Everything you need to know before visiting Uplistsikhe, Georgia’s oldest cave town, in 2023.

Uplistsikhe is one of several ‘cave cities’ you can visit in Georgia. It’s not striking as David Gareja or as vast as Vardzia, but it is the country’s oldest cave town (some of the structures date back to the Iron Age).

In fact, Uplistsikhe is one of the oldest urban settlements of any kind in the region.

A stone church inside the Uplistsikhe cave town complex outside Gori, Georgia.

I first visited Uplistsikhe back in 2017 and have been back several times since. Having now been to all of Georgia’s cave towns, I can say that Uplistsikhe has a special charm, probably because it was inhabited by everyday folk – traders and Silk Road merchants – and not just royalty or monks.

Even if you’ve seen Vardzia and Dadiv Gareja, it’s still worth spending a few hours at Uplistsikhe, especially since it’s so easily accessible from the city of Gori.

This Uplistsikhe guide, updated and accurate for 2023, will help you make the most of your trip to Georgia’s oldest cave settlement.

If you have any more questions, let me know in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer!

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Why should you visit Uplistsikhe?

As well as being Georgia’s oldest cave town, Uplistsikhe has a number of qualities that make it historically important.

To the untrained eye, Uplistsikhe looks like a childlike moonscape of oddly shaped rocks and rounded openings. But the technique and craftsmanship – and the sheer manpower – required to cut the complex from raw rock shouldn’t be underestimated.

The architects responsible for Uplistsikhe combined techniques and forms found in both Anatolia and Iran, in both pagan and Christian traditions.

The entrance to a dark cave.
Uplistsikhe’s rock caves blend seamlessly into the landscape.

Like Vardzia, Uplistsikhe is strategically located on a riverbank. It consists of several hundred (the exact number is unknown) chambers and rooms excavated from a relatively flat cliff face.

The main central part of the complex stretches out across the plain for 8 hectares, and is connected to upper and lower levels by tunnels and stairs.

As you approach the main entrance, you immediately feel as if you’re walking down a main street. Indeed this was Uplistsikhe’s central thoroughfare.

Alleyways and staircases branch off, leading to different caves used as living quarters, communal spaces and ceremonial halls.

Uplistsikhe cave complex in Georgia.
Uplistsikhe in spring.

All along the gently sloping ground you can spot a series of small and larger holes where poles for awnings or roof structures once stood.

Uplistsikhe feels more ‘lived in’ than Vardzia, and reminds me a lot of Italy’s Herculaneum in this respect (although it’s nowhere near as well-preserved).

Views of the mountains in central Georgia from Uplistsikhe cave city.
Martian rock forms at Uplistsikhe.

This feeling comes from the fact that regular folk once dwelled in Uplistsikhe. When Tbilisi was conquered in 645 AD, the Christian kings of Kartli relocated to the complex, and the site became an important pitstop on the Europe-Asia Silk Road trading route.

Uplistsikhe must have been a lively trading town in its heyday.

The oldest structures have been dated to the 1st century AD, but archaeologists now know that humans inhabited this site from as early as the 2nd millennium BC.

Uplistsikhe was eventually eclipsed by Mtskheta and later Tbilisi as the region’s cultural and political centre after a 13th-century Mongol invasion.

In 2007, UNESCO added Uplistsikhe to its Tentative List in recognition of its value to world heritage. I expect it will be added to Georgia’s list of World Heritage Sites at some point in the near future.

A river basin in Georgia.
A view of the river basin from the upper level of the complex.

Visiting Uplistsikhe: Essential info

Uplistsikhe is located in Georgia’s central Shida Kartli (Upper Kartli) region, roughly 80 kilometres (50 miles) west of Tbilisi. The city of Gori lies just 15 kilometres (9 miles) east and is the ideal jumping-off point for visiting the caves, either on an easy day trip from Tbilisi or as part of a longer stay in Gori.

I recommend setting aside at least one full day in your Georgia itinerary for Gori and Uplistsikhe.

Best time to visit Uplistsikhe

Uplistsikhe is an all-weather destination that stays open throughout the year. The site is quite exposed so the weather can be brutal.

I have visited in every season except winter. Uplistsikhe in summer is not terribly pleasant – it’s extremely hot and there isn’t much shade (apart from inside the caves of course!). If visiting in July/August/September, I highly recommend going in the very early morning or late afternoon. See opening hours in the next section.

Because of the location, it gets extremely windy at Uplistsikhe. Keep in mind that if it’s a breezy day in Tbilisi or Gori it could be gale-force winds at the caves.

Spring is a nice time to visit as there are wildflowers in the area and the plains around Uplistsikhe are lush and green, great for photos.

Recommended time to spend at Uplistsikhe

Unlike Vardzia, Uplistsikhe doesn’t have a formally marked walking trail. There are two entry points (via a staircase or via a tunnel). Once inside, you can meander around as you please.

You need 1.5 hours to do Uplistsikhe justice. If you opt for the audio guide, you might need slightly longer.

Uplistsikhe opening hours

Uplistsikhe is open 7 days a week, including on Mondays and holidays. There are different opening hours for the summer and winter months, so take note of the schedule when planning your visit.

  • March 15–April 15: 10am until 5pm
  • April 16–September 30: 10am until 7pm
  • October 1–November 1: 10am until 6pm
  • November 2–March 14: 10am until 5pm

Uplistsikhe ticket price

Entrance to Uplistsikhe costs 15 GEL. Children under 6 years old visit free.

In the winter off-season, the ticket price is sometimes lowered to 7 GEL.

A sign points the way to the entrance of Uplistsikhe cave town in Georgia.
The entrance to Uplistsikhe cave town.

Do you need a guide?

If you’re visiting Uplistsikhe independently, you have the option to hire a private English-speaking guide for 45 GEL or take an audio guide for 15 GEL.

Because signage is sparse, I recommend taking the audio guide.


Visiting Uplistsikhe involves a fair bit of uphill walking and several steep staircases. The site is not wheelchair accessible, and may not be suitable for those who aren’t steady on their feet.

Staircases have guard rails, but do take care if you’re visiting with kids as large parts of the site have precarious drop-offs.

There aren’t as many tunnels or passages as at Vardzia, save for the long tunnel that you can enter or exit from.

Dress code

You’re going to be doing a fair amount of treading on rough terrain and slick rocks, so it’s a good idea to wear your best walking shoes.

There is no strict dress code for Uplistsikhe, but if you’re visiting in summer, you should cover up to protect yourself from the sun (the site is very exposed).

To enter the church inside the complex, men need to be wearing long pants and women a long skirt. It’s possible to borrow a wrap-around apron skirt at the entrance. Women must also cover their hair inside the church. I strongly recommend carrying your own lightweight scarf rather than using a communal one.

Related: Essential packing list for Georgia.

More tips for visiting Uplistsikhe

  • Try to go in the late afternoon: Tour groups tend to visit in the morning and the area is a lot quieter in the afternoon.
  • Bring plenty of drinking water: There are shops and market stands at the entrance if you need to buy water or snacks.
  • Don’t miss the views! – One of the best things about visiting Uplistsikhe is the panoramic view of the Mtkvari river basin you get from the higher rocks.

Uplistsikhe highlights

Pillar hall: One of the most important structures in the complex, it’s recognisable for the two rock pillars that support the ceiling. A stone bench can also be found in this room.

Ceremonial Hall, Hall With Caisson & Queen Tamar’s Hall: Some halls have coffered ceilings, all carved from the surrounding soft rock, and the largest has a Romanesque arch on its facade.

If you look closely, many of the chambers have niches in the walls, some of which were probably used to secure livestock.

A stone and brick church at Uplistsikhe cave town.
The Church of the Prince.

Three-Nave Basilica & the Church of Prince: Hewn from the rock next to one of the halls, this basilica was created in the 6th century. In the 9th century, a stone and brick church was also added.

The above-ground Church of Prince, with its red-tiled roof, is an interesting contrast to the cave forms.

How to get to Uplistsikhe from Tbilisi

As mentioned, the easiest way to get to Uplistsikhe is by transiting through the nearby city of Gori. Just over 90 minutes by road from the capital, Uplistsikhe and Gori can be paired together for an great Tbilisi day trip.

Tour to Uplistsikhe

There are plenty of options for organised tours to Gori and Uplistsikhe from Tbilisi. Some also visit Mtskheta.

Top choice: Day-Trip to Mtskheta, Stalin Museum & Uplistsikhe with Friendly.ge. This is my favourite tour company in Tbilisi – their guides and drivers are terrific, and small groups are capped at 10 people. The full-day (10 hour) itinerary includes Jvari Monastery and Svetitskhoveli Cathedral (Mtskheta), Uplistsikhe and the Stalin Museum in Gori. Hotel transfers and a guide are included. Entrance to Uplistsikhe and the museum is paid separately.

Reserve your place here.

Private tour: Mtskheta, Gori & Uplistsikhe with Friendly.ge. This is the exact same itinerary as above but instead of travelling with a small group, you get your own private guide. Hotel transfers are included and start times are flexible. Prices start from $65 – use the promocode wanderlush at checkout to get 10% off.

Reserve your place here.

Budget option: Mtskheta, Jvari, Gori and Uplistsikhe Day Tour with Garmajoba Tours. This day trip follows a similar itinerary but in the reverse order. Hotel transfers are not included.

Reserve your place here.

Private transfer to Uplistsikhe from Tbilisi

If you want the comfort and convenience of a car transfer but you don’t need a guide, a more flexible option is to hire a private driver to take you to Gori and Uplistsikhe. GoTrip.ge is a terrific, fuss-free platform that you can use to hire a driver anywhere in Georgia.

GoTrip offers a pre-designed day trip to Gori and Uplistsikhe. Prices start from a very reasonable 36 USD per car return including door to door transfers to/from Tbilisi, making it a great option for families or groups. You can choose your own driver from the list. The price is fixed and you can make as many extra photo stops along the way as you like.

Alternatively, you can use the GoTrip Trip Planner to create your own itinerary and add on extra stops. For example, this itinerary I created for Svetitskhoveli, Gori and Uplistsikhe costs just 35 USD per car with transfers from your accommodation in Tbilisi included.

Read my full review of GoTrip or book a car online here.

Uplistsikhe Line

Please note: Uplistsikhe Line is currently paused and there are no transfers available. I will return to update this once the service resumes.

As of June 2019, there is a new transfer service for tourists who want to visit Uplistsikhe from Tbilisi. It’s operated by the same folks behind the popular Gariji Line.

Uplistsikhe Line works much the same way: You meet in the morning in Tbilisi for a transfer by van to the caves, visit by yourself (you have 2 hours), then get back in the van to return to Tbilisi with a short meal break en route. Sometimes they adjust the itinerary to stop in Mtskheta and Jvari too.

A transfer with Uplistsikhe Line costs 30 GEL return. Advance reservations aren’t required – but I would recommend messaging them on Facebook the day before to confirm if you’re travelling in high season.

Marshrtuka from Tbilisi to Uplistsikhe

If you’re on a tight budget and you have plenty of time, it’s very easy to visit Gori and Uplistsikhe from Tbilisi by marshrutka van. Vans bound for Gori depart from Didube Station (Okriba) every 20-30 minutes throughout the day, starting from 7am. The journey takes 1.5 hours and tickets cost 4 GEL.

In Gori, vans terminate at the bus station. From there, you can either take a local bus to the entrance of Uplistsikhe (approx. once an hour; 2 GEL) or hire a taxi (30-40 GEL per car return including wait time).

To get back to Gori from Uplistsikhe, you can hail any minibus travelling along the main road. It may be difficult to find a taxi to get back so if you’re travelling by taxi, make sure you ask your driver to wait for you.

Where to stay near Uplistsikhe

When visiting Uplistsikhe, I recommend staying in Gori.

Guest House Nitsa is my guesthouse of choice in Gori. Hostess Lia is a delight, and the house features bright and airy rooms, comfortable common spaces, and full board if you wish. The location is perfect, walking distance from the centre of town and the Stalin Museum. If you need one, she can organise a driver to Uplistsikhe.

Check rates and availability on Booking.com.

I can also recommend Nukri Guest House, which is closer to the train station.

Check rates and availability on Booking.com.

If you prefer a hotel over a guesthouse, Old Town offers tidy rooms in the historic part of Gori.

Check rates and availability on Booking.com.

Other things to do in Gori

Gori may be known as the birthplace of Joseph Stalin, but there’s a lot more to the city than just the Stalin Museum.

Personally I think Gori is one of the most underrated places in Georgia. I’ve visited several times, always staying for a couple of days.

For more ideas of what to do in the area, my complete guide to Gori includes the best alternative activities plus restaurant recommendations and other travel tips. Don’t miss the Free Gori Walking Tour with Zhana!

A quick guide to visiting Uplistsikhe cave town from Tbilisi or Gori. Includes updated prices & opening hours for 2020.

Uplistsikhe cave town: Share it on Pinterest

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Note: Some of these Uplistsikhe photos were taken during a press trip with Karavanly.

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