Things to Do in Georgia
Few destinations in the hills of Mount Gareja are as picturesque, historical or significant as David Gareja Monastery Complex. This Georgian Orthodox center was founded in the 6th century by one of the 13 Assyrian monks. The stunning religious architectural specimen is home to 13 unique monasteries, towering churches, quiet chapels for worship, living quarters for studying monks and hundreds of cells carved from the mountain rock.
Travelers who make their way to the semi-desert landscapes where David Gareja Monastery Complex rests—between the border of Georgia and Azerbaijan—will find sheer rock faces slanting into the green foliage of rugged mountains where quiet rooms for worship were carved out. The area known as Lavra still houses studying monks and visitors say the lush grounds thatched with quiet walking trails are worth exploring.
The famed Metekhi Church is located in one of Tbilisi’s most historic districts, atop a striking cliff where local legend has it the city’s patron saint was martyred in the 8th century. Built during the Middle Ages, Metekhi Church is comprised of three eastward facing apses and four towering pillars.
Travelers who want to explore the grounds can wander around and through this historic church before taking in its small hidden garden and heading to the nearby Metekhi Bridge and the iconic monument built to honor King Vakhtang Gorgasali. Visitors looking for the best views of this church that’s said to stand on the site where Tbilisi was founded will find them atop the Narikala Fortress.
The city of Tbilisi is rich with history, but travelers looking to gain a deeper understanding of the nation’s dynamic past should pay a visit to the Georgian National Museum (Saqartvelos Erovnuli Muzeumi), where impressive galleries are lined with the art and artifacts of this diverse nation, dating back to the 8th millennium BC.
Travelers say the well-organized museum provides vital insight into Georgia’s history, including its existence under soviet rule. The treasury exhibit in the museum’s basement showcases jewels dating back more than 2,000 years and the armory section displays some impressive pieces from World War II. Though the museum is small by international standards, visitors agree it packs thousands of years of history into a compact space. Most of the material isn’t translated, so travelers who want to get the most from this experience may want to opt for a guided tour in one of four languages offered.
Mtatsminda Park was once the third-most-visited entertainment center in the USSR. Today, the family-friendly landscaped park—with its carousels, waterslides, roller coaster, and Ferris wheel—remains a popular destination for travelers and locals looking for a day of fun and leisure.
Once a Persian citadel, the ancient Narikala Fortress dominates the Tbilisi skyline. Established in the fourth century, it was expanded in the seventh, 16th, and 17th centuries, before much of it was destroyed in an explosion in 1827. The view from the fortress is one of the best in the Georgian capital.
Founded in the late 19th century by Prince Ivane Mukhranbatoni, the Château Mukhrani is a winery and castle located in Mukhrani village, just outside of Tbilisi. Mukhrani wines received international acclaim from the beginning and the winery was one of the exclusive suppliers to the Russian Imperial Court. The castle and gardens were once a cultural center for the Georgian elite and Russian royalty. Château Mukhrani was abandoned and nearly destroyed during Soviet times, but in 2002 plans began to restore the estate to its former glory and to revive the winery.
Since 2007, Château Mukhrani has once again been producing wine harvested in its own vineyards. The wine cellar has also been rebuilt according to its original design and now holds more than 60,000 barrels of wine. Today, visitors can tour the restored castle, gardens and wine cellar; sample Mukhrani wines and Georgian cuisine; and try their hand at traditional bread baking, churchkhela making or chacha distillation.
The famous Tbilisi Funicular railroad opened in 1905. Built atop the Mtatsminda Plateau, the main station overlooks Tbilisi and offers up spectacular views of this capital city. Though the initial operation was met with trepidation, since residents feared traversing the steep mountain in transportation that was deemed somewhat precarious, it later became a trusted and true mode of transit—particularly after a theme park, Mtatsminda Park, was opened at the top of the plateau. Today, the Tbilisi Funicular is a far cry from its former self, with modern, sleek carriages
and newly laid rails. Travelers say the ride offers spectacular views and a traditional Georgian restaurant at the top of Mtatsminda serves some of the best local cuisine around, and historic photos in the funicular station provide insight into this Tbilisi highlight’s early years.
Opened in 2012, Tbilisi’s aerial tramway connects Rike Park on the left bank of the Mtkvari river to the Narikala Fortress. Savor 360-degree views of the Georgian capital while the cable car whisks you to the top of Sololaki Hill.
Set on a hill overlooking Tbilisi’s Vake District, the Open Air Museum of Ethnography (Etnografiuli Muzeumi) provides examples of folk architecture and crafts from around Georgia. Named after Giorgi Chitaia, a Georgian ethnographer who founded the museum in 1966, it features 70 buildings spread across 52 hectares of land. The exhibits are divided into nearly a dozen areas, each one representing a different part of Georgian ethnology.
Among the buildings that visitors will see are traditional, flat-roofed stone houses from eastern Georgia, watch towers from mountainous regions like Khevsureti and Svaneti, wooden houses with gable roofs from western Georgia, a Kakhetian wintery and a Kartlian water mill. Within many buildings, you will find displays of traditional costumes, ceramics, furniture and other household items specific to the region.
The museum also hosts a folk culture festival each summer and, in addition to the ethnographic exhibits, it offers superb views around Tbilisi. It also features the Rachasubani restaurant, a good place to try traditional Georgian cuisine.
Few destinations offer access to views as stunning as Jvari Monastery. Travelers who make their way to this 6th century Georgian Orthodox monastery will find emerald hills surrounded by turquoise blue waters. This breathtaking natural landscape is the single point where the Argavi and Mitkvari Rivers, as well as the Caspian Sea, meet. But locals say that the location’s ecological significance pales in comparison to its religious significance. According to local folklore, Jvari Monastery is the place where the female evangelist Saint Nino, converted the nation to Christianity.
Today, travelers can take in the epic scenery and lush landscapes as they climb to the massive cross statue on Mtskheta’s tallest peak. But the interior of this ancient structure is almost as impressive as the landscapes that surround it. Visitors will find what remains of the church and worship area, including the domed altar with tiny, un-paned windows where natural light streams through.
More Things to Do in Georgia
Dedicated to the life of one of the world’s most prolific mass murders, the Stalin Museum in his birthplace Gori is little changed since its last update in the late 1970s, when Leonid Brezhnev was the Soviet premier. It glorifies Stalin’s life and career, omitting any mention of genocide, gulags, megalomania, repression or mass starvation, and is a fascinating glimpse into the propaganda-machine that was the Soviet Union before its downfall in 1989.
Central to the museum complex is a vast, Soviet-Realist take on a Gothic palace; in front of it stands a Neo-classical pavilion that shelters the wooden shack in which Stalin was born in 1878. The exhibition is divided into six chronological halls and displays thousands of photos, documentation, paintings and newspaper cuttings charting Stalin’s rise from Gori to the Kremlin, via stories of his early bank-robbing days and his several jail terms under tsarist rule.
Highlights include Stalin’s green, private railway carriage, in which he traveled around the Soviet Union in heavily armored seclusion, the dictator’s bronze death mask and the desk from his study in the Kremlin.
This stunning cathedral in the heart of Arsukidze dates back to the early 11th century and serves as a visual reminder of the iconic Georgian architecture that has made this region famous. Travelers will find ornate stone carvings on Svetitskhoveli’s exterior and detailed frescos on the interior walls. The robes of Jesus Christ are said to be tucked underneath the church’s nave. For this reason, thousands of pilgrims find their way to this famous cathedral every year. Travelers can revel at the artistry of what’s widely considered the most beautiful church in the nation, and learn about the Georgian monarchs who are buried here as they explore the grounds.
The tallest church in Tbilisi, the Holy Trinity Cathedral (Tsminda Sameba) is an unmissable feature of the Tbilisi skyline: its golden dome rises out from Elia Hill and is visible from almost any point in the city. The stunning structure is part of a complex that includes a monastery, theology school, and nine chapels (including five underground).
Despite having undergone countless reconstructions over the centuries, Tbilisi’s Old Town has somehow retained its picturesque charm. With a colorful blend of Eastern and Western styles, the district’s cobblestone streets, ancient landmarks, and beautiful balconies draw architecture, history, and culture enthusiasts from around the world.
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