Yerevan can be perplexing. Its neoclassical squares conjure Vienna, while its wide boulevards brim with Parisian élan. There’s no escaping the sprawl of brutal high-rises that shoulder its Soviet past, yet recent investment has embalmed the city’s rougher edges with glinting streets, a cable car and arts’ centre, all begging for exploration.
Yerevan is known as the Pink City, the volcanic rock (tuff) iconic of its state buildings forming a fondant panorama around the city’s heart. Meanwhile the verdant hills which cup the 13th capital of Armenia provide a setting which masks its many battle scars.
Shadowed by the fabled Mount Ararat, Armenia has long been a battleground between Muslim and Christian rule, leading to the death of more than a million Armenians. By 1936 it was under Soviet rule, and by 1991, its independence brought with it economic collapse. Yerevan is in a new dawn: bolstered by its foray into technology and help from wealthy expats, the pride, passion and persistence of its people runs through the veins of the city.
A weekend in this manageable and safe city is easy alone or with company, and its big-hearted locals will leave you feeling the great hug of Yerevan long after you’ve left.
Start out in Republic Square. When architect Alexander Tamanyan’s plans to create the perfect city came to fruition in the 1920s, ancient Yerevan was razed, making way for this jewel of his architectural megalomania. Though not wholly welcomed at the time, this transformation led to a pleasingly compact city centre.
Linking Republic Square to Freedom Square is Northern Ave, home to the rotund Yerevan Opera Theatre. The Tamanyan-designed street didn’t open until 2007, following a cash injection from a wealthy expat. Lined with honey-hued buildings, luxury brands and manicured topiary, it aims to welcome the well-heeled traveller to Yerevan.
If you’re after a shot of soorj (coffee), then the Cascade area has plenty of cafes with kudos. In warmer months it hosts outdoor concerts and, should you fancy a little alfresco dancing, every last Friday of the month, locals help left-footed tourists giggle their way through the traditional Karin folk
Skip the ubiquitous Irish bars and raucous Russian clubs in favour of the more sedate vibe of Yerevan’s first smoke-free nightclub, Eco Pub on Spendiaryan St. Alternatively, a short walk from the Opera Theatre is The Club, a subterranean restaurant, bar and bookshop with giant cloud-like cushions to melt into.
An early morning amble among Yerevan’s parks dotted with cherry and apricot trees should help clear the head before hitting the busy intersection of Mashtots Ave and Sarmen St. Dive into the innocuous looking bookshops and you’ll find intricately carved shelves overlooked by gilded ceilings. A few minutes’ walk from here, tucked amidst mid-rise houses and wall murals, is the beautifully tiled façade of the 18th-century Blue Mosque – Armenia’s only active mosque. Its graceful white-washed interior and Islamic garden offer a calming antidote to the bustling city beyond.
To access anything in the upper hills of Yerevan, you’ll need transport. The Wings of Tatev cable car whizzes you across the impressive Hrazdan Gorge to the verdant hills of the 9th-century Tatev Monastery, perched on a large basalt plateau. The best way to reach it is by taxi – they’re cheap at around 600 drams, though some visitors report experiencing a nerve-shredding journey. For the uphill bit at least, the older Ladas struggle to move; on the way down though, gravity is no friend.
A final farewell
For a last soiree in the city, a meander in and out of Yerevan’s cafes, wine bars and restaurants won’t disappoint.
While the local food is wonderful, Armenia’s taste for international cuisine is burgeoning, from Mexican to sushi. The city now also has its first microbrewery. Based on Aram St, Dargett does a mean apricot beer, and makes a good place for a final farewell.