Visiting Sanahin Monastery in Northern Armenia

sanahin monastery armenia

The UNESCO listed Sanahin Monastery in northern Armenia.

This won’t be the last you hear of Armenian Monasteries on here – there are stacks of them and we must have seen over 20 and personally visited over 10 during our stay in the country, including Haghpat and Garni Temple(not a monastery though), plus Gandzasar in Nagorno Karabakh. Each monastery has its own thing however so here’s the lowdown on visiting Sanahin Monastery in northern Armenia.

sanahin monastery armenia

Outside Sanahin Monastery in deepest Armenian countryside.

Getting to Sanahin Monastery

Ok so there are not really any regular tours, buses or trains, which leaves you with these five main options:

1. Hire a driver and go there yourself. Agree a price. Fill the car with 4 people (fellow travellers). He can sit around and wait and drive you back. Pay no more than 8,000 Dram for the car in total (2,000 each). We took this option and also did Haghpat at the same time.

driving the debed canyon

You get great views down into the Debed Canyon on route – hiring a driver means you can stop off as well.

2. Marshrutky from Alaverdi to Sarahart. If you’re based in Alaverdi you can get a Marshrutky. They start at 10 am and run until 5pm ish. They will leave Alaverdi when they are full. This will cost 1000 Dram. Cheapest way to do it! But then you have to walk from Sarahart, not too long though so worth a pot if you’re travelling alone.

marshrutkys to sanahin

Marshrutkys become commonplace when backpacking in the Caucases.

3. Walk it. Unless you’re staying nearby in Sarahart, this isn’t really an option. It’s uphill and it’s far and you might get lost. There is a hardcore hike from Sanahin to Haghpat though, so this is an option for you. For me – these are just mega monasteries and didn’t merit a crazy backpacking hike!

jonny blairs travel blog armenia

Sunshiiiinne at Sanahin Monastery, Armenia.

4. Hitchhiking. easier than you’d think in these parts – and a lot of travellers do this.

5. Cable Car. I’m sticking this as option 5 as the Lonely Planet book claimed there is a cable car there. We never seen it, never heard about it, nor did any other travellers use a cable car to get there. Leave a comment if you did it by Cable Car!.

Arrival at Sanahin Monastery

Sanahin is a World Heritage Site but there is no entrance fee. Donations are welcomed however and there are a load of stalls selling souvenirs on the way up the path.

armenian shop

Souvenirs shops are here at Sanahin just to prove commercialism hasn’t escaped these proud Armenians.

When was Sanahin Monastery Built?

I had to do a bit of reading when I got to Sanahin because there is just way too much history to take in. It turns out that Sanahin dates back to the 10th Century, and its very name hints at the fact that it is older than nearby Haghpat. A translation into Armenian is something like “this one is older than that one”.

sanahin monastery armenia

Sanahin is older than nearby Haghpat.

Main Points of Interest at Sanahin Monastery

Right, I’m no real expert here and generally I just walk around, take it all in, read the signs and take my own memories from it, but these are the things I personally liked about Sanahin.

1. Domed Ceilings. These are cool – high, decorated, symmetrical and diverse.

sanahin monastery ceiling

Domed ceiling in Sanahin Monastery.

2. Countryside Views. The location was chosen because of the height and the views. From here you can even see Haghpat Monastery. Worth a walk to the top to check out the views.

views at sanahin monastery

Admire the views from Sanahin Monastery, Armenia.

3. Main Church – Surp Astvatsatsin Church. Well this is the centrepiece and while they all may look the same, there are different designs in each one. Make sure you go inside and explore all the parts.

sanahin monastery

Get inside the Surp Astvatsatsin Church in Sanahin and explore.

4. Spooky Graves. These Monasteries have a spooky and eerie element to them. There are graves inside the churches under the floor, on the grass and up on the hills. A tad spooky, but still need to be checked out when you’re there.

sanahin monastery

Eerie graves at Sanahin Monastery in Armenia.

In all honesty, you don’t need more than an hour or so to explore Sanahin. And I didn’t linger much longer in the others either. If you need any travel tips on backpacking in Armenia be sure to let me know and check out my Facebook Page.

Here are a few videos:

9 thoughts on “Visiting Sanahin Monastery in Northern Armenia

  • Great pics and info, Jonny. I was in Armenia earlier this year and loved it. I was there for a week and it wasn’t nearly long enough. I need to go back. I didn’t visit Sanahin Monastery, though.

    One thing: You mentioned “marshrutkys.” Marshrutky is already plural (the singular is marshrutka), so saying marshrutkys makes it doubly plural. It would be one marshrutka and several marshrutky (or marshrutkas if you want to Anglicize it more).

    Keep up the great work!

  • Love the one photo you took of the interior! Seems like an abandoned place, but from what I have read so far about Armenia via your blog posts is that not too many tourists go there. So, I guess that would make sense.

    By any chance, have you ever written up a post about your favourite UNESCO Heritage sites? You seem to have visited a lot. Or do you have a separate Category just for UNESCO Heritage sites that you have visited that I am blind and cannot see? Would be cool to read up some of some of your earlier visits for future backpacking ideas!

  • I haven’t written a list of these UNESCO World Heritage Sites Ray but I guess I will at some point. But I’m glad to be ahead of arrogant travel blogger Gary Arndt (think he’s from the USA) in number visited – he seems to make a point of visiting as many as he can and telling everyone how big a traveller he is because of it!

    We actually did another one today in Iran and have a few more planned before the years out. Probably on about 200 for visits, but didn’t pay into all of them due to prices and the fact I’m a cheapskate!

    Safe travels. Jonny

  • Definitely Maria – only starting to write about Armenia – hope to have a lot more to come in the next few months – we did 10 days there. Safe travels. Jonny

  • Hi Tristan, that sounds cool!

    And honestly – I am terrible at languages so apologies – noted and won’t do it again (except on those posts already scheduled which may already have it in them!). I appreciate the correction and safe travels. Jonny

  • Hi Johny, do you visit Sanahin and Haghpat monastery using taxi from Georgia ? Is it only cost 8000 dram or 30 GEL like in your another post ? sounds very cheap

  • Hi Rio – I have visited both those monasteries yes, but not from Georgia. They are both in Armenia. It was about 3 years ago so the prices will have changed and I cannot remember the exact route we took, but we definitely headed to Yerevan next instead of staying over in the nearby villages. Safe travels. Jonny

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