This is a popular day trip out of Tbilisi due to its proximity. Although you will see a lot of tour options, we wanted to do it the way locals did and so we did our own DIY tour.
Things to do in Mtskheta Georgia
1. Visit the Jvari Monastery
This is the first landmark that we visited in Mtskheta, Georiga. A UNESCO inscripted World Heritage Site situated on a mountaintop that gave us a great and amazing view of the confluence of the Mtkvari and Aragvi rivers as well as the whole city of Mtskheta. Jvari monastery should be part of your places to visit in Georgia, hiking up to the hilltop church is also popular with hikers because it’s fun and rewarding experience but it will take you three (3) hours to reach the top.
For us, since it was a really a hot day when we visited Mtskheta, we decided to take a taxi. We paid 20 GEL for 4 people for a taxi to take us there and waited 20-30 minutes and the taxi bring us back to our origin point. 20 GEL is around $6.84. But we also offered to split with other tourists around the area so we ended up just paying 5 gel ($1.70/head)
Make sure that you wear monastery appropriate clothing but if you have your knees, shoulder or hair exposed, you can also use the scarves they have at the monastery entrance.
2.Tour in Svetitskhoveli Cathedral
This is another UNESCO World Heritage site located at Arsukidze St., Mtskheta. It is an Eastern Orthodox Cathedral which has been the center of Christian faith for many years. What makes it even special is, it was believed to have Jesus’ seamless robe buried beneath its ground. Georgian monarchs are also buried near the church. Overall, the site was recognized by UNESCO because of its architecture.
The Svetitskhoveli Cathedral is considered as one of the most beautiful churches in Georgia. Its brownish stone wall which represents old age complements the refreshing greens from a hill near the edifice.
Since it is a church, you have to follow the dress code. This means no short sleeves and shorts for both men and women, and no short skirts and pants for girls. Female should wear long skirts, just below the knee and a sleeved shirt. For males, they have to wear long trousers and shirt with sleeves. You should not bring pets, smoke, or use your cellphones inside as well.
On weekdays, Svetitskhoveli Cathedral is open from 8AM to 10PM. On weekends, tourists are not allowed to go inside from 5PM to 8PM on Saturdays, and 8AM to 1PM on Sundays.
3.Visit the Samtavro Convent
Unlike Jvari Monastery and Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, Samtavro Convent is less touristy. Despite that, it is equally striking in architecture and interior design. The whole building is a composition of churches: Transfiguration Church, Sto. Nino Church, St John the Baptist Church, St. John Chrysostom Church, and St. Mirian and Nana Church. The first royal couple who became Christians were buried in the convent, so it is really important to Georgia.
In addition, the convent is home to many historical relics such as the relics of Abibos Nekres and the relics of St. Shio Mgvime. Because of this, we can say that it also acts as a museum. Up to now, the place is taken care of nuns, and convent is still actively training more women who vowed for chastity.
Dress code applies, too, in Samtavro. Men or women are expected to wear in accordance to what is acceptable in the Georgian Christian faith (same with dress code in Jvari Monastery and Svetitskhoveli Cathedral).
4. Hike to the Bebris Tsikhe Fortress
The Bebris Fortress rests on a hilltop on the northern part of Mtskheta. To get there, you have to hike a little to reach a spot for breathtaking views. The fortress stretches about 1,500 square meters, but most of its parts are already in ruins. Despite this, it is well-kept.
It is a bit far from the rest of the attractions in Mtskheta. But we recommend this place for sightseeing and relaxing. Tourists don’t visit often so you’ll enjoy the tranquility of the place while looking at the river below the hill. At one side of the fortress, you’ll see the houses, on another the river, and then, the mountains.
5.Learn winemaking in Iago’s winery
Georgia is known for wines and the over 5000 bottles of natural dried white wines exported each year are from Iago’s. It was founded in 2003, but the vineyard is over 60 years old now. They cultivate the vines in Mtskheta.
Visiting the winery is recommended to tourists since it is one of the pride of Mtskheta. Aside from first-hand learning from Iago, you can also enjoy the cozy cottage feel of the shop where vines creep neatly as décor on wooden walls. The dining area elegantly opens in the garden, where you can enjoy Georgian food, mostly vegetarian. Iago’s Wine is open every 10:00AM to 2:00PM and is located at Village Chardakni.
When visiting there, it is advisable to look for tours that include the destination. One is the tour in Uplistsikhe with a decent lunch in the winery for USD 108.23 (GEL 319.82).
6. Choose the wine of your taste in Gvinis Palata (Chamber of Wine)
Another famous destination for tourists is the Gvinis Palata or Chamber of Wine. It is a wine bar which also serves authentic Georgian dishes good even for vegetarians. Since Mtskheta is a wine-town, an array of wines of all sorts are served and sold in this place. Inside the establishment, is a corner where Georgian garments are displayed to tell history of wine and Mtskheta. On the third floor, beautiful views of the mountain stretches. This is a good place to eat your dinner with after going around famous landmarks near Agmashenebeli 69, Mtskheta.
7.Feel the history of Mtskheta in Shio-Mgvime Monastery
Heading west from the city center of Mtskheta is a limestone canyon with a medieval monastery. It was a former home to around 2,000 monks and was founded by Shio, one of the 13 Assyrian Fathers who spread Christianity in Georgia.
The monastery thrived damages from Persian invasion. It was destroyed and rebuilt many times. Up to now, it has become a tourist attraction and was visited by pilgrims. One thing that attracts people in Shio-Mgvime Monastery, are the stories about the caves in the canyon they called “The Cave of Shio”. It was believed that the monk spent years in a cave as a hermit before his last breath. Now, the holes in the canyon are still visible from the monastery.
8. Climb a hill to reach Armazi
Four kilometers away from Mtskheta is the Armazi fortress. It is centuries old and occupies 30 hectares. It played an important role during the ancient periods because it protects the city from what’s beyond the Caucasus. It was named after a pagan Iberian pantheon and became the center of the pagan religion.
Visitors must come to the place to see the well-preserved towers in Armazi. Besides the tower, there are also tombs, ancient bathrooms, half-buried pithos (ceramic containers of food) and ruins of the six-column hall. It is a part of the open-air National Archeology Museum Reserve of Greater Mtskheta, so you can explore the rest of the site for more of the province’s history.
9. Eat an elegant meal in Gujari Restaurant Museum
This is the most famous restaurant in Mtskheta because everything about the place shouts Georgian. The food they prepare are world-class traditional Georgian cuisines served with a relaxing Georgian music. On top of that, the whole landscape and interior design are fancy and well-kept. It is located near the popular places of the Mskheta town. They also offer Asian and European cuisines, so you can eat them in the Georgian ambiance.
How to get to Mtskheta from Tbilisi
From the Didube train station, look for the marutshka or a mini bus heading to Mtskheta. It costs 1 GEL ($0.34). They don’t really have set times of leaving. Basically, they leave when the mini van is full. Better to be there earlier to choose a good sit, but if you weren’t lucky, have no fear, Mtshketa is only 30 minutes tops maximum anyway so you’ll be fine.
When you get off, some taxis will offer you a private drive and you have the option to choose what vehicle will you ride on based on what you prefer or is more comfortable. The private vehicle can be bargained to 20 GEL (in total, not per person) for a round trip to the Jvari Monastery,
A lot of people take a Mtshketa tour from Tbilisi and others hire a private taxi which isn’t bad if you are a lot but since we are only 2 and on a budget, we opted for a marutshuka. The minivans also don’t have proper stops but it does have an end point. Meaning, anywhere along the way you can say STOP and it will stop.
It was my 2nd day in Tbilis, thus, I didn’t know how to say stop. Luckily, most people went down by the city center. Then again, if you miss it, it’s fine. Mtshketa is an old small town making almost everything accessible on foot. We went down by the old town, where most people did.
Tips on Visiting Mtskheta
1. Wear appropriate clothes if you plan to visit the monastery.
2. Bring a scarf . or something to cover your head. But if not, you can find them at the entrance of the monastery.
3. A tourist information desk or area and a map of the place is available at the site.
4. You can also bring your own food and have a picnic by the lake. 5. The restaurants by the main square are touristic price but that is expected. Still reasonable though.
5. Try the ice cream with wine.
For travelers who want to take tours in Georgia, here are the TOP 5 recommended and most availed tours:
1. Tbilisi: Mtskheta, Jvari, Gori and Uplistsikhe Day Tour
A chance to see the natural beauty of Georgia while highlighting its rich history. A one-day tour to discover the mesmerizing heritage the country of Georgia has to offer. Visit its most iconic and breathtaking sights and influential landmarks such as the old town of Mtskheta, learn the history of Jvari Monastery, explore Gori and the Museum of Stalin and the Uplistsikhe, an ancient rock complex in Georgia.
This tour is extensive and the tour guide is very knowledgeable and will surely give an interesting and enthusiastic tour. Giving you a fun, information, and interactive tour within the day.
2. Tbilisi: Mtskheta and Uplistsikhe Tour.
An eight-hour tour encountering various historical places and monuments while in Georgia. In this tour, you will will be picked up at your accommodation from Tbilisi to witness the first capital of Georgia, Mtskheta, an over 2,500 years old ancient city and grasp the real spirit of an ancient era. You will also have the chance to discover the special atmosphere in the Uplistsikhe cave city, a multilayered archaeological object and one of the most important monuments of Georgian culture. At the conclusion of your day tour, you will be driven back to Tbilisi where you will be returned to your point of origin.
3. Mtskheta: Ancient Capital of Georgia Private Tour
If you want to explore the most ancient and holy places in Georgia at a time convenient for you, this private tour is available for three to four hours. Discover the deep history of the Mtskheta and to nearby monastery like Jvari, , Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, Samtavro Monastery and the Shio-Mgvime monastery and get a chance to travel through a limestone canyon. With its very knowledgeable guide, you will learn so much about the history, culture, and religion of Georgia.
4. Tbilisi and Mtskheta: Full-Day Tour
Offering you a visit to the two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Georgia in just one day. Explore the historic monuments, become a wanderer along the streets and get a chance to experience the local way of life of the two of the most important cities in Georgia, Tbilisi and Mtskheta. In addition, get enchanted at the picturesque architecture of the Tbilisi Old Town.
5. Last Minute Mtskheta and Tbilisi Tour
If you don’t have the full seven-hour allowance to visit the Mtskheta and Tbilisi, there are tour available where you can have a tour to these two important cities through a four-hour private tour. Submerge yourself in Georgia’s history and heritage during this private city tour of Tbilisi and Mtskheta. Discover the attractions of Old Tbilisi and the UNESCO listed ancient capital from the luxury of your air-conditioned vehicle. In this tour, you will be able to visit the incredible Narikala Fortress and take a trip to the Bath Quarter.