Places to visit in Georgia
Who wouldn’t want to visit a country full of wine-lovers welcoming you to their home that’s made of dramatic mountain backdrops and medieval monuments?
If this seems too good to be true, let me introduce you to Georgia. The country (not the state) is nestled between Europe and Asia and is part of the Caucasus region. Georgia was once a hidden gem for the lone backpackers. They traversed through its mountainous region, which is home to one of the greatest ranges (hence bearing the name Greater Caucasus Mountains), or lounged around the Black Sea coast. Now, it’s a mainstream country that clings to its culture and orthodox Christianity and somehow manages to retain its charm, even with a sea of tourists.
Locally known as Sakartvelo, the country has a rugged charm that will lure you in and make you forget all your worries (though the homemade wine made from recipes that are 1000 years old also do that job). Dive into our ultimate travel guide to find the attractions best suited to you.
Best Time to Visit Georgia
Before jumping to the places of interest, you need to figure out the best time to visit the country. Since Georgia is a place that welcomes you with open arms all year round, the best time to visit is really up to what activities you want to make the most out of.
In Georgia (July and August), summer is the peak season where tourists rush into the country in droves. Mountain hiking and Black Sea resorts are open and working double time. This also means that you need not worry about whether the mountain passes (such as the Abano Pass) are open. Sadly, that is not the case in the Autumn months, which are more focused on the grape harvest. This also means that there is much to celebrate with the wine-making taking place and Tbilisoba, the largest cultural fest in October.
Winter is reserved for quieter snowed months were warming up around the fire with the Christmas backdrop is your safest bet. Since 85% of Georgia practices Georgian orthodox Christianity, you know that the festival will be a transforming experience. Skiing is also popular, with cabins and chateaus filling up with chatter and ski boots. Finally, Spring comes with the hope of renewal, and you can dust off the snow and embrace the heat with the New Wine Festival as well as a bout of rain.
Best Places to Visit in Georgia
MEDIEVAL CHURCHES AND MONASTERIES OF OLD
Religion plays a huge part in the history and culture of Georgia. 85% of the country follows orthodox Christianity, and this staggering number is easily reflected in the amount of church and monasteries scattered a stone’s throw away from each other. Religion also affects how Georgians (who are usually extremely hospitable) behave towards certain schools of thought and modern practices. However, the boon of having a religious society is the grand, majestic or even simple and hewn church structures that help the country maintain its alluring and harmonic aura. Below are some of the places that you wouldn’t want to miss, even if religion is not your cup of tea.
Gelati Monastery is one of the most important attractions in Georgia. It is one of the three UNESCO world heritage sites and an important religious symbol from the medieval renaissance. The monastery is located 8 kilometres north-east of Kutaisi on a hillside with a wooded path meandering in its direction.
The monastery is an example of Golden Age architecture and is well-preserved with colourful frescos adorning the walls. It is also the resting place of David the Builder, the 12th-century king. The Church of St. George and the main Cathedral of the Virgin hold this importance and their long-standing history upright with their grand opulence and stature.
The church on the mountains. If you have seen pictures of a church with the backdrop of snow-capped mountains when looking up Georgia, the Gergeti Trinity might seem familiar to you. One of the most popular tourist sites and an important orthodox church, the Gergeti Trinity is a must-visit, especially if you want a close up of the Greater Caucasus Mountains, where the church is nestled.
You can easily visit Gergeti Trinity through a small hike that obtains incredible views and crisp mountain air throughout. Just make sure not to do so in the winter months as the snow may make the route slippery and dangerous. You can also grab lunch at Rooms for a traditional Georgian menu with a breath-taking view of snowy mountains and forested hills.
Monuments of Mtskheta
Located 20 kilometres from Tbilisi, the Monuments of Mtskheta is the first UNESCO World Heritage site (1994) and Georgia’s former capital. The settlement lies at the Aragvi and Mtkvari Rivers’ confluence and has been inhabited since the Third Century AD. The historical sites, collectively known as the Monuments of Mtskheta, include the Jvari Monastery, the Svetitstkhoveli Cathedral and the Samtavro Monastery.
The Jvari Monastery contains remains from significant years in the country’s history and overlooks the confluence, providing a view that gently lulls you to the place’s harmony. The Svetitstkhoveli Cathedral is in the centre and is one of the oldest orthodox churches. It is an 11th-century cathedral that holds the palace, the church and the gates of Katolikos Melchizedek. Samtavro Monastery, on the other hand, holds the grave of Mirian III, the king of Iberia who established Christianity as the official religion in Georgia.
David Gareja Monasteries
The David Gareja Monasteries are located 70 kilometres from Tbilisi at the border between Georgia and Azerbaijan. They refer to a set of 21 hermitages scattered throughout the dessert and made during the time of St. David Garejeli, one of the Thirteen Assyrian Fathers. Together, they form a cave monastery with over 5000 cells. While there are 21 sites, the most popular ones are those of the Udabno Monastery and Lavra Monastery, which have religious frescos painted directly on their rocks, marking a great place of worship. Udabno Monastery is also located next to the rainbow hills, resulting from a natural phenomenon of mineral deposition. As of 2021, the border disputes between Georgia and Azerbaijan have resulted in a partial closure of the historical site.
FROM MOUNTAINS TO BEACHES
Being nestled between the Greater Caucasus and the lesser Caucasus, the mountain country has plenty of stunning natural wonders. From long hikes on tough, snow-capped mountains to taking a picnic amidst fields of flowers in bloom during spring, Georgian nature never disappoints. And it’s not just the mountains that keep up the scenic beauty. The Black Sea in the west gives way to black sand beaches with dramatic backdrops and pearl white waves crashing on rocks. Here are some of the places to experience this natural beauty that the country offers at your feet.
The Svaneti region in the north-west of Georgia is a hidden gem with a unique culture and untouched beauty. With little towns making their home in the valleys of towering Caucasus mountains, Svaneti is not something you want to miss.
Mestia is the most important town in this region and is also the highest town in Europe. For Georgians, Mestia, with its hikes and skiing, is pretty much the adventure capital. This city, built amidst meadows and populated with chalets, joins the quaint small set of villages that form the town of Ushguli via a four-day hike. Inhabited by just shy of 300 people, it contains the village- Chazhashi, the UNESCO World Heritage Site for being the highest permanently inhabited village in Europe. Ushguli also maintains a free spirit and has never once been ruled over. From Ushguli, Mt. Shkhara, Georgia’s highest peak at 5193m, is easily reachable.
From Mestia, you can also take a cable car to Mt Zuruldi, where you can grab lunch or take a small hike to the Mentashi transmitter from where you get panoramic views and can witness Mt Ushba, known as the “Matterhorn of the Caucasus.”
If you’re chasing after sunshine and lazy days on the beach, the biggest resort on Georgia’s black sea coast is just the one for you. Batumi is located in the Adjara region of Georgia, close to the border of Turkey. Due to this, you will notice a Turkish influence in much of the culture, including the food (the regions famous Adjaruli Khachapuri is much like Pide in Turkey).
When visiting Batumi, you will notice a mixture of Russian medieval architecture and high-rise resorts that strangely complement each other form a unique ambience. Roam the streets of old town and land at the Batumi Boulevard that dates back to 1881 and is the city’s heart. You can also catch a few spring blossoms and greens with the Botanical Gardens, the only ones in the era of the Soviet Union. But if beaches are all you’re looking for, head up north to the black sand beaches and get your fill of vacation time.
The Georgian Arctic
For snow-covered terrains, rugged plains and volcanic mountains, the contrasting Georgian Arctic does not disappoint. This area includes the Javakheti Protected Areas and is called the arctic because of the frigid temperatures all year round. Visit this gem for some frosty hikes and a white sheet of snow wherever you look. The Javakheti Protected Areas are also the perfect spot for those who enjoy bird watching. The place is home to rare and endemic migratory birds. You can visit the Bughdasheni Managed Reserve and the several lakes to witness these birds or climb atop the watchtowers to get panoramic views.
Now that you’ve seen the medieval churches and the natural beauty, it’s time to soak up the culture and oddities that makeup Georgia. The country has a rich past with medieval kings and queens, museums dedicated to the Soviet Union and caves from old wars and the renaissance. Here are some of these places that you would want to witness for yourself.
Gori and Uplistsikhe
Often clubbed with a trip to the Monuments of Mtskheta, Gori and Uplistsikhe hold Georgian history and culture that paved the way for the country it is now. Gori was an important stop on the Silk Road and served as a military stronghold. You can see remnants of this history as you look upon the Gori Fortress in the north-west. Gori is famously known for being the birthplace of Stalin, and the Stalin Museum is indeed the main attraction in the city. You can also check out the street art, roam the streets of the old town and of course, take a marshrutka van to Uplistsikhe.
Uplistsikhe is Georgia’s oldest cave city and a reminder of times when building architecture in line with nature and near river banks was a means of survival and peaceful living. When you visit the site, you will notice small markings of a simpler lifestyle, those not living by royals but merchants and tradespeople.
Aside from Tbilisi, Kutaisi is the only place in Georgia where you can enter by taking an international flight. The place has a rustic charm that transports you to olden times. Aside from hosting the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Gelati Monastery, phenomenal Bagrati Cathedral and Colchis Fountain in the city centre. You can unravel the undercover Green Market to shop some hidden gems get a fill of traditional Georgian food. Chiatura, the mining city with 17 cable cars, is also a short ride from Kutaisi and is a must-see to witness Stalin’s rope roads from the Soviet era. The Imereti region is also famous for canyons and caves that you will find dotted in and around this city.
If you were impressed by Uplistsikhe and David Gareja, Vardzia is bound to blow your mind. Inhabited since the bronze age, Vardzia is an incredibly vast cave city that will leave you stunned. The amount of history that the artificial walls rocks hold is so grand and opulent, its only fit for the royals (as it was). Vardzia has roughly 13 levels and over 600 chambers and is an active monastery from when the monks moved back in 1988. When visiting Vardzia, you can also check out the rest of the city of Akhaltsikhe, including the massive Rabati Castle that stills sits after its birth in the 9th century.
BIRTHPLACE OF WINE
Georgians take their wine seriously. After all, archaeological digs have found it to be the birthplace of wine, with nearly 8000 years of wine-making history. While Kakheti is not the only region that produces wine (really, even households in cities produce their own), it’s definitely one of the most popular ones. The Alazani Valley and Kakheti Wine Route take you through thousands of wineries and households making wine from local produce with their own twist.
Wineries also retain the old wine-making practice of using a Qvevri (a clay vessel) for part of their produce. This practice is listed as a UNESCO cultural value to retain its speciality and importance.
One town you must visit in this region is Sighnaghi. The town is the perfect place to waltz in and immerse yourself in the wine culture of the region. You can climb the city walls or visit one of the hilltop churches that the region is also known for. The museum is also a good pastime before visiting the wine tunnels and vineyards and enlightening your tastebuds with all the different kinds of samples. You can also pair these wines with authentic Georgian cuisine such as Churchkela or Khinkali and meat and other eggplant-based dishes.
Georgia is an experience that no number of days can fully justify. The country is a perfect balance between medieval history and new age culture, mountains and beaches, monuments and resorts. The country thrives with the contrasts it provides and truly has something for everyone, no matter the season.
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