What are some of your favorite memories of Yerevan?
This is definitely a tough call, but I would have to say either the hot summer nights spent café hopping (there is no shortage of cafés in Yerevan!); cold winter nights in one of Yerevan’s many jazz clubs (with a glass of Armenian cognac, of course); or the absolutely unforgettable adventures I’ve had in the countryside!
How would you spend 36 hours in Yerevan?
Yerevan is one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities, so whether you’re after a historical, cultural, or even social experience, this is a great place to be – and it’s all very compact, unique, and accessible.
I would start out with Republic Square and then head down the pedestrian Northern Avenue and have a bite to eat at one of the cafés. Stop by one of the many small museums throughout the city (I recommend the Parajanov Museum, the Genocide Museum and the adjacent memorial, and the Matenadaran – Museum of Ancient Manuscripts). Walk along Abovian Street and pop in one of the many cafés for a strong Armenian coffee. Take a walk up the Cascade steps and take in a view of the city and Mount Ararat on a clear day. I would go to the Malkhas Jazz Club and stay late to hear Malkhas himself. Make sure to check out the Vernissage Market (you will likely spend at least 3-4 hours in the maze that is Vernissage). I would definitely catch a show at the Symphony or Opera House as both buildings are beautiful inside and tickets are great value. People are always out and about, so make sure to take in Yerevan during the evening – especially in the summertime, this is the best (and most reasonable) time to take a walk around the city.
What kind of practical information should first-time visitors know about Yerevan?
The Armenian dram is the only currency used in the country (currently 400AMD = 1 USD) and while most major supermarkets, shops, and restaurants will take cards, cash is still preferred and more widely used. That said you will be able to exchange any major currency just about anywhere in the city (namely supermarkets) and there are ATMs on every corner (I recommend Ameria Bank or HSBC as they are both very reputable and trustworthy options). Change for larger bills is hard to come by (impossible in taxis) so try to keep 1000 dram notes or coins on you at all times.
Armenian is the primary language spoken in the country, but most people over the age of 20 are likely to be fluent in Russian and many people under the age of 30 are conversational in English. I know expats who have lived in the country for years and still don’t speak Armenian but manage to get around just fine. Most signage is written in English within Yerevan, though if you are taking a road trip, you might run into Armenian and Russian only signage.
Taxis are incredibly inexpensive (meter starts at 600AMD or $1.50 and remains that way throughout the ride for the most part – unless you are exiting the city center), but for the experience, feel free to take a “mashrutka” ride for 100AMD or 25 cents. The mashrutkas, basically soviet-era minibuses, while somewhat uncomfortable (especially in the hot summer months), are just about everywhere and can take you near or far (though much of the signage is written in Armenian so you may have to ask around). They are the primary form of transport used by locals. The metro line is very clean, very affordable, and very pleasant, though there is only one line so it isn’t as convenient as a taxi or mashrutka.
If you are looking for accommodation in Yerevan, it’s preferable to stay in the center (or the “kentron”) as the city is very walkable and is best enjoyed by foot. I would recommend staying anywhere near the Opera house, Cascade, Northern Avenue, or Republic Square (though be aware that there are areas near Republic Square that are still central, though not as desirable – particularly further down Tigran Mets St).
What are some precautions that people should take while exploring Yerevan?
Armenia sees four seasons. The summers are very hot and dry in Yerevan (reaching upwards of 40 °C /104 °F), but the terrain outside of the city is mountainous so make sure you bring hiking shoes and warmer clothes if you plan to spend anytime outside of the city (especially at night).
Yerevan is generally a very safe city and I can honestly say that I have truly never felt under threat in any way during my visits or while living there. One thing you will likely notice as a tourist (espeically at the height of the tourist season in the summer months) is that everyone likes to stare. They stare at you, at each other, they just stare – so don’t take it personally!
That said, as it is still a relatively conservative country, if you’re a woman, I wouldn’t recommend walking around by yourself past 1AM. I have done it plenty of times, but as local women generally aren’t out and about alone at a late hour, you might accidentally be mistaken for someone who is willing to render a “service” of sorts – still, other than some leering and a comment or two, you’re not really running much of a risk if you do venture out by yourself late at night.
The dress code is anything you want it to be (women do not dress particularly conservatively), but as a tourist, you will likely notice that people tend to dress up rather than down. As a general rule of thumb, you can never be overdressed, but you can almost definitely be underdressed!
The only other caveat I might mention is that there could be an occasional taxi driver who is looking to make a dram or two off the unsuspecting tourist. Always make certain that your taxi a) has a meter and b) turns the meter on when you enter the taxi. There are many, many unregistered taxis on the road and they are probably more likely to try and fool a tourist than a registered taxi company. You can generally differentiate a registered taxi by the advertising on the vehicle and the age of the car in question. If you are a woman, there is a taxi service that I would recommend (same price) named “Pink Taxi” that is clean, air-conditioned, and for woman only (a bit of a gimmick but a nice treat in the hot summer months). All taxis start at 600AMD (just about $1.50) and if your ride is anywhere in the immediate center of Yerevan (basically anywhere within the “circle”) it will never be more than 600AMD so there is little incentive for the driver to take you anywhere in the city in a roundabout way – beware if the driver tries to charge you more if you haven’t gone very far!
Any other indispensable pieces of advice to share?
While Yerevan is an absolutely lovely city, I would definitely recommend a day or overnight trip in the country to get the full Armenian experience. Though Armenia is off the beaten path, if you enjoy history, culture, and especially nature you will love this tiny (but significant) piece of land. For day trips I would recommend the following: spend a day on the shores of the beautiful Sevan Lake or head to the incredible Geghard Monastery and the nearby Garni Temple (1st century BC) or for a bit of a longer drive, visit one of my favorite monasteries in Armenia – Noravank Monastery (make sure to stop at Khor Virap Monastery near the Turkish border, it’s absolutely picturesque and is historically significant for the country, if it’s a clear day you might just catch a breathtaking view of nearby Mount Ararat). If you have the time to take an overnight trip, head down south and stay at the Mirhav Hotel in the town of Goris and take a ride on the world’s longest aerial tramway to see the stunning Tatev Monastic Complex (over the Vorotan Valley) – on the way, make sure to stop at Karahunj, Armenia’s very own stonehenge (which predates the Stonehenge in England). There are some fantastic hiking trails in the area as well.
I think the best time to visit is actually in late May/early June. The tourist season doesn’t quite start until July so it’s a bit quieter and you will have a chance to try the fragrant and delicious “prunus armeniaca” aka apricots (which the country is famous for). Plus, if you’re planning to visit the countryside, you will still catch a glimpse of snowy mountaintops and see the incredible richness in flora and fauna before everything dries up for the summertime.
The Cascade is one of the best spots to be in Yerevan. The Cascade steps are great for tourists and locals alike, with striking views of Yerevan and Mount Ararat from the top of the steps (not to worry, you can take an escalator if needed). From the lovely cafés and sculpture gardens at the base of the stairs to the quirky Cafesjian Center for the Arts (the museum within the Cascade steps) -- there is always something to see and do at the Cascade. For a real treat, grab a seat for one of the many concerts at the intimate performance center within the complex.
Built by Armenian architect Alexander Tamanyan in the 1920’s, Republic Square is the place to start and end your trip. It’s absolutely gorgeous and well worth an evening visit -- you can sit at a café and watch the fountain show in the evening or stop by the (somewhat decrepit) National Gallery and get a taste for Armenian and International fine art during the day.
Vernissage Market runs on the weekends and is generally chock full of tourists in the summer months. It’s a great place to find quirky art, rare antiques, carpets and amazing handmade jewelry and other objects of art (I love the carved wood section of the market). It’s also a place to find random odds and ends (1970’s television antennae anyone?). Definitely one of my favorite spots to visit!
The recently renovated Lovers Park (locals take this name rather seriously) and the café atop of the park offer a lovely oasis near the heart of the city. It’s great for people watching as many young couples choose the park as a location for wedding photos and there are some great sculptures in the garden as well.