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 outdoor lovers 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 of delicious food and wine (and the additional hangover).
It was hard to make a selection of the best and most beautiful places to see in Georgia (there are so many of them!!) 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 top places and best cities to visit in Georgia, recommended by a traveler and a local!
Tbilisi is the capital city and one of the best cities in Georgia to visit! 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.
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 to Tbilisi:
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 in Tbilisi:
You can pay as much or as less as you want to stay in Tbilisi. You can find a bed in a hostel starting from $4 -$5 (10 GEL) per night or you can spend a few nights in a lovely guesthouse for 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 couch surfing.
Mtskheta is the religious capital, the spiritual heart and therefore the most important city 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.
Important Note: 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 to Mtskheta:
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.
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.
How to get to Vardzia:
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.
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.
How to get to Uplistsikhe:
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.
Georgia doesn’t only have unique places on the ground or in the 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!
How to get to the Katskhi Pillar:
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 near Katskhi Pillar:
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.
Budget: Hostel Mandaria
Mid-range: Hotel Balcony
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.
How to get to Chiatura:
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 in Chiatura:
Budget: Hostel Mandaria
Mid-range: Hotel Balcony
Batumi is a modern city on the coast of the Black Sea. It’s the second biggest city in 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 is 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 for three months when there were barely any tourists around. Read also our guide to a perfect stay in Batumi.