Georgia is a country of high mountains and ancient towns. And to see what it’s all about, you need to get out of the capital where you’ll explore beautiful nature, stunning landscapes, and medieval villages. However, as many travelers visit Georgia short on time, these day trips from Tbilisi ensure that you’ll get the best of both worlds during your stay.
Located just around 30-minutes by car from Tbilisi, this former capital of Georgia is home to Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, a masterpiece of the Early Middle Ages and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
After Tbilisi’s Holy Trinity Cathedral, it is the second-largest church and the burial site of Christ’s mantle, bringing pilgrims to the area year-round. Inside, you can also find graves of several Georgian Kings such as Erekle II and Mirian III.
After marveling at Svetitskhoveli’s priceless frescos, take a stroll to feel the charm of this tiny town on the banks of the Mtkvari River and pop into a cafe for a bite or two. Afterward, it’s time to head to Jvari Monastery on the opposite side of the river.
Sitting on top of the hill offering sweeping views of Mtskheta and the confluence of two rivers, Jvari Monastery is another important religious building in Georgia. Legend has it that it’s the spot where St. Nino, an evangelist who brought Christianity to Georgia, erected a wooden cross on the site of the pagan temple.
Town of Gori and Uplistsikhe Cave Town
Gori is the birthplace of Joseph Stalin, the Soviet leader who shook the world. The town is one of the few places in the world which slightly glorifies the dictator offering visitors a glimpse of his life and memorabilia in its house museum. You can also see his private train carriage in the courtyard.
Most of the visitors coming to Gori combine the tour with a visit to the rock-hewn town of Uplistsikhe, located only 9km away. One of the country’s oldest settlements, the site features a unique blend of ancient rock-cut craftsmanship from Iran and Anatolia, along with Christian and pagan influence throughout.
David Gareja Monastery Complex
This 6th-century Orthodox monastery is another rock-cut complex nestled in semi-desert east of Tbilisi near the border of Azerbaijan. Built by David Gareja, one of the Thirteen Assyrian Fathers, the complex includes at least 21 separate hermitages dotted across the desert.
Due to political tension between Georgia and Azerbaijan in 2019 regarding the borderline in this area, various areas of the complex are not open for tourists. However, it’s still safe to travel and worth making a trip for its stunning colorful canyon-like rock landscapes.
The most popular monastery open to the public is Lavra, where you can walk on the wooden balconies and admire the view of the caves, walk down into the yard to visit the chapel, and visit tombstones.
One of the most popular day trips from Tbilisi is its charming walled town, Sighnaghi, set in the heart of Georgia’s wine region, Kakheti. Traditional Georgian houses with intricately carved wooden balconies perched above medieval cobblestone streets with sweeping views of the Alazani Valley and the Caucasus Mountains, wandering Sighnaghi feels like stepping back in time.
One of the main attractions is to walk a small piece of the still-standing Sighnaghi Wall to enjoy the views of the valley and the mountains.
Just 2km away is Bodbe Monastery complex, the burial site of St. Nino and important Orthodox Christian site.
Sighnaghi is also a great place to visit one of the many wineries in the area, including Pheasant’s Tears Winery, Cherkeza’s Zedashe, and Cradle of Wine Marani. Once you’re hungry, pay a visit to Pheasant’s Tears restaurant right at the city entrance to enjoy some of its finest natural qvevri wines with seasonal Georgian cuisine.
Those looking to get active in pristine nature and burn off all the nonstop khinkali and khachapuri feasting, should head to Birtvisi Canyon. This less explored gorge of volcanic hills is part of Trialeti Planned National Park, situated around an hour’s drive from Tbilisi.
An active volcanic eruption formed these small hills millions of years ago and have been slowly shaped by wind and rain ever since. In its rocky and challenging terrain lies Birtvisi Fortress, the least accessible fortification of the country. On your way, you’ll see some parts of the citadel wall and towers in ruins.
The highest part of the fortress is only accessible by a steep rock-cut staircase offering stunning views of the gorge and rocks. This part of the fortress complex was called “Invincible” and referred to the fact that it was almost impossible to invade.
Hiking Birtvisi Canyon doesn’t require a guide or special equipment. The trail is marked, while good, non-slippery shoes and a comfortable outfit will do just fine.
Stepantsminda is the main town to visit Mt. Kazbegi and Gergeti Trinity Church, sitting on the hilltop at the foot of the mountain. The road from Tbilisi to Stepantsminda follows the Georgian Military Highway, the only road that currently connects Georgia with Russia.
Best explored by car, this day trip from Tbilisi is loaded with attractions and stop-offs that make the journey just as interesting as the destination, and that’s saying something. Here are the must-dos.
Zhinvali Dam and a reservoir is the first stop to admire the surreal, blue-colored water in the artificial lake that stretches beyond the horizon framed by lush green mountains and hopefully, baby-blue skies.
Next up is the 13th century Ananuri Fortress. Overlooking the aforementioned reservoir, this castle looks like something straight out of a fairytale and is worth having a quick stroll around to stretch your legs and take it all in.
After having some of the nation’s best khinkali in the small town of Pasanauri, continue on through Gudauri, the most popular ski town of Georgia, and stop at Georgia-Russia Friendship Monument. The semi-circular mosaic sits on a hilltop offering a scenic view of the mountain range, but just as impressive are its vibrant colors.
And lastly, Sno village. Here you’ll find busts of Georgia’s most famous poets and writers scattered around the field beneath the slopes of the surrounding mountains. It’s not only a great photo opportunity, but also a perfect chance to learn more about some of Georgia’s most beloved literary figures.
Looking for more on the Caucasus region? Be sure to read Exploring the Trans-Caucasus Countries With Emily Lush.
Telavi and Tsinandali Estate
Often overshadowed by Sighnaghi, Telavi is a much less explored town of the Kakheti region that’s worth taking a day trip. As one of the country’s oldest towns, Telavi is the central city of the region and is full of Kakhetian royal history.
Explore Batonistsikhe, the residential palace of the kings, in the very center of Telavi. While there, make sure to visit the small museum dedicated to Erekle II, one of the most influential rulers of the country who united the two Georgian kingdoms – Kakheti and Kartli.
Afterward, get lost strolling down the narrow streets admiring heritage houses of Telavi that’ve been standing for centuries.Then make your way to Nadikvari Park where you’ll be met with the best scenic views in the city. Don’t forget to stop at the famous 900-year old pine tree on the way.
After you’ve had your fill of Telavi, drive to a small village of Tsinandali just 10km away to visit the house-museum and winery of Prince Alexander Chavchavadze with its gorgeous garden. Famous for bringing the “European style” of winemaking to Georgia, Prince Alexander built the oldest and largest winery in the country. The winery is still operating today under a private company but carries the prince’s name, so be sure to have a glass or two.
Akhaltsikhe and Vardzia
Going on a day trip to explore Alkhaltsikhe and Vardzia is a long drive, but not without reward. Passing through Borjomi, a famous resort town with mineral springs of the same name, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to stop and take in the diverse scenery across the 4 hour route. Be sure to leave early and rent a car so you can go at your own pace.
Akhaltsikhe is home to a recently renovated Rabati Fortress, a unique complex that features different religious buildings in one spot, making it a historically and culturally exciting place to visit.
Shops, restaurants, and a hotel are at the lower part of the complex, while a mosque, Orthodox church, history museum, and Djakeli palace comprise the upper part of the complex.
Among the rock-cut towns of Georgia, Vardzia is the biggest one located 60km away from Akhaltsikhe. Constructed in the 13th century to serve as a functional town and a hiding place during the invasions, Vardzia used to have 13 layers of various rooms, wine cellars, a pharmacy, and around 6,000 residential areas. Unfortunately an earthquake in 1283 destroyed the majority of the cave town, but what remains today is still one of Georgia’s most impressive landmarks.
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