Yerevan Rising: Extraordinary Reasons to Visit Armenia’s Capital Now
In the last few years—and especially since April’s Velvet Revolution—the city has seen a tectonic culture shift with third-wave coffee shops and sleek new galleries sprouting up between its 13th-century churches and salmon-hued khrushchyovka (a style of Soviet-designed apartment buildings)...
Change is afoot in the Pink City.
Until recently, most travelers skipped over Yerevan for the Caucasus’ showier capitals like Baku, with its space-age skyline, or Tbilisi, with its Instagram-famous cheese breads and Disney-fied old town.
But today, leaving Yerevan off the itinerary would be a big mistake. In the last few years—and especially since April’s Velvet Revolution—the city has seen a tectonic culture shift with third-wave coffee shops and sleek new galleries sprouting up between its 13th-century churches and salmon-hued khrushchyovka (a style of Soviet-designed apartment buildings). Walk Yerevan’s streets, and you’re as likely to hear reggaeton blaring from a souped-up BMW as you are Armenian duduk music emanating from a café’s speakers. This constant interplay between old and new makes Yerevan as frenetic as it is fascinating. Here are our top reasons to give the city a second look.
Try Armenian Cuisine in a Variety of Restaurants
Armenian cuisine is a patchwork quilt of flavors and techniques influenced by Persia, Eastern Europe, Georgia, and the Levant. Get a sense of eastern Armenian food (which skews more Russian and Georgian) at Dolmama, a homey restaurant whose star dish is dolma, grape leaves wrapped around lemony rice and rosemary-scented ground beef. At Anteb, a no-frills Syrian-Armenian joint a few blocks north, spring for the city’s best manti, thumb-sized beef dumplings swimming in broth and dolloped with thick yogurt. Off the tourist track but well worth the taxi ride are Tatik Papik, whose flaky herb-stuffed flatbreads from Karabakh called zhingyalov hats draw hordes of in-the-know locals, and Chaman Restaurant, a Kond neighborhood stalwart serving oversize platters of fried fish and roasted vegetables.
Sample Wines from One of the World’s Oldest Viticultural Regions
Wine has been produced in and around Yerevan since the 9th century BCE, making it one of the world’s oldest-known viticultural areas. To many oenophiles and food historians, drinking wine in what may be its birthplace is nothing short of a religious experience, but even if you can’t tell your Riesling from your chardonnay, don’t miss out on the hedonistic pleasures of local wine and mezes at bars like In Vino, whose walls disappear behind rare Armenian and Italian bottles, and Wine Republic, a one-stop shop for wine geeks looking to sample esoteric varietals like voskehat and karasì.
Witness the Soviet Architecture of Republic Square and Beyond
Love it or hate it, Yerevan’s Soviet architecture is objectively impressive; indeed, it was under the Soviet yoke that Yerevan grew into the sprawling urban center that it is today. The architect behind this transformation was Armenian-born Alexander Tamanian, who bulldozed old buildings and roads to make way for pink-tuff houses (hence Yerevan’s moniker, the “Pink City”) arranged around an avant-garde circular street plan. His greatest achievement? The triumphalist Republic Square, Yerevan’s nerve center that took 53 years to build and today houses the National Gallery and Marriott Hotel. Go at sunset in the summer to see its exuberant “musical fountains” in action.
Live Music on Amiryan Street
Yerevan is a terrific music town with live shows for travelers of all tastes. First-time visitors shouldn’t miss the soulful, unplugged Armenian folk music at Tavern Yerevan on Amiryan Street, a restaurant with a mixed crowd known for its heavenly khorovats, Armenian barbecue. (Call ahead for showtimes.) Those with a penchant for jazz, on the other hand, will be pleasantly surprised by the talented musicians at Mezzo Classic House Club, who play precise covers of well-known classics. Note that smoking—cough—is—cough—allowed.
Sample Armenian “Pizza”
If foldable handheld foods like pizza and tacos speak to your soul, you’ll no doubt be a sucker for lahmajun, Armenia’s paper-thin flatbread smeared with spicy lamb and baked until blistering. Sample a textbook rendition at Mer Taghe, whose pies get a sprinkling of parsley and a spritz of lemon before arriving tableside, or pop by Lahmajun Gaidz (owned by a Syrian refugee) for a Middle Eastern interpretation heady with aleppo pepper and pomegranate molasses.
Taste Churchill’s Favorite Brandy
Legend has it that Winston Churchill indulged in a finger or two of Armenian brandy every day. Matured in Caucasian oak casks and double-distilled like French cognac, the spirit is prized even today for its roundness and complexity. See how it’s made at the Yerevan Brandy Company on an hour-long tour (daily, by appointment only: +374 54 00 00) through its cathedral-like production areas, rackhouses, and tasting rooms, and be sure to snap a few pics of the Hradzan Gorge and Victory Bridge below.
Take Easy Day Trips to Architectural Wonders and UNESCO-protected Sites
Clocking in at 11,500 square miles, Armenia is about the size of Maryland, which means most of its historic sites can be seen on day trips from Yerevan. Echmiadzin Cathedral is a no-brainer, situated 11 miles west of the city center. Considered to be the oldest cathedral on earth, it was consecrated around 300 AD. Its soaring, time-worn halls remain a place of pilgrimage for Armenians the world over today. Also within reach from the capital are Geghard, a UNESCO-protected monastery hewn into a cliffside, and Noravank, whose florid stone carvings are unparalleled in the Caucasus—architectural marvels that shouldn’t be omitted from any travel itinerary.