Armenia, and with 1 million residents - by far the largest city in the country. With most of the city built during Soviet rule, much of the city is an excellent example of good Soviet architecture with an Armenian twist – almost all with pink stone facades, including most of the grand Republic Square. The center is very compact and easily walkable, with endless dining and entertainment options.
Yerevan is one of the three major cities of the South Caucasus and is the capital city of Armenia. It is home to some 1.1 million people and to the largest Armenian community in the world. In Soviet years Yerevan underwent massive reconstruction, following Alexander Tamanyan's (the architect) new plans to make a perfect city. The center is a true jewel of early soviet architecture. In those days Yerevan gained the name Pink City due to the color of the stone used for building.
Even though the history of Yerevan dates back to the Erebuni fortress, making it at least 2800 years old, little remains of what was small settlement saving the excavations at Erebuni, Karmir Berd and ??. These sites have been excavated, and the artifacts found are in museums today. Being on a strategically important place Yerevan was a constant war stage for rival Ottoman, Persian and Russian Empires. It has been repeatedly ruined by those wars or natural disasters (e.g. an earthquake in 17th century almost entirely destroyed the town). Few buildings of the old Erivan survived to the present-day Yerevan.
At the time of Armenia's independence in 1918, when Yerevan was made the capital of an independent Armenia, Yerevan was a town of just 20,000 Azeris, Armenians, Russians and few Persians and Kurds. Large scale construction began, which took a more holistic approach under the new city plan laid out by Alexander Tamanyan, whose statue overlooking those original plans can be found on Moscovyan Street by the Cascades. The plan involved the demolition of much of what existed, in favor of concentric circles, parks, and taller structures. He planned for Yerevan to become a metropolis of up to 200,000 people.
So think of Yerevan today architecturally as a prime example of good Soviet architecture. In central Yerevan, virtually all the facades are surfaced in a pink tuf stone. Examples of excellent Soviet architecture, with an Armenian twist can be found in Republic Square, the Opera, the Cascades and surrounding buildings, Sasuntsi Tavit Metro, Kievyan Street, as well as various buildings and squares around Yerevan.
Yerevan is a very homogenous city, though tiny Yezidi and Molokan (Russian) minorities exist. Because the population of the city was only 20,000 a century ago, the vast majority of the Armenians are immigrants themselves, from all over the world. From the villages and towns of Armenia, from Tbilisi which was the center of Eastern Armenian culture before 1918, from Western Armenia as genocide survivors poured in, and even from the middle east and Europe in a large, post-WWII wave of immigration. Since independence, the city has become the heart of the entire Armenian world, as the divisive communist governments demise has allowed the Diaspora – larger in number than the population of Armenia itself, to embrace the city as its own.
Many visitors will be surprised to know that Armenia is not just an outcrop of Christianity in the Caucasus, but it is the first country in the world to adopt Christianity as a state religion. The king declared Christianity the state religion in 301 AD. One can find thousands of churches and monasteries in Armenia. Armenians are Apostolic Christians and have their own Catholicos (religious leader, like the Pope for Catholics). Armenia has paid a heavy price though for its Christianity in this rough neighborhood. Invasions by Zoroastrians, Muslims, and even Greek Orthodox armies were undertaken to convert Armenia to their faiths. Today, the vast majority of Armenians do not attend church each Sunday, with visits revolving around weddings and baptisms, or occasionally dropping in to light a candle.
With a continental climate, Yerevan experiences long hot summers, and cold winters, both with little or no humidity. The winter is not a good time to visit Yerevan, due to icy sidewalks and smoky restaurants, any other time of year is worth a visit. Spring offers mild but sometimes wet weather, and lots of green hills and wildflowers. Summer is very hot, but the long, late nights at the cafes, and the fruits and vegetables are amazing. Fall is the most popular, with perfect weather, and great farm fresh foods.
Smoking may appear to be the national pastime, and indeed, Armenia has the highest rate of smoking in all of Europe. To avoid the smoke, stick to restaurants with outdoor seating, let your taxi driver know it is not okay to smoke, and sit near the door when in a smokier café, and ask to have it left open when possible. Some restaurants have non smoking sections, but rarely is there separate ventilation. Yum-Yum Donuts is strictly non-smoking, and Melody café has a walled off section for non-smoking all year round. Artbridge and Twinings have separate rooms for non-smokers.
Most visitors to Armenia need to obtain a visa, though some can get one upon arrival. Citizens of the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South America and the EU require a valid visa which can be obtained on arrival by plane or land crossing. Standard visitor visas are now valid for 120 days, are single entry (not counting side trips to Karabakh) and cost $30 US. An e-visa is another option. It is equivalent to a conventional visa, but no paper is inserted in your passport and there is no need for you to visit an Armenian diplomatic mission to submit an application. Applications for e-Visas can be submitted online, verified on line, and in most cases, e-visas will be approved and issued on-line within two business days. This e-visa is good for travelers arriving by air at Yerevan's Zvartnots International Airport only and it costs $60 being valid for 21 days. For more detailed information contact your nearest Armenian embassy or consulate or visit http://www.armeniaforeignministry.am/eVisa
CIS nationals do not need a visa to enter Armenia for a maximum of 90 days.
NB Travelers wishing to visit Nagorno-Karabakh must obtain a separate visa at the NKR representation in Yerevan. The cost of the NKR visa is $35 US.
Zvartnots International Airport (IATA: EVN) is the main gate to Armenia. In 2006, a new terminal was opened, where most arrivals and departures are now based. It remains a smaller airport however, so navigating your way around is easy and fast. Free WiFi access is availabe in the depature terminal.
Also remember that all the passengers leaving Armenia from Zvartnots International Airport have to pay 10,000 AMD (30 USD) departure air tax in dram, so have this handy when flying out.
Between the airport and the city
Zvartnots is only 14 km from Yerevan city center by road.
Airlines flying to Yerevan:
An overnight train runs from Tbilisi, Georgia. It is roughly $20 and actually fairly comfortable though dirty, but slow enough that it is a good idea to bring food, snacks, and water. The wagons are the standard Soviet hold-overs that can be found throughout the former USSR. Tickets can be purchased for a seat in a four-person coupe (pronounced koo-peh) or a more expensive two-person SV (ehs-veh) class.
Options include arriving into Armenia via Georgia or Iran.
You can reach Yerevan by bus from Tbilisi, fare costs 15 lari ($10US) and takes about 12 hours. More expensive is to take a 30 lari ($20 US) marshutka/minibus but it’s much faster at about 5 hours. Sometimes you can take a shared car from Tbilisi as well. Again, a bit more expensive than minibus, but faster and more comfortable. Bus service to Yerevan also is available in Istanbul, or many of the cities on the Black Sea coast of Turkey en route to Yerevan, with a detour through Georgia. In Yerevan some of the bus lines from Turkey are: Karbut Tour: +374-10-54-26-97 and Oz Aybaki +374-10-56-50-03.
The center of Yerevan is very compact and easy to get around by foot. Watch your step, however, as construction sites, potholes and aggressive drivers abound.
The metro system in Yerevan is quite reliable and relatively modern, having been built in the early 1980s. It is the quickest way around town, and at 50 dram (US$0.10), the cheapest aside from walking.
Today the metro operates as a single line, with a shuttle branch and covers 12km (7.5 miles), with trains running every five minutes from 6:30 a.m. till 11 p.m. Due to Yerevan's uneven landscape, the metro in some cases goes above ground. Continuing the tradition of all ex-Soviet underground systems, most of the stations are exquisitely decorated, often blending Armenian national motifs with late-Soviet architecture.
More than a hundred minibus (marshrutka, pronounced mahrsh-root-kah) routes exist that criss-cross the city and travel to the suburbs and beyond (such as to Georgia or Karabagh). At 100 dram (US$0.33) a ride in Yerevan, they are a bargain. The minibuses are often overcrowded, and you may find yourself standing, crouched without a seat during rush hour. The route number is displayed prominently in the window, along with Armenian text listing the major landmarks and streets of the route. The Opera (ՕՊԵՐԱ) is an easy Armenian word to recognize on these signs, and is the main crossing point of many of the lines. When you want to get off, you should say “kanknek” for the driver to hear, or else, just say “stop” in English. The numbers of the minibuses are written on the bus stations though and the webpage of the tourist information has the whole list with destinations.
By bus or trolleybus
Yerevan has a few trolley lines and buses, operated by "Yergortrans." The fare is very inexpensive (50 dram) and the vehicles are not too crowded. Pay when leaving a bus or trolley.
Abundant throughout the city, a taxi ride anywhere downtown should not cost more than 1000 dram (US$3). Most taxis with company names on the sides have meters, and prices tend to be competitive among taxi companies. To flag an empty one down on the street, just hold your arm out and pat your hand in the air, if they’re free they’ll stop. Taxis without a logo on the side tend to charge more, and may to try to get more out of foreigners. To avoid being ripped off, either call a taxi from a big company or head for the most modern looking ones which usually have a meter. Make sure that the driver switches it on when you start and politely remind him to do so if he has "forgotten" it. Carry some coins to prevent the drivers from telling you that they have no change on them. Standard price is a minimum of 500-600 Dram for the first 5 km and than 100 Dram for every further km. A car and driver can easily be rented for day trip outside of Yerevan, for as little as $20 plus gas. Beware of moonlighting "taxi" drivers at the airport who will try to charge you ridiculous amounts (20,000 dram or more) to get to the city. Finally never ever believe any taxidriver who wants to convince you that there is no bus or minivan to the destination you are heading to.
Diaspora Armenians may obtain a residency permit to live and work in Armenia without a problem. The 10 year visa/permit for $350 is the best deal. Non-Armenians should have an invitation, or establish a business to get a work/business visa.
Volunteering in Armenia may be a suitable for those wanting the experience. Armenian Volunteer Corps can organize a volunteer placement and visa for you.
For those of Ethnic Armenian Descent, there are programs such as Birthright Armenia, which will pay for your trip if you participate in their program.
Tutoring in English is always an option for native English speakers. Demand to learn English, and practice English conversation is high.
Dram (AMD) is a national currency of Armenia.
The rates can vary. (December 2008).
When arriving in Zvartnots International Airport exchange only 20-30 USD for taxi or airport service as the exchange rate at the airport is always poor. Exchanges can be found all over the city, and do not charge a commission – count your money on the spot, though they tend to be patently honest. Banks tend to be the least convenient place to exchange, and tend to have the worst rates – exchange on the streets. Exchange rates on the streets are almost all quite competitive, so shopping around is only worthwhile for very large amounts. Stores and restaurants will frequently accept dollars in a pinch, though they prefer dram.
Cash (in dram only) can be easily withdrawn from numerous ATM's located in the city. Though VISA and Master Card are accepted in many restaurants, supermarkets and shops in Yerevan, carry some cash. To withdraw dollars from your credit card, you can go into a bank.
Armenia itself is a place to drink, with no prohibition against drinking in public. Cafes, bars, restaurants, clubs and the countryside on a picnic are all popular places for vodka, the usual drink of choice, with wine, beer, champagne and brandy all popular as well. You can even drink in a car – as long as you’re not driving. Drivers cannot have a drop of alcohol in them, with Zero being the legal threshold – and the penalties for violating this are stiff.
Places for a drink
Drinks to try
In Yerevan there are plenty of Night Clubs, Pubs, Karaoke and Strip Clubs especially in downtown. Locals' and tourists' favourite night clubs are:
Yerevan Night Life is famous for its Strip Clubs
In All Clubs the dancers are from Ukraine and Russia so erotic dance show and hot atmosphere are guaranteed.
Favourite Karaoke Clubs are:
This is a brief list of famous clubs in Yerevan.
Yerevan has a wide variety of accommodations but for the most part they are overpriced. If you're staying for an extended period of time, rent an apartment. Check the AUA (American University of Armenia), locat travel agents (Menua tours, Hyur Service) or real estate brokers for rental listings.
It is almost impossible to sleep cheap in a Hotel in Yerevan. Try home stays with Armenian families that rent out rooms. There are many of these places and they cost from $8 - $12 per night per person. Many are located in the center of Yerevan and if you can handle not having your own “space” they are a wonderful way to truly see Armenian hospitality up close. You can get a list of these home stays by contacting the Armenian Information Center .
The main western standard hotels are the Marriott Hotel Armenia, located in Republic Square, Hotel Yerevan (Golden Tulip) on Abovyan, and the Congress Hotel, a short walk from Republic Square. The Congress is one step down in price but offers the same western feel as the Marriott, and has a large outdoor pool. The Golden Palace, which claims 5 stars, has recently opened (July 2005). It is at the top of the Cascade. Hotel Latar, far on the outskirts of the city is like another world – as are the prices. The massive circular pool is a sight to behold.
The Hotel Ani and Bass Hotel are nice and offer more realistic prices for western style accommodations. The specialty niche has the Tufenkian Hotel which tries to give you western standards but be true to the Armenian culture. It is high up in the Nork district of Yerevan, and you will be lucky if your taxi can find it easily. Olympia Hotel is situated in one of the most prestigious parts of Yerevan. The outstanding view from your balcony (you’ll see Mountain Ararat, Mountain Aragats, Hrazdan valley and hear the sound of the waterfall just in front of you). Renovated and recently opened Erebuni Hotel is also a good choice in terms of price, location (next to Republic Square) and accommodations.
Mobile phone providers
There are two GSM service providers operating in Armenia: VivaCell (K Telecom) and ArmenTel. International roaming rates can be high, that is why it is strongly advised to purchase a temporary prepaid SIM card. The latter option is cheap and comfortable. It allows both local and international calls, no charge for incoming calls and no monthly fee. VivaCell is the leading GSM services provider in Armenia and offers a quality service at reasonable rates. VivaCell temporary SIM card (it is called ALO card) will cost you from AMD 1100 - 7000 (USD 3-20) depending on how many credits you wish to have on your account already. ArmenTel Easy card can be an alternative. Note: this option may no longer be available to those without Armenian residency.
Majority of foreign visitors find their mobile phones compatible with Armenian SIM cards (GSM 900).
Yerevan is a relatively safe city, though have been increasing reports of muggers targeting foreigners. In crowded places and transport beware of pickpockets, especially at Vernissage. There are well known scams affecting some of the cash dispensers (ATMs) that take VISA cards where no money appears but it is nevertheles taken from your account.
The traffic can be quite rough, so pay close attention when crossing the street.
There are many convenient day trips based from Yerevan, including a bunch better saved as overnight trips. Companies like Levon Travel, Menua, Sati and Hyur (among others) have signs around town advertising their pre-arranged tours.
Buses and Minivans are the major means of transportation within the country. From Yerevan you can get to literally every place in Armenia within a day. To make things confusing for foreigners, there exists a confusing amount of different regional bus-stations in Yervan and especially the minivans tend to leave from hard to find places just somewhere at the side of the road. When heading into Yerevan, they are not unknown to drop you at random spots somewhere in the city, so ask the driver beforehand to drop you at a convenient place. The following is a incomplete list of the major bus- "stations".
Central/Kilikia Bus Station
This is the biggest bus station in Yerevan. It is located to the south-west of the city center on Admiral Isakov Avenue, around one kilometer form the shuka at the end of Mashtots Avenue. To get there, take Minibuses 13 (from Barekamutsun Metro), 23 (from the Train Station) or 15, 68 and 75 (from Repuplic Square). The buses from here serve for example Sisian, Goris, Kapan, Gyumri and Vanadzor.
Northern Bus Station
This bus station lies around 5km north of the city center on the Yervan-Sevan Highway. It is worth visiting just for its soviet architecture and the desperate feeling the huge and empty building gives. To get there take bus 113 or Minibus 101 (both from somewhere on Komitas). Buses and Minivans from here go to for example Dillijan and Sevan.
Trains are cheap and inconvenient/uncomfortable options, but for the adventurous they can be taken Yerevan-Lake Sevan, Yerevan-Gyumri, Vanadzor-Alaverdi-Tbilisi and Yerevan-Yevlakh.