Georgia, while being a relatively small country, is full of unique and truly mesmerising places to visit and enjoy! Sometimes it is hard to imagine how unique and diverse this place can get- from lush forests to beautiful open plains and picturesque shorelines to towering mountains and snowy hills, it is a truly unique place suited for every visitor!
In this article, we will be discussing some unique places to visit in Georgia (country). While this is definitely not an exhaustive list, it will be an excellent guide for any traveller planning to check out what this country offers.
5 Unique Places to Visit in Georgia Country
Comprised of 5 small village communities in the Svaneti region of Georgia, Ushguli is known as one of the highest continuously inhabited places in Europe. What makes this place truly unique is how well preserved its historical monuments and attractions are. This is because getting to it is rather difficult, made worse by the fact that Ushguli is snow-covered 6 months of the year. However, this has greatly helped the community to preserve its medieval characteristics of architecture. Because of this, the area was recognised as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1996.
Located around 2,100 meters above sea level, near the Shkhara summit, Ushguli is most known for its Svan towers, built in the 9th to 12th century, they are several stories high defensive structure that is dotted all over the villages there. There are around 200 such towers in Ushguli that are well-preserved thanks to the isolation and they have been preserved for museum reserve.
Besides massive towering structures, there is also an old Georgian golden-era period chapel called Lamania religious complex (named after goddess Lamania in Svan mythology). Inside it is decorated with 12th-century frescoes.
Because Ushguli is located in an inaccessible location and is covered by snow for half of the year, the best time to visit and take in all the sights it offers is the spring and summer months.
The city of Bolnisi is located in the Kvemo Kartli region of Georgia and has a very rich history. It started as a German colony from Swabia in 1818. After Georgia became part of the Soviet Union in 1921, it was renamed to Luxemburg in honour of Rosa Luxemburg and later obtained the name of Bolnisi as it is known these days.
There are numerous attractions to visit and see in Bolnisi. It is home to the oldest dated Christian structure in Georgia, the Bolnisi Sion church- a three-nave basilica church that dates back all the way to the 5th century AD. Its construction has elements of paganism and it features the oldest Georgian writing. While the original structure is extremely dated, most of it is still intact to this day, except for the roof which was replaced with a modern cover.
What is more, there are remains of German architecture and influence still scattered throughout Bolnisi. A street called Mill Street has hints of German architecture and language still preserved from the late 19th to early 20th century.
Another interesting and important thing to see in Bolnisi is the recently opened museum, which houses findings from the Dmanisi archaeological site, chief among them the oldest and earliest remains of Homo sapiens outside of Africa named Dmanisi Hominins. These remains are estimated to be about 1.8-1.9 million years old. The museum also has exhibitions from a local gold mine called “Sakdrisi”, another archaeological site near Dmanisi.
The best time to visit Bolnisi is from May to October as the museum is only open during this period.
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Being one of the sparsely populated regions of Georgia, Racha (Racha-Lechkumi and lower Svaneti or Imereti Racha-Lechkumi tend to be grouped together these days) is a mountainous region in the northwest of Georgia. It is chiefly known for its nature, beautiful lakes, Racha Ham (yum), Usakhelauri wine, and historical cathedrals.
One of the most famous places to visit in Racha is the Nikortsminda Cathedral. It is a Georgian Orthodox Church, located in Nikortsminda. It was built in 1010–1014 during the reign of Bagrat III of Georgia and was repaired in 1534 by the King Bagrat III of Imereti. A three-storied bell tower next to the cathedral was built in the second half of the 19th century. Frescoes inside the Cathedral date from the 17th century and are one of the most beautiful wall paintings in the world. The cathedral is also on the Tentative List for status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Another important sight to see in Racha is Barakoni Church of the Mother of God, near the town of Ambrolauri, in the village of Tsesi. Barakoni was commissioned in 1753, by the local lord Rostom of Racha by the architect Avtandil Shulavreli. It is a domed cruciform church and one of the last important monuments in the tradition of medieval Georgian architecture. The cathedral is famous for its very unique iconostasis (the screen that separates the nave of the church from the altar). It is made from dark wood and hand-carved and painted with images and delicate floral flourishes.
Racha is also home to the oldest functioning synagogue in Georgia. The Oni synagogue is located in the village of Oni was built in 1895 and is the oldest functioning synagogues in Georgia.
But wait, there’s more! Besides the architectural marvels that Racha has, it is also rich with natural sights! One of the most famous ones being the Udziro lake (which could be translated as an un-drown lake) which is located around 2800m from sea level and is an alpine lake. It is considered one of the best trekking destinations in Georgia. In good weather, there is a great view of the Caucasus panorama. Another highlight of the trek is the stunning surrounding mountains. They look strangely “bent”.
Another lesser-known destination in Racha is the Shaori reservoir. It is perfect for camping, picnic, fishing, and swimming. In winter water often freezes providing spectacular views and a unique experience.
If you’re a foodie, you must try Racha ham! Its making process is unique and fascinating. The ham is also made in limited quantities each year but local families (sold at an Oni market) and small restaurants would be more than happy to give you a taste of it, or even give you some for the road! Traditional Georgian dishes like Lobio (beans) and Chashushuli are elevated when made using Racha ham…..it’s delish!
Do you like wine? Do you like red wine? Then you must try some Usakhelauri wine, one of the rarest wines in the world. It is made from grapes harvested from a tiny, narrow gorge surrounded by mountains! Its vineyards are hanging on the slopes in the middle of the forest which abounds in blackberry, dog-rose, and berries giving it a rich flavour.
It is hard to tell when is the best time to visit Racha, as it always has something to offer throughout the year!
One of the most remote regions in Georgia, Tusheti is located at the north eastern edge of the country, on the slopes of the Caucasus. It is a popular hiking destination in the country, with spectacular views on the mountain range with remote hamlets and small distant communities being linked by a small trail. However, the landscape is not as dramatic and rough as Svaneti, here it is more exotic and calm.
The region is home to Tush peoples, the origin of whom is disputed to this day. They have their own unique language, customs, and traditions. While travelling Tusheti you might come across a stone or a bundle of rocks adorned with bells and horns, these are called “khatebi”(Icons) or “salotsavi”(holy places), and these serve as places of pilgrimage, prayer, and sacrifice. Originally the Tush were pagans who were forcefully Christianised in the 9th century and after that, they merged their pagan beliefs with Christianity. However, the Tush was also heavily influenced by the neighbouring Muslim tribes, therefore the Tush consider pork unclean and do not consume it or use it for anything, much like Muslims. Interestingly, this applies only to the consumption of pork in Tusheti, which is considered to be a place of purity. While in the lowlands, Tushetians eat pork without any issues.
Horseriding and mountain biking are very popular in Tusheti, and there are many trails around the region where you can take a horse or a bike and enjoy the views, but be sure to take a guide with you!
While visiting, you must explore the Tush beliefs and practices while you’re there as it is a fascinating experience because they have unique beliefs and mythology.
Getting to Tusheti can be tricky, as the roads are closed for most of the year. Because of this, the best time to visit Tusheti is sometime between July and the end of September, when the weather is pleasant and the roads are open. Actually, most of Tush people leave the highlands during the cold season, so if you go there during off season time, it will be mostly deserted.
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It is a deep mountain gorge situated 100 kilometres west of Tbilisi in Tsalka Municipality. Long popular with visitors, the canyon has become even more alluring since the first glass bar in Georgia opened on the site in the summer of 2021, providing plenty of options for comfort and adventure in a picturesque setting.
Perhaps the most attractive place to go when visiting the canyon is the newly opened glass bridge in the middle of the canyon! It is 240 meters long and has a restaurant in the middle where you can enjoy delicious Georgian cuisine while admiring the nature around and below you as well!
If you’re feeling adventurous, there is a zipline next to the bridge where you can “bike” across the canyon with even more attractions set to open in the coming months as the place gets more and more popular.
While visiting the glass bridge can be reason enough for a gateway from Tbilisi, Tsalka also has other attractions and sights for you to see. You can also visit Tsalka lake, which is popular for its delicious fish, or hike to the ruins of a 9th-century Kldekari citadel, a once formidable fortress. You can also travel around the town of Tsalka which has several attractions, like the Berka Karst Spring which flows next to an old church. A trout is usually swimming in the spring around the church and never leaves even though it can. Therefore this led to the fish being considered sacred.
Getting to the canyon from Tbilisi takes around 2 hours, after which you will have to leave your car and hike to the canyon itself which can take an hour or so. The best time to visit the canyon is in the summer as other seasons can get a bit chilly.