Mtskheta Georgia’s spiritual heart

The small city of Mtskheta was once the ancient capital of the Eastern Georgian Kingdom. Nowadays is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the oldest cities of Georgia. A perfect stop to any trip to Georgia.

The city is a 40-minute drive from the capital Tbilisi. Making Mtskheta an easy and enjoyable day trip from the capital.

There are several historical monuments which together make up the world heritage site.

Must-see Places in Mtskheta
Svetitskhoveli Cathedral

Svetitskhoveli is the biggest cathedral in the country, dates back to the 11th-century and is a UNESCO World Heritage listing.

Samtavro Church

A large church now part of a nunnery.

Armaztsikhe-Bagineti

An archaeological site of the residence of Iverian rulers.

Jvari Monastery

The 6th Century “ Monastery of the Cross” is the oldest Christian Monasteries in the country

Located on a mountaintop with a great view of the meeting between the Mtkvari and Aragvi rivers as well as the city of Mtskheta.

Jvari Monastery is listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Bebris Tsikhe

A castle located on a mountaintop in northern Mtskheta with great views, seven minutes drive from the town.

How to get to Mtskheta

You can either travel by marshrutka or train, both options are affordable

Marshrutkas depart regularly from Didube Bus Station which is located right next to the Didube Metro Station.

Mtskheta lies on the Tbilisi-Kutaisi railway and all trains connecting these cities stop at Mtskheta.

The train station lies 2 km from the city centre. It’s possible to walk, or you can take a marshrutka from the station to the centre.

Have you ever been to Mtskheta or other places in the Mtianeti region?

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

Uplistsikhe Cave Town

The ancient and now abandoned rock-hewn town of Uplistsikhe is located in Eastern Georgia and is a must to any trip to Georgia. Uplistsikhe is on the UNESCO list and means “the fortress of the Lord”.

Uplistsikhe does slightly reminds Cappadocia (Turkey) and Northern Iran. The Cave Town-Fortress is situated on a rocky massif 10 km from Gori and has stunning views over Mtkvari Valley.

Uplistsikhe-  the Ancient cave town in Georgia

The Uplistsikhe site dates back to as early as the second millennium BC, witnessing key events and playing an important role in Georgian history.  Being for centuries one of the most important political and religious centres of pre-Christianity.

When Christianity arrived in the country the city lost importance for Mtskheta and Tbilisi. But still adapted to the new reality, building some Christian structures. In the 13th century, during the Mongol conquest, Uplistsikhe faced a rapid decline and large parts of the city were destroyed. 

The Uplistsikhe complex

The complex can be divided into 3 main parts, that are all connected by tunnels. Some of those tunnels also had the purpose of an emergency escape route. The Lower, central and upper area.

There are numerous temples related to the sun goddess and most of the rock-cut structures, don’t show any decorative elements, aside from some of the larger structures, which contain some stone carvings.

The area has a Christian stone basilica from the 10th century and also pagan places of sacrifice, dwellings, a pharmacy, a bakery, a prison, a theatre and even an amphitheatre.

The views from the cliff over the village and the Mtkvari river are spectacular.

How to get to Uplistsikhe

You can either travel by train or marshrutka from Tbilisi to Gori (1.5 hours). When in Gori you have 3 options.

Go on a bike trip, take a taxi to the cave (just remember to negotiate the rate), or by bus from Gori the only problem is that the bus is not very frequent and you have to walk around 1 km from the village to the cave town. 

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

Gori Travel

Gori is a small town on the confluence of the Kura and the Liakhi in the picturesque Kartlia valley, 80km west of Tbilisi.

A day trip to Gori from Tbilisi is easy and cheap but is better to stay overnight to visit the ancient cave city of Uplistsikhe that is located about 10 km from Gori.

Gori is a quiet town where you can wander through the streets and have a great chillout time eating out at one of the many restaurant terraces. 

Top sights
Stalin Museum

Gori is best known for being the birthplace of Stalin the former Soviet leader. While he is not exactly a hero by any means, the town preserves memories of his life and displays them in the Stalin Museum.

Gori also has two other smaller museums. The War Museum and the Ethnographic Museum.

Goristsikhe fortress

The Gori Fortress is free and offers some nice views of Gori and surrounding hills, especially during sunset. This oval citadel stands at the heart of Gori on top of a hill.

Churches

There are a few churches to be found around Gori. Mary’s Church is quite impressive.

Stalin Avenue

The main street in Gori is called Stalin Avenue. I don’t know how I feel about Gory having so many tributes to Stalin.. but … I believe (and hope) they don’t see him as a national hero but a local famous historic figure.

At the top end of the avenue are the Stalin museum and the gardens. There is some impressive architecture along the street including the city hall.

How to get to Gori from Tbilisi

From Tbilisi, you can either take a train from the main station or a marshrutka (minibus).

To go bt marshrutka head to Didube bus station and look around for a van labelled ‘Gori’, they leave when full usually every 20-30mins. The journey takes around 1.5 hours.

All trains from Tbilisi going to Kutaisi and/or Batumi stop at Gori. 

How to Get from Gori to Uplistsikhe

At the bus station, you can find a minivan heading to Uplistsikhe. The journey takes around 25 minutes.

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

Kazbegi Travel Guide

Kazbegi, in the high Caucasus mountains, is an unmissable place to visit while travelling in Georgia. Definitely, a key part of any itinerary if you are into hiking, mountains and beautiful scenery. Kazbegi is now officially named Stepantsmunda.

Kazbegi is part of the Mtskheta-Mtianeti region, a 3-hour drive from the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi and one hour from the Russian border.

The main town is called Stepantsminda, where you find accommodation and some basic tourist facilities.

Kazbegi – Stepantsminda village 

There is a slow pace to this tiny traditional village and a rural feel that gives you a sense of isolation. A place to contemplate, and relax.

Everything here including accommodation is in easy walking distance.

Perfect to spend time in nature, away from the hustle and bustle, go hiking, chill and enjoy the mountain air and views.

Tsminda Sameba Church

The famous 14th-century holy trinity Church sits on top of a hill directly in front of the great Mount Kazbek.

You need a good level of fitness to walk up the mountain. The walk is amazing, there are marked trails (you will not get lost) through stunning valleys. It is a 1 to 2 hour walk.

The visit to Gergeti Trinity Church can be combined with a longer hike up to the Ortsveri Glacier.

Hiking to Gergeti Glacier

For more adventurous travellers trekking to Gergeti Glacier is one of the most popular things to do in Kazbegi. It’s a tough trek but the landscape makes it worthy. The round-trip trek takes around 8-10 hours.

For people that take trekking and climbing more seriously, you can continue your way over the glacier to the top of Mount Kazbek.

Other day trips from Stepantsminda

Truso Valley, a landscape dotted with ancient towers and unspoiled villages.

Sno valler and Juta village, a stunning valley with great hikes. It’s also the link to Roshka.

Gveleti Waterfalls, both waterfalls are beautiful.

How to Get to Kazbegi from Tbilisi

From Tbilisi Didube Station there are shared minivans (called mashrutkas). You’re likely to hear people yelling “Kazbegi” trying to fill up their vehicles.

This is the easiest, cheapest (~10 Lari) and quickest way to get there, anywhere between 3.5 – 5.5 hour.

From Kazbegi to Tbilisi you just to the inverse. Getting a mashrutkas from the same central area in Stepantsminda. They depart when they are full.

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha

Tbilisi travel guide

Tbilisi, the capital city and beating heart of Georgia, located in the Caucasus region is a vibrant place with a lot to offer. The country has borders with Turkey, Russia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia and it used to be part of the Soviet Union.

Tbilisi is the largest city in Georgia, located on both sides of the Mtkvari River. Finding your way around the city is quite easy, and the public transport system is efficient and easy to navigate. There are two metro lines, numerous buses, and cable cars that you can use.

Travelling to Georgia’s capital city?  What to do and see in Tbilisi
Old Town

The picturesque and largely intact Old town of Tbilisi is the perfect place to wander aimlessly and get lost in the maze of streets and narrow alleys. Don’t be afraid to get lost, that is the way to make the most of it.

You will stumble in colourful houses, wandering cats and courtyards, amazing old churches including the Sioni Cathedral. One of the oldest cathedrals of the city, beautifully decorated with wall paintings, the Armenian Cathedral of St George and the lovely Anchiskhati Basilica. The oldest church in Tbilisi Old Town built in the 6th century.

Old Town’s main artery is Kote Abkhazi Street (formerly Leselidze) which connects Meidan square with Freedom Square.

Old town old buildings

Tbilisi has colourful old houses but also tired, old buildings with cracked walls and decades of layers of fading and peeling paint. Abandoned places with leaning balconies and ancient wooden doors leading to courtyards.

Freedom Square and Rustaveli Avenue

The Freedom Square marks the edge of the Tbilisi Old Town, with its golden statue of Saint George and also the beginning of

Take a stroll along the trafficked and famous Rustaveli Avenue to admire the splendid architecture like the Biltmore Hotel, the Georgian National Museum, Rustaveli Cinema, former Georgian Parliament, Kashveti Church and the Georgian National Opera Theater.

Meidan Bazaar

The underground Meidan Bazaar close to Europe Square in Old Town is a charming place for a stroll.

Peace Bridge

The eye-catching Peace Bridge on the River Mtkvari is absolutely stunning, walk across it and look at the city. The bridge is just for pedestrians and is made of steel and glass, linkings Tbilisi Old Town with the new town.

Clock tower

Although it’s quite recent it’s one of the most emblematic structures of the city. An angel comes out and strikes the bell with a small hammer on the hour.

Narikala Fortress and Mother Georgia 

The best to reach the Narikala Fortress (free) is by cable car (but you can also walk). The Fortress is an iconic castle with views over Old Tbilisi. The views are superb from the castle walls which can fairly easy be reached.

While you are there say hello to Mother Georgia (Kartlis Deda) taking a scenic stroll to the right from the top of the cable car. You will see the 20 metres-tall aluminium sculpture.

Cable car and the Rike Park

For some of the best views of the city, the short ride is quite popular to see the city from the top. The cable cars swings from the south end of Rike Park up to the Narikala Fortress across the old town.

Rike Park is a beautiful flowery place with paths, pools and fountains.

Mt Mtatsminda, Mtatsminda Park and funicular

The Mtatsminda Park Is a small amusement park not a highlight for the rides, but because is located on top of the Mtatsminda Hill offering really good views over the city and an exciting ride up the funicular. Mtatsminda Park is the highest point surrounding Tbilisi.

Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi

A beautiful Orthodox Church with a massive golden cupola. the place also offers here good views over the city.

Tbilisi Botanical Garden

The Botanical Garden (2GEL ~€0.60) is located between the Old Town and Narikala Fortress and is a great place for a relaxing walk.

Try the local cuisine

Georgian cuisine is vegan-friendly, and there is a decent offer of vegan restaurants.  Find here which traditional dishes are accidentally vegan and a list of the best vegan places in Tbilisi.

Don’t miss out on visiting and shopping at the fresh produce market.

Tbilisi street art

Street art is for what I felt a relatively new trend. Tbilisi hides some beautiful art in its backstreets and underground passways, being the best places the underground passages Hero’s Square and Vake Park and also the Fabrika Hostel.

Tbilisi travel tips – to make you trip easier
How to get to Tbilisi

by airTo get from Tbilisi airport to the city centre, you need to take bus no 37. It runs 24/7 from the airport to the central train station. The ticket really cheap and can be bought on board.

by taxi: you can take a Yandex Taxi – a local version of Uber, popular in many post-USSR countries, just download the app before the trip.

From Kutaisi International Airport: the Georgian Bus does the journey from Kutaisi airport to Tbilisi. The ticket can be bought online or at the airport exit from the arrivals zone. The journey takes around 4 hours.

From Yerevan (Armenia) or Baku (Azerbaijan): the train is the best solution. The station is well connected with central Tbilisi by metro.

Day trips from Tbilisi

Tbilisi can be a perfect base for day trips. The most popular is Mtskheta, the holy city located 20 km away from the capital.

Other places you can easily visit as day trips from Tbilisi include David Gareja, Sighnagi, Gori, Uplistsikhe, Ananuri or Kazbegi (although they definitely deserve way more than a day).

Is it worth to visit Tbilisi? this is a definite YES!! Tbilisi is an interesting capital city with plenty to do and see. A unique blend of cultures, influences and religions.

photography – all rights reserved – Ana Rocha