Yerevan is a great base for exploring the many sights and sounds of Armenia, although many of the marvellous natural spots towards the north might be a step too far for a day trip. There are plenty of great options to the southeast though, as well as a stunner of a lake to the east. These are our favourite day trips from Yerevan.
We do love ourselves an observatory. Byurakan Observatory is located just 35km northwest of the capital and is a must for anyone with a tendency to gaze up the stars in wonder. The observatory dramatically rises up above the village of the same name (Byurakan, not ‘observatory’) and the views of the valley are almost as stunning as those of the sky. Not quite of course, and the observatory is so internationally respected that it has hosted two major conferences on SETI. The second largest Soviet telescope was here.
When you read ‘a monument partially carved out of a mountain’, you get certain expectations. Those hopes are more than met by the majesty of Geghard Monastery, a medieval fortress found an hour east of Yerevan. A UNESCO World Heritage Site (obviously, we’d be pretty disappointed in those folks if it wasn’t), Geghard was founded in teh 4th century by the gloriously monikered Gregory the Illuminator, at the sacred site of a spring inside a cave. A day tip to soften the heart of even the most hardened cynic.
Armenian Alphabet Monument
Less than 40 minutes north of Yerevan lies the curious Armenian Alphabet Monument, a collection of giant letters that celebrate the life of the tongue’s father, Mesrop Mashtots. Mashtots’ final resting place is nearby and the monument was created in 2005, so make your way here and take a selfie or two with some massive letters. Either that or get inspired to do something miraculous yourself — the choice is yours.
Caucasus lakes don’t get much bigger than monolithic Lake Sevan. The massive body of water is found 1900m above sea level and covers almost 1240sq km, and you can go ahead and make your own assumptions about how far your jaw will drop upon arrival. One of the highest freshwater lakes on the planet, Sevan is responsible for almost all the fish eaten in the country, although we prefer to visit and stare lovingly at it deep blue appearance and undeniable grace. The lake is just an hour or so away from Yerevan, and there are frequent minibuses during summer. Do remember that those buses go to the town of Sevan as opposed to the lake, but a taxi between the two won’t set you back too much. Worth every dram.
Leave the best for last. Khor Virap is the country’s most important monastery, a quite miraculous fortress situated under the glare of Mount Ararat. The name means ‘deep dungeon’ and we’re not going to try and tell that the moniker is a coincidence (Gregory the Illuminator knew that better than most), but the history of this place deserves a visit as opposed to mere research. This most sacred spot is found 50minutes south of Yerevan towards the Turkish border, but keep in mind that public transport doesn’t go to the monastery itself. You need to disembark between Pokr Vedi and Lusarat and walk the rest, or get yourself a taxi from the capital.