Best Stops on a Yerevan to Gyumri Road Trip
Your Road Trip Guide from Yerevan to Gyumri
No trip to Armenia is complete without a visit to Gyumri, the cultural capital and second largest city. It’s very easy to plan a two hour road trip from Yerevan, but why not make a day of it and explore the great stops along the way? There are two primary highways between the cities, the M1 and M3. We’ve put together a collection of several destinations along each route (you’ll see we recommend the M3). Let’s hit the road!
Stop 1: Admire Mt. Aragats from Ashtarak (M1, M3)
Ashtarak is a beautiful town about 30 minutes northwest of Yerevan. With great views of Mt. Aragats and lots of trees, it’s a welcome relief from the hustle and bustle of the city. It’s also a quick and easy detour from the M1 before the exit to M3. While you’re there, check out the Karmravor Church, unique for its red tuff stone and striking architecture. Explore the Bridge of Ashtarak, which dates back to the 17th century and offers stunning views of the Kasagh river gorge below. Check out Tsiranavor, a church converted from an ancient pagan temple.
Stop 2: A Church Dedicated to the Dragonslayer (M3)
St. Gevorg Church, dedicated to St. George the Dragonslayer, is an ancient monastery located in the Aragatsotn region near the village of Mughni. It was likely built in the 13th century, but has since undergone numerous renovations and additions. The monastery complex consists of several buildings, including the main church, a chapel, and a bell tower. The main church boasts a three-nave basilica, intricate stone carvings, frescoes, and a large dome. St. Gevorg served as a center for the copying of manuscripts and was a popular destination for pilgrims.
Stop 3: Explore the Armenian Alphabet (M3)
After passing the village of Artashavan, you’ll find Armenia’s alphabet – life size! Each of the 39 letters has its own monument, 1.5 meters high, carved from black or red tuff, a beautiful volcanic stone abundant in Armenia. Explore all of the letters and take a photo with your first initial!
The Armenian alphabet was created in the 5th century by scholar, theologian, and linguist Mesrop Mashtots, who is said to have seen the letters in a dream. Mashtots made a significant mark in the development of Armenian culture and identity. You can visit his grave in the village of Oshakan, which is 30 minutes from the monument and a quick stop off the M1.
Stop 4: Where Nature Meets Culture (M3)
Due to its dramatic position on the edge of the Kasagh River gorge across from Mt. Ara, Saghmosavank is arguably one of Armenia’s most popular monasteries for photoshoots and weddings. The monastic complex was built in the 13th century by Prince Vache Vachutyan. In the Middle Ages, it served as a repository for valuable manuscripts, written and copied within its walls. According to legend, Saghmosavank (“Monastery of the Psalms” in Armenian) also served as a place of refuge during times of war and invasion. A foot path snakes down into the gorge should you wish to hike. Hovhannavank dates from the same period and is situated not far away on the same stunning Kasagh gorge. Named after St. John the Baptist, Hovhannavank was a center for theological education in the medieval times.
Stop 5: Admire the views at Aparan Reservoir (M3)
The expansive Aparan reservoir is just parallel to the M3 and a slight detour – don’t miss it! At 7.9 kilometers square, Aparan is considered to be the largest manmade reservoir in Armenia. You can catch a beautiful view of Mt. Aragats and Mt. Ara from there! Enjoy the walking path that follows the lake through a pine forest to the Church of Peter and Paul on the banks of the water.
Stop 6: Experience 19th century Gyumri (M1 and M3)
Once you’ve reached Gyumri, you should definitely visit the Dzitoghtsyan Museum, or the Museum of Urban Life and Culture. It’s one of the historical 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 reflecting the architectural style of the period. 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.
Stop 7: Explore an Old Fortress (M1 and M3)
As you approach Gyumri’s city center, try to catch a glimpse of the Mother Armenia statue and the Black Fortress on the horizon. When you’re close, park at the bottom of the Mother Armenia statue and walk up to the massive statue. She’s a female personification of Armenia and a symbol of victory.
The nextdoor Black Fortress (“Sev Berd”), is a historic circular fort made of black tuff rock. It was built in the early 19th century when Gyumri was under the rule of the Russian Empire. At the time, it served as a military barracks and prison. Today, the fortress has been restored and serves as a cultural and educational center, hosting various exhibitions, concerts, and events. When you visit, ask your guide if you can check out the roof; admire the panoramic view of Gyumri and Mt. Aragats from there!
Stop 8: Tour Ancient Talin (M1)
Talin is a village located about halfway from Yerevan to Gyumri along the M1. With foundations dating back 4,000 years, it is one of the oldest settlements in Armenia. It was mentioned by the name “Talina” in the writings of 2nd century Greek geographer Ptolemy.
The village is most well known for the 7th century cathedral complex commissioned by Prince Nerseh Kamsarakan. The cathedral is a stunning example of Armenian medieval architecture, with intricate carvings and sculptures adorning its walls and columns. Explore the ancient obelisks and cross-stones (“khachkars”) in the cemetery next door.
Stop 9: Step back into the Soviet Era at Byurakan Observatory (M1)
Byurakan Observatory is a Soviet-era astronomical research center that’s worth a visit. Established in 1946 by the renowned astrophysicist Viktor Hambardzumyan, the observatory played a significant role in advancing the field of astrophysics in Armenia. Visitors can take an hour-long guided tour of the facility, which includes an exhibition of the observatory's contributions to the field of astronomy. In 1971, the observatory hosted the “First International Symposium on the Problem of Extraterrestrial Civilizations and Communication with Them”! While the observatory is still active, there are no current ongoing scientific projects and only part of the complex is functioning. Visit at night to enjoy awesome views of the moon, stars and planets by telescope.
FAQs for Travelers
- How long does it take to drive from Yerevan to Gyumri? Without stops, the drive from Yerevan to Gyumri takes about 1 hour and 45 minutes.
- Is it necessary to have a car for this road trip or are there other transportation options available? There are many ways to get from Yerevan to Gyumri besides a rental car. These include the train, shuttle vans and minibuses (3-5 euro) and private taxis (25-30 euro). However, if you plan to stop at the destinations we’ve suggested, we recommend you rent a car.
- Are there any accommodations available at the stops along the Yerevan-Gyumri route? There are an assortment of places to stay along the M1 highway. We recommend finding a guest house in a village a bit off the road for a more peaceful experience.
- What is the best time of year to take this road trip? The road trip between Yerevan and Gyumri shines best in May/June when the wildflowers are blooming and the landscape is verdant green. However, it is just as stunning on a clear January day, when the mountains shine bright white against an expansive blue sky.