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Armenia (Armenian: Հայաստան Hayastan) is a landlocked country in the Caucasus that is bordered by Turkey to the west, Georgia to the north, Iran to the south, Azerbaijan to the east, and Azerbaijan's Naxcivan exclave to the southwest. This former Soviet republic straddles Asia and Europe and boasts an ancient and rich culture.
- Yerevan - the capital, and by far the largest city
- Alaverdi - home of UNESCO World Heritage site Sanahin Monastery and nearby Haghpat Monastery
- Dilijan - popular forest resort known as the "Little Switzerland" of Armenia.
- Echmiadzin - the spiritual capital of Armenia, home to the Armenian Catholicos, is a UNESCO World Heritage site
- Gyumri - Armenia's 2nd largest city which once dwarfed Yerevan. Small old town area still shows earthquake damage from 1988.
- Jermuk - famous for its mineral waters, which come out at very high temperature and can be enjoyed at the spas. Ski lifts are under construction.
- Tsaghkadzor - Armenia's ski destination.
- Vanadzor - Armenia's 3rd largest city with a few nice churches
Armenia has been around for at least 3,000 years. Armenians have historically inhabited the "Armenian Highlands", a vast section of mountains and valleys across eastern Anatolia and the Southern Caucasus. It is here that the biblical mountains of Ararat (and today's eponymous cognac brand) can be found. Armenia became the world's first Christian country in 301 AD.
Various vassal states, principalities, kingdoms and empires rose and fell in different parts of this highland during history. They were unified once, just before the time of Christ, in the empire of Tigran the Great, which stretched from the Caspian to the Mediterranean Sea.
Much of the region's history has since been spent under the dominion of whichever great power was à la mode at the time: Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans, Persians, Russians and Soviets have all come and gone. These empires often fought their wars on Armenian territory, using Armenian soldiers. Despite rarely being politically independent, Armenians have consistently kept their language and their church. Its location on the silk road allowed Armenia to forge a link in the great network of merchant communities that extended from eastern Asia to Venice.
Russians and Ottomans dominated Armenia's modern history. Ottoman control was established early, upon the fall of the Byzantine empire in the fifteenth century. Russia's presence was established later, in the 1820s, after a series of wars with the Persians.
Islamic Ottoman rule was, for much of the time, largely benign. The Armenians' religious autonomy was bought through their higher taxation. However, relations soured in the late nineteenth century which saw various massacres of Armenians. This culminated in the Ottomans' reputation being thoroughly ruined during the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1923.
During the First World War, the Ottomans fought the Russians. The Christian Armenians on the Ottomans' Russian border were considered liable to side with Russia and so they were treated as an enemy. The Ottomans attempted to kill or deport the entire Armenian population. Even the Ottomans' defeat in 1918 did not prevent the continuation of the persecution which continued until 1923 and saw approximately 600,000 - 1.5 million people perish.
The genocide led to the huge Armenian diaspora community that exists all over the world today and the ongoing diplomatic hostility between Turkey and Armenia, since Turkey continues to deny it was a genocide, and resents Armenia for bringing up the topic internationally.
As was the case in other Soviet republics, Armenia saw great industrial growth and widespread increases in education. Yerevan mushroomed from a dusty garrison town of 20,000 to a metropolis of 1 million and the Soviet culture machine, within strict limits, churned out heavily subsidized cultural education and activities.
As the Soviet Union fell apart in the early 1990s, the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh , a culturally Armenian region in Azerbaijan, fought for independence from Azerbaijan with support from Armenia, and the Armenian Diaspora. The war was won militarily, but no diplomatic solution was reached. The ceasefire line of 1994 now represents a de facto national boundary and Nagorno-Karabakh is in an odd state of unrecognized statehood. While the fighting on the ground stopped, with only minor exceptions, diplomatic tensions still run high. The Armenian/Karabakh borders with Azerbaijan are closed. Turkey has also closed its land border with Armenia in support of its Azeri-Turk kinsmen.
A small and mountainous, landlocked country, Armenia almost never fails to surprise visitors. The mountain passes, valleys and canyons make it feel much larger, and Lake Sevan provides a welcome sight, with endless water visible from its southern shores. Given the geographic variation, there is also much variety of climate - there are barren lunar landscapes, forests, snow-capped peaks and alpine lakes.
Five percent of the country's surface area consists of Lake Sevan (Sevana Lich), the largest lake in the Lesser Caucasus mountain range.
Given its proud claim to being the world's first officially Christian country, there are countless monasteries and churches, which are set in some places of incredible natural beauty. The monasteries at Tatev, Noravank, Haghartsin, Haghpat and Geghard are well worth a visit just for the landscape even without the impressive, millennium-old monasteries found there.
Armenia is at the fascinating crossroads of Europe and Asia and its culture draws from both. While many Armenians consider themselves European, their social conservatism in some realms is not consistent with Europe proper. The new world faced by Armenians after the fall of the Soviet Union has seen great social changes especially in the capital, Yerevan. The small and very homogeneous (about 99% Armenian) population is strongly family oriented. The people across the land are very hospitable, and place a lot of pride in their hospitality. Show up in a village without a penny, and food and a place to stay will flow - along with drinks and endless toasts.
Politically, Armenia has aligned itself with Russia and against its Turkish and Azeri neighbours.
Armenia also has lots of road signs in English, and there are a fair amount of English-speaking Armenians in general, and you get the distinct feeling that tourists are welcome. Police don't appear to be too crooked, at least not in Yerevan, and in general the country appears to be both reasonably safe and well-organised.
The predominant religion in the world's first Christian nation is not hard to guess: 97% of Armenia's population belongs to the Armenian Apostolic Church, an Oriental Orthodox Church.
Most visitors arrive by plane, though entry from Georgia and Iran is unproblematic. The borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey are closed.
From 1 January 2013, EU, and also Schengen area, passport holders join the lucky few ( CIS , Georgia and Argentina 1) that do not need a visa for tourist visits of up to 90 days.
Visa on arrival
For all but a handful of mainly African non-Westerners (see below), 21 day tourist visas are available upon arrival at Yerevan airport and at the land crossings (3,000 dram for 21 days; 15,000 dram for 120 days).
At Yerevan airport, there is currency exchange and an ATM located before customs and immigration. There is a hefty surcharge of approximately US$10 for changing traveler's checks, which in general are not widely used in Armenia.
At the land crossings, border guards will happily take other currencies but only at lousy rates. Try to have Armenian dram before arriving at the border. Some travelers have been charged as much as US$20 (the approximate equivalent of three times the official price), but as of August 2015 you'll be charged US$10 for a 21-day visa at the Bagratashen-Sadakhlo border crossing. Border guards and customs officers will not be able to change a US$100 note (which is about the average Armenian's monthly salary) so don't even try.
Visa in advance
A slightly more expensive option (officially at least) is the e-Visa (US$10 for 21 days; US$40 for 120 days). These e-Visas are processed completely online and take up to two business days to be issued. They allow entry into Armenia through Yerevan Airport and the following land border crossings: from Georgia , Ayrum railway station, Bavra, Bagratashen & Gogavan; and from Iran at Meghri.
A 21 day visa obtained in advance from an embassy (not online) costs US$8.
An Armenian visa also gives you the right to stay in Russia for up to 5 days: There is an agreement between these countries to facilitate land transit to visitors. To be on the safe side, check at a Russian Embassy before booking a ticket.
Zvartnots International Airport () 2, 10 km west of Yerevan is the main airport in the country.
Some West Asian airlines (Syrian, Iranian, etc.) serve the airport.
There are very frequent flights from across the CIS . Russian airlines include: Aeroflot, S7, Ural, Polet, Kuban Airlines, Saravia, Tatarstan, UTAir and Yamal. Others include Belevia (Belarus), Dniproavia (Dnipro, Ukraine) and SCAT (Kazakhstan).
Several European airlines also serve Yerevan: Czech Airlines, Air France, Austrian, LOT.
Shirak Airport () in Gyumri has a few flights from Russia.
There is an overnight train once every other day to Tbilisi , Georgia . The train links with Turkey and Azerbaijan are severed.
It is possible to drive to Armenia via Iran or Georgia. The borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan are closed. Local travel agents can arrange transport to the border; some Georgian agents can arrange transport all the way through to Tbilisi. Although more expensive than a train or a bus, a private car may be more comfortable and combined with sightseeing along the way.
There is minibus (marshrutka) service from Tbilisi for about $17. Minibus services from Tbilisi to Yerevan take this same route and cost about $35. From this service, it is also possible to get out at Alaverdi (closest major town to Haghpat and Sanahin monasteries).
There is daily modern bus service to Yerevan available from Tehran or Tabriz for about $60/$50; check travel agencies for that. Otherwise, the only Iran/Armenia land border at Nuduz/Agarak is very badly served by public transport. On the Armenian side, you can get as far as Meghri by one Marschrutka a day from Yerevan . In both directions, marshrutka leaves quite early in the morning. Kapan and Kajaran are more frequently served by marschrutkas, but it is a long and mountainous (and therefore expensive) stretch to the border from there. From Meghri, it is around 8 km to the border and hitching or taking a taxi is the only option. On the Iranian side, the closest public transport can be found around 50 km to the west in Jolfa , so a taxi (around 10-$15) again is the only (commercial) choice. The border is not busy at all, so when hitching, you have to mainly stick with the truck drivers and Russian or Farsi helps a lot here. Consider for yourself whether this is a safe option.
By day tour
One of the best options for getting to the major tourist sites - some of which have infrequent public transport - are the many day tours advertised throughout Yerevan. Starting at $6, you can choose from a variety of half to full day trips which include a good number of the country's major attractions. Some of the more remote and exotic destinations, such as the Petroglyphs of Ughtasar and many of the caves, for example, require special planning.
By mini-bus or bus
Public transportation is very good and inexpensive in Armenia. It can also be tough to get to more remote sites outside of populated areas. The system could be described as a hub and spoke system, with each city offering local transportation to its surrounding villages and each city offering connections to Yerevan. Most inter-city travel is by 14-seat minibuses or buses. Yerevan has several bus interchange stations that serve the whole country, so depending on where you want to go, you should find out which bus interchange station services the area of your destination. Unlike many countries in Eastern Europe, Armenian mini-buses do not sell tickets beforehand, and do not issue tickets at all. You simply pay the driver, at any point in the trip (though some will collect at the beginning). Exact change is never required, but a 20,000 dram note a 1,000 dram ride might present a problem. Tips are unheard of on public transportation.
By taxi or car
For the average western tourist, you can hire a taxi to go most anywhere in the country on very short notice. If you have decided to travel heavy by bringing big bags, then going by taxi will be the best option. Prices are about 100 drams (33 cents) a kilometer. Most taxis do not have meters though, so you should negotiate a price before you leave. Anyway, taxi is a good option in longer trips, especially if you don't like waiting a minibus for hours.
You can rent cars, but if you are used to driving in the West and have not driven outside of America, Western or Central Europe, you should hire a driver when you rent your car. Driving in Armenia for the average tourist can be a different undertaking. But if you decide to rent a car, there are a growing number of car rental companies, including SIXT (office at Zvartnots airport), Europacar, Hertz and others throughout the central Yerevan.
Most main roads around Yerevan are in decent to fair shape with some being in unusually good condition. When you travel north (Dilidjan) or south (Jermuk), roads are less maintained and rather bumpy and you can feel it especially when using public transport! (Minibuses are often in bad condition too) Pot holes are very much a part of the experience and can test your driving skills. Be careful and when renting an automobile, consider an all wheeled vehicle or sport utility if available.
Not as common as in the days of the post-Soviet collapse, hitching is still perfectly safe and acceptable. Drivers often don't expect anything, but offer anyway, and sometimes they'll take the marshutni fare. Flag cars down by holding your arm in front of you and patting the air. This is how taxis are flagged and buses and marshutnis as well. During your ride, don't be surprised if you befriend a driver and eventually end up staying a few days in the driver's house with his family.
Due to mountainous location and hills, bicycling is not such a common mode of transport in Armenia, as it is in the rest of Europe. Otherwise, it's a great way to see and experience much of the countryside if you can handle the inclines.
There are trains that move around Armenia, although they are Soviet-style trains and a somewhat slow means of transport for moving around the country. Trains can be taken up to Gyumri and from there on to Alaverdi and Georgia, or they can be taken up to Lake Sevan, all the way to the far side.
Armenia has only two working airports ( Yeveran and Shirak ) but there are no internal flights between them. Flights to Stepanakert in Nagorno-Karabakh are planned but the region's uneasy diplomacy is stalling progress.
By tour operator
Aside from the plentiful day tours, you can take a package tour of Armenia.
Armenian is the only official language in Armenia, which forms its own language group in the Indo-European language family. However, almost all Armenians can speak some Russian because Armenia was part of the Soviet Union , and Russian continues to be a compulsory second language in schools. English is becoming more widely spoken, particularly in Yerevan ; however, outside the capital, very few people speak any English.
Armenia lies at the root of the Christian faith, as it is known as the first country that was Evangelized, by two of Jesus' own disciples. Today, there's still a wealth of religious heritage to see. Beautiful churches and monasteries are omnipresent, and some are up to 1700 years old. A few of the most important ones are listed on Unesco's World Heritage list. To start, there's the monastery of Geghard, carved out of a mountain slope and dramatically situated between the stunning cliffs of the Azat river gorge. Once you're there, the Garni Temple with its Greek temple style buildings is just a quick stop downriver. The Etchmiadzin Cathedral in Vagharshapat has parts dating back to the 5th century and is considered the oldest cathedral in the world. The Monastry of Sanahin , which means as much as "this one is older than that one" is just a stone's throw from the Haghpat Monastery. Both date back to the 10th century. The 7th century Zvartnots Cathedral is now in ruins, but considered of great archeological value.
If you're up for more, consider the basilica and archaeological site of Yererouk or the ruins of the historic city of Dvin. Some heritage sights sit in beautiful valleys. The monastery of Noravank is a good sight in the lovely Amaghou Valley, while the monasteries of Tatev and Tatevi Anapat sit in the Vorotan Valley - a gorgeous area with great landscapes and dotted with churches.
Unlisted but surely beautiful is the monastery of Khor Virap . It offers great views of the biblical Mount Ararat which is now technically part of Turkey, but is seen on the Armenian national flag. According to the Book of Genesis, this where Noah landed his arc.
This famous mountain can be seen from the nation's capital, Yerevan . is the Armenian cultural centre, with plenty of opera and theatre to go around. The State Museum of Armenian History has an excellent collection and the Armenian Genocide Memorial & Museum has a sad but worthwhile story to tell. For a more casual side, visit the lively Vernisaj Market or climb the stairs of the Yerevan Cascade. Another hotspot for domestic and international travellers alike is Lake Sevan . In summer, the beaches of this massive high-altitude fresh water lake (one of the largest in the world), are a popular destination for anything from daytrips to camp site vacations and resort holidays.
- Rock Climbing
- Wind Surfing
- Sun Baking
- Monastery hopping
- Biking. Bike Armenia Tour Route has a great route mapped out to see Armenia (and optionally Karabakh) by bike.
The Armenian currency is known as the dram, denoted by the symbol "Դ" (ISO currency code: AMD). The dram is accepted everywhere, and in some rare cases US dollars will be accepted for larger purchases - though the dram is the only legal currency for commerce. US dollars, Euros and Rubles can be exchanged almost anywhere in the country, with other major currencies also easy to exchange. Exchange booths and commercial banks do not charge a commission and rates are almost always quite competitive.
ATMs (Bankomats) are widely available in larger towns; though outside of Yerevan, you should have a major system such as Visa or MasterCard on your card for it to work.
Credit cards are not widely accepted outside Yerevan.
Armenian carpets, cognac, fruits, handicrafts and Soviet memorabilia are some of the most popular things people take home from Armenia. Most of these are plentiful at Vernissage, a seemingly never-ending weekend flea market next to Republic Square with the more touristy stuff in the back half, further from Republic Square.
Most shops and restaurants are open every day and offices and schools are open Monday to Saturday. Mornings are usually slow, and places don't tend to open early, or even on time.
Included in prices (except sometimes hotels).
Bargaining is uncommon in Armenian stores, though when purchasing expensive items or bulk, they may be amenable to it. In markets, however, bargaining is a must!
Tipping is increasingly common in Armenia, especially at cafes and restaurants. Many Armenians will simply round up their checks, or leave ten percent. Some café staff are only compensated in the tips they earn, though you cannot always tell by the service they provide. Many restaurants have begun to charge a ten percent "service fee" which they usually do not share with the waiters, and it is not clear for what it is used. This fee is often not clearly stated on the menu, so you should ask if you want to know. Tipping is usually not expected in taxis, but again, rounding up is not uncommon.
Vernisage Crafts and Flea Market - every Saturday and Sunday near Republic Square, there is a huge open market with great shopping for tourists and locals alike. There are large sections for old carpets, intricate wood carvings and backgammon boards, paintings, souvenirs, old porcelain and old housewares, with smaller sections for needlework and embroidery, stone work, books, military surplus and countless other random things.
The GUM Shuka farmers market is a large covered market near the Tashir Mall near the intersection of Tigran Mets Ave and Movses Khorenatsi Street. Inside are fresh fruits and vegetables along with great dried fruits, as well as a butcher section and dried herb section. Outside on one side are more butchers and on the other more fresh fruit and vegetable vendors, next to a row of hand made metal wood-burning stove stalls.
For Armenian- and Russian-speaking visitors, a visit to the used book market can be quite interesting. Located in a park near the corner of Abovyan and Moskovyan Streets, close to the Yeritasardakan Metro Station, vendors sell thousands of books. You may try to bargain.
- Khorovats is a barbecue which can be chunks of pork, lamb, chicken or beef (called Shashlik in other post-Soviet countries). Usually, it is flavored with onions and other Armenian spices. Tomatoes, eggplant and bell peppers are also part of the khorovats meal. Kebab is the ground-meat version of khorovats, and is cheaper.
- Harissa - A kind of homogeneous porridge made of previously stewed and boned chicken or lamb and coarsely ground soaked shelled wheat. The dish dates back many centuries, and is traditionally served on Easter day. It is considered a national dish of Armenia, and is widely prepared by Armenians around the world.
- Borscht is a commonly served Ukrainian vegetable soup. It is traditionally made with beetroot as a main ingredient, which gives it a strong red color. It is usually served warm with fresh sour cream.
- Khash is a traditional dish, originating in the Shirak region. Formerly a nutritious winter food for the rural poor, it is now considered a delicacy, and is enjoyed as a festive winter meal. Made from less commonly used parts of animals, most visitors consider it an acquired taste.
- Tolma (stuffed grape leaves; a variety with stuffed cabbage leaves, bell peppers and aubergines) also exists.
- Byorek - consists of phyllo dough folded into triangles and stuffed with cheese, spinach or minced beef, and the filling is typically spiced. A popular combination is spinach, feta, cottage cheese (or pot cheese) and a splash of anise-flavored liquor (such as raki).
Desserts and snacks:
- Gata or Nazook - A flaky pastry with a sweet filling.
- Alani - pitted dried peaches stuffed with ground walnuts and sugar.
- Kadaif (ghataif) - shredded dough with cream, cheese, or chopped walnut filling, soaked with sugar syrup.
- Anoushabour - dried fruits stewed with barley, garnished with chopped almonds or walnuts (a traditional Christmas pudding).
Armenian fruits and vegetables are special. One should definitely try them and will never forget the taste of Armenian apricot, peach, grapes, pomegranate, etc. Especially the watermelons in Armenia and neighboring countries with similar altitude and climate are of superior taste.
Armenian bread is very tasty. There is a wide range of different types of bread, including black, white lavash (a soft, thin flatbread), and matnaqash.
Don't miss trying milk products. Along with ordinary milk products, there are some traditional and really tasty and refreshing ones. Matsun (yogurt) is a traditional Armenian dairy product that has centuries of history. It contains a number of natural microelements, which have high biochemical activity. It's really refreshing, especially when you try it cold during hot summers. Okroshka - cold soup with kefir and cucumber and dill; it is a healthy and refreshing dairy product. Spas is really tasty hot yogurt soup with grains in it.
Café culture rules in Armenia, and the best places to have a cup of coffee and people-watch are sidewalk cafés. Any place near the Opera is certain to be jumping late into the summer nights. A popular chain is "Jazzve" (several locations throughout the city, including near the Opera and off Mesrop Mashtots Avenue), which offers many varieties of tea and coffee as well as great desserts.
Alcoholic: Vodka, tutti oghi (mulberry vodka), honi oghi (cornelian cherry vodka), Tsirani oghi (apricot vodka), local beer (Kilikia, Kotayk, Gyumri), wine (can also be made of pomegranate), and brandy. Respected wines include Karas, Karasi, Kataro, Armenia and some new wines hitting the market. Many are made with Armenian grape varietals not being grown anywhere else in the world. Areni is one of the most popular grape sorts which the largest number of red wines are made from, and the name of Armenia's wine country, while khndoghni is a variety grown in southern Karabakh that the Kataro wine is made from.
Other: Tan (yogurt combined with water and salt), Jermuk (mineral water), masuri hyut (rose hip juice), chichkhani hyut (sea buckthorne juice), bali hyut (sour cherry juice), Armenian coffee, and herbal teas.
Across Armenia, you can find bed and breakfasts that are pleasant and will give you a true taste of Armenian culture. The language barrier will be significant in the rural areas of Armenia if you do not speak Armenian or Russian , but if you take a phrase dictionary with you, you should have no trouble, as people are patient. If you don't personally know any Armenians, one way to access the true Armenia, away from the Westernized hotels and "Armenian branded" hotels is to find a reliable travel agent based in Armenia.
In Yerevan , there are a couple of hostels. Outside Yerevan , there are a few main recreational areas that offer very reasonable accommodations, but you will be required to live without some conveniences. At the high end are some hotels on Lake Sevan and in Northern Lori Marz (50 kilometers from the Georgian border). Here you will miss nothing, but you will pay Western prices for the accommodations. Around Lake Sevan , there are numerous types of cottages and hotels. Prices are reasonable and start at about $10 per day for a cottage with electricity and within walking distance from Lake Sevan . The city of Sevan, due to its proximity to Yerevan, is the most popular place on Lake Sevan but the history, culture and non-Western feel of the accommodations change as you go south on Lake Sevan .
Tavush Marz is a wonderful place to summer. Dilijan and Ijevan are wonderful towns in which to be based, with day trips to the many ancient churches that pepper this remote region. Costs are very reasonable and Dilijan is known for its sanatoriums from the Soviet era. Do not expect hot water all hours of the day, but you can have a lovely room that will accommodate a family, including food for about $20 a day. Take another $20 to hire a car for the day to visit the surrounding historical sites.
Lori Marz is the second most beautiful region after Vayots Dzor . It has many health resort areas such as Stepanavan , Dendropark (Sojut) next to village Gyulagarak. Lori is considered to be the Armenian Switzerland. It has numerous churches, monasteries, medieval bridges and monuments. The Stepanavan area is great for hiking, tasting fresh dairy products, etc. Small hotels and B&Bs are available in the area of Stepanavan , Odzun , Tumanian , etc.
Tsaghkadzor is a well-known winter retreat. It has many lovely hotels and is popular year round. Check with a travel agent to find the best deal depending on what activity you are looking to undertake. Jermuk , made famous by the bottled water of the same name, is a wonderful get away, but will again require you to leave your western expectations behind.
Armenian language and history. Since Armenians are very proud to be the first nation to adopt Christianity as a State religion, nearly everyone is almost an expert of Armenian history, which goes back to 3000 years. Museum of Ancient scripts, "Matenadaran", which is located in central Yerevan is a place, where one can learn about history and witness ancient (really ancient) manuscripts. 3
Overall, Yerevan is a safe city, though theft and pickpocketing are not unheard of, particularly targeting foreigners. Use common sense and usual precautions when walking on the street at night, especially after drinking.
Female visitors should be aware that unaccompanied women are an unusual sight after dark. In the outskirts of the city, a single woman walking alone at night may attract attention.
Official airport taxis cost about 5,000 dram. There are also people at the Zvartnots airport who ask you if you need a taxi as you exit. They will often offer a better price (about half price) than the official taxi as they have already dropped off a passenger and are looking for any possible fare back - though you will have to walk a bit further to get to their cab. However if they try to charge you anything more than the agreed price at the end, claiming a misundertanding or anything else, absolutely refuse and threaten to call the police. They will accept the agreed price.
If you are dining with Armenians, they will feed you until you cannot eat any more. The food is generally safe, even from the roadside khorovats stands.
The tap water is generally safe, as it comes directly from mountains, but it's safer to stick to bottled water. You can get both mineral water with gas and normal spring water on almost every street corner. This water is available in both the rural areas and the capital.
Armenia has restrictive non-smoking laws that are widely ignored. The country has the highest rate of cigarette smoking among men in Europe. If you see an ashtray on the table, you can smoke there.
Non-smoking restaurants and cafes are available and multiplying quickly. French bakery type eateries and wine bars are typically non-smoking havens.
Armenians are much like any other Europeans in their manners and lifestyle, though a bit more on the traditional end of the spectrum in some ways.
Feel free to discuss the Karabakh conflict and settlement in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Unlike Azerbaijan, it is not a sensitive topic, or something to tip-toe around.
The issue of the Armenian Genocide, in which up to one and a half million Armenians were killed by the Young Turk government during World War One, is still denied by Turkey. If you were to question whether it happened you would probably be considered ignorant or rude. One can find out more about the Armenian Genocide by visiting the museum at the 'Tsitsernakaberd' Genocide Memorial.
Many Armenians believe that Russian rule saved Armenia from complete Turkish extermination, and many Armenians are Slavophiles. Armenians do not mind if you speak to them in Russian, unlike some other post-communist countries.
It is very common to give up your seat for an elderly passenger on the public transport. Usually, men will give up their seat to women too. It is also considered polite to let women first to the bus or train or to enter a room, and the "ladies first" rule is considered important.
When visiting churches, both men and women are supposed to dress modestly (i.e. no shorts, miniskirts, sleeveless shirts/tops etc.), though most churches don't say anything to tourists passing through. Since entrance is free, lighting a candle can be a nice, but completely optional gesture. You should always talk quietly when you are visiting a church.
Yerevan is full of cafes with free wifi. These are beginning to pop up in a number of towns outside of Yerevan as well. Many hotels and cafes provide WiFi for their guests. International calling is available through prepaid mobile phone cards using a landline. Mobile phone companies often offer special prefixes to dial before the number to use VoIP, which is extremely cheap, and a good quality call. Short-term mobile phone rental is also possible. Regular calls can always be made from the post office, and is cheap within Armenia, but a bit expensive for international calls. Try to find a phone office that uses the internet for much cheaper rates. Local calls can be made from kiosks or the rare payphone.
Phone numbers in Armenia are of the form
+374 312 57659 where "374" is the country code for Armenia, the next 2-5 digits (starting with a 1, 2, 3 or 4 in the case of land lines) are
the area code and the remaining 3 to 6 digits are the "local" part of the subscriber number that can be called from within that particular area code using abbreviated dialing.
Area codes starting with 6 have been assigned to Internet telephony service providers to provide non-geographically based numbers. Mobile phone numbers have two digit mobile prefixes denoting the original network and all begin with a 9 ( Nagorno-Karabakh mobile networks that used to start with a 7 have now been re-numbered to 97).
You need to dial "0" in front of the geographic area code from outside that particular area code (but when still within Armenia).
Mobile numbers in Armenia must always be dialed with all digits (including a "0" prefixing the "9n" from within Armenia), no matter where they are being called from. The 9n is a
mobile prefix, not an "area code", as such and the second and sometimes third digits (the n part) denotes the original mobile network assigned. As is the case with most mobile numbers, they
can also be called within or outside Armenia using the international format. Most Armenian toll-free numbers and Premium Rate Numbers can not be called from outside Armenia. These
numbers have the format
Mobile phone providers
There are three GSM service providers operating in Armenia. It is strongly advised to acquire a temporary prepaid SIM card as they cheap and convenient, allowing both local and international calls, no charge for incoming calls and no monthly fee. Mobile internet and UMTS are also offered from all companies, as well as the normal full range of wireless services.
VivaCell MTS and Orange have booths offering free SIM-Cards to incoming visitors at the airport. Majority of foreign visitors find their unlocked mobile phones compatible with Armenian SIM cards (GSM 900/1800). GSM coverage maps of Armenia.
- VivaCell MTS is the leading GSM service provider in Armenia and offers quality service at reasonable rates (owned by the Russian giant MTS). They have the best coverage outside of Yerevan. A VivaCell MTS pre-paid SIM card ("ALO" card) costs 1100-7000 dram, depending on how much starting credit you want. At their flagship store off of Republic Square, VivaCell MTS is very helpful to foreigners and will make sure that you understand everything in English, French or Russian. They offer very low prices for international calls from your phone via a VoIP (be sure to dial 77001+country code+the number!); in fact, it is much cheaper per minute to call the US or Canada (13 dram) or Russia (30 dram) than it is to dial Armenian networks.
- Orange The French multi-national offers a pre-paid card called Let's Talk with complicated, but competitive rates. All networks in Armenia (35 dram) lower rates may apply within the network or for night-time calls, US or Canada (15 dram), Russia (30 drsm).
- Beeline (formerly ArmenTel but have switched to the Russian brand) offers a pre-paid card for 1000 dram.
VivaCell MTS and Beeline claim to cover 90% of the Armenian population with 2G services and up to 60% with their 3G services. Orange has the smallest 3G coverage but it is rapidly growing. The 2G coverage of Orange is of around 70% of the population, but the 3G coverage of Orange only covers the capital and the two second biggest cities of Gyumri and Vanadzor . All of these networks are rapidly growing and expanding their coverage of both 2G and 3G services.
VivaCell MTS has a 4G (LTE) network.
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