Posted: 12/28/2019 | December 28th, 2019
Once part of the Soviet Union, Georgia is a destination full of ancient history, stunning landscapes, and plenty of surprises. It’s home to an award-winning wine industry and the cool capital of Tbilisi, which has a stunning Old Town and vibrant nightlife.
And to top it all off, the Caucasus Mountains offer incredible hiking and climbing for anyone looking to explore the outdoors.
Georgia deserves all the praise it gets. It really is jam-packed with activities and attractions and is slowly starting to get on people’s radar. I loved my time there, and my only regret is that I didn’t have more of it (but I guess that’s just a reason to go back, right?).
It may not be one of the most obvious places to travel, but if you want an eclectic destination that doesn’t have a lot of crowds and is safe, inexpensive, and filled with great food and drink, Georgia is it! I can’t recommend it enough.
Here’s a list of what I consider to be some of the best things to see and do in Georgia:
1. Visit Tbilisi
Georgia’s capital is home to just over a million people and has started to gain a reputation as a progressive city that offers an amazing blend of old and new.
Tbilisi is surrounded by hills, one of which is home to the ruins of Narikala Fortress, which dates back to the fourth century. Take the cable car up for amazing views overlooking the city and the Mtkvari River. And the restored historic Old Town is full of colorful window frames, gorgeous balconies, ornate spiral staircases, and intriguing alleyways to explore.
In contrast with this history, there are also lots of modern sights to see in Tbilisi, like the ultramodern bow-shaped Peace Bridge and a growing number of trendy bars and restaurants. If you’re looking to party the night away, be sure to visit Bassiani, one of the most popular nightclubs in town.
2. Try a Sulfur Bath
Tbilisi is known for its sulfur baths, natural hot springs with minerals that are said to help with problems such as joint pain, arthritis, eczema, and dry skin. They have been a staple of the city since it was founded and are now a popular pastime for tourists and locals alike. (There are actually over two thousand mineral springs throughout Georgia, so you can have a spa day outside Tbilisi as well.)
The baths underneath the Narikala Fortress are the easiest place to try this popular Georgian tradition; you can also get a traditional scrub and massage. The baths are easy to spot: they have large brick domes rising out of the ground that cover the healing waters.
Expect to pay at least 50 GEL (Georgian lari) ($17 USD) for a budget bathhouse or 100 GEL ($34 USD) for a nicer one.
3. The Chronicle of Georgia
Just outside Tbilisi, the Chronicle of Georgia is made up of 16 enormous pillars and columns with carved images that illustrate the nation’s history, each of which is over 30 meters tall! Some people call this “Georgia’s Stonehenge,” but there’s nothing ancient or mystical about it — the memorial was built in 1985 by a Georgian sculptor (although it was never finished).
It’s easy to reach the Chronicle by taking the metro and then walking a short distance. In addition to seeing this unusual monument (which is free), you’ll also get a beautiful view over the city and the Tbilisi Sea.
4. See Mtskheta
Mtskheta was an ancient capital of Georgia and today is known as the religious center of the country. It’s about a half-hour north of Tbilisi and is home to historic churches and beautiful buildings from the Middle Ages (some of them are UNESCO World Heritage sites as well). The entire city was also declared a Holy City by the Georgian Orthodox Church in 2014.
One of the best things to do in Mtskheta is to go up to Jvari Monastery on the hilltop, most famous for being where Christianity was declared the official religion in 319 CE. The monastery itself was built in the sixth century and has survived nearly unchanged since then. From here you’ll be treated to stunning views over the town and the two rivers that meet at Mtskheta.
Also, don’t miss a visit to the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral (which dates to the 11th century) and the fourth-century Samtavro Monastery.
5. Eat Khachapuri
There are all kinds of traditional Georgian foods you can try, but the one that all visitors seem to leave Georgia raving about is khachapuri. It’s basically a cheesy bread that can come with various toppings and in various shapes, sometimes looking a bit like a pizza and other times more like a big bread roll.
Every region of Georgia has its own version, but probably the most famous is Adjarian khachapuri. It comes in a kind of boat shape and is first filled with cheese and then topped with an egg.
Another popular food you’ll want to try is kudari, which is a large leavened bread pocket stuffed with meat (usually pork or lamb) and vegetables.
6. Visit the Vadrzia Cave Monastery
The Vadrzia Cave Monastery is located near Aspindza in the south of Georgia, about four hours from Tbilisi by car. It’s one of the most famous monasteries in the entire country. Built in the 11th century, it’s a system of caves dug into the side of Erusheli Mountain. Originally, the complex included 13 levels and over 6,000 apartments. These were used to help protect the locals from the Mongols, who ravaged the entire region in the 12th century.
These days — after earthquake damage and raids from invaders — there are around three hundred surviving apartments and halls that can still be accessed. Additionally, the underground Church of the Dormition is still intact, which is home to murals depicting historical scenes of Georgian royalty.
7. Hit the Slopes
Georgia probably isn’t your first thought for a skiing holiday. However, the country is rapidly becoming well known in Europe and Asia as a fun and affordable ski destination, and more lifts are being added each season. It shares the highest mountain range in the region and has plenty of snow in the winter, making it a great place to ski. Plus, it’s a whole lot cheaper than many options in Europe.
At the moment there are four main ski resort areas: Gudauri, Mestia, Goderdzi, and Bakuriani. There’s even a ski school with English-speaking instructors in Gudauri, which is only a two-hour drive from Tbilisi. You can get lift passes for as little as 30 GEL ($10 USD).
8. See the Katskhi Pillar
For a particularly unique sight, head to western Georgia’s Katskhi Pillar. This huge limestone monolith is a natural tower that stands over 130 feet high. You can reach Katskhi in a couple of hours from Batumi or in about three and a half hours from Tbilisi.
But that’s not all — built on the top of this narrow pillar is a church complex dating back to the seventh century. Until 2015, a monk actually lived up on top, but these days the monks sleep in the monastery at the bottom — and only monks are allowed to climb up the steel ladder on the side as part of their daily pilgrimage to pray in the church. The buildings were refurbished recently, and a visitor center is in the works.
9. Go Hiking or Trekking
If you like hiking or trekking, then you’re going to love Georgia. The Caucasus Mountains stretch from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea — over 1,000km — so there are plenty of possibilities.
The most popular multi-day trek is walking from Mestia to Ushguli (4 days). There are enough villages along the route that you don’t need to camp. Not surprisingly, the scenery along the way is magnificent.
As Georgia is a hiker’s paradise, there are literally dozens of other hiking possibilities, so look around and see what kind of trek fits what you’re after. Some suggestions worth considering are Omalo to Shatili (5 days), Chaukhi Pass (1-2 days), and Svaneti to Racha (a challenging 3-4 days).
10. Try Georgian Wine
It’s said that Georgia has the oldest winemaking history in the world. Georgians have been making wine for over 8,000 years, so you can bet they’re pretty good at it by now. They use qvevri (clay pots buried in the ground) to ferment grapes for a unique taste. The climate in Georgia is perfect for winemaking, too, so it’s no wonder that Georgian wine is starting to win awards internationally.
There are five main wine regions in Georgia, but the largest and most visited is Kakheti in the east. Technically you can make it a day trip from Tbilisi, but it deserves more than just a few hours. If you want to explore the vineyards, then pick either Sighnaghi or Telavi as a base.
11. Explore the Coast
If you’re looking for some rest and relaxation, Georgia even has a beach resort region along the coast. At Batumi, located on the Black Sea, you’ll find subtropical temperatures perfect for swimming. It can get quite humid in summer too.
You can chill out at a beach resort near Batumi or explore some of the craziness this part of Georgia has to offer (it’s sometimes described as the Las Vegas of the Black Sea). The region is home to some unique architecture and a number of casinos, though it also has the enormous Batumi Botanical Gardens, which boasts one of the most diverse ranges of flora you’ll see in a botanical garden anywhere.
12. Visit Gergeti Trinity Church
Built in the 14th century, this church tucked away near Mount Kazbek is perched almost 2,200 meters above sea level and draws crowds from all over the country. It’s one of the most picturesque spots in all of Georgia, offering stunning views of the mountain range (which you’ve probably seen on Instagram).
While you can visit on a day trip from Tbilisi, a better idea is to head to Stepantsminda and stay there overnight. That way, you can see the church in the morning (which offers great light for photos) while beating the tourist crowds that will eventually arrive from the capital.
13. The Caves of Gareja
Located near the border with Azerbaijan, this is a Georgian Orthodox complex that dates back to the sixth century. Here you’ll find hundreds of small rooms, small chapels, churches, and monastic living quarters carved out of the rock face.
The monastery survived incursions from the Mongols and Persians but was shut down under Soviet rule and used for military training (which caused a lot of damage to the buildings).
Today, you can visit the complex on a day trip from Tbilisi. The journey takes around three hours by bus and bus tickets cost 25 GEL ($9 USD).
14. Visit Gori
Gori is the hometown of Joseph Stalin, the brutal Soviet leader. Located 90 minutes from Tbilisi, the city is home to the popular Stalin Museum, which has lots of artifacts (including the wooden hut where he was born) and information about his life — all of it whitewashed and biased, of course.
Here you’ll also find a World War II museum that focuses on the achievements of the Red Army, as well as Gori Fortress, a citadel that dates back to the 17th century and offers a panoramic view of the region.
Although it’s close enough for a day trip from Tbilisi, you can stay in this small city of just 50,000 for a day or two if you want to get away from the crowds.
15. Get Outdoors in Svaneti
This is one of the most beautiful regions in the entire country. Tucked away in the northwestern corner of Georgia, you’ll find many tiny villages and incredible hiking here. There are also several UNESCO heritage sites in the area, including watchtowers that date back to the 12th century. You’ll also be completely enveloped by the Caucasus Mountains, which provide both a picturesque backdrop and stunning views.
Stay in Mestia, a tiny village of fewer than 2,000 people, and head out on foot or by car to explore the region. You’ll also find some of the best cheese in the country, made by traditional methods kept alive by the Svans (an ethnic subgroup). The region is one of the most remote areas in Georgia — see it before the tourists arrive.
This list just scratches the surface when it comes to the incredible things to see and do that Georgia has to offer. There are dozens more historical sites, monasteries, caves, and castles to see and a whole lot more stunning landscapes to explore. (And the country is quite safe too.)
Whether you just have a few days to enjoy Tbilisi and its surroundings or a couple of weeks to cover more of rural Georgia too, you are not going to be disappointed!
Book Your Trip to Georgia: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned.
Book Your Accommodation
To find the best budget accommodation, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels. You can book your hostel with Hostelworld as they have the most comprehensive inventory. Some of my favorite places to stay in Costa Rica:
- Fabrika (Tblisi) – This hostel is also a bar and co-working space housed in an old Soviet warehouse. It’s got a cool vibe and the people here are wonderful. This is the best place to stay in the country if you ask me.
- Temi Hostel (Kutaisi) – This hostel is small but the staff are great and it’s clean and cozy. It’s in a great location too.
- Boutique Hotel and Medusa Hostel (Batumi) – This place is relatively new so the beds are comfy and have curtains and the place is well maintained. The staff are super helpful and will make sure you have an amazing visit to Batumi.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
Looking for the best companies to save money with?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! I list all the ones I use to save money when I travel – and I think will help you too!
Want More Information on Georgia?
Be sure to visit our robust destination guide on Georgia for even more planning tips!
Photo credit: 3 – Marcin Konsek, 4 – orientalizing, 6 – Marco Verch, 7 – Tony Bowden, 8 – Paata Liparteliani, 9 – Levan Nioradze, 11 – tomasz przechlewski, 15 – Andrzej Wójtowicz, 16 – Florian Pinel
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