandex Go taxis to these places aren’t too expensive either so if you wish to not drive or limit your car rental period to save costs, this is totally doable using ride hailing apps too.
Zvarnots Cathedral: Located about 20 kms (20 min drive) from Yerevan City Center, towards the International Airport, is this iconic ancient Armenian architectural masterpiece which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an important historical and cultural monument.
The cathedral was built in the 7th century and was primarily a circular church with a central dome and several surrounding columns. Zvarnots was known for its innovative and complex architectural design, characterized by intricate stonework and decorative elements. Unfortunately, the cathedral was largely destroyed by an earthquake in the 10th century, leaving only its ruins. Today, these ruins stand against the backdrop of Mt Ararat’s snow-capped peak (visible only on very clear days), making it an awe-inspiring scene.
Etchmiadzin Cathedral: Only another 10 min from Zvarnots Cathedral is Etchmiadzin Cathedral, one of the most sacred and historic sites in Armenia. Founded in the early 4th century by Saint Gregory the Illuminator, who is credited with converting Armenia to Christianity, it is considered one of the oldest cathedrals in the world. The cathedral houses important relics, including the Holy Lance (Spear of Longinus) that pierced the side of Jesus during the crucifixion. Etchmiadzin Cathedral is a significant pilgrimage site for Armenians and a symbol of the country's Christian heritage.
Voskevaz Winery: About 30 minutes-drive from Etchmiadzin, this privately owned winery is in the Voskevaz village and is visited mostly for its unique & charming architecture. However, since the winery is celebrated for producing a wide range of high-quality Armenian wines, drawing on centuries-old winemaking traditions in the region, it’s best experienced through a guided tour (that costs approx. $10) to learn about the winemaking process, and, of course, sample a variety of Armenian wines. Make sure to book your tour in advance, especially if you wish for it to be in English! Due to the lack of any signages of explanations, I wouldn’t recommend visiting here on your own.
Overnight in Yerevan (40-min drive). If you’ve rented a car, I recommend this hotel as it’s slightly outside the chaotic city center (but not too far) and offers free parking on site: Metropol Hotel Yerevan.
Day 3: Day trip to Garni & Geghard
Like Day 2, today’s itinerary is easily doable through Yandex Go taxies, if you’re not keen on renting a car. Alternatively, there are many tour companies that can organize guided day trips to both these popular destinations from Yerevan.
Garni Temple: About 30 minutes outside Yerevan, is the Temple of Garni, is an ancient Pagan temple (and a UNESCO World Heritage Site) located in the Garni village. It is one of the few surviving examples of pre-Christian architecture in Armenia. The temple was built in the 1st century AD and was dedicated to the Armenian sun god Mihr.
Despite the Christianization of Armenia in the 4th century, Garni Temple remained an important cultural and religious site. It was later used as a summer residence by Armenian royalty. The temple's significance lies in its historical and architectural value, as well as its connection to Armenia's pre-Christian religious traditions.
Garni Gorge: Hardly a 7-min drive from the temple itself is a popular place to experience the Garni Gorge, known as the Symphony of Stones, a collection of unique basalt columns formed by volcanic activity. These hexagonal basalt columns resemble organ pipes and create a striking natural spectacle. You can explore the beautiful scenery, hike along the trails while taking a lot of photos (easy walking path) and enjoy the views of the Azat River. I highly recommend visiting this natural spectacle!
Geghard Monastery: A remarkable complex of medieval Armenian churches and cave dwellings carved into the cliffs of the Azat River Gorge, not far from Garni (another 40 minutes’ drive ahead). The monastery complex is known for its unique architectural and historical significance. Many of its churches and chapels date back to the 13th century, while some parts of the complex may have been established as early as the 4th century. The monastery is renowned for its intricate stone carving and decorative artistry and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most visited cultural and religious sites in Armenia.
In the evening, return to Yerevan.
Day 4: Lake Sevan & Dilijan National Park
By this time, I had had enough of historical & cultural sites, so I was glad to be heading into the mountains. The drive from Yerevan to Lake Sevan and then Dilijan National Park is quite smooth and picturesque! If you have been managing the last 2 days without a car, using Yandex Go, then it’s okay but on this day, I highly recommend renting a car. While there are several tours to both Lake Sevan as well as Dilijan National Park from Yerevan, you’re unlikely to be able to immerse yourself in these places within a day and that’s why, I recommend staying overnight in Dilijan.
Lake Sevan: About an hour out of Yerevan, you will start approaching this turquoise blue lake which is the largest and one of the most iconic freshwater lakes in Armenia. Surrounded by picturesque mountains, the iconic blue color of the lake left me in awe. I recommend heading directly to Sevan Island, which also houses the Sevanavank Monastery, an important historical and cultural site, set on a hill against the backdrop of the gorgeous lake. After you visit the monastery, head to the lakeside shore, which is sandy beach area where you’ll find several people swimming during the summer months. You can also rent a jet ski and head into the waters by yourself, or simply sit in one of the laidback cafes and restaurants along the lake’s shore, where you can enjoy a glass of wine and some Armenian dolma, delicious kebabs or khinkali.
Lake Parz: Only about 20 minutes’ drive from here, you will be in Dilijan National Park. One of the key destinations to visit here is Lake Parz, meaning ’clear lake’, a small, pristine lake surrounded by lush forests and is known for its crystal-clear waters. A lot smaller than Lake Sevan, I quite enjoyed the tranquillity and cosy atmosphere around this lake, despite the availability of several activities such as boating and ziplining. I highly recommend the zipline!
Goshavank Monastery & Gosh Lake Hike: Another 30 minutes ahead of Lake Parz is the Goshavank Monastery, a medieval Armenian monastery complex located in the village of Gosh. While the monastery itself is known for its architectural and artistic significance, including its intricate stone carvings and khachkars, I headed here only for the hike to the Gosh Lake. Park your car near the monastery, and then head on the dirt road / unpaved path (2 kms walk) towards Gosh Lake. The area around the monastery also has some very cute restaurants (with seating areas hidden in the back, next to a stream, amidst greenery) where you can have a glass of wine or coffee before heading towards Gosh Lake.
If you’re not a fan of hiking in the heat, there are several 4WD vehicles/ jeeps that are available near the monastery complex that would be happy to take you to the Gosh Lake for a price.
Haghartsin Monastery: Moving back towards Dilijan city center (old town), you will come across Haghartsin Monastery, a medieval Armenian monastic complex that dates back to the 10th to 14th centuries and is known for its architectural beauty and historical significance.
I highly recommend visiting here because Haghartsin Monastery is surrounded by lush forests, making it a serene and picturesque destination. It really makes for some amazing photographs and a fantastic nature walk.
Horse Riding in Haghartsin: If you still have some time during the day, this is one of my favourite experiences in Dilijan National Park. It was my first time trying it and I found to be a truly amazing way to explore the beautiful natural landscapes of the park on horseback. Horse riding provides an excellent vantage point to soak in the natural beauty and peace amidst dense forests and rolling hills. I did it through a company called Dilijan Horseriding, and they have the option to do 1 or 2 hours tour, for experiences as well as inexperienced horse riders. They take you in a jeep, about 20 minutes into the mountains and dense forests, where you will start your tour.
Overnight stay in Dilijan National Park: I found the cutest, most charming Hobbiton-themed hotel in Dilijan!, called the Cozy House. It was an absolutely delightful experience; this is the only Hobbit-themed hotel I’ve seen outside of New Zealand and I fell in love with it. While it is not as large as the one in New Zealand, it’s cozy and magical and I loved walking around their grounds, enjoying a glass of wine in my own private backyard and relaxing in their super comfortable bedrooms. The hotel is located right on the main road but is extremely quiet, far away from noise and chaos. What a fairytale place to stay!
However, it is pricey when you compare with most other hotels in Dilijan so if Hobbit-theme isn’t your thing, then other cheaper suggested hotel to stay: Popock Dilijan 1.
Day 5: Yell Extreme Park & return to Yerevan
If you’re an adrenaline junkie or an adventure enthusiast, and if you have some time on hand (unfortunately, I did not), I highly recommend visiting Yell Extreme Park, a popular destination which is home to several activities such as ziplining, zorbing, horse riding, rock climbing, paragliding and via ferrata routes. Situated an hour ahead of Dilijan National Park in the Lori Region, you’ll need to keep aside at least 4 hours to experience these activities; the park is the ultimate destination for those looking to do fun, adventurous activities amidst gorgeous natural landscapes.
In the evening, head back to Yerevan (about 2.5 hours’ drive) for overnight stay.
Day 6: Khor Virab, Areni 1 Cave, Tatev
On day 6 of your 1-week itinerary for Armenia, check out of your Yerevan hotel and head towards Tatev, where you’ll stay overnight. On the way, you’ll visit more destinations of historical and cultural significance, including the oldest winery in the world!
Khor Virab: Located at about a 40-min drive from Yerevan, Khor Virab is a historical monastery set against the brilliant backdrop of Mount Ararat and is one of the most iconic landmarks of Armenia. Apart from the gorgeous views from the monastery, its most renowned feature is its deep underground pit, which served as a prison for Saint Gregory the Illuminator, the patron saint of Armenia, for 13 years before he played a crucial role in converting Armenia to Christianity in the early 4th century. You can go down a steep flight of stairs (more like a ladder) to visit this pit but do not attempt it if you’re claustrophobic! The best photos of the monastery can be taken from a small restaurant that’s located just 500 meters before you approach this landmark.
Areni 1 Cave: From Khor Virab, you will drive 1.5 hours to Areni Cave 1, an archaeological site in the Vayots Dzor region of Armenia, notable for its rich archaeological discoveries, which have provided valuable insights into prehistoric Armenian culture and history.
The cave, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has yielded a treasure trove of artifacts, including ancient wine-making facilities, pottery, tools, and even the world's oldest leather shoe, dating back over 5,000 years. The discovery of grape seeds and fermenting jars at the site suggests that winemaking in Armenia has a history dating back millennia.
While there is a possibility of visiting the cave without a guided tour, if you manage to get hold of a tour guide, it’s better so that you’re able to understand the artefacts and their significance. I was lucky that there was a pre-arranged group tour that was already going on when I arrived, so I sneaked into the big group to learn about the place! Just outside of Areni Cave 1, there’s a magical little restaurant next to the stream and amidst the greenery, which you can enjoy a nice glass of wine & lunch before heading towards Wings of Tatev.
Wings of Tatev: There are two ways to visit the Tatev Monastery.
Option 1: Stay overnight in the village of Goris (30 min from Wings of Tatev) and then take the Wings of Tatev, a scenic aerial tramway from the village of Halidzor to the Tatev Monastery complex. It is one of the world's longest reversible aerial tramways and offers breathtaking views of the Vorotan River Gorge and the surrounding mountains. Not only will this be a more convenient way to get to Tatev (the drive from Goris to Tatev Village, where the monastery is located, is long, winding, and not on the best of roads, with lots of potholes). With this option, you can avoid the inconvenience of driving on these roads while at the same time enjoying a soaring experience over picturesque landscapes and staying overnight in a more centralized location/ bigger town.
Option 2: Drive to Tatev and stay overnight. While the distance from Goris to Tatev isn’t a lot, due to the serpentine roads which are also in a slightly bad condition (but not un-driveable), it takes about an hour. Tatev itself is a very small village, so if you’re a fan of staying in the rural countryside, this could be something you like. You can visit the Tatev Monastery from here and then stay in one of the cute and cosy homes.
Devil’s Bridge Hot Springs: If you have decided to drive towards the Tatev Monastery, you will come upon what is called Devil’s Bridge. You can also hike here from the monastery, but the hike is hard and steep so its best to stop here while you’re driving on the serpentine road towards Tatev. Over several years, wind and water have created this wonder of nature, polishing, and piercing the petrified lava. But the most intriguing part of the bridge is the pool of warm salubrious springs where you can even swim!
Tatev Monastery: I highly recommend a visit to Tatev, even though it’s located more than 4 hours from Yerevan, and spend at least a night in the area, to immerse yourself in the dramatic mountain scenery and deep gorges. The monastery itself dates back to the 9th century and is one of the most important religious and cultural sites in the country.
One of the most iconic features of Tatev Monastery is its stunning location on a high plateau, offering commanding views of the Vorotan River Gorge. I highly recommend walking to the Tatev Viewpoint, a spot you’ll easily find on google maps with that name, located about 1.5 kms uphill from the monastery. The view of the monastery set against the magnificent backdrop is to die for!
Suggested place to stay in Tatev: Old Tatev Guesthouse
Day 7: Khndzoresk Cave Village, Shaki Waterfall, Jermuk Waterfall & return to Yerevan
If you decided to stay in Tatev overnight, getting to Khndzoresk might be slightly painful as it will be about an hour’s drive away. If you stayed in Goris overnight, you will only be about 10 min away! In either case, I highly recommend a visit to this small village as it is one of the most underrated places to visit in Armenia!
Khndzoresk Cave Village is an ancient cave settlement known for its unique and historically significant cave dwellings, which were inhabited until the 20th century. The cave houses in Khndzoresk were carved into the soft rock of the cliffs and served as homes, storage spaces, and places of worship for the local population. Some of the caves are interconnected by tunnels and footpaths, creating a complex network of dwellings.
One of the most iconic features of Khndzoresk is the suspension bridge that spans the gorge and connects the two sides of the village. The bridge was constructed to replace the older rope bridge and provides spectacular views of the cave dwellings and the picturesque landscape.
On your way back to Yerevan, there are several detours you may choose to take, depending on your time and mood. One of the interesting places to visit, located only on a 2 km detour from the highway (but on a dirt road), is the Shaki Waterfall, one of the tallest and most impressive waterfalls in Armenia. The waterfall cascades down from the cliffs of the Syunik Plateau, dropping approximately 18 meters (59 feet) into a beautiful pool below. The surrounding area is covered in lush greenery and offers a peaceful and serene atmosphere.
Another detour but a longer one (almost an hour), from the highway, is the town of Jermuk, a popular spa and resort destination in the Vayots Dzor Province of Armenia. Jermuk Waterfall is not particularly high but is known for its wide and dramatic cascade as it tumbles down the rocky slopes. The view of the waterfall is especially picturesque during the spring and early summer when the flow is at its peak. You can also visit Jermuk Hot Springs if time allows.
Finally, head towards Yerevan for the night. If you drive straight from Tatev to Yerevan, the total journey, without any stops, is about 4.5 hours long.
Day 8: Gyumri (overnight) OR Lake of Aragats hike
If you still have a couple of more days in your 1-week itinerary for Armenia, then don’t worry, there’s SO much to do that you won’t feel bored. On this day, you have two options:
Option 1: Head to Gyumri and stay overnight
This was one of my biggest regrets of visiting Armenia, that I couldn’t make it to the cute, picturesque, fairytale town of Gyumri. A local told me that it’s much prettier than Yerevan in terms of its architecture and has a rich history, a unique cultural heritage, and a resilient spirit. Gyumri is often referred to as the "cultural capital" of Armenia and has a vibrant arts scene with numerous theaters, museums, and galleries. Gyumri boasts an eclectic mix of architectural styles, including Armenian, Russian, and Soviet influences. The city's historic district features charming 19th-century buildings with ornate facades.
Some of the notable architectural landmarks include the Sev Berd Fortress, the Black Fortress, the Kumayri Historic District, and the Gyumri City Hall.
To book your overnight stay in Gyumri, click here.
Option 2: Head for a full day hike to the Lakes of Aragats
Another one of the biggest regrets of my trip to Armenia was the lack of time to do this. As much of a hiking enthusiast as I am, I missed the opportunity to do this gorgeous, moderately difficult hike in Mount Aragats. The hike starts from Lake Rapi, which can only be reached by a 4WD / offroad car from the village of Geghadzor, located about 1.5 hours to the north of Yerevan by road. Lake Rapi is located at an altitude of 3000m and from here you can see the clear view of the Northern wall of Mount Aragats. This is the starting point of the 9-km hike to Lake Mtnalich, at an altitude of 3500 m, situated under the highest summit of Armenia. Lastly, you head to lake Astghkan at an altitude of 3116 m and enjoy the view of the Northern wall from the other side. The hike loops back to lake Rapi where it ends before you down to the village of Geghadzor in an off-road car. While this sounds like a fantastic hike, it’s not something you can do your own due to the difficulty of the access to the area; thus, I would recommend finding a tour or someone who agrees to at least pick and drop from Lake Rapi in a 4WD vehicle from the village of Geghadzor.
At the end of the evening, head back to Yerevan.
Day 9: Lake Kari & back to Yerevan
Depending on how much time you have, if you have stayed overnight in Gyumri (option 1), then you could head back to Yerevan with a short detour to Kari Lake, a high-altitude alpine lake situated on the slopes of Mount Aragats, nestled in a picturesque and remote location. The lake is known for its stunning natural beauty and serene surroundings, and is popular destination for hikers, and nature enthusiasts and families who simply want to enjoy a picnic around the lake. Kari Lake is particularly beautiful during the summer months when the surrounding meadows are covered in wildflowers, creating a colorful landscape against the backdrop of the snow-capped peak of Mount Aragats.
You can easily drive to the lake on a paved road and is usually colder the cities of Gyumri & Yerevan, so make sure you’re prepared with a warm layer of clothing. Kari Lake is only an hour’s drive from Yerevan.
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