Central Armenia is Armenia's political, cultural, economic, and transit hub, home to the political and spiritual capitals of Yerevan and Echmiadzin.
Central Armenia includes the following marzes (political departments):
- 2 Armavir – The ancient capital of Armavir province, believed to have been founded in the early 20th century B.C. by King Argishtis I of Urartu, and the one-time capital of the Urartian Empire.
- 3 Artashat – The former capital of Armenia (2nd century BC–5th century AD), located by the stunningly situated Khor Virap Monastery.
- 4 Ashtarak – The center of Aragatsotn region with interesting temple architecture.
- 5 Byurakan – It is a good place to sleep to then climb Mount Aragats.
- 6 Echmiadzin (Vagharshapat) – The spiritual capital of Armenia, home to the Armenian Catholicos, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
- 7 Garni – A village best known for its temple, the only preserved monument in Armenia, which belongs to the era of paganism.
- 8 Hrazdan – The capital of in Kotayk Province and also home to the Makravank Monastery.
- 9 Talin – This village boasts a very large cathedral built approximately in VII century. Also, popular for its nearby Dashtadem Fortress.
- 10 Tsaghkadzor – Ski resort
Noteable towns and villages
- 11 Aparan – Interesting for its people and the nearby Kasagh basilica.
- 12 Ashnak
- 13 Arzni – Resort village located on the Hrazdan Canyon, inhabited by the Assyrian people.
- 14 Byurakan – Popular for the nearby Amberd Fortress and the Surp Hovhannes Church.
- 15 Mughni – A village with an interesting church where alternating colors of stone,
- 16 Oshakan – The creator of the Armenian alphabet, Mesrob Mashtots, is buried here.
This is the heart of the nation, with Yerevan at its center. Much of it is comprised of the Ararat valley, which is flat and dry most of the year, and provides spectacular views of Mt. Ararat on a clear day. The valley was split in half after Turkey invaded shortly after WWI, and the border is still a sensitive area, with Russian troops and bases guarding the Armenian side.
As with the rest of Armenia, Armenian and Russian are pretty much universally spoken, while English, French and German are spoken by few. English is of course gaining in popularity.
Most tourists arrive in Yerevan at Zvartnots International Airport, in the middle of this region.
You'll never be more than an hour away from Yerevan. Day trips can get you anywhere quite easily.
Many regular marshrutkas head into the region from Yerevan's several bus stations, and between larger towns and cities.
There are many cars crossing the region. So, you will not have issues finding someone to take you as far as you desire. Always offer a little tip in return—the equivalent of a marshrutka ride is common.
You can hire taxis for 100 dram/km and about 1,500 dram/hr for waiting time if you want to do things at your own pace.
There are plentiful cheap, guided day tours offered by tour agencies all over Yerevan to place like Khor Virap, Garni/Geghard and Echmiadzin/Zvartnots.
By car rental
Car rentals are more expensive, but useful if you want to strike out on your own into Khosrov Reserve or just explore the Hrazdan Gorge at your own pace.
West end of Central Armenia
- 1 Talin Cathedral. – At the very west end of this region is the town of Talin. Just west of the town center is the huge 7th century cathedral built much in the style of the Cathedral of Ani a few kilometers west, and the Cathedral of Aruch, a few kilometers east down the highway, and worth a visit also. Talin Cathedral also has a smaller, tiled roof church near the entrance to the grounds.
- 2 Dashtadem Fortress. – 6 km south of Talin is Dashtadem Fortress, with a castle and church in the middle of a fortress. These are being restored, and are worth a side trip on the way to Gyumri in the north.
- 3 Mastara Church. – This 7th century church, just a few hundred meters off the Yerevan-Gyumri highway, is an excellent example of early Christian architecture.
- 4 Garnahovit Church. – 8 km further beyond Mastara Church is the village of Garnahovit with an excellent and quite large restored church with red tile roof from the same period.
Amberd Fortress and Byurakan Observatory and Church
On the southern face of Mt. Aragats, 5 Amberd Fortress. is a quick trip from Yerevan and a popular escape from the Yerevan summer heat. The fortress looms over a small church, and both overlook the Ararat Valley and Mt. Ararat across the valley. Further up the mountain is a nice lake which is the starting point for the hike up to the southern peak of Mt. Aragats.
Before reaching Amberd, the village of Byurakan offers the ancient 6 Surp Hovhannes Church. . Tucked away behind some houses, it is marked with the old Christian cross used before the Armenian cross design came into use. The 7 Byurakan Observatory. observatory in the same village was home to Viktor Ambartsumian, a famous astrophysicist, and offers tours during the day, or star gazing at night. Both are usually by appointment, though showing up and asking nicely has been known to work.
Ashtarak and Kasagh River Gorge monuments
The picturesque town of Ashtarak is less than half an hour from central Yerevan. It has 3 very old churches standing and 2 in ruins. It is also home to Ashtaraki Dzor Restaurant Complex—well worth a stop for a reasonably priced meal and nighttime entertainment show, all outdoors, and long popular with Armenians.
- A little down the river is Oshakan Village, where the creator of the Armenian alphabet, Mesrob Mashtots, is buried in the village church.
- Just north along the river (and highway) is Mughni, with an interesting church where alternating colors of stone form black and red bands around the cupola.
- Further north is Ohanavan village with 8 . . This restored monastery is perched atop the cliffs and has a great view of Mt. Ara.
- 9 Saghmosavank Monastery. just east of Artashavan village shares the same great views of the gorge and Mt. Ara. You can hike from one to the other in the gorge. Great architecture, carvings, details.
- Much further north is the town of Aparan, whose inhabitants are the butt of jokes which pin them as not the brightest folk. The very ancient, black 10 Kasagh basilica. , just a few meters from the main highway is worth dropping into on your way to Lori Marz.
The northwestern parts of Kotayk are mountainous, forested and popular with Armenians as places to go and relax. Hankavan, Tsaghkadzor, Bjni and Aghveran are all well known by Armenians as places where nature is nice, and relaxation is possible not far from Yerevan. Each place has different things to offer, but all offer hills, mountains and forest.
- 17 Hankavan – An old Greek village, is furthest from Yerevan and offers isolation, hot springs and sparse accommodations.
- 18 Tsaghkadzor – A ski town (see the "Do" section) offers a multitude of accommodation options, a beautiful monastery, restaurants and bars.
- 19 Bjni – Has a grand old church, ruins of a fortress, a gorgeous canyon, and springs.
- 20 Aghveran – Has a good selection of places to stay including the new, luxury Artur's Resort. Nearby are the hot springs in Arzakan.
Garni Temple and Geghard Monastery
These are absolutely obligatory stops for any visitor to Yerevan, for good reason. 11 Temple of Garni. , a small Roman temple built in the first century by the Armenian king is incredibly sited atop basalt cliffs, and has a ruined bathhouse and the foundations of a temple in the fortified compound as well.
Arguably the most awe-inspiring site in Armenia is the 13th-century 12 Monastery of Geghard. , much of which is carved out of the solid stone of the mountain it abuts. Once housing (and still named after) the lance that pierced Jesus' side, it is sited at the end of a canyon, surrounded by steep rock mountains, with fortified walls, holy springs, an upper chamber with unparalleled acoustics and many intricate khachkars. Monastery of Geghard together with the Upper Azat Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Sardarapat Monument and Museum
Most in the Armenian Diaspora know the famous song Sardarapat about the battle fought here which saved Armenia from complete annihilation by Turkey after WWI. The 13 Sardarapat Memorial. is large and looks out over today's border with Turkey, drawn after that battle. Adjoining is Armenia's largest ethnographic museum, with a large collection of artifacts from different parts of Armenia. Well worth a visit if you like to see how people lived back in the day.
The 14 Etchmiadzin Cathedral. , founded in 301 by St. Gregory the Illuminator and rebuilt and added to for over 1,700 years now is the heart of the Armenian Church, and seat of the Catholicos of all Armenians. The altar is built over an ancient pagan fire worshiping pit (accessible from the museum behind the altar), the inside has some interesting frescoes, altar, lamps, and thrones. The intricate bell tower entrance is an addition from the 1800s, and the surrounding grounds have gardens with examples of khachkars from throughout Armenia and further. Near the new entrance gates are a few exquisite khachkar examples from Jugha (now in Azerbaijan), which had by far the largest khachkar collection in the world. The thousands of khachkars which remained there were destroyed during this decade by the Azeri government.
Two other important churches in the same town, both honoring Roman virgins who were martyred for refusing to marry Armenia's heathen king are.
Deep in a pit at 17 Khor Virap. , Armenia's Christianity began. Imprisoned here for his heretic faith, St. Gregory the Illuminator was not released until he cured Armenia's king of a terrible disease (some legends say he had turned into a boar). The king, in gratitude converted himself, and Armenia with him, into the first officially Christian nation in the world. The fortified monastery sits on a small hill in a very flat Ararat Valley. The view of the mountain is the best you'll get, though the monastery otherwise is not so remarkable. 45 min from Yerevan, this is an easy morning trip, or a quick stop along the road heading to Southern Armenia.
Other sites worth visiting
- 18 Teghenyats Monastery.
- 19 Tegher Monastery (Tegheri Vank).
- 20 Saint Stephen Monastery of Goght (Aghjots Vank).
- 21 Khosrov Forest State Reserve. and the Khosrov cave
- 22 Zvartnots Cathedral. – UNESCO site and impressive ruins of a 7th-century Armenian cathedral, right by the international airport which is named after it.
- Climb a mountain
- Mount Aragats - Armenia's highest peak, and a popular climb. Most climbers start out from the lake above Amberd Fortress at 05:00 and head up to the southern peak (2 hours or so), then head back down (1 hour). After sunrise, the likelihood of cloud cover is much greater. This climb is usually undertaken from mid-July to mid-September when the snow pack is mostly melted. The other peaks are much more difficult and should be undertaken after consulting a guide or book.
- Mount Ara - has a crater inside it which is a relatively easy climb, and if you head left you can sit upon the nose. Do not descent in steep and slippery areas, the rocks can crumble and you risk severe injury. Stick to the solid, milder slopes.
- Ski - Tsaghkadzor has long been Armenia's only ski resort. New ones are reportedly coming, but for now, this is the place to go. The lifts are all brand new, and new runs have been developed. Many hotels old and new offer a place to stay, as do many homes.
Outside of Yerevan, Central Armenia has a limited food selection to offer. Some of the bigger towns have restaurants or bistros, but outside of this and a small number of roadside barbecue (khorovats) joints, there is very little.
Drinks and sometimes bars are available where food is served.
Central Armenia is very safe for residents and visitors alike.