The 10 Most Beautiful Monasteries in Armenia

Visiting Armenia? The Caucasian country is full of scenic spots, but what really sets it apart are its beautiful monasteries built on mountain tops or hidden within gorges. Here we list our favourite ten monasteries in Armenia.

The 10 Most Beautiful Monasteries in Armenia

When reading through blogs and guidebooks in preparation for our trip to Georgia and Armenia, we were surprised to find that almost all recommended sites of interest in Armenia seemed to include churches and monasteries. Not being religiously inclined ourselves (but coming from a country having more than one church per square kilometer), we were worried about the possibility of getting bored seeing so many churches, and a little hesitant about making the effort to locate some of the more inaccessible sites.

A group of Khachkars, intrictaely carved with crosses stand inside Noratus cemetery - monasteries in Armenia

Khachkars at Noratus Cemetery

We quickly realised that there is nothing boring about Armenia’s houses of worship though – from ancient churches with mysterious inscriptions to monasteries built within remote mountains and canyons, their (sometimes) simple beauty and spectacular setting captivated our attention from the beginning to the end of our road trip across the country.

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Armenia’s national church, the Armenian Apostolic Church has been defined in the country’s constitution; Armenia was in fact the first country to adopt Christianity as its official religion. With about 95% of the population identifying as such, Armenian people hold a very strong relationship with their Church, evidenced in its influence on Armenian culture.

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Visiting every single monastery within the territory is a rather daunting task which was not within the scope of out trip, but we did manage quite a few! So here’s a list of our favourites monasteries in Armenia:

1. Geghard Monastery

The UNESCO World Heritage Site by the name of Geghard, which literally translates to ‘spear’, is so called after the Holy Lance, the spear which pierced the side of Jesus Christ during his crucifixion. The monastery complex consists of various churches and chambers some of which are hewn into the cliff wall accessed via cave passageways. One of the chambers allows for some extraordinary acoustics which was demonstrated by a female choir, which on occasion grace the place, to the delight of the tourists exploring it. The eerie yet splendid voices gave a mystical feel to the whole experience and as I listened to them, I tried to imagine the monks living and worshipping inside these caves hundreds of years ago. This must have been and still is one exceptionally distinctive monastery!

Location – about an hour’s drive from Yerevan

Admission – free; on-site parking – 200 Dram

View of theWide angle view of the Geghard monastry in armenia once the resting place of the Holy Lance (monasteries in Armenia)

Geghard Monastry

2. Tatev Monastery

This gorgeous monastery sits at the edge of a cliff overlooking a deep canyon in the south of Armenia. Having started off as a pagan temple on the cliff, this was subsequently replaced by a church and then by the present monastery. The University of Tatev, one of the most important during the medieval period, was located within the monastery grounds during the 14th and 15th century and housed hundreds of monks as well as calligraphers, painters and philosophers. The monastery is accessible via a winding narrow and (typically) badly-paved road up the cliff or alternatively by a trip on the Wings of Tatev, a cable-car that holds the Guinness World Record for the Longest non-stop double track cable car. If you’re driving up to the monastery, be sure to stop at the Devil’s Bridge, a natural rock formation surrounded by hot springs and mysterious caves. Alternatively you can visit the the bridge and then back track a couple of kilometers to the village of Halidzor where the cable car terminal is located if you would like to experience both (which is what we did). A beautifully restored olive-oil mill, built in the 17th century, is found adjacent to the monastery and is freely open to the public.

Location – Syunik Province, South Armenia

Admission – free, Wings of Tatev Aerial Tramway – 5000 Dram return journey

Free wifi is available on site.

Tatev Monastery sits at the edge of a cliff overlooking a deep canyon (monasteries in Armenia)

Tatev Monastery

3. Garni Temple

Garni is is the only non-Christian house of worship on this list having been built in honour of the Sun God before Armenia converted to Christianity in the fourth century. Built right at the edge of a canyon and surrounded by mountains, Garni’s spectacular backdrop and beautiful facade, makes it one of the most visited sites in Armenia. The temple was demolished in 1979 by an earthquake and reconstructed from the stones and debris that remained scattered throughout the site after the incident. It is located on the way to Geghard Monastery so you may wish to visit both on the same trip.

Location – about 45 drive minutes from Yerevan

Admission – 1200 Dram, on-site parking – 200 Dram

Free wifi is available on site.

The pagan temple of Garni stands proudly

Pagan Temple of Garni

4. Sanahin Monastery

A 10th century monastery located in the Debed canyon which, together with the nearby monastery of Haghpat, is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Beautiful in its dark gloominess, with an almost neglected feel, this monastery contains several khachkars (engraved stones) and tombs, giving a very ‘Indiana Jones-y’ kind of feel. Watch out for the protruding paving stones within the dark interior! 

Location – Debed canyon, Lori Province

Admission – free

view of the rich arches and architectural decorations of the Sanahin monsatry in armenia. Part of it is darkened giving a mystical feeling (monasteries in Armenia)

Sanahin Monastry



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5. Khor Virap Monastery

Located a few kilometers away from the border with Turkey, this monastery is most famous for being an important pilgrimage site, but what captivated us most was the gorgeous setting within the rural village of Pokr Vedi with Mount Ararat as a backdrop, often the subject of many guidebook cover photos, and probably the one scene that is synonymous with monasteries in Armenia (or Armenia in general). We did in fact spend the majority of our time taking pictures of the monastery, as opposed to actually spending time inside. Having said that, the church contains a claustrophobic but interesting empty pit which can be accessed through two different openings, each having a long metal ladder. The pit was allegedly Gregory the Illuminator’s (a Christian preacher) prison for thirteen years, which he survived thanks to a local woman who secretly used to feed him.

Location – Pokr Vedi village on the Ararat plain, about an hour’s drive away from Yerevan

Admission – free

a view of khor virap monastery with the background of Ararat mountain

Khor Virap Monastery

Related post – Armenia’s Top Five

6. Etchmiadzin Cathedral

Being the mother church of the Armenian Apostolic Church, this is the most important religious site for Armenian Christians. The site grounds are large and the cathedral, said to be the oldest in the world, quite beautiful. Because we prefer quaint buildings rather than large churches, this was not one of our favourite sites however we included it here because of the UNESCO World heritage Site status and its importance to the Armenian people. It also holds the lance said to be that used during Jesus Christ’s crucifixion, previously held in the Geghard Monastery (see above).

Location – Vagharshapat (Etchmiadzin), Armenia about 30 mins drive from Yerevan

Admission – free

Picture of the chandelier decorating the roof of the Etchmiadzin Cathedral and monastery in Armenia

Chandelier at the Etchmiadzin Cathedral

7. Noravank Monastery

Yet another very beautiful monastery set in a narrow gorge surrounded by red mountains. The Armenians certainly knew how to choose the the most gorgeous locations for building their monasteries! The 13th century site includes three churches each containing intricate stone carvings and also a number of interesting khachkars. You can climb up some steps to access the second level of the Surb Astvatsatsin Church but a word of warning – the steps are very narrow, quite high and there’s no railing to hold on to so it is very easy to fall off. Do not try climbing them if you suffer from vertigo!

Location – in a gorge close to Yeghegnadzor, South Armenia

Admission – free

a view of the Novarank Monastery showing a background of the gorge walls

Noravank Monastery

8. Hayravank Monastery

This is probably one of the most underrated monasteries in Armenia, which, initially when planning our trip, I was thinking of skipping in favour of the more popular Sevanavank . During the coastal drive along Lake Sevan however, the structure with its picturesque setting caught our eye, so we decided to make a short stop. We couldn’t access the church because it was closed for a wedding celebration but we could at least enjoy walking around the site inspecting the khachkars. Small and simple, the church is surrounded by the lake and green fields where livestock graze, making it one of the most charming places to visit around Sevan.

Location – in the village of Hayravank, Sevan Lake

Admission – free

Cows graze in the fields near the lake with Hayravank monastery in the distance

Hayravank monastery

9. Zvartnots Cathedral

Despite its name, Zvartnots cathedral is actually a 7th century Christian complex which already lay in ruins by the 10th century (but no cause as to why it was ruined is known). Also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the temple provides a splendid view of Mount Ararat on clear day which is, unfortunately, quite rare. If you’re fan of ancient structures, this is a site that you will surely find interesting. Do not miss seeing the sun dial and the “phallus” stone located on the southern side of the temple which symbolises fertility – this was found during excavations and was considered sacred to ancient pagan worshippers.

Location – Vagharshapat (Etchmiadzin), Armenia about 30 mins drive from Yerevan

Admission – 1000 Dram, note that it is possible to drive all the way up to the ruins after purchasing the ticket

A view of the partially reconstructed Zvartnots temple

Zvartnots Archaeological Site

10. Sevanavank Monastery

This complex, situated on a peninsula on the beautiful Lake Sevan, consists of two 9th century churches separated by a narrow path and is one of the more popular monasteries in Armenia. The site overlooks the lake and is indeed very scenic although rather noisy on a Saturday night since it somehow seemed to double up as a play area for kids at that time.

Location – the peninsula on Sevan Lake

Admission – free

View of Sevenavank Monastery in Armenia overlooking the calm Lake Sevan below

Sevanavank Monastery overlooking Lake Sevan

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2 Comments

  1. Nina Frambuesa
    07/03/2017

    Wow, these are lovely! As a Muslim, I love visiting churches as I find them very interesting, but monasteries are a bit more difficult to come by. Your pictures are beautiful!

    Reply
    • Cheeky Passports
      07/03/2017

      Thank you Nina 🙂 We love to find beautiful churches and monasteries too!

      Reply

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