1. Get an Aerial Tramway view of Tbilisi
A walk over the Peace Bridge in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, will bring you to the Aerial Tramway, which connects the Rike Park on the Mtkvari river with Narikala, the ancient fortress which overlooks the city. The tramway carts are air conditioned and the journey from bottom to top takes about three minutes. It’s quite a climb so if you have a fear of heights you might want to take the stairs! From the top of the tramway it’s a short walk to Narikala Fortress, Mother Georgia statue and the Tbilisi botanical gardens. The best way to pay for your ticket (which costs around Dh3 one way) is with your Tbilisi metromoney card that you can pick up and charge at the airport or shops around the city.
2. Visit Gergeti Trinity Church in Stepantsminda
If you’re feeling up for a trek, consider taking the three-hour climb up to the church that sits on the banks of the River Chkheri. It stands at 2,170m above sea level; the path is quite steep so it’s not a hike for the fainthearted. The alternative is a half-hour jeep ride up the mountain trail. The church was built in 14th century and was said to be the place where some of the country’s precious artefacts, including Saint Nino’s Cross, were stored when the country was unstable. The red brickwork sits in wonderful contrast to the green hills around it; it’s not a view you’ll forget in a hurry.
3. Enjoy the views in Stepantsminda
Stepantsminda has some of Georgia’s best and most stunning landscapes. It’s the capital of the Kazbegi region and a good town to stay in while you explore the mountains on horseback, bicycle or even on foot. The most popular thing to do in the Kazbegi is marvel at Mount Kazbek, a dormant volcano and Georgia’s third highest peak. If you’d like to lay your head in a little luxury after a day in the great outdoors, book a room at the Rooms Hotel Kaebegi and enjoy a hot drink on the balcony overlooking Mount Kazbek. Double rooms cost from around Dh700.
4. Relax in the botanical gardens
You can reach The National Botanical Garden of Georgia (formerly known as the Tbilisi Botanical Garden) on the Aerial Tramway or a rather steep climb up the hill. It covers a huge 161 hectares and sections of it date back to at least 1671 when they were part of the private gardens of Narikala Fortress. There’s more than 4,500 species and sub-species of plants and a natural waterfall so you get a lot of bang for your buck. Tickets: 1GEL (Dh1.5) Opening hours: 9am – 6pm (March), 9am – 8pm (April > August), 9am – 7pm (September), 9am – 5pm (October > February)
5. Go back in time at Narikala Fortress
The 4th century Narikala Fortress dominates the Tbilisi Old Town skyline. The best way to reach it is by the Aerial Tramway if you don’t fancy the walk up the Meidan. Most of the external structure was built by the Arab emirs to protect their palace within the wall. In 1827, large parts collapsed in an explosion of munitions that were stored in the fortress by Russians. The Church of St Nicholas, which was also severely damaged, was restored in the mid 1990s. There are some beautiful frescos inside the church which portray Georgia’s history and stories in the Bible. Despite the damage, the fortress is one of the best things to do in Georgia if you want to understand and experience the country’s history.
6. Dine on Khinkali
This dumpling dish can be found all over Georgia but the fillings and method of cooking will differ slightly. The original Khinkali was filled with minced meat, chilli, salt, cumin and onions. You might find other herbs such as cilantro and thyme in more modern recipes, along with potatoes and cheese. It’s actually impolite to use a fork when you eat Khinkali, so roll up your sleeves and dig in!
7. Walk over the Bridge of Peace at Rike Park
Georgia’s history has given the country something of an eclectic architectural legacy. From the 4th century Narikala Fortress you can gaze downhill towards the ultra-modern LED-lit Bridge of Peace. Crossing the Kura Rive the bridge connects the city’s newer parts with Old Tbilisi. It was officially opened in 2010 and clearly stands out from the surrounding architecture. It’s a pedestrian bridge and one of the best things to do in Georgia at night when the LED lights are switched on. The light show runs for 1.5 hours before and after sunset, so time your walk well.
8. Visit Kartlis Deda (aka Mother Georgia)
Standing incredibly proud atop Tbilisi’s Sololaki Hill overlooking the city, the 23m Kartlis Deda is a must-see attraction in Georgia. Dressed in national dress the statue was built in 1958 to mark the city’s 1,500th anniversary. She was designed by national sculptor Elguja Amashukeli and built in aluminum. In her left hand she holds a bowl for wine meant to symbolize a greeting to incoming friends, and in her right hand a sword, the "greeting" for her enemies! You can reach the statue via the tramway or the steep walk up the hill. It’s best to combine it with a visit to the Botanical Gardens and Nikala Fortress to save you having to make the ascent twice.
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*Published April 2017. Prices correct at the time of publication but may be subject to change and/or availability.