Yerevan-Gyumri train. Why and how to travel by train?

Gyumri Railways

Gyumri has probably remained the only city that has preserved its architechtural style and soul, so visiting it is an absolute must, even if you have just one day left. Here’s why you should take the Yerevan-Gyumri train and how to organize your train trip to Gyumri. By the way, when you do get there, feel free to ping me on Instagram or Twitter, with #ArmeniaTravelTips.

What options do I have?

There are three main transportation options from Yerevan to Gyumri: by train, by car (including taxis) or public transport (minivans and Soviet-style gazelle “marshrutkas”. 

And the first reason why you should choose the train option over the other ones lies in the essence of the roads in Armenia. The road conditions are far from being good, so driving or taking a taxi gives you almost the same dose of torture.

 The same applies to many independent transportation services which work with minivans and larger cars. They usually charge the same amount of money as ministry-operated public transport but have a strict schedule. The main convenience here is that you can contact these services by whatsapp, facebook and other fast messaging means and book your seat in advance. But that doesn’t change the fact that the road conditions are not good. This is something to remember. Especially if you’re used to glass-smooth roads.

And anyway, if you decide to test your nerves or your car, first you might want to look through what to expect when driving in Armenia.

As to public transport which also takes the same main road from Yerevan to Gyumri, in this case, in addition to terrible road conditions, you also get not a very organized schedule, if there is any schedule whatsoever. These vehicles are usually parked behind the main building of the Yerevan Railway Station, right behind the railways. You can get there through the underground pass that’s in front of the station. These minivans or gazelles usually wait until all the seats are occupied and then leave. So talking about any schedule here is irrelevant, even if there is something on the paper.

So, logically, trains are much better from all these perspectives: railroad conditions, pricing, timing and schedule. Let’s see what are the pros and cons of traveling to Gyumri by train.

Sunset over Gyumri Railway Station
Sunset over Gyumri Railway Station. Photo credits: @meginnie

Advantages 

Safety

From the perspective of road conditions and the rate of crashes and mortality, trains are a pretty safe transportation means. The stats have always shown that trains are much safer than cars and buses. So if you’re among people who worry about undesired car accidents, you’ll be safe and sound on a train.

Schedule

The SCR (South Caucasian Railways) has a nice and friendly website that shows the schedule. It’s there and doesn’t change without extraordinary reasons. So just check what’s available and never worry that you’ll be late for an appointment on the other end of the line.

Mount Ararat on the rail road from Yerevan to Gyumri
Mount Ararat on the rail road from Yerevan to Gyumri

Convenience

Two of three main types of SCR (I’ll provide some details in a bit) are modern, clean, super convenient. Well, maybe soft seats, very little noise inside the train, the existence of a working toilet, hand sanitizers, smoke detectors are a norm for you. Believe it or not, this is pretty huge for Armenia, as the same company SCR has just recently upgraded the trains. Just a couple of years ago there were very old, rough, noisy and uncomfortable trains on the same route. 

These basic conditions and necessities are really appreciated among Armenians. The air is conditioned, it’s possible to sleep on the way not distracted by too much noise or other stuff.

Disadvantages

The company that’s operating the railway has recently updated their website and unfortunately the English version seems to be unavailable as of now, the flag icon doesn’t change the language. The Armenian and Russian versions work correctly. 

Well, the good news is SCR is working on developing the app for iOS and Android users. It will soon be available to book tickets and check the schedule.

Booking

Yes, even now it’s not possible to book a ticket for Yerevan-Gyumri route. Before judging, let me explain why. This is not because of technical reasons, but more because of a different reality. You see, trains have always been a usual transport means for the elderly and traders and those who didn’t have access to technologies or didn’t have interest in. And up to now, all those people just go to the station and get on the train, and there can be even more people than seats, and it will become uncontrollable if someone who has earlier booked doesn’t find a free seat.
This is merely conditioned by the real state of things and in this case it didn’t make sense to introduce booking and “deprive” those people of the right to travel/ That’s kind of a technological knowledge discrimination. These things usually take much time.

Connection issues

If you plan to watch a movie or work on an important urgent project on the way, keep in mind that it won’t be smooth. There is internet on board, but it’s never stable and there are always connection issues. And the reason is the train passes along different landscapes and areas where regular mobile connection even fails at times. At one point you pass very close to the Turkish border so your phone might enter the roaming mode. At another point there won’t be any connection at all.
So you should either have more patience or take measures: download your files, work on offline versions of documents, watch movies offline, etc.

Gyumri Railways
Gyumri Railways. Photo credits: @meginnie

What trains are there?

Types of trains operating on Yerevan-Gyumri-Yerevan route:

1. Early morning train (N 684, 682, 681 and 687)  – old Soviet train

Price: 1000 AMD 

Duration: 3 hours 10 minutes

Stops on the way: yes

2. Afternoon train (N 686, 685) – new train

Price: 1200 AMD

Duration: 3 hours 5 minutes

Stops on the way: yes

3. Express train – new train (not operating at the moment)

This one has been temporarily suspended because of Covid. There is still no info on when it will be back on route.

Price: 2500 AMD

Duration: 2 hours 15 minutes

Stops on the way: no

Gyumri Railway Station Building Facade
Gyumri Railway Station building facade from below. Photo credits: @meginnie

What’s nearby?

When you’ve arrived at Gyumri Railway Station, take a closer look at the building both from inside and outside. The building was constructed in the 1970s by a local architect and is considered a gem of Soviet architecture. However, Gyumri Railway Station (not the building) is the oldest in Armenia and was established back in 1897. 

Gyumri is a very cozy and geographically compact city, so when in Gyumri, you can walk from the Railway Station to the city center. There are two major roads taking to the center: Shiraz street (former Gorki str.) which takes you directly to the downtown, i.e. the central square, and Tigran Mets street (former International str.) which takes you to another part where many cozy cafes and cultural sites are located. Between these two parts there lies a small nice street (Rijkov str.) where no cars are allowed, only pedestrians. Around these central parts you’ll see souvenir and jewelry shops, cafes and restaurants. 

What’s truly significant in Gyumri is the old town part in the center and its architecture. So don’t forget to take a pair of comfortable shoes for a good urban walk.

It’s very likely that the idea about spending so much time on train is not warming your soul. Anyway, travelling by train can become a separate adventure by itself. You’d better give it a try! And if you find this article helpful, let me know on about that in a tweet or an instagram post with #ArmeniaTravelTips. I’ll be looking forward!

Featured image credits: @meginnie