Top Places to visit in GeorgiaSrinivasa Shenoy
Georgia is a small country located on the crossroads of Europe and Asia, with an ancient history and culture largely influenced by Christianity and blessed with spectacular natural beauty.
Beautiful churches and monasteries set in fantastic mountain backdrops, the cultural heritage, the very interesting rock-cut monasteries, cave towns, fortresses, soaring mountains, chateaus and vineyards and breathtakingly beautiful regions make Georgia an attractive, must visit destination. With so many platitudes for this small country in the Caucasus, an exhaustive listing of the places to visit is going to be a challenge.
I will try to list down some recommended places basis my own personal experience. A full listing of the destinations of this charming country is a long long discussion!!
There is a reason why most tour operator itineraries for Georgia or for the Caucasus end with Tbilisi. The charm of Tbilisi is bound to captivate you marking a lovely end to your trip to the Caucasus. Explore the alleys of Old Town, sample Georgian cuisine in its various restaurants, explore the beautiful places of worship, museum, go on a river cruise… Notable sights not to miss include the Narikala fortress, the Mother of Georgia statue, the Sameba, the Bridge of peace, the Tblisi mosque, Meteki Church, Sioni Cathedral….. – There is so much to do here – refer our separate blog on sights in Tbilisi!
Georgia’s spiritual heart is home to the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral – the centre of the Georgian Orthodox Church and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The fabled home to Jesus Christ’s robe – apparently buried under a ciborium here is a matter of pride to every Georgian. The other important monuments of medieval Georgia i.e. the Monastery of the Cross – Jvari and Samtavro church are also located in Mtsheta. The ride upto Jvari is worth it for the stunning views of the town and the meeting point between the Mtkvari and Aragvi rivers.
A short distance from Tbilisi, Mtskheta is quite close to Gori as well. The birthplace of Stalin, Gori has a fascinating Stalin Museum – learn and enjoy an interesting history lesson here!
Further, a short distance away from Goris would another must-see location – Uplistsikhe – the ancient cave town. An interesting place with rock cut structures predating the Christian era and the maze of tunnels, it would hard to imagine that nearly 20,000 people inhabited this place at the peak of its importance!
A fascinating place with wide beautiful landscapes, mountains, fancy chateaus, churches, monasteries, palaces, and charming towns and yes, a lot of family owned (large and small) and passionately run vineyards!
Most tourists make a day trip to this lovely region and sample wine in a commercial winery! Instead spend one day in a locally winery or in a ‘castle’ and experience the Kakheti as it was meant to be! An alternative would be to stay at Sighnaghi – the City of Love (you are guaranteed to see a marriage during your visit here!). Another viable alternative would be staying at one of the many lake resorts here (e.g. Kvareli Lake resort or the more commercial Lapota Lake resort).
Ensure you experience true Georgian hospitality and cuisine by having lunch at one of the family run restaurants here! We recommend Pinch of Salt in Sighnaghi or a Marani like Pheasant Tears.
And of course, goes without saying, there are many lovely churches here in beautiful settings! Some of the important must-see ones are Alaverdi, Nekhresi, Bodbe, Gremi and Ikalto monasteries. Refer our blog on Kakheti for a more detailed discussion on the wonders of this region!
Travel Tip: Ensure you go through the Gambori pass for a scenic ride and if time permits make a stop at the Ujarma fortress on the way.
Undoubtedly the most scenic location of Georgia with the beautiful Holy Trinity church in the backdrop of the majestic Mt. Kazbegi. The drive to Kazbegi via Ananuri and Gadauri along the Georgian Military highway is enchanting!
Again, most tourists would make this as a day trip! If you can afford the time and the money, we would definitely recommend staying at the gorgeous hotel – Rooms Hotel here. The views of Mt. Kazbegi are stunning to say the least!!
A stop at the Ananuri Fortress en-route to Stepantsminda is recommended. The church is beautiful and of great historic significance – and the views of the emerald coloured Zhinvali Reservoir are fabulous!
The historic capital of ancient Colchis and the home to the beautiful Gelati Monastery – a UNESCO World Heritage site –recognising its religious, historical and academic significance in medieval Georgia. Kutaisi is an excellent stopover en-route to your visit to the scenic Svaneti region. While you are here, experience the charm of this small town and visit the picturesque Bagrati Cathedral overlooking the city.
Another must-do experience is the amazing Prometheus caves nearby. While one may argue that there are many cave complexes with limestone formations (Stalactites and Stalagmites) in the world – Prometheus is sure to pleasure you with the well maintained, nicely lit complex. It is huge and do expect to take your time admiring nature’s art.
Nearby for the nature lovers are the Oakatse and Martvili Canyons. The excellent skywalks in Oakatse and the boat trip in Martvili will provide you your Instagram moments!
A delightfully scenic region (and a UNESCO World Heritage site) with its Tower houses in numerous charming villages surrounding by majestic mountains – especially Ushguli (Chazhashi village) with Mt. Shkhara in the background. The 4X4 effort of going to Ushguli might sound difficult – but the scenic route and the beauty of the final destination more than compensates! The views of Lamaria Chapel and towering presence of Mt. Shkhara is bound to have you spellbound!
In Svaneti, all road journeys are rewarding with its scenic splendour – especially the route from Kutaisi to Mestia going by the Enguri dam reservoir!
Home to the amazing Vardzia cave monastery and Rabati fortress castle (Ottoman era).
See the Islamic Ottoman influence in this lovingly reconstructed and restored Rabati Fortress castle with fascinating views of the country side. The regional history museum here is a treat! Don’t miss it.
The journey onwards into Akhaltsikhe following the Mtkvari River, passing through narrow canyons and beautiful valleys is an unforgettable experience. There are various sights along the way as well – including the impressive Khertvisi Fortress located on a rocky outcrop with great views of the Mtvari and Paravani rivers. The final destination for the day, Vardzia, is a fascinating cave town with significant historic and cultural importance to Georgians. Built by King Georgi III and Queen Tamar in the 12th Century, this monastery spreads over 13 floors on a steep rocky hillside and has 400 rock-hewn rooms and 13 churches! Stay here at the beautifully located Vardzia resort nearby.
An essential day trip for the Christian devout; nevertheless a fantastic road journey for the plucky traveller – the road is part of the experience. Either you reach on the normal route through Sagarejo or you can the google mis-assisted route through the arid regions of the Kvemo Kartli / Khaketi region! (pass by a military firing range and god forbid you don’t have a 4X4 on this route!). I believe this route would be amazing during spring with the desert flower bloom!
At the David Gareja, in addition to visiting the Lavra Monastery, go on the short hike to see the Udabno monastery on the top of the mountain to enjoy spectacular views of the surrounding landscapes (including the neighbouring country of Azerbaijan – which is just on the other side of the hill).
On the return ensure you have lunch / dinner at the lovely Oasis club run by a Polish family.