Georgia is a country that has it all. From Tbilisi, its splendid and divergent capital to it’s many monasteries which are steeped in history and exotic culture, to it’s stunning natural beauty as well as award winning wine and delicious cuisine.
And to boot this is a very budget friendly travel destination. There’s something for everyone to love in this small but mighty nation. Here are just a few reasons why we love Georgia.
Tbilisi Old Town is a vibrant and historic neighborhood located in the heart of the Georgian capital. It is home to a variety of historical landmarks, as well as a thriving arts and culture scene.
One of the most popular attractions is the Narikala Fortress. This ancient fortress was originally built in the 4th century and has been conquered and rebuilt many times over. It offers stunning views of the city.
Another great area to visit in the Old Town are the Sulfur Baths. These baths were built in the 17th century and are still in use today. The baths are said to have therapeutic properties and are a popular place for locals and tourists alike to relax and unwind. Located in the Abanotubani district they are very close to the Narikala Fortress.
In addition to its historical and cultural attractions, Old Town is also home to a thriving arts and culture scene. There are a number of art galleries, theaters, and music venues located in the neighborhood. Old Town is also home to a number of street artists, who have transformed the neighborhood with their colorful murals and graffiti.
If you are looking for a vibrant and historic neighborhood to explore, then the capital’s Old Town is the perfect place for you. With its stunning views, historical landmarks, and thriving arts and culture scene, Old Town has something to offer everyone.
2. National Botanical Gardens
Right above the Old Town of the capital, are the peaceful National Botanical Gardens. They are home to a variety of plants from all over the world and offer lengthy paths to stroll or to jog. It is a great place to relax and escape the hustle and bustle of the city.
In addition, the sprawling mega industrial mansion of the richest man in the country (and previous prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili) actually sits at the edge of the Gardens.
Our free walking tour guide told us that the complex shamefully houses giraffes and elephants (we could not verify his statement, but it sure made us wonder). So if you walk too close to the mansion don’t be surprised if a security guard jumps out of the bushes to shoo you away.
3. Street Art
The people of Georgia are not shy to express themselves. And unlike many of their neighboring countries they are not as stifled by the government to express their political opinions and beliefs. Just recently thousands of Georgians went to the streets to protest against the government, and the government backed down.
Unfortunately there is still some repression and human rights violations in this country. However, people feel free to express their opinions through art. With that said, the capital and the country overall have some very beautiful and poignant street art. There is actually a new free walking tour which is focused just on that.
Some of the most famous street artists in Tbilisi include:
- Oto Merikoshvili: Oto Merikoshvili is a Georgian street artist who is known for his colorful and geometric murals.
- Tamara Kvesiani: Tamara Kvesiani is a Georgian street artist who is known for her feminist and political murals.
- Giorgi Gachechiladze: Giorgi Gachechiladze is a Georgian street artist who is known for his realistic portraits.
4. Mtshketa Village
Just a 30 minute drive north of the capital is Mtshketa. It is one of my favorite places in the country.
Mtskheta is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the former capital of Georgia. It is home to several important religious and historical sites, including the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, the Jvari Monastery, and the Samtavro Monastery.
The village has many shops, cafes and little stalls selling souvenirs and other handicrafts. It is a lovely place to stroll through and take in the friendly people and the culture.
5. Svetitskhoveli Cathedral
Located inside of Mtshketa Village, is the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the most important religious places in the country. The original church was built in the 4th century and the current one was built in the 11th century on the same plot.
This Georgian Orthodox cathedral really stands out because it has many beautiful frescoes and icons (many Georgian church walls are bare). In addition, it is believed to be the site where Christ’s robe was buried.
The cathedral is a stunning example of medieval architecture and is a must-see for any visitor to the country.
6. Jvari Monastery
Across the river and up a hill from Svetitskhoveli Cathedral is the Jvari Monastery. Although the cathedral itself (in my opinion) was not as beautiful inside as the Svetitskhoveli one, the views from the hilltop and the scenic drive are well worth the stop.
The Jvari Monastery is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is believed to have been built in the 6th century.
7. Driving the Georgian Military Road
Driving the Georgian Military Road from Tbilisi up north to the Russian border is definitely worth the trip. Most of the 212 km of this skinny road are treacherous, mountainous and not for the faint of heart. However the jaw dropping views and sights are definitely worth the trouble.
Some of our favorite things to see and do in this country are along or near this road. And it is the only direct path north to get there. However, we passed through an extraordinary number of unlit tunnels, stretches of hundreds of weighed down trucks and lots of lots of snow.
The road does get closed due to weather. So if you plan to travel on it make sure that you have your wits about you and know the risks before you head out.
8. Ananuri Fortress Complex
Just an 1.5 north of the capital, along the Georgian Military Road is the medieval Ananuri Fortress Complex. It sits on the bank of the Aragvi River and offers really beautiful views of the valley.
The complex is free to enter and there are many paths to walk/crawl through to get a better look of the river and the valley.
The lore of the castle is that when it was under siege, it was not defeated because of a secret tunnel within it. This tunnel was said to provide food and water to the people who had taken refuge inside of it. The enemy finally captured a woman named Ana, who was from Nuri, and tortured her to reveal the location of the tunnel.
However, Ana chose to die rather than reveal the secret of this tunnel. Hence the castle was called Ananuri, and she became a legend.
9. Georgia's Nature - Skiing and Hiking
Georgia is a country with a diverse landscape, from the snow-capped peaks of the Caucasus Mountains to the subtropical beaches of the Black Sea to the vineyards of Kakheti. This diversity makes it a great destination for both winter and summer sports enthusiasts.
In the winter, it is home to several world-class ski resorts. Here are five of the best:
Gudauri is the most popular ski resort in the country. It is located in the Kazbegi region, about 120 kilometers north of Tbilisi. Gudauri has over 50 kilometers of slopes for all levels of skiers and snowboarders.
Bakuriani is another popular ski resort. It is located in the Trialeti region, about 160 kilometers from the capital. Bakuriani has over 30 kilometers of slopes for all levels of skiers and snowboarders.
Goderdzi ski resort is located in mountainous Adjara region, on the Goderdzi Pass, 252 kilometers away from the capital and 109 kilometers away from the popular seaside resort Batumi. This all-season mountain resort is located at an elevation of 2 000 meters (6560 ft.).
Hatsvali is a remote ski resort located in the Svaneti region, about 500 kilometers from the capital. Mestia is a great place to experience the authentic Georgian mountains.
Tetnuldi is another remote ski resort located in the Svaneti region, about 500 kilometers north of the capital. Tetnuldi is a great place to experience the stunning scenery of the Caucasus Mountains.
In the summer, it is a great destination for hiking and trekking. There are way too many trails to mention. Depending on your level of fitness, amount of time to trek, interest in topography and type of views that you want to see, you can choose from many hikes here.
The trek to Gergeti Trinity Church was my favorite. If you like to feed the street dogs, do bring some food as there are a few and they are very friendly.
Georgia’s nature makes it a great destination for both winter and summer sports enthusiasts. With its diverse landscape and phenomenal scenery, this country has something to offer everyone.
10. Gudauri Viewpoint
Driving on the Georgian Military Highway, just north of the Gudauri Ski Resort is this giant monument surrounded by snow capped mountains and awe inspiring nature.
I prefer to call this area the Gudauri Viewpoint and not the Russia–Georgia Friendship Monument as it is sometimes called. It was built in 1983 to commemorate the friendship between the 2 countries. It is a large circular cement structure which contains colorful tile murals on the inside.
The murals depict scenes of Georgian and Russian history. History which has not been very kind to the Georgians. Most Georgians think of Russia as the country that bombs them and wants to take their land.
However, the views from this spot are truly jaw dropping – so I highly recommend that you stop and look around. Maybe grab a corn on the cob from the local vendors or a coffee. It is a fun place to hang out and meet fellow travelers.
11. Gergeti Trinity Church
When I first saw a picture of the Gergeti Trinity Church I knew I had to make the trek to see it for myself. The 14th century church sits isolated on top of a steep mountain surrounded by sheer cliffs and the vastness of Georgian nature around it. It truly is picture perfect. There is a spiritual solemn feeling here, breathing in the clean thin air.
Otherwise known as the Holy Trinity Church it is located near the village of Stepantsminda in the north of the country a few kilometers south of the Russian border.
Actually, one of the main reasons that I wanted to travel up the Georgian Military Road was to visit this church. Most months, the roads to get to it are covered in snow and ice, so unless you are hiking to it, you will need a 4X4 to get up there. But don’t worry, there are many 4X4 taxis waiting below to take you up the remaining 10-15 minute drive.
12. Food and Wine
Georgian cuisine is quite heavy, but you need some of that bulkiness when you are traipsing through mountains and snow!
For the meat lovers, Georgia has some of the most delicious food in the world (per meat lovers). From hearty stews and flavorful kebabs (vegetable ones are also available) to fresh salads, hearty freshly baked breads, homemade jams and mouth-watering pastries, there’s something to tempt every taste bud.
My favorite place to get vegan Khinkali (a Georgian dumpling) is here (Restaurant Usakhelouri) in the Old Town of the capital. My absolute favorite was the mushroom stuffed ones. They also serve a vegan dish made of roasted eggplant and walnuts. Truly amazing!
And don’t forget about the wine! Georgia is one of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world, and its wines are some of the best you’ll ever taste. Ok, as many of you know I don’t drink, however Rob really enjoyed them.
A lot of the time the Georgian wine that is exported is very sweet. That is not the case inside of Georgia. There are many award winning varieties and tastes. And budget friendly places to taste them!
And for the non drinkers like myself, Georgia’s cultural symbol is the pomegranate. It’s sweet and invigorating freshly squeezed juice is offered throughout the city and is a great wine replacement. It may not be as cheap as the one we drank in Iraq, but it is still very budget friendly.
Georgia is a country that we will be visiting again and again. Between the phenomenal nature, exotic and ancient culture, history and architecture and amazing open minded people, what is there not to like? It is a very budget friendly destination as well.
Let us know if you have any questions about this lovely country or if you are trying to incorporate it into a trip through the Caucasus. We would love to help.