Armenia is an overlooked gem in the Caucasus. Big brother Georgia gets all the attention from the tourists. And yes, Georgia is a great place to visit, but Armenia also has plenty to offer. Azerbaijan too, by the way, but I am focusing on Armenia right now. My boyfriend and I spent a sunny week in the Armenian capital Yerevan and were pleasantly surprised. I am telling you: put this city to your travel wish list! In this blog post, I am sharing 8 reasons why Yerevan should be on your radar, plus some fantastic things to do when you are there.
Why you should visit Yerevan + things to do
1. It is the pink city of Caucasus
Yerevan has the beautiful nickname ‘Pink City’ and that is because of the pink buildings in this city. The majority can be found around Republic Square. Depending on the time of day, the walls are sometimes more orange than pink, but it doesn’t make it any less beautiful. The color comes from lava stone (tuff) that is formed from volcanic ash. Somehow I always thought lava stone was black, but in Armenia it has a pink color. In the 1920s, architect Alexander Tamanian used the pink lava stone in the process of rebuilding capital Yerevan by Soviet standards.
The best time of day to see the pink glow is in the late afternoon.
2. Yerevan is older than Rome
Yerevan is – rightly so – proud of its history. Did you know that this is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world? The city was founded in 782 BC and is more than 2800 years old. In comparison, the well-known historical city of Rome was founded only thirty years later. Moreover, Yerevan is a multicultural city. The Persians, Mongols and Romans ruled Yerevan. The Caucasus used to be a popular strategic place for trading routes.
Of course, the city has changed a lot in 2800 years. Wars destroyed much of it, and the 1679 earthquake turned most of the city into rubble. So there is little left that reminds tourists of the long history (which makes it easy to forget that Yerevan is so old). The Erebuni Fortress from the 8th century is an exception, but also this place is mostly a ruin.
3. Yerevan is modern: free public WIFI
The internet and travel are inextricably linked these days. Picking a restaurant, ordering a taxi: my phone is my best friend when traveling. However, without a local sim, I always have to depend on WIFI. Fortunately, that is no problem in Yerevan! I saw many WIFI zones in the city center. You don’t need a local number or some kind of code, you can just connect. Please note: it’s public WIFI, so don’t use it to check your bank account. For more security, it is better to log in with a VPN connection.
4. Water all around: Pulpulaks
Super convenient: in the center of Yerevan you will find dozens of drinking water fountains. They are called Pulpulaks and they have been around since the 1920s. Not all pulpulaks are the same. Some have a special meaning and are built to honor a loved one. If you drink water from those fountains, you are showing your respect. The water is safe to drink, so bring a refillable bottle, and you have water throughout the day. No need to buy plastic water bottles!
5. Yerevan is the city of art
Yerevan is an artistic city. Giant LOVE letters, voluminous Botero statues and many more. You will find the most interesting art pieces in the sculpture garden in front of the Great Cascade. More statues can be found around the Opera House and Swan Lake.
Climb the Great Cascade
The Great Cascade is Yerevan’s most impressive sight. It is a staircase complex, an art exhibition and a central meeting spot. The staircase connects the downtown center (Kentron) with the upper Monument district. Each layer offers a different collection of art, waterworks, and an awesome city view. There are 572 steps in total, but the upper section is still work in progress.
The Great Cascade also houses the Cafesjian Museum of Art, responsible for the majority of the statues around the complex. On top of the Cascade you will find Mother Armenia, a symbol for peace through courage and strength. This is one of the many Soviet mother statues found around the former Soviet Union.
6. City (and country) of delicious dried fruits
I have to confess that I thought that the Georgian and Armenian cuisine were quite the same. Indeed, the two countries have overlapping dishes (khinkali and churchkela for example). However, due to the multicultural history, Armenia also has its own set of dishes. In particular, the Armenian cuisine excels when it comes to dried fruits. They use it in a lot of dishes, and I loved it!
Vegetarians and vegans: remember the following dishes:
- Pasus Tolma: stuffed cabbage leaves. Popular fasting dish.
- Mshosh: lentil dish with onion, walnuts, and dried apricot.
- Zhengyalov Ats: naan bread prepared with at least 20 kinds of herbs.
- Ghapama: rice with dried fruits, nuts, and cinnamon, baked in a pumpkin. This one is my favorite, and Armenians love it too. There is even a song written about it.
7. Yerevan is a walkable city
Another thing I really liked about Yerevan: this city is super pedestrian-friendly. Pedestrian crossings, big sidewalks, car-free zones: you can basically tour the entire city on foot. It is a compact city and most sights are within walking distance of each other. Also try to visit a city park, because Yerevan has beautiful flowery parks. My favorite is Achajour Park. If you want to head out a little bit further, the subway is your friend. An orange metro coin only costs 100 AMD. Don’t forget to take a look at the futuristic design of the Yeritasardakan metro station.
8. A piece of Iran in Yerevan: Blue Mosque
We visited Armenia right before we traveled to Iran. To our surprise, we already saw some Iranian influences in Yerevan. Iranian juice stalls, restaurants, and travel agencies selling bus tickets to Tehran and Tabriz (super convenient for us!). You can find them on Tigran Mets Avenue near Republic Square. The most prominent Iranian sight in Yerevan is the Blue Mosque, a Shia mosque built in the 18th century. It was a perfect first glimpse of what was in store for us in Iran.
Please know, this is an active mosque. Show respect and put on long pants and cover shoulders. For the ladies: bring a scarf that you can use as a headscarf.
And, did Yerevan make it onto your travel list?