There are two obvious day trips from Yerevan, both fascinating and absolutely worth the effort: Garni Temple and Geghard Monastery. Both of these sites are located less than an hour from Yerevan by car, along scenic roads that afford, here and there, great views of Mount Ararat. Garni Temple and Geghard Monastery are compact and easily reachable sites of broad interest to many different kinds of visitors.
Garni Temple dates back to the 1st century, if not earlier–so far back, in fact, that it predates Armenia‘s conversion to Christianity. The temple was originally dedicated to Helios, the God of the sun. Its first modern excavation took place in the early 20th century. The rebuilt temple’s physical setting is also pretty amazing, situated on a bluff surrounded by rock cliffs.
To the side of the temple is a Roman bathhouse, nicely preserved. The hill above the baths affords more opportunities for appreciating the site’s scale and enjoying views over the area.
At the parking lot leading into the complex, there is a souvenir shop and a cluster of people selling various products. The most interesting objects for sale include compact discs of recorded traditional music and ropes of pastegh, a delicious candy of nuts and grape juice, often translated as “fruit leather,” which is also found in Georgia.
Geghard Monastery, about five miles on from Garni, is a site of rich and extensive interest for visitors, with several churches and chapels within the complex. Some chapels are built into the rock itself. The monastery complex is reached by foot from a parking lot along a slippery cobblestone road.
The monastery’s central church and its vestry, constructed in the 13th century, are cavernous. The vestry’s carved ceilings and ghostly streams of light make for a striking impression.
It is the chapels, however, built as they are into rock, that are arguably the most exciting part of the complex. One features a stream of spring water deemed to be holy. Many Armenians visit Geghard Monastery in order to splash themselves with water from this stream.
An easy way to visit Garni and Geghard Monastery in tandem is on a five-hour tour from Yerevan. The going price for this tour is 5500 dram ($14.50), and it includes a small snack and a drink. I went with Hyur Service for my tour. The guide was lively though frankly I would have preferred to get my information from a guidebook. There are two advantages to setting up a tour with Hyur Service or another tour company: the convenience of not having to organize transportation by bus and taxi and its relatively low cost.
Be sure to check out previous installments of the Far Europe and Beyond series.