From its diverse landscape and natural wine scene to its rich history and generous people, Georgia is one of Europe's best-kept secrets—and ideal for a road trip. Easy to navigate with a rental car and home to a newly-restored system of highways, Georgia has plenty to explore.
If you have 10 days to spend, you can visit Tbilisi; Kakheti, which is Georgia's wine region; the breathtaking Svaneti in the Caucasus mountains; and Vardzia, a spectacular cave monastery in the south. (If Svaneti adds too much distance or drive to your trip, you can consider the Kazbegi region to shorten the journey; however, Svaneti is more than worth the extra effort.) Tbilisi is more easily explored via foot, taxi, or Bolt (Georgia's "Uber"), so it is easiest to rent the car before departing Tbilisi.
Here is your off-the-beaten-track guide to where to go, what to see and do, plus where to stay during each stop along the way. If you are a more fast-paced traveler, it is easily doable in the 10 days as described, but if you'd like more time to relax and lay low, it can be extended to two weeks.
Day 1: Tbilisi
Fly into Tbilisi and grab a cab from the airport to the hotel. Fabrika Hostel has simple but artistic private rooms and will allow you to drop your bags off before check-in. Then take a relaxed stroll along the Dry Bridge Market, which opens at 11 a.m. This flea market emerged after the fall of the Soviet Union, and you can find all kinds of Soviet memorabilia here, from antique jewelry to Soviet medals and old fur hats. Next, check out Shavi Lomi for lunch—make sure you order "Gobi"—the signature shared platter that includes jonjoli (an assortment of cheeses), mchadi (cornbread), and phkali (beet, walnut, and spinach dips). After lunch, head back to Fabrika.
This former sewing factory is now a funky urban space that includes areas to chill, drink, eat, and mingle, and shop. After a couple of hours of rest (depending on your country of departure, which may leave you jetlagged) and exploring Fabrika, you can take a 15-minute walk (or five-minute Bolt) to Barbarestan, a family-owned restaurant with entrees based on feminist poet Barbare Jorjadze, for dinner. End the night by strolling over to Movement Theatre, a hip and artsy local spot for performances including dance, comedy, theatre, movies, and more. If you have the energy for a night out, check out Bassiani, a famous sports venue turned political techno club, or grab a drink at one of the bars located in Fabrika’s common area and call it a night.
Day 2: Tbilisi
Start your day with some caffeine at Milk Coffee Shop before heading over to Old Tbilisi, which can be explored on foot. Start at the renowned Gabriadze Theatre, where at each hour, an angel comes out to ring the bell of an intricately crafted, otherworldly clocktower. Enjoy the cute neighborhood surrounding the theatre before walking south to cross the Bridge of Peace, designed by famous architect Michele De Lucchi, over to Rike Park, which, if seen with a bird's eye view, is itself a map in the shape of Georgia. Continue southwards towards the Abanotubani district, known for its sulfur baths and saunas. If you’re interested, check out Chreli Abano, which has spa options available for reservation. Along the walk, indulge in Georgian street food and candle-shaped candies called churchkhela.
Walk by the Narikala Fortress, which overlooks the city, and you’ll also see the Central Mosque and Metekhi St. Virgin Church. If you’re up for it, climb the steps to the statue of Kartlis Deda (the Mother of Georgia) for a breathtaking view of the city. By now, you may have quite an appetite, so head northwest, stopping by Gallery 27 to take photos among beautiful stained glass windows, for a late lunch at Café Littera, a small garden behind a 120-year-old house for a literary ambiance and a culinary twist on Georgian cuisine. Continue your day by walking through Liberty Square on Rustaveli Avenue. Numerous museums and government buildings like along this thoroughfare, though I recommend checking out the MOMA, where you can get a small taste of Georgia’s contemporary art scene. Before heading back to your lodging, stop at Café Gallery for a coffee or a happy hour drink.
Explore the street art around Fabrika and after a rest head over to Poliphonia for an ultra-local dinner—which has an exquisite selection of natural wines and seasonal surprise menus, including a delicious Georgian salad. Try the homemade chacha, a popular Georgian brandy that is not for the faint of heart. If you’re up for it, top dinner off with a glass of wine at Vino Underground or a cocktail at the edgy Art Café.
Day 3: Tbilisi to Telavi
Plan to take a taxi to the airport to pickup your rental car around 8:30 a.m., and it’ll be a smooth drive to Kakheti, arguably the world’s oldest wine region. Around 11 a.m., you can drop your bags off at your lodging in Telavi. Many love Neli & Zaal Guest House, a quaint guesthouse with rave reviews, though there are many fantastic options to choose from. Speak to your host about hiring a driver (it may be your guesthouse's owner!) to drive you to local wineries in Telavi. A driver will allow you to free sample as much wine as you’d like, as there is a zero percent alcohol tolerance in Georgia when driving.
Larger-scale coordinated winery visits exist, but for the wine-lover, less commercial local wineries will offer a more unique, intimate experience. Georgian wine is traditionally made in “qvevris,” or clay pots buried into the ground. Check out Makashvili Wine Cellar (this may come up as Vazian on Google maps) and start the day with their award-winning dry white Khikhvi. Lagazi Wine Cellar, launched recently by a young entrepreneur, is worth the drive to taste of his locally sourced food paired with amber wine. Top off the day at Teliani Valley to enjoy award-winning wine from the balcony of their beautiful tasting room. In Kakheti, a fun option is to choose a guesthouse that includes a Georgian cooking experience. At the recommended guesthouse, you can learn to make Georgian dumplings, known as “khinkali.”
Day 4: Sighnaghi
Start with a relaxed morning sipping on Georgian coffee and a local breakfast spread at your guesthouse before traveling to one of Kakheti's highlights, Sighnaghi. This charming town is seated on a hilltop overlooking the surrounding mountains, and you could spend hours walking along the cobblestone streets exploring the wineries, small bakeries, craft shops, and scenery. The cannot-miss winery and restaurant is Pheasant's Tears, a favorite of the late Anthony Bourdain. Try a Saperavi to pair with your dish of beets and wild plum sauce.
Spend the day exploring, and if it strikes your fancy, check out the Sighnaghi Museum to follow Georgia's history from the perspective of artifacts and crafts. You can grab dinner at Okro's Natural Wine Restaurant, which boasts sprawling views of the village and surrounding countryside from their balcony, before heading home for the night.
Day 5: Sighnaghi to Gori to Zughdidi
While today will lead towards the best part of the trip, the drive is long! (Flights are an option, but prices can be high.) While many blogs warn of poorly maintained roadways, these are outdated, and you'll find that Georgia has upgraded much of its highway system over recent years.
Your drive west to Zughdidi should take about seven hours. Recommended stops on the way include the Ananuri Fortress, a 17th-century castle displaying a mix of architectural styles that was once the site of Silk Road commerce as well as many battles. Also on the route to Zughdidi is Gori, a city with fortresses galore and the birthplace of Joseph Stalin. You can eat a quick Georgian lunch at Café 22 and peruse the Stalin Museum and be on your way out. End the day with an early bedtime in Zughdidi, as you will rise early to drive to the town of Mestia in the Svaneti region, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to begin the outdoor enthusiast part of the trip.
Day 6: Mestia to Adishi
Head towards Mestia around 6:30 a.m. and enjoy the gorgeous mountain scenery on your drive. On arrival, take a deep breath and stretch your legs. Although it took quite a bit of energy to get here, you absolutely won't regret it.
During this part of the trip, you will hike through the picturesque Svaneti region, through miles of hills of blossoming yellow flowers (depending on the season), alpine meadows, with views of snow-capped peaks and glaciers, as if you are a character in "The Sound of Music." Svaneti is an ancient land-locked area so remote no rulers have altered it, and in between hikes, you will spend late afternoons and nights in tiny local villages (usually populated by only a handful of families) with ancient stone towers, with an intimate view of preserved Svan culture and cuisine.
Options to complete this part of the trip include hiking, horseback riding (a highly recommended unique experience that allows you to cover more ground quickly), or a combination of driving and hiking or horseback riding—all depending on the amount of time you have and how many villages you'd like to see. A guide is not always required but is recommended for hiking and is mandatory for a trip by horseback. Guides are also helpful in booking the best homestays along your journey.
Make sure to pack some warmer clothes for the chilly overnights in this region. If exploring by horseback as we did, the first day, you will hike amongst views of the Ushba and Tetnuldi mountains before stopping in the village of Adishi for the night. Trying local chvistari, cornbread filled with cheese, at your homestay, and make sure you don't drink the homemade wine until the head of the table does. When they drink, you must drink until they stop, so be prepared!
Day 7: Adishi to Ushguli
Breakfast and a packed lunch are provided as you set out around 8 a.m. through Adishi Valley and Ckhutnieri pass, now 8,800 feet above sea level. You will pass through rivers, endless greenery, and majestic but humble towns as you see mountains and breathtaking glaciers all around. After you arrive at the village called Kala, a jeep will transport you on a road to Ushguli Village. This portion can also be hiked via an alternative route, but this is a good option as you have completed the most scenic part of the hike by foot and horseback. Ushguli is a larger village of about 70 families and with an iconic stone tower. Once you’re here, you will find it hard to put your camera away! Guesthouse Angelina is known for incredible local eats and welcoming hosts who may even play local instruments for you if you’re lucky.
Today begins with a morning visit to Shkhara Glacier on the Inguri River, right on the border of Russia and Georgia. The distance is doable without the horse and the breathtaking mountain views like none other. After exploring, car transport will return you to Mestia by early evening. You will spend the night here. For dinner, almost all local restaurants have "kubdari," a delicious pork and beef filled pie with onions and Svan salt—which includes cumin, fennel, and red peppers—illustrating the multi-cultural influence on Svan cuisine.
Day 9: Mestia to Ketaisi
After a good night's sleep, your destination for today is Kutaisi, roughly a four-and-a-half-hour drive away. Along the way, stop in a local town for a quick lunch and, if you'd like more nature, visit Martvili Canyon, which features beautiful shades of green and blue water and foliage, a waterfall, and if desired, a peaceful boat ride (without having to take a hike). Once you reach Kutaisi, explore the Green Bazaar, an eclectic marketplace with delicious khachapuri, a buttery & cheesy boat-shaped delight, and relax at one of the city's many cafes.
Day 10: Ketaisi to Tbilisi via Vardzia
Today you will embark on a three-hour drive to Vardzia, a must-see for any trip to Georgia. Along the drive, stop for a late breakfast or lunch in Borjomi, the home of Borjomi water, before continuing to Vardzia. This monastery, known as the “mountain queen,” is comprised of caves dug out of the rock on the slopes of the Erusheti Mountain. It was constructed in 1185 at the request of Queen Tamar, to resist the onslaught of Mongols, and has lived through earthquakes. Take the audio tour to fully appreciate the fascinating history of Vardzia and how many aspects of the complex were used for living, communicating, and defense. If Vardzia were located in Western Europe, tickets would be sold out for weeks. After Vardzia, you are now on your way back to Tbilisi! On the way to Tbilisi, stop at Phoka St. Nino Monastery, known for its fresh cheese and honey made by nuns, for a snack and souvenirs. You’ll make it back to Tbilisi before you fly home the next morning! Marina’s Guesthouse is a homey spot to spend the last night to relax and to soak in one last Georgian meal. Check out Ezo, a spacious garden-style restaurant with natural wines or hipster Black Dog Bar, where you can grab a beer to celebrate the end of an action-packed and unforgettable trip.