Straddling the divide between Asia and Europe, Armenia might be one of the final travel frontiers left on the planet for adventurous backpackers. From its snowy mountain peaks in the Caucasus region to a large number of perfectly preserved medieval monasteries, visiting Armenia isn’t often on a traveler’s to-do list.
Backpacking Armenia is at the bottom.
And few short-term travelers make it here too.
But their loss is your gain because, when you visit, you’ll get a country virtually untouched by tourism.
Armenia’s history is complicated and often tragic, marked with countless years of warfare and the infamous Armenian Genocide when the Ottoman government murdered 1.5 million Armenians in the early 1900s. Visit the many historical monuments, sites, and religious structures scattered around the country, including the fourth-century Etchmiadzin Cathedral and the Greco-Roman Temple of Garni.
Armenia’s dramatic landscape of jagged mountains and deep, rugged valleys, especially in the Geghama mountain range, is perfect for trekking, biking, or off-roading.
Moreover, Armenians love chatting up visitors in coffee shops or bars, especially to practice their English. You don’t have to try hard to meet the locals here. (They’re going to want to know why you are visiting since so few people do!)
Use this Armenia travel guide to find the best places to visit, tell you how to save money, how to get around, give you costs, and help you plan the best trip to this country!
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Armenia
1. See Mount Ararat
2. Visit Yerevan
3. Go Skiing in Tsaghkadzor
4. Visit Dilijan National Park
5. Visit the Genocide Museum
Other Things to See and Do in Armenia
1. Take the cable car to Tatev
Noravank may hold the title for the most beautiful monastery in Armenia, but it’s Tatev monastery that holds the prize for the most terrifying. This medieval monastery was built between the 9th-13th centuries and is unique thanks to its position on the edge of a deep gorge. The only way to visit the monastery is by taking the cable car across a 5,752-meter ropeway (the longest in the world) suspended 320 meters above the River Vorotan. The cable car ride will take you around 15 minutes, and admission is 7,000 AMD ($15 USD).
2. Visit Shikahogh State Reserve
Shikahogh State Reserve is the second largest forest in Armenia and is home to some diverse wildlife including leopards, bears, wild goats, and vipers. There are some lush mountain hiking trails here (although they are not always well maintained) that will lead you to Iron Age tombs, medieval churches and monasteries, waterfalls, crystal-clear springs, and even abandoned towns. The seven-mile (11-kilometer) route from the Mount Khustup to Shishkert village is a tough but incredibly scenic route.
3. Swim in Lake Sevan
Also known as the “Armenian Sea,” Lake Sevan is located high in the Caucasus mountains and is the perfect place to cool off mid-hike. The lake is so high that if you sit on the river bank, it almost looks like the river is running into the sky. You can wild camp here as well for free.
4. See Geghard Monastery
Carved from the rock face of the Azat River Gorge, Geghard Monastery is a World Heritage-listed building named from the lance that pierced Christ’s side at the crucifixion. Inside the Avazan Chapel is a sacred spring that runs through the monastery where people fill up bottles to take the holy water home.
5. Visit the Echmiadzin Cathedral
Located only 12 miles (20 kilometers) from Yerevan, no visit to Armenia would be complete without seeing the city of Echmiadzin. The most famous site in Echmiadzin is its cathedral. The cathedral was built to commemorate the fact, in 301 AD, Armenia was the first country in the world to adopt Christianity. The cathedral’s museum has some fascinating artifacts, including a piece of the cross on which Jesus was crucified, the spear that pierced his side, and even a supposed piece of Noah’s Ark. Admission to the museum is 1,500 AMD ($3.15 USD).
6. Go to Gyumri
The city of Gyumri is one of Armenia’s most ancient settlements, dating back nearly 3,000 years ago. Starting from the busy Vardanants Square at the center of town, walk to the Kumayri Historic District, a sort of open-air museum filled with historic buildings like the Sev Ghul fortress and the Paris Hotel (used as a maternity hospital during Soviet times). Visit the Dzitoghtsyan Museum of Social Life showcasing life in the area from the 19th century up to the 1920s, or the Aslamazyan Sisters House-Museum, with works from two sisters who helped bring equality to Armenian women through their art.
7. Experience the healing waters of Jermuk
With over 40 natural thermal springs, Jermuk is the most popular spa town in Armenia. Visit the Gallery of Water for your free sample of healing mineral water to drink. While you’re there, make sure you venture to the Jermuk waterfall, which, at 70 meters tall, is Armenia’s second-largest waterfall.
8. Visit the Army of Stones
Karahunj otherwise known as Zorats Karer (or Army of Stones in English) is Armenia’s oldest and most popular megalithic site. Located at an altitude of 1,770 meters on a rocky plateau, no one knows how these 200 stones got here. Even stranger is the fact that each stone has 5cm holes in it. There are many different theories on how and why the stones are here, but the most popular theory is that the site was constructed in the 6th century BC for stargazing.
9. Take a wine tasting tour
Did you know that Armenia has a 6,000-year-old history of making wine? With over 500 unique and native varieties almost unknown to the world outside Armenia, taking a wine tour is a must for any wine lover. In fact, the oldest wine cave in the world (6,000 years old!) is near Areni. Sadly, during Soviet rule, many of the wineries were shut down. It is only in the last decade that Armenia has begun to reconnect with its winemaking roots. Wine tours from Yerevan start from 23,876 AMD ($50 USD) with most averaging around 47,753 AMD ($100 USD), including lunch.
10. Visit the Geghard Monastery
The Geghard Monastery, carved into the cliffs of the Upper Azat Valley, is located southwest of Yeveren and is one of Armenia’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Although the main part of the chapel was built 800 years ago, the history of the monastery dates back to the fourth century. Founded by Gregory the Illuminator, legend says that the monastery once housed one of the spears used to crucify Jesus. The spear in question was brought to Armenia by the Apostle Thaddeus.
11. Go to the Erebuni Historical & Archaeological Museum-Reserve
The archaeological site here dates back to 782 BC, a whole three decades before Rome was even established. As well as offering you an insight into Armenia’s ancient history, it also gives you a peek into what the daily life would be like in the palace of Argishti I, who was one of the greatest kings of ancient Urartu. Admission is 1,000 AMD ($2 USD) or 2,500 AMD ($5.50 USD) with a guide.
12. See Noravank
Built in the 13th century, legend has it that when the Mongols conquered Armenia hundreds of years ago, it was God himself that saved the Noravank monastery. Delicately carved stonework and religious reliefs (including depictions of God) decorate the building.
Armenia Travel Costs
Accommodation – There are a limited number of hostels in Armenia, and most of them are in the capital, Yerevan. Hostels start at 3,343 AMD ($7 USD) per night for a bed in a dorm, but average around 3,169 AMD ($10 USD) per night. These prices are pretty consistent around the country, no matter how many beds are in the dorm.
A private single or double room is around 11,938 AMD ($25 USD) with a shared bathroom, but outside the capital city, you can find private rooms for as low as 8,118 AMD ($17 USD).
Free wifi is standard, though kitchens and free breakfast aren’t very common.
Two-star budget hotels average around 9,550 AMD ($20 USD) per night for a double or twin. Airbnb is another great budget option in Armenia, with shared accommodation (like hostel dorms) starting at 3,169 AMD ($10 USD) per night. A private room averages about 14,325 AMD ($30 USD) per night, while you can expect to pay about 26,264 AMD ($55 USD) per night for a full apartment or home.
For anyone traveling with a tent, camping is available around the country. For those not traveling with a tent, you can often rent them at the Tourist Information Centers. Wild camping is free, but if you prefer camping on a campsite prices start at around 4,000 AMD ($8 USD) per night for two people and a tent.
Food – Street food like shawarma or lahmajun (Armenian pizza) will cost you less than 955 AMD ($2 USD) each, and a glass of tan (a salty yogurt drink) shouldn’t be more than 238 AMD ($0.50 USD).
For an inexpensive meal at an Armenian restaurant, expect to pay around 2,750 AMD ($6 USD) for traditional food like spa (an extra creamy soup), kyufta (meatballs), or Armenian cheese with basturma (dried meat with spices) wrapped in a piece of Armenian pita bread. Expect to pay 600 AMD ($1.50 USD) for a beer. Higher-end or western restaurants will cost you about 6,000 AMD ($12.50 USD) per meal.
If you plan on cooking your own meals, a week’s worth of groceries should cost between 11,938-16,713 AMD ($25-35 USD) but, with food prices being so low, it’s better to eat street food and enjoy the food the country has to offer!
Backpacking Armenia Suggested Budgets
If you are backpacking Armenia, I’d budget about 19,100 AMD ($40 USD) per day. This will cover staying in a hostel dorm (or camping), eating street food or at inexpensive restaurants, cooking some of your meals, visiting a few attractions, and using local transportation (including some intercity buses).
On a mid-range budget of about 31,040 AMD ($65 USD), you will get a budget hotel, any budget restaurant meal you want, some drinks, taxis, intercity train travel, and more attractions per day. You can do anything you want on this budget.
If you want to really splash out, plan to spend about 119,382 AMD ($250 USD) per day, which will get you a four-star hotel, meals at any restaurant you want, a car rental, and all the tours you want. Money goes a long way here and, if you’re spending this much per day, you’re living like a king.
Use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might pay less every day). We want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in USD.
Armenia Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
Armenia isn’t going to break your bank. There are so many free activities here, especially if you’re enjoying the great outdoors, that it’s hard to spend a lot. Throw in cheap food, beer, and accommodation, and you can really stretch your budget far. If you’re looking to lower your costs though, here are some ways to save money in Armenia:
- Take a free walking tour – Yerevan offers a Yerevan Free Walking Tour which is a great way to get familiar with the city and the culture. (Just be sure to tip!)
- Hitchhike and wild camp – If you really want to save money in Armenia, it is one of the easiest countries in the world to hitchhike. You will likely never wait more than 5-10 minutes. Wild camping is also legal, and it is very common for friendly Armenians to invite you to their home for food.
- Cook your own meals – Some hostels here don’t include kitchen facilities, so if you want to save money, make sure you book accommodation that does!
- Couchsurf – If you plan ahead, you can usually find really nice Couchsurfing hosts throughout the country. This way, you not only have a place to stay, but you’ll have a local host that can tell you the best places to go and things to see.
- Walk everywhere – All of the cities in Armenia are quite walkable, so skip the public transportation if you want to save a few extra dollars.
- Enjoy the free spaces – There are plenty of free parks as well as many free hiking trails around the country. Save your budget and enjoy the outdoors!
- Have an ISIC Card – To save 20-50% on the cost of admission to museums and other tourist attractions, be sure to present a valid student card. The ISIC is typically accepted in places where a foreign student ID is not.
- Pack a water bottle – A water bottle with a purifier will come particularly in handy in Southeast Asia since you can’t drink the tap water. Save money and thousands of plastic bottles and get a bottle that can purify the tap water for you. My preferred bottle is LifeStraw ($49.99).
Where To Stay in Armenia
There are very few hostels in Armenia, and the few they have are in Yerevan and Tsaghkadzor. My suggested places to stay when you visit are:
How to Get Around Armenia
If you’re flying into Zvartnots International Airport, you can reach the center of Yerevan by bus or taxi. Aerotaxi is the official airport taxi but be aware drivers often won’t turn on the meter, so you will need to negotiate a price, which should be around 3000 AMD ($7 USD). A bus is around 200 AMD ($0.50 USD).
Public Transportation – Public transportation isn’t the best in Armenia. Although tourists are very welcome here, tourism is still relatively new, meaning they don’t have much in the way of infrastructure.
The public transport websites aren’t translated into English, so it is much better to ask at your hostels for guidance to help you use the local and intercity buses. In the cities, it is easy to walk from place to place.
If you do decide to use public transport, Yerevan has five trolly bus routes with a ride costing around 50 AMD ($0.10 USD), a subway with one line and ten stations, and public buses. A one-way fare on the bus and subway is around 100 AMD ($0.25 USD).
Taxis are plentiful and cheap with prices starting at 597 AMD ($1.25 USD) around 100 AMD ($0.25 USD) per kilometer although the minimum fare is 600 AMD ($1.25 USD).
Uber is available in Yerevan and some of the other larger cities.
Trains –There are daily trains connecting Yerevan to Gyumri (three hours), Yeraskh (1.5 hours), Araks (one hour), Arrat (one hour), and Hrazdan (1.5 hours). In the summer months, the Hrazdan line gets extended to Lake Sevan. One-way tickets cost between 5,920-10,210 AMD ($12-21 USD).
Train tickets to nearby cities outside of Armenia, such as Bratislava, Prague, and Budapest, are also quite affordable. Expect to pay between 5,920-17,190 AMD ($12-35 USD) for a one-way ticket. You can purchase tickets online at the official railway website, ukzhd.am. Some of these trains are Soviet-era relics, meaning they can be pretty uncomfortable and slow. Others, however, are modern and air-conditioned.
Bus – Intercity transport in Armenia is best done by bus and minibus (marshrutka). There are three main bus stations in Yerevan, as well as a railway station. Intercity buses are relatively inexpensive but navigating the bus stations can be tricky as English isn’t widely spoken. The easiest way around this is to ask in your hostel the day before for someone to help you work out which bus you need and then you will just have to look for that bus when you arrive at the station. Bus fares average about 716 AMD ($1.50 USD) per hour of travel, but even a short route can end up taking quite a while with lots of stops.
Flying – There are only two international airports in Armenia so although air travel is possible it is far from cost-effective. A flight from Gyoumri to Yerevan starts at 57,303 AMD ($120 USD). Also, keep in mind that you’ll often have to pay to check your baggage on these flights. It costs about 14,325-21,488 AMD ($30-45 USD) for one checked bag. If you wait to pay for your luggage at the gate, you’ll end up paying almost double.
Only fly if you are short on time.
Car Rental – If you’re driving, make sure to buy an International Driving Permit (IDP) – you’ll need one for any car rental! It costs about $20 USD and is valid for one year after the date of issue (plus it’s valid in 150 countries). Car rentals can sometimes be as low as 25,000 AMD ($50 USD) per day, and the more days you book, the better the price. Car rental is definitely the most convenient way to get around Armenia.
Hitchhiking – Hitchhiking in Armenia is very safe, but it’s not for everyone. It is very common to hitchhike in Armenia, and you won’t have to wait long for a ride. HitchWiki is the best website for hitchhiking info.
When to Go to Armenia
The best time to visit Armenia is at the beginning or the end of the summer (May-June or September-October). During these times the weather is mild, making it perfect for outdoor explorations. The temperature hovers around 68°F (20°C), but take note that it can be very rainy throughout May and thunderstorms are common.
Summers are hot, with temperatures as high as 95°F (35°C). Things tend to cool down in the evenings, however, with a gentle mountain breeze providing some welcomed relief after a long, hot day.
If you are visiting for skiing, however, then you will need to visit during the winter with December being the best month. Temperatures drop below freezing, and the northern regions receive a lot of snowfall. Cities like Yerevan get a lot quieter during these months as everyone hides from the cold.
You don’t have to worry about inflated prices or crowds even during the summer peak season. Armenia isn’t a very touristy destination, and you’ll often have whole sites all to yourself.
How to Stay Safe in Armenia
Armenia is a very safe country to backpack and travel. There aren’t any specific scams to look out for, but the most common issue tourists face is being overcharged by taxi drivers. You can avoid this by agreeing on a price before entering the taxi.
You can read about these travel scams and make sure you don’t fall for any!
Always trust your gut instinct. If a taxi driver seems shady, stop the cab and get out. If your hotel is seedier than you thought, move. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID.
If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it in Armenia!
Avoid protests or demonstrations while in Armenia. It’s best to check for any travel advisories before you go. Currently, travelers are being asked to avoid the Nagorno-Karabakh region on the border with Azerbaijan due to armed conflict.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Armenia Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Armenia. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the ones I use the most and are always the starting points in my search for travel deals.
- Momondo – This is my favorite booking site. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engline which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments. (If you’re new to Airbnb, get $35 off your first stay!)
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Rail Europe – If you are going to Europe and taking a lot of high speed or long distance trains, get a rail pass. I’ve used a rail pass three times and saved hundreds of dollars each time. The math just works.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Europe, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- The Man in Seat 61 – This website is the ultimate guide to train travel anywhere in the world. They have the most comprehensive information on routes, times, prices, and train conditions. If you are planning a long train journey or some epic train trip, consult this site.
- Rome 2 Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. It will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
Armenia Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Armenia Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
The History of Armenia: From the Origins to the Present, by S. Payaslian
Armenia has a pretty interesting history, especially surrounding the ongoing debate of genocide. This book pulls several areas of historic interest together including war, geopolitics, and Armenia’s great leaders of the past. In the book, these subjects are interwoven with cultural themes and personal stories making it the perfect book for travelers wanting to gain a deeper understanding of Armenian history.
There Was and There Was Not: A Journey Through Hate and Possibility in Turkey, Armenia, and Beyond, by Meline Toumani
Meline Toumani grew up in an Armenian community in New Jersey where anything Turkish was shunned, be it a Turkish restaurant or products made in Turkey. The reason for this boycott of all things Turkish was Turkey’s refusal to admit or acknowledge the Armenian genocide of 1915 at the hands of the Ottoman Turkish government, even A century after it happened. Frustrated by these all-consuming campaigns she quits her job to embark on a journey to Turkey to gain understanding and come to terms with the issues that drove her halfway across the world.
Hundred-Year Walk, by Dawn Mackeen
Another very personal story connected to the Armenian genocide of 1915, written by Dawn MacKeen. Growing up she had heard from her mother how her grandfather had escaped from the Turks during the genocide. During this time more than one million people (that was half of the Armenian population) were killed. In her book, MacKeen alternates between sharing the story of her Grandfather, as pieced together from his journals, which is intertwined with her own journey as she retraces her grandfather’s steps.