Things to see and do in Georgia
Georgian National Tourism AdministrationAddress: , 4 Sanapiro Street , Tbilisi, 0105
Telephone: (32) 243 6999
Attractions in Georgia
Enjoy the Mediterranean atmosphere of Tbilisi, the capital, which stands on the banks of the River Mtkvari, in a valley surrounded by hills. The name for the city derives from the word tbili (warm). It is best seen from the top of Mount Mtatsminda.
The old city in Tbilisi, spreading out from the south bank of the river, has numerous frescoed churches (the most noteworthy being the fifth-century Sioni Cathedral), 19th-century houses with arcaded open galleries on the upper floors, a castle and a surprising number of cafes and enticing tourist shops selling locally produced arts and crafts.
Prospekt Rustaveli, Tbilisi's main thoroughfare, features an assortment of stylish public buildings testifying to the city's prosperity at the turn of the century.
Georgian State Museum
Spend some time at the Georgian State Museum on Prospekt Rustaveli in Tbilisi, which houses a collection of icons, frescoes and porcelain, as well as an outstanding display of jewellery discovered in pre-Christian Georgian tombs. The Georgian Museum of Arts, in the centre of town, includes many works by the much-loved 19th-century 'primitive' artist, Niko Pirosmani. The open-air Museum of Ethnography has interesting examples of rural buildings and artefacts.
Enjoy beautiful views of the old part of Tbilisi from the Narikala Fortress, first established by the Persians in the fourth century AD and most recently rebuilt in the 17th century.
Head for Mtskheta, today a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which remained the centre of Georgian Christianity until the 12th century. The 15th-century Svetitskhoveli Cathedral (Pillar of Life), standing at the confluence of the Mtkvari and Aragvi rivers, was the holiest place in old Georgia. According to legend, the church is built on the spot where Christ's crucifixion robe was dropped to the ground in AD328, having been brought from Jerusalem by a local Jew, and fragments of the robe are said to be kept inside the cathedral.
Also of interest in Mtskheta are the Samtavro Monastery (still functioning although founded in the 11th century, it is famous as the burial place for the first Christian king, Mirian and his wife Nana) and the sixth-century Jvari Cathedral, the design of which became a prototype for Georgian ecclesiastical architecture.
The remote village of Shatili is an outstanding monument of Georgian construction art, located on the main Caucasus ridge; towers are clustered together to create a single fortress.
Georgian Military Highway
Follow the Georgian Military Highway. Leading 220km (137 miles) from Tbilisi to Vladikavkaz (formerly Ordzhonikidze) in North Ossetia (now part of the Russian Federation), this route was built by the Russians in the 19th century to help them control their conquered Georgian territories. The road winds through the dramatic mountain scenery of the high Caucasus, apparently little changed since the 19th-century novelist Lermontov described the route in A Hero of our Time. Sites of interest along the road include the 14th-century Sameba Church (Holy Trinity), overlooking the mountain town of Kazbegi, and the city of Mtskheta. The ski resort of Gudauri is situated along the highway.
Some 10km (6 miles) east of Gori is Uplistsikhe (Fortress of God), a large complex of natural caves. Inhabited from the sixth century BC to the 14th century AD, the caves were gradually transformed into increasingly sophisticated dwellings, shops and public buildings, including the most ancient theatre in Georgia, dungeons and enormous wine cellars.
Ateni Sioni Church
Discover the Ateni Sioni Church, 10km (6 miles) south of Gori, which stands in a beautiful setting and is highly prized for its 11th-century stonecarvings and frescoes.
10km (6 miles) from Bakuriani, heading towards Bordzhomi, is the 12th-century Daba Monastery, and nearby a 60m (197ft) waterfall. During the summer it is also possible to visit Lake Tabatskuri, sunk into a hollow high in the mountains.
Discover the Turkish character of Batumi, the capital of the Ajarian Autonomous Republic. The mosque, 19th-century bath house, Ajarian Museum (with its superb national costume collection), circus, park, botanical garden and the theatre are well worth visiting.
Experiment with health-giving sulphur baths in a domed, oriental-style 19th-century bath house just north of the Metekhi Bridge in Tbilisi. Popular with visitors today, Georgian sulphur baths were also frequented by writers such as Pushkin and Tolstoy.
The spa town of Borjomi, 150km (93 miles) west of Tbilisi in the Tori region, developed by Tsar Nicholas in the 19th century as a spa town, produces much acclaimed mineral water. It is possible to hike in the surrounding hills.
Borjami-Kharagauli National Park
Set inside the Lesser Caucasus around the Borjami-Kharagauli National Park, the former health resorts of Abastumani, Saime, Badgadi and Nunisiare are returning to life.
Black Sea Coast
A seaside resort and port in the southwest of the republic on the Black Sea Coast, Batumi is the capital of the Ajarian Autonomous Republic. Close to the Turkish border (20km/12.5 miles), the town has a decidedly Turkish character. Its charm lies less in any particular sights than in its lush, subtropical setting, among citrus groves and tea plantations, with mountains rising up from the edge of the sea.
There are five national parks open to visitors to enjoy the country's unique beauty. Trekking and mountain activities are popular in the Tusheti National Park which is a mountainous landscape reaching up to 4,800m (15,748ft). Many of the endemic species can be seen here: the Caspian sea wolf, Caucasian Lynx and many bird species. Tourists can explore the park by foot, horse or vehicle. The Tusheti Villages are protected as historical sites, and are situated here.
Vashlovani National Park and Nature Reserve
Vashlovani National Park and Nature Reserve is located in the innermost part of Georgia, where hyena, brown bear, wolf, lynx, griffin vulture and Egyptian vulture can be seen. This park can also be explored by foot or horse, but is open to scientific and educational tourism only.
Lagodechi National Park and Nature Reserve
Lagodechi National Park and Nature Reserve gives tourists the opportunity to trek through the untouched natural ecosystems, beautiful lakes and waterfalls.
The mountain regions of the Caucasus, which extend from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea, offer numerous opportunities for hiking, skiing, ski touring, heli-skiing and snowboarding. Mount Shkora is the highest summit at 5,068m (16,627ft) and Mount Kazbegi or Mkinvartsveri, meaning 'ice top', (5,033m/16,512ft) is the most attractive to mountain-climbers. The ski resorts of Gudauri and Bakuriani are suitable for skiers of all abilities. Snow cover is guaranteed from December to April.
The Roshka Valley, with its glaciers, and the Chaukhi Mountains also offer strenuous wilderness treks and stark mountain scenery. Lowland walks are possible in both the north and the south of the country.
Gudauri ski resort
The area around the ski resort of Gudauri (120km/75 miles north of Tbilisi) makes a good starting point for summer walks through mountain meadows full of flowers. Even in the lowland areas, eagles soar overhead and spectacular views can be had. The mountains in the south and east can offer more gentle walks.
These regions are also suitable for horse riding and mountain biking, and there are numerous mountain roads and tracks. Special Caucasian horses bred for their endurance and beauty, such as the Kabardo and the Tusheti, are the traditional means of transport in this area. Trips can be started at the mountain resort of Bakuriani.
Birdwatching is another of Georgia's attractions. Approximately 360 species can be found, depending on the season, and the number of birds increases considerably during the spring and autumn migrations. Raptors including the bearded vulture, the long-legged buzzard and the white-tailed eagle can be seen in the Caucasus in summer. In the autumn, the wetlands and mountain steppes in the south near the Armenian border harbour white pelicans, white storks, cranes and Caspian snowcocks.
Go wine tasting in the Kakheti province in the far east of the country, Georgia's wine-growing region. Apart from being an ancient tradition, drinking wine is also a social skill, with the traditional toast (or Tamada) being the prerogative of the most powerful male at the table.