Having recently gone from backpacker’s secret to mainstream favourite, Georgia is home to an array of hidden gems begging to be explored
Geographically, the mere mention of Georgia would first bring to mind the southeastern US state – that is, about a decade ago. In recent years, however, the country of Georgia, nestled in the South Caucasus, has come out of the shadows, enticing many a traveller with its natural and cultural charms. Endless mountainscapes, green valleys and streams of glacial overflow dominate the Georgian landscape while cultural icons, from churches and monasteries to ancient settlements, caves and vineyards, await at every turn.
Straddling Europe and Asia, Georgia might be relatively new to the global tourism scene, but its offering is well-rounded. Whether you're seeking new outdoor adventures, extraordinary culinary finds or new cultural experiences, there's something for everyone. With so much to explore all around the country, 48 hours can hardly suffice; but if you arrive with less time on your hands, our two-day itinerary will help you make the most of your trip.
With access to the Georgian capital becoming increasingly seamless with enhanced flight connectivity and simplified or no visa formalities, it’s little surprise that travellers flock to Tbilisi for a quick getaway. The capital city is everything from chaotic to charming, and walking through the cobbled streets is one of the best ways to soak it all in.
Begin your journey in Old Town, which reveals Georgia's culturally diverse past at every turn, with places of worship and beautifully restored buildings dotting the terrain. In the town's heart, the ancient fortress of Narikala overlooks the city. You can choose to take a cable car up to the top or set out on a short 15-minute walk to the viewing platform, which takes you through narrow lanes overflowing with local stalls selling all manner of wares. Panoramic views of the entire city unfold at the top – think red rooftops, smaller hills, the Mtkvari river and modern icons like the Bridge of Peace.
This vantage point also promises an up-close glimpse of the Kartlis Deda or Mother of Georgia monument, a proud symbol of the city featuring a 23-metre figure of a woman dressed in traditional Georgian attire wielding a sword in one hand to ward off enemies and a bowl of refreshments in the other to welcome friends.
On the journey back, make a stop at Tbilisi’s famous sulphur bathhouses or abanotubani as it’s locally known. Ranging from public baths to more private luxurious spa experiences, the water here comes from Tbilisi’s natural sulphur springs. Not too far from here, you will also find the National Botanical Gardens, the Georgian National Museum and the Holy Trinity Cathedral, which are also among Tbilisi's popular sights.
In the afternoon, set out from the capital towards the neighbouring district of Mtskheta, where you will have the chance to see the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Jvari Monastery. A rare architectural example of an Early Medieval Georgian church, it has survived almost unchanged since the sixth century. Standing atop a rocky mountain at a height of more than 600 metres, the site overlooks the confluence of the Mtkvari and Aragvi rivers, and is a great spot to marvel at the Georgian sunset.
Day trips from Tbilisi offer the chance to explore everything else Georgia has to offer, especially the rugged countryside. Kazbegi (now referred to as Stepansminda) is a popular choice among travellers as not only does the townlet offer one of the country's most spectacular natural sights – Mount Kazbek – but along the way, there is plenty to discover.
Setting out from Tbilisi, your first pitstop will be the Ananuri Fortress Complex. This famous castle complex is perched along the manmade Zhinvali Reservoir and has become a proud symbol of Georgia, thanks to its historic and cultural significance. It dates back to the 13th century and was the site of many battles over the years.
Within the fortress, there are two 17th-century churches, the larger of which is covered with intricate stone carvings on its exterior walls, ancient scripts from the region and a few vivid frescoes. For views over the entire site, you can climb the tallest of the fortress towers and walk along the battlements.
Further along the Georgian Military Highway that leads to Stepansminda, the Panorama Gudauri (also known as the Russia-Georgia Friendship Monument) is another must-see sight. This circular structure was built to celebrate the bicentennial of the Treaty of Georgievsk between the two nations. It features a tiled mural that spans its circumference, depicting scenes of Georgian and Russian history. From this vantage point, travellers can view the verdant valleys of the village of Gudauri during summer; while the cooler months transform the town into a ski destination as the hills become enveloped in thick layers of snow.
Your final stop brings you into the town of Kazbegi, where the Greater Caucasus looms over the entire village and the snow-capped crest of Mount Kazbeg (Georgia's third-highest peak at 5,033 metres) is visible wherever you go. While hiking through the mountain range is best reserved for expert climbers, the elevated track to Gergeti is relatively easy and can also be conquered via horseback or a car.
If Batumi is your base...
On the southwestern coast of Georgia, along the Black Sea, the port city of Batumi is a traveller's delight. It is located six hours by road from Tbilisi, and travellers who find themselves with more time on their hands do not miss this hub. If you choose Batumi as your base during your stay in Georgia, some of the best things to do include strolling along the vibrant boulevard (where you will find the famous Ali & Nino installation), visiting Batumi Piazza Square to immerse yourself in the town's energy and marvelling at nature and the pristine coast at Batumi Botanical Garden.
From Batumi, day trips to Kutaisi are quite popular among nature lovers, as the town offers easy access to the stunning Okatse and Martvili canyons, both of which promise spectacular views of the valleys and are dotted with waterfalls, as well as the Prometheus Cave.