10 Useful Tips Before You Travel To Yerevan
10 Useful Tips Before You Travel To Yerevan
Armenia’s capital, Yerevan, is one of the world’s oldest continually inhabited cities—29 years older than Rome. Throughout its 2,800-year history, kingdoms, invasions, Communism, and dictatorships have come and gone. Today, Yerevan is a city of one million, with a European ambience, lined with wide boulevards and sidewalk cafes. After independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Armenia became a place of pride and pilgrimage for the world’s 7-10-million strong Armenian diaspora (far larger than Armenia’s population of around 3 million). Now, it welcomes more and more visitors annually. Yerevan is cosmopolitan, safe, and affordable—with museums, hotels, overly generous portions of food and wine, and even a night at the opera going for friendly prices.
1. You have to see! In the last few years, Armenia has granted citizens from a long list of countries, including the United States, visa-free entry. There are no fees or paperwork for visitors as long as they have a valid passport, and tourists can stay in the country for up to six months—a generous time-frame. Daily flights from Paris, Moscow, and Dubai cost around $200 round-trip.
2. Hospitality. In Yerevan, hospitality is king, and residents abide by the adage “A guest has a place over the host’s head,” meaning the guest is more important than the host. In post-independence Yerevan in the 1990s, food was scarce and there was limited electricity and hot water, but Yerevantzis were always eager to help strangers and grateful that people made an effort to visit. When I first traveled to Armenia the country was six years out of Soviet rule and people struggled daily, but our taxi driver invited us for dinner at his home. The evening turned out to be one of the most memorable of the trip, from the juicy khorovadz (barbecue), to an impromptu piano performance by his conservatory-graduate daughter, to playing in the chicken coop with his toddler grandson.
3. Drink the water. Fresh, cold, and clean water is plentiful in Yerevan. The water system was in bad shape after the fall of the Soviet Union, when there were frequent shortages, but the government’s efforts to reform it with the help of the private sector have been a success story, and the World Bank described Yerevan as having “clean and constant water.” It’s also touted to be some of the tastiest and purest drinking water in the world. When Yerevan celebrated its 2,750th anniversary in 1968, the city built 2,750 water fountains for its residents—and you can drink from them.
4. Eat like a king. Meals in Yerevan are hearty, delicious, and affordable. Traditional dishes include dolma (grape leaves stuffed with meat or rice), mante (baked meat dumplings served with yogurt), lavash (thin wood-fired bread), lahmajun (thin dough topped with spicy mincemeat) ghapama (a stuffed pumpkin dish so revered a folk song was written in its honor) and khorovadz. Start with Mer Taghe for its thin-crust lahmajun, and Anteb, a Syrian-Armenian influenced restaurant, for the mante. Try Sinatra Restaurant — one of Yerevan’s gem restaurants serving various dishes, where you can enjoy a magnificent view over the city and the mount Ararat. For a quick on-the-go spot, try Crumbs, a great coffee shop with a greate bakery. Breakfast is also good here, particularly the omelet, prepared with fresh button mushrooms and Gouda cheese.
5. Affordable tips. When you receive a bill at a cafe or restaurant, the price will include tax and tip, but it’s customary to leave an additional tip of 500 drams (around US$1).
6. Stay online. Public hotspots and Free Wi-Fi in cafes and restaurants are widespread. But for uninterrupted service, buy a prepaid data SIM card at the airport, that will cost anywhere from US$5 to US$15, depending on the amount of data and minutes.
7. Go shopping for money. It’s difficult to exchange Armenian drams outside the country, so bring cash with you and exchange some at the airport for immediate use, and then find better rates once you’re in Yerevan. You can change money in banks, but also, conveniently, in the city’s supermarkets, such as Sas, which has stores throughout Yerevan’s city center and has the most competitive exchange rates.
8. Carry cash… Many stores, cafes, restaurants, and bars accept credit cards, but cash is always preferred, to avoid foreign transaction rates and fees. If you need to use credit cards, use Visa and Mastercard—American Express service is limited.
9. Cheap taxis. Yerevan is an easy city to get around, and taxis are cheap: The rate is usually 100-150 drams (30 cents) per kilometer, but you can arrange for a flat rate. Bring small bills, because drivers often say they don’t have change. There is also GG Taxi and YandexTaxi for cash-free ride-hailing.
10. Gaze upon Mount Ararat. Yerevan has changed during its 2,800 years of history, but the view of Mount Ararat has not. To the world, Mount Ararat is (perhaps) where Noah’s Ark ended up, but for Armenians, it stirs an unfulfilled yearning—for a mountain that can be seen, but not touched. It remains on Turkey’s side of the border, although it is on historically Armenian soil. Thanks to closed borders between the two countries and Turkish blockades, Armenians can only access the mountain through Turkey. But there are many places in Yerevan to get a good view of Mount Ararat. One of the prime spots is from the top of the Cascade, the imposing limestone stairway, at sunrise or sunset. The view from Victory Park is also great, and for an up-close and personal perspective, head to the sacred monastery of Khor Virap, about a 40-minute drive outside the city.