Geghard monastery is undeniably one of the best day trips from Yerevan. Located just 1 hour from the capital and close to Garni temple and the legendary Khor Virap, you’ll be able to cross off several highlights on your Armenia bucket list in one day.
In this post, I’ll share everything you need to know about visiting the monastery, from how to get there and what to see to what you should bring.
Let’s dive in.
Read next: 15 amazing things to do in Armenia
What is Geghard monastery?
Geghard is a medieval monastery in Armenia. The monastery was built directly out of an adjacent mountain in the 4th century by Gregory the Illuminator.
In 2000, Geghard monastery was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
What makes Geghard unique?
What sets Geghard monastery apart is that its tombs and churches are cut into the mountain, quite similar to Ostrog monastery in Montenegro. What’s more, a special relic was once kept here: the sacred spear that pierced Jesus on the cross.
According to sources, it was brought there by Jude, also known as Thaddeus in Armenian, one of the original 12 apostles. The spear gave name to the monastery: “Monastery of the Spear”.
Where is the Monastery of Geghard?
Geghard monastery is located 36 km from Yerevan in Kotayk, a province in the centre of Armenia. Situated deep in the Azat Valley, the monastery is surrounded by towering cliffs.
History of Geghard monastery
In the 4th century, Gregory the Illuminator spread Christianity throughout Armenia. In 301 AD., Armenia became the first country in history to adopt Christianity as its official religion.
One day, St. Gregory came across a miraculous spring in a cave, and he founded Ayrivanq, the monastery of the cave. It was used as a sanctuary to monks who sought peace amidst this turbulent area.
Later, Jude the Apostle arrived with the lance that pierced Jesus on the cross. The monastery was renamed Geghardavank, which means Monastery of the Lance. The lance was kept in the monastery for about 500 years, but is now in the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin Museum.
Katoghike, the main church of the complex was built in 1215. Nothing remains of this first monastery, as it was destroyed in the 9th century AD by the Arabs, but the spring still flows in the chapel and pilgrims come here to drink the water or throw coins into the sacred spring․
Today, Geghard monastery is on UNESCO’s World Heritage list.
Things to do at Geghard monastery
There are countless things to see at Geghard monastery that promise adventure and knowledge. Here, you’ll discover how even the most uncharted places can be filled with beauty, wonder and history – all bound together by faith.
These are the highlights of visiting the monastery:
Khachkars are Armenian stone crosses, considered to be some of the country’s most iconic symbols. They are elaborately carved and often quite ornate with intricate designs and beautiful detail work. At Geghard, you can find them outside up on the hill. The 10m passageway with khachkars gives access to a 13th-century burial vault that was carved out of the raw rock.
The Rock chapel
The inside of the rock chapel is extraordinary and I can honestly say that it’s one of the most atmospheric places I’ve visited. I’m sure you’ll love it, too.
The darkness lit by flashes of light creates an atmospheric, almost gothic ambience. It’s like standing in a time capsule. Make sure to notice the carved symbols inside the Karoghike chapel such as trees, doves, oxen and lions.
The sacred spring
To the left of the antechamber are two chapels hewn from rock during the 13th century – one of which contains the sacred spring, that St. Gregory found. The second chapel is the burial chamber of Prince Papaq Proshian and his wife Hruzakan.
Pilgrims visit the holy spring and make wishes while tossing in coins – some also fill up bottles with the holy water because it’s believed to bring divine blessings.
How to get to Geghard monastery from Yerevan
The UNESCO-site is located 36 km from Yerevan, the capital of Armenia. The easiest way to get there is by car or joining a day tour. Marshrutkas (minibusses) also go to Geghard, but they are less frequent.
To get to Geghard from Yerevan, take bus 22, 26 or 36 to the Gai bus station. Marshrutkas depart for Geghard monastery every 30-40 minutes when the bus is full. The trip takes about 1 hour and costs $0.50 / 250 dram.
If you’d rather drive yourself, you’ll be rewarded with much more freedom. You’ll need to rent a car and head east on H3 for 31 km. Turn left at Geghard Monastery Road and continue for 2-3 km until you reach the monastery. There’s a large parking lot outside, and it costs 200 dram to park.
On a tour
The easiest way to visit is on a tour. Transportation will be organised for you, while a guide provides you with the information you need to know about the khachkars, the monastery and general history. Plus, you can can choose a private day tour like we did and visit two more monasteries in one day. Win-win!
The monastery is open from 9am – 8pm daily.
I recommend that you arrive in the morning to avoid the crowds. You can also visit Garni temple, which is on the way from Yerevan.
What to bring to Geghard monastery
Geghard is located outside, so make sure you bring sunscreen, sunglasses, a hat or anything else you might need while spending time outdoors. Also don’t forget good walking shoes so that you can explore the grounds.
Remember to dress appropriately
Geghard is a monastery and therefore considered sacred. Be sure to show respect for the locals and their beliefs by dressing appropriately and covering your shoulders and knees.
Got any questions? Ask me anything in the comments!