Noravank Monastery Armenia against Red Mountains in the Background. Two domes.
Monasteries,  Armenia

15 Gorgeous Monasteries in Armenia

Armenia is one of the most beautiful countries on earth and Armenia is at the top of many traveler’s bucket lists! Not only does Armenia have great food, friendly people, and awesome natural landscapes, but for the religious or spiritual traveler: it’s also filled with monasteries. The monasteries in Armenia perhaps are only rivaled by the monasteries in Portugal: both countries are a dream for those who love exploring ancient ruins.

With a country full of beautiful monasteries, how does a first-time visitor choose the best monasteries in Armenia? How do you get around Armenia to visit its monasteries and other sites?

Here is my comprehensive guide to the best monasteries in Armenia and Armenia’s best churches, how to get to Armenia’s monasteries, and my honest experience visiting them.

I’ll tell you which ones to visit – and which to skip if you are short on time.

Contents hide

Where is Armenia?

Nestled between Europe and Asia, along the historic Silk Road, Armenia is overflowing with culture, history, and wonderful food! 

Armenia has hundreds of monasteries. Armenia is the world’s oldest Christian country. When Armenia became officially Christian in the year 301, thousands of formerly pagan sites were replaced by monasteries — many survive to this day and are popular with tourists and visitor!

Visiting monasteries is one of the best things to do in Armenia!

“Monastery” in Armenia in many ways means “beautiful church.” Many of the living quarters once in Armenian monasteries are no longer standing, with some exceptions, and there is something stunningly austere and beautiful about the architecture of Armenian churches. 

If you have any interest in religious and spiritual history, or any interest at all in Architecture, then Armenia is a country that will delight you! 

One of my favorite parts about the Monasteries in Armenia is that each and every monastery in Armenia is in a different and unique natural setting. Every monastery in Armenia has its own unique story!

The Best Time to Visit Armenia

The best time to visit Armenia is the Spring and the Fall.

Armenia is cold in Winter and very hot in the Summer.

May is the perfect time to visit Armenia if you want sunny weather and plenty of wildflowers. May is strawberry season, so expect lots of delicious fruit in the markets. October is a perfect time to visit Armenia for visiting Dilijan, Armenia’s Switzerland, to see the beautiful autumn leaves. October is Apricot season, and you’ll have your fill of this delicious Armenian fruit.

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The Best Monasteries in Armenia

Khor Virap Monastery from Hill above. Green Grass and a Church Dome. One of the best monasteries in Armenia.
Khor Virap Monastery, Armenia

KHOR VIRAP MONASTERY

(Խոր Վիրապ – “Deep Dungeon”)

Khor Virap Monastery may be the best monastery in Armenia. Almost every tourist to Armenia attempts to get the classic Armenian photograph of Khor Virap’s monastery dome against the white beauty of Mt. Ararat.

Khor Virap offers so much more than a great Instagram spot in Armenia!

Khor Virap is the Armenian monastery where one of the most important events in Armenian history happened. Khor Virap is where the founder of Armenian Christianity, Gregory the Illuminator, was imprisoned in a pit (complete with snakes!) for 13 years.

After Gregory was freed, he was brought before the Armenian King Tiridates the Third, a persecutor of Christians. Gregory healed him, leading to Armenia becoming the world’s first Christian country, in 301 A.D./CE.

Today you can still climb down into the pit. Thankfully, the snakes are gone! It is a bit of a rickety climb down the ladder!

The walls of Khor Virap monastery are immaculately preserved. There here are some very interesting things to see inside of Khor Virap monastery, including a traditional Armenian oven in the old monastery kitchen.

You can climb up the hill behind Khor Virap for a view of the entire monastic complex. One on the hill, there is an amazing view of Ararat. This is one of the most scenic views in all of Armenia! From Khor Virap monastery you can see all the way to Turkey, and you can even see the guard towers on the border of Turkey and Armenia (they aren’t friendly neighbors).

Unique Features at Khor Virap Monastery 

– Founded in 642 CE, current monastery dates from 17th Century

– Imprisonment site of St. Gregory the Illuminator, who helped turn Armenia into a Christian country (from Pagan) in 301 CE

– Exquisite views of Mt. Ararat on clear days.

– Village nearby home to many storks, possible to see them nesting in the right season.

Location & Getting to Khor Virap

Khor Virap Monastery is located just 42 Kilometers outside of Yerevan, Armenia.

It is possible to take a taxi there for an easy day trip — just ask almost any driver. Or use Yandex taxi app!

If you are looking for a Yerevan to Khor Virap bus, a marshrutka (shared taxi), leaves from behind Yerevan’s main train station at 11 am. 

Many day tours are available to Khor Virap Monastery. There tours often combe the trip with Etchmiadzin or Zvartnots, two nearby and excellent Armenian monasteries.

Hours of Khor Virap Monastery

Khor Virap monastery Armenia is open at 8am. It closes at 18:00pm in winter and 20:00pm in summer. 

Echmiadzin Cathedral and Museum, Armenia

ECHMIADZIN CATHEDRAL AND MUSEUM

 (Էջմիածն – “The Descent of the Only Begotten”)

Etchmiadzin is the Mother Church of the entire Armenian Apostolic Church, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most beautiful monasteries in Armenia.

Etchmiadzin is also called the “Vatican of Armenia”.

Visiting Etchmiadzin is a wonderful thing to do in Armenia because of the beautiful, storied church there. Etchmiadzin also has two of Armenia’s best museums. Inside the museums, you will find the most important artifacts of the Armenian Apostolic Church on display, including part of what is believed to be Noah’s Ark, found on nearby Mt. Ararat.

Walking around Etchmiadzin is like walking around a beautifully manicured Ivy-League campus!

The original church at Etchmiadzin was built in 303 CE, shortly after Armenia became Christian in 301 CE. Ever since then, Etchmiadzin has remained the holiest site for Armenian Christians.

Not only is the current Cathedral the oldest in Armenia, but it is may also be one of the oldest Christian Cathedrals in the world.

Like Khor Virap Monastery, the origins of Etchmiadzin can be traced back to St. Gregory the Illuminator. St. Gregory had a vision of Jesus Christ requesting that a cathedral be built inside the ancient capital, Vagarshapat. Apparently, to make his point, Jesus struck the exact spot where the cathedral was to be built with a golden hammer in St. Gregory’s vision. That is why Etchmiadzin translates to “The Descent of the Only Begotten”, because Gregory had a vision of Jesus descending to Earth to strike the spot with his holy hammer.

The current shape of the Cathedral dates from 483 CE, with further renovations in the 7th Century.

As the Mother Church, Etchmiadzin is a very important site for Baptisms and has a separate Baptismal area. The day I was there was a special graduation day for Armenian high school students, and many groups were coming through to pay their respects at Etchmiadzin. I really enjoyed seeing this slice of Armenian life and Armenian culture.

The grounds also include the palace of the Katholicos, the “pope” of the Armenian Apostolic Church. There is also a very moving monument to the 1915 genocide and many Armenian cross-stones, khachkars.

The Treasury Museum is complete with marble staircases and over 3000 religious artifacts tracing the history of the Armenian Apostolic Church. On display is a fragment of the “true cross” of Jesus Christ, relics from St. Gregory himself, and the piece of Noah’s Ark. There is also a spear, believed to have pierced Jesus’ side, that is revered in Armenia and brought out yearly in procession. Also on display are many vestments and ceremonial objects used for church services and holidays — seeing them helped me to gain an appreciation for the theology and majesty of the Armenian Apostolic tradition.

You can purchase your ticket to the museum behind the main Cathedral (also called Mayr Tacher) in the complex, look for the “Museum” sign. There are two museums on the ground, the Cathedral museum (recommended) and the Reuben Sevak Museum. I saw both but recommend the Cathedral museum over the Reuben Sevak, which is a collection of paintings.

Note: As of Summer 2019 Etchmiadzin Church was undergoing extensive renovation. I wasn’t able to go inside the Cathedral, but even the outside was worth seeing!

Unique Features of Etchmiadzin

-UNESCO World Heritage Site

– One of the oldest cathedrals in the world.

– Set in a lovely garden and campus that is car-free and walkable.

– Museum with world-class relics and religious objects tells the story of the Armenian Apostolic Church.

Special Hint for Visiting Etchmiadzin

Eat at the Agape Refectory located on the grounds at Etchmiadzin. It is considered the oldest Restaurant in Armenia and very cool both inside and on their wide patio. Easy to walk to and one of the best fish dishes with vegetables I’ve ever had. Try their Strawberry Compote too — a sweet, fresh fruit drink popular in Armenia.

Getting To Etchmiadzin

Etchmiadzin is located just 20 km from Yerevan, Armenia.

It’s possible to take a shared taxi or marshrutka from Yerevan. You should be able to find ones leaving every 30 minutes from Yerevan Central Bus station or the corner of Mashtots Avenue and Saryan Street. They cost only 250-300 dram, around US $1.50, and stop at Zvartnots as well (a part of the same UNESCO site at Etchmiadzin, see below).

I traveled to Etchmiadzin with Arites Travel on a private tour that included Zvartnots and St. Hripsima. They arranged for me to meet with the Priest that oversees the entire museum, which was an incredible experience. I valued having a guide with extensive knowledge of Armenian history and the Church.

Hours of Etchmiadzin

The Cathedral is open daily 7:00-21:00.

These are the service times (highly recommended!)
7:30 am & 17:30
On Sundays Divine Liturgy is celebrated at Etchmiadzin at 11:00.

The Cathedral Museum is open from 10:30-17:00, except on Sundays when it opens at 13:30 following services.

Zvartnots Cathedral

ZVARTNOTS CATHEDRAL

 (Էջմիածն – “The Descent of the Only Begotten”)

Zvartnots is also technically not a monastery, but a Cathedral built on the supposed spot where St. Gregory healed King Tiridates of a disease that turned him into a pig. Are you sensing a theme to these monasteries and cathedrals thus far?!

Zvartnots is unique in that it is a circular cathedral and was buried for years before being rediscovered. Zvartnots was originally built in the 7th century and reflects the mix of Arab and Armenian cultures at the time, with architectural elements from Syria and Mesopotamia.

Sadly, Zvartnots collapsed in the 10th century.

There are a lot of questions as to why Zvartnots collapsed, but the most common theory is an earthquake. For years the residents of the town called Zvartnots just thought they had a random hill in their area. Not until the early 1900’s was the site excavated and the cathedral was re-discovered.

Like at Etchmiadzin, Zvartnots also has a museum on site that is included with a visit. The museum has a model replica of what Zvartnots once looked like which is very helpful!

When I was there a singing group (with some singers I recognized from seeing the Opera in Yerevan the night before!) sang inside the museum. Outside of the museum is a traditional Sundial, something you’ll find if you look on almost every Armenian monastery (it’s like a fun game of Armenian where’s-waldo…where’s the Sundial?!).

The arches that still stand at Zvartnots are an amazing photography spot in Armenia There are interesting architectural and artistic details throughout Avartnots and it’s almost impossible to imagine Zvartnots still buried underneath a hill!

Zvartnots isn’t like any other Armenian monastery and holds a unique place in Armenian history.

Unique Features of Zvartnots

-Only circular Cathedral in Armenia

-Excavated after hundred of years underground.

-Informative, small museum with excellent recreation of original Cathedral.

-Very near Yerevan and other sites of interest (Etchmiadzin, St. Hripsima, Khor Virap)

Getting To Zvartnots

Zvartnots is located only 17 km from Yerevan. You can take a bus from Yerevan for about 200 drams (less than a dollar). Catch the Bus 11 at the main bus station, Kilikya Avtokyan, and get off when you see a pillar with an eagle on the highway. You can also tell your driver Zvartnots and he will most likely help you know when you get off!

Zvartnots is also close enough to take a taxi. Almost any taxi driver would be glad to take you and wait for you there!

I enjoyed going with Arites Travel to Zvartnots, so I could learn more about it with an English speaking guide while taking the whole site in.

St. Hripsime Monastery, Armenia

ST. HRIPSIME CHURCH

St. Hripsime church was built in the 7th century, 618 C.E. to be exact, and contains – unsurprisingly – the remains of one of Armenia’s beloved saints: Hripsime. On the eastern edge of Etchmiadzin, it makes a great added stop on a tour to Etchmiadzin and Zvartnots.

It’s the story of St. Hripsime herself that was my favorite part of visiting this church.

St. Hripsime is considered, along with another Saint Gayane and 38 “unnamed nuns”, to be one of the first Christian martyrs of Armenia. This happened before Gregory the Illuminator converted Tiridates III to Christianity. Sadly, Hripsime, Gayane, and their fellow nuns, are said to have been tortured and persecuted for being Christian. Only after the conversation of the King and Armenia to Christianity, was her body recovered and a church was built in her honor. That original church was destroyed when Armenia was invaded by the Sasanian Empire, and there have been a few iterations since then.

The current church is considered a premier example of Armenian Classical architecture and was certainly the most “monumental” of the many Armenian monasteries and churches I have seen. It felt like a fitting tribute to St. Hripsime and her sisters. There is a large central dom and a large porch with the bell tower, typical of Armenian structures.

Inside, visitors can visit St. Hripsime’s tomb in the back part of the church. There is also a beautiful 18th-century altarpiece.

Unique Features of St. Hripsime Church in Armenia

-Honors a female Saint, and one of the earliest in Armenian Christian history.

-Classical, very symmetrical architecture. Designed as a monument vs. a monastery or cathedral.

-Nearby to other sites of interest.

Getting To St. Hripsime Church

St. Hripsime is very close to Etchmiadzin, and considered a part of the city of Etchmiadzin. Many day tours include St. Hripsime on the itinerary. It is also possible to hire a cab to bring you to Etchmiadzin, St. Hripsime, and Zvartnots for an affordable price (even on a moderate budget). Public transportation would be tricky to get here, but the creative could certainly make it happen!

Marmashen Monastery in Armenia near Gyumri, a red dome over the trees with a smaller red church next to it amidst deep green foliage.
Marmashen Monastery, near Gyumri in Armenia

MARMASHEN MONASTERY

(Մարմաշեն – Marmashen)

Marmashen Monastery is sadly mostly in ruins. Interestingly, another circular church like Zvartnots was recently discovered at the site. Marmashen is just outside of Armenia’s “second city” – the unmissable Gyumri. Hit hard by an Earthquake in 1988, Gyumri is a city in the midst of revival.

An inscription on the side of the biggest church in the Marmashen complex tells of the church being built in the late 10th century. It is believed to have been built on the site of a pagan temple, and in total there are 4 churches now discovered on the site. There are some unique architectural features: including special triangular divets in the walls to protect against earthquakes. Apparently with success!

Marmashen sits just over the gorge from the Turkish border. It’s architecture is most reflective of Western Armenian, or Ani, architecture. Set apart from the city and not flocked with tourists, Marmashen was one of the most peaceful monasteries I visited in Armenia. It’s bright red stone stood out on the green landscape and farmers grazed their goats nearby.

If you go to Gyumri — do not miss visiting Marmashen! Marmashen Monastery is one of the best things to do in Gyumri!

Unique Features of Marmashen Monastery in Armenia 

-Ani, Western Armenian, architecture – including “half columns” on the dome typical of the area.

-Red stone churches.

-Ruins of a circular church smaller but similar to Zvartnots.

Getting To Marmashen Monastery

It is necessary to travel by car to Marmashen. If you leave Gyumri by the North Road, the road to Marmashen is just after some post-earthquake housing projects (very heartbreaking to see). A local driver will know how to get you there. It only takes about 10 minutes from the city and is absolutely worth it!

Geghard Monastery, Armenia

GEGHARD MONASTERY

(Գեղարդ, meaning “spear”)

Geghard monastery is unique in Armenia because it is literally carved from the side of a mountain. A UNESCO world heritage site, the monastery is one of the best illustrations in Armenia of medieval Armenian architecture.

Like many Armenian monasteries, Geghard is a monastery complex with multiple chapels and a beautiful Gavit or narthex.

Geghard lies amidst towering cliffs, and just behind it is a river sacred to many Armenians. The original defensive walls still stand, making the whole complex feel grand and imposing.

Geghard dates from the 4th to the 13th century. It was originally called “Ayrivank” which means ‘Monastery of the Cave’, but its name was changed to Geghard, meaning ‘Spear’ because it became the home of one of Armenia’s greatest treasures: the spear said to have pierced Christ’s side. The spear is said to have been brought to Armenia by the Apostle Thaddeus himself.

Like many of the best monasteries in Armenia, Geghard is said to have been founded by St. Gregory the Illuminator himself.

Don’t miss seeing the many inscriptions in the stone signifying those who made donations to the building of Geghard complex in the 12th and 13th century!   

On Sundays, all visitors are welcome to participate in the Liturgy. It’s an unmissable opportunity to understand more about the Armenian Apostolic Church and hear its music sung in a magical, holy space. 

Unique Features of Geghard

-Carved into the cliff.

-Holy spring said to bring healing.

-Extraordinary acoustics.

-UNESCO World Heritage Sit

-11th-13th century carvings.

Getting to Geghard Monastery

Due to Geghard’s popularity, it is easy to get to from Yerevan. Only 36 km from the city, day tours are very popular between Geghard and Garni. It is also possible to take a Taxi and visit yourself, or hire a private tour company. There are many places for lunch nearby, including Noah’s Garden Restaurant where you can watch women making Lavash.


Hovannavank Monastery

SAGHMOSAVANK & HOVANNAVANK MONASTERIES

(Սաղմոսավանք, “Monastery of the Psalms” and Հովհաննավանք, “St. John’s Monastery”)

Saghmosavank & Hovannavank Monasteries are extremely popular among the residents of Yerevan because they are nearby and not usually frequented by tourists. They should be!         Both Saghmosavank and Hovannavank are beautifully situated atop the edge of a massive gorge of the Kasagh river cutting across Armenia. The monasteries create a striking silhouette on the skyline above the gorge. When you visit either of them you get an unparalleled view of the gorge and Armenian nature, and beautiful 13th-century Armenian church architecture.

Saghmosavank was built by the Armenian Prince Vache Vachutyan. It is famous for once housing a book repository. This scriptorium is unique because it has niches throughout and its altar is on the east side. There is also an amazing cemetery full of Armenia’s famous cross-stones.

Hovannavank is built with orange and black Tuf, a type of limestone common in Armenian architecture, lending it a striking checkered pattern. Hovannavank is dedicated to St. John the Baptist.

Both Hovannavank and Saghmosavank have lovely grounds and are wonderful choices for a picnic! Additionally, it is possible to hike between them. There is a trail that follows the edge of the gorge. There are chapels and other monastic ruins along the way.

Unique Features of Saghmosavank and Hovannavank Monasteries

-Located at the top of a beautiful, deep river gorge. 

-Views of both Aragats and Ara Ler mountains, and down into Yerevan valley.

-Beautiful grounds and gardens for a picnic.

-Possibility of hiking between the two monasteries.

Getting To Saghmosavank and Hovannavank Monasteries

Both Saghmosavank and Hovannavank are located near Yerevan. Saghmosavank is located just 34 km of Yerevan, Hovannavank is even closer. It will cost between $8-10 for a taxi directly to Hovannavank. A number of group day tours from Yerevan visit either Saghmosavank or Hovannavank, often on the way to see the Armenian Alphabet Museum and Amberd Fortress.

Cate standing in front of a monastery with a large lake in the background and a blue sky.
Sevanavank Monastery in Armenia

SEVANAVANK MONASTERY

(Սևանավանք, “Sevan Monastery”)

Located on a ridge above the “Blue eye of Armenia”, Lake Sevan (or Sea Sevan), Sevanavank is a beautiful place with exceptional views! A trip to Lake Sevan is a must on any trip to Armenia longer than 2-3 days. Conveniently, Lake Sevan and Sevanavank monastery are on the way to another must-see in Armenia, Armenia’s “Switzerland” or green Dilijan.

The lake Sevan area is of a very high altitude, which is important to know if you have some breathing problems. I didn’t have any trouble there and I have very bad asthma, however. To get to the monastery, there are stairs to climb – another note for accessibility.

The view over the lake onto snow-capped mountains, the many wildflowers and beautiful lizards lounging on rocks, and the lovely monastery itself are absolutely worth visiting. Sevanavank monastery is also one of the best photo spots in Armenia, after Khor Virap Monastery.

One of the most visited tourism sites in Armenia, Sevanavank was founded in 874 by Armenia’s Princess Mariam. Interestingly, Sevanavank was a monastery originally intended as a home for monks from the mother-house, Etchmiadzin, who had sinned! Apparently there was no eating of meat, no wine, and – of course – no women allowed!

Today women are welcome in the two churches in the complex, “Holy Apostles” church and “Holy Mother of God” church. Inside the Holy Mother of God church is a unique Khachkar, or Armenian cross stone, where Jesus is depicted with long, braided hair.

Hike behind the monastery to see one of the presidential houses located to the rear of the peninsula. You can also walk the grounds of a Seminary located nearby with lovely gardens. While visited Sevan you have the chance to take a boat trip on the lake, and try famous fish from the lake (today they are endangered, but a farmed variety is just as delicious!).  

Unique Features of Sevanavank Monastery

-Overlooking Lake Sevan, Armenia’s only major body of water.

-Stunning views all around!

-Unique Khachkars.

-Chance for a boat trip and wonderful meal nearby.

Getting to Sevanavank

It is possible to take a minibus to Sevanavank from the Northern Bus Station. That will lead you to the city of Sevan but you can easily navigate to the monastery from there. Many day tours travel to Sevanavank monastery as well, and often include a boat trip. Lastly, it’s possible to travel with a private tour company such as Arites Travel to see Sevanavank and Haghartsin (below) in one day, allowing you to experience both Lake Sevan and the beautiful Dilijan National Park with limited time.

Green hills surrounding the dome of an Armenian Monastery, Haghartsin Monastery in Dilijan the Armenian Switzerland

Haghartsin Monastery, in Dilijan – “Armenian Switzerland”.

HAGHARTSIN MONASTERY

(Հաղարծին, “playing or soaring Eagle”)

Haghartsin Monastery may be the most beautiful monastery in Armenia and one of the most historically interesting.

Located deep within Dilijan National Park, with its green hills like the Jura Mountains in French-Speaking Switzerland, Haghartsin rises from the mists. Haghartsin Monastery looks magical, like something directly out of Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings!

Haghartsin Monastery has one of the most interesting histories of Armenian monasteries. The monastery became quite run-down over time and was in need of renovation. In 2011 it got that renovation after a donation from Dr. Seikh Sultan bin Muhammad Al-Qaisimi, ruler of Sharjah. He had visited, and despite not being Christian, he found Haghartsin to be a place of such spiritual power rhe funded the renovations.

The renovation itself is one of the most beautiful historic renovations you will see anywhere. Haghartsin retains all of its original character and parts have been left as they were, giving you a deep immersion in Armenian architecture together with accessibility and comfort.

Next door to Haghartsin is a new monastery and guest house that just opened this year. A beautiful facility, it’s possible to arrange lunch there or an overnight stay. They also have a signature program that looks amazing: live like a Monk for a few days or a week! This is a wonderful way to learn more about the Armenian Apostolic church and spend more time in the gorgeous Dilijan National Park.

Unique Features of Haghartsin Monastery

Situated deep within Dilijan National Park. Picnic areas and lots of hiking.

-Scenic overlook nearby to view mountains.

-A beautiful domed refectory, a unique architectural features.

-Working monastery built nearby; overnight stays available.

-Part of the Transcaucasian Hiking Trail.

Getting To Haghartsin Monastery

Haghartsin is located 106 km from Yerevan. It is possible to visit Dilijan and Haghartsin on a day trip. It does make for a long day! If possible, arrange an overnight stay at the nearby monastery guest house or the beautiful Tufenkian hotel (with a lovely restaurant on-site).

The town of Dilijan is very beautiful and interesting to explore, as well.  Private tours can provide you with a one-day trip if you would like to stay in Yerevan (combined with Lake Sevan, above), and there are some one-day group tours available as well.

It’s possible to take a minibus to the town of Dilijan, then either spend the day hiking up to Haghartsin or take a cab from the city to the monastery.

A monastery with a small and a larger dome against a blue sky with a green tree out front.
Haghpat Monastery

HAGHPAT MONASTERY

The monasteries of Haghpat and Sanahin (see below) are perhaps two of the most famous monasteries in Armenia, after Tatev. They are both UNESCO World Heritage sites and located relatively close to one another.

Haghpat is located on the edge of a massive mountain and cliff, and the climb up on the road is an adventure in and of itself! You will be amazed at how the tour buses manage the hairpin turns!

One of the most visited sites in Armenia, it really is a “can’t miss” monastery!

The stunning location aside, Haghpat has an iconic bell tower and is a complex with many fascinating churches, chapels, and buildings to explore.

Haghpat has distinct elements of Byzantine architecture and represents a real flowering of the Armenian religious church architectural style. Built between the 10th – 13th centuries, together with nearby Sanahin, Haghpat was a renowned place of learning and evidence of having been a center of education is everywhere.

Words cannot fully describe the experience of walking around Haghpat. It is a deeply spiritual place, revered by Armenians, in a natural setting that would be worth visiting for its own right. Haghpat and Sanahin are both located in Lori province around the famous Debed canyon – a very different environment from Yerevan and well worth seeing.

Unique Features of Haghpat Monastery in Armenia

-UNESCO World Heritage Site

-Located atop a mountain cliff with views for miles.

-Byzantine / Armenian architecture.

-Beautiful Bell Tower

-Very famous khachkars (cross stones).

-Wonderful photo opportunities.

Getting there to Haghpat Monastery

There are many day and overnight tours to Haghpat and Sanahin from Yerevan. The closest city to Haghpat and Sanahin is Alaverdi. If you want to take public transportation, it is recommended to book at least one night in Alaverdi. It is easy to get to Haghpat from there: take a Marshrutka from Alaverdi station right to Sanahin. They leave nearly every hour starting at 8:15.

TIP: If you are visiting Tbilisi, Georgia either before or after your trip to Armenia, it is possible and pleasant to hire a driver or take a one-way group tour between the cities where you can stop at Sanahin and Haghpat. This is a great way to travel – the time passes quickly and you get to see not one but two UNESCO World Heritage sites! The drive can easily be made in a day if you leave early-ish, and you may even arrive in the next city in time for dinner. Just don’t forget about the border crossing: in larger groups this will take a bit longer.

The interior of a monastery with columns and arches looking out into a green forest.
Gavit of Sanahin Monastery

SANAHIN MONASTERY

(սանահին» , literally “This one is older than that one.”)

Sanahin and Haghpat are very near each other, yet different enough that it really is worth seeing both of them.

Sanahin is the older of the two…if you couldn’t tell by the name! Sanahin is separated from Haghpat by the Debed canyon, but you can see Haghpat from it (and vice versa).

Sanahin is particularly known for its beautiful gavit (narthex) in three different churches, and the incredible cross stones found everywhere in the complex.

If you like “ruins”, then Sanahin is especially for you. It is grown over with plants and moss in many places, giving it a very special appearance. Sanahin has absolutely gorgeous domed ceilings with open skylights and let in beams of light throughout the churches. Sanahin has archways inside of the gavit of its main church, the Surp Astvatsatsin Church. On the floors of the gavits are graves – a few of them very small.

One of the most beautiful parts of Sanahin is the “seminary”, a room with inlets where monks copying manuscripts or learning would face with their books.

Unique Features of Sanahin Monastery in Armenia

-UNESCO World Heritage Site

-Gorgeous arches in the gavits (entry rooms)

-Top of a cliff, overlooking Debed canyon.

-Moss and plants growing in the architecture. Not great for preservation but very beautiful in its own way.

Getting To Sanahin Monastery

If you want to take public transportation, it is recommended to book at least one night in Alaverdi. To get to Haghpat from Alaverdi, take Bus 3 from Alaverdi. It will be an old Soviety yellow bus. It will drop you off in the village nearby, and it’s only about a 15 minute walk to Haghpat from there.

Like Haghpat above, it works well to stop at Sanahin on a trip between Yerevan (Armenia) and Tbilisi (Georgia) if you are visiting both countries and traveling between them by car.

Noravank Monastery, Armenia

NORAVANK MONASTERY

(Նորավանք, “New Monastery”)

Noravank monastery is famous for having what some consider to be the first ever human-like image of “God the Father” in the Christian trinity. It is a tentative UNESCO World Heritage Site.

An easy day-trip from Yerevan or stop on the way to the further Tatev, Noravank is situated below stunning red cliffs. You may even be able to spot the rare Armenian Bezoar mountain goats from Noravank on a good day!

There are three churches at Noravank: St. Karapet Church, Surb Astvatsatsin Church, and St. Stepanos church. Surb Astvatsatsin Church is actually a two-story church. In order to get inside, you have to climb an extremely narrow external staircase with only a rope to hold onto. If you can do it physically then definitely try! It’s a beautiful view from the top and an incredible church. (Warning: going down is harder than going up!)

On the door frame of the Surb Karapet Church you can see the carved image of God the Father (the higher of two-door carvings). This church itself is the less impressive of the churches, having been destroyed multiple times in an earthquake it was fully rebuilt only in 1998.

Noravank has impressive Khachkars that are deeply intricate, including one carved in 1308 by the famous artist Momik.

In particular, Noravank is situated in an incredible natural area, known for its sheer red cliffs and unique wildlife including goats and butterflies.

 There is a very good restaurant right next door with beautiful outdoor seating in summer, and access to toilets for a few cents.

Unique Features of Noravank Monastery

Tentative UNESCO World Heritage Site

-Early image of ‘God the Father’

-Two-story main church with external staircase.

-Stunning red cliffs.

Getting To Noravank Monastery

Noravank is located 122 km from Yerevan and takes between 2-3 hours by car. It is possible to visit on a day trip. If doing so, make sure to combine it with a trip to Areni wineries (which you will pass through) for a tasting of famous Areni wine.

It is also possible to stop at Noravank on a longer trip to the southern monastery of Tatev. This is available on some group tours and also on private tours. 

Inside Tatev Monastery for Sunrise Service

TATEV MONASTERY

(Տաթևի վանք – “Wings”)

Tatev is without doubt Armenia’s most famous monastery.

Does it live up to the hype?

The church itself isn’t drastically different than other monasteries throughout Armenia. However, Tatev is all about the setting! Tatev means “Wings” and you literally need wings (or a fantastic ride on a cable car!) to reach this cliff-top wonder.

Tatev is absolutely worth the trek to the South of Armenia and makes a perfect culmination to your Armenia itinerary.

The legend of Tatev is that the master who built it went to the very edge of the cliff when he was done and prayed for the Holy Spirit to give him wings, jumped off, and lo and behold wings sprouted from his back and he flew away.

Whether we believe that or not, you may also notice that “Tatev” is one of the most popular names for girls and women in Armenia.

Tatev is one of the older monasteries in Armenia. Construction began in the 9th century. The complex has two churches and other monastic building, like a refectory and dormitory. Tatev was, at one point, also a university and one of the most important centers of learning in all of Armenia.

The view from Tatev are the real reason to visit, and a ride on the world’s longest cable car to get there!

When I visited, we stayed in a homestay in the village nearby (with the best breakfast I have ever eaten!) and walked to Tatev for the early morning service. It was an amazing experience being the only ones in the complex and the first to take the cable car down to the bottom (no line!). If you can get there early in the morning, I recommend it!

Unique Features of Tatev Monastery

Tentative UNESCO World Heritage Site

-World’s Longest Cable Car ride to reach it: Wings of Tatev

-Situated on the edge of a cliff, surrounded on three sides by sheer drops.

-One of the most photographed, most famous monasteries in Armenia.

Getting to Tatev

Of all the monasteries on this list, Tatev is the most difficult to reach and can barely be done as a day trip from Armenia. It is recommended instead that you take an overnight or two-day trip to Tatev. There are a number of villages nearby that will welcome you, in homestays or hotels.


If you have 1 week to visit Monasteries in Armenia

If you have 1 week in Armenia, I suggest you try and see:

-Etchmiadzin & Zvartnots in one day.

-Geghard, and neighborhing Pagan temple Garni in one day.

Khor Virap, Noravank, and Areni Winery in one day.

                        And lastly:

-Sevanavank and Haghartsin in one day.

If you are able to travel between Tbilisi and Yerevan, I would recommend that you stop at Sanahin and Haghpat.

If you have 2 weeks in Armenia see these Armenian Monasteries

All of the above plus:

-A trip to Tatev, stopping at Noravank along the way may be preferable to visiting along with Khor Virap.

-A day-trip or overnight trip to Gyumri, visiting Marmashen and stopping at Hovannahvank along the way if possible.

-Assure that you take a trip to Haghpat and Sanahin, even if you you aren’t traveling between Yerevan and Tbilisi.

The Three Monasteries in Armenia you Must See

If you are taking a trip to Armenia, do everything you can to see these three Monasteries:

Khor Virap: for the climb into the pit where Gregory the Illuminar was supposedly imprisoned and the amazing photography opportunities.

Noravank: for the interesting second-story church and the unique nature and wildlife spotting.

Sevanavank: for the nice hiking opportunities nearby and the chance for a boat trip on the lake.

Tatev monastery would be on this list, except for the distance to get there. But I strongly recommend you visit Tatev if at all possible.

Harichavank Armenian Monastery against a cloudy and blue sky with green grass. Monastery has Armenian church towers and is bright orange brick in the sunlight.
Harichavank Monastery near Mt. Aragats

Getting to Monasteries in Armenia

By Private Tour Company

If you have some wiggle-room in your budget and are shorter on time, one of the best ways to get around to Armenia’s monasteries is with a private tour company.

There are a lot of companies offering tours to Armenia’s monasteries and religious tours in Armenia. The saying “you get what you pay for” in some ways applies here, but I found there are some fabulous companies out there operating at very fair and affordable prices, especially if you are traveling with a family or group! 

Arahet Travel is a company that provides religious tours in Armenia, and Arites Travel also offers religiously-focused tours but has a broader scope. I traveled with both companies and can recommend them both highly. Traveling with a professional tour company means you don’t have to worry about bathroom breaks, when to get lunch, or how to get to and from your hotel: everything is arranged for you!

By Taxi

Taxis are relatively inexpensive in Armenia. The real difference between a tour company and simply a taxi is the addition of an English-speaking guide. I really enjoy having a dedicated guide to whom I could ask all my questions, and who could really go deep with me into the stories and unique architecture of each church. Taxies are a less expensive option, readily available, and will get you where you need to go!

I used a Taxi to drive from Tbilisi, Georgia to Yerevan, Armenia so I could stop at some of the UNESCO World Heritage Armenian Monasteries on the way. I definitely appreciated them more after a dedicated guide explained the features of the churches to me. It was fun practicing Armenian words with my driver, and I got very good at saying “Beautiful” in Armenian before the end of the trip! (Գեղեցիկ! Geghetzik!)

By Shared Taxi / Marshrutka

 Shared taxis visit many of the monasteries in Armenia and are the most economic way of getting around.

Many leave from Yerevan’s Central Station. Look for the name of the destination in a card in the window. Marshrutka’s don’t have set times (they leave when they are full), but Marshrutka’s to the popular destinations leave fairly frequently. Tell your driver where you are going so he knows to drop you off. To tell the driver to stop, say “Kangnek!”.

A big advantage of taking a Marshrutka is the cost. Many cost less than $1 USD to get to some amazing monasteries in Armenia!

Cost to visit Monasteries in Armenia

The monasteries in Armenia are free!

Getting to the monasteries can be as cheap as a few dollars if you have lots of time and an adventurous spirit.

There are plenty of group tours available. Hyur service, one of the large tour providers, comes highly recommended. Envoy Hostel also provides many group tours, including their “Linking Caucuses” tour between Tbilisi and Yerevan that stops at Sanahin and Haghpat.

A full-day private tour with a guide and driver (for the whole car, usually 4 people) costs around $250 and is a great value if you have a group and little time. Arites and Arahet are both reputable companies that can customize an itinerary.

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3 Comments

  • Anet Ozdere

    I loved your website… Full of valuable information and ispiration… I would love to receive your newsletters regularly…
    Thank you for sharing your insight, knowledge and experience…

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