A lot of history, amazing nightlife, charming cobbled stone streets, the lovely Caucasus mountains, lush verdant lakeside and riverside towns, exquisite churches and great wine- these are some of the few reasons to visit Georgia, the Asian/ European country increasingly becoming a popular tourist destination. Hardly a 3-hour flight from where I live (Dubai), it is one of the places that I had heard so much about but was waiting to get a long weekend off to book a last-minute flight. A whirlwind trip to a pretty country aspiring to be European, placed at the crossroads of Asia and Europe geographically as well as culturally, it was an interesting and unique experience. Here is the perfect 5-day itinerary for Georgia.
There were things I missed out on, which I would have loved to do, given more time. If you’re planning a trip, here are a few things you need to keep in mind:
- For those holding a residence visa of any of the GCC countries, the visa is granted upon arrival and is free of charge (they just stamp your passport) and the only document required is a return ticket and travel insurance.
- If you’re not a resident of the GCC countries and are required to pre-apply for a visa as per your nationality, you can still get visa-free entry into Georgia if you hold a valid US visa.
- In case none of the above requirements are fulfilled, it is easy to apply for an e-visa online which takes about 5 days to be processed.
- Although there are a lot of blog posts and TripAdvisor posts warning against self-drive, I would recommend renting a car if you plan to explore the countryside. Outside Tbilisi city, the roads are quite open and traffic organized.
- If you’re not comfortable driving on your own, there are several taxi (private) operators that offer car along with a driver/guide on a daily rate basis (for up to 10 hours). I had a wonderful experience with Day Trip Georgia in a private 3-day tour from Tbilisi at USD 330.
You can plan your itinerary for Georgia according to your interests and because I wanted to make sure I experience the diversity of the country, I decided to cover a little bit of everything- from old towns and historical churches to beautiful landscapes and peaceful countryside. Here’s my recommended itinerary for 5 days (with alternative plans and options, should you decide to spend more time).
Day 1: Tbilisi Old Town
On the first day, spend some time exploring the lovely old capital city, Tbilisi. Ancient churches, monasteries, cobbled stone streets and charming architecture will come alive with street art, music, cafes and bars, funky shisha places, clubs and friendly people. A strong Asian influence comes in cahoots with European culture, creating a vibe that is unique, fun and full of energy.
Although modernization is visible, the soul of the city lies in the old town, where the zigzagging lanes, street markets, colourful houses and al fresco cafes maintain a certain charisma. Walking is the best way to explore this area and many historical structures will be found at a stone’s throw from each other.
In your itinerary for Georgia, I would recommend to spend 2 days in Tbilisi.
Suggested read: How to spend 48-hours in Tbilisi
Day 2: Mksheta, Gori & Uplistsikhe
Mksheta is the old capital of Georgia and is hardly a 20-minute drive from Tbilisi city. It is the birthplace of Christianity in Georgia and houses beautiful cathedrals with medieval architecture, a touristy cobbled-stone street with shops and food stalls, and a monastery perched on top of the hill which sets an amazing backdrop to the town, which is on the banks of the rivers -Mtkvari and Aragvi.
The tourist market was one of my favourite places on this trip. It surrounds the famous Svetitskhoveli cathedral and has winding lanes and stone houses, which are gorgeous and take you back in time. This is the perfect place to buy souvenirs and get pictures clicked, with an ancient feel. The Svetitskhoveli cathedral, a grand building located in the middle of the market, is said to date back to the 11th century and have magical healing powers. Christ’s robe (?!) is said to be buried under this place of worship which is also the burial place of many monarchs. Keep about 1.5 - 2 hours to explore this place.
From here, head to Jvari Monastery on the hilltop. Not only is this ancient Orthodox church a marvel in its architecture and design, the views from its terrace are breathtaking. You can see the old city of Mksheta with the confluence of the two rivers below, and houses with red roofs that stand in stark contrast to the sprawling greenery around them.
From here, head to Gori, a town famous for one reason – this is where Stalin was from! The most popular place to visit here is the Stalin museum, our driver wasn’t very happy to bring us to this town (or the museum for that matter) and seemed quite restless and uncomfortable till we were ready to leave and move to our next destination.
The museum, although interesting, is hard to make sense of unless you have a guide. Most inscriptions are not in English which makes it tough to understand much. The town is home to Stalin’s supporters and admirers, and thus the museum does not display much of his negative or bad deeds.
Another popular place to visit, which is a 40-minute drive from here, is the ancient cave city of Uplistsikhe. It is known to be one of the oldest settlements in Georgia, dating back to the 2nd century BC and many temples have been unearthed here which are from before the arrival of Christianity in the region. Make sure to wear comfortable shoes as climbing these rocks is not an easy task and the area is quite large to be explored. During the summer, the arid landscape can make you very dehydrated so make sure to carry water with you as you go up, the cafes are only at the bottom. Keep about 1-1.5 hours to explore this place.
Drive back to Tbilisi which is at about 2.5 hours distance.
Day 3: Annanuri, Gadauri & Kazbegi
This was the best day in my itinerary for Georgia because although I really wanted to explore a variety of things including historical and cultural places, the mountains are what captured my heart in Georgia. All the three towns were equally charming. As you begin your trip from Tbilisi, in about 30 minutes, you will witness some of the most amazing, green landscapes. Stunning valleys and rivers with take your breath away and hidden spots such as cafés and restaurants serving locally-fermented wine are scattered across the area, so go slow and find your little treasure of a place.
I found a cute little river-side bar and although nobody spoke English, the setting amidst nature was so serene, I almost spent an hour just taking a dip in the cool waters and sipping on some great white wine.
As you drive through the winding mountain roads, known as the Georgian Military Highway, you will come to a gorgeous blue lake, the only one I saw in my trip to Georgia. Jinvali Lake or reservoir as they sometimes call it, continues along the driving road until you arrive at the Ananuri complex, featuring a fortress, churches, and towers from the 13-16th centuries. Set in the backdrop of the Caucasus mountains, the architecture is enchanting and walk inside the fortress is a must! You might also want to take a dip in the waters behind the complex, in the summer. A souvenir market just outside the complex is a great place to strike some good bargains.
After Ananuri, head to Gadauri, where the landscapes get even lovelier. This is where the ski resort is located, however, during the summer, it is hard to find any snow at all. You may, however, want to try the para-gliding from here because of the amazing views over the valley. A viewing platform decorated with mosaics, located on the edge of the hill is a popular place for tourists to stop and take some amazing pictures.
After some mountain activities and lovely pictures, proceed to Kazbegi, specifically to a town called Stepantsminda, from where the trek/ off-road tours to Gergeti Trinity Church begin. This is one of the prettiest churches I visited in Georgia, perched on a hill and with snow-capped peaks in the backdrop. If you choose to hike to the church, keep about 1.5 – 2 hours for it else you can take a tour (in a 4-wheel drive) from the village below. Be prepared for an extremely bumpy ride! The views from the top, however, are worth it.
Drive back to Tbilisi in the evening.
Day 4: Kakheti (Sighnaghi). Optional: Davit Gareji
In our itinerary for Georgia, we decided to keep one day to visit the wine capital, Kakheti and on our way, we took a detour to Davit Gareja Monastery, having heard of very good reviews about this cave monastery. However, the drive was through very bad roads and took us about 1.5 hours one way (and another 1 hour back to the main road to proceed towards Kakheti), which made me question the worth of visiting this monastery.
Although the ancient cave monastery itself is beautiful, complemented by the arid, semi-desert landscape that surrounds it, it may not be worth braving the bad roads and spending that extra time in getting there. If you do plan to, however, take this detour, make sure to wear good shoes as climbing up is not easy, through the tough stone and mud paths.
Kakheti is the primary wine-producing city in Georgia. Two major towns form the center of all activity – Sighnaghi, and Telavi. We chose to spend our time in the picturesque old town of Sighnaghi.
Red brick houses with contrasting mint green rooftops and balconies adorn the landscape of this little town. The architecture is stunning in its ancient grandeur, and the cobbled stone streets lined with lamp posts, vintage cars, and old city walls form the perfect little postcard. You can just walk around the town or rent a buggy or ATV to explore it in an adventurous way.
Do visit a winery while you’re here. One of the most popular ones (as per TripAdvisor) is the Pheasant’s Tears Winery. If you plan to have a meal with your wine, you might need to make reservations in advance as the place usually gets very crowded. The selection of wine is brilliant and the service is great. If you do not know what to have, feel free to ask their knowledgeable sommeliers for recommendations. For wine enthusiasts, they also offer tours to their vineyards, might be an interesting experience to go for!
Day 5: Tbilisi city & return
If you have more than 5 days in Georgia, there are several things that you can do. Some of the cities that I personally would have loved to visit if I had more time to spare but unfortunately, could not be included in our 5-day itinerary for Georgia are:
1. Svaneti: A lot of great reviews of this region made me regret not having gone here at all. Villages set amidst the lush green hills and the snow-capped Caucasus in the background, meandering rivers tearing through the valleys, and mountain towns like Mestia make for breathtaking scenery. Hikers, nature-lovers and photography enthusiasts must consider this destination. Due to its distance from Tbilisi city, it is recommended to spend a night here (if not more) instead of covering it on a day trip from the capital.
2. Tusheti: Tusheti National Park seems like yet another mountain city that deserves to be explored. However, due to the rough terrain, it is considered ideal for hiking enthusiasts who are looking for tough adventure and not just the laid-back type. There are horseback rides for the lesser adventurous. Yet again, due to the distance from Tbilisi city, it is recommended to spend a night here (if not more).
3. Batumi: When we think Georgia, it is the ski slopes, mountains, historical churches and streets, and wineries that come to our minds. However, there is also a very popular beach city here located on the coast of Black Sea. Batumi is home to gorgeous beaches and waterfalls and is very well-developed in terms of its infrastructure.