Armenia is one of the most fascinating places in the world, with rich millennia-old history, ancient monuments, majestic countryside, lush highlands and much more. I just came back from this country. It was my third time thereand the most memorable.
Although it may be a conservative nation still grappling to come out from the shadows of the Soviet Union, it doesn't stop the LGBTQ+ community from being an integral part of the nation, especially in its capital of Yerevan. There are queer people everywhere. Even if they may not wear rainbow clothing all the time, one can't miss their presence in every aspect of Armenian life.
There are several prominent LGBTQ+ organizations, the two largest being Pink and Right Side NGO. Pink serves the greater LGBTQ+ community while Right Side NGO is mostly a trans organization.
One of the oldest nations in the world, Armenia is a destination for all kinds of travelers. The small country in the farthest part of eastern Europe has incredible natural beauty, cultural wealth and artistic tradition.
Armenia is host to the oldest churches, cathedrals and monasteries in the world. Most are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Mount Ararat and Ararat Valley are where Noah's ark landed. There are pagan temples such as Garni (built in the 1st century) and the world's oldest winery (6,100 years old). Jermuk has world-renowned natural hot springs, and the country has a rich musical tradition, from symphonies to opera, jazz, and hip-hop. There are even world-class casinos, ski resorts, ancient sites, festivals, museums, galleries and, of course, incredible cuisine.
What's the best news? Armenia is very inexpensive for North American and European travelers. Armenians are very friendly. Most people speak English of varying degrees, so language is not an issue.
Are you wondering about Grindr and Scruff? Well, wonder no more. If you dare to turn on those apps, you might be inundated with messages within minutes. Armenians love visitorsand it's no different on dating apps.
Below are my 10 favorite places to visit in Armenia:
By far the largest city in Armenia, it is home to the grand Republic Square while climbing the Cascade to see the city's monument to Soviet victory in the Second World War is a must. Yerevan is a deeply historic city and visiting the Armenian Genocide Memorial is a must to learn more about the nation's troubled past. The vernissage flea market is worth visiting tooit is open on weekendswhile a walk through the Hrazdan gorge is also highly recommended. Much of what Armenia offers can be explored during day trips from Yerevan, known as the City of Cafes. Yerevan is also home to Levon's Amazing Underground World, one of Europe's most unusual attractions.
Lake Sevan, in the heart of Armenia, is the country's largest lake and a beautiful place to visit during a break in the country. The lake is surrounded by some stunning monasteriesthe most impressive of them being arguably the Sevanavank Monasteryproviding a glorious scenic backdrop to a relaxing trip. Windsurfing is among the recreational activities available at the lake, which also has a wide choice of excellent seafood restaurants along its shore. Lake Sevan has several famous beaches. As the country has no coastline, this is the best place in Armenia to sunbathe, with Sevan Bay and its surrounding mountains providing spectacular scenery.
Often referred to internationally as Armenia's version of Britain's Stonehenge, Karahunj is one of the most fascinating places to visit during a break in Armenia. Located close to the city of Sisian in the Syunik province, Karahunj is made up of more than 200 massive stone tombs. At the same time, the main area sees 40 stones standing in a circular formation, supposedly built in honor of the Armenian main God, Ari, named after the Sun. A small museum in Sisian is dedicated to findings that have been made at Karahunj, which is claimed to be the oldest observatory of its kind in the world.
ARENI WINE COUNTRY
As grapes and vineyards have been cultivated here for over 6,000 years, it should come as no surprise to learn that the Areni Wine Country boasts some of the nation's most delicious wines. Set among some stunning mountainous scenery, the vineyards blanket entire mountainsides and valley slopes, with charming little farmhouses and wineries punctuating the countryside.
While its fantastic local produce is what most people come for, the region also has some fascinating sights for you to enjoy, such as the ancient church of S. Astvatsatsin and the Areni-1 Caves, which are home to a fascinating archaeological site.
Just a short distance away from Yerevan at the foot of the Khosrov Forest State Reserve, Garni is an enjoyable place to spend some time. Most people visit primarily to see its magnificent 1st-century AD pagan temple and delightful monastery. Perched atop a cliff edge overlooking breathtaking hills and mountains, the Temple of Garni displays some beautiful Hellenic architecture.
Lying on the outskirts of the picturesque town of Garni, Geghard Monastery is a very popular day-trip destination from the capital, built in the 4th century. It is certainly worth visiting if you have the chance. Carved out of the mountainside, with majestic peaks overlooking it, the famous monastery has a beautiful church for you to wander around.
Yet another one of Armenian monasteries with a spectacular location in Southern Armenia, the fortified Tatev Monastery, was built in the early 9th century at the edge of the deep gorge in the southern part of the country. It always played an essential role in the spiritual, cultural, and educational life of the country.
WINGS OF TATEV
The world's longest nonstop reversible cable car soars through spectacular scenery to the medieval Tatev Monastery. Wings of Tatev stretches over 3.5 miles between the Armenian village of Halidzor and the famous Tatev Monastery, a center of education and religion in the Middle Ages. The aerial tram holds the Guinness title as the longest nonstop double-track cable car in the world.
Echmiadzin is the equivalent of the Vatican for the Armenian Apostolic Church. Armenia is very proud to be the first nation to adopt Christianity as the state religion. Today, over 90% of the residents are of the Christian faith. Echmiadzin, also called Vagharshapat, is the center of the religion. The priests come to study here. It's also a UNESCO site.
The main church contains the Treasury, which holds the most valuable relics owned by the Armenian church. Amongst the items on display is the 'Holy Lance,' the spear that pierced Jesus' side, a bit of Noah's Ark, illuminated bibles, and two wall hangings that had small bits of the cross.
A spa town and home of a mineral-water factory, Jermuk has plenty of posh hotels and wellness centers. It's the site of the largest waterfall in Armenia, known as the Mermaids Hair Waterfall.
A windy road reaches it into the river valley, followed by a short walk along the riverside. The waterfall runs down into the river, and you can climb several meters up the side of it.
GRAND HOTEL YEREVAN
I would typically give you a few options for hotels, but it would do you a disservice. I've been to Armenia before and stayed at fine establishments, but nothing can compare to the Grand Hotel Yerevan. It is an elegant and modern hotel for travelers, sightseers, and those who are ready for an unforgettable experience. The charm of the 1928 neoclassical building that houses the hotel is timeless. The luxury hotel is located in the center of Yerevan. Due to its prime location, Grand Hotel represents the embodiment of modern and ancient Armenian history and culture. Despite being an exceptional hotel and ideally located in the heart of town, their rates are very reasonable.
I had flown to Armenia and other Transatlantic destinations many times through different routes and airlines. But my most recent flight experience stands out as the best overall. I flew Air France business class, and it made all the difference. The route, through Paris, was short and effortless. The plane was new and state-of-the-art. The service was impeccable and the food delicious.
Armenia can be visited year-round. Whether you are a history buff, antique enthusiast, skier, wine & cognac connoisseur, outdoorsperson, foodie, or just want to see one of the most magical places on earth, Armenia has it covered.
BIO: Vic Gerami
Vic Gerami is an award-winning journalist, columnist, media commentator, and the host of his prime-time national news + politics program THE BLUNT POST with VIC (TBPV) on Independent + Progressive Radio KPFK 90.7 FM (Pacifica Network). Vic is also the editor + publisher of The Blunt Post.
Vic is also a contributor for some of the most prominent publications in the nation, including GoWeHo, The Advocate, Windy City Times, California Courier, IN Magazine, OUT Traveler, The Fight and Bay Area Reporter, among others.