I’ve been writing about Georgia on this blog for a while now, ever since Lee and I fell in love with this beautiful country. (See my guide to Tbilisi here). I’ve also been telling all my friends to come visit me in Georgia – breathlessly gushing about the wine, food, majestic mountains, ornate architecture and wonderful people.
But now, it’s even more important to consider Georgia for your next trip. After protests in Tbilisi against a visit by a Russian politician, Putin is punishing Georgia with a travel ban on Russia airlines. (Read more about this here) With Russia being one of Georgia’s largest sources of tourism revenue, Georgia could really use more curious visitors from around the world.
Even though coming here will benefit Georgia – it will also be a fantastic experience for you. This wonderful country has so much to discover and you can spend weeks soaking it up, exploring each of the regions, dining on hearty, delicious food and sharing stories over ample jugs of wine.
So, to help you plan your trip here’s a guide to the regions of Georgia – each one offering a unique culture and set of attractions to explore.
Table of Contents
Your Guide to the Regions of Georgia
Svaneti is an ancient land, the home of the Svans. The entire region is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.There are hundreds of beautiful stone watchtowers, once protecting the villages from invaders.
This surreal land of craggy peaks, traditional dances, stone towers and wine is where a unique culture has survived for thousands of years. The Svan language is even 1000 years older than Georgian!
This region in the Northwest is remote and difficult to get to. Road conditions can sometimes make it inaccessible – it wasn’t even reachable by car until 1935. It is so far away and inaccessible that it was never tamed by any ruler.
This remoteness is also why the unique culture and traditions of Svaneti have survived for so long. The locals still plow their fields by hand and livestock freely roam the streets. If you venture to Ushguli on a day hike, you’ll see a collection of four villages that make up the highest permanent settlement in Europe.
Tips for Visiting Svaneti
- The main city in Svaneti is Mestia.
- The best season for hiking in Svaneti is from early June to mid-October.
- If you don’t want to take the long 12 hour bus minivan ride to Mestia, there are also flights from Tbilisi. However, they fill up quickly so be sure to book in advance!
- It is also possible to take an overnight train from Tbilisi to Zugdidi. It leaves at 9:50pm and arrives at 6:05 am. From there, you can take a bus from Zugdidi to Mestia.
- You can find tickets at Matarebeli.ge or txt.ge.
- Check out the Mestia museum, with 1000 year old books and religious icons.
In Greek mythology, when Prometheus was punished for bringing the gift of fire to mankind, he was chained to a mountainside so an eagle could eat his liver for all of eternity. According to Georgian stories, it was the Caucasus mountains in Kazbegi where he was chained.
In this Northern region you’ll find slightly smaller mountains, stunning gorges and plenty of historic churches Stepantsminda is the main village in Kazbegi, known for the spectacular views of Mount Kazbek and the view of the Gergeti Trinity Church outlined against Mount Kazbek itself. The stunning church, on the edge of the cliff with mountains all around it, is one of the most striking images of Georgia.
In Stepantsminda you’ll also find Rooms Hotel, a stylish retreat with a huge outdoor deck and priceless views of the mountains. Rooms Hotel is beautiful but pricey – around $150 USD or more for a room. If you’re on a budget, there are other options.
Our strategy instead was to stay at one of the friendly local guesthouses just down the road, then simply pay for the Rooms buffet breakfast. I loved feasting on fresh prepared-to-order crepes while watching the morning sun illuminate the mountains.
Tips for Visiting Kazbegi
- Check out these 8 things you should know before you travel to Kazbegi.
- Also, here’s our guide to getting to Kazbegi from Tbilisi.
- The taxi drivers in Stepantsminda will charge high prices for taking you around the village or up to the church. They have a bit of a monopoly, but you can still haggle with them a little bit.
- There are quite a few interesting attractions along the road from Tbilisi to Kazbegi, including the sulfur waters near Jvari and the Russia-Georgia friendship monument in Jvari Pass.
- You can also check out the Zhinvali water reserve with the hydro power damn, the Ananuri Fortress and the confluence of the Aragvi Rivers in the village of Pasanauri. If you’re driving, take the time to stop and enjoy these spots long the way.
This region is known for pretty countryside, charming villages and lots and lots of delicious wine. It is located in the East of Georgia and is a popular place with tourists. Kakheti is considered the “Cradle of Wine” – the location where the drink itself was invented. There are hundreds of historic wineries here, many of them passed down through families for generations.
Kakheti is where you’ll find many of Georgia’s most intriguing attractions, including the David Gareja cave monastery and the remote and wild Tusheti National Park.
One of the most beloved spots in this region is Sighnaghi – a pretty Italian-style town located in the middle of pretty green hills overlooking the Alazani Valley (the largest wine region of Georgia). It’s a delight to wander around the cobbled streets and admire the ornate balconies and quiet piazzas. It is a great place to start one of the famous wine-making tours and it’s also a popular wedding venue.
Kakheti is also known for being home to Vashlovani National Park – a stunning nature reserve. I tried to visit this beautiful national park once with some friends and got hopelessly lost. You can read that story here.
Tips for Visiting Kakheti
- The capital of the Kakheti region is Telavi, a town overlooked by stunning snow capped mountains.
- Sighnaghi is only 1 hour and 45 minutes away from Tbilisi, making it a convenient location for a day trip. You can get there on a marshrutka (shared minibus) for around 10-15 lari. The marshrutkas leave every odd hour from 7am until 5pm from the Samgori metro station.
- It is also possible to hire a private driver for around 80-100 lari for a day trip.
- The marshrutkas leave from Ortatchala, Isani and Navtlughi Railway Stations.
- Visit Tsinandali, the manorial estate of the Georgian noble house of Chavchavadze.
- The older generation here will likely only know Georgian and Russian, so when it comes to communicating you might need to find a younger person.
Samtskhe Javakheti was formed in 1995, in response to the conflict in South Ossetia and the secession of Abkhazia. The region was established by merging two regions of Georgia, Javakheti and Samtskhe.
This region is located in the south with smaller mountains and the famous cave city of Vardzia. It’s name comes from the fact that it is the home of the Javakhs, an ethnic subgroup of Georgians.
This beautiful region is packed with history. You can visit the Rabati Fortress, which has been destroyed and rebuilt countless times and bears the marks of many different religions and cultures throughout the ages. The name of this historic site comes from Arabic and means “fortified place.”
Another one of the most interesting attractions in this region is Vardzia, which is an elaborate monastery that was carved into caves along a cliff. Here you can see a stunning series of wall paintings, dating back to the golden age of Georgia in the 12th century.
Samtskhe Javakheti is also home to the resort town of Borjomi. If you’ve been in Georgia for a while, you’ve probably seen bottles of Borjomi sparkling mineral water in the shops or restaurants. The water here is believed to have healing properties and the resort is a popular destination for people with health problems.
You can also visit Borjomi National Park. It’s a beautiful and ecologically diverse park that was used by the local aristocracy for hunting in Medieval Times.
Tips for Visiting Samtskhe Javakheti
- The Kars – Tbilisi – Baku railway passes through the region, connecting Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey.
- Getting to Borjomi or Vardzia from Tbilisi is quite simple – you can catch the marshrutka from Didube.
- In the Southeast of this region around Akhalkalaki, Armenian is widely spoken. You may find it is even more widely spoken than Georgian.
- Also, if you want to taste Armenian cuisine, Akhalkalaki is the best place to go.
- Be careful when visiting the various cultural monuments in this region. There aren’t many safety guard rails – so stay back from the edges.
This region is close to Tbilisi and it is home to the famous David Gareja Monastery. This makes it a very popular location for day trips from the capital – and you’ll see many tour groups in Tbilisi offering this on their itinerary.
The capital of Kvemo Kartli is Rustavi and this region is one of the most economically developed in Georgia. Other main cities in the region include Bolnisi, Gardabani, Dmanisi and Tetritskaro.
If you love the outdoors there are many activities that can be organized here – such as horse riding tours and archeological tours in Algeti National park and canyoning in Birtvisi Canyon.
You can also visit Samshvilde, which is one of the oldest historical walled towns in Georgia. The ancient town was the domain of the feudal lords since the foundation of the Kingdom of Kartli. Visit Bolnisis Sioni, a basilica that dates back to the 5th century. If you’re still even more curious about the history of the region, you can visit the Kolalgiri Fortress – which was built at the end of the 18th century by Queen Darejan.
Tips for Visiting Kvemo Kartli
- Try tenili cheese, which is aged in cream and stored in pots. It has a wonderfully soft consistency and aroma.
- Kvemo Kartli is relatively easy to get to via transport, due to its proximity to Tbilisi. Plus, there are also railway and motorway links to Azerbaijan and Armenia.
- There is a significant section of southern Kvemo Kartli (especially around Gardabani) where most residents are Azeri speakers. If you speak Turkish, you may be able to communicate effectively.
Shida Kartli is a landlocked region in eastern Georgia that contains many popular sights, including Uplistsikhe Caves, the Ateni Sioni Church and the town of Gori (the capital).
The Uplistsikhe Caves are one of the most spectacular sites.Their name translates as “Lord’s Fortress” and it is an abandoned rock-hewn town that played a very important role in Georgian history. It was built in the late Bronze Age (approximately 1000 BC) and was inhabited until the 13th century AD. Archeologists have even found evidence that the locals worshipped a sun goddess here, well before Christianity arrived.
The Ateni Sioni Church is also a fascinating destination here – constructed in the early 7th century. It is a Georgian Orthodox church and its name comes from Mount Zion in Jerusalem. The inscriptions in the walls are written in one of the earliest versions of the Georgian alphabet, dating all the way back to 835.
Gori is also an interesting destination for those who want to learn more about the history of Stalin. He was born in this town and there is a museum there dedicated to his life.
But there’s so much more to Gori than just Stalin! If you’d like to learn more about this city, you can take the Gori Free Walking Tour. It takes you to hidden gems in the town that most tourists miss – so you can learn about the history.
Note: be aware that Shida Kartli is close to the Russian border and the conflict area of South Ossetia.
Tips for Visiting Shida Kartli:
- The name of this region translates as “Inner Kartli.”
- You can reach the region of Shida Kartli via a marshrutka from Didube. They will leave from the Didube market to Gori and also from Tskhinvali to Gori. There is also less frequent service available from Kutaisi.
- It is also possible to hire a taxi for cheap from Tbilisi’s Didube market.
Adjara is a beautiful historical region of Georgia, which is located on the Black Sea Coast. The landscapes are mostly mountains and ravines and the climate is mild and warm, due to its low altitude and proximity to the sea.
One of the most popular attractions in Adjara is Batumi, a lovely Georgian seaside town. Surrounded by mountains, it’s located on the sparkling blue Black Sea and boasts a subtropical climate.
You can take a walk along the Batumi Boulevard, a long four-plus mile stretch along the coast. You’ll see the famous moving sculpture of Ali and Nino, based on the love story written by Kurban Said. Then, climb the Alphabetic Tower – a huge tower decorated with letters from the Georgian alphabet and offering panoramic views of the ocean and the city of Batumi.
While you’re there, you should also try an Adjarian Khachapuri – the style of baked cheese bread specific to this region. The warm, soft bread is shaped like a boat and filled with melted cheese and an egg.
If you want to work off all the calories from your khachapuri, you can go exploring in one of the beautiful national parks in the area. There’s Mtirala National Park, which has several camping spots. Or, you can visit Machakhela National Park – known for its historical monuments such as wine presses, fortresses and arch bridges.
Tips for Visiting Adjara
- Nearly all the beaches in Batumi are free to visit and they are very clean and beautiful.
- A great thing to do in Batumi is to rent a bicycle on Primorsky Boulevard and explore the city.
- There are lots of new apartment blocks in Batumi, which means that Airbnb is a good place to look for affordable rentals.
- Be sure to book ahead if you plan to be traveling during peak season!
- Goderdzi is a ski resort in Adjara. With steep and challenging slopes, it’s a great uncrowded alternative to Gudauri.
Imereti is the central region where Kutaisi is located, which was the original capital city of Georgia. It’s also home to the other main airport besides Tbilisi International Airport. (This airport is more oriented to flights in Europe and it is a bit far from the city of Kutaisi, so you’ll need to arrange a bus or airport transfer.)
This is a beautiful historic region, with misty mountains and stunning centuries-old churches. For example, one of the most spectacular churches is the Gelati Monastery. This religious site was built between the 12th and 13th centuries. It’s known for its gorgeous mosaics and the beautiful fresco depicting Saint Mary with Baby Jesus in her hands.
In the Imereti region, you can explore many fascinating hiking spots, such as the Prometheus Cave – a huge and spectacular natural cave formation. You can also visit the amazing Sataplia Cave, where actual dinosaur footprints have been found.
Imeriti is also known for being home to the spa resort Sairme, which lies in Bagdati Municipality. It’s famous for its natural hot and cold mineral water springs. Also, head to Shrosha Village, which is popular for its clay production. You can find everything here, from small cups and bowls to huge qvevri – the clay vessels designed for storing traditional Georgian wine.
You can also explore the town of Chaitura, famous for its cable cars. The Soviets built 76 of these cable cars, designed to transport workers and materials to the mines. 18 of them are still in operation and 11 of them still transport passengers.
Tskaltubo is also a fascinating place to visit in Imereti. It’s a former spa town that is now in disrepair. It used to have over 100,000 visitors per year – people who came mostly from Russia to enjoy the healing mineral water of the bath houses. Today, the town is abandoned. However, it’s still a popular destination for urban explorers who like to wander through the empty sanatoriums. (Here’s a great post with some beautiful photos of Tskaltubo.)
Tips for Visiting Imereti
- There are minibuses connecting Tbilisi and Kutaisi. They leave from Didube Station and the trip will cost around 10 GEL.
- There is also an international airport in Kutaisi, which connects with several airports around Europe such as Budapest, Berlin, Dortmund, London, Milan and Moscow.
The territory of the historical Georgian region of Racha is today part of Kvemo Svaneti and Racha-Lechkhumi. It is a spectacular highland region located in the northwest, surrounded by the Greater Caucasus mountains. A small town called Ambrolaurihe is the administrative centre of the region.
The delicious food of Racha is famed throughout Georgia. The baked bread and the chicken with garlic sauce (aka. Shkmeruli) are specialties. It also boasts unspoiled natural beauty: rushing rivers, coniferous forests and tranquil lakes. It doesn’t have a lot of major “tourist attractions” – the main thing to do here is wander through the stunning landscapes and enjoy the food and wine.
Shaori Lake is one of the most beautiful natural reserves in the region, located 1,100 metres above sea level and perfect for camping and fishing. You can also hike up to Nikortsminda, a pretty mountain village with a cathedral of the same name, constructed over 1,000 years ago during the reign of King Bragrat III.
Racha is also home to a spectacular sight you might recognize from postcards of Georgia – an ancient chapel perched precariously on the top of a thin, towering limestone pillar. A Christian ascetic constructed this strange chapel. He believed that by living on top of the pillar, he would be closer to God.
Tips for Visiting Racha
- You can reach Racha via the bus station in Kutaisi. Buses to Ambrolauri will leave from the bus terminal at around 10am and 2pm (but check with the driver to confirm.)
- There’s also a daily marshrutka going to the town of Oni from Didube Station in Tbilisi. It leaves around 8am and the price is approximately 25 GEL.
- Racha is close to the border with South Ossetia, so be careful when you are hiking so that you don’t get too close to this area.
Important Note on Abkhazia and South Ossetia
The two autonomous republics of Georgia were established during the Soviet Era and are recognized by the Modern Constitution of Georgia, which was adopted in 1995.
The political and social situation regarding these regions is complex. Most international governments recognize that Russia is occupying South Ossetia and Abkhazia. This is an ongoing point of contention and it’s important to understand this when visiting Georgia.
It is not advised to visit South Ossetia or Abkhazia. There are risks of landmines in areas along the Administrative Boundary Lines. You can’t enter these regions from Georgia. The border is heavily guarded. It is also illegal under Georgian law to enter Georgia from Russia via South Ossetia or Abkhazia.
Most Western governments advise against travel to Abkhazia and South Ossetia due to the tense situation there, the landmine and terrorism risk and the lack of consular support.
For more information, see these links: