Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, is the type of place where foodies and history buffs unite. The city is one of the oldest in the world. You’ll fall in love with its charm almost immediately. That being said, your trip to Armenia wouldn’t be complete without an escapade outside of the city.
Weekend trips from Yerevan are easy to plan and won’t break your trip budget. Due to it’s central location, Yerevan serves as the perfect base for exploring Armenia’s different lakes, monasteries, and museums. Adventure awaits those who are willing to make day trips from Yerevan to any of the following sites.
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Khor Virap Yerevan
Khor Virap Monastery is stunning. Mount Ararat dominates the landscape surrounding the seminary. What is really enchanting about this site though is the story of Saint Gregory the Illuminator. The Catholic saint was imprisoned here for 13 years in the early 4th century. Throughout his time in the dungeon, he was secretly given food by the local devout women. When the king was finally defeated in battle, Armenia was declared the first Christian nation in the world. In 642, the first church was built on the imprisonment site. Throughout history, many different churches and buildings have occupied the space.
One of the coolest things about visiting Khor Virap is the opportunity to go inside the deep hole where Saint Gregory was held. The church that stands on the Monastery today is from the 17th century, however, it is still used by locals for different religious celebrations. Khor Virap Monastery is a great day trip for those who want to dive deep into an interesting story. The easiest way to get here is to board the marshrutka behind the train station in Yerevan.
Armenian Genocide Museum
In the early 1900s 1.5 million people were killed by the Ottoman government. Death marches were carried throughout the nearby Syrian desert. The Turkish government has denied the genocide, which is part of the reason why there is a hostile relationship between the two countries. The Armenian Genocide Museum is more than just a memorial. It’s a great place to learn about one of history’s untold stories. The mood surrounding the museum can be quite somber.
Armenians are constantly laying flowers at the site to pay honor to the dead. The museum is free to visit, and there are even guides who will give you an informational tour for a small donation. The view from the memorial is also spectacular. You can see the entire city of Yerevan from the hill. The easiest way to arrive is by taxi. However, talk with a local beforehand so you know what a fair fare is. The taxi drivers are notorious for ripping tourists off.
Lake Sevan is massive. In fact, it covers more than 5% of the total area of Armenia. It’s become the most popular spot for locals to spend the hot Armenian summer. The lake itself is gorgeous. Because 28 different rivers flow into it, it turns just about every shade of blue. It also is located in Armenian’s mountains, which gives it a much chillier climate than other parts of the country. Be sure to check the forecast before you visit!
If you plan to stay the night on the lake, there are a lot of places to chose from of the northern and western shores of the lake. Pair your stay with a jet ski rental for an awesome time! There are a lot of different companies that offer a tour from Yerevan to Lake Sevan, but I recommend trying to visit independently. From the Northern Bus Station in Yerevan, you can take a marshrutka to Sevan city. From the city, I recommend taking a taxi to wherever you want to visit the lake.
There are plenty of things to do during your visit to Sevanavank Monastery. The original monastery lays in ruins thanks to Stalin, but there is a new monastery nearby. The monastery has a unique story, serving as the home for monks who had sinned fervently before or during their time as monks. The monastery was originally built on an island, allowing the monks to avoid the temptations of the “real world”. However, this island became a peninsula when the government drained Lake Sevan several years ago.
The summer residence of the Armenia president is right around the corner. You won’t be able to visit it, unfortunately, but it’s a really cool place to gaze at from a distance. If you like hiking, there are a handful of trails around the monastery that are sure to please you. There are a lot of tours that leave from Yerevan, but you can also visit the monastery independently. The easiest way is to take a marshrutka from Yerevan to Sevan, and then take a taxi from Sevan.
Hin Areni Wine Factory
What would be a trip diving into history without a glass of wine, one of the oldest beverages known to man. If you are in Armenia in September or October, you luckily aligned your trip with the country’s grape harvest. The most-visited winery is Hin Areni, which also happens to be the oldest in the country. The red and white grapes grown around Areni are delicious and produce world-class bottles of wine.
I recommend doing a tour of the winery so you can learn about the process and sample their different products. Chances are you won’t leave empty handed. A visit to Hin Areni is best as a pit stop on the way to Tatev. You can spend a night in the wine region in order to make the trip shorter.
Echmiadzin is a small town right outside of Yerevan that is home to the Cathedral of Echmiadzin and Saint Gayane Church, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Cathedral of Echmiadzin is considered the oldest cathedral in the world. It’s considered the mother church of the Armenian Apostolic Church, a religion you will become more familiar with as you spend time in Armenia.
Saint Gregory the Illuminator supposedly had a vision of Jesus Christ on the site where the cathedral sits. After visiting the cathedral, head to Saint Gayane Church. This church was built in the 7th century and is also associated with a saint. If you haven’t noticed yet, every place in Yerevan comes with a story.
Zvartnots is a small town to the west of Yerevan that is home to one of Armenia’s UNESCO World Heritage sites. The Zvartnots Cathedral dates back to 650 AD. It is supposedly built on the site where Saint Gregory the Illuminator and King Tradt III met. Today, the cathedral lays in ruins due to an earthquake in the 10th century. However, you will be able to understand just how massive this structure was when it was standing.
A museum lies adjacent to the ruins and explains the historical importance of the cathedral. This site is included on many tours from Yerevan, which I recommend doing. A tour of Zvartnots and the surrounding areas is worth the extra money than visiting independently.
Garni Temple is much older than the other visited monasteries and temples in Armenia. It dates all the way back to the first century! The structure that still stands today is quite small, but the ruins around the site can help you imagine how big this place used to be. The Roman Empire didn’t adhere to modesty when they were building. The temple isn’t used today for anything in particular, but plenty of locals come and pray. The temple also overlooks a large gorge, which I recommend hiking down into from the monastery.
One of the coolest things about the gorge is the Symphony of Stones. The walls of the gorge are formed out of hexagonal stones, creating a beautiful spectacle to admire. Visiting Garni should be paired with the Gerhard Monastery, another one of Armenia’s tourism jewels. Arriving from Yerevan to Garni is simple if you want to visit independently. However, there are a handful of tours that are offered in Yerevan’s city center.
Nearby Garni Temple lies Geghard Monastery, one of Armenia’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This monastery became famous because it housed the spear that killed Jesus for many years. While the spear no longer rests inside the monastery walls, there are other important relics that you’ll see during your visit. The area surrounding the monastery is beautiful for a variety of reasons. The landscape, first and foremost, is stunning. The rolling hills, towering cliffs, and lush greenery will remind you of a beautiful national park.
The area around the monastery is filled with vendors, where you can buy souvenirs or sample some of Armenia’s different delicacies. Nothing compares, however, to the beauty inside the monastery walls. The old church and quarters will have you daydreaming of how this place used to function in medieval times. I recommend doing a tour to really get the most of your visit. If you stop by on the weekend, you may even be lucky enough to hear local singers taking advantage of the monastery’s unbeatable acoustics.
The best way to visit Garni and Geghard from Yerevan is to take a marshrutka to the Gai Bus Station. From this bus station, you can take another marshrutka to the Geghard Monastery. Once you are located in the area, a local bus passes on the main road. You can wave a bus down or try your luck with hitchhiking.
Consider yourself a nerd? You’re going to love much more than just the history of Armenia. The Byurakan Observatory is located in a small village of the same name. It also happens to be one of the highest places in the country. The Observatory consists of a few silver domes that house massive telescopes.
The grounds themselves are really well maintained, making it a really nice place to spend the evening. If you are planning to do a tour be sure to come at night. You do want to see the stars up close, right? The easiest way to arrive at Byurakan Observatory is to take a bus from the Kilikia Bus Station directly to the Byurakan village.
If you haven’t realized it yet, monasteries are some of the best places to visit in Armenia– not solely because of the architecture, but even more because of the stunning landscapes surrounding. Trust me, you won’t be bored of monasteries during your time in the country because each one has something unique to see or experience. For the Tatev Monastery, the spectacle has to be the Wings of Tatev, the longest transportation ropeway in the world. The view from the gondola is truly one-of-a-kind. You’ll pass over small villages, lush vegetation, and flowing waterfalls.
Towards the end of the ride, you’ll spot the monastery complex. You probably never thought you would arrive at a monastery in such style. The monastery itself is best visited with a guide, who will detail all of the histories and tell you compelling stories during your entire stay. Tatev is much further away from Yerevan than other day trips mentioned, but it is well worth the trek. I recommend staying in Goris, which is encircled by mountains with large limestone spires. You can easily take a taxi from the city to Tatev in order to visit the monastery.
Dilijan National Park
Want to escape the city for a true adventurous giveaway? Head to Dilijan national park, where the mountains stretch from 1,000 meters to 2,300 meters. The dense forest ecosystem is overwhelmingly green. The waters of the rivers and lakes remind people of the Alps, which is why this park is nicknamed “The Switzerland of Armenia”. Serious backpackers should head to the Transcaucasian trail, an 80-kilometer trail through the mountains.
Along with incredible intimacy with nature, you’ll also pass some of the most important historical sites in the country. You can camp along the route or head to local villages for a more comfortable night sleep. The best place to base yourself for this trip is in Dilijan, an Armenian spa town. The easiest way to arrive is through Sevan. There are plenty of minibusses that leave on a consistent basis. If you want to get there quicker, take a taxi.
Recommend Day trips from Yerevan
- Private Full-Day Tsaghkadzor, Kecharis, Lake Sevan, Sevanavank Tour from Yerevan
- Khor Virap Monastery, Etchmiadzin, Machanents tourism and art, Zvartnots
- Lake Sevan Dilijan Haghartsin Tour
- Private 8-hour Khor Virap, Garni and Geghard trip from Yerevan
- Group tour to Yerevan Tsakhkadzor and Sevan Lake
- Private Half-day Echmiadzin Cathedral, Hripsime and Zvartnots Temple from Yerevan
- Private Half-Day Lake Sevan, Sevanavank Tour from Yerevan
- 3 day private tours in Armenia from Yerevan
- 4 days in Armenia from Yerevan/ Garni, Tatev, Karahundj, Zvartnots, Echmiadzin
- Khor Virap Monastery, Noravank Monastery, Areni, Jermuk
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