The Republic of Georgia is quickly becoming a favorite destination among travelers in-the-know. This complete guide features everything you need to road trip through Georgia (the country)!
If you’re planning a trip in the near future, make sure you register for travel insurance before you go.
You can also check out my list of essential items for backpackers!
Georgia was never on my travel radar. I knew of it, in a vague sense, but had not considered it as a potential destination.
I’m part of a Facebook group for female travelers, and a Georgian gal posted some photos to showcase her home country.
I was blown away.
Gorgeous mountains? Check. Quaint villages? Check. Dramatic ravines? Check.
Now for the *really* important stuff…
Delicious food and wine? Check and CHECK!
We booked our flights, packed our bags, and headed to the airport.
To get the most out of our trip, we decided to rent a car and embark on a road trip through Georgia.
When we returned, I knew I had to share this experience with all of you in today’s post.
To begin, I’ll give a quick run-down of Georgia and her regions.
Next I’ll cover four potential itineraries you can use, depending on how much time you have and what you want to see.
Last, I’ll go over some practical information you’ll want to know before setting off on your Georgian road trip.
Let’s Road Trip through Georgia (the Country!)
There are likely two camps of people reading this post. The first are those that have already decided to visit Georgia, and are here looking for travel tips.
The second are those that came across this post and have yet to consider Georgia as a travel destination. For readers in that second group, I highly recommend reading this post which outlines all of the amazing reasons to visit the Republic of Georgia.
Okay, now that everyone has read that and decided they need to go to Georgia immediately, let’s get into the details.
The regions I was most excited to visit in Georgia are Svaneti, Kazbegi, Kahketi, and Javakheti.
Before my trip, I saw lots of maps and descriptions of the various regions throughout the country. I didn’t see a lot of cohesion between these maps regarding boundaries, names, or even the number of regions. For traveling purposes, I found that the locals understood me when I used those four names.
A basic run-down of my four favorite regions:
Svaneti: (Northwest) – Breathtaking mountains and remote villages. Road conditions can make this a difficult region to get to and to travel within.
Kazbegi: (North) – Slightly smaller mountains, beautiful gorges, home the famous Gergeti Trinity Church, and slightly easier to get to than Svaneti.
Kakheti: (East) – Fields, rivers, charming villages, and loads of good wine.
Javakheti: (South) – Smaller mountains, stunning gorges, and the famous cave-city of Vardzia.
Other locations to consider:
Kvemo Kartli: (South) – Very close to Tbilisi, and the region containing the popular David Gareja Monastery.
Shida Kartli: (Central) – Also close to Tbilisi, and a great choice for a day-trip to see Uplistsikhe.
Imeriti: (Central) – Contains the original capital city of Kutaisi (and the other main airport).
Guria & Ajara: (West Coast) – Beaches, tourism, nightlife, etc. Guria contains the port town of Poti, where the ferry from Varna (Bulgaria) arrives. In Ajara you’ll find the city of Batumi, arguably the most popular Georgian town on the Black Sea.
Tbilisi: (Central) – The current capital city and likely where your plane will land. There’s plenty to see and do here!
Creating an Itinerary
The itinerary you choose will depend largely on how much time you have to spend in Georgia. I’ve put together four different itineraries that should help you get an idea of where to start.
Depending on which sights you want to see, you can elect to either complete a circular route or arrange to fly in to either Tbilisi or Kutaisi, and then fly out from the other.
If you are very short on time but want to visit Svaneti, there are a limited number of flights direct to Mestia from Kutaisi with an airline called Vanilla Sky.
If you have more time, you can complete a circular route and end up back where you started. For the sake of simplicity, each of the following itineraries begin and end in Tbilisi.
Five days is the shortest amount of time that I would recommend for planning any sort of road trip. If you have less time than this, you should plan to base yourself in a central location (such as Tbilisi) and take day trips to nearby places of interest.
Before we begin, a note about routes:
If it looks like there is some unnecessary back-tracking on your chosen route, that is intentional. There are regions of the country that are impractical or impossible to drive through. Many roads that appear on GPS maps are nothing more than mud and rocks cutting through an otherwise undisturbed field.
I recommend sticking to the main roads, and downloading your route from Google Maps to be used offline before beginning. We tried using MapsMe a few times and it usually led us through crazy back-roads that took much longer than sticking to the larger roads.
(I’d give this road a “3” on the 1-5 scale of Georgian roads we encountered)
Itinerary #1: Ancient Sites – 5 Days
Main points of interest: Tbilisi, Khertvisi Fortress, Vardzia, Borjormi, Uplistsikhe, David Gareji Monastery
- Day 1 – Arrive in Tbilisi and pick up rental car. Spend the day enjoying the city. Overnight in town.
- Day 2 – Leave early morning to drive to the ruins of Uplistsikhe (about 1 hour, 45 minutes). Plan to arrive just before 10:00 am (when it opens) to avoid the rush of tour buses around 11:00 am. There’s a tasty restaurant near the exit where you can enjoy local cuisine on the patio. After lunch, drive to Borjomi (another 1 hour, 45 minutes) for dinner and overnight. Be sure to try the famous mineral water!
- Day 3 – Leave by 8:00 am to make the two-hour drive to Vardzia. Gates open at 10:00 am, and you will certainly appreciate the opportunity to snag some photos before the crowds arrive. After enjoying the site, backtrack to see Khertvisi fortress. You’ll be glad you did, and you have to go back this way to return to the highway anyway. This part of the drive is absolutely stunning! The drive from here to the Monastery is between 5 and 7 hours (depending on road conditions), so plan to find a guesthouse somewhere along the route. Alternatively, you can return to Tbilisi to stay the night.
- Day 4 – Make your way to the David Gareji Monastery. You’ll want to leave early because the road conditions can be quite unpredictable (and mostly unpaved). Return to Tbilisi for overnight. Alternatively, spend the day hiking through Dashbashi Canyon, or simply enjoy another day in Tbilisi City.
- Day 5 – Spend the day soaking in the famous sulfur baths, visit the flea market, and explore Old Town. If you like wine as much as I do, plan to visit a good wine shop to do some tasting and bring a few bottles (checked baggage only!) back home.
Itinerary #2: Caves, Kazbegi, and Wine Country – 7 Days
Main points of interest: Tbilisi, Uplistsikhe, Gergeti Trinity Church, Kakheti Wine Region, David Gareji Monastery
- Day 1 – Arrive in Tbilisi and pick up rental car. Spend the day enjoying the city. Overnight in town.
- Day 2 – Leave early morning to drive to Uplistsikhe (about 1 hour, 45 minutes). Plan to arrive just before 10:00 am (when it opens) to avoid the rush of tour buses around 11:00 am. There’s a tasty restaurant near the exit where you can enjoy local cuisine on the patio. After lunch, make the beautiful drive to Stepantsminda (about 3 hours and 15 minutes, but plan for 4 hours due to traffic and construction delays). Explore the town, have dinner, and breathe the mountain air.
- Day 3 – Wake up early to visit the Gergeti Trinity Church. Afterward, eat an early lunch and then put on your game face to brave the road into the Truso Gorge (Warning: You MUST have a 4×4 vehicle to do this!). The views are spectacular and the drive itself is a total riot. Once you come back out of the gorge, head towards the Kakheti region for an overnight in Telavi. The drive will take around four hours, so pack some snacks and load up a playlist. Once in Kakheti, you can opt to stay in a simple guesthouse, or book a room at a luxury wine chateau.
- Day 4 – Designate a driver (or arrange a tour!) and spend the day indulging in the best wine Georgia has to offer.
- Day 5 – Take your time and make your way back to Tbilisi City. If you’re interested in Qvervi wine, check out the local (and touristy!) wine museum. Overnight in Tbilisi.
- Day 6 – Make your way to the David Gareji Monastery. You’ll want to leave early because the road conditions can be quite unpredictable (and mostly unpaved). Return to Tbilisi for overnight. Alternatively, spend the day hiking through Dashbashi Canyon, or simply enjoy another day in Tbilisi City.
- Day 7 -Spend the day soaking in the famous sulfur baths, visit the flea market, and explore Old Town. If you like wine as much as I do, plan to visit a good wine shop to do some tasting and bring a few bottles (checked baggage only!) back home.
Itinerary #3: Georgian Mountains, Scenery, and Hikes – 10 days
Main points of interest: Tbilisi, Khertvisi Fortress, Vardzia, Borjormi, Kutaisi, Martvili Canyon, Mestia, Ushguli, Uplistsikhe
- Day 1 – Arrive in Tbilisi and pick up rental car. Spend the day enjoying the city. Find a nice wine bar in town and pick out a few bottles to take with you on your journey. Don’t forget a wine key! Overnight in Tbilisi City.
- Day 2 – Leave early and pick up picnic supplies before leaving town. Drive two hours to Dashbashi Canyon for a refreshing hike, then park right here to enjoy your picnic lunch with a view of the lake. Continue on to visit Khertvisi Fortress (another two hours) before checking in to your guesthouse for the night (there are many near Vardzia, but we stayed at this one).
- Day 3 – Leave your guesthouse in time to arrive at the Vardzia caves at 10:00am. Spend a few hours enjoying this incredible site before driving two hours to Borjomi for a late lunch. Spend some time wandering the beautiful park, and be sure to try the famous mineral water! Two more hours on the road and you’ll arrive in Kutaisi for dinner and overnight. While in town, pick up some more supplies for a picnic for tomorrow, as there aren’t many restaurant options along the way.
- Day 4 – After breakfast, drive one hour up the road to visit Martvili Canyon. Take some time to stretch your legs and enjoy the view, or take the little boat ride through the canyon. If the weather is poor, you can visit the Prometheus Caves instead. The rest of the afternoon will be spent driving along the beautiful route to Mestia. While the route is now (finally!) paved, it is still incredibly curvy so be sure to pack your acupressure wristbands! Upon arrival in Mestia, check in to your guesthouse and enjoy a traditional Svanetian dinner in town.
- Day 5 – Today will be a full day spent in beautiful Mestia. For those who like to hike, trekking up to the Chalaadi Glacier is par for the course. If the trail is impassable due to weather (or if you just don’t feel like it), take the chair lift up to Khatsvali Ski Resort to check out the amazing views. There’s a great Svanetian history museum in town, as well as a museum where you can visit the inside of a traditional Svanetian tower. Buy some Svanetian salt as a souvenir and drink some chacha (local moonshine) to warm yourself up.
- Day 6 – Fuel up your car and leave as early as possible to make the drive to Ushguli. The road is now partially paved (as of 2018), so what used to be a four-hour drive is now easily made in two. You’ll still need a 4×4 vehicle and a keen sense of adventure! Spend the afternoon exploring the four villages of Ushguli on foot before checking in to your guesthouse. There’s a new little cafe down by the creek that serves beer if you’re in need of a break (that drive is a bit intense!). Ushguli used to be known as the most remote village in Europe, but with the new (partially) paved road and the increase in tourism, the town is quickly filling up with guesthouses and cafes. TANGENT: If you decide to visit, consider doing what you can to support the locals that live there and try to avoid interfering with the experience of other travelers. For example, think about parking your vehicle a little bit out of town and walking a few minutes to your guesthouse so when others come to visit there isn’t an out-of-place-looking car in their photos (<– one of my biggest travel peeves is people parking cars in front of beautiful sights!).
- Day 7 – Wake up early and get some photos of spectacular Mount Ushba. There are plenty of nice hiking trails around that will give you privacy, serenity, and incredible views. Pay attention to where you are going: you’re only about 2 kilometers from the Russian border and you don’t want to accidentally wander across it. There’s an abandoned fortress up on a hill overlooking Chazhashi (one of the villages of Ushguli) which can be reached by a mostly-overgrown path. We asked our guesthouse about it and were told it was just 45 minutes away. Two hours later we made it to the top! The view was spectacular, and probably more so because I was so out of breath from the climb that I was practically passed out. If you want to check it out yourself, the GPS coordinate of the tower is right here. It is accessible by this little bridge. Another popular route is hiking from Ushguli up to the Shkhara Glacier.
- Day 8 – After breakfast, head back the way you came towards Mestia. You might be tempted to take the other road out of town, but it is commonly blocked by a vehicle stuck in the mud and you don’t want to drive an hour that direction only to stop, turn around, and backtrack to Ushguli (trust me on this). Your next destination is the ruins of Uplistsikhe, just outside the town of Gori (the birthplace of Stalin). You can elect to push through to Gori for your overnight (about six and a half hours), or pick a guesthouse along the way to break up the drive. We originally planned to stay in Gori, but due to our snafu which required us to backtrack to Ushguli, we ended up crashing at a road-side motel in Zestafoni.
- Day 9 – Depending on where you stayed last night, wake up in time to arrive at the ruins of Uplistsikhe by 10:00am when they open the gates. There’s a tasty restaurant near the exit where you can enjoy local cuisine on the patio. After lunch, drive back to Tbilisi City and enjoy the rest of the day in town.
- Day 10 – Spend the day soaking in the famous sulfur baths, visit the flea market, and explore Old Town. Relax and prepare for your return flight home!