Day Trips, featured

Day trip to ARMENIA – Sevan, Dilijan, Gosh and Haghartsin | Europe in a Day

Բարի գալուստ Հայաստան – Sevanavank overlooking Lake Sevan – Source: James Scanlan

Set amongst the towering peaks of the Caucasus Mountains, Armenia sits at the crossroads of continents, being considered geographically in Asia but historically and culturally European. While covering the Junior Eurovision Song Contest as press, I arranged for a group of us to get out of Yerevan and explore a bit more of the host nation, settling on a guided tour to Lake Sevan and Dilijan, as well as the monasteries at Gosh and Haghartsin. As we set off, we laughed that there was no sign of the snow that had been forecast for that day – but turns out while it hadn’t been falling in Yerevan, it had been falling most everywhere else we would visit that day!

At a glance:

Republic of Armenia / Հայաստանի Հանրապետություն (Hayastani Hanrapetut’yun)

Capital: Yerevan (Երևան (Yerevan) in Armenian)

Currency: Armenian Dram (AMD)

Area: 29,743 km2
Population: 2,963,900

National Day: September 21st

National Anthem: Մեր Հայրենիք (Mer Hayrenik) – Our Fatherland

Highest Point: Արագած (Aragats) –4,090 metres (13,420 ft)

Famous for: unique alphabet, pomegranates, brandy

Famous Armenians:

  • Mesrop Mashtots (linguist, statesman, saint) 
  • Hovannes Adamian (engineer, developed colour television)
  • Henrikh Mkhitaryan (footballer)
  • Roza Kostandyan (better known as Rosa Linn, singer)


  • Armenia adopted Christianity as its state religion back in 301AD, making it the world’s first officially Christian country. The Armenian Apostolic Church is also one of the world’s oldest Christian churches with its roots back in the 1st century and even today, some 97% of Armenians are practicing Christians.
  • With mountains covering 85.9% of its territory – more than both Switzerland and Nepal – it’s perhaps unsurprising that Armenia ranks 10th among the world’s countries in terms of highest average elevation. Incredibly, no point in Armenia is less than 375 meters above sea level!
  • Mount Ararat has long been venerated by Armenians as a national and spiritual symbol of their country – even though the mountain is now located in Turkey. During the 1950s, Turkey resented the inclusion of the mountain on Soviet Armenia’s coat of arms, to which Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev pointed out that Turkey’s own flag includes the moon and retorted “the moon doesn’t belong to Turkey!”
  • While Armenia itself has a population of just under 3 million, there are thought to be at least 8 million people of Armenian descent worldwide, meaning more Armenians live outside the country than within its borders – some estimates even suggest the Armenian diaspora could number as many as 16 million!
  • The first country in the Caucasus to take part at the Eurovision Song Contest, Armenia debuted in 2006 and placed in the Top 10 for each of their first 5 appearances. As of 2022, Armenia have yet to win but have placed 4th twice: both in 2008 with ‘Qélé, Qélé’ by Sirusho and again in 2014 with Aram Mp3 and ‘Not Alone’.
Sharambeyan Street – Source: James Scanlan


Armenia’s sole official language is Armenian, which is spoken by virtually the entire population. Forming its own branch of the Indo-European language family, Armenian has two major dialects: Eastern Armenian, spoken in Armenia itself and Western Armenian, which is spoken by the global diaspora – though the two forms have diverged enough to no longer be completely intelligible. To speakers of other languages, the 39 letters of the Armenian alphabet may look daunting and undecipherable. Luckily, English is increasingly spoken amongst young people and Russian is also widely understood. Given the uniqueness of Armenian, any attempts to speak it by foreigners provoke a range of reactions from incredulous to delighted – try your luck yourself with these Armenian phrases below!

HelloԲարևՁեզba-rev dzez
Pleaseխնդրում եմkhun-drum yem
Thank YouՇնորհակալությունshnor-ha-kah-loo-tsun
How much does this cost?Ի՞նչ արժեinch ahr-zhey
Do you speak English?Անգլերեն խոսո՞ւմ եքan-gle-ren kho-sow-m yek
I don’t understandՉեմ հասկանումkhem has-kah-num
You’re still in my heartԴու դեռ իմ սրտում եսdu derr im sr-tum yes
Mimino Statue – Source: James Scanlan

Getting there:

Located 15km west of Yerevan, Zvartnots International airport is most travellers’ first point of entry into the country. From the Armenian capital, there are frequent minibuses to Sevan, which take around an hour, or an hour and 45 minutes to Dilijan. As navigating Armenia’s mountainous terrain using public transport can make visiting all the places on this itinerary tricky in a single day, it’s well worth taking an organised tour.

What to do:

As a small industrial city, Sevan would be easily overlooked were it not for its spectacular location on the shores of Lake Sevan. The largest body of water in the Caucasus, it’s also one of the highest altitude lakes in the world and boasts landlocked Armenia’s only beaches. Jutting out from the lake’s north-western shore, the rocky peninsula was an island until the artificial draining of the lake under Stalin saw water levels drop by over 20 metres. Climb the steep steps to the top of this large outcrop and you’ll come to Sevanavank, an ecclesiastical complex that was founded in the late 9th century and was still an active monastery as recently as 1930. Once a sanctuary for wayward monks, the two simple dark stone churches seen today, Surp Astvatsatsin and Surp Arakelots, both date from around874 AD and house some particular fine examples of khachkars or stone crosses. The peninsula also gives you a fantastic vantage point to take in a breath-taking panorama across the lake and surrounding mountains. At the bottom of the rock, you’ll also spot the Soviet modernist rotunda of the Sevan Writers’ House, which was finished in the 1960s as a retreat for writers.

Heading north from Sevan, Dilijan rose in prominence during the late 19th century as a resort town thanks to its mineral rich waters and natural setting. Indeed, the forested slopes the town is nestled amongst are often referred to as Armenian Switzerland and became a national park in 2002. Although it’s currently one of the fasting growing settlements in Armenia, atmospheric Sharambeyan Street at the heart of Dilijan’s Old Town feels frozen in time and has been restored to how a typical street would have looked in the 1800s. Check out the souvenir and craft shops housed in the traditional wooden buildings with intricately carved façades or take a look around the Yesayan Musuem for a snapshot of daily life in Dilijan at the turn of the century. There are also several monuments in town, including the pale and stark Monument to the 50th Anniversary of Soviet Armenia, with each of its crown-like points representing a decade as part of the USSR, and the Mimino statue. Featuring 3 characters from one of Soviet cinema’s best loved comedies, rubbing their noses is said to bring good luck.

Goshavank – Source: James Scanlan

Named for scholar Mkhitar Gosh, the few scattered buildings that make up the village of Gosh lie just 15km east of Dilijan but feel much more remote. Despite its quiet rural façade, the medieval monastic complex of Goshavank that the village centres around is considered one of the most important spiritual and cultural sites in Armenia. Built over the course of the 12th and 13th centuries, the buildings seen today replaced the original monastery that was devastated by an earthquake in 1188. Marvel at the austere yet auspicious interior of St. Astvatsatsin, finished in 1196 and the high stone dome of its gavit held aloft by 4 columns – one for each of the gospels of the New Testament. As you wander the site, keep your eyes peeled for the steps leading up the side of the ruined bell tower atop the one-time book repository. Once standing taller than the main church, the library was thought to house more than 15,000 manuscripts before being torched by invading Mongols at the end of the 13th century. On the hill across from the main complex you’ll find the simple stone Tomb of Mkhitar Gosh, keeping an eye over his namesake village.

Hidden in a peaceful wooded valley, legends say that during its dedication an eagle soared over the domes of the monastery which became known as Haghartsin –loosely translating as “dances of eagles”. The exact age of the complex is uncertain, though thought to date back to the 900s. Indeed, the Church of St. Gregory is the oldest building here and was finished in 1184, but replaced the original church that was destroyed during the Seljuk invasion a century before. The entire site underwent major restoration works in 2011 to make it much easier for visitors to navigate, but the buildings are still original and feel timeless. Explore the intimate St. Stepanos, a smaller scale copy of St. Gregory built in 1244, or take a look around the refectory where monks used to share meals. Originally built in 1248, nowadays the stone hall is used for celebrations such as weddings and baptisms. Haghartsin’s beautiful location surrounded by forests also make for a deeply auspicious setting. Take a stroll and admire khachkars along the wooded paths or just sit back and enjoy being out in the peace and serenity of nature!

Church of St. Gregory – Source: James Scanlan


With its awe-inspiring natural beauty and incredibly ancient sites that breath the country’s very culture and history, Armenia has plenty to offer visitors and astounds at every opportunity. On our way back to Yerevan, we all agreed what a memorable day trip it had been and that it proved one thing beyond all doubt – Armenia is incredible and we couldn’t wait to explore more of it!

Source: James Scanlan

A huge thank you to Eurovision Ireland‘s John Stanton, Richard Taylor and Staggy, and to Phil Colclough for OnEurope for coming on the day and making our day trip around Armenia such fun – and also to TV’s Lisa-Jayne Lewis, who was unwell but with us in spirit! A big thank you as well to Rose from Hyur Service for guiding us around the sights of Sevan, Dilijan, Gosh and Haghartsin and for keeping us informed and entertained all day – շնորհակալություն՜

For a more in-depth guide to planning day trips, as well as sightseeing tips and trivia for 30 European countries, Europe in a Day – Day Trips to the Continent is available exclusively on Amazon for Kindle and also smartphones, tablets and computers with the free Kindle Reading App.

Want to discover more of Europe? Check out more day trips below!

















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