When I travel, beautiful monasteries always top the list of things to do and places to see in any city or country.
Beautiful monasteries like Grandchamp in Switzerland, Tatev in Armenia. offer quiet places to reflect on your travels, and the many offer overnight monastery stays or spiritual retreats. Monasteries often hold the key to understanding the cultural and religious history of a place.
For instance, in Portugal, almost all of the monasteries were closed during a period of history known as the “dissolution of the monasteries.” Touring the monasteries in Portugal, such as the Monastery of Santa Clara a Velha in Coimbra, provides a fascinating view of history in Portugal. Or in Antigua, Guatemala, where most of the monasteries are in beautiful ruins because of a major earthquake in the 1700s that shaped all of life in Central America.
The Most Beautiful Monasteries Around the World
Whether you plan to visit as many beautiful monasteries as you can in your lifetime (like me!), or simply enjoy the chance to see photos of peaceful and beautiful monasteries — here is a collection of some of the most beautiful monasteries in the world. Submitted by travelers and travel bloggers, these monasteries provide a glimpse into the world’s religious traditions and cultures, and how you can take part or visit for yourself.
Santa Catalina Monastery — Arequipa, Peru
Submitted by Sean Lau, of Living Out Lau
Santa Catalina Monastery, or Monastario Santa Catalina, is one of the most interesting attractions in Arequipa, Peru.
Spanning an entire block in the historic center of Arequipa, a visit to this mysterious convent is a must on any Peru itinerary.
From far away, you can easily tell that this building is no ordinary building. The high walls guard the perimeter of this religious UNESCO Heritage site, as if there are secrets that cannot be told.
In fact, this convent was no ordinary convent, only the richest families from Spain could send their daughter here. Each family would have to pay a dowry for their daughter’s admission to the monastery. The more the family paid, the more luxury their daughter would be able to have in the monastery. For example, the more money they brought with them, the more servants they could have and the more luxurious their cells would be.
Eventually, words got out of this outrage and the monastery was reformed by the Vatican. Nowadays, the Santa Catalina Monastery has only a few nuns living on the premise. However, you will not see them as they are isolated from the parts where visitors can go.
Make sure you allow at least half a day to visit this historic place. When I visited, it was like I was in a city inside a city. You can spend hours wandering down the streets and checking out the various cells. An English-speaking tour guide is also available for hire on-site.
Lake Tana Monasteries – Ethiopia
Submitted by Oksana & Max from Drink Tea and Travel
Lake Tana in Ethiopia has a truly unique collection of beautiful monasteries. Twenty monasteries dot the lake on various islands and on the Zege Peninsula. Some of the monasteries were built in the fourteenth to the sixteenth century and are still active today.
You can go on a boat tour to visit the monasteries from Bahir Dir but they will usually last a full day. Some of the monasteries are over 3 hours from Bahir Dir on Ethiopia’s largest lake. However, the boat ride is beautiful. You’ll find coffee plantations, mango and fig trees decorating the lush shoreline.
At Daga Estefanos you will be able to see a 16th century painting of the Madonna, the mummy remains of Ethiopian Emperors and other relics of historic significance. Legend has it that the island monastery of Tana Cherkos held the Ark of the Covenant for 800 years, while the Ura Kidane Mehret Monastery is known for its vibrant and colorful frescoes which decorate its walls. Each monastery has its own unique history and most offer tours conducted by resident priests. It makes a trip to Lake Tana monasteries all the more special.
Santuario Madonna della Corona Monastery – Italy
Submitted by Dianna at Travels in Poland
The Santuario Madonna della Corona is an Italian monastery hanging on the cliffside in Spiazzi not far from Lake Garda in northern Italy. The sanctuary has been a pilgrimage site in Italy for anyone who wanted to combine peace with prayer as its location provides for an incredible sense of calm over the surrounding hills and mountains. The Santuario was a monastery for several hundred years where monks would go to find peace. Midway into the 1600’s, newer construction renewed the church and built upon its foundation which is much of the Santuario as is seen today.
To reach the Santaurio there is a winding pathway, accessible up to a point by bus, but mostly by foot. Along the pathway, visitors will see the stations of the cross depicted by statues along the road. At the Sanctuary, there are also many sculptures in and around the church itself. Though there are no longer monks living here, the experience of visiting the Santuario is a peaceful one and is worth the trip if you are ever in the Verona area of northern Italy.
Sveti Marija Benedictine Monastery – Croatia
Submitted by Kimmie Connor – Adventures and Sunsets Blog
Built on a small island within Mljet National Park in 1151, it is also one of the oldest religious places in Croatia as it was settled by a small group of Benedictine monks who came across the Adriatic from Italy. It is also one of the most beautiful monasteries in Croatia. The monastery is still in use today, and it’s not uncommon to hear singing coming from the church when you are visiting.
This beautiful monastery has a fascinating history. First of all, it was built on an island in the middle of the larger of two lakes within Mljet national park. Previously, these two lakes were freshwater and not connected to the ocean. However, the monks were very smart all those years ago! Monks from the monastery actually dug out a pathway between the lake and the ocean where the land was the thinnest – so they could harness the power of the tide! Today the lakes are saltwater and indeed ebb and flow with the changing tide of the ocean.
During the 14th century plague, the monks made use of the benedictine monastery’s island location by using it as a place of quarantine. During this time the monks doubled as pharmacists, helping people during the Black Death.
Today, a ferry ride to Sv. Marija Island and the Monastery is free when you purchase the entry fee to Mljet National Park. You can walk the grounds and the gardens and possibly have a coffee at the small cafe on the island. Many people kayak and ride bikes in the area, too – it’s one of the most serene destinations to visit in Croatia.
Mar Saba Monastery – Israel
Submitted by Brittany of the Sweet Wanderlust
Founded by Saint Sabas in 483BC, Mar Saba is one of the oldest inhabited monasteries in the world and is the largest monastery in the Judean Desert. It holds the relics of Saint Sabas, which were stolen by Crusaders in the 12th century, but returned to Mar Saba in 1965 by Pope Paul VI after he visited the Holy Land.
Overlooking the Kidron Valley, Mar Saba was once home to more than 300 monks at the sprawling complex. Today, less than 20 monks remain in residence.
As a woman, I was only allowed to view this ancient Greek Orthodox monastery from the opposite hillside. Women may also visit the separate Women’s Tower, rumored to have been built by St. Sabas’ mother. Men are allowed to tour the monastery with one of the monks of Mar Saba.
The impressive monastery seems like an extension of the desert itself, and is a beautiful reminder to spend time away from worldly distractions.
Fo Guang Shan Monastery – Kaohsiung, Taiwan
Submitted by Erica Riley of Travels with Erica
Fo Guang Shan is located in a Buddhist monastery in southern Taiwan just outside Kaohsiung. It is the birthplace of the Fo Guan Shan religion, which is a form of humanistic Buddhism.
Fo Guan Shan is home to both a working monastery as well as an incredible Buddhist museum. The museum is made up of multiple exhibits that explain the history of Fo Guang Shan and Buddhism, Buddhist celebrations around the world, and features a number of different artifacts and pieces of artwork.
The main draw for tourists to visit Fo Guang Shan is the Big Buddha. The Big Buddha is the largest bronze sitting Buddha statue in the world and is a staggering 108 meters tall! It is located in the Buddha Museum portion of Fo Guan Shan.
The monastery portion of Fo Guang Shan has incredible sights as well. It features the largest standing Buddha statues in Southeast Asia. The Great Buddha Standing statue is surrounding by 480 smaller Buddha statues and is one of the most breathtaking sights I’ve ever visited.
Fo Guang Shan has a number of restaurants (including an incredible vegetarian buffet) and small souvenir shops as well.
I didn’t stay at the monastery, but you are able to! You need to call +886 7 656 1921to book your stay in advance. There are people who speak English and can help you book your stay, but it is best to call after 2pm Taiwan time because that will give you the best chance of reaching an English speaker.
Bodbe Monastery – Republic of Georgia
Submitted by Emily of WanderLush
The second nation to adopt Christianity as its state religion (after neighboring Armenia), Georgia is renowned for its impressive Orthodox houses of worship. The country is peppered with beautiful monasteries, soaring churches, secret monasteries hewn from stone, and cloisters perched on the precipice of mountains. None is more lovely than Bodbe Monastery in the eastern Kakheti region.
Bodbe is located near the town of Sighnaghi, roughly one-and-a-half-hours’ drive from the capital, Tbilisi. One of the best things to do when visiting Sighnaghi is to take a leisurely stroll from the old town walls up to the monastery complex.
Officially called the Monastery of St. Nino at Bodbe, it’s a Georgian Orthodox monastic complex and Bishops’ seat. Buildings in the compound date back to the 9th century and include a three-nave basilica, a bell tower, and a small church constructed to house the relics of St. Nino. Bodbe’s connection to St. Nino, the woman credited with bringing Christianity to Georgia and the Iberian Peninsular from Cappadocia in the 4th Century, makes this an extremely important pilgrimage site. Beneath the main complex and accessed via a steep stone staircase, the Spring of St. Nino brings forth healing waters. It’s a favorite spot for pilgrims to kick off their boots and wet their toes.
Bodbe is a working monastery with a few dozen nuns living on the property. They are single-handedly responsible for maintaining the vast estate, which many locals say is the most picturesque in the whole country. Manicured hedges and flower gardens lead to a sloping lawn that overlooks the Alazani Valley and majestic snow-capped Caucasus mountains. The nuns also grow grapes and fruit to make wine and preserves that you can purchase from the gift shop.
Fountains Abbey – Yorkshire, England
Submitted by Angela Price of Where Angie Wanders
Nestling in the rolling green countryside of Ripon in Yorkshire you will find Fountains Abbey, England’s largest and best-preserved monastic ruins.
It is quite phenomenal that so much of the ruins are still intact considering the building is over 800 years ago. A day visit will leave you with a feeling of peace and tranquillity and an understanding of how a monastic order would have lived many centuries ago.
Fountains Abbey was founded in the 12th century by 13 Benedictine monks who were disillusioned with how their brethren monks were living in York and decided they wanted to return to a stricter and simpler way of existence. They dressed in course wool habits and followed a daily routine of prayer and meditation and rumour has it that they even purged their bodies each season by blood-letting!
The monks set about constructing Fountains Abbey by employing lay brothers (labourers) as stonemasons, farmers and general handymen. This allowed the monks to spend every moment of their time in the worship of God. Crops and livestock were tended and sold at local markets which made the monastery very wealthy.
Fountains Abbey Order continued for 400 years with no contact to the outside world other than offering shelter to other travelling monks.
In 1539 Henry Vlll of England passed a bill for the dissolution of all Catholic monasteries and the roof at Fountains Abbey was stripped off and its stone taken for new buildings elsewhere. It was left unfit for worship and so the monks had no choice but to search for a safe haven.
Fountains Abbey is now owned by the English National Trust who act as caretakers for its preservation so that future generations can also enjoy it. Do not miss this beautiful monastery when you visit Yorkshire, England!
Sam Poh Tong Temple – Ipoh, Malaysia
Submitted by Lee from The Travel Scribes
It’s a little far off the traveler’s beaten track in Malaysia but tucked away in a little quiet corner of Ipoh, a town best known for its delicious white coffee and striking street art, is the somber story of Sam Poh Tong cave temple.
The temple is said to date back to 1912, when a large cave was discovered by a Buddhist monk from China who lived there for about 20 years. Loosely translated as ‘Cave of Triple Gems’ (even though there don’t seem to be any gems in sight), the complex includes the cave temple, the monastery, a crematorium and an exquisite landscaped garden complete with fish pond, hanging lanterns and interesting rock formations. There is also a large ‘tortoise pond’ full of native tortoises fed by visitors, although this feels a little soulless.
While the complex is interesting and undoubtedly beautiful, it’s got a sad tale to tell as the monastery only has one living monk. The monk is cloistered inside until his death, living alone in solitude until his passing.
Monastery de la Catuja de Santa Maria Jerez Defensión – Spain
Submitted by Joanna of World In My Pocket
I stumbled upon the beautiful Monasterio de la Cartuja de Santa Maria Jerez Defensión as I was leaving Jerez de la Frontera, and I had to stop by. Dominating the entire scenery and clearly visible from the road, this Monastery is built in an impressive Late Gothic architecture, combining elements from the Baroque and Renaissance periods as well. As the sun was preparing to set, the Monastery’s façade was covered by a warm orange light, making it look even more spectacular.
It took two centuries to complete the works at Cartuja Monastery, which today is the home of a community of nuns. I arrived at Cartuja Monastery at closing time, but even so, the kind nuns let me in and allowed me in for a short visit. The nuns, all dressed in white, just finished their evening singing and were tidying up the interior of the church, which was lit by candles. It was such a peaceful experience to watch them, in silence.
The Cartuja Monastery can be visited from Tuesday until Saturday, between 7AM and 6PM. The church inside the Monastery is only opened for mass, at 7:15AM, 8:15Am and 5PM. The Monastery has a small museum and a shop selling crafts and marmalade made by the nuns, which is open between 11AM-2PM.
Calday Abbey — Calday Island, Pembrokeshire, Wales (UK)
Submitted by Suzanne, from Meandering Wild
Caldey Island is located a few miles off the Pembrokeshire coast in South West Wales in the U.K. Tenby, the nearby town is a traditional seaside town and boats run during the summer months out to the island and the monastery. Calday Abbey, a beautiful monastery, is still a working, living monastery and visiting the island is restricted. However, It is possible to stay on the island and attend a retreat within the monastery, but there are no holiday cottages or hotels. The Abbey is closed to tourist visitors but can be seen towering over the main square on Calday Island.
The monks who live on the island follow the centuries-old tradition of Cistercian monasticism. Like many monks and nuns, they produce their own chocolate and lavender-based fragrances that are available from the small shop on Calday Island.
The island has no vehicles, but the small church, lighthouse, and shop are all within walking distance if you visit the island for a day-trip. In a day-trip to Calday Island, you can explore the remains of the old buildings and church. There is also a small sandy beach by the jetty with crystal clear water. There are some beautiful walks around the island with views all the way to Lundy Island and South West England.
Jeronimos Monastery, Portugal
Submitted by Soumya from Stories by Soumya
The Jeronimos Monastery in Belem, Portugal is one of the most beautiful monasteries that I have visited around the world. It is a fascinating depiction of Portugal’s Manueline style of architecture inspired by sea voyages, maritime adventures, and Portugal’s navigation prowess.
For a very long time, Jeronimos was home to monks of the Hieronymite order. They provided assistance to Portuguese explorers who embarked on their world journeys from here. It is believed that Vasco da Gama spent his last night here before starting on his expedition to discover the Orient. Jeronimos is not a living monastery anymore but has played an important role in shaping Portuguese history.
Today, the Jeronimos Monastery stands as a proud representation of Portugal’s Age of Discoveries. No doubt, the monastery along with the Belem Tower was inscribed into the UNESCO Heritage list in 1983. Jeronimos also houses the tomb of Vasco da Gama, a major tourist attraction in Lisbon. It is also interesting to note that the famous Portuguese dessert, Pasteis de Nata, was invented by monks of the Jeronimos Monastery. The recipe remains a top-secret, even today!
Visiting the Jeronimos Monastery in Belem is an absolute must if you are a history buff or just a curious tourist. You can enter the main church for free. But you need to pay a fee to enter the cloisters which I totally recommend. The cloisters are stunning.
Monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe – Spain
Submitted by Wendy Werneth of The Nomadic Vegan
This monastery in Guadalupe, in the remote Extramadura region of Spain, was for centuries the most important monastery in Spain. As a royal monastery, it was the preferred place of worship of Spanish kings and queens. In fact, this is where Ferdinand and Isabella signed the authorization of Christopher Columbus’ first voyage, and it’s also where Columbus himself made his first pilgrimage after “discovering” the New World.
The monastery building has been constantly in use since its construction. It was first inhabited by the Order of St. Jerome for more than four centuries. As part of the larger Spanish confiscation movement, it was then seized by the government in 1835. Nowadays, it’s managed jointly by the government of Extremadura province and the Franciscan Order, and Franciscan monks still live inside the monastery.
As a visitor to the monastery, not only can you admire the beautiful architecture and learn about the building’s long history, you can also dine in the courtyard of the cloister and even sleep inside it, as some of the rooms have been converted into an hospedería or guesthouse. Don’t expect anything super luxurious, but at less than 70 euros per night for a double room it’s quite a steal. Reservations can be made by email at hospederia@
Tabo Monastery – India
Submitted by Samanta from Intentional Detours
Visiting the beautiful Tabo Monastery is an absolute must on a Spiti Valley trip. The ancient place of worship was built by the Royal Lama Yeshe-O in 996 CE and is the oldest continuously operating Buddhist enclave in India. The Tabo Monastery is located in the high-altitude village of Tabo and is composed of nine temples, four stupas and multiple decorated cave shrines with elaborate frescoes that date back as far as the 10th century.
Presently, a few dozen monks still live and study at the Tabo Monastery, and hundreds of students study at the local Serkong School which is sponsored by it.
The interior of the monastery (from which cameras are forbidden) house scripts, paintings and murals that date back hundreds upon hundreds of years. For the ultimate Spiti experience, you stay in the Tabo Monastery Guesthouse, which is located right behind the main temple. Though basic, the rooms will give you a look into how the monks and monks in training live day-in and day out!
Haeinsa Temple – South Korea
Submitted by Joel of World Heritage Journey
Haeinsa Temple is the most important Buddhist monastery in South Korea. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the monastery and temple are located in a mountain area near the city of Daegu. They’ve been continuously occupied since the 9th century. But Haeinsa Temple is on the World Heritage List because it’s home to one of the most remarkable works of literature in the entire world: the Tripitaka Koreana. This is a collection of 81,000 woodblocks carved with the Tripitaka, or the Buddhist holy scriptures. Scholars believe that the carvings, totaling some 52 million characters, were carved by just a small handful of people. And incredibly, there are no known mistakes, errors, or corrections. It all makes Haeinsa Temple a very special place to stay.
One-night temple stays are offered on Friday nights only, and can be booked online via eng.templestay.com. The program includes learning and practicing meditation with a monk, chatting over tea with monks, watching ritual drumming and bell-ringing ceremonies, joining morning prayers at 4am, a woodblock printing session, and taking meals in complete silence in the main dining hall with the other monks. The beds are comfortable and the guesthouse is wifi-equipped, though it’s strictly one person per room. All in all it was a fantastic experience, and one that I’d highly recommend!
Arkadi Momastery – Crete, Greece
Submitted by David from Delve into Europe
Arkadi Monastery is the most famous monastery on the island of Crete, and one of the most beautiful monasteries in Greece.
It’s a small working Eastern Orthodox Monastery in the hills above the city of Rethymno, with some of the best beaches in Crete 15 minutes’ journey down the hill.
Arkadi is a popular day trip destination from Rethymno and even Chania and Heraklion, both of which are around 80 km (50 miles) away. It was the scene of what is often called the Cretan Holocaust in 1866, when the Monastery was besieged by Turkish forces as a small force and around 70 women and children sought refuge there.
The Cretans held out for three days against overwhelming numbers and odds. Eventually they decided they would prefer to die rather than face capture by the Turks, and the abbot blew up the gunpowder store, killing those inside. The Cretan revolt failed, despite worldwide sympathy, and the island was finally incorporated into modern Greece in 1913.
The Arkadi site is fortified, a reminder of its often turbulent past. Inside, the highlight is the beautiful church with the honey-coloured Venetian Baroque façade. There’s also a tree in the courtyard with bullet holes from the 1866 siege, and it’s also possible to visit other chapels, the refectory and the small Museum inside.
Po Lin Monastery – Hong Kong
Submitted by Clemens from Travellers Archive
Once a lonely monastery nestled in a lush mountain landscape, the Po Lin Monastery in Hong Kong found its place on the world map in 1993 with the erection of the extraordinary Tian Tan Buddha statue, also known unofficially as the “Big Buddha”. 34 meters high, sitting, and looking north towards China, the majestic bronze Buddha attracts pilgrims from all over Asia and the world.
The eyes, lips, the posture of the head and the right hand raised to bless give the massive Buddha dignity and a humble personality. Climb the 268 steps to see this remarkable statue, which took 12 years to complete. From the platform you have one of the most beautiful views of the mountains and the South China sea.
Opposite the statue is the Po Lin Monastery, which is one of the most important Buddhist shrines in Hong Kong and known as the “Buddhist World in the South”. The monastery is still home of many monks. That is precisely why there are many colorful manifestations and the paradisiacal garden is well maintained.
Wat Xieng Thong – Laos
Submitted by Roshni of The Wanderlust Within
Wat Xieng Thong (Temple of the Golden City) is one of the largest temples in Luang Prabang, and dates back to the 16th century.
The monastery located close to the Mekong River is decorated with elaborate wall carvings, mosaic patterns and gold leaf.
The highlight of the exterior is the ‘tree of life’ mosaic and the most impressive building is the sim, the temple’s congregation hall. Wat Xieng Thong was built in 1560 by King Setthathirat, and was used for the coronation of the Laos kings.
It is now an active monastery, with monks living and praying there, but is also one of the most popular attractions in Luang Prabang and even has an entry fee of 20,000 kip. The monastery is open daily from 6am – 6pm, and visitors are expected to cover their shoulders and knees, as well as remove their shoes when entering the temple buildings.
Ostrog Monastery – Montenegro
Submitted by Nick Kembel of Spiritual Travels
In the fertile central lowlands of Montenegro stands one of Europe’s most visually impressive religious structures, Ostrog Monastery. The whitewash monastery is carved into the walls of a towering cliff, with stunning panoramic views of the plains far below.
Ostrog Monastery is dedicated to Saint Basil of Ostrog, its founder, who is interred there today. Thousands of pilgrims visit the monastery every day to pray before Saint Basil, making it one of the most popular places of pilgrimage in Europe. This active monastery consists of two sections: Lower Monastery, where most of the monks reside (and visiting pilgrims can spend the night), and Upper Monastery, with the Church of the Cross and the Church of the Presentation, where the founder’s relics lie.
While most pilgrims nowadays visit by car, some still walk for kilometers to reach the monastery and even make the 3-kilometer climb from Lower to Upper Monastery by foot. For visiting travelers, the most interesting way to approach is to walk from remote Ostrog train station and walk in the footsteps of pilgrims to the two monasteries, a two-hour return walk. To find out exactly how to get there from the Montenegrin capital Podgorica or the famous tourist town Kotor, see this detailed guide to getting to Ostrog Monastery.
Geghard Monastery – Armenia
Submitted by Megan of Absolute Armenia
One of the best places to visit in Armenia is Geghard Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located a short distance from the Armenian capital city of Yerevan. The medieval monastery’s main chapel dates back to around 1215 AD (the complex dates back to the 4th century!) and it is renowned for its unique composition and construction.
Geghard Monastery was built into the side of a mountain in the Azat River Valley and it has become one of the icons of Armenia, attracting visitors from all over the world. When you arrive at Geghard Monastery, you will be greeted by many local vendors, selling everything from khroung to sweet sujukh.
There is also a picturesque rock bridge behind the monastery that is worth a visit, so be sure to walk around the entire complex. In addition to visiting Geghard, most tourists find it best paired with a trip to Garni Temple, a nearby Pagan temple.
A trip to Garni and Geghard from Yerevan won’t set you back much by a taxi, but there are also several tours you can take to get there for affordable prices. Visiting Garni-Geghard is the most popular Yerevan day trip and is a must-do when visiting the Armenian capital city.
Kyiv Pechersk Lavra – Ukraine
Submitted by Aram of MeganStarr.com
There are several amazing places to visit and things to do in Kiev, Ukraine. One of the best things to put on your itinerary for the city is to visit Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, a famous UNESCO site located in the Pechersk neighborhood of Kiev.
The monastery is actually a cave complex and is said to be the most important site for the Ukrainian Orthodox religion, dating all the way back to 1051 AD. Interestingly, the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, a monastery home to around 100 monks, contains several buildings and structures within. You will find several bell towers and cave systems on-site.
The Dormition Cathedral is a notable structure within the complex and even though it was annihilated in WW2, it underwent a total reconstruction in recent years. It is easy to spend hours wandering the premises in and around Kyiv Pechersk Lavra and there are several notable Kiev sights nearby- such as the Great Patriotic WW2 Museum, Holodomor Memorial (Ukrainian Genocide), Hotel Salyut, and much more. If you’re extremely keen to learn more about Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, it is advised to prebook a tour of the complex to really understand what you are visiting and seeing. The area can be a bit overwhelming, otherwise.
It is definitely a place to add to your Kiev agenda when you visit Ukraine’s capital city.
Rila Monastery – Bulgaria
Submitted by Stephanie of Sofia Adventures
Rila Monastery is one of my favorite places to visit in Bulgaria.
This Bulgarian Orthodox Monastery dates back to the tenth century, though the magnificent church in the center of the courtyard was built in the nineteenth century in the Bulgarian National Revival style. Make sure to see the grave of Tsar Boris III, the cave of Saint John of Rila, and the 14th-century Tower or Hrelja. If you have some extra time, take a visit to the monastery museum.
Monks still run the monastery today, and it serves as the end of a pilgrimage route for travelers arriving on foot after transiting the Rila Mountains. If you want to stay overnight at the monastery, you can arrange to do so by contacting the monks directly. You can easily visit Rila Monastery from Sofia or from Plovdiv. It makes a great day trip from either. You can also stay in the area for a day or two and enjoy the Rila Mountains.
Kykkos Monastery – Cyprus
Submitted by Alex of Swedish Nomad
Kykkos Monastery is one of the most famous monasteries in Cyprus, and it dates back to the 11th century. It holds an important place within Orthodox faith and features several impressive mosaic artworks and paintings. Kykkos Monastery is located in the Troodos Mountains, about 20 kilometers from Pedoulas. It is open daily and visitors can visit the museum to see historic and religious items. It is a working monastery, and monks are living and strolling the grounds at Kykkos Monastery.
There is no possibility of making an overnight stay at Kykkos Monastery. However, there are hotels within driving distance for those who wish to explore more of the place. Also please note that there is a strict dress code, and no shorts or bare shoulders are allowed inside the monastery.
Kykkos is also well-known for holding one of three icons that are associated with Apostle Luke. It has been covered in silver gilt for 200 years, and it’s standing protected in front of the massive iconostasis. It’s a beautiful monastery with impressive paintings and vaults. It was originally established by Alexious I Komnenons, who was the Byzantine emperor in the 11th century. Nearby, you can also walk to the orthodox church of Kykkos, which is very beautiful and home to the tomb of Archbishop Makarios III.
Gandantegchinlen Monastery, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Submitted by Breanna from breannawilson.com
All monasteries are fascinating if you ask me, but Gandantegchinlen Monastery in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia takes the cake.
It’s a working monastery complex where monks still live (about 150 of them) with a deep history that includes one Dalai Lama calling it home and a narrow escape from destruction during Soviet times (the complex’s foundation dates back to 1809).
Today, locals bring offerings to the monks, sharing their problems (usually concerning a loved one with a health issue), and a list of chants and books are prescribed to help bring some resolve to the concern at hand. Mongolians are very spiritual and watching them come here in search of answers and peace has become a sort of therapeutic practice for me when I’m in the city. Discovering a new detail every time I make my way through the complex, and listening to the sound of the gongs and the chants floating through the complex every day at 9 am doesn’t hurt either.
Tiger’s Nest Monastery – Bhutan
Submitted by Jeremy Paterson at Cultura Obscura
The Paro Taktsang monastery, more commonly known as the Tiger’s Nest, is like something out of a fantasy. Jutting out majestically from the mountainside high up in Paro Valley, this stunning complex of traditional Bhutanese structures has become the icon of the country.
Legend tells that Guru Padmasambhava – otherwise known as Guru Rinpoche, a highly important figure in Bhutan’s history – was brought to this location from Tibet by Yeshe Tsogal, a former wife of an emperor who had transformed herself into a tigress. Here, he meditated inside one of the caves and the place became holy. The cave in which he meditated is still there and gives the Tiger’s Nest its name.
One of the main aspects of this particular cultural jewel is its seclusion. Visitors and pilgrims can expect a lengthy hike to visit the Tiger’s Nest, not least because once you come within sight of the monastery, the only way to reach it is to climb down the other side of the mountain you’ve just climbed so that you can then climb the one the monastery sits on! Needless to say, the view is matched by the achievement of making it there in the first place.
Once there, visitors receive a warm welcome; the monastery is occupied by Buddhist monks who conduct regular religious ceremonies and act as guides for those who wish to learn about their culture and way of life.
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