4 day trips from Tbilisi - Georgia

haydae
Hedi & Clémentine @haydaeOctober 2018 · 6 min read

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Georgia might be a small country but going from one place to another can be a bit of an adventure without your own car. Trains barely exist and public transportation, mainly minivans known as marshrutkas, can be painstakingly long.

Direct routes can also be a stretch and as a result, many marshrutkas pass through the capital city when they could connect one city directly to the other. If you don’t have much time in the country, the good news is you can still make the most of Georgia’s diversity by basing yourself in Tbilisi. Quaint towns on top of hills, cave monasteries and church facing snow-capped mountains are just a couple hours away!

1. Mtskheta

Located a mere 20 minutes from Tbilisi, Mtskheta is the obvious day trip if you only have a few days in Georgia. The ancient capital of the Kingdom of Georgia has lost some of its glory and it can be hard to picture its past significance while walking through the streets of this really small town.

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However, Mtskheta hosts a national treasure that deserves a trip on its own merit: the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, second largest church building in the country and World Heritage Site. Despite its many visitors, many of which seem to be newly-wed couples, the church remains spiritually charged and a must visit to understand Georgia’s deep connection with Christianity.

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Walk further into the town and you will find the small Antioquia Church, still inhabited by nuns and an occasional cow grazing in the courtyard. Up north is also the less visited Samtavro church.

Any visit to this historic town wouldn’t be complete either without a stop at the Jvari monastery, a sixth-century religious complex sitting on a mountaintop.

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How to get there: Marshrutkas leave the Didube station in northern Tbilisi every twenty to thirty minutes (1 lari per trip). No public transport goes to Jvari though, meaning you’ll have to hire a taxi (around 20 lari per roundtrip). Going back to Tbilisi is a different story since there isn’t a specific bus station Mtskheta. You can either hire a taxi or hail a marshrutka from the side of the road, never really knowing when one will arrive.

2. Sighnaghi

Signs written in Georgian alphabet and restaurants selling khinkali aside, you could be fooled into thinking that you’re somewhere in Italy. Sighnaghi indeed gets compared a lot with a village in Tuscany, with its iconic church tower and fortification walls, although the mountains in the background remind you that you haven’t left Georgia.

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This town lost in time is a pleasant day trip away from the hustle of the city. Do not expect to find a lot of places to visit though, since Sighnaghi’s appeal is all about getting lost and soaking up the atmosphere.

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You won’t spend your day visiting museums then but rather you will befriend a cat in an empty alley, count the number of wine leaves in front of houses or stop in a park to indulge in fresh raspberries.

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A full day could be a bit much though, unless you want to visit the Kakheti region, in which case spending the night could allow for the visit of Telavi. You could also use the day to stop at the Davit Gareji cave monasteries but be aware that public transportation won’t take you this far, meaning you’d rather hire a private taxi for the day or book an organized tour.

How to get there: marshrutkas leave from the Samgori station every two hours or so from 9AM and take about an hour and a half to reach Signaghi (6 lari per trip). Try to buy a ticket in advance for your return trip since the marshrutkas can get full pretty fast.

3. Kazbegi

Being in the heart of the Caucasus region, mountains are never too far away in Georgia. Being one of the first countries to convert to Christianity, if not the first, churches are never too far away either. If you combine both, you get the Gergeti Trinity Church in Kazbegi.

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Dramatically located on the top of a hill, right in front of snow-capped Mount Kazbegi, this church isn’t the most beautiful of all but it sure is the most picturesque. Climbing to the top makes the trip even more memorable, allowing for increasingly stunning views all the way, without being accessible to regular hikers only.

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The hike takes about an hour and a half from the town of Kazbegi, otherwise known as Stepantsminda, but you can also hire a taxi to get there. An early departure and late return to Tbilisi can be enough to enjoy the place, even though it would be a very long day. If you’re planning to hike further than the Gergeti church, you will have to spend the night.



How to get there: Marshrutkas leave the Didube station roughly every hour, taking about 3 hours to reach Kazbegi (10 lari per trip). Yet, these minivans do not work on a well-organized schedule, meaning they basically leave when full. Another option is to share a taxi with other travellers (approximately 20 lari per person), which gives the opportunity to visit the Ananuri monastery. On your way back, beware of the time since the latest marshrutka for Tbilisi leaves at 5:30PM.

4. Vardzia

When it comes to monasteries, Georgia has its fair share of incredible scenery. Vardzia can definitely claim first place for the most impressive feat of architecture in the country. This cave monastery on the slopes of the Erusheti Mountain is thought to have been the home of Queen Tamar the Great in the 12th century, whose name resonates with the Georgian Golden Age.


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The many rooms chiselled into the rocks give it a distinct look, culminating in the Church of the Dormition that was carved in the rocks and decorated with vivid frescos. The site in itself only takes one or two hours to visit but you can easily pair it with a stop in the small town of Akhaltsikhe, known for its (heavily) reconstructed Ottoman fortress.

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One look will tell you that historical accuracy was not the main goal of the fortress’ renovation. Yet, when you put this behind you, the Rabati fortress is a charming place for a stroll and for a view.

How to get there: Marshrutkas go to Akhaltsikhe from the Didube station every hour and take around two and a half hours (8 lari per trip). In Akhaltsikhe you will be able to get on a marshrutka to Vardzia at 10:30AM, 1PM and 3PM. The schedule can be a bit tight though so you might want to consider taking part in an organized trip from Tbilisi (75 to 90 lari per person) or spend the night in neighbouring Borjomi, where organized tours depart every day (30 lari per person).


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haydae

Travel shots | Travel stories | Tips & Tricks


That looks like such an amazing trip. Your pictures are gorgeous! It seems like there's an incredible view around every corner. I like that you included one of a cat that befriended you. :)

I think one of the most enjoyable things about travelling can be going somewhere that it doesn't matter if you wander around lost, you're just experiencing the place. Glad to hear there are others who enjoy travelling like that as well. :)


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Thank you for sharing and I'm glad that you liked the pictures. :) It's true that the views were memorable, so much so that there's still a lot more pictures I could not include in this one article. ^^

I agree with you 100% about wandering around to feel a place. Of course everyone wants to see the unmissable spots when visiting a place but it can be even better to get sidetracked and discover something completely unexpected instead of sticking to the beaten-track. :)


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I should add this to my future 'Mountainsides to Visit' list. I also liked the retro car.

Well done! I hope soon you have more stories from your trips to come.

Fare well and fare far!

Manol


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Glad you enjoyed it ! We try to post one article every wednesday so stay tuned XD


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I really want to go to Georgia after reading your posts about this country. These places look so amazing!


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@jpphotography You definitely should ! there is a lot of beautiful places to see and delicious food to eat :)


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Wow! So many beautiful churches. Should we call it a city of churches? Lol! I love how all the churches have their own different and interesting look and feel. They didn't let you capture the inside of the churches?

History must have been somewhat lost along the way, but these buildings sure did stand the test of time and are here to tell these stories in a way.

You did alot in the 4days you spent there. This is post is sure gonna give someone planning on visiting Georgia a blueprint.


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Haha I'd say it's indeed a country of churches! As you said, they all have different looks and vibes so you never really get bored visiting them. I could take pictures inside most churches actually but I couldn't really include them in this post. I'm working on a post on a church in Kutaisi with amazing frescos though, so I'll make sure to post it in the weeks to come. :)

I actually spent about ten days in Georgia but it's true that you can do a lot in a few days all by staying in Tbilisi. If this post could help someone planning to visit the country, it would be for the best!


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Oh yeah! There is a whole lot about these churches that just can't be compressed in one post. Do let me know when you make that post...


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Sure will!


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Hi! Just letting you know that we've posted an article about three churches in the city of Kutaisi, in northern Georgia. One of them is called the Gelati Monastery and has amazing paintings and frescoes. Do not hesitate to go and check the article if you want to see some pictures. :)


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I enjoy cities that are located so close to mountains. You can climb up anytime you want and enjoy the beautiful views.

That cave monastery is fascinating. Each whole has one room? Or is it like a hall with different rooms? I wonder how it looks like inside.

I've been recently to Tuscany and you are right. Sighnaghi looks like villages there. I wonder how come that there is such a town in Georgia :)

How much time did you spend in this country?

Thank you for sharing!


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I spent about ten days in Georgia, which was a decent amount of time, although I obviously didn't visit every part of the country.

I thought I wasn't really a mountain person to be honest but you're right, enjoying this kind of landscape on a daily basis would definitely feel great!

Regarding Vardzia, every hole is a different room. You can even go and visit Queen Tamar's room through a tiny staircase. They don't really look like anything though as they're empty, except for the church which is really worth seeing. ^^

Well, it's good to know that Sighnaghi's nickname doesn't come from nowhere! It's always funny to find similarities with places that seem like they don't have any sort of connection.

Thanks for your comments anyway! :)


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stef1
stef1 @stef1October 2018

I love Georgia, as been born in ex-USSR we have had quite tight connection to our countries and of course we learnt much about the culture of each other. The most memorable from my childhood are that there are many people who live till 100's living in mountainous area adn looking after their cattle, climbing the hills and been always on fresh air. The famous Georgian cheese that is only made there. I love the traditional dresses and the dances when men are dancing on their toes and beautifully dressed with fancy hats.
But another famous thing was great mountains with little houses made of stones and shashlik very famous due to traditional marinade. What I love most in your posts that Vardzia that amazing place with the room carved in stones, impressive handmade architecture. Thank you for sharing your post and bringing my childhood memories back :)


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You do seem to know a lot about Georgian traditions. :)

As you said, the culture there is wide and diverse and it was very interesting for me to discover these customs, especially since Georgia is not very well-known in my country. One thing that struck me, and that you mentioned, is how many people still live a simple, rural life up in the mountains, which is something that you barely see anymore where I come from, in Western Europe. Anyway, I'm sure that Georgia will become more and more popular as time goes by.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and I'm glad I could bring you back to your childhood for a time with this post. ;)


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