With its incomparable mountain landscape, position at the intersection of Europe and Asia, and fascinating – if turbulent – past, former Soviet republic Georgia is becoming an increasingly popular destination. Packing everything in, this small country offers snow-covered peaks, bustling seaside spots, hiking trails in lush nature and century-old defence towers. Here, are the best spots to put on your bucket list once you decide to visit Georgia.
Just a short ride away from Tbilisi, the capital, this Unesco World Heritage site sits at the junction of the Mtkvari and Aragvi Rivers. Known for its many Christian sites and famed as one of the spiritual centres of the Georgian Orthodox Church, the town attracts huge crowds throughout the year. Don’t miss the beautiful Svetitskhoveli Cathedral frescoes – a stunning example of Medieval Georgian religious architecture – or the Jvari Monastery, located on the hill overlooking Mtskheta. It’s believed that St Nino, an evangelist who brought Christianity to Georgia, raised a wooden cross on the site of a pagan temple there in the 4th century.
In its more-than-2,000-year history, the city of Telavi has undergone influences from the Kakheti kings, the Romans, the Russian Tsars and the Georgian monarchs, meaning there’s a truly incredible breadth of architectural sites on offer. Start with the defenses of the Dzveli Galavani (old fortress walls), then head for the Batonis Tsikhe (fortress of the lord). Telavi also is a home to a 900-year-old sycamore tree and the Alaverdi Monastery – the second-tallest church in Georgia after the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Tbilisi.
Sighnaghi was once referred to by former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili as “the city of love”, and it’s easy to see why. The city itself offers marvellous views over the Alazani valley and is widely considered one of the most charming places in the entire country. Think swathes of red rooftops set against a background of the Great Caucasus mountains, plus narrow cobblestone streets and colourful timber houses.
Snaking down the northern part of the Greater Caucasus mountains, right at the edge of Chechnya and Russia, the Tusheti National Park is for those after a good dose of breathtaking views. Another Unesco site, Tusheti is known for its brick towers, constant change of weather, splendid scenery, warm people and fascinating local traditions. It’s rather magical, and shouldn’t be missed.
Located in the hills of Shida Kartli, the town is believed to have been the major economic and political centre of the Kingdom of Kartli, a late-Medieval monarchy which once ruled eastern Georgia. Today, visitors can discover monolith cave residences scattered across the sprawling natural landscape.
Gudauri has become the country’s prime winter destination in recent years. Situated 2,000m (6,562ft) above sea level, the ski resort offers mesmerising views of the Greater Caucasus range. The ski season starts here in December and continues until April, offering a variety of runs to suit all levels. The area has also become well-known for heliskiing and freeriding due to its powdery snow and relatively low tourist numbers compared to other European ski destinations.
Named after Stephan, a monk who built a hermitage here (that later became the Georgian Military Road), Stepantsminda attracts many travellers with its gorgeous scenery, hiking opportunities, rafting and rock climbing, as well as the Gergeti Holy Trinity Church which sits at the foot of Mount Kazbegi.
Vardzia, a town in southern Georgia, offers monolith churches, shrines and caves that were inhabited from the middle of the 12th century, but abandoned after the Ottoman takeover of the country in the 18th century. It’s another fascinating spot and well worth making a detour for.
Newly renovated Rabati Castle was built in the 9th century and known as Lomisa Castle until the Ottoman takeover. This site is particularly unique because it developed under the influence of so many different cultures over the course of several centuries – as evidence by its church, mosque, synagogue and minaret.
Camouflaged amongst the snow-covered peaks of the Greater Caucasus mountains, Mestia is considered the centre of the Svaneti region. Remember to visit the national museum, as you’ll learn a lot about both the region and the country, and will be able to see some of the treasures the Svan people managed to save during various invasions.
The central city of the Samegrelo region and a stopping point on your travels to Svaneti, Zugdidi is home to the beautiful facades and captivating architecture of the Dadiani Palace. Even if you don’t plan to go on to Svaneti, you can head to Martvili Canyon or the hot springs near to the city.
Located at the foot of Shkhara mountain, Ushguli is a wonderful village to explore. Another Unesco site, it also claims to be the highest village in Europe, where residents live an incredible 2,000m (6,562ft) above sea level.
Coastal city Batumi in the Adjara region has gained popularity thanks to its bustling summer nightlife, neon lights, modern architecture and the various festivals held here throughout the year. It’s also one of the oldest cities in the country, with roots in ancient Greek colonialism – evidence of which can still be seen.