Native people are helpful, and very well-disposed towards foreign tourists who speak Russian or Armenian. You will see the large number of young men in military uniforms. This is not something to worry about, and tourists should not be afraid of them. English is generally regarded as an exotic language here, and a tourist from Europe and US will not encounter problems in contacting local people. The Russian language is widely spoken and known, and can be used by tourists for everyday contacts with native people.
Nagorno-Karabakh is landlocked and Air Travel is not available to the typical visitor. While an airport was constructed on the outskirts of Stepanakert several years ago, the airspace of Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognized to be owned by Azerbaijan, which has denied access to Armenian aircraft on threat of shooting them down.
There is one daily bus from Yerevan, these buses are brand new, but the journey can be slow and take up to eight hours. Tickets for this journey cost around 4,500 drams.
A budget option to get to Stepanakert are 'marshutki' (single: 'marshutka') - micro-buses which every morning go from the bus station in Yerevan, Armenia to Stepanakert. Marshutki are not new, and they are not very comfortable, but, on the other hand, they are cheaper than the normal bus (5.000 dram per person, 10€). Normally, marshutki start at 6:00, 7:00, and 8:00, sometimes at 9:00 but this is an approximate departure time. You should arrive some time (at least 20 minutes) before the departure to find a free seat. Your luggage will be placed on the roof of the micro-bus. Withthe the completion of new road, the journey now take only 6 hours (April 2015)
Driving is also possible, the M-12 highway connects with Armenia, and is the most reasonable way to reach Stepanakert. The northern route through the Sotk pass has now a newpaved road (october 2016) which makes this a good alternative from the southern route. It is good if you want to stop by The Sevan Lake as well. It should take 5-7 hours from Stepanakert to Yerevan. To reach the pass, follow road M-11 on the Armenian side. Both roads offers amazing views of wild life, deep forests, dramatic cliffs and several ancient monuments on the way. Few people speak anything other than Armenian so prepare yourself with a dictionary.
A visitor must possess a visa for Nagorno-Karabagh. A tourist visa may be obtained in 10 minutes without bureaucratic formalities at the Official Mission of Nagorno-Karabagh Republic (in Yerevan), and passport and visa will be returned on the same day.
There are many taxis ranging from old Soviet cars to brand new Mercedes. Make sure yours has a meter and uses it, prices are reasonable, though usually a little higher than Armenia due to fuel costs. There are also fixed route taxis (marshutki).
There are many museums that show the history of the region. The city has seen a large growth in the number of museums. There are many parks that are amazing. Many of the parks are brand new and have many nice statues and memorials. It is very common to see children playing in the parks. People are very kind so they will not mind if you want your children to play with their children. You should also take a visit to the government buildings and multiple universities.
There exist five schools for higher educational learning in Stepanakert: Artsakh State University and four private universities. Artsakh State was originally established in 1969 as a branch of the Baku Pedagogical Institute. In 1973, it was renamed Stepanakert Pedagogical Institute and following the end of the war, in 1995, it received its current name. The university offers courses spread across seven departments and has an attendance level of 4,500.
There are many souvenir shops. A very nice one is in the lobby of hotel Armenia. When you are in Stepanakert there are many art galleries and rug places, a good place is Nereni Arts & Crafts, which is run by a diaspore Iranian and his Australian wife. From the main post office in the city center you could send postcards, the service seems to be much faster than the Armenian. Another amazing place to buy beautiful art that is historic is Shushi.
There are many cafes sprinkled throughout the city.
If not looking to sleep at a hotel then try to speak with locals, many older people offer tourists in their guest houses. Usually charging $4-5.
Budget accommodation (about 5 USD) is also easily available if you speak Russian or Armenian. Please ask the driver of 'marshutka' by which you have got to Stepanakert. Nearest hotel to the bus station is the Hotel Europe at Azatamartikneri St. 26. - located next to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. There is a homestay just down the stairs, it is the blue door, not advertised, 4.000 per person, decent room. Or another one about 10 minutes away from the Station with very good prices in a brand new house with 6 double rooms, kitchen, Tv & Wifi. Contact: [email protected]
You will see many Armenia Army patrol around the city. This pretty and friendly place don't feel dangerous at all. Most of the kid will run to you and practice their English.
The city of Shushi is a great place to go and has a lot of traditional Armenian homes and churches. Shusha contains many Armenian cultural monuments, while the surrounding territories include also many ancient Armenian village. The city is walled and has many historical churches and also has a few mosques, which are no longer operating. However, tourists are welcome to go in and see them. Shushi was the zone of one of the most bloody battles during the Karabach war.
Aghdam is also a very good place to see. It is an abandoned city, which is not a common site. There are thousands of old houses, but no one lives there. There is a old mosque there as well. Visitors are welcome there. Tour guides will be welcomed to take people.
Gandzasar Monastery and Cathedral of St. John the Baptist is the most spectacular historic monument in Nagorno-Karabach. It represents a woderfull masterpiece of old Armenian architecture, erected in 13th century. It should be seen by every tourist who decided to visit Nagorno-Karabach. Gandzasar is located on the hill top, in the vicinity the Vank village, about 60 km distant from Stepanakert. Marshrutka runs twice a day to Vank but could be very crowded.
Surprisingly, free wifi is available in a small park close to the main square, where the Armenia hotel is situated. Several Internet cafés are also present in the city.