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Armenia Day Trip from Tbilisi – Lori Province

A monastery complex on a grassy hillside with large mountains behind, some dusted with snow

Armenia Day Trip from Tbilisi – Lori Province

If you’re spending time in Georgia and love experiencing new countries, then the Armenia day trip from Tbilisi is the perfect excursion. Crossing the border to the northern part of Armenia promises a cultural and historical adventure, unveiling the hidden gems of this lesser-known region.

An aerial view of a monastery on a grassy hillside with the words "Armenia Day Trip from Tbilisi" superimposed

Armenia Day Trip

We booked this Day Trip to Armenia Including Homemade Lunch with Gomarjoba Georgia Tours and can’t recommend it enough. You can of course do the same itinerary without a tour company by renting a car and driving. We’d normally go for the latter option as we love a road trip! But, for a one-day excursion, it was nice to relax and take in the scenery more.

Lori Province, Armenia

Lori Province in northern Armenia is a goldmine of historical landmarks and raw, natural beauty. High up in the rugged mountains, this region boasts medieval monasteries, ancient bridges, soviet history, and charming towns. The serene landscapes and architectural wonders make Lori Province an ideal contrast from the modern cityscape of Tbilisi.

If legend is to be believed, Armenia and Georgia have an intertwined ancient history. Two brothers fled from a despotic Babylonian dictator. One was Hayk which Armenia was named after, since in the native tongue it’s actually called Hayastan. The other fled further north and became Georgian.

Important Things to Know Before Visiting Armenia

Before embarking on your day trip to Armenia, there’s a few things to consider to ensure a seamless border crossing and an enjoyable tour:

Remember to take your passport, and of course make sure it’s valid as it will be required for the border crossings.

Make sure you have space for 4 stamps in your passport. You’ll need space for the following 4 stamps: Georgia exit, Armenia entry, Armenia exit, and Georgia entry.

Check if you need a visa. While travelers from the US, UK, and EU are exempt from visas, it’s essential to check the visa requirements for your country.

Dress appropriately. This region is at a higher altitude than Tbilisi so can be cooler. Include a waterproof jacket for unexpected rain, layered clothing for varying temperatures, and walking boots or comfortable walking shoes.

A monastery framed by a circle in a gate

You won’t have phone signal if using a Georgia SIM card. Be aware that your Georgia SIM card, or any SIM card for that matter, may not have signal coverage in Armenia, so plan accordingly.

It’s a long day and a long journey. The journey to the border is around 45 miles and takes 1.5 hours, then it’s a further 30 miles to the first attraction which takes around 1 hour. This isn’t a problem for most people, but something worth noting if you’re not a fan of long road journeys.

Withdraw or exchange money. If you plan on buying souvenirs, drinks, or snacks, make sure to withdraw or exchange money, as not all places may accept cards. You can do this at the border crossing, more on this later.

Armenia Day Trip Itinerary

The following Armenia day trip itinerary follows what we did on the guided tour and is an efficient way to see everything on the list. It may differ slightly from time to time since the itinerary they sent in advance had the Armenia activities in reverse order.

An armenian flag - horizontal bands of red, blue, and orange - near a stone wall

Bagratashen–Sadakhlo Border Crossing

The Bagratashen–Sadakhlo Border Crossing serves as the main checkpoint between Armenia and Georgia. There’s a fairly standard customs and immigration procedure in place here and your guide will be on hand to show you through.

After arriving at the border, you’ll need to disembark from the bus and exit Georgia on foot via passport control. You will need to take any bags or luggage with you, however drinks and snacks can be left on the bus.

Next, you’ll get back on the bus to drive to the Armenian immigration where again, you’ll need to pass on foot. They may throw a few basic questions at you about your plans in Armenia. Just explain that you are on an organized day trip from Tbilisi and will be returning by the end of the day.

The whole border crossing typically operates efficiently, but occasional queues may occur, especially during peak travel times.

All that’s left is to get back on the bus, and that’s it, welcome to Armenia!

Alaverdi – Abandoned Copper Factory & Sanahin Bridge

The first stop on the day is to the old mining town of Alaverdi. Interestingly, the name derives from “Allah verdi” which literally means “God gave” or God-given. Much of this region had Islamic and Turkish names during the Ottoman Empire. However, most were changed by the Armenians, who are predominantly Christian, but some like Alaverdi still remain.

The history of wars fought over race, culture, religion, and ideology is rich in Armenia. While hugely important and interesting, Alaverdi is one of many places that has borne the brunt of Armenia’s troubled past.

A river with man made stone banks and a town with communist style buildings and two chimney stacks

The Abandoned Copper Factory stands as a testament to Armenia’s industrial history. Copper has been mined here for centuries but the operation was closed down due to high levels of pollution. The main cause being underinvestment – a result of the economic struggle of Armenia through the collapse of the Soviet Union, ethnic conflicts, and a devastating earthquake.

Just a stone’s throw away, the Sanahin Bridge spans the deep Debed River. This single-span stone bridge has been preserved since the 13th century! The juxtaposition of industrial ruins, a medieval bridge, and the natural beauty demonstrates the uniqueness of the Lori Province.

Mikoyan Brothers Museum

A short but steep drive from the Debed gorge takes you to the Sanahin district of Alaverdi. Sanahin is the birthplace of the Mikoyan brothers – Anastas, who was a successful politician and diplomat, and Artem, inventor of one of the most iconic and widely used fighter jets in the world.

The museum – commemorating two of Armenia’s greatest figures – is more of an outdoor memorial than a traditional museum, though there is a small exhibition inside.

A full size model Mig-21 aircraft and bust statue of its inventor Artem in an open air museum

Our guide explained that Anastas’ many contributions to economic policy, particularly agriculture, may have saved the Soviet Union from collapse for years.

Artem’s legacy is probably more familiar to most, with the MiG-21 holding the world record as the most produced military jet in history! There’s a bust sculpture dedicated to him, but the highlight is surely the full-size MiG-21 fighter jet in all its glory.

Sanahin Monastery Complex

Step back in time as you enter the Sanahin Monastery Complex, part of a UNESCO World Heritage site that echoes the spiritual and cultural heritage of Armenia. Dating back to the 10th century, the complex boasts a series of churches, chapels, and khachkars (cross-stones).

An Armenian monastery with a grave and flower alongside

There’s a medieval mausoleum and cemetery behind the main monastery which is still used for burials today. It’s a strange contrast between the olde-worlde stonework and modern headstones adorned with photos of the deceased.

Curiously, the Armenians – as well as the Georgians – don’t typically see graveyards as somber places. It’s a common meeting place for families to celebrate the lives of family members that have passed away. This can even involve taking food and wine for a picnic.

Haghpat Monastery Complex

Continue your journey through history at the Haghpat Monastery Complex, also part of the same UNESCO recognized site. Surrounded by stunning landscape, the Haghpat Monastery features a collection of religious buildings and fortifications.

A monastery with circular pointed rooves and crosses on top

You may see some of the numerous sets of three crosses here signifying justice, mercy, and the balance of both in the center.

A series of stone monasteries and bell towers in the bright sun

One of the more interesting finds here is the old bookstore and library which has strange holes in the floor. Sheepskin was used to bind and cover the books and humidity helped to preserve them, so it was also used as a winery. These holes in the floor were where the clay pots used to ferment wine were kept. This ancient method of producing wine – called qvevri wine in Georgia – is the oldest known method of producing wine.

Tradtional Homemade Armenian Lunch

After the second monastery of the day, it’s time to unwind with a traditional lunch in a local home.

While Georgian food tends to be very heavy (we’re looking at you Khachapuri!), the Armenian dishes were much fresher and lighter. Many options focused on fresh vegetables, so there’s plenty of options for any vegetarians and vegans.

Soft drinks are included, but if you’d like to try the classic local alcoholic drinks of pomegranate wine or cognac, you can buy them for a few dollars.

Akhtala Monastery Fortress

Conclude your day trip with a visit to the Akhtala Monastery Fortress, an awe-inspiring structure that stands on a rocky outcrop with steep cliffs. Also dating back to the 10th century, this fortress-monastery complex boasts well-preserved Byzantine murals and Middle Age architecture.

An aerial shot of a monastery on a hilltop in a dry landscape

The frescos have been repainted a total of 8 times as they have been damaged or destroyed throughout history. One major catastrophe was the burning of the monastery by the Ottomans in 1753 which caused the roof to crumble. Surprisingly, some of the frescos contain non-Armenian saints including Georgians and Greeks, who could be considered heretics in Armenia.

Brown headstones with crosses, intricate carvings, and Armenian text

Each of the three monasteries has its own unique charm, but for us, Akhtala was the highlight of the day.

How to Get to Tbilisi

The best way to get to Tbilisi is by flying, but sadly there aren’t great flight connections with the rest of Europe. Direct flights do operate from Amsterdam and Paris, though not every day, but there aren’t direct flights from London.

While not ideal, one good option is to fly via Istanbul, and it provides the perfect excuse to see another incredible city on your trip. There are multiple flights a day with Turkish Airlines and Pegasus.

Check out our guide on the best things to do in Tbilisi.

A landscape of Tbilisi and its river

Where to Stay in Tbilisi

There’s an abundance of hotels all over Tbilisi, but Old Tbilisi is the best area to stay. Here’s a few options to suit any budget:

Affordable: VovaDoma is ideally situated in the center, offering great value at aorund $35 per night.

Mid-Range: Mukhrantubani Boutique Hotel is also located centrally and includes a tasty breakfast. Rooms start at just $75 per night.

High-End: The epitome of luxury in Tbilisi is The Biltmore. A prominent feature in the city’s skyline, The Biltmore Hotel offers an indoor pool, spa, gym, and even a casino! Room rates start at around $160, a decent price when compared with other European destinations. For the more opulent suites, be prepared to spend around $370.

Final Thoughts – Armenia Day Trip from Tbilisi

Crossing the border from Tbilisi to Lori Province in Armenia is a great way to experience a new country and culture. Of course, this is just dipping your toe in, Armenia has a lot more to offer, from the bustling capital city of Yerevan to the natural beauty of Lake Sevan and Dilijan National Park.

But, if you’re into your history, keen to learn about a unique culture, or just want to enjoy the aesthetic beauty of the monastery complexes then this is the perfect experience to get you started in Armenia.

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