A Day in the Holy City of Mtskheta
Mtskheta is the former capital of Georgia and the site where Georgis was converted to Christianity. The city is the headquarter of Georgian Orthodox Christianity and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is an easy day trip from Tbilisi and a day trip to Mtskheta is a must-do on your trip to Georgia. Adding to the beauty of the city, it is at the confluence of two beautiful rivers; Mtkvari and Aragvi. I spent a leisurely full day here but you can also do this trip in half a day.
Read my country guide about Georgia to find answers to all your questions for a comfortable trip.
Getting to Mtskheta
Mtskheta is easily accessible from the Tbilisi. It is only 20 km north of the city and there are plenty of marshrutkas that leave from Tbilisi at all times of the day. These marshrutkas leave from Didube metro station in Tbilisi. Look for the signs for ‘Kazbegi’. The ticket is 1 GEL only. When you are near the town, don’t wait till they start shouting Mtskheta because you will be in the big city which is quite far from the historic centre. Just check on google and get off when you are close enough to the cathedral
Check out my guide about Tbilisi to find out the must-do things in the city.
There are also trains that go from Tbilisi for a day trip to Mtskheta but the schedule was a little inconvenient for me. You can check the schedule here. Being absolutely lazy and in a very relaxed mood, I decided to take the taxi. I had to negotiate the fare in advance and the trip cost me 10 GEL each way with an additional 15 GEL to go up the monastery and then getting dropped at the gate of the town. I also met Alex, a fellow Russian solo traveller through Grindr and we decided to do this trip together. It was great for me because his Russian helped us a lot. The total drive from Tbilisi took barely 30 minutes.
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Getting Around in Mtskheta
Mtskheta is a very small town and most of it can be easily discovered on foot apart from the Jvari monastery. There are a lot of people who also do this day trip to Mtskheta with tours. As I mentioned above you will need a taxi to go to the monastery and there are plenty of those available in the town. There is no public transport that goes all the way to the monastery.
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Things to do in Mtskheta
I started my day trip to Mtskheta with the Jvari Monastery which was a good decision because then we could spend the rest of the day in the city. The historic centre of the city is home to the Svetitskhoveli cathedral which is the main attraction and a really important site for Georgian Orthodox Christianity. It is the reason Mtskheta was declared The Holy city by Georgian Orthodox Christian Church. The area around the church is also very beautiful and you can easily walk around exploring the old streets. You can also hire a boat tour that takes you to the confluence of the two rivers.
The road to the monastery is quite interesting and the view from up there is ridiculously beautiful. You can see the highway as well as the meeting of the rivers. It was a beautiful day and with the sun shining we arrived at the monastery. The building itself is from the 6th century and it clearly shows. The interior was also in a dismal state with a lot of it crumbling. There was a big wooden cross but honestly, I got done with it in less than 10 minutes despite being thorough, it is a small place.
The real charm of the place is the view of Mtskheta from the top of the hill it is unbelievably beautiful. The confluence of both rivers is right under your feet and the difference in the colour of the water is clearly visible. I could see the beautiful cathedral as well as the historic centre of Mtskheta as well.
We’d promised the driver that we wouldn’t stay more than 30 minutes and it was time to head down to the city for the rest of our day trip to Mtskheta and free him. He was a very nice and chilled guy and Alex’s Russian definitely helped us a lot.
Note: You can do this on foot as well but the monastery is some 12 km out of the town and it takes quite some time including crossing the river, the highway and then hiking up. The taxi seemed a much better option frankly.
Walk in the Old City
The taxi dropped us at the gate of the old city and we headed in. We grabbed some lunch first which was delish. It was a small cafe and the food was simple. The woman at the counter smiled when we ordered more Khachapuri, it was just astounding. I was craving some ice cream so with that in hand we decided to walk around in the city instead of heading to the cathedral. The main street has a lot of souvenir shops, cafes and restaurants. There were kids playing and most of the tourist buses were leaving at this time to head to Jvari so we made the right call by heading there first.
The houses are made up of stones and woods and the streets were quite beautiful and neatly lined. A little walk further and we got to some beautiful small square and then turned back to head to the cathedral because it really seemed like a normal residential area was starting.
It was time to head to the star of the show; Svetitskhoveli Cathedral. The highlight of any day trip to Mtskheta!
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Entry Fee – Free
The name of this cathedral literally means ‘The Life-Giving Pillar‘. The cathedral starts way before you actually get to the door. It is visible all the way from the main road across the river and you can see the central dome and a big part of the structure.
When we arrived, there was a service happening so we waited outside out of respect. The entire view from the door was deeply calming with a deep voice singing beautifully, I couldn’t get enough of it. Eventually, we were allowed to go in.
The cathedral is very grand but it was a bit of a shock. The cathedral looks incredibly well preserved from outside but the interior is actually in not-such-great shape, unfortunately. There was a massive painting of Jesus in the centre but the rest of the decor was crumbling and fading and I hope it gets restored soon or it will be gone pretty soon.
I sat there wondering how things change for people. Before this place people here were pagans living their lives according to their old gods and bam, a new religion came and everything changed. This place redefined the identity of this country and people and they are going through the same now by tilting towards Western Europe where they will have to separate God from the governance.
Alex was visibly bored and obviously didn’t share my fascination with the orthodox churches, I don’t blame him, that’s all he saw in Russia. We headed out to our last stop of the day; the riverbank.
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A Boat Ride to The Two Rivers
Our initial idea was to sit by the river and watch the sunset and catch the taxi back to Tbilisi. When we arrived, however, things changed. A guy offered to take us to the point where the rivers meet for 5 GEL. It was a no brainer and we were immediately on board (pun totally intended). There were also so some cafes and riverside balconies but they weren’t open, not sure why.
The ride lasted half an hour and first, we headed in the direction of the monastery. The difference in the colour of the water that was quite obvious wasn’t so obvious anymore here but it was a great place to see the city and the cathedral. A totally different but gorgeous view.
We stopped there for a few minutes and then headed back to the bridge in the opposite direction where the entrance of the old city is. The bridge was pretty meh but the sun setting over this historic city was mesmerising. All of us fell quiet, nothing else mattered at that point, it was just me and that beautiful sunset.
Like all good things, the ride came to an end. It was getting dark and we were tired as well. I hailed a taxi and half an hour later we were in Tbilisi.
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