Georgia often gets overlooked when it comes to travel books and documentaries. Located in Eurasia, where the East meets the West, the country is a lush and fascinating travel destination. When it comes to visiting Georgia, there’s no better time to see the country before the rest of the world catches on. Skip the weekend in Paris and check out a lesser-known country full of majestic natural beauty, fascinating historical sites, and truly unique culture.
The city’s architecture reflects its complicated history of having been under both Persian and Russian rule. Surrounded by stunning mountains, Tbilisi is situated right on the Mtkvari river. Spend a few days strolling through Old Town, taking in the sights and snapping pictures. Make sure to visit the Mother of Georgia, the 65-foot tall statue of a woman holding a glass of wine in one hand and a sword in another. When the sun goes down, check out the city’s dance clubs and bars and try some tasty late-night food on your way home.
The small town of Kazbegi is surrounded by stunning mountains on all sides, with Mount Kazbek being the largest. Apart from hiking and taking a million pictures for Instagram, a visit to the nearby Gergeti Trinity Church is a must. The beautiful 14th-century church is perched on Mount Kazbek and can be reached by a two-hour hike. Another sight worth seeing is the Russia–Georgia Friendship Monument. Surrounded by mountains and overlooking Devil’s Valley, the semi-circular monument depicts colorful paintings representing both Georgian and Russian history.
Head to southern Georgia to find the one-of-a-kind Vardzia, a cave monastery that looks like it’s straight out of a fantasy novel. The monastery was built to honor the first-ever woman to be crowned as the king of Georgia, 12th-century King Tamar. Vardzia is much more than just a monastery, though. The original underground fortress had 13 floors with over 6,000 rooms. Until an earthquake revealed parts of the city, the only way to access it was by a secret tunnel in the Mtkvari River. Devote an entire day to exploring the monastery and underground city while taking in the stunning surroundings.
Visiting Shatili Khevsureti is like stepping back in time. The medieval fortress and village still very much feel like they’re from a bygone era, and the locals still live in very traditional ways. You will almost certainly be invited in for some food by one of the friendly locals while you're there. To make your trip really special, do some research and visit the town during a local festival. Ancient Georgian paganism is still practiced there, and it’s one of the few places left in the region to see such unchanged folk traditions.
The beauty you’ll find in Juta seems to be untouched by modern civilization, and that's one of the best reasons to visit. The local village is just big enough to offer food and accommodation, but there are also plenty of places to camp. Peaceful, lush, and incredibly green, Juta is a must for nature lovers and people looking to get away from it all.
Located over 6,500 feet above sea level, Bakhmaro is a rural beauty that seems plucked directly from the Lord of the Rings. Sitting above the clouds, Bakhmaro offers great views of the surrounding mountains and the Black Sea. Spend a few days enjoying the rural lifestyle by foraging for berries and mushrooms, cooking over a campfire, and sleeping under the stars. There are also plenty of scenic walks throughout the local forests.
Although Tbilisi is the capital, Mtskheta is the spiritual capital and arguably the most important city in Georgia. The city itself is both stunning and incredibly old, having been home to settlers for over 4,000 years. The country’s three most important churches, Svetitskhoveli, Jvari, and Samtavro Monastery, are located here. Take a guided tour of the churches to see some fantastic architecture and to learn more about the city’s identity.
Situated deep in a gorge, the small town of Chiatura packs a punch. Although the city is much younger than others in Georgia, it has a unique and interesting history. Every corner of the town was once covered by Stalinist network cable cars, and they were used to quickly transport workers to and from the mines. Today, there are a few rusty cars left and you can ride in them if you’re feeling brave enough. Step into the metal box and get a free ride to see Chiatura from the air.
Uplistsikhe is another cave fortress, but one with a much longer history than Vardzia. First established in 1,000 BCE, the caves were lived in continuously up until the 13th century. Once you realize the fortress once housed up to 20,000 people, you start to get an idea of how immense the underlying structure really is. There was even a bakery, an amphitheater, and a prison inside! You can also visit the 9th-century church that was built on top of the fortress. The colorful church adds an interesting visual contrast to the gray cut-out rocks of the cave.
Resting on top of a 130-foot natural monolith, the church of the Katskhi Pillar is truly a sight to behold. The church was built around the 4th century, so it's still unknown how the structure was built on such a narrow pillar; researchers were only able to climb it again in the 1940s. A trip to the cliff church is a must while in Georgia. Make sure you wave to the monk who now inhabits the church while you're there!