If you are based in Tbilisi and have time, day tours from Tbilisi is an excellent way to get acquainted with the Georgian countryside. Mtskheta and Jvari monastery are the nearest places to Tbilisi and they should be in your must have list. There are many other tours offered by different tour operators. All this tours are offered in multiple combination by different tour operators. Some of these tours like Gudauri and Stepantsminda are offered as a day trip but a night stay at these places would be great. Here are some of the top day trips from Tbilisi;
The name, Jvari, in English means cross and derives from a huge wooden cross erected on the site by King Mirian III after the adoption of Christianity. You can see inside the icon of Saint Nino, the first one who introduced Christianity in Georgia and the huge cross.
If you are a female and plan to visit this church wear a dress or a skirt and headscarf as those are the requirements for visiting Georgian churches.
The Jvari Church has a breathtaking location on the top of the hill, as if arising from it, and is very well seen from wherever you approach it. It is possible to drive up to the monastery. There is a small free parking lot and the entrance to the monastery is also free.
The Jvari church is small and there is not much to see inside. Visit the monastery not only for the beautiful view, sitting on the hill overlooking the town of Mtskheta, but also to view the confluence of the Mtkvari and Aragvi rivers. It is listed as a World Heritage site by UNESCO.
Mtskheta – an ancient capital of Georgia, known as a political and cultural center from 3rd century BC and now designated as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The old city lies at the confluence of the rivers Mtkvari and Aragvi. Main attraction of the town is Svetitskhoveli Cathedral. The Svetitskhoveli Cathedral (Cathedral of the Living Pillar) is an Eastern Orthodox cathedral which is currently the second largest church building in Georgia.
Known as the burial site of Christ’s mantle, Svetitskhoveli has long been one of the principal Georgian Orthodox churches. The present structure was completed in 1029 by the medieval Georgian architect Arsukisdze, although the site itself dates back to the early fourth century.
As the birthplace and one of the most vibrant centers of Christianity in Georgia, Mtskheta was declared as the “Holy City” by the Georgian Orthodox Church in 2014.
It is listed as a World Heritage site by UNESCO.
Ananuri Fortified Castle
Ananuri lies next to Jinvali Water Reservoir on the Georgian Military Highway. Inside Ananuri Fortifed Castle there is also a Russian Orthodox Monastery. The outer wall of the church has many symbols pertaining to Georgian civilization and religion. This amazing structure was built in 976 AD and is well preserved. It is set in an excellent location with good views across the neighboring reservoir and surrounding hills. This castle was the seat of the Eristavis (Dukes) of Aragvi, a feudal dynasty which ruled the area from the 13th century. The castle was the scene of numerous battles and was fully functioning until the early 19th century.
Plenty of parking available outside the entrance. Several stalls and kiosks were set up selling souvenirs, clothes, local delicacies, etc. There is no entrance fee for visiting this castle.
Sighnaghi is one of Georgia’s smallest towns situated in the easternmost region of Kakheti. Sighnaghi town is known for its picturesque landscapes, pastel houses and narrow, cobble stone streets overlooking the Alazani valley. Sighnaghi is home to several historical and cultural monuments. The venerated Bodbe Monastery is located 2 kilometers from Sighnaghi and is a place of pilgrimage due to its association with St. Nino, the 4th-century apostle of Georgia. The town is walled with the remnants of 18th-century fortifications. Kakheti is also popular for its wine and it is one of the oldest known wine region in the world.
Sighnaghi is known as the “City of Love” in Georgia, with many couples visiting it just to get married.
Gudauri & Stepantsminda
Gudauri is the largest and most modern ski resort in Georgia with a developed infrastructure. The resort is situated in the Stepantsminda District, along the Georgian Military Highway near the Jvari Pass. Gudauri is situated at an elevation of 2,200 meters above sea level.
Stepantsminda (formerly Kazbegi) is a mountain town located on the Georgian Military Highway, 157 KM north of Tbilisi and 10KM before the Russian border. The main attraction of the town is Gergeti Trinity Church.
The famous Gergeti Trinity Church stands tall above Stepantsminda at 2,170 meters above sea level but still at the bottom of the great Mount Kazbegi. Built in the 14th century, the Orthodox Church became a symbol for Georgia due to its isolated location on top of a steep mountain surrounded by the vastness of nature. This place can be reached by car but most people prefer to trek.
Other than this church there are plenty of trekking opportunities in Stepantsminda.
Another ski resort which is popular and close to Tbilisi is Bakuriani.
Gori & Uplistsikhe
Gori town is the birthplace of Joseph Stalin. There are many historical monuments and churches in the town but tourism is revolving around Stalin. Inside town Stalin tourism is the main attraction for foreign visitors. Uplistsikhe (literally “Lord’s Fortress“) is an abandoned rock town approximately 10 kilometers from the town of Gori.
Founded in around 1000 BC and carved out of rock, this was a bustling city over 3000 years ago and was a major regional hub of Caucasian pagan worship. After Saint Nino converted King Mirian III of Iberia, the pagan temples of Uplistsikhe were sacked and the city went into long-term decline. This place was used as a shelter during various foreign invasions and continued to be inhabited until 13th century AD.
The rock-cut structures include a large hall, pagan places of sacrifice, dwellings, as well as functional buildings like pharmacy, bakery, prison, and even an amphitheater.
Rock-hewn town of Vardzia is another unique monument of Georgian architecture. It is situated in Aspindza, approximately in 70 km to the south from Borjomi city. day trips are available for this tour also.