Sitting in the north western region of the country in the central Shirak Highland is Armenia’s second largest city of Gyumri. It is situated around 126 kilometres away from the capital city of Yerevan, roughly 472 metres above sea level.
Gyumri was once one of Russian-ruled Eastern Armenia’s largest cities, which can be seen today in some of its architecture. The black stone buildings were predominately built in 1800s Russian style, with a Russian army base dominating much of the city centre. Still, evidence shows that the city dates back to the 3rd millennium BC.
Gyumri is often overlooked by tourists, or only visited on a day trip from Yerevan, but it is worth exploring the city further. It is home to some prominent museums, lovely parks and the impressive Kumayri historic district. Many may not realise this, but there is quite a lot to do in the city.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Gyumri:
1. Walk around the historic district
Kumayri is the oldest part of Gyumri, boasting some unique architecture that dates back to the 18th and 19th centuries. It is one of the only places in the country to see authentic urban Armenian architecture.
The district is home to over 1,000 buildings, telling the story of the city’s past. Luckily, this district has survived two major earthquakes; one in 1926 and one in 1988, giving tourists and Armenians the chance to enjoy the unique buildings located here.
Kumayri sits in the centre of modern Gyumri, though it is anything but. It is a small district that is best seen on foot, featuring unique buildings like the Poloz Mukuch Beerhouse and Araks Hotel.
2. Visit the Black Fortress
Officially known as Sev Berd, the Black Fortress is a massive abandoned Russian Imperial fortress that sits on the western edge of the city. The fortress was built between 1834 and 1847 after the Russo-Turkish War.
The big round fortress is a national cultural heritage monument. It sits atop a hill overlooking the city, offering some great views.
In 2012, Sev Berd was purchased by Misak Balasanyan, who wants to turn it into a 1,500 occupant event complex.
3. People watch at Vartanants Square
This massive town square sits in the centre of Gyumri right next to the Kumayri district. The square is surrounded by numerous buildings, including Gyumri City Hall, the 19th century Church of the Holy Saviour and the October Cinema Hall.
Right in the middle of Vartanants Square is the memorial to the Battle of Avarayr. This is then surrounded by a number of fountains and benches, which are great for people watching.
Numerous locals stroll through the square, going about their daily business. It is also home to a number of restaurants and cafés.
4. Wander around the museums
There are a number of fabulous museums in Gyumri, some of which are house museums of well-known Armenians, like sculptor Sergey Merkurov and poet Avetik Isahakyan. The Aslamazyan Sisters House-Museum is one of the more popular ones, as it has a collection of over 700 drawings, paintings and other works done by the sisters.
The Dzitoghtsyan House-Museum of Social Life and National Architecture dates back to the 19th century and displays artefacts that show the daily urban life of Gyumri. It also has numerous pieces showing the architectural and cultural aspects of the city.
5. Have a picnic in Independence Square
The second largest square in the city is predominately a large green park that is great for a picnic. At the foot of the park is a massive statue of an Armenian Girl raising a cross to commemorate the victims of the 1988 Spitak earthquake.
Independence Square is a lovely park that is surrounded by some beautiful buildings, which make for a great backdrop for a picnic lunch. The Gyumri Courthouse, Gyumri Academy of Fine Arts and former Gyumri Textile Factory border the square.
6. Explore the markets and shops
The Gyumri open-air market is where the locals shops for fresh produce, spices and dried fruit. It is an interesting place to explore and is sure to appeal to all of your senses.
The pedestrian-only Ryzhkov Street is not only interesting to see, but is also a great place to shop for souvenirs. Local artists sell paintings, wood carvings, tufa stone carvings and much more along this alleyway.
The open-air gold market is located on Aragats Street and has some truly unique art and jewellery to buy. In fact, Gyumri is known for its exceptional goldsmiths.
7. Thrill your taste buds
Gyumri is famous for traditional dishes like pilaf, soups, meat dishes and dessert. These can be tasted in restaurants and at food stands, in which there are many along Pyzhkov Street.
Khash is a must, which is soup with cow’s feet and stomach that is flavoured with garlic, pickled vegetables and vodka. If that does not sound appealing, opt for Tatar Boraki, which is homemade pasta topped with fried onions.
Visitors with a sweet tooth should not leave the city without sampling some of its sweets. Famous desserts include pakhlava (pastry with nuts and sugar), yaghli (fried dough with sugar) and shakar lokum (butter cookies).
8. Head back to the Leninakan era
This is the time between the 1920s and 1970s when the city was under soviet rule. Back then it was called Leninakan, with the architecture of the era being labelled as ‘brutal’ architecture.
‘Brutal’ architecture comes from the French term béton brut, or raw concrete. As this was the main material used during this era. One of the best examples of this is the Gyumri Railway station.
Some interesting buildings that came from this time include the Academy of Fine Arts, Gyumri Drama Theatre and the boat-like building Shirak Diocese. As well, it is during this time that Ryzhkov Street was built.
9. Get close to God
There are nine churches in Gyumri, although most residents belong to the Armenian Apostolic Church. A few of these churches are quite impressive and worth checking out.
The Russian Church is extremely different to the rest, as it was built of Armenian black tuff stone. It is quite unique and stands out amongst some of the other more traditional looking churches, like St Nshan Church and St Astvatsatsin Church.
Cathedral of the Holy Martyrs is the main church in the city, as it is home to the Ordinariate for Armenia, Eastern Europe, Russia and Georgia of the Armenian Catholic Church. It is a modern church that was built in 2015.
10. Visit a brewery
The Gyumri Brewery is one of the oldest beer production factories in the country and it is open to the public. The brewery dates back to 1898, though the famous Gyumri Beer did not start being brewed until 1970.
The modern brewery is located inside the original historical factory on Jivani Street in the Kumayri district. The old building boasts 7-8 metre deep cellars and two vaulted entrances.
Tourists are allowed to visit the brewery and taste the beer in different stages of its production.
11. Watch a football match
Gyumri is home to one of the most popular teams in Armenia; FC Shirak. They have won the Armenian Premier League championship four times and the Armenian Independence Cup once.
FC Shirak is the oldest football team in all of Armenia and plays their home games at the Gyumri City Stadium, which is the oldest football stadium in the country. The stadium meets UEFA standards.
The team has an active fan base, so watching a match can be quite entertaining. The most active fan club for the team is the Black Panthers fan club.
12. Go to university
Gyumri is northern Armenia’s main educational centre and has a large amount of educational institutions. Tourists can easily visit these universities, wandering around their lovely composes or exploring the historical buildings they sit in.
Gyumri State Pedagogical Institute is the oldest university in the city, being established in 1934. It features seven departments that are spread out over a beautiful campus.
The Gyumri Technology Center is the newest institute in the city, which opened in 2014 to establish the city’s information and high technologies area. Other universities worth visiting in the city are the Gyumri campus of Yerevan State Academy of Fine Arts and Progress University of Gyumri.
13. Enjoy spectacular views of Turkey
The Ani Overlook features one of the best views in the country, spanning across the Akhurian river canyon into Turkey. The overlook sits in the city of Ani, right at the Turkish border.
The views from the overlook are magnificent, making you think you have stepped back in time. For the best scenery, visit Ani Overlook in the late afternoon.
The Ani Overlook is around a 40-minute drive from Gyumri along Highway 17, northwest towards Turkey. It should be noted that photographing is not allowed, but the views are so stunning that you will never forget them.
14. Visit world heritage sites
The Haghpat and Sanahin Monasteries are UNESCO World Heritage sites located around 2 hours northeast of the city. They are a must for any history lover and can be visited together on a day trip.
Both of these monasteries are Byzantine monasteries that were built during the Kiurikian dynasty (10th to 13th century). They are some of the most beautiful Armenian religious buildings in the country, mixing traditional vernacular architecture of the region with Byzantine architecture.
Haghpat Monastery was founded by Queen Khosrovanuysh and sits halfway up a hill overlooking the village of Haghpat. Sanahin Monastery was founded in the 10th century and is just west of Haghpat Monastery, with both offering views of each other.
15. Spend a day in Armenian Switzerland
The resort town of Dilijan sits at the western edge of the Dilijan National Park, around a 90-minute drive east of Gyumri. The town is famous for its stunning surrounding scenery, pegging it the Armenian Switzerland.
The park itself is one of the country’s 4 protected parks, known for its rich biodiversity, natural spring water and forest landscapes. It is a fantastic place for outdoor lovers to enjoy the magnificent scenery and breathe in the fresh air.
The park is home to over 900 species of vascular plants, 800 species of beetles and over 40 species of mammals. Birds, fish and reptiles can also be spotted throughout the park. It is a truly magnificent place to spend a day.