Discover all the best things to do in Telavi with my detailed city guide. Includes insider travel tips, restaurant and hotel recommendations, and a handy Telavi map.
Set in the foothills of the Gombori Mountains against the backdrop of the Greater Caucasus, bang in the heart of Georgia’s wine country, Telavi is the biggest city and main hub in eastern Kakheti region.
On my first visit to Georgia many moons ago, I spent a couple of nights in Telavi but almost completely dismissed the city, giving preference to the more-charming walled town of Sighnaghi. That was a big mistake. On my recent return visit, I gave myself more time to explore Telavi at a slower pace. I was immediately smitten and ended up extending my stay in the end.
Telavi is my kind of place – and in this guide, I’ll show you why.
When choosing a base in Kakheti for exploring the region’s wineries and monasteries, Telavi has an edge over Sighnaghi in terms of accommodation options and superior transport connections. Where Sighnaghi has developed almost exclusively for the purposes of day trip tourism (there’s nothing wrong with that – it does a great job), Telavi has a more local feel.
Like most of the smaller provincial capitals in Georgia including Gori and Zugdidi, Telavi has the atmosphere of a big village. It embodies everything I love about small cities: It’s walkable, it’s quiet, there’s beautiful architecture around every corner, and best of all there’s a lively undercover market in the centre of town.
Telavi was founded in the Bronze Age but reached its heyday in the 17th century when it regained its status as capital of the Kingdom of Kakheti. It flourished as a centre for culture and religion (and later for pottery and winemaking). It was around this time that Batonis Tsikhe – the monumental stone fortress that still defines the city centre – was built.
Telavi is loaded with history and important landmarks (some call it the ‘most medieval city’ because of the sheer concentration of monuments from different epochs), making it a must-visit in Georgia if you’re even remotely interested in the region’s past.
A full day in Telavi is the perfect amount of time to soak it all up, with some Soviet-style friezes and retro cars thrown in for good measure.
A second day should be set aside to explore the outskirts of Telavi, where some of Kakheti’s most important churches and monasteries are located. These include Alaverdi Monastery, the Ikalto Monastery and Academy, and the old and new Shuamta Monasteries, all within striking distance of the city.
This being Georgia’s premier wine region, Telavi is a good base for visiting vineyards and wine estates, including nearby Tsinandali.
In a way, I’m writing this Telavi guide for my past-self. If I could go back in time and give Telavi the attention it deserves first time around, I would. I hope I can convince you to spend at least a couple of days in Telavi and avoid making the same mistake I did!
Here are 15 wonderful things to do in Telavi, including all the major attractions in the city centre and surrounds, plus everything you need to know to plan a visit.
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Best time to visit Telavi
There’s not really a bad time to visit Kakheti wine region. The only season I recommend avoiding is peak summer, when temperatures soar and spending long periods of time outdoors becomes unbearable.
Fall (late September and October) is the most atmospheric time of year in Kakheti as the Rtveli wine harvest takes place then. But it’s not necessarily the best time to visit: Many of the smaller vineyards close to visitors during this busy period and you can’t just wander in to observe or take part in the harvest. Wineries that offer this experience always require advance bookings.
Telavi is pleasant in spring, but heavy rain is common. Winter brings mild temperatures, clear skies and crystal clear mountain views. If you’re OK with the landscape looking a bit dry and grey, winter and early spring is probably my favourite time overall to visit Telavi and Kakheti.
How to get to Telavi
From Tbilisi: Telavi is located 95 kilometres east of Tbilisi. Travelling via the Gombori Pass, it takes around 2 hours to reach by road. Marshrutka vans and shared taxis to Telavi depart daily from Isani and Ortachala. There is no passenger train service to Kakheti at present.
From Sighnaghi: The distance between Telavi and Sighnaghi is 60 kilometres, taking 1.5-2 hours to travel by road. There are infrequent van services between the two centres so it’s usually better to go by shared or private taxi.
→ Explore both options in detail in my Tbilisi to Kakheti transport guide.
Where to stay in Telavi
Budget guesthouse: Guest House Lilia (from 8 USD) is an excellent choice for budget-conscious travellers or anyone who prefers to stay with a local family. This is where I stayed on my very first visit to Kakheti. The house is spotlessly clean with warm, comfortable rooms, a shared kitchen, a garden verandah and a wine cellar. Host Lilia is very welcoming and can help with organising transportation. The location is ideal for exploring the city on foot.
Mid-range hotel: Hestia Hotel, Wine & View (from 25 USD) is located a bit further from the centre atop a hill. If you don’t mind walking up or you have your own car, it’s worth it for the amazing panoramic views you get from the rooftop terrace. Generously proportioned rooms are beautifully decorated with bright walls and graphic prints, and the onsite restaurant is terrific (we ate a huge home-cooked dinner for 25 GEL per person).
Boutique hotel: I haven’t stayed at Seventeen Rooms (from 54 USD) personally, but it has great reviews from other travellers. Some of the swish suites have private balconies, and the communal spaces and restaurant look divine. The location 1 km from the fortress is ideal for sightseeing.
Luxury hotel: The Radisson Collection Tsinandali (from 70 USD) is located a 15-minute drive from Telavi on the grounds of the historic Chavchavadze Estate. If you’re looking to treat yourself during your stay in Kakheti – and you have your own car or a driver – then this is the place to do it. Rooms are luxurious, the buffet breakfast is the best I’ve had in Georgia, and having unrestricted access to the palace grounds is something special.
How to get around
Telavi city is very walkable and can be done on foot. If you’re driving, note that free street parking in the centre is plentiful.
To visit the monasteries and wineries outside the centre, you’ll need a car. If you didn’t BYO, you can hire a driver for the day. The easiest way to do this is through your guesthouse in Telavi.
Another option is to organise a transfer through GoTrip.ge. This example itinerary I designed hits some of the major wineries and monasteries in the region and includes door-to-door transfers from Telavi. Prices start from a very reasonable 34 USD per car, and you can take as long as you want, making as many stops as you like without the price changing.
Things to do in Telavi city
Telavi is a small city on the surface but there are a number of things to see and do. If, like me, you love your architecture, street photography and markets, you’ll have no trouble keeping occupied in Telavi.
I recommend setting out on foot for at least 3-4 hours to comfortably cover the attractions listed here.
Wander the grounds of Batonis Tsikhe
Telavi is built across a gentle hillside with the higher part of the inner city dominated by the ramparts and towers of Batonis Tsikhe. The ‘Master Fortress’ or Prince’s Fortress was reconstructed in the 17th century at the behest of the king atop foundations that date back to the 1660s.
The first part of the castle you encounter is the exterior ramparts and circular towers, all beautifully preserved and studded with ornate gates and arched portals. The main gate has a carved Kakhetian balcony embedded above the doorway.
The design of the fortress is quite fascinating: Persianate in style, it’s modelled on the Arg of Karim Khan in Shiraz, Iran. The complex originally included basilica chapels, bathhouses and a stately palace. When it was in use, it would have beared a resemblance to the Palace of the Sheki Khans in Azerbaijan, with evidence of stucco work, mirror mosaics and miniature paintings found.
Today, the King Erekle II Palace houses the Telavi State History and Ethnography Museum (open 10am-6pm Tues-Sun; 2 GEL) and its collection of oil paintings, costumes and artefacts.
In front of the castle ramparts on the south-west side, a park and viewing platform afford views of the city, the Alazani Valley, and the Greater Caucasus on the horizon.
The statue, a monument to King Erekle II (AKA Heracles II), sword at the ready, stands guard over the lower part of Telavi. From here, you can trace the walls all the way around to the west, following the curve of the main road.
Make a pilgrimage to the Giant Plane Tree
A fixture of Telavi for almost a century, the Giant Plane Tree is part of the furniture and a huge source of pride for locals. If you take a tour around Telavi, this is the first place most drivers will bring you, gleefully pointing out the Lada window at the tree’s mammoth trunk and spidery branches that fan out over the rooftops below.
No less than 900 years old and with a circumference of 12 metres, this is no ordinary tree. Rumour has it it’s the oldest living tree in the entire country. Over the centuries, Georgia’s literary and political heroes have all made a pilgrimage to the Giant Plane Tree. You can’t really say you’ve been to Telavi until you pose for a photo standing in the hollow of the trunk.
Plane trees are of course deciduous, so it does lose some of its leafy appeal in the colder months. You can find the tree it in the park directly opposite the King Erekle II monument.
See the heritage homes on Erekle II
The architecture in Telavi is some of the finest anywhere in Georgia, and there are several streets where you can find particularly nice examples of Kakhetian carved balconies. The first is the sloping street just opposite the fortress and monument, where several restored facades sit side by side, their turquoise balcony and white gallery pressed together until red roofs.
A good front-on view of the houses (the aspect pictured at the top of this post) can be found from the park under the plane tree.
For an even better perspective, find the wooden staircase opposite the plane tree – it leads up to a Cultural Centre, where you can walk the balcony for a magnificent vista of the heritage houses and Telavi’s sea of rusted rooftops beyond.
Take a walk down Telavi’s main drag
Telavi’s main street, Erekle II, starts from the monument and curves west up the hill towards the tiny Telavisrike River. You can find some impressive architecture on this stretch: Wooden balconied houses set back from the road dwarfed by monolithic Stalin-style apartment buildings, arched walkways and huge neoclassical corner buildings.
This is also where a good number of Telavi’s shops and cafes are located.
When it was known as a trade city, Telavi was associated with clay pottery, leather-craft and winemaking traditions. There are a couple of shops along Erekle II that are worth visiting if you’re interested in local handicrafts: Leather crafts “Tella”, a little stall called ‘Georgian Traditional Knitting’, and the lovely Kera pottery shop and studio on Cholokashvili.
Admire the balconies on Cholokashvili Street
When you reach the end of Erekle II, cross the river to reach the start of Cholokashvili Street. This is one of the oldest streets in Telavi known for its heritage homes. Almost every building along the cobblestone lane has been recently restored, its exquisitely carved balconies stained or painted.
I spent about an hour walking up and down this street, ducking up a couple of side lanes for different views. There are a couple of small cafes and community centres where you can stop along the way.
Pop into St. Mariam’s Church
Telavi might be the only city in Georgia where a church doesn’t top the typical list of things to do. You’d be forgiven for completely missing the diminutive St. Mariam’s Orthodox Church, it blends in so well with the other red brick buildings at the start of Cholokashvili Street.
I arrived to find the doors locked so I can’t attest to the interior. But it’s worth a quick stop if you’re passing by.
Walk up to Nadikvari Park for a view
One Telavi attraction you definitely shouldn’t miss is Nadikvari, a hilltop park on the southeastern side of the city.
Like the rest of the Telavi, it’s leafy and green (in summer at least), with a couple of towering trees shading park benches. Walking paths link several monuments, fountains and modern art sculptures. There’s also a restaurant bar, Nadikvari Terrace, and a rather retro amusement park.
The biggest reason to hike up here (and it is a bit of a hike!) is for the views: The park looks directly out over the Alazani Valley and the Caucasus mountains to the west. Several platforms have been constructed but the best panoramas are from the restaurant’s outdoor seating area. This is a great place to grab a drink and watch the sun go down.
There are a couple of roads up to Nadikvari – the easiest walking route is via Nadikvari Street. You’ll pass a couple of interesting pieces of street art and a few more heritage buildings along the way.
Get lost in the Telavi Bazaar
I’m no stranger to a good local market – it’s usually the first place I make a beeline for whenever I arrive in a new city. Telavi’s Bazari is known throughout Georgia for both its size and its distinctive design.
The main section of the open-air market is sheltered by a curved roof, with stalls running down parallel rows through the middle. It’s very photogenic, especially when you stand atop the main staircase looking down over the organised chaos.
This market has everything under one roof. Along with fresh fruit and veg, spices, nuts, homemade dairy products and fish, you’ll find a huge section devoted to churchkhela and dried fruits. We picked up a lifetime supply of churchkhela – when they’re this fresh and soft, you can’t help yourself. I also enjoyed browning the rows of hardware stores with their treasures sparkling under harsh light bulbs.
Outside, the market continues up and down the surrounding streets with stallholders on all sides selling farm-fresh produce and bottles of foamy Kist and Tush beer.
The market is open daily. Despite it featuring towards the end of this list, I recommend visiting in the morning, from around 10am.
Drink wine, one of my favourite things to do in Telavi
Kakheti is synonymous with wine, and Telavi’s cup is overflowing with cute wine bars and family maranis or cellars where you can drink vino prepared the traditional way in clay qvevris. Many winemakers offer immersive tours where you’ll be walked through the latter stages of the process before tasting the fruits of their labour.
You don’t have to travel far to find good wine in Telavi – there are a number of places within walking distance of the centre where you can get your drink on.
Where to drink wine in Telavi
- Family Wine Cellar Rostomaant Marani: Wine tastings at a charming family cellar in the heart of the city. Details & reservations here.
- Zurab Kviriashvili Vineyards: Natural qvevri wines. Details & reservations here.
- Ambri Wine Bar: Wine by the bottle or glass accompanied by tasting plates of local nuts, cheeses and fruits. Staff speak English. Details here.
- Natural Wine Bar: Wine by the glass plus a well-stocked bottle shop.
→ See the next section for recommended wineries to visit outside Telavi.
Also read: The best wine bars & wine tastings in Tbilisi.
Things to do around Telavi
Here are my favourite things to do beyond Telavi’s city limits. To get around the Alazani Valley, I recommend organising a driver for the day through your guesthouse in Telavi or pre-booking a car through GoTrip.ge.
Wander the grounds of the Tsinandali Estate
The 19th-century estate that once belonged to Georgian poet and military man Alexander Chavchavadze is synonymous with Georgian wine history. The first bottle of Kakhetian qvevri wine – a saperavi – was corked here.
The restored estate grounds feature a sprawling garden and the instantly recognisable Chavchavadze House Museum, a Cultural Heritage Monument. At the back of the property, the Radisson Collection Tsinandali Hotel occupies a number of brick buildings, including Chavchavadze’s enoteca.
A visit involves a walk through the museum and tour of the open-air cellar, a tasting of eponymous Tsinandali white wine, and a stroll through the leafy grounds.
Details: Tsinandali Estate is located 10 kilometres (around 15 minutes by car) east of Telavi. The museum and garden is open from 10am until 6pm daily including on Mondays. Entrance costs 5 GEL.
Be awed by the colossal Alaverdi Monastery
Kakheti’s most visually impressive monastery (in my humble opinion), Alaverdi is the second-tallest religious building in Georgia after Tbilisi’s Sameba Cathedral. Its heavy figure looms on the horizon as you cross the river heading towards the mountains. It’s even more beautiful up close.
The monastery was built in the 11th century on the site of an earlier church established by one of the 13 Assyrian Fathers who played a pivotal role in spreading Orthodox Christianity throughout Georgia. (You might have already heard of another Assyrian monk, David Gareja, who established a famous cave monastery in the region.)
Between the main cathedral building and the surrounding defensive wall there is a palace, an old bath house, a graveyard and a vineyard. Grapes grown here are pressed for wine sold under the Alaverdi Monastery Cellar brand; the label proudly bears the tagline ‘Since 1011’. Natural honey sold under the name Taplikatsi is also produced here – you can see the small apiary at the front of the complex.
Directly across the road from the monastery there is a small shop/restaurant where you can taste these products along with locally made matsoni yogurt.
Details: Alaverdi Cathedral is located 20 kilometres (around 40 minutes by road) northwest of Telavi. The grounds and cathedral are open from 8am daily. Entry is free. Wine tastings at Alaverdi can be pre-arranged in advance.
Walk in Rustaveli’s footsteps at the Ikalto Academy
Also founded by one of the Assyrian Fathers, the Ikalto Monastery dates back to the 6th century, making it one of the oldest in Kakheti. It contains three separate church buildings: Khvtaeba, Kvelatsminda and Sameba.
The churches are humble in design and decoration. At the time of my visit, the larger of the trio was undergoing extensive rehabilitation work inside. The grounds here are particularly lovely because they’re scattered with dozens – perhaps hundreds – of clay qvevris in all different sizes and states of mossy decay.
At the rear of the compact grounds you’ll find the ruins of the Ikalto Academy. Founded in 1106, the study halls attracted students whose proclivities ranged from theology and geometry to viticulture and pottery making. Shota Rustaveli, Georgia’s national poet, is said to have studied here in the 12th century.
Details: Ikalto Monastery is located 10 kilometres (20 minutes by road) from Telavi on the way to Alaverdi. Entrance is free.
Climb the tower at Gremi
A quick dash across the valley basin to the opposite side of the Alazani Valley leads you to several impressive churches nestled in the foothills of the Caucasus. Though much lower to the ground than Nekresi, Gremi is one of the most interesting historical sites in the entire Kakheti region.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, Gremi served as the capital of the Kingdom before Telavi reclaimed the title. Gremi was a Silk Road trading town with a large marketplace and a royal residence.
The turquoise-crested Church of the Archangels and a three-story palace are the only parts of the complex that survived raids. Inside, the palace bell tower serves as a museum, displaying a number of artefacts unearthed during digs in the area and a set of beguiling portraits of the old Kakhetian kings. You can climb the bell tower all the way to the top for panoramic views of the valley.
Details: Gremi is located 20 kilometres (25 minutes by road) from Telavi on the outskirts of Kvareli. The museum and bell tower are open from 10am to 6pm Tuesday to Sunday (closed Mondays). Entrance costs 3 GEL.
If you find yourself on this side of the valley, there are several wineries in the vicinity that are also worth visiting – including Wine Tunnel Khareba in Kvareli and Friends’ Cellar near Nekresi Cathedral.
Visit the Old & New Shuamta Monasteries
If I had to pick a favourite monastery in Kakheti, it would be Dzveli Shuamta. It’s one of the oldest churches in Georgia, dating back to the 5th century.
The structure itself is very humble – monastic, you might say – but the setting on wooded Tsivgombori Mountain against a picture-perfect mountain backdrop is beyond breathtaking. In Georgian, Shuamta means ‘among the mountains’, and I love how the tallest peak of the vignette sits just above the highest point of the monastery’s red roof.
Akhali Shuamta – New Shuamta Monastery – is located closer to the highway. The pair are linked by a road and a 2 kilometre walking path through the forest.
Details: The Shuamta Monasteries are located 11 kilometres (20 minutes by road) from Telavi on the way to Tbilisi via the Gombori Pass. Both are open from 9am daily. Entrance is free.
Do a wine tasting at a vineyard near Telavi
In addition to the wine bars and maranis in town that I mentioned above, there are several dozen wineries scattered around Telavi and hundreds more across the Alazani Valley.
Smaller wineries might not be able to accommodate walk-ins so I always recommend calling or messaging ahead to prearrange a visit. Most offer short tours and wine tastings, usually 3-5 glasses depending on the venue, sometimes accompanied by food.
Recommended wineries near Telavi
- Togonidze’s Wine Cellar (Shalauri): 20 minutes from Telavi, this small family cellar offers home-cooked meals, wine tastings and onsite accommodation. Details & reservations here.
- Shalauri Wine Cellar (Shalauri): This mid-sized boutique winery produces qvevri wine exclusively. Tastings are available for 20 GEL. Details & reservations here.
- Mosmieri Wine Centre (Kisiskhevi): Tour the vineyard and extensive cellar at this mid-sized winery before sitting down to a wine degustation. Details here.
- Shumi (Tsinandali): This award-winning commercial winery adjacent to the Tsinandali Estate offers more formal tours and tastings for 15 GEL. There is a small museum on the property where ancient qvevris and other wine-making tools are displayed. Details here.
- Ruispiri Biodynamic (Ruispiri): All-natural qvevri wines by the bottle, accompanied by local goats’ cheese and veggies from the garden. Details & reservations here.
Telavi restaurants & cafes
- Bravo: Generous portions of classic Georgian fare and local wine. The outdoor terrace here is a favourite. Breakfast is served from 9am.
- Cafe Gisheri: This central cafe opposite the fortress is perfect for breakfast or a quick bite. Coffee, cakes and light meals are available from 9am. If you need WIFI and a place to work, this is an ideal place to set up for a couple of hours.
- Kapiloni: A local favourite, this restaurant serves typically Georgian cuisine.
- Hotel Tela Terrace & Restaurant: Light meals, coffee, cocktails and local wine served on a rooftop terrace with amazing mountain views.
- Apsaiti: The best khinkali in Telavi, served with craft beer in a tavern-style dining room.
Click here to view and download a copy of my Telavi travel map, featuring all the above points of interest, vineyards and restaurants.