Armenia Stories and Tips

Zvartnots International Airport

Mini Vegas? Photo, Armenia, Middle East

Almost all international visitors to Armenia will arrive at Yerevan’s Zvartnots International Airport, which is about a 20 minute (and 12km) drive from the city centre and its main hotels. The airport has undergone extensive renovation and remodelling, but still retains the original concrete–dominated monolithic features so beloved of Soviet architects.

Zvartnots is served by a number of major airlines, but only British Midland fly direct from the UK (Heathrow). If you don’t mind changing aircraft, Air France, Austrian Airlines and Czech Airlines all offer flights from Heathrow with layovers in Paris, Salzburg and Prague respectively. For reference, BMI were charging £750 for a direct flight, but I booked Air France with a two hour layover at Charles de Gaulle for £450.

UK visitors will require a visa, which can be obtained electronically in advance from the Armenian Embassy in London, or can be paid for immediately before passport control on arrival. It costs the equivalent of around $5 to $8 USD (depending on exchange rates) but payment is only accepted in the local currency (Dram). For reference, its actually cheaper to buy the visa at the airport rather than the embassy.

You will need immediate access to cash to pay for your visa, the luggage trolleys and also your cab fare. Helpfully, there are exchange facilities available (at typically unfavourable rates) both before and after passport control, and given the difficulty of obtaining the Dram abroad, you will have little choice but to change some at the airport.

Rates in town are much better, so don’t be tempted to change too much. Cash is king in Armenia and although credit card usage is getting more prevalent, almost nowhere outside the main city centre will accept cards, so make sure you bring enough for your stay. The best cards to bring are Visa or Mastercard – Amex is almost unheard of in Armenia.

Once you clear passport control you are (strangely) directed through a new shop, aimed squarely at tourists, which sells the usual stuff (cigarettes, alcohol, perfumes etc.) that you would expect to find in the duty free – on departure. The luggage carousels are just after the exit from this shop.

Waiting times for your luggage are generally minimal given the infrequency of flights. If you have more than one pull-along and need a trolley, there is a small charge for the trolleys, as well as a paid for porter service. Most uniformed airport staff speak a smattering of languages, so communication (at this point) should not be an issue. Taxi ranks are clearly signposted from the terminal in English (Armenians have their own unique alphabet and the script is indecipherable to most westerners) but drivers tend to speak only a smattering of English. Fortunately, most of the city centre hotels are well known, so this is not usually a problem. That’s it – you’re on your way. Welcome to "Hayastan".

On a final note, unfortunately, the main road into the city has become a mini Las Vegas, with small gaming parlours and larger, more ostentatious casinos competing for trade with garish neon illuminated frontage. Word is that the government has woken up to the negative impression the trade has on newly arrived visitors and is actively working to relocate Yerevan’s very own "Sin City" to a more discreet part of town. It is certainly unrepresentative and uncharacteristic of the country.

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