Tbilisi Georgia is beginning to show up on the not-to-be-missed destination lists for more and more travelers. This Eurasian country, seated between Turkey, Russia and the Black Sea, has much to offer a would-be visitor. It has an ancient old town with steamy sulfur baths, a rich wine-making tradition, fascinating history including a fairly recent transition from communism to a democratic republic, and fantastic regional cuisine. While this list provides reasons enough to plan a trip to this lesser known destination, Tbilisi also gives access to a number of day trips that offer a completely different experience outside the Georgian capital. Here are a few of Tbilisi’s most popular day trips that give you a few more reasons to consider discovering Georgia.
David Gareja Monastery
The David Gareja Monastery, which was named after its founding father and one of the original preachers of the Christian gospel, was constructed in the 6th century. The most impressive characteristic of the site is that it’s literally built into the stone hillside border between Georgia and Azerbaijan. The cave complex is composed of hundreds of cells, living quarters, churches, chapels, and dining areas. It’s still home to ten present-day monks who continue to live and worship there as well as producing some amazing wines.
The David Gareja Monastery is a 2-hour drive (70 km or 44 miles) from Tbilisi. Shuttle vans leave from Freedom Square in the morning and arrive at the Monastery before noon. You will have several hours at the site before heading back to Tbilisi in the mid-afternoon after stopping for a lunch of traditional Georgian foods. You should be back by dinner time. If you prefer, guided tours of the monastery from Tbilisi are also available.
Mtskheta is a short 30 minutes drive north of Tbilisi. Founded in the 5th century B.C., Mtskheta is one of the oldest cities in Georgia and the country’s former capital. UNESCO declared its collection of historical and cultural monuments a World Heritage Site in 1994. It is known as the ‘Holy City’ because some of the earliest and most influential Christian activity took place here. In 337 A.D., the city proclaimed Christianity as Georgia’s religion. Today, it’s still the headquarters of the Georgian Orthodox Church. The Svetitskhoveli Cathedral and Jvari Monastery are two of the most significant buildings in the city. One to two hours is a sufficient amount of time to explore the city center and take it the charming old buildings and ancient architecture, not to mention some pretty stunning views.
Minibuses (marshrutkas) travel regularly every day between Tbilisi’s Didube market and Mtskheta’s main street. You can also take a taxi for about $10 US. For those who aren’t enthusiastic about potentially needing to negotiate their way with a Russian or Georgian speaking driver, there are also guided tours to the area. Which will also come in handy for making your way up the steep hill to the Jvari Monastery, which is situated 5 km (3 miles) outside of the center of town.
Ananuri is a small town 67 km (an hour and 20 minutes or 41 miles) north of Tbilisi. The site houses an impressive medieval castle that stands between two rivers (Aragvi and Vedzatkhevi) in the midst of a gorgeous green valley. The castle’s placement was not just for aesthetic purposes; it was put here strategically to ensure no enemy could pass by unnoticed. The castle is surprisingly well-preserved for a building whose construction began in the 13th century . It can be explored on foot and offers nice views from the top.
Another one and a half hours north of Ananuri is the small village of Stepantsminda, formerly known as Kazbegi. Here it is possible to visit the icon Gergeti Trinity Church where you can get the souvenir picture of a life-time. There is also some good hiking trails and, depending on the season, the potential for glacier trekking.
Minibuses (marshrutkas) leave Tbilisi’s Didube market about every hour. The last bus leaves to return to Tbilisi at 5:30 p.m. There are also guided tours to Stepantsminda (or Kazbegi) available for approximately $90 US per person.
This city of multiple UNESCO World Heritage sites lies three and a half hours northwest of Tbilisi. Kutaisi is one of the most historically important cities in Georgia and was the country’s capital in the Middle Ages. There are many museums to visit here (and you should), but the main attractions are the Bagrati Cathedral and Gelati Monastery.
The original Bagrati Cathedral was built in 1003, however it has undergone heavy renovations due to damages it suffered from the Ottoman troops in the late 17th century. Overlooking Kutaisi from a top the Uk’imerioni Hill, the Bagrati Cathedral is the symbol of the city.
The Gelati Monastery was founded in 1101 by King David IV of Georgia. As the first monastery of Georgia it possesses a great deal of cultural and symbolic importance. One of the most impressive parts of this UNESCO site is the number of painted murals and manuscripts which have been preserved there.
Day tours usually leave Tbilisi around 8 a.m. and hit these two spots, plus the Prometheus Cave, Sataplia Cave, Gora Park, and the Motsameta Monastery. Kutaisi can be reached via minibus, train or by making an approximate 3 hour drive from Tbilisi. Longer 2-day tours are also available at a cost of about $200 US.
Kakheti Region Wine Tour
Kakheti is the eastern-most region in Georgia and it’s known for being the country’s chief wine producer. Tours of the region are highly recommended and most of them conveniently start and end in Tbilisi. Tours typically last all day (plan for about 10-11 hours), but you’ll get an authentic experience. The total distance covered is about 300 km.
Kakheri Wine Tours typically include visiting a local farm where where wine can be tasted directly from the terracotta fermenting tank (qvervri). Also don’t miss the opportunity to be a little more daring and a sampling some local “chacha” (Georgian grappa). There are more stops and tastings along the way, including a visit to the wine tunnels which sprawl for over 800 meters (500 miles) below the ground. A lunch featuring traditional Georgian cuisine is served in a picturesque restaurant situated above the tunnels.
If you are now more seriously considering a trip to Tbilisi, here are a few additional articles to help inspire you to plan a perfect Georgian holiday.
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