When most people think of Armenia, they imagine the urban streets of Yerevan with the majestic Mount Ararat gracing the skyline.
However, Armenia certainly has much more to offer than its capital city, and visitors should not miss trips to the regions of the country, where they will be able to explore the untouched beauty of the mountainous landscapes.
The Aragatsotn Province, home to the country’s tallest mountain, Aragats, is not a place to miss for nature and history lovers especially.
Here are some of our top picks for the best places to visit in Aragatsotn.
Places to Visit in Aragatsotn Province
The city of Aparan is one of the prominent cities in Aragatsotn. It’s located on the Yerevan-Spitak highway. There are several eye-catching sites here that visitors should check out when passing through.
One of them is the Kasagh Basilica (also called the Basilica Church of St. Khach), a very old Armenian church that is believed to have been built in the late 4th century.
Another historical treasure of the area is the “Renaissance” monument dedicated to the battle near the town of Aparan. It is a must-visit if you’re on a road trip in Armenia.
The memorial consists of three separate monuments and was built in memory of the Armenian Genocide, the heroic battle of Aparan, and of the victims of World War II.
Recently, the city got new colors thanks to some street art, and it’s already been loved by both locals and tourists. So, be prepared to encounter quite a lot of city walls with impressive and interesting graffiti art.
Ashtarak is the capital of the Aragatsotn Province and one of the most prominent cities in Armenia. It is located near the Kasagh River at an altitude of 1100 meters above sea level.
Among the sights in Ashtarak, Karmravor (St. Astvatsatsin) church has its unique place. It’s a 7th-century church located in the town of Ashtarak. Karmravor is the only church in Armenia that has preserved its red tile roof up to this day.
Be sure to check out the Kasagh three-arched, stone-built bridge of 1664. Another must-see is Spitakavor St. Astvatsatsin, which is a small but lovely church built of reddish stones. The roof of the church is bent, but the walls are in place.
While here, don’t miss the beautiful Kasagh Gorge that serves as a recreation area.
There are a lot of outdoor restaurants, one of which is the Old Ashtarak Restaurant that can be best described as a Western-Armenian restaurant with an old design and very tasty Armenian and Syrian cuisine.
“Ashtaraki Dzor” (The Canyon of Ashtarak) is another restaurant where you can have some delicious Armenian cuisine. It is especially popular in the winter for some “khash.”
- Best things to do in Ashtarak
- Old Ashtarak Restaurant
- Yeganyans’ Guest House & Wine Yard
- Tatoents Qotuk
Dashtadem Fortress is a large fortress that dates back to the 10th to 19th-centuries located on the southern outskirts of Dashtadem village and is open to the public.
When visiting, don’t miss the 7th-century Saint Christopher Monastery, which may be seen in the distance from the fortress. It’s located in a cemetery 1.7 km south of Dashtadem.
Also, when around the fortress, look out for an Arabic inscription on the east wall of the fortress. It’s from the year 1174, written in Kufic script attributing the structure to Sultan ibn Mahmud (Shahanshah), one of the Shaddadid Princes that ruled in Ani.
Mt Aragats is one of the most iconic mountains not only in the Aragatsotn region but in all of Armenia (and the Caucasus). You’ll easily notice the mountain due to its four peaks.
It has now become a favorable hiking location both for locals and tourists and holds the title of being the tallest peak in the Republic of Armenia at 4,090 meters!
Aragats has a long and illustrious history in Armenian culture and history. Its slopes are home to a number of ancient and modern monuments, like the 4th century Arsacid (Arshakuni) dynasty’s mausoleum.
For those looking to hike, May to September is considered to be the best season.
You can either choose a one-day hike and go for the comparably easier southern peak (3,900 meters) or if you are a more experienced and professional hiker, then arrange to have a few nights here and reach the highest peak, which stands at 4,090 meters.
Translated to “fortress in the clouds,” Amberd Fortress is a 10th-century fortress 2,300 meters above sea level on the slopes of Mount Aragats.
Starting as a Stone Age settlement, this fortress has gone through a lot of history. According to some sources, Amberd was the summer residence of Armenian monarchs.
In the end, it was captured and destroyed by the Mongols in 1236. It was left untouched until the 20th century when it was reconstructed.
Near the fortress is the Vahramashen Church, otherwise called the Church of Amberd.
It was built for the Pahlavuni family’s Prince Vahram Pahlavuni. The church was completed around the year 1026 according to an inscription on the inside wall of the north portal.
Note that March to July is the best time to visit Amberd Fortress, although it is open to tourists year-round and perfect to visit whenever you’re in Armenia.
Gegharot is one of the treasures in Aragatsotn. It’s located about 12 km away from Aragats village in the Aragatsotn region.
The waterfall is situated on the slopes of Aragats Mountain at a height of 3,000 meters above sea level and on the Kasagh River’s namesake tributary.
You can’t see the water flowing here during the winter as it freezes, but in the summer, it flows from about 17 meters high. It really is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Armenia!
Situated right on the edge of a gorge, Saghmosavank Monastery is one of the most picturesque spots in Armenia. This monastic complex was built in the 13th-century and to this day, it still amazes visitors with its breathtaking views.
Those who value history and religion will enjoy this monastery. Hikers will especially enjoy the area due to the fact that it is home to hiking trails including HIKEArmenia’s Two Churches hike.
The hike takes people in between the 13th-century Saghmosavank Monastery and the 4th-century Hovhannavank Monastery and it follows the Kasagh River Canyon.
Alternatively, it is possible to drive to the monastery (be sure to pop behind it for photos over the gorge)!
To the north of Saghmosavank, there is also a historic cemetery with several khachkars from the 13th and 14th-centuries. It is definitely worth seeing!
Byurakan Observatory was founded in 1946 at the initiative of academician Victor Ambartsumian.
This observatory reminds visitors of the bygone days of the Soviet era and it is equipped with prominent scientific instruments, one of those being a 2.6m telescope, which was the second-largest during Soviet times.
Aside from scientific study, the observatory engages in educational activities by hosting amateur tours and lectures. Even though there are no major scientific projects happening here now, the observatory is still open and functioning.
Visitors are welcome to join a tour when visiting Byurakan. You’ll learn a lot of very interesting facts about space, while at night, you can check out the moon, stars, and planets with a telescope.
Radio Optical Observatory ROT-54 / Orgov Radio-Optical Telescope
The Radio Optical Observatory ROT-54 (also known as Orgov Radio-Optical Telescope) is located at the RRI Aragats Scientific Center in the town of Orgov in Aragatsotn.
In case you’re not familiar with the idea of a radio telescope, it’s a customized antenna and radio receiver that detects radio waves from astronomical radio sources and is mostly utilized in radio astronomy.
This is pretty epic equipment, but keep in mind that you need to request permission before entering this location. You can get to the observatory after visiting Byurakan Observatory with a hike down through the river valley.
On your route, just be careful of snakes, especially if you’re traveling from April to May!
Oshakan is a major village in the Aragatsotn region, located 3 km southwest of Ashtarak. This town is known as the site of the grave of Mesrop Mashtots, who was the creator of the Armenian alphabet.
In 443, a chapel was built in this area, which later on (1875-1879) became a basilica church. St. Mesrop Mashtots Church is considered to be one of the most important sanctuaries of the Armenian Apostolic Church, and it’s also where St. Mashtots is buried.
The church is also home to a monument dedicated to the Armenian alphabet, and many visitors like to find the letter their name starts with and take a picture next to it (similar to the Alphabet Monument that we mention further down)!
Another very interesting site in Oshakan, especially for archeologists and historians, is a hill known as “Didi Cond.”
Here, dozens of mausoleums and monuments were found. One of them is a 0.25-hectare fortress dating back to the 6th-5th centuries BC!
However, our favorite memories from Oshakan come from having a picnic by the river. It really is one of the best places to visit as a day trip from Yerevan during the summer months!
Known both as a monastery and an important educational center, Hovhannavank Monastery is yet another prominent spot in the Aragatsotn region.
It is a remarkable example of Armenian Apostolic architecture and the oldest section of the monastery was built in the 4th-century by the first Armenian Catholicos, Grigor Lusavorich (Gregory the Illuminator).
On the walls of the buildings, there are many Armenian lithographic inscriptions from the 13th-18th centuries.
The Hovhannavank and Saghmosavank monasteries are situated within walking distance from each other, so you could easily make a day trip out of this.
We discuss the hike that connects this monastery with Saghmosavank above and you can visit any time of the year, but you’ll get the best views from March to June.
Right outside the church in the summertime, locals will be selling fresh produce, including fruits and nuts.
Don’t miss out on trying some delicious, locally-grown fruit- a specialty Armenia is known for!
Kari Lake is located on the slopes of Mt Aragats and is known for its spectacular views.
Taking into account the fact that the lake is situated at an altitude of 3,200m and is surrounded by ice, the water is very cold year-round. Even if you’re visiting in the hot summer months, be sure to take a jacket with you!
Still, adventurers should not miss the opportunity to swim when there! Many locals also like to take food with them, especially Armenian barbecue, so Kari Lake can also be the ideal spot to have a picnic and get away from the sweltering summer heat.
Interestingly enough, on the eastern shores of the lake, there is a meterologoical andd research station. You can reach the lake via the road from Byurakan and the distance is about 60 km from Yerevan.
Amberd Fortress is also on the way to Kari Lake, so don’t forget to stop by on the way!
Talin is one of Armenia’s oldest centers of civilization. It’s about 68 kilometers away from the capital city of Yerevan. The area is rich in historical monuments, and there is a lot to see!
Archeological excavations show that Talin was inhabited in the 2nd century BC, and according to ancient books, the city was founded by Prince Ananios Bagratuni in the 9th-10th centuries.
The most notable site in the town is the Talin Cathedral. It was built in the 7th-century and is a typical example of Armenian church architecture from the early Christian period.
The dome has collapsed and the cathedral is inactive, but it remains a popular site for tourists to visit. Located right next to the cathedral is the Kamsarakan St. Astvatsatsin church, which was also constructed in the 7th century.
When you’re there, be sure to also stop by Political Cafe, one of our favorite cafes and eateries in Armenia, while you’re there!
Tsakhevank Monastery is one of the unique and mysterious monasteries in the Aragatsotn region to visit.
Also known as Kuys Varvara Monastery, Tsaghkevank is located on the southern side part of Mount Ara and constructed right in the cave.
The church is a very popular place for a pilgrimage because it requires a hike to get there. Legends say that Saint Varvara, to whom the church was dedicated, ran from her father who want to kill her for espousing Christianity.
There are other legends associated with the Aragatsotn monastery, too.
In the monastery, it is possible to see a water source that is rich with zinc and its visible even on the walls and the locals refer to it as Holy Water.
Armenian Alphabet Monument
Located Aragatsotn’s Artashavan village, the famous Armenian Alphabet Monument is another fascinating and popular manmade place to visit in the Aragatsotn region.
The beautiful stone art landmarks are a place where it is possible to see a tribute to every Armenia letter.
The monument was founded by architect Torosyan in 2005 in honor of the 1600th birthday of the Armenia Alphabet that is one of the oldest in the world (written by Mesrop Mashtots in 405 AD).
The massive alphabet letter stoneart is placed on a big field and in the background, you can see gorgeous Mount Aragats.
Visitors can walk around and find the letter that corresponds with the first letter of their name and take a photo of it. Also, next to the monument, there is a 33 meter high Holy Cross made of another small cross that you can photograph.
It is free to visit the Armenian attraction.
Kasagh Basilica is an early medieval Armenian church in the town of Aparan (mentioned above but we think it deserves its own place on this list!).
It is considered to be one of the oldest churches on the planet. Scholars date it back to the 4-5th centuries. The basilica was originally built on the grounds of the royal dynasty Arshakuni’s palace (Arshakidov).
The basilica was renovated in 1877 and is open for tourists to visit. Although there is not much you can do here except walk around, the site is worth visiting.
Aparan Reservoir is an artificial reservoir in the Aragatsotn region. Nearby, you can check out the ruins of church St. Poghos Petros, built in the 4th-century, and the nearby ancient tombs.
If you want to unwind while hiking through beautiful nature and visiting the reservoir, take the Aparan Reservoir Loop. It’s about 3.5 hours long.
On the way, you’ll pass through the remnants of the village of Old Zovuni, abandoned in 1965, and the Mausoleum of St. Vardan Mamikonyan.
The views of the lake and the distant peaks of Mt. Aragats on the second half of the make it even better for nature lovers!
The trail has two entrances: one from the Jrambar village and the other towards Yeghiapatrush village. It is one of the best hikes in Aragatsotn, in our opinion!
Designed by the same architect, Vardapet Aghbayrik, as Saghmosavank and Hovhannavank (during the latter’s 13th-century building), Tegher Monastery is yet another treasure in this region.
One of the coolest and rarest features of this monastery is its mystical black-ish appearance.
If you like exploring some really old (9th-century) remains, get to the area close by which incorporates ruins of Tegher village.
A long time ago, the village was famous for its medicinal herbs, which it was also named after. You can also check out the 5th-century Tukh Manuk Chapel, which is located nearby.
The village is 15 km from Yerevan and it’s located on the Etchmiadzin highway.
Ashnak was mentioned in history starting from the 5th-century. It’s located to the left of the Yerevan-Talin highway, 12 km south of the city of Talin and is a great day trip from Gyumri (but we think you should start overnight!).
Remnants of a 10th-century chapel, a 5th-century church, and an ancient fort may be found in the town’s surroundings.
An interesting fact about this place is that it used to be a royal winter-military base, which is why there were four forts located in the town.
Last but not least, another thing that is unique about Ashnak is its title of “green village.” Recently, a program by the EU introduced renewable energy here.
Aruch Caravanserai, dating back to the 13th-century, had an important role in international trade affairs. It was located on the network of routes on Armenia’s Silk Road.
The inn had a vast area with a single entry tall enough for caravan leaders, their servants, and animals like camels, donkeys, and horses. Back in time, these kinds of places were popular stops on famous trade routes.
There are several caravanserais all over Armenia. Aruch is located 46 km away from Yerevan, not too far from Ashtarak. You can check it out for a quick stop on the way to Gyumri.
Kasagh Gorge is the epic gorge near Saghmosavank and Hovhannavank. It’s breathtaking during any season, but the views in the spring are probably the best!
The ultimate way to explore the area is to hike along the established trails. There are a lot of signs that will lead you on your way and we mention our favorite pick above (but beware of snakes during the warmer months!).
The hike’s main route includes getting to Hovhannavank from Saghmosavank. More information about these monasteries was mentioned above in the article.
The distance between the monasteries is 8 km. Also, note that the hiking route passes by a mysterious, abandoned cave complex and the overall hike will take about 3 hours.
If visiting during summertime, be mindful of the hot weather (and as mentioned already… snakes!).
What are your favorite places to visit in Aragatsotn? Let us know in the comments! Thanks!