Looking for the very best day trips from Tbilisi, Georgia? This guide features the best independent Tbilisi day trips and organised Tbilisi day tours for every interest – from hiking and cycling to cave monasteries, castles, wine tastings, and much more.
I could happily spend a lifetime walking Tbilisi’s charming streets and hopping between cafes and restaurants. But for first-time visitors to Georgia’s capital, I recommend incorporating a few day excursions into your Caucasus itinerary as well.
One of the best things about travelling in Georgia is how compact and easy to navigate the country is. There are mountains, monasteries and wineries waiting to be discovered right on Tbilisi’s doorstep – and many can be visited in a day using budget-friendly marshrutkas (minivans) and trains to get around.
This complete guide to the best Georgia day tours includes things to do, up-to-date transport information, ticket prices, travel times, and everything you need to plan the perfect day out.
In this post, you’ll find detailed information on 12 of the best day trips from Tbilisi:
- Georgia’s historic capital – day trip to Mtskheta from Tbilisi
- Mountains near Tbilisi – day trip to Kazbegi from Tbilsi
- Wine country – day trip to Sighnaghi from Tbilisi
- Cave monastery – day trip to David Gareja Monastery from Tbilisi
- Stalin’s birthplace – day trip to Gori and Uplistsikhe from Tbilisi
- Fresh air and healing waters – day trip to Borjomi and Bakuriani from Tbilisi
- Castles and cave cities – day trip to Akhaltsikhe and Vardzia from Tbilisi
- Off the beaten track – day trip to Pankisi Gorge from Tbilisi
- Caves, canyons and waterfalls – day trip to Imereti from Tbilisi
- Stalin’s rope roads – day trip to Chiatura from Tbilisi
- Cycling adventure – day trip to Rkoni Village from Tbilisi
- Another stamp in the passport – day trip to Northern Armenia from Tbilisi
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Map of Tbilisi day trips
Quick reference: Recommended Tbilisi day tours
If your first preference is to join a guided excursion rather than doing a day trip DIY, here are my top recommended day tours from Tbilisi (all available to book online in advance through my preferred platform, Get Your Guide).
– Tbilisi to Mtskheta, Jvari, Gori and Uplistsikhe (10 hours; from $28)
– Tbilisi to Kazbegi and Gudauri via the Military Highway (12 hours; from $32)
– Tbilisi to Kakheti wine region (12 hours; from $34)
– Tbilisi to David Gareji Monastery with private wine tasting (11 hours; from $120)
– Tbilisi to Mtskheta, Jvari, Gori and Uplistsikhe (10 hours; from $28)
– Tbilisi to Vardzia, Rabati and Borjomi (12 hours; from $49)
– Tbilisi to Chiatura (10 hours; from $134 per group)
– Tbilisi to Armenia – Haghpat and Sanahin monasteries (11 hours; from $83)
12 best day trips from Tbilisi
It’s easy and affordable to day trip from Tbilisi using marshrutkas and trains to get around, or by joining a group tour. Since we prefer to travel independently, this list focuses on one day trips from Tbilisi that can be managed by bus. I’ve also included a couple of further-afield options for travellers who don’t mind signing up for a guided tour.
I’ve personally visited all of these locations on my various trips to Georgia and recommend them all for different reasons.
1. Georgia’s historic capital: 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
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).
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.
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.
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 from Mtskheta 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 day trips 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. Into the mountains: 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Recommended Kazbegi tour from tbilisi
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.
3. Georgian wine country: 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
Why visit Sighnaghi?
Sighnaghi is a quaint little town located in the heart of Kakheti region, 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.
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.
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.
Read my complete guide to travelling from Tbilisi to Sighnaghi by van or taxi.
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.
4. Ancient cave monastery: 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 2 hours to complete the walking track
- Total time: 7.5 hours
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. As of January 2020, most of the complex has re-opened. It would be prudent to check the Gareji Line Facebook Page for an update before you travel.
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.
All up, it takes about two 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.
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 at 10.45am in the high season (April 1 to October 31) and on 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 30 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. Dark tourism: 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
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.
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.
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 day trips 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!
6. Fresh air and healing waters: Day trip from Tbilisi to Borjomi and Bakuriani
- Distance from Tbilisi to Borjomi: 161km (100 miles)
- Recommended transport: Marshrutka or train
- Travel time: Approximately 2.5 hours each way (by van) or 4 hours (by train)
- Time to spend in Borjomi & Bakuriani: Minimum 4-5 hours
- Total time: 9-10 hours
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.
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.
The easiest way to travel between Borjomi and Bakuriani 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.
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 4 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
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.
7. Castles and cave cities: Day trip from Tbilisi to Vardzia and Akhaltsikhe
- Distance from Tbilisi to Akhaltsikhe: 208km (129 miles)
- Recommended transport: Marshrutka
- Travel time: Approximately 3.5 hours each way
- Time to spend in Akhaltsikhe & Vardzia: Minimum 4-5 hours
- Total time: 12-13 hours
Why visit Akhaltsikhe?
Located 50km southwest of Borjomi, the small town of Akhaltsikhe is home to the incredible Rabati Castle. I recommend this day trip for history buffs and anyone who’s interested in learning more about Georgia’s medieval past.
It only takes a couple of hours to walk the castle grounds, so you can easily combine a day trip to Akhaltsikhe with a visit to nearby Vardzia, another of Georgia’s impressive cave cities.
Because of its close proximity to the border, Akhaltsikhe has always had a large Armenian population. Gyumri, Armenia’s third-largest city, is just 160km south. This part of Georgia also has an interesting Islamic history, with many of the buildings (including mosques and bath houses) in Akhaltsikhe erected when the Ottomans conquered the region in the 1570s. Rabati Castle dates back to the 9th century and underwent restorations in 2011.
Things to do in Akhaltsikhe
Start with a wander around Rabati Castle. It’s a bit difficult to tell where history stops and creative license begins, but the grounds are beautifully kept, and there are numerous towers to climb for different views. We visited Rabati in summer (peak season) and were among the few tourists there – the peace and quiet is a welcome alternative to other tourist attractions in Georgia.
The castle is open from 9am until 7pm daily, and tickets cost 6 GEL. If you want to visit the Samtskhe-Javakheti History Museum located inside the castle, it will cost you an additional 2 GEL.
If you want a view looking down over the castle, continue up the hill to St. Marine Church. For lunch, I recommend Restaurant Mimino on the main street.
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.
How to get to Akhaltsikhe from Tbilisi
Marshrutka vans depart Tbilisi’s Didube Station for Akhaltsikhe between 8am and 7pm. There is no formal timetable, but vans leave every 40-60 minutes, or once full. Tickets cost 10 GEL. Coming back to Tbilisi, the schedule and cost is the same, with the last van departing Akhaltsikhe around 7pm.
It takes about an hour to travel from Akhaltsikhe to Vardzia. There are four vans per day leaving at 8.30am, 9.30am, 1pm and 3pm and returning at 9am, 1pm and 3pm (5 GEL each way). For day trippers, the best option is to hire a taxi and driver to take you to Vardzia, wait while you look around, then bring you back. This should cost around 50 GEL per car.
Organised tours from Tbilisi to Aklhaltsikhe and Vardzia
This full-day tour of Vardzia and Rabati Castle also makes a stop in Borjomi on the way back to Tbilisi.
8. Alternative Georgia: 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
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.
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!
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.
Organised day tours from Tbilisi
The next four Tbilisi day trips are a little too far from the city to reach in day by bus or train. They are still great side trips – but you’ll need to join a guided tour to make the most of your visit.
I’ve visited all but one of these locations over the years. I’ve included recommended tour itineraries for each destination, all of which can be booked online in advance via Get Your Guide.
9. Caves, canyons and waterfalls: Day trip from Tbilisi to Imereti
While it’s far more efficient to visit western Georgia from Kutaisi (see here for my full guide), if you want to see a bit of lush Imereti, an organised day trip from Tbilisi is still an option. Just be warned that there’s a lot of driving involved.
Imereti is located 283km (176 miles) from Tbilisi. It takes around 3.5 hours to reach Kutaisi from Tbilisi when travelling by car, plus an additional 40-60 minutes to get to the caves and canyons on the city’s outskirts.
This day trip from Tbilisi to Okatse Canyon and Prometheus Cave visits two of the region’s most popular tourist attractions and a lunchtime stopover in Kutaisi for a taste of Imeretian cuisine. Note that the tour price doesn’t include entry to the canyon or cave.
10. Soviet relics: Day trip from Tbilisi to Chiatura
Chiatura is an ex-mining town nestled in Imereti region around 200km from Tbilisi. The main attraction here is the network of cablecars that criss-cross the valley floor (apparently built on Stalin’s orders to boost productivity in the mines).
As of January 2020, the cablecars are closed for maintenance. However, you can still explore Chiatura’s old-school architecture and Soviet relics on ground level.
It takes around 4 hours to drive from Tbilisi to Chiatura, so joining a group tour is the only way to visit from the capital. This day trip from Tbilisi to Chiatura starts at 8am and stops at the nearby Katskhi Pillar (the famous monastery on top of a rock) as well.
For independent travellers, the best option is to visit Chiatura and Katskhi on a day trip from Kutaisi. In this post, you’ll find full transport details for travelling from Kutaisi to Chiatura.
11. Cycling adventure: Day trip from Tbilisi to Rkoni Village
Just 76km (47 miles) from the capital, Rkoni village is a great off-the-beaten-track location for dirt biking and hiking around Tbilisi.
This day trip from Tbilisi to Rkoni Village involves less than two hours’ of driving, making it a convenient option if you want to escape the city without travelling too far afield. 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.
12. Over the border: Day trip from Tbilisi to Northern Armenia
Armenia is more than worthy of a place on your Caucasus itinerary (I recommend at least 3 days for Yerevan alone). But if you’re eager for another stamp in your passport, you can take a day trip across the border to touch on two of the country’s UNESCO-listed monasteries, Haghpat and Sanahin, which lie just 100km south of Tbilisi.
Debed Canyon is one of the most beautiful parts of the Caucasus and on a day tour from Tbilisi, you’ll be driving through the area. Although there are regular marshrutkas between Tbilisi and Yerevan but given the travel time and logistics of getting around, there’s no way you could do this independently. An organised group tour is your only option.
I recommend this day trip from Tbilisi to northern Armenia because it keeps groups small, and also includes a delicious Armenian barbecue for lunch.
Here are some of the websites and services I use when I’m planning a trip to Georgia and the Caucasus. Remember to check out my full list of travel resources for more tips.
– Find affordable flights to Tbilisi, Batumi or Kutaisi on Kiwi.com, a booking site that mixes and matches airlines to find the best route (there’s a money back guarantee if you miss a connection).
– Use iVisa to check if you need a tourist visa for Georgia and apply for an expedited visa online.
– Pre-book a private transfer from Tbilisi Airport to your hotel or from Kutaisi Airport to Tbilisi.
– Buy your tickets for the Tbilisi to Baku or Yerevan sleeper train online in advance through my partners at Geotrend (get a discount when you use the code in this post).
– Find the best Georgia hotel deals on Booking.com, book a Georgia hostel, or find a unique Airbnb (use this link to sign up and get $55 AUD off your first Airbnb booking).
– Find the best city tours and day excursions in Georgia.
– Compare mobile providers and pick up a local Georgian sim card.
– Pre-order the new Lonely Planet Caucasus guidebook (coming out in June 2020).
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!