Caucasus Georgia

Mountains and Monasteries: The Best Day Trips from Tbilisi, Georgia (With Directions & Travel Tips)

Looking for the very best day trips from Tbilisi, Georgia? Then this guide is for you!

During our month-and-a-bit stay in the Republic of Georgia’s capital city, Tbilisi, we got to do some pretty incredible day trips. I could happily spend a lifetime walking Tbilisi’s charming streets and hopping between Georgian restaurants — but for first-time visitors, I recommend incorporating a few day excursions into your Caucasus itinerary as well.

There are mountains, monasteries and wineries waiting to be discovered right on Tbilisi’s doorstep. This complete guide to the best day trips from Tbilisi, Georgia includes things to do, up-to-date transport information, ticket prices, and everything else you need to plan the perfect day out.

In this post, you’ll find detailed information on seven of the best day trips from Tbilisi:

Day trip from Tbilisi to Mtskheta
Day trip from Tbilisi to Gori and Uplistsikhe
Day trip from Tbilisi to Pankisi Gorge
Day trip from Tbilisi to David Gareja Monastery
Day trip from Tbilisi to Sighnaghi (Kaketi)
Day trip from Tbilisi to Kazbegi (Stepantsminda)
Day trip from Tbilisi to Borjomi, Akhaltsikhe and Vardzia


Essential reading: Awesome things to do in Tbilisi, Georgia

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Best day trips from Tbilisi, Georgia — Day trips for independent travellers

It’s easy and affordable to day trip from Tbilisi as an independent traveller (i.e. without a guide). Since this is our preferred style of travel and the way we explored Tbilisi’s surrounds, this list focuses on the best day trips from Tbilisi, Georgia for travellers who want to go their own way. 

Depending on the location and how far afield you want to explore, you may need to hire a taxi once you arrive. I’ve provided clear instructions if this is the case.

1. Georgia’s historic capital: An independent day trip from Tbilisi to Mtskheta

Distance from Tbilisi to Mtskheta | 25km
Recommended transport | Marshrutka
Travel time | Approx. 40 minutes each way
Time to spend in Mtskheta | 2-3 hours
Total time | 5 hours

© Emily Lush 2018 | Best day trips from Tbilisi, Georgia
Overlooking the town of Mtskheta, Georgia—where the Mtkvari and Aragvi Rivers meet. Svetitskhoveli Cathedral is visible on the right, nestled amongst the red-roofed houses.

Why visit Mtskheta?

Dripping with history, Georgia’s former capital, Mtskheta, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The small town is also the most popular (and convenient) day trip you can take from Tbilisi—which means it’s often packed with tourists, especially on weekends.

Although Mtskheta wasn’t our favourite day trip from Tbilisi, we don’t regret going. At the very least, a trip to Mtskheta gives you the chance to see one of Georgia’s most famous monasteries, Jvari, in the flesh.

Mtskheta is located on the highway between Tbilisi and Gori, so you can easily combine it with further travel to Gori and Uplistsikhe (see the next section).

© Emily Lush 2018 | Best day trips from Tbilisi, Georgia
Frescos and morning light inside Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, Mtskheta.

Things to do in Mtskheta

Mtskheta is a tiny town that’s easily explored on foot. Start by visiting the centrally located Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, an 11th-century Orthodox church with beautiful interior frescoes. Free guides wait at the front door to show guests the various points of historical interest inside the cathedral.

Further up the road, just outside of Mtskheta proper, the 4th-century Samtavro Monastery is celebrated for its intricate bas-relief carvings.

© Emily Lush 2018 | Best day trips from Tbilisi, Georgia
Jvari Monastery, atop a hill overlooking Mtskheta, Georgia.

Jvari Monastery, one of Georgia’s most iconic houses of worship, is perched high on a hill overlooking Mtskheta. It’s not difficult to find a driver in Mtskheta to take you up the snaking 15km road to the monastery—just look for the 4WDs parked around Svetitskhoveli Cathedral. (If in doubt, consult the staff at the tourist information office outside the cathedral. Pro tip: There’s also a public toilet inside the office.)

A trip up to Jvari and back typically costs 20 GEL per car. Carpool with other visitors to save on cash. At the top, the driver will wait for you for an hour, which is plenty of time to see the monastery.

It’s also possible to hike up to Jvari from Mtskheta (according to this report, the hike takes around 90 minutes over some pretty average terrain). The interior of Jvari Monastery is pleasant enough—but it’s the view of the church as you approach and the sweeping vistas over the confluence of the Mtkvari and Aragvi Rivers that command most visitors’ attention.

Back in Mtskheta, there are a number of small cafes and restaurants dotted around the town square. There’s also a market outside the cathedral, where vendors sell souvenirs (knitted socks, fridge magnets), mulled wine and churchkhela.

I personally found the products a bit tacky and the market too touristic, but it’s worth having a quick poke around before you head back to Tbilisi.

© Emily Lush 2018 | Best day trips from Tbilisi, Georgia
Sunday morning worship inside Svetitskhoveli Cathedral in Mtskheta, Georgia.

How to get to Mtskheta from Tbilisi

Marshrutkas (minivans) leave from Tbilisi’s Didube Station for Mtskheta every 10 to 15 minutes. Most continue on to Gori, so they tend to fill up fast. Tickets cost just 1 GEL per person. This post from Lost With Purpose provides detailed instructions for navigating Didube Station and purchasing a ticket.

Heading back to Tbilisi, flag down a van travelling the opposite way. We found a bus shelter near the Liberty Bank on reet (see the location here on Google Maps) and didn’t have to wait long for a marshrutka.

Marshrutkas coming from Gori are often packed to the brim (especially on weekends), so you might have to stand in the aisle like we did.

If you do need a seat, I recommend walking further north up the same road, towards Samtavro Monastery, and flagging down a marshrutka from there. Just gesture for a van when you see one. Signs propped in the window sometimes have place names written in English, but I recommend you take the time to learn the Georgian characters for Tbilisi (თბილისი).

Organised tours from Tbilisi to Mtskheta

This full-day trip from Tbilisi is incredibly good value—for about 27 Euros, you get to see Mtskheta and Jvari Monastery, plus Uplistsikhe and Gori. It also includes a home-cooked lunch with a local family and a chance to sample Georgian wine.


2. Dark tourism in Georgia: An independent day trip from Tbilisi to Gori and Uplistsikhe

Distance from Tbilisi to Gori | 86km (53 miles)
Recommended transport |
Marshrutka
Travel time |
Approx. 1 hour each way
Time to spend in Gori | 4-5 hours
Total time | 6-7 hours

© Emily Lush 2017 | Georgia Armenia Azerbaijan itinerary; Caucasus itinerary | Best day trips from Tbilisi, Georgia
A supermarket advertisement featuring an image of Stalin in Gori, Georgia.

Why visit Gori?

Located in Georiga’s Shida Kartli region, travelling to Gori from Tbilisi involves crossing over into western Georgia. It’s a totally different landscape, characterised by lush forests and green plains.

There are two reasons tourists come to Gori: Firstly, to explore the ancient cave city, Uplistsikhe; and secondly, to visit the birthplace of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. It might not be for everyone, but visiting the Stalin Museum is a very unique experience—especially if you opt for the guided tour, which I highly recommend you do.

© Emily Lush 2018 | Best day trips from Tbilisi, Georgia
Inside the Joseph Stalin Museum in Gori, Georgia.

Things to do in Gori

Joseph Stalin was born in Gori in 1878. Many attractions and civic landmarks still bear his moniker as a tribute to his legend. The Stalin Museum, which is dedicated to chronicling Stalin’s life (albeit quite selectively), is a must-see in Gori.

There’s not much information in English, so it’s best to pay a little bit extra for a guided tour. You can also visit Stalin’s armored train carriage and see the house where he was born, both of which have been relocated onto the museum grounds. There’s a Stalin statue in the museum courtyard with an interesting history all of its own.

After the museum, it’s worth taking a stroll around Gori to see how many Stalin namesakes you can spot (there’s a stadium, a theatre and a park, for starters). There are a few coffee shops and ice cream parlous located along Gori’s main drag, Stalin Avenue.


Before you go: Everything you need to know before visiting the Stalin Museum in Gori (including ticket prices, opening hours & tips)


Aside from its dark history, Gori is quite a pretty town, with trellis-lined streets and a big central park. Climb to the top of Gori Castle for a nice view of the city and the Mtkvari River. Chinebuli, right opposite the Stalin Museum, serves decent food and comes recommended by the owner of our guesthouse in Gori.

© Emily Lush 2018 | Best day trips from Tbilisi, Georgia
Uplistsikhe, the ancient cave town located just outside of Gori, Georgia.

Uplistsikhe Cave Town

Uplistsikhe is located just 14km from downtown Gori, so it makes sense to combine an excursion to the cave town with a visit to Gori. Thought to have been founded during the Bronze Age, Uplistsikhe is a fascinating landscape of chambers and grottoes cut into the mountainside, not unlike David Gareja Monastery (see the next section).

It was once a fully functioning ‘cave town’, with living quarters, churches and municipal services. Uplistsikhe is better set up for tourists than David Gareja, with information placards and rope walkways.

You can still clamber around the maze of caves as you please, which is actually a lot of fun (if not a little dangerous). Uplistsikhe is open from 10am to 5pm daily and entrance costs 3 GEL per person.

To get to Uplistsikhe from Gori, hire a taxi from Gori’s main square for 25 GEL round trip (including waiting time). Another option is to flag down a bus along Stalin Avenue (tickets cost just 1 GEL). There is a similarly priced train, which departs Gori at 10am and leaves Uplistsikhe at 5pm daily.

How to get to Gori from Tbilisi

A marshrutka from Didube Station to Gori costs 3 GEL per person (purchase a ticket from the window before boarding). Vans leave regularly throughout the day, starting from 7am. The ride takes just under an hour—jump out when you see the Stalin Museum (the large, unmistakable sandstone building with the Stalin Statue in the courtyard).

Heading back to Tbilisi, marshrutka vans depart from Gori’s Central Bus Station, a 15-minute walk from the Stalin Museum (see the exact location here on Google Maps).

You can also travel from Tbilisi to Gori by taxi. Shared taxis depart from Didube Station and cost approximately 5 GEL per seat or 20 GEL for the whole vehicle. To travel back to Tbilisi from Gori by taxi, try asking around for a driver at the bus station.

Alternatively, there are regular passenger trains travelling between Tbilisi and Gori. Check the Georgian Railway website for an up-to-date timetable and fare information.

Organised tours from Tbilisi to Gori and Uplistsikhe

This nine-hour itinerary departing Tbilisi includes a walking tour of Uplistsikhe and guided tour of the Stalin Museum in Gori. On the way, you also visit Mtskheta and Jvari Monastery. It’s like two day trips rolled into one!


3. Alternative Georgia: A day trip from Tbilisi to Pankisi Gorge

Distance from Tbilisi to Pankisi Gorge | 133km (82 miles)
Recommended transport |
Marshrutka or taxi
Travel time |
Approx. 2.5 hours each way
Time to spend in Pankisi | Minimum 3 hours
Total time | 8 hours

Pankisi Gorge in eastern Georgia.

Why visit Pankisi Gorge?

Pankisi Gorge is a great alternative day trip from Tbilisi. Home to members of the Kist ethnic minority group, whose ancestors migrated to Georgia from Chechnya in the 18th century, the area is still relatively unknown to tourists. This is partly because of misconceptions surrounding the community.

The Pankisi Valley Tourism and Development Association, a wonderful grassroots tourism initiatve, is working to change perceptions about Pankisi and bring more tourists to the area. Read more about the initiative and my visit to Pankisi here.

Zizi, a felt-maker in Pankisi Gorge.

Things to do in Pankisi Gorge

Pankisi Gorge is made up of a string of small villages that run along the valley floor. Each one has its own attractions, including mosques, an ethnography museum, and house workshops where you can visit Chechen felt-makers and other artisans. On Fridays, visitors can watch Kist women perform a traditional Sufi ceremony (similar to the Turkish Whirling Dervishes).

New marked trails in the hills above Jokolo Village are perfect for short hikes. For a longer itinerary, visitors can use Pankisi Gorge as a departure point for visiting Tusheti Nature Reserve.

It’s best to explore the area with a local guide. This, and perhaps lunch at one of the homestays, can be organised through the Association. Contact Nazy of Nazy’s Guest House well in advance to organise your trip. Tourism is still developing in Pankisi, so watch this space for more developments!

A traditional Chechen meal at Nazy’s Guest House in Pankisi Gorge.

How to get to Pankisi Gorge from Tbilisi

Jokolo Village is about an hour’s drive from Telavi in Georgia’s wine region. The easiest way to get there is with a shared taxi from Tbilisi. Drivers bound for Pankisi wait near Isani Metro Station (the same place as taxis for Sighnaghi and Telavi). A spot in a shared taxi should cost you around 15 GEL.

Alternatively, you can take a marshrutka to Telavi then change to another van bound for Pankisi. A taxi from Telavi to Pankisi Gorge costs around 25 GEL per car.

See this post for full details about getting to Telavi from Tbilisi.


4. The colours of Kakheti’s semi-desert: A day trip from Tbilisi to David Gareja

Distance from Tbilisi to David Gareja | 67km (42 miles)
Recommended transport |
Shuttle bus
Travel time |
Approx. 2.25 hours each way
Time to spend at David Gareja | Minimum 3 hours to complete the walking track
Total time | 7.5 hours

© Emily Lush 2018 | Best day trips from Tbilisi, Georgia
The incredible David Gareja Monastery, a perfect day trip from Tbilisi, Georgia.

Why visit David Gareja?

If I could recommend just one day trip from Tbilisi, it would be David Gareja. The 6th-century Orthodox monastery complex located east of Tbilisi in Georgia’s stunning Kakheti region really is a sight to behold.

A hiking trail leads visitors through the monastery and up a steep ridge, with views of Azerbaijan from the top. David Gareja is currently the subject of a territorial dispute between the two countries.

At the time of my first trip, the complex was open and safe to visit. In June 2019, things took a turn and part of the monastery was closed off. It’s advisable to ask around in Tbilisi or check online news before you attempt to visit Davit Gareja.

© Emily Lush 2018 | Best day trips from Tbilisi, Georgia
Walking along the ridge at David Gareja Monastery.

Things to do in David Gareja

Davit Gareja is easy to navigate without a guide: Just follow the designated walking track, which starts with a steep ascent. Looking down on the main monastery you can see some of the hundreds of separate chambers, living quarters and prayer rooms hewn into the rock.

If you’re lucky, you’ll see one of the monks who call David Gareja home tending the gardens. Once you reach the top of the ridge, you’ll come to a small chapel and views of Azerbaijan.

You can then clamber down the opposite side to visit a series of small alcoves decorated with frescoes. Many of the paintings were damaged in Soviet times, when David Gareja was used as a military base.

© Emily Lush 2018 | Best day trips from Tbilisi, Georgia
© Emily Lush 2018 | Best day trips from Tbilisi, Georgia
Cherry blossoms and frescoes at David Gareja Monastery. March is a great time to visit—the trees are in bloom, and the weather is mild.

All up, it takes about three hours to walk through the monastery. The trail is unmarked in places and the terrain can be challenging, so wear good shoes and bring drinking water and snacks. At the time of our visit, there was absolutely no tourist infrastructure at David Gareja (apart from a small gift shop), but a new visitor’s centre was under construction at the entrance to the complex.

© Emily Lush 2018 | Best day trips from Tbilisi, Georgia
The colours of Kakheti, Georgia.

How to get to David Gareja from Tbilisi

The most convenient way to travel to David Gareja is with Gareji Line, a small company that runs a shuttle bus to and from Tbilisi. Shuttles run daily in the high season and according to demand during low and shoulder season. Just message them on Facebook for the schedule and to organise a seat.

Don’t worry, this isn’t an organised tour—there’s no guide, and when we travelled, the driver didn’t speak English. It’s simply a hassle-free way to travel to David Gareja from Tbilisi and back without having to worry about public transport or spring for a taxi.

They also provide guests with an A4 map of the complex with some basic information, which is useful given there’s no signage at David Gareja (that may have changed now with the opening of the new centre). A seat on the bus costs 25 GEL per person and includes a stop at the Oasis Club in Udabno on the way back for dinner.

It’s also possible to visit David Gareja as a day trip from Sighnaghi. It takes a little longer to get to the monastery from Sighnaghi, so I recommend doing the trip from Tbilisi if you can. Guesthouses in Sighnaghi can organise transport to David Gareja if you need it.

Visiting Davit Gareja from Tbilisi on a group tour

If you prefer to experience Davit Gareja with a guide, this day tour from Tbilisi leads with a visit to the monastery and optional hike up the mountain before continuing to Sighnaghi for a short walk around town and a spot of wine tasting.


5. Georgian wine country: An independent day trip from Tbilisi to Sighnaghi (Kakheti)

Distance from Tbilisi to Sighnaghi | 109km (68 miles)
Recommended transport |
Marshrutka or taxi
Travel time |
Approx. 2 hours each way
Time to spend in Sighnaghi | 6-7 hours
Total time | 10-11 hours

© Emily Lush 2017 | Georgia Armenia Azerbaijan itinerary; Caucasus itinerary | Best day trips from Tbilisi, Georgia
The grounds of Bodbe Monastery, just outside Sighnaghi, Georgia.

Why visit Sighnaghi?

Also in Kakheti region, Sighnaghi is a quaint little town located in the heart of Georgian wine country. You can easily spend a day walking Sighnaghi’s cobbled streets, visiting cafes and museums—or you could venture further afield to some of the cellar doors and spectacular monasteries around Sighnaghi in the Kakhetian countryside.

It’s best to spend at least one night in Sighnaghi, but it is possible to visit as a long day trip from Tbilisi.

© Emily Lush 2018 | Best day trips from Tbilisi, Georgia
Wine bottles and an underground qvevri at a winery outside Sighnaghi, Georgia.

Things to do in Sighnaghi

Explore the central part of Sighnaghi on foot, including the old city walls and the town square. For a full itinerary, refer to Day Two of my 72-hour Kakheti Guide. Bodbe Monastery, just outside Sighnaghi, is one of Georgia’s finest nunneries and shouldn’t be missed.


Essential reading: The best wineries and monasteries to visit in Kakheti, Georgia


Further afield, there are dozens of wineries and monasteries you can visit close to Sighnaghi, but you’ll need a car. Be sure to stop off at the Tsinandali Estate outside Telavi—Kakheti’s bigger city and transport hub.

© Emily Lush 2017 | Georgia Armenia Azerbaijan itinerary; Caucasus itinerary | Best day trips from Tbilisi, Georgia
The exquisite Tsinandali Estate outside Telavi, Georgia.

Travelling by taxi or marshrutka from Tbilisi to Sighnaghi (or vice versa)

I highly recommend taking a shared taxi from Tbilisi to Sighnaghi to make the most of your time. Taxis bound for Sighnaghi/Telavi wait behind Tbilisi’s Isani Metro Station. You can find my full transport guide for getting to Kakheti from Tbilisi here.

Essential reading: My complete guide for travelling between Tbilisi and Sighnaghi using public transport.

Group tours from Tbilisi to Sighnaghi and Telavi

This private and customisable tour from Tbilisi focuses on wine and includes visits to some of Kakheti’s best cellar doors. There’s also time to visit Bodbe Monastery and walk around Sighnaghi.

If you’re pressed for time, this day tour from Tbilisi combines Sighnaghi and Davit Gareja Monastery. Just know that the itinerary is less focused on wine, and you won’t have as long to explore the old city.


6. Into the Caucasus: An independent day trip from Tbilisi to Kazbegi (Stepantsminda)

Distance from Tbilisi to Kazbegi | 153km (95 miles)
Recommended transport | Marshrutka or taxi
Travel time | Approximately 3-4 hours each way
Time to spend in Kazbegi | Minimum 3-4 hours
Total time | Minimum 9-10 hours

© Emily Lush 2018 | Best day trips from Tbilisi, Georgia
The town of Kazbegi (Stepantsminda), surrounded by the Caucasus mountains.

Why visit Kazbegi?

It just wouldn’t be a trip to Georgia without an up-close look at the impressive Caucasus mountains. While it’s far better to stay for at least one night and enjoy the hiking this area has to offer, it is possible to visit Kazbegi (often referred to by its new name, Stepantsminda) as a rushed day trip from Tbilisi. Gergeti Trinity Church, which has come to symbolise Georgia tourism, and lunch at one of the country’s best boutique hotels are highlights of a day trip to Kazbegi.

There are some nice places to stop on the drive up as you navigate the fabled Georgian Military Highway, the road that connects Tbilisi and Russia.

© Emily Lush 2018 | Best day trips from Tbilisi, Georgia
A stream flowing through Kazbegi, Georgia. Gergeti Trinity Church is visible on the top left.

Things to do in Kazbegi

The Georgian Military Highway that leads to Kazbegi from Tbilisi is an attraction in itself, offering incredible views of the Caucasus mountains and surrounding countryside. I recommend springing for a taxi for at least one leg of the Tbilisi-Kazbegi journey so that you can make a few stop offs along the way.

Be sure to pack your panoramic lens to photograph the Russia-Georgia Friendship Monument, located about five minutes’ walk from the highway, close to the turn off for the ski resorts in Gudauri Recreational Area.

You should also stop for a quick wander around Ananuri Fortress, noting the beautiful carvings on the building’s stone exterior. There’s a great little market outside the fortress where you can stock up on snacks (churchkhela, fresh strawberries) and drinks (wine, obviously) for the remainder of the drive.

Make a final stop at Sioni Cathedral of the Dormition, a 6th-century basilica with wonderful frescoes located in Sioni, just outside Kazbegi.

© Emily Lush 2017 | Georgia Armenia Azerbaijan itinerary; Caucasus itinerary | Best day trips from Tbilisi, Georgia
Approaching Gergeti Trinity Church on the hike up from Kazbegi, Georgia.

Gergeti Trinity Church, perhaps Georgia’s most iconic place of worship, is perched high in the mountains overlooking Kazbegi, with Mount Kazbek as its backdrop. If you’re on a day trip, hiking from Kazbegi to Gergeti isn’t really an option, so you’ll want to travel up by 4WD.

Look for a driver around Kazbegi town square (there are plenty of cars waiting to take tourists up). Expect to pay around 50 GEL (per car, not per person) for the round-trip, which takes 30 to 50 minutes each way, depending on the road conditions.


Must read: How to hike from Kazbegi to Gergeti Trinity Church


After visiting the church, I recommend spending the rest of your time in Kazbegi at Rooms Hotel, one of Georgia’s best boutique hotels. Rooms is a quintessential ski lodge (it’s actually an old Soviet sanatorium), with open fireplaces and a spectacular balcony.

Enjoy lunch and a glass of Kakhetian wine at the Rooms restaurant, which is open to the public.

Best day trips from Tbiliis, Georgia | Rooms Kazbegi. Photo credit: Annette Bouvain/Flickr (changes made). Used here under Creative Commons.
Rooms Kazbegi. Photo credit: Annette Bouvain/Flickr (changes made). Used here under Creative Commons.

Travelling by marshrutka from Tbilisi to Kazbegi (or vice versa)

Kazbegi is one of the most popular destinations tourists head to after Tbilisi, so there are plenty of marshrutka vans leaving throughout the day from Didube Station.

Coming back to Tbilisi, marshrutkas depart from Kazbegi town’s small bus depot, which is located on the opposite side of the river to most guesthouses, close to Cafe Sno (see the location here on Google Maps). We paid 10 GEL per person to travel from Kazbegi to Tbilisi by marshrutka.

The journey took approximately 4 hours, including a short bathroom break at the halfway point. Note that marshrutkas don’t stop at the Friendship Monument or at Ananuri.

Travelling by taxi from Tbilisi to Kazbegi

Shared taxis bound for Kazbegi depart regularly from Didube Station (just ask around for a driver, or look at the signs on the car dashboards). As mentioned, taxi drivers are usually happy to make short pit stops at Ananuri and at the Friendship Monument.

If you want to spend longer in these places or make extra stops, it’s worth paying for the whole car so that you can travel on your own schedule. We paid 27 GEL per person for a shared taxi carrying three passengers. The trip took 3.5 hours, including stops.

If you prefer to hire a private car for the day to take you to Kazbegi and back to Tbilisi, expect to pay around 50 USD one-way.

Tours from Tbilisi to Kazbegi

Group tours from Tbilisi to Kazbegi combine stop-offs at major landmarks along the highway (Anauri, Juta) and include transport to and from Gergeti Trinity. For this reason, they’re pretty good value. This tour departs Tbilisi daily (pick up included) and lasts between 10 and 12 hours.

Paragliding is an optional extra! Another option: This group tour is a little longer and includes an alternative stop at Jinvali, eastern Georgia’s largest reservoir, before continuing to Kazbegi.


7. Green space and ancient cities: An independent day trip from Tbilisi to Borjomi, Akhaltsikhe and Vardzia

Distance from Tbilisi to Borjomi | 161km (100 miles)
Recommended transport | Marshrutka or train
Travel time | Approximately 2.5 hours each way (by van) or 5 hours (by train)
Time to spend in Borjomi & surrounds | Minimum 5-6 hours
Total time | 10-12 hours

Two kids walking in a leafy park.
Borjomi Central Park.

Why visit Borjomi?

If you’re craving fresh air and green space, Borjomi might be the best day trip from Tbilisi for you. Borjomi is famous for its mineral water springs, which were once heralded as the best in all of the Soviet Union. Borjomi Water is still bottled here and exported all over Georgia and the region.

In Soviet times, Borjomi and the nearby town of Bakuriani were used as summer health retreats to escape from hot and sticky Tbilisi. There are still a few sanatorium-style resorts operating in the area.

Adventure lovers should note that Borjomi offers hikes and horse riding in summer, rafting and other water sports, and skiing in the wintertime. It’s also a great base from which to visit two historic sites: Vardzia, another of Georgia’s famous cave cities, and the restored Rabati Fortress in Akhaltsikhe.

A man pouring a bottle of sparking water into a glass.
Drinking Borjomi water at Cafe Tourist.

Things to do in & around Borjomi

Start your day trip with a wander around Borjomi Central Park, stopping off to visit the Cultural Heritage Monument Firuza and the gorgeous Golden Tulip Hotel (originally built for the Iranian consul). Inside the park, fill up your water bottle with naturally fizzy water at the original Ekaterina Spring, and maybe even take a dip in the public hot springs. There’s also a cable car you can ride up to the Borjomi plateau.

If you’re looking for a place to break for lunch in Borjomi, I highly recommend Cafe Tourist.

Further down the highway in Likani, you’ll find the pretty Romanov Summer Palace (note that the Palace is still closed for renovations at the time of writing, in July 2019). Follow one of the trails behind Romanov Fortress into Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park and track down the green-tiled Mtsvane Monastery, which is hidden inside the park.

To get to Likani from Borjomi, take a minibus from the main street (look out for vans with Likani on the front). The fare is 40 tetri per person, and the trip takes under 30 minutes.

If you truly want to unwind, head to Rixos Borjomi or one of the ski lodges-cum-spa resorts in Bakuriani, just 25km down the road from Borjomi, for a health treatment using Borjomi’s curative waters.

A beautiful castle.
The gorgeous Rabati Castle in Akhaltsikhe, Georgia.

Travel by taxi or marshrutka to Akhaltsikhe, 50km southwest of Borjomi, to visit the Samtskhe-Javakheti History Museum wrapped in the recently restored Rabati Fortress complex. Rabati Fortress is a bit of a trip – it’s difficult to tell where history stops and creative license begins. Walking around the massive complex of towers, ponds, gardens and castles is great fun.

Stone arches and a fortress in the background.
Inside Rabati Castle.

From Akhaltsikhe, it’s another 50km to Vardzia. If you have time, stop in at the Atskuri and Khertvisi Fortresses on the way. The smaller and lesser-known Vanis Kvabebi cave monastery, located off the highway between Akhaltsikhe and Vardzia, also comes recommended.

Along with David Gareja and Uplistsikhe, Vardzia is one of Georgia’s most impressive cave sites. The monastery was excavated from the side of Mount Erusheli in 1185 on the orders of Queen Tamar to protect a community of 2,000 monks from invading Mongols.

Vardzia once consisted of more than six thousand separate apartments in a thirteen-story complex; however, much of the city was later destroyed by an earthquake and looting. Entrance to Vardzia costs 3 GEL for an adult; guided tours and audio tours are available. Note that Vardzia closes at 6pm.

The easiest way to travel between Borjomi and Akhaltsikhe/Vardzia is by hiring a taxi once you arrive in Borjomi. Borjomi Online Taxi Service offers this service, along with transfers from Tbilisi if you prefer to do the whole journey by private car.

Another option is to travel from Borjomi to Bakuriani by train. The route, know as Kukushka (‘Little Cuckoo’ in Russian) is a narrow-gauge railway that opened in 1902. The ride takes about 2.5 hours and covers some truly beautiful terrain. You’ll even pass over the Tsemistskhali River viaduct, designed by Gustave Eiffel himself. If the timing is right, you can also take a scenic train ride back to Tbilisi from Borjomi to cap off your day trip with some of Georgia’s most beautiful landscapes.

© Emily Lush 2018 | Best day trips from Tbilisi, Georgia
Vardzia, Georgia.

Travelling by marshrutka from Tbilisi to Borjomi (or vice versa)

Marshrutkas depart from Tbilisi’s Didube Station regularly, with the first bus at around 6am (this day trip is quite a packed schedule, so I recommend getting an early start if you want to fit everything into one day). A ticket costs between 6 to 8 GEL per person and the journey takes around 2.5 hours. See this post for a full report on the journey from Tbilisi to Borjomi by marshrutka.

Travelling by train from Tbilisi to Borjomi (or vice versa)

Another option is to travel to Borjomi by train. It takes around 5 hours—but you will see some beautiful scenery along the way. The early train departs from Tbilisi at 6.40am and costs 2 GEL (board early if you want a seat). If you’re day tripping from Tbilisi, I recommend taking the train back from Borjomi to Tbilisi (rather than to Borjomi) in order to maximise your time. According to Maria at My Travel Affairs, there’s a train that leaves Borjomi at 4.45pm and arrives back in Tbilisi at 9.15pm—ideal timing for day trippers.

Organised tours from Tbilisi to Borjomi

This is the most logistically complex day trip mentioned here, so it may be wise to join an organised excursion from Tbilisi, especially if it’s your first visit to Georgia and you’re not familiar with public transportation. Over the space of 12 hours, this full-day tour covers Vardzia, Rabati and Borjomi Park. It’s fast-paced, but worth it if you want to tick everything off in one day.


Further afield: Alternative day trips from Tbilisi

  • Day trip from Tbilisi to Rkoni Village: Rkoni Village is just two hours’ drive west of Tbilisi, making it a relatively quick and convenient day trip. It’s well and truly off the tourist trail, which is why I consider it an alternative day trip from Tbilisi. I like that this is an active tour, combining cycling with ruins, a national park and stone bridge. I haven’t been to Rkoni yet, but it’s top of my list for next time.
  • Day trip from Tbilisi to Juta: Located along the Georgian Military Highway north of Tbilisi, Juta is one of Georgia’s alternative mountain destinations. This full-day hiking tour is perfect for anyone who wants to experience the Greater Caucasus away from the crowds.
  • Day trip from Tbilisi to Chiatura: Visit the old mining town and ride Stalin’s ‘Rope Roads’ on this full-day trip from Tbilisi. Chiatura and Katskhi Pillar are usually visited from Kutaisi (here’s my guide on how to do it independently), but with a car and guide, you can do it in a day from the capital.
  • Day trip from Tbilisi to Okatse Canyon & Prometheus Cave: It’s far more efficient to visit western Georgia’s canyons and caves as a day trip from Kutaisi (see here for my full guide). If you’re not planning to visit Kutaisi and you still want to see a bit of lush Imereti, this day trip is an option. Just be warned that there’s a lot of driving involved.
  • Day trip from Tbilisi to northern Armenia: Armenia deserves more than a day of your time (I recommend at least 3 days for Yerevan alone). But if you’re eager for another stamp in your passport, this day trip crosses the border to touch on two of the country’s UNESCO-lised monasteries. There’s no way you could do this independently, so an organised group tour is your only option.

What are your favourite day trips from Tbilisi? If you’re planning a trip to Tbilisi in the future, which day trip/s would make your list? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


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36 Comments Add New Comment

  1. Cathy says:

    We’re actually going this April and I’m using your blog to help me plan our trip! I’m so glad I found you 🙂 Is April a good time for DG or would it be rainy?… We’re crossing the border that day from Sheki and I would like to stop by either Sighnaghi or DG on the way to Tbilisi. No, we’re not wine drinkers but might choose a “pretty village feel” over “a lot of walking” 😉 But I’m only judging from what I can see in photos …and yes, I plan to do Uplistikhe another day.

  2. C Lawrie says:

    Hi Emily, I can only make two day trips from Tbilisi with my limited schedule. I’ve decided one day would be for the combined Mtskheta and Uplistsikhe – Gori. For the second day, I can’t decide between David Gareja and Sighnaghi. Which one do you think I should do?

    Thanks for your help!

    1. Emily Lush says:

      Hi Cathy!

      What time of year are you travelling? DG is incredible, but it involves walking so if it’s going to be rainy or very dry, Sighnaghi might be a better choice. If the weather is nice, though, I’d choose DG. Unless of course you are particularly interested in wine. Are you also planning to go to Uplistsikhe?

      I hope this helps! Enjoy!

  3. Aashiya says:

    Hi Emily,
    I am visiting Tbilisi in February 2019 with my husband. I’m most certainly going on the day trip to Kazbegi and Gudauri ski region.
    The hotel is so inviting…must have lunch there.Planning to book a private taxi. Waiting to read more about your travels.

    1. Emily Lush says:

      Hi Aashiya! Sounds like a wonderful trip you have planned. I loved Kazbegi, and lunch at Rooms was definitely a highlight. Great choice booking the private taxi, that will allow you to make the most of the day.

      Happy travels, and please don’t hesitate to reach out if there’s anything I might be able to help you with!

  4. Smita Patro says:

    Hi Emily , at this moment I’m in Georgia travelling alone and I closely followed your directions . And I’m must say I’m not disappointed a single time , it’s pretty informative and helpful . Thank you for such a great post ,it really makes travelling Georgia much better without any need of a guide or agency .

    1. Emily Lush says:

      Hi Smita, I’m really so glad to hear that. I hope you’re enjoying Georgia as much as I did! Please don’t hesitate to reach out here or via email if there’s anything specific I might be able to help with.

      Safe and happy travels!
      Emily

  5. Liza says:

    So many interesting sights to choose from! I think Mtskheta would be my first choice – gorgeous, easy to get to, and historically important. Thanks for the tip! 🙂

  6. Ada says:

    wow I actually had no idea Georgia is so beautiful. I remember I had one friend from there and every time someone asked her where she’s from she says ” I am from Georgia but not that one in America”. I feel like the Georgia you showing now here is still a little bit of hidden gem of the world. But wow I cant stop looking at your stunning photos! Those trips from Tbilisi seems so wonderful! Especially to Mtskheta and Kazbegi!

    1. Emily Lush says:

      Ah yes, people often say Georgia (the country) to avoid confusion. It certainly is a gem—and getting more and more popular. I hope you get to visit one day!

  7. angela says:

    This was amazing! Its my first time hearing about Tbilisi. OMG! Your photos are great I am encourage to visit this. saving this for future use. thanks for sharing!

  8. Alexis Rae says:

    Wow that architecture and landscape is insane. I had no idea Georgia looked anything like this. I cant imagine that Stalin museum. It sounds heartbreaking.

  9. Mateja says:

    I absolutely love the Georgia’s semi-desert landscape. Combined with so much history and wineries I believe it’s time I finally visit 🙂 Amazing photos!

  10. Siarra says:

    Georgia is one of those countries I never thought much about visiting until after I associated with more travelers. Now? I get more curious with each new post. Your photos are beautiful–enjoyed the day trip to David Gareja

  11. Rosie Fluskey says:

    I can’t believe I knew so little about Georgia and just what a huge variety of things there are to see within reach of Tbilisi. I would LOVE to visit Gori. I am such a dark tourist and the Stalin Museum sound just up my street, plus slightly dangerous cave exploring…perfect day trip. Plus, the green hills of the wine country sound delightful…I mean it’s wine!

  12. Catherine Salvador Mendoza says:

    A few weeks ago, my partner and I were discussing if we were to go to Georgia. We were unsure what to do as we’re both haven’t been. And it’s also one of the few countries where I don’t need a visa. ( haha! ) Upon reading your blog post, now I’ll have enough information to tell my partner about this place. The landscape and sceneries are stunning. We’d love to visit the cave if ever, and not missing out the wineries and cafes!

  13. Queenie says:

    I read many articles and heard so many people talk about Georgia – this year alone! Sounds like somewhere I really should visit. And Uplistsikhe looks amazing!! thanks for sharing!

  14. YUKTI Agrawal says:

    Georgia is my favorite place as it has lots of nature, ancient historic sites and lovable people. I think more people should know about this hidden gem in Caucasus mountains.

  15. Kelly says:

    Georgia seems like one of those places that is still not that popular on the tourist front but has so many interesting things to see. Great post!

    1. Emily Lush says:

      Thanks, Kelly! Georgia is hugely popular among tourists from Eastern Europe, the Middle East… And growing more and more popular among tourists from the West, too. It’s a very special place!

  16. Maya says:

    What a great post! I would love to go to Georgia and these trips seem awesome. Such great photography and very clear instructions! Would be helpful!

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