Let's be real, Georgia is a mixed bag of wonders and head-scratchers. From its picturesque landscapes to its Soviet hangover, this place keeps you on your toes. Luckily, I have discovered a secret recipe for preserving your sanity: By taking one day trips out of Tbilisi and then returning to the only place where you won't want to tear your hair out, you've hit the jackpot!
Tbilisi has a ton of things to see and do (for about a day or two), and it isn’t all unicorns and rainbows, but it’s literally the only place in the country that I’d even consider returning to.
You see, Soviet mentality stubbornly clings on like a limpet in Georgia, and you can feel it on almost every step of your trip. The service industry should be called the disservice industry! It's a sad excuse for tourism services that'll leave you scratching your head in disbelief and running towards the west in dire need of something resembling customer service.
Today, I'll be your guide to 7 diy one-day trips from Tbilisi that you can conquer like a boss behind the wheel. I've got your back with all the nitty-gritty details: parking spots, driving times, and distances galore. You’ll navigate treacherous roads, see some fantastic sights, and laugh (and cry on the inside a little) in the face of Soviet relics. Let's hit the road and show them how it's done!
An overview of the day trips mentioned in this article
You might also be interested in reading:
The epic Chronicles of Georgia—find the tiny human!
We're starting this wild ride right in Tbilisi itself (you don’t want to start out too crazy)! Yes, you’re looking at the map correctly, this first one is technically a day trip that’s still inside the capital, but it was such a highlight for me that I wanted to make extra sure that you won’t miss it.
Introducing Chronicles of Georgia, a mind-blowing, almost arrogant monument that defies the norms of historical landmarks. The Chronicles of Georgia give Soviet vibes to the max, the utter hugeness, blackness and over-the-topness of it is incredible. It almost felt sacred!
It's audacious, that’s what it is. As I stood there on the hill at the northern edge of the Tbilisi Sea, surrounded by these massive black columns, I couldn't help but feel a sense of awe and amusement. It's like the sculptor unleashed their wildest creativity and threw all caution to the wind. Ballsy!
The top half of the 16 mammoth pillars show the kings, queens, and heroes of Georgia’s past, while the bottom half takes you through the adventures of Jesus Christ. There's a stairway that takes you up there, and you get amazing views of Tbilisi from there as well.
Chronicles of Georgia is a must-see. I basically stumbled across it by accident en route to Kazbegi, and now I can’t recommend it enough.
Visiting the Chronicles of Georgia is free and it is always open, because there’s nothing to close.
If you have your own car, you can park right underneath the Chronicles of Georgia for free. It’ll take about 20 minutes from Liberty Square. If you’re visiting as part of your Tbilisi itinerary, you can also just take a taxi.
We spent 2 hours at the monument.
On my way to Mount Kazbek
This day trip is one of my absolute favorites, but it could be part of a series called: day trips that are too far to be day trips from Tbilisi. It's doable, but unless I scared you by describing the unfriendly, scammy people outside of Tbilisi, it might be better to book a hotel and just make an overnight trip of it.
Now that that’s clear, you know that if you’re dead set on making Kazbegi (also known as Stepantsminda) a day trip, you’re in for a really long day. But if you accept that the journey itself is a big part of the fun, it’s totally doable. That is, if you find joy in navigating twisting, winding mountain roads full of crazy Georgian drivers! The Georgian Military Highway that you’ll be driving on is on my list of the world’s best drives.
Pack those motion sickness pills and get ready to ascend into the majestic Caucasus Mountains, awe-inspiring views guaranteed. The crown jewels? The mighty, glacier-topped Mount Kazbek. For me, Kazbeg was the first 5,000 m+ (16k ft) mountain I’d ever seen up close, and I have to admit that it remains one of the most spectacular ones on my list to this day.
Here's a little secret for you: Stepantsminda, the gateway to Kazbeg, is a Georgian gem when it comes to wining and dining. If you’re not aware, the service and often even the food in restaurants in Georgia are, you guessed it, mediocre at best. Stepantsminda and Tbilisi are the only two exceptions that have great restaurants. So even if you're not planning to stay overnight (I have some boutique hotel recommendations here, with one super fine luxury splurge option), it’s still totally worth it a trip from the capital.
You can use this day trip to get your first feel of what Georgia’s real highlight is: the mountains. They are spectacular! But besides some serious peaks, you can also include these extra stops on the way:
Let's talk logistics. From Tbilisi to Kazbegi, it's about a 3-hour drive one way without stops. To reach Stepantsminda, hop into your trusty vehicle and head north from Tbilisi. (Can I recommend the Suzuki Vitara?! I loved this rental car so much I almost wanted to buy one back home.)
See this route on Google Maps, I’ve included all the stops I mention above
Stop and stare at any of the points of interest I recommend and at hairpin turns when you need to take a photo or a breather... ok, maybe not in a turn exactly, but you get my drift. There’s always easy parking right at every place I mentioned.
Once you arrive in Stepantsminda, you'll find parking available near the central area and at most restaurants. On the western side of town, there are tons of parking spots near Gergeti Trinity Church and tower.
Oh, and don't forget to check out my article on the best hotels in Stepantsminda if you're considering extending your stay. I think the hikes are worth spending a night or two with those fabulous mountain views!
Prepare to be transported back in time as we delve into the mysteries of this remarkable UNESCO World Heritage Site. But going back in time takes time, so be ready to drive a lot. Like a lot a lot—4 hours each way. How’s that as a day trip from Tbilisi for ya?
I have to say that it’s a pretty scenic drive through the picturesque Georgian countryside to get to Vardzia. Again, the road rage is real in Georgia. I’d recommend you take your time, but you don’t have much of that due to the distance, so put the pedal to the metal and hope you make it out alive!
Let me explain Vardzia to you. It’s a city carved right into the rugged slopes of the Erusheti Mountain. Not little mole holes at the foot of a hill, but an actual ancient cave city high up off the ground, stairways and all. I loved exploring there.
Dating back to the 12th century, Vardzia now has over 700 rooms, tunnels, and the main draw—a monastery. What is left has not been untouched by earthquakes, but just imagine it used to be able to house over 50,000 people!
Check out the pillars and intricate frescoes on the walls of the monastery, depicting kings, queens, heroes, and the legends of the past.
We spent half a day at Vardzia. Wear comfortable shoes to mountain goat your way through the city and up and down the ladders. It’s a pretty big area, and you’ll instinctively slow down and enjoy the ambience.
You could add more stops to this day trip if you have the need for speed or not enough time on your vacation to see everything properly:
Here's the scoop on practicalities. From Tbilisi, it's a roughly 4-hour drive to Vardzia, depending on traffic, the number of stops you make, and your enthusiasm for dodging unruly traffic. Take the more comfortable and more interesting northern route along the E60.
This northern route takes you through Boromji and Rabati, both possible stops on this day trip to Vardzia
Once there, ample parking is available near the ancient city.
Be sure to wear comfortable shoes and bring a hat, especially in the summer. It’s not hard to walk through, but there are stairs and inclines.
You can explore Vardzia on your own, tickets cost GEL 15 (USD 6). Audio guides are available for an extra GEL 15.
Too far for a day trip? Stay at Borjomi UnderWood Hotel and see everything in the area without rushing around.
David Gareja Monastery
Ok, this day trip is a little saner, travel time-wise—just about 2 hours one way.
It used to be possible to hike up and see (and even step into) Azerbaijan from the upper part of the David Gareja cave monastery complex, but this being a border in an area with not-so-great neighborly relations, it is currently closed off to tourists. If you do get a chance to hike up on the ridge towards Udabno Monastery, it means it’s opened again and you’re lucky! You can get epic views into the border area from up there.
Don’t fret though, even if you won’t see Azerbaijan, you can still visit the lower Lavra Monastery on this day trip, with Azerbaijan literally just over the hill. It’s an entire religious site built into the rock, with many prayer rooms and even living quarters. I liked how nicely maintained the outer area was (shout out to the few monks that take care of the place!), built up a bit with walkways, walls and stairways made of stone.
If you’re sad that you can’t see all of the cave system, I have a secret tip for you for a nearby site: Natlismtsemeli Monastery is just 10 km (6 mi) from David Gareja, and it’s much less visited. The reason being that the road is a little tougher to conquer, and you’ll want a 4x4 to assist in that unless you’re a crazy local—they can drive anywhere in their rusty old sedans!
Colorful hills around David Gareja Monastery
There’s one monk at Natlismtsemeli who will happily show you around if you make it there. The cave system is at least as impressive as at David Gareja.
Another tip: Your eyes aren’t fooling you, those hills around David Gareja are really quite colorful! I wouldn’t go as far as to call them rainbow colored, but people do. Heck, I didn’t even think Rainbow Mountain in Peru was that colorful, but Instagram keeps trying to prove me wrong. Anyway, you can hike in the colorful hills around David Gareja, but there are no trails, and Azerbaijan is very close, so don’t get lost (get a guide if you want to explore more).
David Gareja monastery complex is 98 km (60 mi) from Tbilisi city center, and the drive will take you about 2 hours, but you’ll feel like you just drove to the end of the world. Lucky for us tourists, the road has now been paved all the way to David Gareja. If you want to see Natlismtsemeli as well, you’ll need to be ready to offroad.
Parking is easy since there’s literally nothing around but open plains.
Kakheti wine region (Sighnaghi)
The entire easternmost region of Georgia is just wine and monasteries and views. So obviously, we visited.
The two main centers are Sighnaghi and Telavi. Sighnaghi is the more picturesque of the two, with pretty views and pastel houses, while Telavi is the main city that has less charm, but it has a couple important religious sites nearby. I say see both—you can turn this day trip into a loop drive.
The wine-making tradition in Georgia is thousands of years old, and the majority of wine is made in the Kakheti region. In other words, this is the place to go if you’re up for some wine-tasting at traditional wine cellars!
Hotel tip: If you can’t stand the thought of being in the area and not getting your wine on, and don’t want to taste and drive, you might need to stay overnight. As funny as this is going to sound, I think you should allow yourself to enjoy Kakheti’s wine region by staying at a place that’s known for its craft beer—Lost Ridge Inn, Brewery & Ranch in Sighnaghi. Check out the cool rooms! The beer is just a bonus.
From Sighnaghi, which is located on a hill, you get a great overview of the surrounding landscape from the restored parts of the wall that used to surround the town and villages in the area. Another place you have to see is Bodbe Monastery, just outside of town. It was built in the 9th century on the site of a smaller monastery that had been erected where St. Nino had died. She’s the one that brought Christianity to Georgia, so it was a huge deal.
If you prefer to drink your wine in higher style, you’ll be pleased to know that on the way from Sighnaghi to Telavi, you’ll pass by several of the best wine estates of the Kakheti region, like Vazisubani Estate and Tsinandali Estate. They both double as 5-star hotels, so you can do all your wine tasting with a side of free-standing bathtubs, infinity pools and cute picnics on the manicured estate grounds.
Beyond Telavi, the region's main city, focus on Alaverdi Monastery, which has its own vineyard and spectacular views, or head out to Nekresi Monastery for possibly the best views in the area. It’s more of a challenge to get there, because you either need to walk up the hill for an hour or take the monastery-issued shuttle. You can’t drive all the way there—yep, it’s that special.
From Tbilisi to Sighnaghi you’re looking at a 1.5-hour drive, Telavi is a further 1 hour, and then 1 h 45 mins back to the capital from there. If you like a day trip where you keep moving and there’s no backtracking, this is a great one for you. If you add both the monasteries around Telavi, the total distance of the day trip is 340 km (210 mi).
View of the rivers, mountains and Mtskheta from Jvari Monastery
UNESCO, me, and hundreds of day trippers agree: Mtskheta is the most popular day trip from Tbilisi, which only proves one thing—that people are lazy! It’s the closest place to visit, right outside of the capital.
Mtskheta is not only really easy to reach and impossible to pronounce and spell, but it has these claims to fame as well:
What all that means is that you’ll be visiting a bunch of churches and monasteries. Georgia does those well, I have to say, and it’s not just because most of the time you get fantastic views and a background of gorgeous mountains. So, cover those shoulders and legs and start exploring!
Svetitskhoveli Cathedral is right in the middle of town and it’s the second-largest church in Georgia, right after Sameba in Tbilisi. But it’s not just it’s size that lures in the pilgrims, it’s the fact that a piece of Jesus’ robe is buried there. I’m very skeptical about any sort of relic, but hey, believe what you want to believe. I did think that the cathedral had a magical atmosphere, like there was something in the air, so maybe, just maybe... just kidding. But the cathedral is very much worth a visit.
Jvari Monastery stands on a hilltop to the east of Mtskheta, and I have to say, St. Nino chose a really nice spot to errect that big wooden cross! Here meticulous placement (and some magic, erm, I mean miracles) dictated the location of the current church. You get a fantastic view of the confluence of the Mtkvari and Aragvi rivers overlooking Mtskheta from Jvari Monastery.
You can very well continue on a tour-de-monasteries around Mtskheta to round off your day trip, and add Samtavro Monastery, Shiomgvime Monastery, and Zedazeni Monastery, to name a few.
Or, just stroll down the small cobblestone streets of Mtskheta’s tiny town center, buy yourself some souvenirs, and just breathe in the history. It’s really a pleasant place.
Mtskheta is just 23 km (17 mi) north of the center of Tbilisi, so the drive will take you about 30 minutes. There’s a parking lot very close to Svetitskhoveli Cathedral. To visit Jvari Monastery, you’ll want to park your car at the parking lot there. It’s supposed to be free, but it depends if you are able to refuse to say no to the men that pretend to work there.
Mtskheta is literally on Tbilisi’s doorstep
Kutaisi Gelati Monastery
Kutaisi is another very popular tourist destination in Georgia, and at 3 hours one way, it is just doable as a day trip from Tbilisi. Here’s my full Kutaisi Guide if you the full lowdown on the annoying street cats and horrible restaurants.
But as bad as the intro sounds, it is a good base for the area, and there are redeeming elements that make Kutaisi worth a visit, namely Bagrati Cathedral and Gelati monastery. If you just want to get in and get out without venturing further east, make a day trip of it.
Bagrati Cathedral is one of Georgia’s most important religious sites and a substantial reconstruction was finished in recent years. But get this—while the main architect got the Georgian gold medal for his work, UNESCO wasn’t even a little bit impressed. After several appeals in which UNESCO tried to convince the Georgian government that they are in fact destroying the historic value of the cathedral, UNESCO ended up throwing their arms up and, in an unprecedented move, removed Bagrati from its World Heritage List.
Luckily, Gelati Monastery holds onto its UNESCO status like a boss, and it’s the top place to see around Kutaisi. With epic views into the distance and similarly epic frescoes on the inside, it’s the top reason to even go to Kutaisi at all.
If I’m ever on a day trip that’s this much driving, I like to start out extra early so I can fit as much into the day as possible. You know, to balance out all the travel time. You’re not on vacation to be lazy (anyone else hate lazy people?), so here are more stops to add to this day trip:
Directions and parking at Gelati Monastery
Kutaisi is 3 hours away from Tbilisi, about 225 km (140 mi).
For Gelati Monastery, it’s easy to drive up the narrow road and park right in from of the monastery. There’s no entrance fee.
Katskhi and Chiatura are close to each other, a little over an hour away from Kutaisi. It’s sort of but not completely on the way between Kutaisi and Tbilisi, so you could leave it for the end of your day trip and see if you have time for a detour.
If you want to see Katskhi Column or Chiatura, you’ll need to make a detour
This post contains affiliate links. I earn a small commission if you make bookings through my links, at no additional cost to you. This helps keep this blog free, thank you!
Are you wondering how to plan a trip to Georgia, the country that baffled me in both good ways and bad (and very bad)? Well then, you’ve come to the right place. Here's my 7 to 10 day itinerary for Georgia.
Georgia is a challenging destination, but the mountains are 100% worth seeing. I’m not an overnight camping kinda guy, so I satiate my love for hiking in one-day bursts.