A list of places that our editors suppose you should visit
'Travel is useful, it exercises the imagination. All the rest is disappointment and fatigue.'
By far the largest city in Armenia, the capital Yerevan is a great place to start for anyone wishing to explore Armenia. Yerevan is a deeply historic city. Much of what Yerevan has to offer can be explored during day trips from Yerevan, which is known as the City of Cafes. As well as Levon's Amazing Underground World, which is one of Europe's most unusual attractions.
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.
Dilijan national park
Armenia has four national parks and Dilijan national park may be the most beautiful of the lovely quartet. The park 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.
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.
Monasteries are one of Armenia's defining characteristics. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Perhaps the best scenery of Mount Ararat 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. 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.