Georgia was for a long time on our bucket list for visiting after exploring Armenia which shares together with Turkey, Azerbaijan and Russia its boarders. However, it took us six years after our trip in Armenia to get to Georgia. Welcome to our travel guide for globetrotters & UNESCO enthusiasts – discover the top travel tips for Georgia – we promise to you that you will love Georgia’s impressive monasteries, landscapes and the super delicious food.
Tips for planning your journeyOur route through Georgia by rental car
Our highlights in GeorgiaTbilisi
Unsere EmpfehlungenUnser Lieblingsessen in Georgien
How to get to Georgia
Flights from Germany to Tbilisi are available directly from Munich. But can also be reached with stop-over flights via Vienna, Istanbul, Warsaw. The direct flight from Munich lasts about four hours. I need to admit that during our travel through Georgia I was quite busy working with very kind but ambitious clients. Consequently, I also had to take my laptop with me to continue working (what by the way I did during the time Paul was driving – so the roads are really convenient). As always when you do not need further trouble, the following has happened: On our arrival in Tbilisi in the early morning hours our both luggage were left behind in Munich. However, Lufthansa was very eager to get our luggage to Tbilisi what indeed happened only one day later. In the meanwhile we shopped the most necessary utilities like underwear and cosmetics.
Our travel route through Georgia
We stayed in Georgia for ten full days whereof 2.5 days in Tbilisi. Our visit took place from mid until end of July 2018. This time was really perfect due to the wonderful whether we had all the days and could also sit outside in the nights. Georgia is getting more and more popular as a touristic destination so that it can get very crowded during the summer time.
Our experience of self-driving in Georgia
Exploring Georgia and especially the sometimes far away UNESCO World Heritage sites by self-driving is a really good way. The international rental companies are also available in Georgia, e.g. like Avis. Avis is located next to the Marriott Hotel at a central square. The roads in Georgia are in good conditions. We have chosen a standard rental car without four wheel drive what was sufficient for the tour we made except for Ushguli. To get from Mestia to Ushguli you need a 4WD car. The rental company called our attention that the car is equipped with GPS to track our route. They wanted to ensure that we are not damaging the car intentionally and are not going to the restricted areas.
Our ultimate travel tips for Georgia
There are many ways to get around in Tbilisi: buses, taxis, local Uber but also by foot. We have chosen the last option. But be careful: it is really easy to get lost in the beautiful old town with its narrow but picturesque streets. Well the list of things to do in Tbilisi is incredible long.
How many days should you stay in Tbilisi?
From our point of view the absolute minimum is two days for Tbilisi. But due to the many sights the more days you can spent in Tbilisi the better. We also have heard of a really good nightlife in the capital.
1. Abanotubani (Sulphur Bath / Thermal Bath) and Leghvtakhevi waterfall
The style of the Old Town is a mix of Asian and Arabic influences interwoven with European and traditional Russian architecture. Some parts are comprehensively renovated so that it looks a bit kitschy though far more of the area is untouched. Wandering through the alleyways and the ancient churches feels almost like a walk back in time. Although we didn’t go for any treatments, we wandered around the area with the mixture of different cultures and its specific treatment types like hot baths. The name Leghvtakhevi comes from the Georgian word “Leghvi” which means fig. There were so many trees of fig around this place.
2. Take the cable car (or walk up) to Narikala Fortress
In case you would like to walk up, take the small path next to the Armenian church St. George. You will have an incredible view on Tbilisi from the hill of Narikala Fortress. The original fortress dates back to the end of 4th century but has been destroyed several times during the history. With each reconstruction the fortress has been enhanced by different people. Nevertheless, only ruins remain after a lightning strike into the powder magazine of the fortress in 1827. The fortress was not rebuilt after that event.
The visit of the ruins is free of charge and really worth wandering around. Just a short walk away along the many souvenir stalls you reach the Georgia’s Mother. It is a 20 m high statue made of aluminum. In her right hand she holds a sword for the enemies and in her left hand coming from the heart wine for the friends.
3. Puppet Theatre Rezo Gabriadze
The clock tower is the new symbol of the state-owned puppet theater. The clock tower was built in 2010 and looks like messed up stacked boxes. Each hour a small angel puppet comes out of the door and rings the bell. You can enjoy a greater show. At the time we visited Tbilisi it was shown at 12 pm and at 7 pm.
4. Zminda Sameba Cathedral
We have spotted this cathedral from the Narikala Fortress since it is illuminated in the night and also situated on a hill (Elias hill). Zminda Sameba Cathedral is the largest church in the region of Transcaucasia (i.e. Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan). It was finished in 2004 after nine years of construction. The bells of the Cathedral were created in Germany. You can reach the cathedral by a walk from the city center.
5. Bridge of Peace
This bridge catches your eyes immediately. For the Georgians, the bridge was controversial due to the high building costs in 2009/2010. Nowadays the bridge is a popular photo-stop.
6. Liberty Square (Tawisubleibis Moedani)
Formerly know as Lenin square the statue has been exchanged in 2006 with the gilded dragon slayer George. We used the liberty square as a central point for our orientation since also our car rental company is located at the square. On the other corner the city hall dominates the square.
7. Kwaschweti Church
On the opposite site of the School no. 1 in the Rustaveli Street we found this beautiful church. The church consists of two levels and includes a small museum. We also enjoyed sitting in the park that surrounds the church since it is a bit away from the busy Rustaveli Street.
8. Monument to the Lamplighter in Barataschwili Street
You might need a lot of patience when you also want to climb the ladder of the lamplighter since everybody is doing it. Not sure why everybody is touching his butt. But no worries there a lot of different bronze statues all over the city.
9. Rike Concert Hall in front of the Presidential Palace
The futuristic concert hall is together with the Bridge of Peace is located next to the Mtkvari River. The concert hall reminds of a lindworm due to the tubes that is monitored by the Presidential Palace.
10. Sioni Church
On our way from the vivid street Kote Abchasi (better known with its former name Leselidse Street) with all the cafés and restaurants we found the Sioni church, built in the sixth century. Despite being the main church of patriarch of the Georgian church, the Sioni church is quite small. During the siege by the Persian, the church was transformed into a mosque. The dome is from the 18th century.
Historical Monuments of Mtskheta / Mzcheta
We have included the UNESCO World Heritage Historical Monuments of Mtskhetaon our trip to Stepanzminda. But you can also make a day trip from Tbilisi to Mtskheta (just around 25 km). The UNESCO recognizes the ensemble of churches of Mtskheta as outstanding examples of medieval religious architecture in the Caucasus. We have visited the three main churches: Jvari Monastery, Svetitstkhoveli Cathedral and Samtavro Monastery. The Jvari Monastery will be the first one you will recognize arriving in Mtskheta since it is located on a hill. However, especially the Svetitstkhoveli Cathedral impressed us with its modest interior . It includes a very small church inside that is a copy of the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jersualem in its former construction. It is said that Jesus’ robe is inside.
We spent one night in Stepanzminda to visit the Zminda Sameba Church. The church on top of the hill is a popular place of pilgrimage. As Paul loves to drive everywhere we had – of course – to go by car. However, due to the heavy rain in the night before and the fog in the morning the muddy gravel roads were slippery and with passing buses we decided to turn around and to find the walking path that was described in our guide book. Finally, we reached the church in approx. two hours by foot.
Our way to Mestia
On our way to Mestia we have seen such a colorful landscape the we stopped several times. We enjoyed our tea and snack breaks with a beautiful view on turquoise lakes and mountains still with a bit of snow on the top.
From Kutaisi we visited Motsameta Monastery and the Gelati Monastery since both a just some kilometres away from Kutaisi. Gelati Monastery was the second UNESCO World heritage side we have visited. The monastery was founded in 1106 by King Dawit and consists of three churches, one bell tower and an academy.
We stayed in Kutaisi for two nights to visit Gelati Monastery and in addition, the city of Kutaisi. Kutaisi has outstanding buildings whereof the Begrati Cathedral just a short walk from the city center belongs together with the Gelati Monastery to the UNESCO World Heritage. The cathedral is more than 1,000 years and and can be seen from all over the city. We will always remember Kutaisi due to the delicious food we enjoyed here. Unfortunately, we do not remember the name of the restaurants but they where in the street from the Colchis Fontaine in the direction to the Kutaisi park.
Mestia is the touristic hotspot of Upper Svaneti where the excursions to historic and original towns with medieval-type villages and tower-houses of this Caucasus region can be booked. Arriving in the evening in Mestia after a long day but pleasant drive we walked through the town and tried to catch some nice pictures with all the tower-houses.
Some of the villages and tower-houses are inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage list (official name is Upper Svenati). Since it was explicitly forbidden to go with our rental car to Ushguli we also had to book a tour with a 4WD car. For the approx. 50 kilometres the drive took almost four hours.
Rabati / Rabath
Something we have not expected to find in Georgia was the historic center and the fortification of Rabati. But Rabati also belongs to one of our highlights of our vacation in Georgia. The fortification consists of a church, a mosque and a synagogue.
Arriving in the small town of Warsia, we directly saw our next destination: the cave rock wall of Warsia. The wall is around 500 m high but the paths along the wall are mainly secured with handrails. In the main periods up to 800 monks lived here. In addition, several thousands citizens from the surrounding towns used the wall as a safe haven.
Around 50 km from Tiblisi in the South into the direction to the border with Armenia, we visited the city Bolnisi. Bolnisi was formerly known as “Katharinenfeld” due to the German settlers around 1818. The area was admired due to the fortified houses as well as the precise and paved roads. The city was renamed to Luxemburg in 1921 and the Germans were dispossessed like the Georgians. In addition, the Germans were forced to displace to Siberia. The road signs are still shown in old German script.
Just some kilometres in the South from Bolnisi we wanted to visit the fortress of Kweschi (Kveshis). It was closed but it looks very nice from the outside.
Traditional dishes in Georgia – our culinary experience
On top of the beautiful country we were allowed to explore, we also enjoyed the food very much. Even so much that we bought the cookbook we recommend below to remind us of the very delicious meals.
Eggplant with walnuts and pomegranate (Nigswiani Badrishani)
Khinkali – Georgia’s dumplings
These stuffed dumplings made of pasta dough are available all of Georgia. Besides the traditional ones stuffed with spiced minced meat we have also tried the ones with cheese inside. Georgia’S dumplings are bigger than the Chinese ones but also have liquid inside. The knob is to get hold of the Khinkali and it is not intended to eat it. What we by the way, didn’t know at the time we were in Georgia. But nobody told us that we should not eat it.
Chatschpuri – Cheese Bread / Pizza and Lobiani
Eating Chatschpuri you should not think about your diet due to the amount of flour and cheese that is needed for a delicious Chatschpuri. We have also tried Lobiana that is stuffed with read bean paste. Both are highly recommended.
What does not sound so special from reading the description was Lobio. But the beans prepared in a clay pot with a lot of savory is incredibly yummy. We also tried this at home but the secret seams to be the preparation method in the clay pot.
Since our vacation in Uzebksitan we are Shashlik lovers. Therefore, it was a must to try it in Georgia. Definitely, we were not disappointed by the meat shashlik as well as by the vegetarian alternative.
UNESCO has inscribed the Georgian wine making technique as intangible world heritage. The tradition of wine making is more than 8,000 years old. The grapes and the grape juice are put into a clay pot and buried in the earth for several months with constant temperatures. Almost every guesthouse we have stayed in is creating their own wine.
Our recommendations for Georgia
Georgia travel book
At the time we were visiting Georgia we wanted to have an up-to-date travel guide. This was the reason why we have picked up for one of the first times the guide book from “Reise Know how”. And we can recommend this guide book due to the many travel tips in Georgia, pictures and valid information about best visiting times, restaurant recommendations and well-balanced information about sights and backgrounds.
Georgian cooking book
As mentioned above, Georgia was also a culinary highlight for us. Therefore and since Paul loves cooking at home, we have bought (after a visit of the Frankfurt Book Fair with Georgia as the honored guest in 2018) the following cooking book. The receipts are easy to understand and we were successfully able to re-cook some of the dishes at home.
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