The great thing about making Tbilisi your base if you’re spending time in Georgia as a traveler is that not only is there a lot to see and discover in the big town itself but it’s also near many different sites that are more than worthwhile for a visit with a day trip. And that’s exactly why I went on a day trip to the town of Gori and nearby Uplistsikhe. The trip to these two locations including their attractions can be covered within a day and you can do it independently. But you can join guided tours in Tbilisi that’ll take you through Gori and Uplistsikhe for half a day that can cost 38 euros or more.
Gori is known for being the fashion capital of Georgia but the most popular thing about Gori and why so many travelers are being attracted to it is that it’s the birthplace of the infamous and known dictator, Joseph Stalin. Gori loves to showcase their most famous son and it’s an interesting place to visit to learn more about him. There’s an entire museum dedicated to Stalin in Gori which is pretty much the main attraction of the otherwise unremarkable town.
Best Things to see in Gori
Of course, it wouldn’t make sense if there’s no museum dedicated to Stalin at the place of his birth. The Stalin museum is hands down Gori’s main attraction. The tickets cost 10 GEL for entrance and another 5 GEL to gain entrance Stalin’s train carriage right outside the museum. The museum is full of pictures and even newspaper article clippings of Stalin throughout his life. There’s also a collection of odd Stalin-themed gifts plus his death mask is on display, which was kind of creepy. However, what’s interesting though is that there’s only one small section that’s almost like an afterthought about Stalin’s devastating gulag policies and other atrocities as a dictator.
\ Stalin Museum Entrance
Outside of the museum, as mentioned, is Stalin’s personal train carriage where you can enter. Also outside of the museum is Stalin’s house where he was born in 1878 and lived for four years. There’s also a statue of Stalin in front of his childhood house and nearby you can visit Stalin park.
Entering the Stalin Museum, you won’t get much information without a tour in English as the writings inside are only in Georgian and Russian. There is a tour available that’s being offered in English for free that I was lucky enough to catch while I was visiting but there’s no schedule of when it’s available. So if you’re really interested in knowing the information inside the museum, you’ll have to leave it to chance that a tour might be available when you’re visiting or maybe hire a local guide is both knowledgable and knows English.
2. Gori Fortress
Gori Fortress is Gori’s second main attraction after the Stalin museum. It’s free to enter but there’s not much left of the fortress itself. The fortress is said to be built as a citadel in Medieval times and it’s just a short walk away from the Stalin Museum. Hiking up the fortress can give you nice views of the surrounding hills and Gori itself. There are also large statues at the foot of the hill where the fortress is located. This collection of warrior statutes once displayed at Tbilisi’s Vake Park and served as a memorial to Georgia’s war heroes. They make for a strong image with the fortress behind them.
3. The Churches
There are several churches in Gori you can visit just like with any Georgian city or towns. As we wander through the streets of Gori, we come across several small churches all of which are lovely. You can enter Gori’s churches for free but we opt to just admire the exterior of the churches. The most impressive ones, we found, were the Gori Cathedral and Mary’s church.
4. Wander the Streets
Wandering the streets of Gori is an easy walk as it’s not a particularly large town and you won’t get lost as you wander around. It’s actually really small so you can easily maneuver around on foot. It’s not exactly as beautiful as Tbilisi but I found it be a relaxing stroll nonetheless. As I wander the streets, I can just visualize what the average Georgian’s life is like as, by all accounts, Gori is for the average Georgian settling in a quiet town. There are some cafes and restaurants along the streets and there are more second-hand clothing stores that I found to be very enjoyable to browse through.
5. Other Museums in Gori
Other than the Stalin Museum, there are two other smaller museums located in Gori. For those interested in local history, it’s a fun and educational visit.
The Great Patriotic War Museum or more commonly known as just War Museum is opened to visitors from 10 am to 5 pm every day and cost 3 GEL to enter. Inside the museum are rather old-fashioned displays dedicated to the Gori people’s involvement in WWII as well as a small display about the more recent 2008 war between Georgia and Russia. In the lobby, there are a few pieces if Russian ordinance and a cluster bomb on display from the 2008 war. You’ll get more information if you catch a small tour with their English speaking guide as there are no English explanations on their displays.
The other museum and the most worthwhile museum to visit in Gori, in my opinion, is called the Sergi Makalatia Gori Historical and Ethnographic Museum or more simply known as Gori Ethnographic Museum. It’s opened from 9:30 am to 5:30 pm from Tuesday to Saturday and costs 5 GEL to enter. Inside the museum contains over 48,000 exhibits with collections of historical items and artifacts that proudly tells Georgian history from the 4th century all the way up to the 1900s. There are loads of historical attractions about Georgia and neighboring countries that are just fascinating.
I recommend hiring an English speaking tour guide to get the best information out of the museum. We were lucky enough that the one the museum provided for us was both knowledgable and entertaining.
How to get to Gori:
There are different ways to travel to Gori. You can opt to travel by minibus or marshrutka, rented car, private taxi, or by train.
By Marshrutka (minibus)
I recommend traveling to Gori by minibus or marshrutka as it’s the cheapest and most convenient form of travel. Just like the day trip to Mtshke, head to Didube train station and then look for cashier number 4. I marked it on the map for you. It can be overwhelming to look for the right marshrutka that’ll take you to Gori. Fortunately, people in Didube station are quite helpful even when they can’t speak English. Just ask where the marshrutka to Gori is and they’ll point you to the general direction.
There are many marshrutka drivers that’ll announce their destination or approach and ask you if you want a ride to Gori. If you’re riding a taxi to travel to Didube station, you can also tell the driver to drop you off at the marshrutka line to Gori to save you the trouble.
The ride to Gori on marshrutka costs about 4 GEL and can last 1 and a half hours at the latest. It took us about 25 minutes waiting in our marshrutka before it took off for the road. Make sure to tell the marshrutka driver to drop you off at the Stalin museum as the station in Gori is all the way on the other side of town.
You can rent a car for yourself at Didube station as well. This way you can have flexibility on your side and have stopovers on the way to Gori. Go offroad or see other nearby landmarks. The trip by car depends on the driver but you can arrive at Gori in one hour at the earliest. Renting a private car for the day can cost about 150 to 250 GEL on average and even lower if you’re going rent a car for half a day as you can finish your day trip to Gori and nearby Uplistsikhe in that time.
By Private Taxi
You can pay a private taxi to take you for an hour’s drive to Gori if you want to have the comfort that the marshrutka can’t provide and if you have some cash to spare. It can cost about 55 to 65 GEL for a taxi to take you to a one way trip to Gori where you can ask also ask the driver to drop you off at Stalin Museum. You can catch a taxi in the center of Tbilisi and there are taxis available in Didube station as well.
There is a railway that connects Tbilisi to Gori and you can ride the train directly to Gori station if you don’t want to travel using the options above. A train ticket to Gori costs about 6 to 11 GEL at the Didube station and can last about 1 hour. However, this method of going to Gori can be inconvenient as the trains going to Gori only stop at Didube station three times a day.
You’ll be lucky if you can catch one as you’re just about to go on your day trip to Gori. Plus, as mentioned above, the Gori station is on the other side of town where the Stalin Museum is located so it’s more convenient to go with the other option for transportations above.
How to get from Gori to Uplistsikhe
Once you’re done seeing all the sights in Gori, it’s an easy ride to take you to the next must-see destination to complete the day trip, Uplistsikhe. It’s very easy to catch a marshrutka at the Gori station to take you to Uplistsikhe. It only costs 1 GEL and you can reach Uplistsikhe in about 25 minutes.
But we opt to take the offer of the many drivers in front of the Stalin museum to take us to Uplistsikhe. We made a deal to pay 20 to 25 GEL for a driver to take us to Uplistsikhe, wait one hour, then bring us back to Gori.
Check out the Ancient Caves
Once in Uplistsikhe, you have to pay 7 GEL to gain entrance to its ancient cave town. I really love the caves. Uplistsikhe’s cave town is one of a kind as it’s a town that’s literally hewn to the surrounding caves and rocks. And it’s very very old; its establishment dating back to the Bronze Age until it was overrun by the Mongols in the 13th century leaving it to be inhibited ever since.
At the highest peak in its history, the Uplistsikhe cave town has over 20,000 people living within its caves and was the center of political and religious power of Georgia, with Tbilisi being the second in that period. Since its abandonment in the 13th century, it was left exposed to the elements and subsequent earthquakes throughout the years has turned it into the shell of the stronghold it once was we see today.
It’s an amazing complex of caves that we spent an hour exploring. The caves are sparsely decorated aside from the larger halls that are clearly used for worship that contain several stone carvings. We came across several temples dedicated to the worship of a sun goddess, there was a throne room, an apothecary, a bakery, a prison, and numerous halls. I also love going through the tunnels that connect the caves, there are even emergency escape tunnels.
It’s definitely a must-see destination to include in your day trip to Gori. Especially because of its closeness to Gori and Tbilisi that deserves a day exploring the sites it has to offer.