2. Shikahogh State Reserve
The second largest forest reserve in Armenia, Shikahogh State Reserve is so unspoiled that large parts of it remains unexplored to this day. The forest is believed to be home to animals including leopards, bears, wild goats and vipers and it is also thought that Shikahogh State Reserve has about 1,100 species of plants, although its fauna has not yet been fully explored. The reserve was threatened by a planned highway in 2005, but environments successfully lobbied for the forest’s future to be protected. The reserve also has a number of very beautiful waterfalls to enjoy.
3. Lake Sevan
Lake Sevan, found 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 monasteries – the most impressive of them being arguably the Sevanavank Monastery – providing a glorious scenic backdrop to a relaxing trip. Windsurfing is among the recreation activities available at the lake, which also has a wide choice of excellent seafood restaurants along its shore. Lake Sevan has a number of popular beaches and, 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.
4. Dilijan national park
Armenia has four national parks and Dilijan national park may be the most beautiful of the lovely quartet. The park, which was only established in 2002, is famous for its medicinal mineral water springs, as well as its natural monuments. Many of Armenia’s more important cultural locations can be found within the grounds of the park, such as Haghartsin Monastery, Goshavank Monastery and Jukhtak Vank, as well as Matosavank Monastery and the Akhnabat church. The Aghestev and Getik river basins are also both within the boundaries of Dilijan national park.
5. Mount Aragats
Mount Aragats is one of Armenia’s most stunning natural sights, with the dormant volcano located in the north of the country. It is Armenia’s highest peak and there is a lot of rock art to be enjoyed around its base, with paintings of animals and human-like figures dating back hundreds of years. Snow covers the peak almost all year-round but Mount Aragats can be climbed, with July, August and September the best times of the year to attempt the hike. The southernmost of the four peaks is the easiest to climb, while the northern peak, at around 4,000 metres, is the most challenging.
6. Lake Arpi
While Lake Sevan can be extremely crowded during the peak tourist season, Lake Arpi has a much more relaxed feel. Used for irrigation and hydropower production, Lake Arpi is also the source of the Akhurian River. In 2009 a new park was established around the lake to protect the natural environment, with around 100 species of birds known to live in the area. Lake Arpi also hosts rich flora and fauna and is a Ramsar Convention protected site. Lake Arpi has one the largest colonies of Armenian Gull and its recreation activities include camping and walking tours.
Monasteries are one of Armenia’s defining characteristics and the example at Noravank is one of the most beautiful in the whole country. Sheer brick-red cliffs shield the monastery, which was built in the 13th century. Noravank is famous for its Astvatsatsin (Holy Mother of God) church, while the story goes that the monastery was saved by God himself when Armenia was conquered by the Mongols hundreds of years ago. If you only choose to go to one monastery during a trip to Armenia, Noravank would be an extremely good selection – thousands of people visit every year.
The second largest city in Armenia, Gyumri is well worth a visit for anyone heading to the country for the first time. Perhaps the best place from which to enjoy the sights of Gyumri is from the Black Fortress on the hill that overlooks the city, while the massive Mother Armenia statue can also be found nearby. Many of the most important cultural institutions of Armenia are in Gyumri, such as the Dzitoghtsyan Museum of Social Life and National Architecture of Gyumri, as well as the Aslamazyan Sisters House-Museum and the Sergey Merkurov House-Museum. The Kumayri Historic District is Gyumri’s oldest area, with a thousand ancient buildings found here.
Armenia’s third major city is Vanadzor, which is located in the north of the country. Vanadzor is an ideal base from which to explore the beautiful Lori region, which is certainly one of the best places to visit in Armenia. The Vanadzor Botanical Garden is one of the finest tourist attractions in the city, while visitors should also consider checking out the Vanadzor fine art museum. The many mineral springs of the Lori region mean there are a wide range of terrific spas to enjoy in and around Vanadzor. Although Vanadzor is primarily an industrial city, it also houses many theatres, such as the Bohem Chamber Theatre of Vanadzor and the Vanadzor Puppet Theatre.
10. Amberd Fortress
Dating back to the seventh century, Amberd Fortress is one of the most stunning places to visit in Armenia. Formerly among the Armenian Kingdom’s primary military-defensive points, the fortress can be reached in about an hour from the capital city Yerevan. However, snowfall can make the fortress inaccessible during the winter months, with the weather usually improving by late May. The view from the top of the fortress is truly breathtaking, while the building itself is also stunning. Amberd Fortress is a short trip from the village of Byurakan, home of the Byurakan Observatory.
Armenia’s mountainous scenery makes it ideal for winter sports and the country’s best ski resort can be found at Tsaghkadzor in the heart of the country. Ski lifts are paid for by the ride and are among the most affordable in Europe. Tsaghkadzor boasts some of the finest hotels in the country, while the resort also has one of the nation’s biggest entertainment centers in the form of the Senator Royale casino complex. Tsaghkadzor also has the Kecharis Monastery, which is one of Armenia’s most important religious complexes, dating back to the start of the 11th century.
12. Upper Azat Valley
The Upper Azat Valley is one of Armenia’s World Heritage Sites, partly due to the incredible Geghard Monastery for which the region is most famous. The main chapel was built 800 years ago but the history of the monastery goes all the way back to the fourth century, when it was founded by Gregory the Illuminator. According to legend, the Geghard Monastery once housed one of the spears that was used to crucify Jesus Christ, brought to Armenia by Apostle Thaddeus, and as such it is one of Armenia’s most important religious sites. The Upper Azat Valley is also home to the St Astvatsatsin (Holy Mother of God) chapel, which is partially carved out of the rock.
13. Karahunj Observatory
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 well over 200 massive stone tombs, while the main area sees 40 stones standing in a circular formation, supposedly built in honour 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.
14. Khor Virap
Views of Mount Ararat can be enjoyed from all over Armenia, but perhaps the best scenery of the mountain can be found from the Khor Virap monastery, which is definitely also worth visiting in its own right. This location is one of the most important historic sites in Armenia’s history as it was where Gregory the Illuminator was imprisoned for 14 years before he cured King Trdat III of his disease. The King then converted to Christianity, paving the way for Armenia’s religious future. As such, Khor Virap is a popular spot for Armenian weddings today, while the underground chamber in which Gregory the Illuminator was held can be visited during a trip to Khor Virap, which is among Armenia’s most visited pilgrimage sites as a result.
Our final selection for the best places to visit in Armenia is Dvin, one of the country’s oldest cities – in fact, it was the capital of Armenia in medieval times. A sixth century BC fortress was also once situated in Dvin, according to Unesco, while incredible artefacts are regularly found in this part of Armenia. More modern sights can also be enjoyed in the city, such as the St. Harutyun Church in Dvin, which was built in 2000. Dvin once housed the Cathedral of St. Grigor, but all that remains of the building today is the stone foundations that have been uncovered by archeologists.