Given the title of this article, you might be expecting to read a list post designed as clickbait for bored tech startup founders in co-working spaces in Chiang Mai, probably written by an underpaid copywriter who’s never been to Yerevan and has dashed off this piece after an hour or two of Googling.
Not quite. I’ve been living in Yerevan long enough to become a citizen of Armenia and to feel more at home here than the place I was born.
I’m writing this because I’ve been watching this city develop over the best part of a decade, and I’ve seen how Yerevan has come into alignment with the needs of the modern-day digital nomad. And I want to share what I know with you, lest you be looking for somewhere a little more off the beaten track to spend a few months.
Here, then, are nine reasons you might consider making Yerevan your next basecamp as a digital nomad:
1. You’re in the heart of one of the most culturally diverse regions on Earth
Sandwiched between the long-time superpowers of Russia, Turkey and Iran, yet defended on all sides by impenetrable mountain ranges, the South Caucasus has for centuries been known as a ‘melting pot’ of cultures and languages.
Alongside the primary ethnic groups — Armenians, Georgians and Azeris — and their respective territories, the region is home to dozens of minor groups who have resisted cultural assimilation for centuries, aided by the mountainous geography.
Not just that, but the Caucasus is the most biologically diverse temperate forest region in the world, with extremes of climate and terrain from semi-desert to high-altitude tundra, from alpine meadow to virgin forest.
As a traveller, it is difficult to think of a more fascinating region to be based in. With affordable public transport, stunning landscapes and warm hospitality in the rural regions, the potential for exploration and adventure here is truly immense.
2. Yerevan isn’t a regional city — it’s a global village
Life as a resident of downtown Yerevan is characterised by daily reminders of how compact interconnected the community is. You will genuinely struggle to walk from one side of the city centre to the other without bumping into someone you know.
Seriously — I got interrupted by a friend just now while writing this article. And then she got interrupted by another friend while interrupting me. Etcetera.
This happens partly because downtown Yerevan was planned out deliberately (by Alexander Tamanian) as a compact circle in which everything would be within walking distance — which means, almost a century later, that everyone walks everywhere — and partly because the mixed community of foreigners and diaspora Armenians is just the right size to exist independently against the background of native Armenian culture without becoming unwieldy and fragmented.
In other words, everyone knows everyone.
You’ll also find that the majority of foreigners here are of Armenian heritage — repats, some might say, rather than expats, also known as diaspora Armenians. Many come to Armenia to try and make things better in the country they recognise as their traditional fatherland; one that struggled bitterly through the early years of post-Soviet independence.
So the atmosphere is generally one of hope, positivity and passion, rather than — as is sometimes the case in expat communities — decadence and self-aggrandisement.
(Which doesn’t mean we don’t know how to party, as you’ll quickly discover.)
3. Surprise! — Yerevan is also safe and fun to live in
Despite warnings from foreign governments about geopolitical conflicts and closed borders in the Caucasus region, life in the Armenian capital is as safe as you could ever hope for. Petty crime rates are astonishingly low; terror attacks are unheard of. The biggest risk you’re likely to face is being overcharged by crooked taxi drivers. And hey, isn’t that the case everywhere?
I’m assuming, of course, that you don’t intend to disrupt any of Armenia’s big oligarch-run businesses, embark upon a career in organised crime, or become a politician (assuming you’re able to spot the distinction between these three things). But in my experience, these aren’t generally things that digital nomads go in for.
Yerevan, then, is not a city in which you need to keep looking over your shoulder. Unencumbered by such fears, people are increasingly exercising their freedom of expression — hiking clubs, bouldering gyms, pop-up art galleries, knowledge-sharing workshop festivals, library-cafe-galleries; all part of a vibrant and growing grassroots culture. Check out OneArmenia’s free #InsideYerevan map for some of the best examples.
And if you can’t find it, you can probably start it, and find others to join you.
4. Living and working in Yerevan is almost as cheap as Chiang Mai
Central Yerevan is modern, developed and vibrant, with a curious atmospheric cocktail of European cafe culture, the increasingly visible arts and music scene, and the conspicuous consumption of the city’s native elites, all set amongst the towering edifices of the Soviet-powered construction era. From a digital nomad’s perspective, however, the cost of living here is down with that of the big hubs in South East Asia, Eastern Europe and Central America.
$1,000 dollars a month would easily see you through with change to spare. A downtown studio flat might cost $300–400 a month, a good meal out under $10, and a taxi to anywhere you’re likely to go costing less than $2. (A minibus or a metro ride costs $0.20.)
My co-working space of choice, Impact Hub, is at the higher end of the scale, with an unlimited hot-desking membership costing $120 a month — but it’s more than worth it for the inspiring community within which I spend my days in Yerevan working.
5. Even if you don’t enjoy nightlife, you’ll enjoy the nightlife
In the summertime, when the weather is hot, you will find that life in downtown Yerevan takes on a new dimension after sunset.
Yes, of course, there are bars, pubs and nightclubs to suit all tastes — try Wine Republic on Saryan Street if you’re into hors d’oeuvres and vintage reserves, Dargett on Aram Street if you prefer craft beer and sharing platters, or Calumet if you’re down for an intimate basement party among travellers and artists and hippies.
But for singles, couples and families alike, summer nights in Yerevan are the time to be outside, not stuck indoors. Public squares and pedestrian boulevards grow busy with strolling feet, and an atmosphere of warm tranquility descends upon the city centre, entirely unlike the bustle and clamour of our Western capitals.
Hanging out like this may take time to register as an actual thing to do. But once you settle into it, you too will find yourself leaving your desk or coffee shop, wandering in the general direction of the opera house, then strolling down via Northern Avenue to Republic Square to watch the musical fountains (again) before bumping into some friends and drinking smoothies in Meghedi outdoor cafe at midnight — then realising that this has become an entirely normal way to spend your evenings.
Then, if you still feel like partying, there’s always Calumet.
6. You’ve just dived headfirst into a culinary melting pot
Historically, the Armenian people — a cross-section of whose descendants now populate Yerevan — lived as subjects of other people’s empires, primarily the Russians, Ottomans and Persians. As a result, they absorbed aspects of their neighbours’ and rulers’ cultures that did not impinge too heavily on their sense of ethnic identity. To the outsider, the most obvious result today is in the massive variety of regional cuisine that is on offer in Yerevan.
Sit down in a standard Armenian (or so-called ‘Caucasian’) restaurant and you will be presented with a menu that rivals the Bible itself in terms of length, scope, and spiritual complexity. In it, you’ll find dumplings and pastries from Georgia, salads and soups from Russia, stuffed vegetables and vine leaves from Turkey and the Balkans, kebabs and barbecues from Central Asia, stews and rice dishes from Iran, mezzes and sticky sweets from the Levent — the list goes on (though you’ll find no shortage of people willing to tell you that these were all originally Armenian inventions).
Dig deep and you will find uniquely Armenian recipes too. Indeed, deciphering what these are, what they contain and where they originate from is an enjoyable pastime in itself.
7. You get extra points for living somewhere almost no-one can place on a map
You’ve probably heard of Armenia. But can you point out exactly where it is on a world map? What, roughly, is its population? Which countries does it share a border with? What language do the people speak?
(Respectively: 40°11′ N 44°31′ E; ~3 million; Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan & Iran; and Eastern Armenian.)
Everyone knows you get extra points as a digital nomad for basing yourself somewhere completely off the circuit, and appearing to be having a way better time than everyone else as a result.
Sure, there are people here already doing this (hi!). But why not get over to Yerevan now before everyone else starts catching on? Quick! There are direct flights from Moscow, Dubai, Istanbul, Vienna, Paris, Athens, Warsaw, Kiev and Tehran, among other cities, making it easy to get to from a number of big transit hubs.
8. Internet speeds are off the chart, and there are too many coffee shops to count
Every digital nomad needs to know that the ‘digital’ part of the lifestyle description is going to be taken care of. Fear not, for digital connectivity in Yerevan easily outstrips the prehistoric services available in cities like London, New York and Los Angeles. This is one area in which Armenia has ‘leapfrogged’ ahead in terms of technology in recent years.
An unlimited data 40Mbps fibre-optic connection from can be installed in a couple of days and costs about $25 a month. Every cafe and coffee shop worth visiting has WiFi, and you can rely on it being fast and reliable everywhere (except Meghedi).
If mobile data is more your thing, a 10GB bolt-on for your Vivacell pay-as-you-go SIM card — the most reliable provider in the country — costs just over $10, with 4G coverage available city-wide.
3G data works well outside Yerevan, too — as I confirmed last week while making a Skype call from the summit of the country’s 12th highest mountain.
9. Lots of stuff actually needs doing in Armenia
Perhaps you’ve created a freedom business that operates entirely online. Perhaps you’re a remote freelancer working for a global client base. Or perhaps you’re more the kind of nomad who wants to get more deeply involved in the place itself and participate in civil society with their work.
Which brings me neatly to the point that — despite Yerevan being a great place to live — Armenia is still a developing country in which many of the things Westerners take for granted are missing or incomplete. This means that there’s plenty of potential to make positive change in the region, which is the arena in which lots of people I know here have found their calling.
I, too, have found a niche to work in as a result of the fertile ground Armenia stands on as it treads the path towards modernisation. Specifically, I’ve taken responsibility for implementing the southern route of the Transcaucasian Trail, a long-distance hiking trail that will eventually connect the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea via Georgia, Armenia and Iran, forming Armenia’s first national hiking trail in the process.
This job — job!— marries my love of outdoor adventures with the region’s particular ripeness for hiking and ecotourism in general. As a consequence, I love every day I spend in and outside of Yerevan.
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So there it is — an insider’s perspective on a little-visited corner of the world, yet one I feel offers everything today’s digital nomad could ask for.
If you do one day happen to wind up here, you’ll find me either at Impact Hub or wandering the mountains in search of hiking trails. Come and say hi!