The Georgian capital straddles the banks of the Mtkvari River. Founded in the 5th century by King Vakhtang I Gorgasali, it contains many bath houses fed by the area’s natural hot springs and from it you’ll have no problem spotting the Narikala Fortress which can be seen from most parts of the Old Town. The modern city is centred on Freedom Square, from where you can walk along Rustaveli Avenue where many of the best shops and restaurants are located. For a great view over the city, take the funicular to Mtatsminda amusement park.
Another of Georgia’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Mtskheta’s long history dates back to before 1000BC. Once the capital of the Kingdom of Iberia, it’s located on an ancient trade route. Its many religious buildings include Svetitskhoveli Cathedral as well as the monasteries of St Nino, Jvari and Shio-Mgyime and the Zedazeni Complex which includes the church of St John the Baptist. The city also has a castle and a fortress.
Gori, named after its hilltop fortress, dating back to the 7th century. Later, the city became an important trade hub. More recently, it was the birthplace of Joseph Stalin and the city is home to a museum containing amongst other exhibits, the former Soviet leader’s personal effects and the train in which he travelled to Yalta and Potsdam. Nearby, visitors can take the waters at Gorivaji, said to have healing properties.
Uplistikhe Cave Town
Translating as “the Lord’s fortress”, Uplistsikhe is one of the oldest urban settlements in the country. This cave city near Gori was cut from the rock on the left bank of the Mtkvari River and thrived until it was abandoned as a result of devastating Mongol Raids in the 14th century. Although some parts of Uplistsikhe were destroyed by an earthquake in 1920, there are many structures and alleyways which remain to be explored, linked by tunnels cut from the rock.
Nicknamed the “Pearl of the Black Sea”, Batumi’s beautiful beach is very popular in summer. Its 7km boardwalk, known as Batumi Boulevard, was the brainchild of Prussian landscape architect Ressler though he died before its completion. Frenchman D’Alfons fortunately stepped in to finish the job. The Old Town stretches between the sea port and the boulevard and its elegant balconied buildings are a delight to see. Batumi’s Botanical Garden and Dolphinarium are amongst its other must-see visitor attractions.
The town of Stepantsminda, also known as Kazbegi, is the jumping off point for Kazbegi National Park. Located on the northern slopes of the Caucasus Mountains, this exceptionally beautiful place is crammed full of lofty peaks, hot springs, mountain lakes, waterfalls and glaciers. One of the highlights of the National Park is the Dariali Gorge, a fortified cleft in the rock where you’ll spot eagles, hawks and vultures soaring high above your head.
Located in Southern Georgia, Akhaltsikhe translates as “new fortress” and the renovated Rabati Fortress is an important landmark in this part of the country. Containing the Jakeli family’s castle, Akhmediye Mosque and an orthodox church, there’s much here to occupy visitors.
Near Akhaltsikhe, it’s well worth taking an excursion to Vardzia, a cave town founded in the 12th century which once housed a population of 50000; as well as people’s homes, it featured wine cellars, places of worship and even a sewerage system hewn out of the rock.
In the days of the Golden Fleece, Kutaisi was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Colchis and it remains Georgia’s second largest city. The jewels in its crown are without a doubt the Bagrati Cathedral and the Gelati Monastery, both UNESCO listed, occupying prime locations overlooking the city and the River Rioni. Other landmarks to check out include the Statue of David near the university, Gora Park with its fabulous vistas and fair reached by car or funicular and the White Bridge near the old palace.
Perched at an altitude of 1198m on the southern slopes of the Caucasus Mountains near Cross Pass, this attractive winter resort is an easy trip from Tbilisi. From December to April, Gudauri draws skiers attracted by the huge number of off-piste slopes as well as heliskiing and freeriding opportunities on virgin snow. In summer, the surrounding countryside offers myriad opportunities for trekking, paragliding, rafting, kayaking, cycling and horse riding.
With its cobbled streets and balconied homes, you could be forgiven for thinking you were in Italy. Surrounded by over four kilometres of stone walls, the laid back city of Sighnaghi earns its living from wine and people travel to taste the delicious Rkatsiteli, Tsinandali and Saperavi varieties. If you can drag yourself away from the cellars, other attractions include the church of St Stephen with its beautiful bell tower and Bodbe Monastery, burial place of St Nino. Locals believe that if you make a wish on her grave, it will come true.