Yerevan is a cool city. While Tbilisi seems to take a lot of the tourist spotlight in the Caucasus region, Yerevan has been slowly creeping into its own embodiment of cool, calm and collected. If you’re heading to the Caucasus, you should definitely travel to Yerevan and explore the architecture, history, bars, markets and churches that make this city one of the most underrated travel destinations in Eurasia.
The Armenian capital, like its people, has had a rough time over the course of its long history. However, since the fall of the Soviet Union, it seems that it’s been rebounding stronger than ever, albeit slowly. You’ll still see remnants of the country’s past with the dominating stone buildings reminding you of the Soviet era, but the streets are also filled with a buzzing energy and with almost more cafes and wine bars than in the laneways of Melbourne (if you can believe that).
Although Tbilisi tends to steal people’s hearts almost immediately, Yerevan is more of a slow burner. Whether it’s the flea markets and pop up artists selling their work in small city squares or the vibrant cafe and bar scene, the city can actually be pretty intoxicating if you let it.
Here’s my comprehensive guide to Yerevan travel to get you exploring the best that the city has to offer.
About Yerevan city
Yerevan is often referred to as “The Pink City” because of the rosy stone used to build many of the city’s imposing buildings and houses during the Soviet era. However, the origins of the city date back many centuries. It’s one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited urban areas, although it’s been completely levelled and rebuilt many times from both natural disasters like earthquakes and invading empires.
The known origins of the city are from 782 BC when the fortress of Yerbuni was constructed and which become a central part of what is referred to as the Armenian kingdom. Since then the city has come under the rule of many great empires, from Romans, Parthians, Persians, Arabs, Mongols, Turks, Georgians and, finally Russians. In 1920, the city became the capital of the independent Armenian republic and has remained so until the present day.
The city flourished under the Soviets becoming an important industrial centre. However, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the city has struggled to deal with the reintegration into the global market economy and you’ll notice many factories still abandoned and in ruin. But the city is a lively centre of activity and it’s slowly finding its feet.
When to go to Yerevan
The best time to visit Yerevan is in the summer months, from June until August, although weather is usually good until September. This is when the weather is warm, reaching up to 30 deg and only dipping to around 15 deg overnight. May and June are relatively wet months in Armenia though so July and August are most popular with tourists. This is also when you’ll find prices tend to peak as do crowds at popular sights.
The best months to travel to Yerevan are then September and October when the weather is still pleasant but the crowds have gone and the prices tend to lower a little. Towards the end of October, the weather will be getting cool pretty quickly though before winter sets in. Spring in April and May also have relatively decent weather although they tend to be rainy months too, so Autumn is best.
How to get to Yerevan
If you want to travel to Yerevan, then you have many options with a good transport network to other major cities in the region and further beyond. Yerevan is well connected to other European cities by international flights, with new connections opening each year as the demand for Yerevan tourism increases.
Otherwise, you can reach Yerevan by land from Georgia or Iran. The land border with Azerbaijan is closed because of the ongoing conflict between the two countries. It’s also not possible to cross the Armenia and Turkey border due to the political tensions that go back to the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1917.
There are trains between Tbilisi in Georgia and Yerevan, which are extremely popular and run daily from June to September, usually overnight. In winter, these trains usually run on a bi-nightly schedule and it’s best to book a ticket in advance at Station Square in Tbilisi or Yerevan Railway Station or Sasuntsi Davit Station in Yerevan. Tickets start from 70GEL and 11, 500 AMD depending on the class.
There are also marshrutkas or shared minivans that shuttle across the border. There are regular marshrutkas from Yerevan to Tbilisi and vice versa. The Armenia-Georgia border is probably one of the easiest I’ve ever crossed and the process is extremely efficient and quick, especially if you are from a visa-free country.
The marshrutkas from Tbilisi to Yerevan depart from both the Station Square and Ortachalastations. However, I was travelling in low season and was told that Station Square was a more efficient service, so I headed there. You can ask around for the Yerevan marshrutkas but they congregate in a carpark outside the train station near a broken down and abandoned caravan which is the ticket office.
They have departures at 9am, 11am, 1pm, 3pm, 5pm and midnight. I got a ticket for the 9am departure which didn’t leave until 11am and we only had four passengers. BUT in the summer months, you should have no problem for timely departures with more demand from tourists. My ticket cost 40GEL (AU$22).
From Yerevan back to Tbilisi, the marshrutkas leave from the Central Bus Station or sometimes referred to as Kilikia Bus Station. Tickets are around 7000AMD and you can expect departures every two hours.
The journey takes around 6-7 hours.
There are daily buses between Tehran in Iran and Yerevan. They are usually deluxe VIP Iranian buses, as Armenia only has marshrutkas which don’t go the long distances. The journey takes almost 24 hours and stops in Goris in Armenia and Tabriz in Iran as well. I’ve heard prices can be between US$30-50, depending on whether it’s a VIP bus or not.
I would recommend visiting Goris and Tabriz as well anyway and that way you can break your journey up with a few days between Yerevan and Tehran.
Getting around Yerevan
Travelling around Yerevan is best done on foot as much as possible. This way you can really appreciate the architecture and atmosphere on the streets as well as the main sights. However, the city does have a decent transport network.
The city metro system is useful and extremely affordable. You just simply buy one-use tokens for each journey you take, which cost 100 AMD (AU$0.35).
There are also marshrutkas (minivans) and buses which run around the city and are distinguishable by numbers displayed on their windscreens. These can be more difficult to navigate simply because nothing is in English and the drivers are unlikely to speak English. However, if you know the number you need to catch then they are an extremely affordable way of getting around.
Taxis are everywhere in the city and you can use apps like Bolt and Uber to get cheap fares and minimise the language barrier. Taxis can cost anywhere between 1000 AMD and 5000 AMD depending on where you’re going.
Read next: Best Day Trips from Yerevan
Top things to do in Yerevan
For a city that is relatively compact and walkable, there are plenty of things to do in Yerevan to keep you busy for days. In fact, if you want to know how long you should stay in Yerevan, I would say, how much time do you have?
You can easily fill in time by gazing at the Soviet-era architecture, wandering through markets and visiting all the museums. Here are the top things to do in Yerevan that you can’t miss on your visit to the Armenian capital.
1. The Cascade
The Cascade is a giant stone staircase outside the Cafesijian Museum of Art. It’s incredibly unique and each level of the complex showcases different micro gardens and sculptures. A climb to the top of the 570 stairs is completely worth the effort as the unrivalled view sweeps across the city’s skyline to Mt Ararat which can be seen on a clear day.
The area is like a public square and is one of the best things to do in Yerevan for free.
2. Opera Theatre
This is one of the best examples of heavy Soviet architecture and a must see for anyone who enjoys seeing remnants of the Soviet past in the region. It was designed and built by the Soviets in 1930s and holds ballet and opera performances regularly. The surrounding park area is also popular for families to congregate on sunny afternoons and summer evenings.
3. Katoghike Holy Mother of God Church
This Orthodox church is the oldest in Yerevan, dating back to the 1260s. There’s a tiny chapel next to a newer cathedral and it’s right in the middle of the city. You’ll find people stopping to pray as they pass the church and it’s a nice spot to just observe the local devotion to faith.
4. Republic Square and The History Museum
This huge imposing square is the heart of the city and where you’ll find a lot of the streets’ buzz emanating from. In summer, the fountains are full of water and people relax on one of the benches, especially of an evening when the dancing fountains, lights and music are turned on for everyone to enjoy.
It’s quite impressive and when you enter the square for the first time, it’s impossible not to be taken aback by the grand stone buildings, which are very reminiscent of the Soviet era.
You’ll also find the History Museum of Armenia here, which is well worth a visit. This multilevel display showcases various artefacts and history of both the country and the region from the Stone Age all the way up to the present day. It’s open every day and costs 2000 AMD (AU$7) for entry.
5. Blue Mosque
Although the majority of the population is Christian and have been since the first century AD, you might be surprised to find a mosque in the centre of Yerevan. It’s known as the Blue Mosque and is the biggest place of worship for the city’s Shia Muslim community. The Iran Embassy is technically the guardian of the place and it will remind you of the tiled mosques that you find in Iran.
It’s open to the public to enter, except at prayer times. You should dress conservatively before entering.
6. Kond Neighbourhood
One of the best things to do in Yerevan is to explore the Kond neighbourhood, which is one of the oldest parts of the city and where you can get a glimpse of what the city was like before the imposing Soviet buildings sprung up in the city centre.
It’s a very rundown part of town and it’s not technically a tourist sight but the charm is just in walking the laneways and streets. It is a residential area though so don’t be too nosy or aggressive about taking photographs as many people may not understand why you’re so interested in their neighbourhood.
Still, Armenians are super friendly people and although the area is easy to get lost in, there’s always someone around to ask directions.
7. Sergei Parajanov House Museum
Yerevan has some great museums and a lot of them. There’s apparently around 50 museums in the city and you can pick and choose from them depending on your interests. But, a personal highlight of the museums in Yerevan was Sergei Parajanov House Museum.
An unassuming place that is dedicated to the life of Parajanov, a pioneering artist, author and screen writer of the 20th century. You’ll find weird and eccentric artwork and displays, some of which make underlying gestures and commentary about the world we live.
8. Vernissage Market and GUM Market
Yerevan has some excellent markets and I visited the same two markets multiple times because they were that good.
The Vernissage Market is an open-air flea market which is held daily but best to visit on weekends when it’s most busy. There’s everything from Soviet memorabilia to carpets to jewellery and any souvenir you could possibly want. You can easily spend a couple of hours here looking at each stall.
The GUM Market is a large covered fresh produce market where locals come to buy all their food from local vendors. You can find butchers, bakers, farmers as well as vendors with dried fruit and nuts. One of the highlights is watching the traditional Armenian bread, lavash, being made and sold.
9. Genocide Museum and Memorial
A moving monument up on the hill above the city is dedicated to the 1.5 million victims of the Armenian Genocide. There is an eternal flame inside the concrete monument which you can enter to pay your respects.
The Genocide Museum can also be found at the complex, which documents in raw and eye-opening detail what happened to the Armenian people at the hands of the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. It’s extremely well presented with English descriptions and it’s a must-see in Yerevan to fully understand the people of Armenia. It’s still considered a contentious international issue, as some countries, including Turkey, do not recognise the genocide as ever happening.
This museum and memorial is a bit far to walk from the city centre, although I did walk back and it took me around 45 minutes. An Uber cost me 400 AMD (AU$1.50) to get there from the city centre.
10. Bar and cafe hop
The wine and coffee culture is strong in Yerevan. There are hundreds of open-air cafes and bars, which are most lively in summer when the weather is warm. Cafe and wine bar hopping is almost like a sport in the city too, with locals sitting outside cafes and bars throughout the day and into the night.
Yerevan nightlife would be nothing without a good wine bar and the best of them can be found along Saryan Street, a strip full of bars and restaurants. Here you’ll find everything from Armenia’s finest wines to fancy cocktails and vegan smoothies, it’s basically where you want to be at night in Yerevan. It’s also home to In Vino, a wine bar that is considered to have sparked the wine bar revolution in the city less than ten years ago. It’s become a sort of wine institution.
The cafe scene in Yerevan reminded me a lot of Melbourne’s and in fact, it’s not unusual to find many people sitting with their laptops at one of the cafes for multiple hours. A couple of cafes I highly recommend include The Green Bean and Eat&Fit.
When the weather gets cooler, sitting in a cosy cafe or bar with a glass of wine or mug of coffee is one of the best things to do in Yerevan in winter.
Where to stay in Yerevan
As the city is pretty walkable, the best bet is to stay in the city centre area from where you can reach most attractions easily. The city has plenty of accommodation options for all types of budgets, but in general, it’s a very affordable place to stay.
The best Yerevan hotels can be found around Republic Square and towards The Cascade. You’ll also find all sorts of budget hostels and Airbnb apartment’s to rent within the apartment blocks around the city centre.
Avenue Hostel || This very convenient and budget friendly hostel is located right in the centre of Yerevan. They offer 6 and 8 bed dorms, and are within walking distance from all the main attractions. Check their availability here.
Olive Hotel || For a budget friendly, boutique hotel, Olive Hotel is located just 300m from Republic Square. They have very clean and spacious double and family rooms, with friendly staff. Check their prices here.
Where to eat in Yerevan
I have to admit I spent a lot of my time in Yerevan at restaurants and cafes because the food is very good and there’s a great attitude towards people working from their laptops in cafe spaces.
Saryan Street is the best place for nightlife in Yerevan with bars and restaurants. Tumanyan Street is another popular place with some of the best restaurants in the city like Lavash Restaurant and The Tolma, although they are a bit more on the pricey side.
My favourite cafes, restaurants and bars
The Green Bean: They have two central locations, one near The Cascade and the other on Amiryan Street. They have an extensive menu with vegan and gluten-free options. It’s a very popular place for students and digital nomads to spend time at their laptops.
Eat&Fit: An incredibly beautiful cafe with healthy food and vegan and gluten-free options. It’s only small so it fills up quickly but it’s certainly worth it. It’s a bit more pricey than Green Bean but with a similar vibe.
Karas food chain: A national food chain that has a very extensive menu with every type of traditional Armenian food, as well as, Georgian food and Western options. There are plenty of outlets in Yerevan and you’ll come across them on almost every major street. The menu is in English. My hostel recommended it for a quick, easy, affordable and all-round good place to go and I ate there plenty of times.
Tavern Yerevan: A pretty fancy place that has become the city’s most sought after restaurant. My hostel told me it was the best place to go for traditional Armenian food but every time I tried to enter they told me I had to pre-book days in advance, so I gave up. But, for a special treat or if you’re a real foodie, it might be worth planning a meal here.
Exploring more of Armenia and the Caucasus?
If you’re travelling around Armenia you might want to check out some of my other posts:
- Best Day Trips From Yerevan in Armenia
- The Ultimate Travel Guide to Dilijan National Park
- 12 Best Places to Visit in the Caucasus