Armenia is a truly spectacular place to explore by bicycle, and the growth in popularity of cycling has been noticeable in recent years among locals and foreigners alike. Whether you’re looking for a short day-ride or an epic border-to-border adventure, there’s a bigger choice of cycling routes in Armenia than a glance at a map might indicate!
Here you’ll find general information for planning a bike trip to Armenia, including links to more detailed articles on specific topics. For specific information on routes, head on over to the routes page.
Terrain & Fitness
One inescapable fact about Armenia for the cyclist is that it is dominated by mountains. While a few ups and downs are therefore unavoidable, many scenic routes in gentler terrain can be found in the Shirak and Lori provinces in the north and in Gegharkunik and Kotayk provinces in the centre of Armenia. The loop around Lake Sevan, for example, is almost completely flat, while the route through Hradzan Gorge from Sevan to Yerevan is downhill almost all the way.
If you’re heading northeast to Tavush or south to Vayots Dzor and Syunik, you’ll find superb mountain scenery, but tougher riding and fewer route options. There are only two continuously paved routes to the south of Armenia – the M2 via Yeghegnadzor and the route via Artsakh from Vardenis to Goris. With several mountain passes over 2,000m and almost no flat sections at all, these long rides are only really suitable for the fittest riders.
When planning cycling routes in Armenia, don’t expect to find any dedicated infrastructure or much in the way of information for cyclists (that’s why we’re here!). However, finding pleasant routes on quiet roads is easy enough if you follow a few basic rules:
- Avoid the bigger highways whenever possible, as you’ll find much more pleasant riding on the provincial roads. In general, M-roads are big and busy, and H-roads are small and quiet.
- Avoid in particular the stretches of M1 between Gyumri and Yerevan (go via Spitak and Aparan), the M4 dual carriageway from Yerevan to Lake Sevan (take the scenic gorge route instead), and the first part of the new M2 North–South Road heading southeast from Yerevan (head through the villages to the east via Nubarashen, or take the old parallel road through the towns).
- Often where there are new main roads you will find more or less parallel old roads from a previous era of roadbuilding – try asking locals for the heen janapar.
- Similarly, while many cyclist-unfriendly tunnels have been built in recent times, the previous old roads over the passes are usually still serviceable, traffic-free, and of course far more spectacular.
- The smallest provincial roads are often in bad condition with lots of potholes and broken or disintegrated asphalt, or may always have been unpaved dirt roads. This doesn’t stop you riding them, of course, but it may affect your choice of bike and/or tyres, as mentioned below.
- When the main road is the only option, there is often – but not always – a generous hard shoulder to ride on.
Towns with accommodation tend to be spaced well for the daily distance ranges of most cyclists. Almost every village has at least one shop, and drinking water is widely available on the roadside, particularly in the mountains, as detailed below.
In terms of safety, local drivers are used to unpredictable sights on the roads and will generally show you courtesy as they pass, but it is always a good idea to wear high-visibility clothing and a helmet. Badly-lit tunnels may be encountered, and roads through forested regions will be in deep shade even in the summer, so bring lights – especially rear lights – for visibility.
Every cyclist knows that dogs love to chase people on bicycles, and Armenia is no different in this respect. Dogs in Armenia are disciplined by being shouted at and having rocks thrown at them by their owners; you may wish to mimic the former and perhaps mime the latter, or administer a good spraying from your water bottle!
Bikes & Equipment
It’s best to bring your own bike and equipment to Armenia, including tools and spares, as bike shops are few and far between. Most airlines classify bicycles as sporting equipment and will carry them if suitably packaged in a bag or box, with fees varying by airline. It is possible to rent bikes – usually basic mountain bikes – from several companies in Yerevan.
Your choice of bicycle should take into account the local terrain and road conditions – a racing bike suitable for the European lowlands may have you cursing up the climbs in Armenia, so ensure your bike has a wide range of gear ratios to tackle the long, steep hills.
Potholes, poor road surfaces and the number of dirt roads that may make for interesting detours or alternative routes indicate that a mountain bike (or a touring bike or cyclocross/gravel bike with tough wheels and all-terrain tyres) may be a wise choice.
Bike shops carrying parts for modern bicycles are non-existent outside the main cities, though there are now a number of good bike shops in Yerevan itself.
The network of 4×4 tracks linking Armenia’s villages and crossing its mountains makes it a playground for the intrepid off-road rider, and all the better if you come equipped to camp. Get off the beaten track and you’re likely to see nobody but a few hardy locals on horseback or in rusting Soviet jeeps for days on end.
Beware, however, that gradients can be impossibly steep in places if maps and elevation profiles are not thoroughly considered in advance. Expect to have to get off and push occasionally. The poor condition of many of these tracks calls for a bike with front suspension and/or knobbly tyres, with extra care taken on loose, rocky and badly rutted descents.
For off-road riding, it’s best to avoid the spring and early summer if possible as melting snow together with wet weather can turn dirt roads into mud-baths – go later in the summer or autumn when the trails have dried out.
Bikes on public transport
Taking bicycles on public transport can either be very easy or a chore, depending on what mood the driver is in. With no regular intercity bus services, you are restricted to negotiating carriage of your bicycle on overloaded minibuses (mashrutkas). If there is no roof rack this may involve partial disassembly of your bike, and you would do well to keep an eye on the manner in which it is loaded onto the vehicle. Expect an extra charge for this, though there is no standard rate.
Trains are a different matter, and all will carry bicycles at no extra charge. Though there are precious few passenger services in Armenia, trains that may be of interest to cyclists include the seasonal train to Lake Sevan (June to September); the daily trains to Gyumri, allowing you to explore the northwest of Armenia; and the sleeper train to/from Tbilisi.
Food & Water
The abundance of roadside stalls and convenience stores on Armenia’s roads means that carrying lots of food is rarely necessary unless you’re going off-road and remote. You’ll also find plenty of roadside picnic shelters (besedkas), particularly in scenic areas such as river gorges and mountain passes.
Freshwater springs are a common sight on the roadsides in the mountains of Armenia – all such springs are drinkable, not to mention refreshingly cold in the summer, and usually accompanied by a layby and a picnic shelter.
The classic accommodation option in rural Armenia is the homestay, typically a village family home with several guest bedrooms and a convivial approach to hosting – you will become part of the family for your time there. Expect to pay AMD5–6,000 per person (including breakfast), and an extra AMD2–4,000 for a hearty evening meal. Since the advent of online booking systems, more and more homestays are listed on Booking.com and thus can be easily arranged in advance online.
In bigger towns and around popular tourist destinations, you’ll find a broader range of accommodation options including plenty of modern, international hotels, as well as a few hostels in the biggest cities. We’ve listed our favourite accommodation (or sometimes the only places available!) on the routes themselves.
There are no particular restrictions on wild camping in the countryside and you’ll find the locals very tolerant of you setting up your tent away from the road: anyone who does find you is more likely to invite you for a shot of vodka than to kick you off their land!