We have just spent 3 nights in the capital city: Yerevan.
We are on our way to Georgia. Our next (and final) stop in Armenia is Gyumri …
The currency in Armenia is the Dram (or the ‘AMD’). I will refer to them as A$s. At the time of writing:
Over time, these exchange rates will change. Please check the current rates.
The internet indicates that the minibuses leaving from Central are scheduled and that the ones leaving from Sasuntsi David leave when they are full. I guess that the Sasuntsi David minibuses are taking advantage of the over-flow from people trying to catch a train to Gyumri from the Sasuntsi David Train Station.
Anyway, the problem with the minibuses is that most don’t have any luggage space. If you have a big backpack or a big suitcase (like me), your luggage may have to go inside the minibus. If it goes inside, you may be charged for your luggage taking up a seat. This means that you may have to pay 2 x A$1,500 = A$3,000. Seating on the minibuses is ‘tight’ and it can be slightly uncomfortable.
Yerevan now has a non-stop express train that goes direct to Gyumri. This train leaves from the Sasuntsi David Train Station. It only operates on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. It leaves at 9:45am. The price is A$2,500. The journey takes about 2 hours. I decided to take the train.
One of the benefits of connecting at Sasuntsi David is that it is serviced by the Yerevan Metro (the other main bus stations in Yerevan are not – which makes them harder to get to). I jumped on the metro at Republic Square. The flat-rate metro price is A$100. Sasuntsi David is 2 stops. The Railway Station ticketing office opens at 9am. The train left on schedule. We arrived in Gyumri just before noon. It was an easy 1 km walk from the Gyumri Train Station to my centre-of-town accommodation.
Gyumri has an approximate height of 1,550 metres (5,090 feet) above sea level. The Akhurian River passes through the western suburbs. The Gyumri plateau is surrounded by the Pambak Mountains to the east and the Aragats volcanic range to the south.
The area was mentioned as Kumayri in the historic Urartian inscriptions dating back to the 8th century BC. Modern-day Gyumri has been populated since at least the third millennium BC. Kumayri has suffered many conquests since then and has been subjected to a multitude of foreign rule.
Under the rule of the Russian Empire, the city was known as Alexandropol (named after Tsar Alexander). Under Soviet rule it was renamed Leninakan (named after Lenin). The city’s population grew above 200,000 prior to the 1988 earthquake, when it was devastated. Gyumri has been re-building. As of the 2011 census, the city had a population of 121,976.
Armenia achieved full independence in 1991.
Our walk starts at my accommodation at Peace Circle Park. We head south down Rijkov Street to Vartanants Sqaure. We continue south to the Central Bus Station. We loop back up Haghtanaki Avenue to Peace Circle Park. We continue north up the M1 to Ankakhutyan Square, west along the M7, then south down Jivani Street before entering the Central Park. We finish in the southern streets near the Central Bus Station.
The ‘nice’ area of town is quite extensive … but you have to choose the right area. Read on …
This is what GRANDPAckers can expect to find at short notice in late September:
PLEASE NOTE: HOTELS usually display prices INCLUSIVE of TAXES. But many search sites (like HOTELS) don’t provide a ‘private bathroom’ filter, so be careful with some of the cheap hotels and make sure that you read the room details.
AIRBnB / HOLIDAY RENTALS:
PLEASE NOTE: Other sites (such as Homeaway, FlipKey and VRBO are also worth a look).
Guest House / Homestay accommodation is very popular in this part of the World. This means that sites like AirBnB usually have several listings. That said, many such listings are also now available on BOOKING.COM where you tend to get better value for money (because you avoid AirBnB’s service and cleaning fees). HOTELS does not do well in the Armenian marketplace. There are several accommodation options within our GRANDPAcking price range.
It had a hand-held ‘shower-over-bath’. The kitchen was well equipped. It had a washing machine – so, I could do my laundry. The lounge had a TV (10 channels; no English speaking channels). The bedroom had a Double bed and 2 singles with a wardrobe.
The wifi was good and fast enough to stream videos.
WHERE TO STAY:
You want to be within walking distance of Rijkov Street. The area around the Central Bus Station is not the best, so keep a few blocks north of there. North and east of Peace Circle Square keep within 2 blocks of the M1 and Gorki Street (respectively).
The area around Gorki Street West towards the Central Park is particularly nice.
Have a look yourself:
EAT & DRINK:
This is a city: you have a full range of options.
You can get your usual ‘Fried Chicken & Chips with a Coke’ type combo meal for A$1,800.
According to Tripadvisor, the Herbs and Honey on Rijkov Street is said to be one of the best ‘budget’ restaurants in town. I tried their Curry Chicken (A$1,800) with a 500ml beer (S$700).
With compulsory tax / tips the total cost was A$2,750.
A local 500ml beer in a corner shop will cost about A$450. A 1L about A$700. Expect to pay A$700 for a 500ml local beer in a cheap restaurant.
Brandy is the most popular drink in Armenia. A local 3 year 500ml bottle starts at A$2,500; add another A$500 for each year … so, expect to pay A$4,500 for a 7 year cheap local Brandy.
Gyumri is a major transport hub. The Gyumri railway junction is the oldest and the largest one in Armenia.
Public transport is dominated by the private sector in Gyumri. Public transit is mainly served by public minibuses, locally-known as marshrutka. Most of the marshrutkas have 13 seats and operate specific routes and stops. As of 2017, a one-way trip to anywhere in town is A$100. Passengers need to pay the money directly to the driver when getting out of the vehicle.
The Central Bus Station services the inter-city transport: it services major cities and towns in both Armenia and Georgia.
You can also find Money Exchanges.
INTERNET / WIFI:
Don’t trust your hotel to provide good wifi in our GRANDPAcking price range.
There are 3 main prepaid providers in Armenia.
I chose Beeline.
You need your passport to register your new SIMcard. The girl at the counter spoke English. She configured it up for me whilst I waited. I immediately downloaded the Beeline smartphone app. Fortunately, the app has an English option.
HEALTH & SAFETY:
Armenia is among the top 10 safest countries in the World. You can wander around and go home alone safely at night. There is no reason to feel unsafe. As always, exercise normal levels of caution … don’t make yourself an obvious target.
WHEN TO GO
The best time to come is April through October.
WHAT TO DO:
The Kumayri historic district is the old part of Gyumri and it has unique architecture. It has more than a thousand buildings dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries. The district is one of few places in the Republic of Armenia, and the World, with authentic urban Armenian architecture. Almost all the structures of the Kumayri district have survived the two major earthquakes in 1926 and 1988. The historic district of Kumayri occupies the central and western part of modern-day Gyumri (see ‘Where To Stay’, above).
Other items of interest are:
- The Black Fortress: an abandoned Russian imperial fortress built between 1834 and 1847, located 8 kms east of the closed border with Turkey. It was erected in response to the Russo-Turkish War of 1828–1829. Currently, it is a national cultural heritage monument of Armenia, used as an art and cultural centre;
- The monumental statue of Mother Armenia;
- Vartanants Square;
- Independence Square;
- Charles Aznavour Square;
- Garegin Nzhdeh Square;
- Gyumri Central Park;
- Statue of Avetik Isahakyan.
Even though Gyumri is the 2nd largest city in Armenia (2nd to Yerevan) it feels very different from Yerevan. For me, it feels nicer. IMHO it also has a nicer city centre.
If you need somewhere to stay whilst in transit between Armenia and Georgia, Gyumri is a good choice. If you have time, spend 2 nights here so that you have a full day to look around.