Ready to start a journey of mountain peaks, traditional culture, delicious food, and an adventure with views that will surely make your jaw drop? Hold on, because we’re headed to Kazbegi and the Georgian Military Highway.
This thrilling excursion is one that must be high on your bucket list, and why is that? We’re talking about the dreamy combination of breathtaking scenery and historical significance, all in one. Oh, what’s that? You’ve never heard of these spots? Well, get ready, because you’re in for a long tour!
What is Kazbegi?
Also known as Stepantsminda, Kazbegi lies in the northern region of Georgia, surrounded by the mountains of Russia. This charming town provides the perfect gateway to explore the natural beauty of Georgia and is roughly 157 kilometers north of the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.
On the Soviet Era, due to the religious history of the name Stepantsminda, the town was renamed Kazbegi. The name ‘Kazbegi’ actually comes from the peak of Mount Kazbeg at over 5,033 meters (16,510 feet) above sea level. Kazbegi, in the local folklore, is even rumored to be the home of Amirani, the Georgian version of the mythical Prometheus.
What is the Georgian Military Highway?
The Georgian Military Highway dates back to the 1st century BC, with parts of it originally being used as part of the Silk Road. However, it was given its current shape only in the 19th century, when the Russian army constructed it to establish a solid connection between Russia’s Georgia and its military bases in South Caucasus.
The 212-kilometer highway stretches from Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, all the way to Vladikavkaz in Russia. Today, the journey along this highway is often considered one of the most picturesque in the world. The road’s rich history, natural beauty, and cultural significance make it a popular destination for tourists and locals alike.
Are There any Historical Sites to Visit along the Georgian Military Highway?
The Georgian Military Highway, aside its scenic views all along the way, is full of historical sites worth exploring.
The Ananuri Fortress
Your first stop should definitely be the Ananuri Fortress – located on the shores of the Zhinvali Reservoir. This 17th-century fortress, built by the Dukes of Aragvi, offers a beautiful scenery for photos. Ananuri’s origins can be traced back to the 13th century when it was initially built as a defensive fortress by the Dukes of Aragvi. You will also get the chance to climb to its stone towers, and the views from the top are simply majestic.
If you get the chance, walk (or drive) down to the Zhinvali Reservoir. The Zhinvali Reservoir was created in the 1980s to provide freshwater and hydroelectric power to the surrounding region. However, in order to do so, the Soviets had to evaquate and flood a small village, causing an outrage in the local community. The village is still in the bottom of the lake, a rather interesting fact.
Nowadays, the reservoir is a popular swimming retreat among Georgians. Our local driver told us that people are coming there in the weekends or holidays to take a swim and enjoy the sun. Indeed, there are beach bars and volleyball nets. If the weather allows it, you MUST take a dive, it’s totally worth it and I was very jealous that it was raining so we couldn’t.
The Black and White Aragvi
Continuing on your way, take a stop at the Aragvi River, another beloved spot along your way to Kazbegi. Its unique feature, the Black and White Aragvi phenomenon, is a can’t miss. Seeing the two rivers meet, each preserving its own color, sets a magical scene. As the white waters from the North and the black waters from the South met, they create a beautiful fusion below. It feels so right, and it’s very calming to see.
Pasanauri – Home of Khinkali and a Vintage Car Graveyard
Your next stop should be Pasanauri. This town is located around 30 minutes away from Ananuri and is very small. So, why stop at Pasanauri? Well, the reason is a pretty tasty one! Pasanauri is the birthplace of Georgia’s beloved khinkali!
Legend has it that this traditional Georgian dumpling was first created in the village by shepherds who needed a portable meal to keep them full during their long journeys and excursions into the mountains. Over time, Khinkali evolved to a national staple that is now world-famous!
Our local driver suggested this place to have Khinkali. He also suggested that we should get mkhlovani, a pie filled with greens. Everything tasted delicious, the meal was extremely cheap, and it felt so local-like. I would definitely recommend you stop there and enjoy the delicious food.
However, there is more to Pasanauri than just Khinkali tasting. It is also home to a vintage car graveyard! This unexpected attraction that isn’t much talked about. What I could find about it is that the cars belong to a local collector. There are many cars in the graveyard, most of them coming from a Soviet Union. Our driver told us that some of them where (the same model?) that personalities like Stalin used, but i am not sure I believe that.
Before going there, I had read that there is a big fee to visit. However, by the time we visited, no one was there. I would recommend a visit, but only if it’s free. The collection is indeed impressive, but small and is not worth paying a lot for it.
The Nadibani Spring
After a delicious local meal, you have to wash it down, dont you? The Nadibani Spring, located near Pasanauri, is the perfect place to do so. It is located a 10 minutes drive from the Vintage car graveyard. So, what is it? It is basically a natural spring that provides an infinite amount of iron-enriched mineral water every day.
Locals call it Vedza water, and they believe it has healing abilities. After some hesitation, we did give it a try. I am not gonna lie, it had a distinct metallic taste. It was a fun experience, but am not sure I’d do it again.
The Georgia-Russia Friendship Monument
Not too far from the Nadibani Spring and -always- on the Georgian Military Highway, you’ll find the Georgia-Russia Friendship Monument. It is an amazing example of the Soviet-era architecture. The monument, constructed in 1983, stands as a symbol of the historic peace and friendship between Georgia and Russia (Or, of the past, to be more accurate).
It’s semi-circular in shape with stunning mosaics depicting scenes of Georgian and Russian history. I personally loved both the artistic masterpiece itself, but also the breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding landscape it offers. It was one of my favorite places in the highway, despite the fog that spoiled the views.
The Sno Village statues and Castle
Last, but definitely not least, you have to stop at the Sno village statues. They were all created by hand (!) by a Georgian sculptor, and they now serve as an open-air museum. They depict the heads of famous Georgian poets, writers and kings. I found them trully impressive and I could easily spend much time there to se them all, one by one. It is suggested that you offer a 5 GEL donation in the box that is there, so that the artist can fund his new projects. His goal is to greate more than 500 statues, so contributing to that is really special.
Near the statues stands the Sno castle, an impressive fortification that dates back to the 16th century. With the help of our local driver, we manages to climb on top and enjoy some very special views. While it might not seem very special, it trully was the perfect way of ending our trip on the Georgian Military Highway as it is the last stop before you reach Kazbegi.
What is the Best Time to Visit Kazbegi and the Georgian Military Highway?
While you can technically visit Kazbegi and the Georgian Military Highway any time of the year, I would highly recommend planning your trip from late May to early October. This is generally considered the best time to visit because this period experiences the best weather conditions for all activities, be it hiking, sightseeing, or taking photographs.
If you’re a hiker, you might as well appreciate the crystal-clear skies and lush landscapes painted in various hues of green during late spring (Late May-June). At this period you can experience comfortable trekking conditions — neither too hot nor too cold, just right!
Summer (July to September) is also a good time to visit. The weather stays mostly warm and sunny, but keep in mind, you might experience afternoon rain showers. Don’t let that discourage you, though; the sun usually reappears soon enough.
Generally, I would not recommend winter for first-time visitors unless you have a high tolerance for cold. However, if you love winter sports or photography in the snow, this is the perfect period to visit. Just remember to stay safe and pack appropriately for the harsh weather conditions.
Is it Safe to Travel to Kazbegi and the Georgian Military highway?
Traveling to Kazbegi and the Georgian Military highway is generally very safe. But just like any other destination, it’s essential to be aware of specific considerations to ensure a smooth and hassle-free journey.
One of the first things that has to come to your mind when planning a trip is insurance.
Safetywing’s Nomad Insurance is one of the best options available out there. With a maximum coverage of 365 days, they are a great option whether you are a Nomad or not! They offer very low rates, but excellent coverage and immediate support (in a few minutes!). The best part? Nomad Insurance can be purchased even if you have left your home country already.
Lastly, they also cover extreme sports, something that can come in very handy if you are an adventurous soul.
One of the things that you would notice about Georgia, particularly when visiting remote regions like Kazbegi, is the amazing hospitality of its people. The locals are genuinely interested in ensuring your comfort and will offer help if needed. However, given their limited English, sommuicating might be a challenge. However, they will always do their best to help you!
Now, let’s talk about the Georgian Military Highway. You might have heard that driving Georgia is bad. After spending a few days traveling around the country, I can say that this is an understatement. In fact, or Marshrutka on the way back to Tbilisi had a small crash with the car in front of us. Nothing serious, but it was a little bit scary. My suggestion would be that, if you can afford to hire a driver, you should definitely do so. You can read reviews about the driver and then choose what’s best for you.
Is Kazbegi Expensive?
Good question, I hear you asking – does a trip to Kazbegi require selling a crucial internal organ on the Georgian black market? Rest easy, dear traveler, it depends on your personal budget and travel preferences. Let’s dive deeper, shall we?
In the grand scheme of things, around the world travel, Kazbegi is reasonably affordable. Sure, it’s not as cheap as most places in Georgia, but it’s certainly not expensive as the average European city. Please note that cards might not be widely available in Kazbegi.
That’s why you have to make sure to have enough GEL for your trip. Luckily, there is a “Bank of Georgia: ATM available at the people’s service office. Bank of Georgia has the best rates and minimal commission. Make also sure you have your Revolut card, as they offer the exact exchange rates!
How do I Get to Kazbegi from Tbilisi?
Getting to Kazbegi from Tbilisi is quite easy. There are a number of transport options you can choose from, depending on your taste for adventure, your schedule, and your budget.
The most budget-friendly way is to take a marshrutka—those lovely (or not) mini-buses that can take you all across the country. Marshrutkas depart from Tbilisi’s Didube station to the town of Kazbegi bus station daily. The journey takes about three to four hours and costs around 15 GEL ($6). Service starts quite early in the morning—usually around 7 AM—so consider that in your plans.
Keep in mind: Marshrutkas generally operate on a first-come, first-served basis, and they depart when full. So, get there early to secure a seat. The price, however, is well worth it!
If you prefer a more comfortable option, taxis can be hired in Tbilisi and will take you straight to Kazbegi. The journey is a little quicker—typically around three hours—and you have the added convenience of setting your own departure time and having stops along the way. However, this option is much more expensive.
Hiring a Driver
What I would recommend is hiring a driver through GoTrip. This will be the best way to explore the best things the Georgian Military highway has to offer. You can freely choose as many stops as you like along the way, something very useful and convenient. You can easily book a driver through the GoTrip platform and the cost, while varying based on duration and route, can be around $70-80 for a full day.
Getting an Organized tour
Organized tours are another option. While definitely the most expensive way to get to Kazbegi, they offer the benefits of a guide, pre-selected stops at key sites along the Georgian Military Highway, and the convenience of arranging it all ahead of time. GetYourGuide is a trusted, safe, and amazing way to do so!
If you are one of those who prefer a more independent traveling style, renting a car is a great option. However, make sure to be ready for some challenging mountain roads, and the infamous Georgian driving.
Can I visit Kazbegi on a day trip from Tbilisi?
As someone who loves seeing new places at my own pace, I can confidently tell you that, yes, a day trip from Tbilisi to Kazbegi is very much possible. Indeed, many travelers choose to do just that! However, there is a catch: you’ll need to be ready for a long day.
The journey along the Georgian Military Highway takes about 3-5 hours each way, give or take, depending on the traffic, road conditions, and the amount of time you decide is best in every stop. That might seem extensive, but trust me, the views, landscapes, and historical sights along the way will make it all worth it. As a general rule, I would recommend staying for around 2-3 days in Kazbegi. However, if time does not allow it, a day trip can do the job.
Tbilisi to Kazbegi Day Trip Itinerary
- Depart Early from Tbilisi – To make the most of your day, head out of the city bright and early, aiming to leave no later than 9 am.
- A Short Halt at Ananuri Fortress – This 17th-century fortress is a quick stop on your route, offering beautiful views over the Zhinvali reservoir.
- Brunch at Pasanauri – This town is famous for its Khinkali, the Georgian dumpling. Enjoy a satisfying and authentic brunch before proceeding.
- Nadibani Spring – Try the metallic water!
- Visit the Russian-Georgian Friendship Monument – Next, visit this symbol of peace offering panoramic vistas of the Caucasus Mountains that you can bet your camera is going to love.
- The Sno village and castle – The magnificent Sno statues are not to be missed!
- Arrive in Kazbegi – Upon arrival, wander around the town and enjoy the majestic views of Mount Kazbek.
- Explore Gergeti Trinity Church – A short drive or hike will lead you to this iconic symbol of Georgia. Ensure to allot some time to admire the scenery and take photos.
- Get back to Kazbegi – Descend back to Kazbegi and catch your breath with local bites in a traditional restaurant.
- Return to Tbilisi – Begin your journey back to Tbilisi, aiming to leave by 5 pm to avoid driving in the dark.
What are the Accommodation Options in Kazbegi?
Among the many amazing places to stay in Kazbegi, we chose the Paradise Kazbegi Hotel. This hotel is conveniently located near the center of the town. The room was big, cozy, and had everything we needed. It was also very budget-friendly, so that’s a big plus, too!
However, the best part was the hosts. The friendly staff were always willing to offer travel guidance and always came to ask us if we needed anything. It was something I trully appreciated.
The Best Things to Do in Kazbegi
Explore the Town of Kazbegi
Small yet incredibly charming, the town of Kazbegi invites you with open arms to get to know its culture, cuisine, and beauty. I do not think I’ve enjoyed another place in Georgia as much as this one.
Truth is, there are no actual sights in the town itself. However, it is as traditional as it gets. The charm of Kazbegi lies in its simplicity and the natural beauty surrounding it. It’s a place where you can truly relax, and just enjoy the majestic views of the mountains that surround the town.
The serenity here is something I don’t think I’d ever forget – as cliché as it sounds, it really is something you have to experience for yourself. We really enjoyed taking morning, afternoon or night walks around, it is just so peaceful.
Visit the Gergeti Trinity Church
This is most probably what comes to your mind when I speak about Kazbegi. This iconic Georgian Orthodox Church, also known as Tsminda Sameba, rises majestically from the dramatic backround of the Russian mountains.
The Gergeti Trinity Church dates back to the 14th century, and is located at an altitude of 2,170 meters (7,120 feet). The church is dedicated to the Holy Trinity and holds religious services to this day. In fact, locals often walk up to the church to show their faith and devotion to god.
The architecture of the church resembles most Georgian churches, however, its location is what makes it special. Monks still live in the church and we had the chance to see them working outside.
How to Get Up There
For the most adventurous, hiking remains the best way to reach the summit. There’s a well-trodden pathway starting from the town of Kazbegi that starts from here and will lead you straight to the top. It should typically take about one to two hours, depending on your pace. Remember to carry enough water, snacks for energy and sunscreen for protection.
While the hike might sound easy, the high altitude will make it a lot more challenging due to the difference in oxygen. Kazbegi stands at 2.400 meters, so you’ll need much more effort to cover the same distance. Believe me, reaching the summit on foot gives you an amazing feeling of accomplishment!
On the other hand, if hiking isn’t your thing, or perhaps you’re short on time, there is another alternative. You can take a taxi from Stepantsminda which can take you all the way up to Gergeti Trinity Church, or, more conveniently, if you have rented a car you can go up hustle-free.
For those seeking adventure, the Gergeti Trinity Church serves as a starting point for hiking trails, the most common being the hike to Gergeti Glacier.
The trail to the glacier covers around 10 kilometers each way and can be considered challenging, with an elevation gain of about 1100 meters. It takes about six hours for the round trip, and you’ll be passing through alpine sceneries, river valleys, and might even spot some local wildlife if you’re lucky! We didn;t have the best equipment, so we couldn’t manage to finish the hike. So, I’d recommend you be well prepared – Don’t underestimate it!
Don’t be fooled by the spectacular scenery though; the trail can be rough and slippery, particularly after rain, so sturdy hiking shoes are a must. And, as with any high-altitude trek, changes in weather can be sudden and dramatic, so always check the forecast and prepare for all eventualities.
Have a Traditional (And not Only) Meal
Now, let’s go on a thrilling gastronomical journey through Kazbegi! As you are hiking, clicking photos, or simply captivated by the beauty around, hunger will surely pay you a visit (we all know that epic adventures are notorious for fuelling appetites). But worry not! Kazbegi doesn’t just promise visual beauty but has plenty culinary delights as well.
Kazbegi Good Food
“Kazbegi Good Food” is maybe the most famous restaurant in the town and a true gem. This local joint is family-owned and known for its devotion to providing an authentic Georgian dining experience. The restaurant is full of hungry people every day, and for a good reason.
Here, you can enjoy classic dishes like Khachapuri, adjapsandali while drinking in the heavenly panorama around you. While the restaurant might not seem the most modern, it will defy all your expectations. Can you imagine a better combo? I didn’t think so!
Next on our foodie trail is Rooms Hotel, a place that doubles as both a luxury accommodation and dining hotspot. Famous for its stylish interiors and a breathtaking view of Mount Kazbek (comfort food, anyone?), the hotel’s restaurant perfectly offers local and European dishes with a gourmet twist.
Indeed, food crafted with love and mountain views can be quite the intoxicating blend – you might never want to leave! The place is not the most budget-friendly (Maybe the most expensive place we ate in Georgia), however, the food was delicious! I would recommend you getting the forest fruit salad and the penne ala vodka.
Restaurant Cozy Corner
Finally, find your way to “Restaurant Cozy Corner”. True to its name, this place combines warmth with its hospitality and the home-like coziness of its decor. But it’s their food, affectionately prepared with local ingredients, that truly steals the show.
Their traditional menu ensures that every palate, whether craving for heart-warming local soups or local baked potatoes with mushrooms, leaves everyone full and happy. This was actually my favorite place in town. It was not so full like “Kazbegi Good food”, and every dish was exceptional. We got the chance to try this green Georgian lemonade that all the locals had. It was an interesting one, to be honest.
Are There any Hiking Trails in Kazbegi?
I imagine any adventurous soul who made it this far is already itching to hit the trails. Well, you’re in luck! The Kazbegi region is, in my personal and humble opinion, a hiker’s paradise. The stunning landscapes consisting of wide valleys, towering mountains, and abundance of wildlife make every trek a rewarding experience.
But don’t just take my word for it, here’s a quick guide to some of the most breathtaking trails in Kazbegi that I promise will leave you speechless.
- Gergeti Trinity Church trail: This is the signature trail of the region. Personally having trekked here, I must confess that the panoramic views from the top are simply soul-stirring. The trail begins from Kazbegi’s town center, leading to Gergeti Trinity Church perched atop a hill. The whole journey is about 6km round trip and can be completed comfortably in 3 – 4 hours.
- The Gergeti Glacier Hike: The trail to the glacier covers around 10 kilometers each way and can be considered challenging, with an elevation gain of about 1100 meters. It takes about six hours for the round trip, and you’ll be passing through alpine sceneries, river valleys, and might even spot some local wildlife if you’re lucky!
- Gveleti Waterfalls trail: If you’re a waterfall enthusiast like me, you’ll find this trail delightful. It’s a relatively easy and charming hike of about 2km round trip, taking you roughly an hour to complete. Along the path, you’ll wind through the natural forests, which, in my experience, is particularly magical in the morning mist.
- Juta to Roshka trail (Chaukhi Pass): For long-distance hikers, this trail is unmissable. It’s a 24km trail that should take about 9 hours to complete. It showcases some of the most striking vistas in the region. But remember, it requires a little experience as it’s considered a difficult hike.
Remember, each of these trails offer a unique experience. My honest advice is, take your time. Enjoy the journey because, isn’t that what you here for came? Let the beauty of nature leave its imprint on you. Take plenty of breaks, hydrate, and don’t forget to take a myriad of photos. Who knows, they might inspire others to take the journey as well!
Most importantly, respect nature by following the universal, unspoken rule: take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints. Well then, are you ready to embrace your inner explorer in this extraordinary region of Kazbegi?
So there you have it! A complete guide about the magical Kazbegi and the historical path of the Georgian Military Highway. If you love mountain peaks, historical fascination, and a dash of adventure, then this is unarguably your next go-to destination. Lace up those hiking boots and get ready to leave a piece of your heart in the majestic scenery of Kazbegi. After all, isn’t life about collecting experiences, not things? Safe travels!