Founded in 1828, the city of Vanadzor is the capital of the Lori province and the third largest city in Armenia. At the time of the city’s foundation, when Armenia was a part of the Russian empire, it was named Gharakilisa, meaning black church, a reference to a church that still stands in the city. In the Soviet times, Vanadzor was a major industrial city, famous for its chemical production. Vanadzor’s neoclassical architecture set against the green mountains surrounding the city creates its own unique atmosphere. Today, the city is rapidly developing, becoming one of Armenia’s educational, cultural, and tourism centers.
1. Learn about the region’s culture at Museum of Local Lore of Lori-Pambak
Start your exploration of Vanadzor by getting acquainted with the history and culture of the region at the Museum of Local Lore of Lori-Pambak. Take a journey from the 3rd millennium BCE to present days and learn about the life and traditions of the people living in the Lori-Pambak region. Museum’s exhibitions present archaeological and ethnographic artifacts, handicrafts, carpets, jewelry, weapons, ceramics and much more.
2. Explore the local art scene at the Vanadzor Fine Arts Museum
Founded in 1974, Vanadzor Fine Arts Museum is another must-visit museum for travelers visiting the city, because it gives a deep insight into the art life of the region. The exhibition of the museum, which occupies 3 floors, presents paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings by renowned Armenian artists, both classic and contemporary, drawing a line from past to present and introducing the development of art in this part of Armenia.
3. Visit the Church of the Holy Mother of God
Located on a hill at the confluence of rivers Pambak and Tandzut, the Church of the Holy Mother of God was founded in 1828-1830. It is one of the most notable landmarks of Vanadzor. Evidence suggests that an older church existed on the site, built in the 13th century. It is said that the church was built of black tufa stones, which gave Vanadzor its historical name when the settlement was founded, Gharakilisa, meaning black church.
4. Check out the Summer House of Tairov
A native of Vanadzor, Vasil Tairov was a notable Armenian winemaker and scientist. Tairov was the founder of the Russian scientific school of viticulture and winemaking, as well as one of the founders of champagne production in the Russian empire. His summer house was built in Vanadzor in 1895. Today, the building houses the Prelacy of the Gougark diocese of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
5. Explore the Hayk Square and wander around the city
Spend your afternoon walking along the wide avenues and cozy streets of Vanadzor, enjoying the city’s atmosphere. Check out the Sayat-Nova town park, the famous Lakes of Vanadzor, drink a cup of dark coffee in one of the many street cafés, or taste Vanadzor’s ponchiks (cream filled donuts). And don’t forget to visit the central town square. Constructed in the 1950s, the Hayk Square is the heart of Vanadzor and its administrative center. With its refreshing fountains, neoclassical architecture, the square is a great location for resting and people watching.
6. Buy fresh fruits and veggies at the Vanadzor Market
A typical example of Soviet industrial architecture, the covered agricultural market of Vanadzor has operated in the city for several decades now. Throughout different seasons, you can see farmers from the nearby villages selling fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables outside the market, while inside the building you can wander around the stalls with dairy products, dried fruits, basturma (a seasoned, air-dried cured beef) and other products. Don’t get surprised if the sellers offer you to try their products free of charge, it’s a usual practice! And if you like social realism art, you’ll definitely enjoy the large fresco decorating the wall across from the entrance that praises the farmers’ work.
7. Cycle around the industrial quarters of Vanadzor
In the Soviet times, Vanadzor was a major industrial city, famous particularly for its chemical production. But with the collapse of the economy after Soviet Union’s fall, many factories closed down, and today their abandoned buildings stand like ghosts from the past, making Vanadzor a perfect urbex destination. So make sure to get on a bicycle and cycle around, exploring the industrial quarters of the city. Boo Mountain Bike Park Project in Vanadzor, for example, organizes cycling tours in the city and also around the province of Lori. You can also rent a bike here or learn about possible cycling routes.
8. Unleash your creativity at Terracotta Studio
Get your hands on clay and create your own terracotta artwork or craft a little souvenir that will remind of your experience in Vanadzor. Terracotta Studio is an open space, where people of all ages can study arts and crafts, or join one of their workshops in pottery and ceramics techniques, painting, or learn how to make traditional Armenian dolls.
9. Taste Vanadzor’s Mineral Water
Don’t miss an opportunity to taste refreshing mineral water from a natural spring during your visit to Vanadzor. Known as “Ttu Jur” (“Sour Water”), the spring was discovered in the 1970s, and since then it became one of the locals’ favorite places in the city. In the summertime, you can often see queues of people lining up in front of the spring to fill up their bottles and take some of this delicious water home. See the location of the spring on Google maps.
10. Grab a drink at Solenoid bar
Vanadzor is the capital of Armenia’s rock music. A number of great Armenian rock bands came out of Vanadzor, and it comes as no surprise that the owner of the city’s only bar, Solenoid, is a leader of a local rock band himself. If you’re staying in the city overnight, make sure to visit the bar to get acquainted with the underground culture of Vanadzor and enjoy great music over a bottle of Armenian beer. Cool atmosphere, awesome people, rock-n-roll vibes!
Address: 20 Tigran Mets Avenue