A Day in Gyumri: 10 Must-See Destinations in Armenia's Second City
Exploring Gyumri: 10 Things to See in Armenia's Cultural Capital
Gyumri is Armenia’s second-largest city and its cultural capital. Dating back at least 5,000 years, Gyumri was part of multiple empires and was known throughout its history by different names, including Kumayri, Alexandrapol and Leninakan.
The charming city boasts the best-preserved 19th century architecture in Armenia. You’ll feel its history and potential in fascinating juxtaposition. It’s a city of craftsmen, known for its friendly people and their sharp sense of humor.
In this article, we will take a closer look at the top things to do and experience while you’re there. But we also recommend taking your time to enjoy Gyumri’s unique vibe and wander along its quaint avenues. Let the city surprise you!
1. Visit the Museums
There are an assortment of fascinating museums in Gyumri; some of them are situated in the homes of the famous residents they highlight. Visit the house-museums of authors Hovhannes Shiraz and Avetik Isahakyan, the Mher Mkrtchyan Museum dedicated to the life and work of Soviet-era actor “Frunzik” Mkrtchyan and the Aslamazyan Gallery, which displays the painted and ceramic works of sister artists Mariam and Yeranuhi Aslamazyan. At the latter, you can paint your own ceramic magnets.
The Dzitoghtsyan Museum, or the Museum of Urban Life and Culture, is one of the gems of Gyumri, preserving the feel of life from the 1800s. At that time, Gyumri was called Alexandrapol; it was a center of art, craft and culture.
The museum is situated in the spacious home of one of the richest families of the time, a beautiful two story building made from red and black tuff. Inside, visitors can explore a 3D century cityscape of Alexandrapol, rugs, metalwork, historic clothing, musical instruments, rooms preserved in 19th century style and much, much more.
Newer attractions include the Museum of Illusions and the Topsy-Turvy Museum, which are especially fun for children.
2. Explore the Kumayri Historical District
Step back in time by walking through some of Gyumri's oldest districts. You’ll find beautifully preserved 19th century buildings, cobblestone streets and intriguing courtyards in the Slabodka district, along Rustaveli Street, Gorki Street and Abovyan Street. Pay special attention to the gutters along the roofs of old homes downtown. Artisans in Gyumri were known for their intricate metalwork.
We recommend exploring the restored Villa Kars, an intimate guest house with a courtyard and traditional wooden balconies. Originally, it was the home of a wealthy family. Now, the complex also boasts a beautiful ceramics studio with fine examples of locally designed dishware and artwork.
Walk past the former girls’ gymnasium, the library, and famous balconies from Soviet-era films. The current Gyumri Technology Center is also worth a visit; it is located in the building of Armenia’s first university.
3. Visit the Churches
Gyumri has several beautiful churches in its city center, including Seven Wounds (“Yot Verk”), St. Nshan and All-Savior’s (“Amenaprkich”). The Seven Wounds church, constructed from black tuff stone, is distinctive for several reasons. During Soviet times, when almost all churches were closed, it remained open for services. When approaching the building, you can still see the domes which fell from the roof during the 1988 earthquake. St. Nshan is Gyumri’s oldest church, located on the city’s lovely Rustaveli Street.
All-Savior’s Church was built between 1858 and 1873 under the leadership of architect Tadevos Andikyan. It is an exact copy of the cathedral in Ani, a former capital of Armenia, directly across the border from Gyumri. To create the architectural plan, Andikyan traveled every day from Gyumri to Ani by horse-drawn carriage. After major renovation works, All-Savior’s reopened to the public in spring 2023.
Marmashen Monastery is located just outside of Gyumri near the village of Marmashen on the banks of the Akhuryan River. The complex’s five buildings date back to the 10th century; inscriptions on the walls of the primary church note that it was built between 986 and 1029 by Prince Vahram Pahlavuni. Take your time to feel the faith, history and craftsmanship in the walls and explore the engravings and cross-stones. Marmashen’s position on the banks of the river makes it a beautiful place for a picnic. Some tour companies also arrange kayaking excursions!
4. Ride the Ferris Wheel
Whether or not you have kids in tow, visit the Soviet-era amusement park in Gyumri’s central park. Ride the Ferris Wheel for an amazing panoramic view of the city and Mt. Aragats if the weather is clear. The park has lots of other fun rides, vantage points, statues, and wooded walking paths. The large red building you’ll see in the middle of the park is Tumo, a training center for creative technologies with multiple locations throughout Armenia. It is located in the renovated building of the theatre in which Armenia’s first opera – Anush – was performed.
5. Visit Mother Armenia and the Black Fortress
The Mother Armenia statue and park honors the victory of the Soviet Union in World War II. The complex is a pleasant two kilometer walk from Gyumri’s central park. When you reach it, enjoy boating at the small pond and explore the monuments to various cities of the Soviet Union. Then, walk up the grand stairway to the base of the statue, which personifies Armenia in female form. When looking at the statue from the front, you will clearly see a victorious woman; others claim that the backside resembles – although less obviously – an attacking dragon.
Gyumri’s iconic Black Fortress (“Sev Berd”) is next door. Built in the 19th century from black tuff stone, the circular structure originally served as a military barracks and prison. Today, the restored fortress serves as a cultural and educational center, hosting various exhibitions, concerts, and events. There is a small museum inside.
The view of the city from both Mother Armenia and the fortress is magnificent on a clear day!
6. Bargain in the Shuka
You can be pretty sure to find the best prices for whatever’s on your grocery list at Gyumri’s colorful open marketplace (“shuka”). Shop for spices, nuts, dried fruits, pickled vegetables, freshly ground coffees, local cheeses, freshly butchered meats, and herbs and produce. You can also find clothing, souvenirs and an assortment of other items. In the shuka, it’s totally acceptable – and expected – to bargain.
7. See a Play or Show
People from Gyumri are very proud of the famous Armenians who have hailed from their city, especially Soviet-era legend Mher “Frunzik'' Mkrtchyan. Visit his statue outside of the Vardan Ajemyan Theatre and check out the list of upcoming dramatic performances. You can also visit the Theatre of Reflections on Abovyan Street, which hosts smaller, more intimate performances. Just down the street, the Puppet Theater delights children of all ages. If you prefer music to drama, you can also explore classical and contemporary concerts throughout the city by visiting tomsarkgh.am.
8. Check out the Iron Fountain and Gyumri’s Statues
Gyumri's distinctive iron fountain was built in 1982 near the Polytechnic Institute. Created entirely from cast iron, it was designed by the famous architect Rafael Israelyan. The fountain stopped functioning in 1988; nevertheless, it’s worth visiting for its unique and intricate design created by mastermind Artur Tarkhanyan, the architect of the Tsitsernakaberd memorial complex and Zvartnots International Airport in Yerevan.
Besides the fountain, there are many other monuments and structures worth visiting throughout the city. The statue dedicated to iconic 20th century singer-songwriter and diplomat Charles Aznavour is located at the square of the same name. Visit the statue of Armenian show-biz magnate Kirk Kirkorian on Abovyan Street, the monument to the textile factory workers on Garegin Nzhdeh Street, the monument to the victims of the earthquake behind All Savior’s Church, the statue of military leader Vartan Mamikonian on his hourse in the middle of the main square, and of course, the golden mushurba – a jug for drinking water specific to Gyumri – on Gorki Street!
9. Visit the Gyumri Beer Factory
The Gyumri Beer Factory is one of the largest in Armenia and a must-visit for beer lovers. Enjoy a tour of the factory and learn about the beer-making process. Make sure to taste some of the distinctive “Gyumri” brand light beer or “Alexandrapol” lager. While strolling downtown, admire the architecture of the old brewery building on Jivani Street in the Kumayri Historic District.
10. Try Local Food
Don’t leave Gyumri without trying local specialties. Taste chechil, a type of string cheese made and enjoyed in the Shirak region; panr khash, a comfort food made from chechil, lavash, onion, butter and boiled water; and kyalla, baked cow’s head, among other delicious dishes. Wash it all down with homemade fruit vodkas, flavored with peach, apricot, cornelian cherry or mulberry.
Getting to Gyumri
It’s very easy to reach Gyumri from Yerevan; for a scenic and relaxed experience, take the train, which stops through multiple villages along the way. Otherwise, try a shared shuttle van or private taxi. It is also possible to reach Gyumri from Tbilisi on the transcaucasian railway or through a mini-bus.