All the best things to do in Yerevan, Armenia’s capital city.
First published: July 2017. Last updated: August 2019.
On our first visit to the Caucasus, Armenia fell smack bang in the middle of our itinerary. We were planning to spend a few weeks travelling all around. But not long after stepping off the train in Yerevan, we changed our minds and decided to base ourselves in the city instead.
On our second visit, we planned for a few more days in Yerevan, knowing we still had so much to see.
Yerevan is small, but it’s my kind of city. There’s a lot to do in terms of tourist attractions – but even better than that, Yerevan has lots of bars and cafes, independent shops, green spaces, and an all-round good vibe.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but after revisiting Yerevan in 2019, I’ve decided I love it almost as much as Tbilisi…! Yerevan has all the attributes of ‘A city to watch’ – I’ve no doubt it will become a hot spot in the years to come, a title it definitely deserves.
Another capital on the cusp of Europe and Asia, East and West, Yerevan is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world. Like neighbouring Georgia and Azerbaijan, Armenia has seen dark days: conquest, cultural oppression, economic devastation.
As if that wasn’t enough, the Armenians have weathered national tragedies so brutal it almost defies belief. Hard times have made them a proud, defiant people, and Yerevan is in many ways an outward expression of the culture they have managed to preserve against all odds.
With its pink tuft stone facades, wide boulevards and vast, fountain-filled public squares, Yerevan has a distinctly European feel. Investment by Armenia’s diaspora community has enriched the city with new monuments and cultural institutions.
Walking streets, world-class museums, markets and a vibrant cafe scene – Armenia’s capital has it all. This guide brings together highlights from my two visits to Yerevan.
In This Post
- Planning your visit to Yerevan
- Where to stay in Yerevan
- Awesome things to do in Yerevan
- Stroll through Republic Square
- Take a free walking tour
- Eat a traditional Armenian breakfast
- Explore Kond, Yerevan’s oldest neighbourhood
- Walk through Kond Pedestrian Tunnel to Hrazdan Gorge
- Visit some of the many museums and galleries
- Climb the Yerevan Cascade
- Get a view of Mount Ararat
- Browse the Vernissage Market
- Shop for ethical souvenirs
- Cafe & bar culture
- Drink from a pulpulak
- See how lavash is made at the GUM Market
- Ride the Yerevan metro
- Visit the oldest church in the city…
- …And the only mosque in Yerevan
- Pay your respects at Tsitsernakaberd, the Armenian Genocide Memorial
- Soviet architecture and design
- Practice your street photography
- Take a day trip
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Planning your visit to Yerevan
Whether you’re embarking on a full Caucasus itinerary or a shorter Georgia Armenia trip, I always recommend spending some time in Yerevan.
Plan for at least two full days to see the main attractions, plus another 1-2 days for day trips. One of the best things about Armenia is that you can travel basically anywhere in the country in a couple of hours. You can find my recommended day trips from Yerevan in the last section.
As for the best time of year to visit – Yerevan is stifling hot in summer and cold in winter. Shoulder season is ideal. We visited at Easter the first time around, which was a great time to be in the city.
Where to stay in Yerevan
We rented Airbnbs on both our visits to Yerevan. The city centre is dominated by apartment blocks, so if you want to stay central, this is the best option.
If it happens to be your first time using Airbnb, follow this link to claim a discount.
Awesome things to do in Yerevan
Stroll through Republic Square
The heart and social centre of Yerevan, Republic Square (Hraparak) is a monumental civic space encircled by some of the city’s most impressive buildings. When it was constructed between the 1950s and 70s, city planners flattened Yerevan’s old town and erected the square right on top.
That’s why Yerevan has no ‘Old City’ proper – the ruins of the oldest neighbourhoods lay beneath the Square. At the time of our first visit, work had just started to construct a ‘new old town’ using tuft stones from the facades of buildings around Yerevan.
Originally called Lenin Square, this was once a marching ground for ostentatious military parades. Now, Republic Square is a gathering place for Yerevanians young and old, and a particularly popular spot for an ice cream cone on a sunny afternoon.
Take a free walking tour
Free walking tours are the best way to get a taste for a new city, and Yerevan is no exception. Guided strolls depart daily from Republic Square and over the course of three or four hours, take in many of the inner city’s highlights.
As always, make sure you tip your guide.
Eat a traditional Armenian breakfast
Armenian cuisine might not have the same reputation as Georgian, but let me tell you, it’s yum! A traditional Armenian breakfast of eggs, lavash, creamy butter and loads of fresh herbs is a great way to start the day in Yerevan.
I enjoyed my breakfast at Gouroo, one of the many trendy cafes that’s popped up in recent months. They do an all-day brunch on weekends.
Explore Kond, Yerevan’s oldest neighbourhood
Kentron is the name of Yerevan’s central district; Kond is a much smaller neighbourhood on the city’s western fringe. And in the absence of an official old city, the accolade of Yerevan’s oldest area goes to Kond. Narrow staircases lead up the hill into a residential area, which consists of tumbledown and threadbare houses, overgrown gardens and patched-up shacks.
Kond is a poor area and it honestly hasn’t aged all that well, so if you’re expecting a picturesque, romantic old neighbourhood a-la Tbilisi’s Armenia Street, think again. I saw a lot of new developments going up when I visited, so Kond’s days might be numbered.
Walk through Kond Pedestrian Tunnel to Hrazdan Gorge
Kond Pedestrian Tunnel is one of Yerevan’s hidden gems. The Soviet-era walkway cuts under the Kond neighbourhood, joining the city centre with Hrazdan Gorge.
Sections of the dimly lit 500-metre tunnel are decorated with graffiti and street art. You eventually emerge in Hrazdan Gorge, a lovely green space that runs along the edge of the city. Check out the Children’s Railway and the amusement park set up at the end of the tunnel, which are both good spots for people-watching.
Visit some of the many museums and galleries
With more than 49 museums and galleries to chose from, Yerevan is a history buff’s dream. The History Museum and National Gallery of Armenia (both in Republic Square) are mainstays of any tourist itinerary.
For something different, the Sergei Parajanov House Museum – a small museum dedicated to the pioneer of 20th-century cinema – tells the story of one of the region’s most prominent avant-garde artists through his eclectic (sometimes irreverent) films and mixed-media collages.
Climb the Yerevan Cascade
Another of Yerevan’s cultural highlights, the Cafesjian Museum of Art and Cascade complex is also one of the city’s most striking architectural features. Start in the Sculpture Garden that skirts the bottom of the stairs, with its collection of provocative works by Colombia’s Fernando Botero.
Ascending the massive staircase that runs up the middle of the Cascade will give you close-up views of the Soviet-style stone reliefs that decorate every tier, with a gob-smacking view of Mount Ararat at the very top. Inside, encased within the staircase, is a series of stepped galleries that show various art and design exhibitions.
Admission is free and if you don’t feel like climbing the stairs, you can ride the indoor escalators.
Get a view of Mount Ararat
On a clear day, fabled Mount Ararat – the spot where Noah’s Ark supposedly came to rest – can be spotted on the horizon over Yerevan.
The best views of the mountain can be found at the top of the Cascade. My top tip is to get as early a start as possible, as it gets progressively hazier as the day goes on.
Browse the Vernissage Market
Partly an undercover shed, partly a collection of open-air stalls, the Vernissage Market occupies all of Yerevan’s central Charles Aznavour Square. It started in the 1980s with a group of artists displaying their work outside the art institute on Buzand Street.
Mostly thought of as a flea market, Vernissage has stayed somewhat true to its roots and still hosts a number of local artisans and craftspeople who sell original works alongside antiques and an amazing array of Caucasian carpets. (As a rough guide, the bulk of the artists can be found inside the shed with second-hand items sold round the back.)
The market is open daily until 6pm but it’s best to visit on the weekend when more stallholders are around.
For tips on shopping for textiles at the Vernissage Market and elsewhere in Armenia, check out my Textile Lover’s Guide to the Caucasus.
Shop for ethical souvenirs
Save your Armenian souvenir shopping for Yerevan because the capital is home to some fantastic independent retailers. Whether it’s fashion, hand-painted ceramics, honey and other edibles, knickknacks, Soviet memorabilia or textiles you’re after, you’ll find it in Yerevan.
Check out my Yerevan shopping guide for the best handmade souvenirs and fair trade retailers.
Cafe & bar culture
According to our free walking tour guide, Yerevan has more than 500 open-air cafes. I’d say that’s a conservative estimate! From Melbourne-style coffee houses to dessert bars, cafes line almost every street, concentrated around Republic Square and the Cascade.
Our approach was to pull up a chair at whatever cafe looked good. If you’re struggling to decide, check out this list of Yerevan cafes with good coffee and free WIFI.
Set in a historic house, Mirzoyan Library (pictured) is one of the coolest bars in Yerevan. It also doubles as a photography gallery.
Drink from a pulpulak
Yerevan’s drinking fountains, colloquially known as pulpulak, are another unique feature of the city’s urban planning. Erected in the 1920s, the fountains number more than 1500 – the most impressive being yotnaghbyur pulpulak in Republic Square (pictured).
Crowds of thirsty Yerevanians queue to make use of the fountains on hot days. Do as the locals do and take a quick, healthy gulp of the fresh, icy cold water whenever you pass by.
See how lavash is made at the GUM Market
In Armenia, lavash is an essential accompaniment to every meal. The technique and ritual involved in making and eating the paper-thin bread is so intertwined with Armenian heritage that in 2014, UNESCO recognised it as part of the country’s intangible cultural heritage.
Lavash comes in an astounding array of colours and textures, each one more delicate and airy than the last. The best place to see huge lavash sheets being prepared and sold is at the GUM Market on Movses Khorenatsi Street, where you’ll also find a colourful range of pickles and candied fruits.
Keep reading: Photos and a quick guide to Yerevan’s GUM Market.
Ride the Yerevan metro
Back in the 70s, when the population of a Soviet city hit one million, a state-sponsored metro would be built for its people. Anything less, and a simple tram system would suffice. Yerevan managed to bypass these rules, allegedly by convincing authorities that the repatriation of the Armenian diaspora would cause the population to balloon. (It didn’t – in fact, Yerevan’s population wouldn’t hit one million until 2012.)
Yerevan’s metro system opened in 1981 and services just 10 inner-city stations. Tunnels burrow 20 to 70 metres below the earth, with some stations located above ground. Yerevan’s metro is very retro – some of the original blue cars still shuttle along, and the system continues to operate on a plastic token system.
To ride, you must first exchange a coin for a token at the cashier desk.
Visit the oldest church in the city…
Katoghike Holy Mother of God Church dates back to 1264, making it the oldest Orthodox church in Yerevan. The tiny chapel is dwarfed by the newer basilicas and apartment blocks that surround it – but it’s still an active house of worship.
Located on Abovyan Street in the very centre of town, it’s impossible to miss.
…And the only mosque in Yerevan
The first nation to adopt Christianity as its official religion, the vast majority of Armenians have worshiped the same god since 301 AD. Immigration and the recent influx of refugees has re-shaped Yerevan’s theological landscape to be incredibly diverse, with Jews, Yazidis, Kurds and Syrian Muslims all represented among dozens of minority groups.
The Blue Mosque, Yerevan’s biggest and most prominent mosque, is a testament to Armenia’s religious tolerance and the country’s close relationship with neighbouring Iran, which endures to this day.
The mosque was handed over to custodians at the Iranian Embassy in Yerevan who paid for its beautiful mosaics to be restored. It’s now used as a language school, a museum and occasionally as a place of worship.
In another gesture of good faith, Iran has allowed Armenia to preserve several Apostolic churches that fall within the Islamic Republic’s borders.
Pay your respects at Tsitsernakaberd, the Armenian Genocide Memorial
While you’re out enjoying everything Yerevan has to offer, remember that things haven’t always been so rosy in Armenia. The events of 1915 cast a long shadow over the country and are never far from anyone’s memory.
Tsitsernakaberd, the Armenian Genocide Memorial Complex, is where locals and visitors alike come to pay their respects. The 12 concrete slabs represent the 12 Armenian provinces that now fall within modern-day Turkey, while the eternal flame laid 1.5 metres deep is a tribute to the Genocide’s 1.5 million victims.
You can learn more about this tragic episode in Armenian history at the adjoining Genocide Museum-Institute.
Keep reading: Genocide Remembrance Day in Yerevan.
Soviet architecture and design
Between 1922 and 1990, Armenia was a Soviet Republic and came under the thumb of Lenin and later Stalin’s rule. Some of the city’s most prominent buildings went up during this period, including the Opera House and Republic Square.
Yerevan’s socialist past lives on in its multi-storey apartments and civic structures like the 1935 Spartak athletics stadium (pictured above), with its wonderfully retro signage.
I recently came across this Soviet-themed tour of Yerevan by Envoy Tours. I can’t personally endorse it because I haven’t done it (yet), but it does come recommended. Safe to say this one will be on the top of my to-do list next time I’m in Armenia!
Practice your street photography
Yerevan (and Armenia as a whole) has to be one of my favourite places on Earth for street photography. Picture-perfect scenes unfold at every turn – whether it’s a busker on a street corner, or a perfectly positioned empty Coke bottle.
If you love street photography, come prepared to be snapping away.
Take a day trip
There are loads of excellent day trip opportunities from Yerevan. My personal favourites are a combined trip to Garni Temple (pictured) and Geghard Monastery, Khor Virap and Noravank, and further afield, the one and only Tatev Monastery.
Headed to Tbilisi next? Check out my list of awesome things to do in Georgia’s capital city!