Much of the city's historic center dates to the days when Gyumri was Alexandrapol (in honor of the wife of Czar Nicholas I), an outpost of the Russian Empire in the Southern Caucasus, and the architecture reflects that. The buildings, of dark black stone with pink-orange accents, are primarily 1800s Russian in style, with Armenian touches. The aftermath of the 1988 Spitak earthquake, which devastated the region, is still felt in the city; the rebuilding efforts are very much ongoing. It is said by the locals that the quake "leveled Leninakan (the name of the city in Soviet times) but left Alexandrapol standing" - the Soviet housing blocks folded on themselves, while the older buildings largely survived. There are also Russian churches and cemeteries, and a large Russian military base still dominates a part of the city (and provides employment). George Gurdjieff, a well-known early 20th-century mystic, philosopher, spiritual teacher, and composer was born in Gyumri.
Gyumri Visitors Bureau offers tours, guide and translation services, transportation, and free information and tourist maps. There are also themed tours of Gyumri and Shirak region. 055 59 15 53, 0312 5 51 65, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- 1 Shirak Airport (LWN IATA) (about 5 km from the centre of Gyumri.). Taron Avia from Moscow-Domodedovo, Krasnodar, Samara. Pobeda from Moscow–Vnukovo. Ural Airlines Seasonaly from Rostov-on-Don
Vans called marshutki (pl., singular marshrutka) depart Yerevan for Gyumri from a parking lot next to Sasuntsi David subway station between 8 am and 8 pm. There is no schedule - whenever one fills up, it departs. Travel time is about 2-2.5 hours. On the way back, the last one is at 7 pm, so plan accordingly. These are cheap, at 1500 dram, but often crowded or uncomfortable. They are, however a great way to meet locals. Shared taxis depart from the same location and are usually faster and more comfortable. Regular taxis can be taken from anywhere in Yerevan, and will cost around 10,000-12,000 dram (for up to 4 people).
Another good option for a visit to Gyumri is a day tour from Yerevan. Many companies offer these, for a reasonable price, and allow you to get in a van, with other travellers and a guide, with stops along the way in places like Talin Cathedral and Harijavank Monastery. This is probably the easiest option, and may even work out to be your cheapest compared to taxis.
Train options used to be limited to 2 daily departures from Yerevan, one leaving mid afternoon and one early evening around 6PM, with journey time 3:10 hr and the cost 1,000 dram. However, starting in March 2018, there is now a once-a-day express operating on weekends (Friday-Sunday) with brand new rolling stock, departing Yerevan for Gyumri at 10AM (return trip at 3PM), making the run in just under 2 hr; tickets are 2,500 dram. If this fits your schedule, it is certainly the preferred option. The overnight train between Tbilisi and Yerevan also calls here, however at a very inconvenient time around 4AM. 2 Gyumri station is located at the end of Tigran Mets Avenue, east of the city centre.
If you drive from Yerevan, take the federal highway M1. Beyond the first 20 km (where it has been completely overhauled to the highest standards), it is a 2-lane unlighted potholed road, often without the dividing line, but wide (so that 2 cars can almost drive abreast) to facilitate overtaking - which the locals will do anywhere, even on blind climbs. Traffic is almost never a problem, but there is extensive construction going on, widening and straightening the road, and work areas are speed posted at 30-50 km/h. Budget about 2 hours for the entire 120 km trip. An alternative (in warmer months) would be to branch off to M3 at Ashtarak, follow it over the Aragats range to Spitak, then take M7 for the last 30 or so km to Gyumri - the views are spectacular. This would add about 30 minutes to the trip.
Gyumri is easily accessible from the Georgian capital Tbilisi. Marshrutkas leave daily at 10:30 from the Ortachala bus terminal in Tbilisi. The trip costs 25 lari and takes 4-5 hr (depending on how long passport control takes). To get from Tbilisi city centre to Ortachala you can take various busses from Bartatshvili street. The marshrutka drives through the centre of Gyumri, so you can get off either in the centre of town or at the Gyumri bus terminal.
The city used to be called Leninakan and this may be the name displayed in the marshrutka windscreen.
Gyumri's historic town center is quite walkable, and fun to explore, but beyond that it is a bit of a sprawling town, and to see everything it has to offer in a day, a car is needed. If you haven't come with your own, a taxi in town, with a meter, is probably your only realistic option, and a pretty good one at that. If you care to try and figure out the numbers of the local van routes (marshutki), you can have quite an adventure. It may be hard to make it to some of the fringe sites though in a marshutki, like the fortress.
- 1 Town Square. Huge square in the middle of town, with a church, a cathedral, a massive government building, fountains, restaurants, and all adjacent to the old town with great architecture and some small museums.
- 2 Black Fortress. The big, round, black fortress on the top of the hill overlooking Gyumri is a good spot to take in the view. It once protected the Russian Empire from the Ottoman Empire. Nearby is the huge "Mother Armenia" statue.
- 3 Russian Church. If you're spending a few days in Gyumri, make your way over to this church, which is a bit different from the norm.
- 4 National Arch. Museum. This museum is nearer the highway to Yerevan, and has beautiful traditional architecture, interesting rooms, and a cool dining room where you can order a meal ahead of time.
- Walk around the center, including the old town with its distinctive architecture of black stone buildings.
- Visit the beautiful early medieval Marmashen monastery, about 15 km out of town. You can get there either by marshrutka or taxi. To go by marshrutka, ask around at the bus terminal in town. To go by taxi simply go up to any taxi driver in town, it should cost no more than 6,000 dram for a return trip, with the driver waiting while you explore the monastery. In both cases, remember to say you are going to Marmashen monastery, not Marmashen village. The monastery is a short distance away from the village of the same name.
Off the main square, by the smaller black church, there is a diagonal pedestrian avenue with some shops and some outdoor vendors.
The city centre has a number of ATMs accepting international cards.
- 1 Ponchik-monchik, Sayat Nova 7. A convivial spot to grab a coffee and the eponymous ponchik, a puffed ball of fried dough (reminiscent of the Indian poori) with warm cream inside, or something more substantial - a salad or a sandwich. Frequented by expats - because (very unusually for Armenia) the premises are non-smoking; the word seems to have gotten around to the tourists as well. There is another branch on Abovyan 248.
- 2 Tashir Pizza, Sayat Nova 2. 10:00-24:00. A branch of the national chain right on the Ankakhutyan square. The place is big, so there is rarely any wait. English menu. The pizzas are competent, but steer towards Adjarian hachapuri - boat-shaped creations of pizza dough and cheese, baked in the same oven, with an egg (or two, if that's your preference) cracked into the hollow and coming to the table barely set - it continues to cook as you tear the pieces off both ends and dip them inside. Messy and delicious.
There are several restaurants on Rijkov Street, the main pedestrian street leading from Peace Circle Park to the central square and by the park and square.
- Cafe-bar destination. Huge glass covered space, with water, plants, etc., bringing the outdoors to the indoors.
- House, Rijkov st.. Nice cafe on the main pedestrian street which serves, among other things, decent coffee.
- Trezzo, Rijkov st.. Italian restaurant and self-styled "lounge-cafe". The food is nothing spectacular, but the location is great at the end of the main pedestrian street.
All restaurants close during holidays without notice. Proceed with caution if visiting around New Years or Christmas
- 1 Dar Vino, Gorki 58/1 street, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. 10am-11:30pm. Basic wine bar.
- 2 Amigo Pub, 9 Sayat Nova St., ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. 6pm-12am. A basic bar/pub.
- 1 Alexandrapol Hotel Palace, 70, Mayakovskui str, Gyumri, RA, ☎ , .
- Araks Hotel, 31 Gorki St, ☎ , , .
- 2 Berlin Guesthouse, 25 Hakhtanaki Ave. 3104, ☎ , , . Western hotel. Good location for walking around in the center. 27,000-32,000 dram.
- 3 My Home B&B, 172 Sundukyan st. 3104, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. €20.
- 4 Friendly B&B, 142 Levon Madoyan St, ☎ , . Very cozy homestay in the apartment of a local teacher. Close to the city centre. 6,000 dram without breakfast.
- There is a brand new express train serving the Gyumri-Yerevan route on Friday-Sunday. Very comfortable with free wifi. Best to arrive for tickets at least half an hour before departure. The old, slow Soviet trains run more frequently, but are probably only worth riding for an experience.
- Harich/Harij is about 15 km southeast. It is a spectacular setting, and the church is very well preserved
- Marshrutka's to Yerevan and Vanadzor leave regularly from the main bus station. Yerevan is about 2½ hr away, getting to Vanadzor takes about 1 hr.
- Marshrutkas leave every morning at 10:30 to Tbilisi. Tbilisi is 4-5 hr away by marshrutka, depending on the time spent at border control.
- There are also marshrutkas that leave to Akhaltsikhe (4,000 dram) in the morning at 10:00 and to Akhalkalaki (2,000 dram) at 14:30. If you arrive to the bus station after the morning marshrutkas leave but before 14:30 (for example, if you are coming from Dilijan), do not believe the taxi drivers that try to tell you that there will be no more marshrutkas to Akhalkalaki (in order to get you to ride with them for a high price). Many taxi drivers collude with the marshrutka drivers not to divulge the schedule to tourists to funnel them into high priced taxis. Your best strategy is to ask about the schedule in a store or restaurant nearby, from your hotel/guesthouse, or from other passengers.