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15 Amazing Places to visit in Georgia

Georgia, a land of rock and stone, medieval fortresses and monasteries, green hills, majestic mountains, deep caves and rocky beaches.

A country where culture and history lovers will have the feeling they’ve been transported to the past while walking through the villages and towns, where hikers will be amazed by the stunning landscapes of the mountains and where every traveler will experience the incredible hospitality of the people and will be treated to a feast ofdelicious food and wine (and the additional hangover).

Niko and I spent almost one year in Georgia and we’re grateful that we had the chance to discover so many beautiful areas and places. It was hard to make a selection of the best places that one should visit in this country (there are so many!!) so we asked the lovely Natia Pashurishvili, a Georgian at heart and a traveler in soul, to help us with this list. Here are 15 of the best places to visit in Georgia, recommended by a traveler and a local!

Let’s start with Natia’s selection. She’s not only a PhD student, studying environmental science and ecology but also a travel blogger, mountain climber and hitchhiker. Natia was born and raised in rural Georgia surrounded by its mist-shrouded mountains, amazing landscapes and hiking routes. She’s a huge nature lover who loves the simple things in life. You can read more about her on her blog and follow her onTwitter.

1. Sighnagi

Georgia has its share of big cities and tourist attractions but what’s really special about my country lies in our small towns. So as you can guess, Sighnaghi is one of them. Here you can experience the best that Kakheti has to offer: some of the best food & wine, beautiful tiny streets and houses with colorful wooden balconies, breathtaking views over the Alazani valley, the smell of the yummy bakeries, a variety of fancy castles as well as small family-owned wine cellars and vineyards.

Sighnaghi – photo by Irma Laghadze

How to get there:
It’s quite easy to hitchhike to Sighnaghi from Tbilisi. Often the first car you thumb will stop. It can take about 2 hours to get to Sighnaghi, because most drivers aren’t going very long distances.
If you don’t like to hitchhike, take a minibus from Samgori Metro Station in Tbilisi. The ride takes about 1 hour 45 minutes and it costs 6 GEL.

Where to stay:
There are many lovely guesthouses in Sighnaghi. You can already find a room for $15/night for 2 people on booking.com. If you travel by yourself, you can find a bed in a dorm for $8/night. Check out Hostelworld for different options.

2. Shatili Khevsureti 

Shatili Khevsureti is a mysterious medieval fortress village surrounded by huge green mountains. Be sure that the diversity of the scenery will amaze any traveler, regardless of age, and will inspire incurable travel lust in everyone.

During important feasts the local people, young and old, put on their folk costumes and go to church where ancient pagan traditions survive and mix with Christian beliefs. Shatili is among the top 10 camping spots to enjoy the wilderness of Georgia. Modern life hasn’t penetrated this region and other rural areas in Georgia yet. Locals put all of their efforts into pleasing their guests, assuring that the guest is always comfortable and happy.

Shatili – photo by Koba Petriashvili

How to get there:
Shatili is about 140 km north of Tbilisi. Because of the snow, the road is only accessible from May to October. Since you have to cross the Datvijvari pass, I highly recommend to take a minibus from Didube Metro station (it costs about $15) instead of hitchhiking, or rent a 4X4 car with an experienced local driver, because the road is unpaved and dangerous. Remember, safety first!

Where to stay:
There are a few guesthouses in Shatili but you can’t book a room online except for one on AirBnB. There are also plenty of camping areas close to the river.

3. Juta, Chaukhi (2200m)

Adding superlatives to describe the surroundings of Juta is pointless. If you have the chance, just pack your bags and go. You won’t regret it! Juta is the most peaceful and green place in Georgia and one of the most popular climbing and trekking areas among professional climbers. There are also many equally pleasant walks to be done around the village.

Juta – photo by Mariam Koshadze

How to get there:
There are no buses going directly from Tbilisi to Juta. You can take a minibus from Didube Station in Tbilisi to Stepantsminda for only 10 GEL ($4 – $5). The journey takes around 3 hours. Once you’re in Stepantsminda you can rent a delica or any other 4×4 car to reach Juta, which is 24 km away. This will cost around 80 GEL. You can also try to hitchhike there.

Where to stay:
Whether you’re looking for a nice camping spot or a beautiful wooden guest house to stay at, be sure that Juta will suit all your needs. There are a couple of wooden and tiny hotels only for $10-15 per/night: Zeta camping5th season and Juta guest house.

4. Kazbegi

Kazbegi is really an amazing travel spot for every taste and budget. From luxury lovers to hitchhikers, everyone can find something here to his or her liking. There are plenty of walks through the amazing valleys and one will lead you to the Gergeti Trinity Church, located at an altitude of 2170m.

On the way from Tbilisi to Kazbegi, along the Military Highway, you’ll pass the Ananuri Castle,the Jinvaly water reservoir and the Russia-Georgia friendship monument.

the Gergeti Trinity Church in Kazbegi – photo by Irma Laghadze

How to get there:
“The first car you thumb will stop” is a rule that applies to any destination in Georgia, including Kazbegi! If you don’t like to hitchhike, you can take a minibus from Didube Station in Tbilisi to Stepantsminda for only 10 GEL ($4 – $5). The journey takes around 3 hours.

Where to stay:
You can put up your tent facing the stunningly beautiful Mount Kazbek (5047 m) and enjoy nature’s grand surroundings, could it be more idyllic? If this is not your thing, there are plenty of guesthouses where you can book a room for 2 people starting from $20/night.

5. The Canyons of Martvili

Martvili is located in the Samegrelo region in the western part of Georgia, and is 280km away from Tbilisi. The canyon, caves and waterfalls were formed over time by the Abasha River and you can enjoy the scenery and amazing views of the dark green canyon by taking a boat trip in the river. The price per small boat (6 pax) is GEL 35 ($ 15). Working hours: 10 am to 6pm; every day except on Monday.

Martvili Canyon – photo by Mariam Koshadze

How to get there:
If you are lucky (and I am pretty sure you are, cause Georgia is hitchhikers paradise) you’ll cover the distance from Tbilisi to Martvili in max 4 hours and from Kutaisi to Martvili in about 1 hour.
Travel by public transport: minibuses leave every day from Tbilisi Didube bus station to Martvili ($7).

Where to stay:
You can get a room in a guesthouse in Martvili starting from $25/night for 2 people or you could stay in Kutaisi where you’ll find accommodation starting from $10/night.

6. Bakhmaro

Bakhmaro is situated 2,000 meters above sea level and known as the highest alpine climatic resort in Georgia. Camp above the clouds, take pictures of the milky way, feel the real vibes of rural Georgia, catch a glimpse of the sun setting on the Black Sea, enjoy magnificent views, pick berries and mushrooms in the forest, cuddle up by the campfire, wake to the faint hint of the early morning sunlight and enjoy the sweet sounds of nature- this is what visiting Bakhmaro is about.
The best time to visit Bakhmaro runs from June to September, most of the activities are outdoors.

Bakhmaro – photo by Mariam Koshadze

How to get there:
The journey from Tbilisi to Bakhmaro takes around 5 hours. You can hitchhike but also take a minibus from Tbilisi or from Chokhatauri.

Where to stay:
If camping is not your thing, you can always rent one of Bakhmaro’s tiny wooden cottages on a daily or weekly basis. You can’t book them online but have to ask the locals about it when you arrive. Eating is not a problem, as homemade products, fresh fruits and vegetables are easily accessed at the farmer’s markets.

And now it’s our turn. Here are the places that we think you should definitely visit in Georgia:

RECOMMENDATIONS FROM A TRAVELER:

7. Tbilisi

You absolutely have to explore the capital city of Georgia! Tbilisi lies on the banks of the Mtkvari (also known as the Kura) river and is surrounded by hills and mountains. It has been the capital of Georgia since the 5th century and its diverse architecture reflects its long and complicated history. One of the best ways to appreciate this unique place is to wander its streets, especially in the colorful Old Town.

The Kura river in Tbilisi

During your walk in the city you’ll come across over-renovated and hyper- modern buildings but you’ll also find yourself in a warren of backstreets surrounded by ramshackled buildings that are beautiful in their own unique way. Make sure you walk (or take the cable car) to the Narikala Fortress where you can enjoy the stunning panorama over the city.

How to get there:

Just like all the roads in Europe lead to Rome, all the roads in Georgia lead to Tbilisi! You can easily get there by plane (the main airport of Georgia is located in this city), by train, by bus, by mini-bus and by hitchhiking! Read more about the public transportation in Georgia and Tbilisi here.

Where to stay:

You can pay as much or as less as you want to stay in Tbilisi. You can find a bed in a hostelstarting from $4 -$5 (10 GEL) per night or you can spend a few nights in a lovely guesthousefor only $12 per night. If you’d like to meet and stay with local people, you’ll find a lot of free beds/couches on couchsurfing.

8. Mtskheta

Mtskheta is the religious capital and the spiritual heart of Georgia. It used to be the capital city before King Gorgasali changed his base to Tbilisi. It’s also one of the oldest cities in Georgia, where 4000 year-old traces of human settlements were found. Mtskheta is home to three of Georgia’s most important churches: Svetitskhoveli (try to say this 3x in a row…), Jvari and Samtavro Monastery.
Saint Nino lived in this city. She’s known as the Enlightener of Georgia, is one of the most important saints in this country (many girls are named after her). She’s the woman who preached Christianity in Georgia and the reason why this religion was adopted as the state religion in the year 330.

Svetitskhoveli monastery in Mtskheta

tip: if you want to enter the churches, dress appropriately! Men aren’t allowed to wear shorts or hats while women have to wear a long skirt and cover their hair with a scarf.

How to get there:

Mtskheta is 30 minutes away from Tbilisi. You can easily hitchhike there from the Tbilisi Mall (take minibus nr. 50 to get there) or you could take a minibus (mashrutka) all the way to Mtskheta for only 1 GEL. Our friends from Lost with Purpose wrote a very informative article on how to go from Tbilisi to Mtskheta.

9. Vardzia

Vardzia is a spectacular cave monastery near Aspindza in southern Georgia. It looks like one of the movie sets of Lord of the Rings, although it wasn’t the home of dwarves but of many monks. This underground monastery was built in the 12th Century, under the reign of King Tamar, the first woman that was ever crowned as a king (not a queen!) in Georgian history. It used to be completely hidden until a severe earthquake exposed and destroyed the cave monastery. Read more about it in Vardzia,the ancient cave city of Georgia.

Vardzia in Winter

How to get there:
You can take a mashrutka from Akhaltsikhe to Vardzia. The ride takes one hour, it costs 6 GEL and they operate 3 times a day. The first mashrutka leaves at 10.30 am, the last one from Akhaltsikhe to Vardzia leaves at 1.20pm. You can return with the last mashrutka at 3pm from Vardzia to Akhaltsikhe where you can still catch another one to Tbilisi (if you want to return the same day). You can also take a taxi to Vardzia but that will cost you 50 GEL (unless you’re with a group, then you can share the costs and stop along the way at the Khertvisi Fortress). Entrance fee for Vardzia: 3 GEL.
For those who want to hitchhike, know that it’s a remote area and that you might (or not) have to wait for a while to get a ride.

10. Uplistsikhe

Uplistsikhe is located in Eastern Georgia, about 100 km from Tbilisi. It means literally “Lord’s Fortress” and it’s an abandoned rock-hewn town that is more than 3000 years old. It was founded around 1000 BC and was continuously inhabited until the 13th century AD. At one point it even had 20000 inhabitants! The cave city covers an area of almost 40.000 m2 and used to have a pharmacy, a bakery, an amphitheater and even a prison. All the structures are connected by tunnels. On top of the whole complex is a church that was built in the 9th century. This colorful building sticks out against the gray and sober caves.

Uplistsikhe

How to get there:
The cheapest way to get from Tbilisi to Uplistsikhe is by taking a shared taxi (5GEL) or a mashrutka (3GEL) from Didube station to Gori. There you can take another mashrutka to the nearby village Kvakhvreli for 1 GEL. You can also negotiate with the driver and he’ll take you to Uplistsikhe for 1 extra GEL. If you’re with a group, you can share a taxi that will cost you around 10 GEL.
You can also hitchhike from Tbilisi or from Gori to Uplistsikhe, which won’t be very difficult.
Entrance fee for Uplistsikhe: 5 GEL.

11. Davit Gareja

Davit Gareja is a monastery with hundreds of caves tucked away into the half-deserted slopes of Mount Gareja. It was built in the 6th century by Assyrian Priests to strengthen Christianity in Georgia. The whole complex consists of 13 monasteries spread out in the hills of the semi-desert area around the border between Georgia and Azerbaijan. Despite the many attacks of the Persians and Mongols, the monastery kept its ground until 1921 and was closed down because of the Bolshevik takeover.

During the late Soviet years the monastery became a training ground for the Soviet War in Afghanistan, which caused a lot of damage to the murals within the complex. Now it’s an important destination for pilgrims and tourists, although it’s not as frequently visited as Vardzia and Uplistsikhe, due to its remote location.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

How to get there:
You could try to hitchhike but like Vardzia, it might take a while to catch a ride as it is quite remote. You can go from Tbilisi to Davit Gareja by taking a mashrutka or direct bus from Freedom Square to the nearby village Udabno. The Gareji line bus costs 25 GEL (return), leaves at 11 am and the journey takes about one hour. The driver will wait while you explore the site.
From there you have to hike up the steep mountain and don’t forget to bring some food and drinks as there aren’t any facilities in the area.

12. Katskhi Pillar

Georgia doesn’t only have unique places in the ground or in mountains, but also in the air. Take the Katskhi Pillar for example, a 40 meter high limestone monolith that is also known as “the Pillar of Life”. Around the 4th century this rock became a place of seclusion for the ‘Stylites’, a religious group who had a “slight” obsession with sitting on top of narrow pillars to come closer to God. How they got up on the Katskhi Pillar and were able to build a church on top of there is still a big mystery! It was only in 1945 that the first researchers were able to climb it. Oh, and the most extraordinary thing: a monk has been living on top of that remote pillar for 20 years!

Read more about him and this incredible pillar in Katskhi Pillar – the most incredible cliff church in the world.

How to get there:
From Tbilisi to the Katskhi Pillar: take a mashrutka from Didube Station to Chiatura. The earliest leaves at 8 am and after that nearly every hour. The ride takes about 3 hours and costs 6 GEL. In Chiatura take a taxi to the Katskhi Pillar, which shouldn’t cost much as it’s only 20 km away or you can hitchhike like us.

From Kutaisi to Katskhi Pillar: take a mashrutka from Kutaisi bus station to Chiatura. It costs 6 GEL and the journey lasts an hour and a half. Once in Chiatura you can hitchhike or take a taxi to the Katskhi Pillar.

Where to stay:
No indoor sleeping facilities around here but we camped in the woods near the pillar. You can always return to Chiatura and take a mashrutka to Zestafoni or Kutaisi where you’ll find guesthouses.

13. Chiatura

Nestled between steep valleys and deep gorges lies the once-booming Georgian mining town of Chiatura. It was founded in the late 1800’s as a mining colony. In 1954 the Stalinist government installed a system of cable cars, also referred to as a “rope road” to get the workers more quickly to the mines, instead of them walking to the sites on the steep cliffs. Every corner of the town was connected with the mines through these cable cars and Chiatura became known as “the cable car city”.

Most of these cable cars have rusted away but there are still some of these “air tramways” functioning today as a form of (free) public transportation. It’s truly an amazing (and little frightening) experience to step into these rusty flying cabins that are known as the “death-defying metal coffins”. Chiatura is a strange and charming city where you can still feel the ghost of the Soviet Empire. Read more about it in Visiting the ghosts of the past in Chiatura.

One of the old cable cars

How to get there:
From Tbilisi to Chiatura: take a mashrutka from Didube Station to Chiatura. The earliest leaves at 8 am and after that nearly every hour. The ride takes about 3 hours and costs 6 GEL.

From Kutaisi to Chiatura: take a mashrutka from Kutaisi bus station (near McDonalds) to Chiatura. It costs 6 GEL and the journey lasts 1,5 hour.

Where to stay:
There’s maybe one hotel in Chiatura but I don’t have any details about it. You can take the mashrutka to Zestafoni or Kutaisi where you’ll definitely find guesthouses.

14. Batumi

Batumi is a modern city on the coast of the Black Sea. It’s the second biggest city of Georgia and honestly, it doesn’t really feel like you’re in Georgia. One moment you can hear the church bells ringing, the next you hear the muezzin’s call to prayer coming from the mosques (Batumi is right near the border with Turkey). The architecture is a combination of European and Asian styles, often mixed with fairy-tale like towers, statues and buildings created by some hallucinating architects. This is definitely visible at night when the majority of the building are lit up and bathing in the colors of the rainbow.

Batumi is a ‘glamorous’ city, designed to attract tourists and gamblers to play in one of its many casinos. You love it or you hate it but we absolutely enjoyed living there during three months when there were barely any tourists around. Read also our guide to Batumi.

Batumi

How to get there:
You can get from Tbilisi to Batumi by mashrutka, which also stops in Kutaisi. It takes about 4,5 hours and costs 15 GEL. Shared taxis or buses are also possible but will cost you at least double the price.
I would suggest you to take the train from Tbilisi to Batumi, which is very comfortable and cheap (18 GEL). The journey lasts about 5 hours and will take you along some beautiful landscapes.

Where to stay:

Read our Guide to a perfect stay in Batumi

15. Ushguli & other villages in Svaneti

Saving the best for last!
Located in northwestern Georgia and locked in the heart of the Caucasus mountains lies Svaneti, a historic province. The only way to get there is by driving from Zugdidi to Mestia along steep windy roads looking over beautiful gorges, wild rivers and majestic mountains.
Svaneti consists of several small villages, built on the snow-covered mountains slopes and surrounded by a breathtaking scenery of alpine meadows. Walking around in these picturesque villages that are dominated by tower-houses, gives you the feeling that you’re thrown back into the European Middle Ages. Read more about the Wild Heart of the Caucaus.

Mestia

One village truly mesmerized us: Ushguli. This village is part of one of the highest inhabited settlements in Europe, at about 2200m above sea level. It is very remote, the only road to get there is very rough and bumpy but oh so beautiful! The inhabitants live a remote and unique life. They ride on horses through the cobblestone streets while pigs, dogs, cows and goats walk next to them on the little paths. It feels like time stood still there! Watch this video to see what I mean. Unfortunately it’s also the most touristic village in the area (Mestia not included) but there are plenty of other villages in the area that not many tourists visit.

How to get there:
To Mestia: Mestia is the central village of Svaneti.
You can go from Tbilisi to Zugdidi by train and you can opt for the night train (8 hours) or day train (5,5 hours) – check here the schedule. Tickets cost between 16 and 21GEL.

You can also take a mashrutka from Tbilisi to Zugdidi, which departs every day from “Vagzali” bus station (in front of Tbilisi Centrali building). Look for the platform with a sign ‘Mestia’. The bus departs at 7 AM, tickets cost 30 GEL and the journey will take about 9 hours.

From Zugdidi to Mestia: catch a mashrutka at the Zugdidi train station (look for the sign Mestia). They leave every time the bus is full, a ticket costs 20 GEL and the ride takes between 3 – 4 hours.

Or you can hitchhike. It took us around 7 hours to hitchhike from Tbilisi to Mestia!

From Mestia to Ushguli

You’ve got three options to get to Ushguli:
1) Hitchhike like we did. We were told that it was nearly impossible to hitchhike there but we got very lucky that day and caught a ride within 2 minutes!
2) Walk from Mestia to Ushguli. This hike takes about 4 days and you’ll walk along the majestic valleys and meadows of the Caucasus. More about this hike here.
3) Take a shared taxi. The drivers know that this is your only way to go to Ushguli and back so they’ll easily charge 120 – 150 GEL. If you can share the taxi with 3 other people, you’ll get the costs down to 30 – 40 GEL.

Where to stay:

You’ll have plenty of space to camp in Svaneti and it’s definitely worthwhile! You can also find plenty of guesthouses in Mestia starting from $20/night for 2 people. Ushguli has also facilities to accommodate guests if you’d like to spend the night in this little village.

Next month we’re leaving Georgia but we’ll never forget the beauty of this country! We hope you’ll have an amazing time here!!

Source: Journal of Nomads