Everything gay travelers need to plan a fun and safe trip to Armenia including vital practical safety tips from our first-hand experience discovering this lesser-known destination in the South Caucasus.
What do Kim Kardashian, Cher, Andre Agassi, and Gollum have in common?
They all emanate from Armenia!
That's right…Ms. Cherilyn Sarkisian’s father (John Sarkisian) hailed from Armenia as did the great-great-grandparents of the voluptuous KK. Famous tennis player Andre Agassi’s father, Emmanuel Aghassian originates from Armenia as well as Clement Serkis, father to Andy Serkis – the voice of Gollum!
While most of these celebs rose to fame in a different country, their strong affinity to their Armenian heritage speaks volumes about the country's pride, so much so that subsequent generations borne of the diaspora around the world still identify with their motherland.
We sure felt that strong Armenian Pride when we visited.
Sadly, however, when it comes to LGBTQ rights, this Pride doesn’t quite transcend in the same way. Armenian society is conservative and LGBTQ+ rights here are limited. Few gay guys we met are open to their families. We found it was easier to stay in the closet and avoid PDAs altogether.
Despite this Armenia is a joy to explore. Not only have they sent some absolute BANGERS to Eurovision (2008’s Qélé Qélé by Sirusho is firmly embedded in my Spotify playlist), it has a rich cultural heritage that dates back centuries. They were officially the first nation to adopt Christianity, a fact which they’ll proudly remind you of as you explore gems like the UNESCO-listed Geghard Monastery or the impressive Parthenon-like Garni Temple.
You will have fun in Armenia. Just a few safety precautions to factor in first.
…but don't worry, we've got your back!
Is Armenia safe for gay travelers?
The first thing to say is that Armenia is overall a very safe country. We never felt threatened walking the streets of Yerevan. No one will harass you or try to scam you. People are honest and humble. No one ever made us feel intimidated.
Whilst Armenia’s anti-gay law was repealed in 2003 the good news ends there. Armenia has zero progressive anti-discrimination laws and no transgender-friendly laws. They do not recognize any form of same-sex union and when it comes to the army, you'll face a discharge if you are openly gay!
Are there any gay friendly places to stay?
When traveling to countries in East Europe with dubious LGBTQ+ laws like Romania, Albania, Georgia, and of course, Armenia, we spend a lot of time researching if the place we will stay is comfortable to host a gay couple.
In our case, we ended up staying at Azoyan Guesthouse, which was starred in Lonely Planet’s Armenia guide and had excellent reviews on both Bookingcom and TripAdvisor. We certainly attest to these reviews, particularly for its location, security, and comfort. Most importantly, they welcome everyone including LGBTQ+ travelers as the owner confirmed to us when we reached out to her about this.
The Tufenkian Historic Yerevan Hotel is another place we recommend. It’s not only a hidden gem (the starred recommendation in the Armenia Lonely Planet guide gives it a lot of gravitas from our perspective) but most importantly, the owners confirmed to us when we reached out to them that they welcome LGBTQ travelers and couples.
Otherwise, check out the listings on Misterbnb if you want to stay with a queer local, or just want more privacy and a place to host overnight guests.
STAY WITH A GAY LOCAL
Misterb&b is the Airbnb equivalent for the LGBTQ community. Unlike on Airbnb, you know your host is gay, voiding any nasty surprises when you check-in. It is also a great way to meet gay locals and discover the underground gay scene. Click below to get 10 € (or $10) off our first booking.
Are public displays of affection safe?
We knew before coming to Armenia that society frowns on same-sex relationships, so we opted to err on the side of caution and avoid all PDAs unless we were in a space we knew to be queer-friendly (see below).
As with all major cities, I'm sure if we walked the streets of central Yerevan holding hands few would care, perhaps we'd get the odd looks, especially from older generations. However, we didn't want to risk it and just agreed we'd act like two friends traveling together when in public.
Are there any gay friendly spaces or parties in Armenia?
There is no gay scene in Armenia. Unlike the gay scene of Tbilisi, Armenia does not have any official gay bars, clubs, cafes, or bathhouses. However, there are a handful of places that locals (both straight and gay!) told us are gay friendly and popular with the local queer community.
Also a heads up, people eat late in Armenia so they head to bars late and only go to clubs after midnight. And on that note, make sure you call them a ‘club' and not a ‘nightclub' because ‘nightclub' in Armenia refers to a strip club!
We list the main gay friendly bars and clubs in Yerevan here:
- Poligraf: one of Armenia's largest techno institutions that has been raided and closed down in the past but despite this is holding up strong. It is the main (unofficial!) gay club in Yerevan that hosts a monthly gay party called Princess. BUT SADLY: in January 2024, Poligraf formally announced that it would close its doors for good!
- Esthetic Joy's Embassy: stylish bar “for all citizens in the world” as they proudly declare on their Facebook page. As well as a rich cocktail menu they also host jazz nights and other live shows. The name is quite a mouthful that locals nickname it “PeOu”!
- Office: a multi-functional art space that also hosts ad hoc monthly club nights. Some parties are (unofficially!) gay parties run by queer folk in the fashion industry.
- Calumet Ethnic Lounge: a popular lounge bar in Yerevan recommended to us as being “kinda gay friendly”, but more so because the crowd is cosmopolitan. We felt comfortable with PDAs here.
- EVN Cafe: another popular hangout amongst LGBTQ locals recommended to us.
- Traffic: another gay friendly bar in Yerevan that also becomes a dancing space later in the night. Not been to this one but it was recommended by local gay friends in Yerevan as a place to check out.
- Stoyka: popular gay friendly club in Yerevan that gets busy from midnight until around 4am. It's cosmopolitan with an open minded crowd.
What’s Grindr like in Armenia?
We love Grindr as a tool to connect with gay locals, which inevitably leads to a much deeper and richer exploration of the country.
Grindr also gives you an idea of what the local gay scene (or lack of it) is like. Sadly, when opening Grindr in Armenia, your grid will be dominated by lots of blank or headless torso profiles, a sign that most guys are not Out and homosexuality is not well accepted. If you do see profiles with a face, it’s most likely either a fake profile or a foreigner’s.
Another warning about using Grindr in Armenia, a lot of guys are so worried about their identity that they will chat with you using a fake profile/identity before they reveal their true photos. Yes, it’s annoying, but before getting annoyed with them understand they only do it because of the hardships many of them face, to the point where they've been driven back into the closet.
As with all gay dating apps, we recommend taking care of who you meet and insist on seeing their social media channels beforehand or at least a quick video call to verify their identity. Please also bear in mind other important safety tips when using gay dating apps.
Another tip is to check out Hornet. It's another gay dating app, similar to Grindr, that is very popular in Russia and ex-Soviet countries like Armenia. We suggest creating a profile on both apps to max out your chances of meeting with guys.
What’s the best way to connect with gay travelers in Armenia?
Gay dating apps like Grindr and Hornet will do the trick. However, one thing I've found works beautifully whenever I'm in a new city is to seek out the Free Walking Tours offered. I just type the city name and Free Tour in Google, cross-reference it with Tripadvisor reviews to ensure it's genuine then book myself on to the next available one.
The Free Tours concept is not free. Rather, you are ‘free to pay' whatever you think it is worth. I always recommend tipping generously. The tour guide is usually a passionate and enthusiastic local and the tips go directly to them rather than to a large corporation based in Germany, the USA, or elsewhere. It's also a fantastic way to get an initial flavour of the city, orientate yourself, and of course, get useful tips on the best places to eat, and things to do – from a local.
And for some strange reason, gay travelers love these tours! Whether I've done them in Tirana, Edinburgh, or Rome, I've always connected with fellow LGBTQ travelers. The Yerevan I did was no exception!
How much to tip? It's down to you, but when we asked our guide privately after the tour he told us that an average tip is around €15, so we would say aim for €20 or more to be generous.
What are the highlights of Armenia?
As the first country to officially adopt Christianity, it has an array of impressive churches and monasteries to check out. The landscape and history are also a joy to explore. We've focused on a handful of the main highlights that we found the most impressive and can be visited as part of a day trip from Yerevan.
The bustling capital city with the city's main nightlife and best restaurants. Most museums and parks are within walking distance of the central Republic Square. The highlight is the 5 hillside Cascade Complex connected with 572 steps. It houses the Cafesjian Center for the Arts, which has a free elevator you can take to the top if you don't want to climb all those stairs.
Lavash is the local bread served with every meal. Lavash is also a famous restaurant in Yerevan we recommend trying local dishes. Harissa is a porridge made of cracked wheat and slowly cooked meat, considered by some as the national dish. Other highlights of Armenian cuisine include dolma stuffed vine leaves, fasulya bean stew, ghapama pumpkin stew, khinkali dumplings, lahmajun, and brandy!
The UNESCO-listed Geghard is our favorite monastery in Armenia because as well as being impressive, it's the most accessible – around 1-hour drive from Yerevan. It was founded in the 4th century by Gregory the Illuminator at the site of a sacred spring inside a cave, hence its nickname ‘Ayrivank', meaning ‘the Monastery of the Cave”. Despite its age, it remains an active Church with services. We came on a Sunday late morning when there was a packed congregation in attendance.
Other impressive monasteries to check out in Armenia include Khor Virap, Haghpat, Sanahin, Saghmosavan, Noravank, and Tatev.
The Parthenon of Armenia! This pagan temple pre-dates Armenia's Christian era, built in 77AD by King Tiridates I as a temple to the sun god Mihr. It is the only standing Greco-Roman temple in Armenia. Unlike the Parthenon in good old Athens, you can climb up inside the Garni Temple and walk around the collonades and stairs.
The Symphony of Stones
For me, this was the most impressive thing in Armenia. I've not seen anything quite like it before! The Symphony of Stones comprises several layers of stones running up a series of basalt columns. It is completely natural, thought to be created by the collapse of the volcanic rocks. To me, it looked like a giant church organ! The area surrounding the stones is Garni Gorge through which the Azat river flows.
Located on the east side of the country, Lake Sevan is the largest lake in the Caucasus. It is part of the Sevan National Park and is pretty high up – at an altitude of 6,234ft (1,900m). It is part of the Sevan National Park, known for its rich variety of wildlife including the Sevan trout. We loved the views here particularly from the impressive Hayravank and Sevanavank monasteries that sit along the lake.
Turkish v Armenian coffee: what's the verdict?
It's our tongue-in-cheek way of highlighting an important facet of Armenia: it has a lot of beef with Azerbaijan and Turkey. They have a long history of conflict over land, religion, genocide…and coffee.
So that tasty thick coffee you order after your meal in downtown Yerevan? It’s not ‘Arabic Coffee', it’s not ‘Greek Coffee' (nor ‘Cypriot Coffee' as Stefan found out!), but most important of all, it most certainly is not ‘Turkish Coffee'!
It’s Armenian Coffee…trust us, you'll want to get this one right to prevent WW3 from breaking out!
What's the difference between them all? Quite frankly nothing at all. They all look and taste the same. Sometimes they infuse it with cardamon as they do in Lebanon and Jordan (aka “Arabic Coffee'). But otherwise, we couldn't differentiate between them.
And finally, what’s the T with the Armenian nose?
Well you know what they say, big nose, big ***….
The large Armenian nose is a thing that locals joke about…to the point where you can even buy one as a souvenir from the Vermissage Market in Yerevan!
For more inspiration:
- Read what gay life is like in Georgia in our interview with Giorgi
- Read what gay life is like in Romania in our interview with Alexandru
- Check out what we rate to be the most gay friendly countries in the world
- Contrast that with what we rate to be the most dangerous places for gay travelers
- Heading to Latvia? You'll no doubt need to read our Riga gay travel guide
- Our Bucharest gay travel guide is also a fascinating read!