With mountains and monasteries, delicious wine and shawarmas, and some of the friendliest people you’re likely to meet in your travels, Armenia is well worth a visit.
This former Soviet country is nestled in between Georgia, Turkey, Iran and Azerbaijan. While the country doesn’t look too big, travel takes a long time on winding, rural roads, but you’re sure to enjoy the beautiful landscapes along the way.
Here’s an itinerary of where to go and what to see in Armenia.
Day 1 Yerevan
Yerevan is worth a stop for a day or two – especially if you like Soviet architecture.
This is likely where you’ll start your Armenian explorations, as buses coming into Armenia from Georgia drop you off here.
Highlights in this capital city include the Cascade monument, a memorial to the Soviet Armenia 50th anniversary, and the many city parks.
It’s worth simply roaming the streets here and seeing what you find, and heading into the food markets when you see one.
Days 2-3 Goris and Tatev Monastery
From Yerevan, you can take a bus from the southern bus station David of Sasun to Goris. Buses run every four hours to Goris during the day and the journey takes about six hours. It’s a slow, bumpy and winding ride down to Goris, but the scenery is stunning – especially in winter with views of snow-capped mountains.
The main attraction in Goris is Old Goris – an old cave city located on the edge of the town.
Near Goris is the beautiful Tatev monastery complex. From Goris, you’ll need to take a taxi (or hitchhike) to reach the cable car station that takes you up to Tatev. The main attraction is the St Peter and Paul Cathedral – and don’t forget the views.
The Tatev cable car is the longest aerial tramway in the world, spanning a massive 5km. The cable car ride is an adventure in itself, with 360 degree views the whole way. There’s also on-board commentary in English to tell you what you’re looking at hundreds of metres below.
From the monastery, you can take the cable car back down or take the hairpin bend filled hike down via the road to visit the Devil’s Bridge rock formation and head to the ruins of Anapat Monastery. You’ll see this monastery below the cable car as you head up to the Tatev monastery complex.
The Anapat Monastery was actually my favourite sight in the Tatev area as there were no other tourists and it was interesting to explore the ruins and take a stroll along the river.
Be aware though if you take this detour, then you’ll need to hitchhike back to Tatev as it’s a very long walk back.
Day 4 Stepanakert
From Goris, it’s a two-hour bus trip to Stepanakert – the capital of the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic – a disputed area between Armenia and Azerbaijan. There’s not much to see in Stepanakert itself – although there are some museums and the Tatik-Patik (Grandpa and Grandma) monument is impressive. Make sure you read my visa information below to find out what’s required to enter this area.
Day 5 Shoushi and Hunot Gorge
Shoushi was the setting for one of the world’s worst genocides and the air feels heavy as you walk through this town with a terribly sad past.
Shoushi used to be the pride of this region and was once the burgeoning capital of the Karabakh region, filled with schools, markets and churches.
During the tragic events of 1920, two-thirds of Shoushi was destroyed. Today, much of the city remains in ruins.
It’s a sombre visit to Shoushi. Only a street back from the main thoroughfare, you’ll come across abandoned ruins of houses and mosques and even a palace, a stark reminder of what occurred here. It’s hauntingly beautiful though in its own way as you imagine how magnificent some of the buildings would have been, especially the corridors of the palace.
The walls of the city’s medieval fortress is one of the highlights of your visit here. It’s sits on the edge of the Shoushi plateau, below which lies the Hunot Gorge. It was built in the 15th century and has been lovingly restored in places, including the spectacular Elizavetpol gate.
But there are signs of recovery here, and work is underway to revive the city.
Shoushi is only a 20 minute mini bus ride from Stepanakert and buses run a couple of times an hour throughout the day from the Central Bus Station. Simply stay “Shoushi” and you’ll be pointed to the next bus.
From Shoushi, you can also make a stop at Hunot Gorge – if you’re prepared to hitchhike there. But don’t worry, the people in this region are incredibly friendly and you should have no problems getting a lift. I recommend getting the Tourist Information Centre in Stepanakert to write down on a piece of paper where you want to go in the local language. English is not widely spoken here. If you happen to know a bit of Russian though, it will be helpful.
The trailhead for Hunot Gorge is about a 15-20 minute drive from Shoushi. The gorge sits immediately below Shoushi, and stretches for three kilometres. Use Maps.me to help guide you (there is some limited signage) and the Tourist Information Centre in Stepanakert can also give you useful information on how to get there.
From the trailhead, it’s about an hour’s walk to the main section of the gorge via a dirt road.
You know you’re near the gorge when you spot a medieval bridge and the ruins of a medieval village. This bridge dates back to the 16th century and is still used today by local villagers.
Follow the gorge along a rough dirt track by the water, over rustic lopsided wooden bridges, and after about 30 minutes you’ll reach the mossy Umbrella Waterfall.
Day 6 Vank and Askeran
From Stepanakert, you can take a marshrutka (minibus) to the town of Vank from the Central Bus Station. Buses run every couple of hours throughout the day. Ask at your guesthouse about the schedule. The journey takes about an hour.
This tiny town is best known for the Gandazar Monastery that sits on a hill above the town.
On your way back from Vank, head to Askeran to visit a medieval castle currently in the process of being restored. For more castle sights, you can head further along to Tigranakert Castle. You may need to hitchhike or marshrutkas may pass occasionally to and from Stepanakert.
Day 7 Lake Sevan
You can reach Lake Sevan by heading north out of Stepanakert. Lake Sevan is outside the Nagorno-Karabakh Republic. The drive takes about 5-6 hours but is incredibly scenic as you wind past towering burnt orange cliff walls.
Day 8 Dilijan
If you like the outdoors, then Dilijan is worth a stop – particularly if you’re going back to Georgia as the minibuses will pass through here on their way to Tbilisi.
There are many hiking trails in Dilijan and at the time of writing, works are underway on the Transcaucasian Trail which will extend the length of Armenia across the Caucasus Mountains and through Dilijan.
Eventually the Transcaucasian Trail will extend from Georgia to Armenia offering weeks of hiking adventures for the intrepid.
Getting there and around
You can enter Armenia by land through Georgia and Iran. The most common route is via Tbilisi, Georgia’s vibrant capital city. Minivans run several times a day from outside the Avlabari Metro station.
The trip costs 35 GEL, payable in cash only. The journey takes 5-6 hours including at least two rest breaks. You will be dropped off at the Central Bus Station. Buses run regularly into the centre from outside the Central Bus Station for 100 AMD.
It may also be possible to travel from Tabriz in Iran to Armenia.
Travel as the locals do on marshrutkas (mini vans) which run between the places most tourists would like to go such as Goris, Stepanakert, Dilijan, Lake Sevan, and the monasteries around Yerevan.
Most nationalities do not need a visa to enter Armenia – however visas are required to visit the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. Officially this area is recognised as part of Azerbaijan, but the region has an Armenia ethnic majority and uses Armenian Dram.
If you’re eligible to get a visa on arrival in Nagorno-Karabakh, it’s an easy process. But be aware that if you go here, you will not be let into Azerbaijan if they find evidence of you being in this disputed area.
You can go into Azerbaijan first and then into Nagorno-Karabakh via Georgia and Armenia but not the other way around. The border between this territory and Azerbaijan is closed and you can only enter via the Armenian side.
When you pass into the Nagorno-Karabakh region, border control officers will check your passport to ensure you are an eligible nationality to enter and advise you to go to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs when you arrive in Stepanakert.
When you go to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, you will be asked to fill out an application form and if you would like the visa in your passport or a separate piece of paper.
The application form needs to include all the places you plan to go during your visit to this region and how long you would like to stay in the area. You then need to pay 3000 AMD and you will be given a receipt and a piece of paper that lists the places you can go. You need to carry this paperwork and your passport on you at all times while in Nagorno-Karabakh, and show your documents if asked by the police. The whole process takes about half an hour.
Things to know
- The currency in Armenia is the dram. There’s plenty of exchange officers in Yerevan and euros are happily exchanged. There’s also plenty of ATMs in Yerevan and Stepanakert, but you’ll struggle to find any operational ATMs in Goris so make sure you withdraw enough money for a few days when you leave Yerevan.
- Marshrutkas (minibuses) are the main mode of transport in Armenia and departures are frequent especially from Yerevan and Stepanakert. Payment is in cash only. Yerevan also has a metro system but most tourist attractions are in walking distance of the centre so you may only use the metro to get to outlying bus stations such as David of Susan. The fare is 100 AMD.
- English may be spoken in Yerevan in accommodation and restaurants, but you’ll struggle to find English speakers outside of this and English is pretty non-existent in Goris, Sevan or in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. If you have some Russian knowledge, it will come in handy. People are friendly though, so will try to help you as much as possible despite the language barrier.
- Hitchhiking is common in Armenia, particularly in the Nagorno-Karabakh region and I found it a handy way to get around when I was needing to get somewhere outside of Stepanakert.
- Guesthouses in the Nagorno-Karabakh region are few and far between and are not listed on any accommodation booking site. I stayed in Hostel R&K, which is a five minute walk from the bus station. English is spoken here and they are very helpful with information on buses, places to go and organising your visa. If you haven’t lined up accommodation on your arrival, head to the helpful Tourist Information Centre for information on guesthouses.
- Like the Georgians, Armenians are proud of their wine and rightly so. Make sure you try some local wine during your stay in Armenia.