Traveling in Georgia we loved the ancient historical sights; cheap accommodation, food and transport; the beautiful mountains and the amazing hospitable people.
The Caucasus region is a mountain range lying between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. It is geographically part of Asia, but culturally part of Europe. This is great for backpackers, since you can have European food at Asian street food prices! Georgians describe their country as ‘the balcony of Europe’, appropriate I think! Armenia is another amazing country to travel in this area. We also wrote a Backpacking Armenia Guide.
Georgia is a small country and if you are based in the capital many of the main sights can be done as day trips. The Caucasian mountains are truly magnificent and driving around the countryside the views are magical. There are many churches and religious places of interest. This was the second Christian country in the world.
We loved Tbilisi, a wonderfully weird and beautiful city, such an interesting mix between ancient and modern styles. The capital is located at the foothills of the Trialeti Mountains. The old town is a brilliant cross road between Asian-European and old-new architecture.
We explored the city for hours, walking down Rustaveli Avenue. Wandering through its winding alleys looking at the traditional balconied houses and its many sights.
Some highlights in the city
- The Narikala Fortress an ancient citadel, amazing views of the city
- the Metekhi Church,
- the Tbilisi Mosque,
- the modern Peace Bridge
M42 Hostel, one of the best hostels I ever stayed in.The hostel is a massive house that Nadia and Ira turned into a hostel. They created a very friendly and homely atmosphere.
We also did a couple of very nice one day trips. The beautiful Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mskheta, Uplitsikhe an ancient rock/cave town complex and Ananuri a castle complex on the banks of the Aragyi river.
Uplitsike, Cave Village
The ancient cave village Uplitsike is the oldest ancient settlement known in Georgia. The caves are beautiful and the rock formations and holes look like human made abstract art. The name Uplistsike means “the fortress of the Lord”. 2000BC it was a very important cultural center for pagan worship in the Kartli (Iberia) region.
- marshrutka Tbilisi to Gori $2.50 – leaves from Didube metro statio (1.5 hours)
- or train Tbilisi to Gori $3.0 – line 872
- Taxi From Gori, to Uplistsikhe (around 10 km return 15 USD)
- or bus from Gori for 1 Lari (0.6 USD) and 5min walk Lari to Uplistsikhe
This is one of the oldest cities in the country and is often called the most religious city in Georgia. Before Christianity it was a important city in Pagan religions. It is located about 20 kilometers north of Tbilisi at the confluence of the Aragvi and Mtkvari rivers.
- It can be reached by marshurtka (minibus) from Tbilisi bus station for about $1.
- The line 12 train $3 (4 times daily).
Ananuri castle fortress
This huge castle complex is located on the foreland by the Aragvi River , not far from Zhinvali water reservoir and in about 70km from Tbilisi. The entrance is free of charge.
- It can be reached by marshurtka (minibus) from Tbilisi to Stepantsminda (formerly Kazbegi), arrange to get of at Ananuri.
- We went to Ananuri on our way to Kazbegi
Traveling in Georgia
We only stayed overnight in three towns other than Tbilisi; Kazbegi, Batumi and a small settlement on the border with Turkey.
Stepantsminda is more commonly known as Kazbegi. This is one of the must see destinations in Georgia with amazing hiking routes and beautiful nature scenery. It is a small mountain village in the north-east Georgia, close to the Russian border. The average annual temperature is only 4.9C and it was a chilli trek up the mountain!
Gergeti Trinity Church
Kazbegi is home to the Gergeti Trinity Church and some beautiful scenery. This was our favorite place in Georgia. It is definitely one the country’s most iconic images. The church has a spectacular location in the mountains at 2200 metres above sea level, backed by one of the highest peaks in the Caucasus Mountains.
It took us about 45 minutes to walk the 500 metres ascent to the church from Kazbegi, going of the road and taking a straight, steep path through forest. It should take about twice so long walking on the road.
Getting to Kazbegi
You can go to Kazbegi in a marshurtka, Didube Station in Tbilisi to the main square in Kazbegi, returns every hour. It costs around 4 USD.
We stayed in a local homestay for $20 per room.
A few fancy hotels, a nice beach walk, many colourful lights and some dancing fountains. Batumi is the second-largest city of Georgia. It is located on the coast of the Black Sea and is surrounded by mountains. It is the region’s touristic and gambling capital.
The city has a nice beach walk, The Boulevard, a 1.5km walk lined by palm trees, passing many beach bars. The beach is not great, made up of big pebbles not sand. There are enormous empty buildings, some with very interesting and unusual architecture. Apparently discontinued projects from a previous regime. Don’t miss the dancing fountains water and light show after sunset, it is spectacular.
Food – The Adjarian Khachapuri
If you are ever in the area don’t miss the Adjarian khachapuri, this local dish is legendary in Batumi! Khachapuri is a traditional Georgian dish of cheese-filled bread. It is prepared differently in various regions. The Khachapuri from the Adjarian region around Batumi is king! The Adjarian khachapuri is a massive almond-shaped bread dish. The bread is filled with a lot of delicious hot melting cheese, a big block of butter and a egg floats in the cheese. You break the bread from outside dipping and mixing the inside cheese-egg mix.
For a top Adjarian khachapuri try the Laguna Restaurant in Batumi, close to the Art Museum, 13 Gorgiladze Street.
The national dish of Georgia is called Khinkali, it is very similar to dumplings. It’s usually filled with spiced meat; beef, pork or lamb delicious.
There are many cheap eats in Georgia. Shaslik is grilled meat kebabs that can be bought everywhere. We ate a lot of Doner kebabs (schwarma) filled with beef, this is actually originally a Turkish dish, but is so cheap (from $1.50) delicious and is very popular all over Georgia. We bought a lot of fruit, mainly cherries, peaches and watermelons from vendors. Georgian bread, baked in round wood fired ovens is very cheap and maybe the tastiest bread I have ever had;
The Georgian People
We made some great friends couchsurfing, hitchhiking and just having a jol all over Georgia. People were so friendly, making us feel welcome and went out of their way to help us.
Marshurtka (minibus) is a cheap and easy way to get around in Georgia. We went to Mskheta, Uplitsikhe and Ananuri from the bus station in Tbilisi by marshurtka. The bus station can be reached by metro from the city center from a metro station in Rustaveli Avenue.
Hitchhiking around Georgia was very easy and no one charged us anything. Getting a ride was usually so quick that after being dropped off by one car we did not have time to take photos before the next stopped. Everybody does not understand English, but since Alya is Russian we had no problems.Writing down where you want to go and some necessary instructions in Georgian or Russian language is a good idea.
Google translate and Google Maps on a smart phone can be very helpful.
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