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 churches and monasteries in Armenia, how to get to Armenia’s monasteries and churches in Armenia, and my honest experience visiting them.
I’ll tell you which ones to visit – and which to skip if you are short on time.
Where is Armenia?
Nestled between Europe and Asia, along the historic Silk Road, Armenia is in the South Caucasus and is overflowing with culture, churches, history, and wonderful food!
Armenia has hundreds of monasteries and churches. Armenia is the world’s oldest Christian country. When Armenia became the first country to be officially Christian in the year 301, thousands of formerly pagan sites were replaced by monasteries and churches in order to conform with the state religion. Amazingly many of these ancient churches in Armenia survive to this day and are popular with the Armenian people and for tourists!
Visiting monasteries and churches in Armenia is, in my opinion, the best thing to do while you visit.
Monastery or Church in Armenia?
“Monastery” in Armenia in many ways means “beautiful church.” At times the terms monastery and church are interchangeable. Many medieval monasteries in Armenia have lost their living quarters over time – so are now essentially just churches even if they once housed monks.
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 churches in Armenia is that each and every monastery and church in Armenia is in a different and unique natural setting!
Churches and Monasteries in Yerevan
1. Saint Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral in Yerevan, Armenia
Armenian Name: Գրիգոր Լուսաւորիչ Մայր տաճար
The St. Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral in Yerevan, the current capital of Armenia, is the newest church in Armenia on this list. Construction began in 1997 and was completed in 2001. The cathedral was consecrated on September 23, 2001, by Catholicos Karekin II, the spiritual leader of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
The design of the cathedral draws inspiration from traditional Armenian architecture, particularly the historic churches and monasteries found throughout the country.
The cathedral is characterized by its distinctive pink tufa stone exterior and prominent dome. It stands as one of the largest religious buildings in the region.
It’s incredibly impressive walking up to St. Gregory the Illuminator, and sitting inside of it looking up into the wide dome! It’s one of my favorite new churches in the world for its beautiful way of combining medieval architecture with modern elements.
The St. Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral in Yerevan serves as a significant symbol of Armenian Christianity and national identity. This is the spiritual home for many in Yerevan and its surrounds and serves as the real heart of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
Unique Features of Saint Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral in Yerevan
– The newest church in Armenia, only consecrated in 2001.
– Made of pink Tuf, an important stone found throughout Yerevan
– Right in the heart of the capital city – you can’t miss it when visiting Armenia.
Getting to Saint Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral
The official address of St. Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral in Yerevan is 10 Grigor Lusavorich St, Yerevan, Armenia. You should also be able to ask any taxi driver (don’t forget the Yandex app!) to drop you off there. You can also take the metro to the Cathedral in Yerevan, get off at the “Republic Square” station and it’s very easy to walk from there.
2. Holy Mother of God Katoghike Church in Yerevan
Armenian Name: Կաթողիկե Սուրբ Աստվածածին եկեղեցի
The Holy Mother of God Katoghike Church, often simply referred to as Katoghike Church, is one of my favorite churches in Yerevan, the capital city of Armenia. It is one of the oldest surviving churches in Yerevan and holds a prominent place in Armenian Christian history and architecture. It’s a small little church but on a very pretty square!
The exact date of construction of Katoghike Church is debated among historians, but there are inscriptions on the surviving structure that date it to at least the 13th century. However, most of the original church was destroyed inn the 1679 Yerevan earthquake and rebuilt afterwards.
That church was then destroyed by the soviet union but when the surviving 13th-century church was discovered among the 17th-century structure, archeologists fought for it to be saved.
Right next to it the much larger Saint Anna church is new and was just consecrated in 2015.
Getting to Holy Mother of God Katoghike Church in Yerevan
The Holy Mother of God Katoghike Church is located conveniently on a prominent square on Mesrop Mashtots Avenue, Yerevan, Armenia. It’s easy to walk to from Cascades or Republic Square – no need for the Taxi or Metro if you’re visiting central Yerevan!
3. Arabkir Church, Yerevan
Armenian Name: Արաբկիր
Arabkir Church in Yerevan is the second largest church in Yerevan! When I stayed at the Silk Road Hotel in Yerevan I had a beautiful view of Arabkir Church in front of Mount Ararat!
The Arabkir Church, also known as the Holy Trinity Church of Arabkir, was constructed in recent years in the mid-19th century – so like both churches above, it’s newer than most of the medieval monasteries on this list. It was built between 1865 and 1870, during a period when Armenia was part of the Russian Empire. The church was designed by architect N. Bayazitov and was commissioned by the local Armenian community in the Arabkir district of Yerevan.
Arabkir stands out in the Yerevan skyline and is a very active Armenian Apostolic congregation. It is simply named for the district of Yerevan it sits in – Arabkir district, one of Yerevan’s 12 distinct districts.
Getting to Arabkir Church in Yerevan:
Arabkir is a district in the North of Yerevan, and isn’t served by the current Metro system (there is only one line). The best way to get there is either by walking or by taxi. Once in the district, the Holy Trinity Church of Arabkir stands out and is easy to find!
Monasteries And Churches Near Yerevan, Armenia
4. Khor Virap Monastery
Armenian Name: Խոր Վիրապ – “Deep Dungeon”
Khor Virap Monastery may be the best monastery in Armenia and one of Armenia’s most important religious sites.
Almost every tourist to Armenia attempts to get the classic Armenian photograph of Khor Virap’s church dome against the white beauty of Mt. Ararat. Khor Virap church in Armenia offers so much more than a great Instagram spot in Armenia!
Khor Virap is the Armenian monastery plays a hugely important role in Armenian history. Khor Virap is where the founder of Armenian Christianity, Saint Gregory the Illuminator, was imprisoned in a pit (complete with snakes!) for 13 years.
After St. 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 country to formally adopt the Christian faith, in 301 A.D./CE. Thus Khor Virap plays a huge role in Armenian cultural heritage.
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!
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 Mount 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 due to the Armenian Genocide).
Unique Features at Khor Virap Monastery
– Founded in 642 CE, the current monastery dates from 17th Century
– Khor Virap is the site of the imprisonment site of St. Gregory the Illuminator, who helped turn Armenia into a Christian country (from Pagan) in the early 4th century.
– Exquisite views of Mt. Ararat on clear days from Khor Virap monastery.
– The village nearby is home to many wild storks, and it’s possible to see them nesting in the right season.
Getting to Khor Virap Monastery in Armenia
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.
Perhaps the best way to get to Khor Virap is through a day trip. Many day tours are available to Khor Virap Monastery. Day tours often combine a visit to Khor Virap with visiting Etchmiadzin Cathedral or Zvartnots, two nearby and excellent Armenian churches.
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.
5. Zvartnots Cathedral
Armenian Name: Էջմիածն – “The Descent of the Only Begotten”
Zvartnots is a unique and important church in Armenia built on the spot where St. Gregory healed King Tiridates of a disease that turned him into a pig.
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.
The beautiful circular church sadly collapsed in the 10th century. 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 Zvartnots 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!
Outside of the museum is a traditional Sundial, something you’ll find if you look around almost every Armenian church or 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.
Unique Features of Zvartnots
-Zvartnots is the only circular Cathedral in Armenia
-At Zvartnots there is an informative, small museum with excellent recreation of the original Cathedral.
-Zvartnots is 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!
6. Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin
Armenian Name: Էջմիածն – “The Descent of the Only Begotten”
Etchmiadzin Cathedral is the Mother Church of the entire Armenian Apostolic Church, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most beautiful churches in Armenia.
Etchmiadzin is also called the “Vatican of Armenia”. This Cathedral is the seat of the Armenian “pope” – the Catholicos of All Armenians.
Etchmiadzin is a complex that also houses two of Armenia’s best museums. The Treasury Museum contains 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 a piece of what is believed to be Noah’s Ark, found on nearby Mount Ararat.
There is also a spear, believed to have pierced Jesus’ side, that is revered in Armenia and brought out yearly in procession.
The original church at Etchmiadzin was the first cathedral in Armenia. built in 303 CE, shortly after Armenia became Christian in 301 CE, making it one of the oldest churches in the world and oldest cathedral in the world. The current shape of the Cathedral, the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, dates from 483 CE, with further renovations in the 7th Century.
The origins of Etchmiadzin Cathedral 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 of Armenia, 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. “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.
As the Mother Church, Etchmiadzin is a very important site for Baptisms and has a separate Baptismal area. There is also a very moving monument to the 1915 Armenian genocide and many Armenian cross-stones, called khachkars.
Unique Features of Etchmiadzin
— Etchmiadzin Cathedral and its museums are a UNESCO World Heritage Site
– Etchmiadzin may be the oldest Christian cathedral.
– Done miss the 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 its wide patio. Agape Refectory has one of the best fish dishes with vegetables I’ve ever had. Try their Strawberry Compote — 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).
Hours of Etchmiadzin
The Cathedral is open daily 7:00-21:00.
These are the church service times – and I highly recommend you attend church services if you are able!
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.
7. Saint Hripsime Church
Armenian Name: Հռիփսիմէ
St. Hripsime church in Armenia 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.
Sadly, that original church was destroyed when Armenia was invaded by the Sasanian Empire.
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. St. Hripsime Church felt like a fitting tribute to St. Hripsime and her sisters. There is a large central dome and a large porch with a bell tower, typical of the architecture of Armenian churches.
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, Saint Hripsime, and is one of the earliest churches in Armenian Christian history.
-Classical, very symmetrical architecture. Designed as a monument vs. a monastery or cathedral.
-St. Hripsime is very near Ethmiadzin Cathedral and is easy to get to from Yerevan.
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!
8. Saint Gayane Church
Armenian Name: Սուրբ Գայանե եկեղեցի
The Saint Gayane Church is very near Etchmiadzin as well as the St. Hripsime Church. It is a beautiful church built by the Catholicos of All Armenians, Ezra I, in 630. It essentially remains in its original form – which is rare for Armenian churches that are that old!
Gayane was the name of an abbess in Armenia who was martyred with other nuns by Tiridates III in the year 301. The church is dedicated to her and is part of the larger World Heritage Listed complex at Etchmiadzin.
The main change to Saint Gayane Church over time was the addition. ofa Portico where priests could be buried in 1683. There are beautiful frescoes of saints on the tympanum of the portico that shouldn’t be missed!
Getting to Saint Gayane Church:
Saint Gayane Church is within the Etchmiadzin Complex and is easy walking distance from the other main churches in the area.
9. Geghard Monastery
Armenian Name: Գեղարդ, meaning “Spear”
Geghard monastery is unique in Armenia because the church is literally carved from the side of a mountain.
Geghard church is a UNESCO world heritage site. Geghard is one of the best illustrations in Armenia of a medieval monastery and medieval Armenian architecture.
Like many Armenian monasteries and Armenian churches, 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 centuries. 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!
Unique Features of Geghard
-A church in Armenia literally carved into the cliff.
-The nearby holy spring is said to bring healing.
-Geghard has extraordinary acoustics.
-UNESCO World Heritage Listed church in Armenia
-You can still see 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.
Armenian Name: 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 (which are very close to each other) 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 of 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.
-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.
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.
11. Ketcharis Monastery
Armenian Name: Կեչառիսի վանքային համալիր
Katcharis Monastery in Armenia is a monastic complex dating back to the 11th and 13th centuries. It is in a ski resort town about 60 km from Yerevan, Tsaghkadzor. Katcharis was a major center of learning and scholarship in Armenia during its peak. Damage during earthquakes, the Soviet era, and other events led to it nearly falling into ruin, but thanks to a donor, it has now been completely restored.
There are three churches in the main complex at Ketcharis, the Saint Grigor Church, the Surp Nshan Church, and the Kathoghike Church. There is also a chapel, and yet another church a little away from the main complex in the forest.
Around all these churches you can see some of the best examples of Armenian cross-stones or Katchkars!
Getting to Ketcharis Monastery in Armenia:
You can take a taxi to Ketcharis Monastery from Yerevan, but perhaps the easiest way is to take a marshrutka (shared minibus) or a bus from Yerevan’s Northern Bus Station (also known as Kilikia Bus Station) to Tsaghkadzor. Marshrutkas and buses regularly run between Yerevan and Tsaghkadzor. Once you arrive in Tsaghkadzor, you can fairly easily walk to Kechcharis Monastery or take a quick taxi ride.
Monasteries Near Lake Sevan and Dilijan, Armenia
Armenian Name: 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.
One of the most visited tourist 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 visiting 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!).
-Overlooking Lake Sevan, Armenia’s only major body of water.
-Stunning views all around!
-Chance for a boat trip and wonderful meal nearby.
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.
13. Haghartsin Monastery
Armenian Name: 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!
The ancient monastery of Haghartsin sadly became quite run-down over time and was in desperate need of renovation. In 2011, it was renovated after a donation from Dr. Seikh Sultan bin Muhammad Al-Qaisimi, ruler of Sharjah. He had visited, and despite not being Christian, found Haghartsin Monastery 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, its 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.
-A new monastery with monks is nearby; overnight stays are 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.
Churches and Monasteries in the North of Armenia
14. Haghpat Monastery
Armenian Name: Հաղպատավանք – Haghpatavank
The monasteries of Haghpat and Sanahin (see below) are perhaps two of the most famous monasteries in Armenia. They are both on the UNESCO World Heritage list and located relatively close to one another.
Haghpat Monastery is perhaps the most visited pilgrimage site in Armenia and 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!
The stunning location aside, Haghpat has an iconic bell tower and is a complex with many fascinating Armenian 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. Haghpat has a centuries-old history uilt 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
-Haghpat is a 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 to Haghpat Monastery
There are many 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. 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.
15. Sanahin Church and Monastery
Armenian Name: 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 churches in Armenia. 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)
-Sanahin is located at the 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 yellow bus leftover from Armenia’s days in the Soviet Union. 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.
16. Odzhun Church in Lori Province
Armenian Name: Օձունի եկեղեցի
Odzun Church is actually an Armenian Basilica in Lori Province, in the North of Armenia. It was constructed between the 5th and 8th centuries. The name Odzun comes from the Armenian word “otzel” meaning “to anoint”. It is believed that Saint Thomas the Apostle, whom many believe traveled to Armenia and founded the Church there only a few years after Christ’s Resurrection, anointed many new disciples in the place where Odzhun Church now stands.
Aside from the famous church, which has beautiful archways, there is a rare funeral monument on the site. -there are only two like it in all of Armenia. The monument is carved with scenes from the Bible as well as geometrical motifs and florals.
Getting to Odzhun Church in Lori Province:
To travel to Lori Province it’s best to plan to stay overnight, or travel from Tbilisi in Georgia rather than Yerevan because it’s quite far North in Armenia. Odzun is not far at all from Haghpat and Sanahin monasteries and can be combined with a trip to see them.
17. Akhtala Monastery
Armenian Name: Ախթալայի վանք (also known as Pghindzavank, or Coppermine Monastery)
Akhtala Monastery and Church in Armenia is located int he North of Armenia in Lori Province. Lori is known for it’s beautiful canyons and its cheese!
The main church at Akhtala is famous because, unlike the usually austere interiors of Armenian Apostolic churches, it is covered in beautiful frescoes. The Holy Mother of God Church at Akhtala was most likely built between the 11th and 13th centuries.
The murals inside are considered some of the best examples of Byzantine art outside of traditional Byzantium territories. They were painted between 1205 and 1216. There are paintings of Jesus and many saints, including Armenian saints like Gregory the Illuminator. A few of the murals were restored in 1979.
The church at Akhtala sits within a much larger fortress complex and there are other buildings, walls, and even a smaller chapel on site.
Getting to Akhtala Church in Armenia:
Unlike many of the churches in Armenia on this list, Akhtala is actually much closer to the border with Georgia than it is to Yerevan, Armenia’s capital. One of the best ways to see Akhtala is actually a day-trip from Tbilisi, or as a stop on your way from Tbilisi to Yerevan if driving by car. When I went, I was told the roads were very bad and some of them were blocked, so I wasn’t able to see Akhtala in person – but I hope to next time!
Churches and Monasteries South of Yerevan
18. Noravank Monastery
Armenian Name: Նորավանք, “New Monastery”
Noravank monastery is famous for having what some consider to be the first church to have a human-like image of “God the Father” in the Christian trinity. At this time, Norovank Monastery in Armenia is a tentative UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Noravank is situated below stunning red cliffs and the view of the surrounding mountains is astounding. You may even be able to spot the rare Armenian Bezoar mountain goats from Noravank on a good day!
There are three Armenian 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.
There is a very good restaurant right next door to Norovank Monastery 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 and surrounding mountains.
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.
19. Tatev Monastery
Armenian Name: Տաթևի վանք – “Wings”
Tatev church and monastery is without doubt Armenia’s most famous monastery.
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.
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 one of 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, which is in the South of Armenia, about 5 hours drive. There are a number of villages nearby that will welcome you, in homestays or hotels.
20. Harichavank Monastery
Armenian Name: Հառիճավանք
Harichavank Monastery is located in the South of Armenia, in Shirak Province. Harichavank was one of the most famous monastic centers in Armenia and was particularly known for its school and scriptorium.
There are multiple buildings and churches still standing at Harichavank, including the oldest church, the Church of St. Gregory the Illuminator, and the larger Cathedral of the Holy Mother of God. The Cathedral was commissioned by two brothers, the Zakarian brothers, and there is a carving of them holding a model of the church that can still be seen on its facade.
There’s a really amazing tiny chapel sitting on a cliff that looks like is separated from the rest of the rock around it behind Harichavank Monastery! There is a legend a woman was being improperly pursued and she hid there to pray and God separated the chapel from the rest of the rock to protect her. Who knows if it’s true?! But it’s amazing to think about how the chapel got there!
Getting to Harichavank Monastery:
I stopped at Harichavank on my way to Tatev, and some tours will do this. Harichavank is approximately 2 hours from Yerevan and you can take a minibus (marshrutka) from Yerevan to the town of Aparan – and from there hire a taxi to take you to Harichavank.
Churches and Monasteries Near Gyumri, Armenia
21. Cathedral of the Holy Mother of God in Gyumri
The construction of the Cathedral of the Holy Mother of God, also known as Our Lady of Seven Wounds, is one of the most beloved and important churches to Armenians, particularly in the region of Shirak and Gyumri. The Cathedral was begun in 1870 and was completed in 1887. It was designed by the renowned Armenian architect Simon Ter-Movsisyan. The Holy Mother of God Cathedral in Gyumri is a great example of Armenian ecclesiastical architecture, characterized by its traditional cross-dome design and intricate ornamentation.
In 1988, Gyumri (then known as Leninakan) was struck by a devastating earthquake that caused significant damage to the city and a tremendous loss of life/ The earthquake, measuring 6.9 on the Richter scale, led to the collapse of the cathedral’s main dome and several of her smaller domes to fall.
Following the earthquake, efforts were undertaken to restore the cathedral and the Holy Mother of God Cathedral became a symbol of Gyumri’s resistance and recovery.
The Cathedral was reconsecrated on September 21, 1993, after the completion of the restoration work. This event held immense significance for the local population and the Armenian Apostolic Church. Even after being rebuilt, the two fallen domes are left in the Cathedral’s garden as a reminder of the earthquake and Gyumri’s resilience.
22. Holy Saviour’s Church in Gyumri
Armenian Name: Սուրբ Ամենափրկիչ Եկեղեցի
The construction of the Holy Saviour’s church in Gyumri began in 1858 led by architect Tadeos Andikyan. The church was a response to opposing Armenian Apostolic and a Greek Orthodox Church on the same square – the people of Gyumri decided to build a third, even bigger church, to make a statement! The Holy Saviour’s church in Gyumri was consecrated in 1873 and was built in a very distinctive style called Ani Architecture, popular in Western Armenia (much of which is now in Turkey).
The Holy Saviour’s Church in Gyumri has survived a number of major earthquakes in the early 1900’s, as well as significant damage during the Soviet Era. Sadly it was severely damaged during the 1988 earthquake and restoration work, begun in 2002, is still ongoing. It was still closed when I visited in 2019 but I’m hopeful it opens soon! There is an important memorial to earthquake victims at. theback. of the church that is worth seeing. The outside is a beautiful distinctive black and orange Tuf – common around Gyumri and very unique amongst Churches in Armenia!
23. Marmashen Monastery
Armenian Name: Մարմաշեն
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 of Marmashen: including special triangular divets in the walls to protect against earthquakes. Apparently with success!
Marmashen sits just over the gorge from the Turkish border. Its 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. Its bright red stone stood out on the green landscape and farmers grazed their goats nearby.
Unique Features of Marmashen Monastery in Armenia
-Ani, Western Armenian, architecture – including “half columns” on the dome typical of the area.
-Armenian Churches made of red stone.
-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!
Itineraries for Visiting Churches and Monasteries in Armenia
If you have 1 week to visit Monasteries and Churches in Armenia…
If you have 1 week in Armenia, I suggest you try and see:
-Etchmiadzin & Zvartnots in one day.
-Geghard, and neighboring Pagan temple Garni in one day.
–Khor Virap, Noravank, and Areni Winery in one day.
-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…
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.
3 Churches and Monasteries in Armenia You Can’t Miss
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.
Where to Stay in Armenia to Visit Churches in Armenia
My favorite hotel in Armenia is by far the Silk Road Hotel in Yerevan! It’s beautiful, affordable, and has the sweetest staff in the world!
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