A quick guide on how to get to Mtskheta from Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital. Includes info on the cheapest way to visit Mtskheta from Tbilisi using public transport (marshrutka), and useful historical information on Mtskheta.
Though Tbilisi is a hopping city with plenty to see and do, sometimes you just need a breath of sweet, relatively-smogless air and a moment or two without the sounds of cars honking. When that need arises, the nearby city of Mtskheta (pronounced mush-ket-ah... I think) is a great day trip from Tbilisi. Mtskheta and the neighboring monastery of Jvari are both UNESCO world heritage sites, for good reason. Below you can find my guide on getting from Tbilisi to Mtskheta, and what to do in Mtskheta.
Index: Day trip from Tbilisi to Mtskheta
A day trip from Tbilisi to Mtskheta
The Mtskheta area has been occupied since around 1000 BCE, and the inner city surrounding the central cathedral is quite charming with its cobblestone streets and mountainous backdrop. It is also one of Georgia’s oldest cities and its former capital. Mtskheta became a UNESCO Cultural Heritage site in 1994.
Things to do in Mtskheta
There are several historical monuments in Mtskheta, which together make up the world heritage site. You can find info on them below.
The cathedral in the center of town, Svetitskhoveli (pronounced *???*… don’t ask questions), circa 300 CE-ish, is grand, awe-inspiring, and filled with plenty of beautiful icons to be kissed. There are also loads of tombstones to be carefully skirted–or stomped upon, for the more antagonistic souls.
People claim that the cathedral is built upon the burial ground of *THE* robe of Christ. Which robe, I do not know. The explanation further states that a Georgian Jew bought the robe off of a Roman soldier, then brought it back to Georgia. Methinks the Roman was likely laughing all the way to the bank, but for the Georgians’ sakes, I hope his souvenir was worth as much as he paid for it.
There is also a pillar inside the cathedral made of a cedar tree, that is said to have cured diseases and healed blindness when touched.
The monastery is, to put it frankly, in a freaking epic location, and provides an excellent vantage point of Mtskheta and the river around the town, Aragvi. It’s a bit smaller and younger than the cathedral in town, being built around 500 CE. From what we could see when not being assaulted by the 38291309 different wedding parties that were swarming the place while we were there–clearly it is The Place to Be for people looking to tie the knot–it was just as incredible.
There are several other historical sites scattered around the city. These include the 3rd-century BC fortress of Armaztsikhe, the 11th-century Samtavro Monastery, and, when the water is low, an old Roman bridge crossing the river.
How to get to Mtskheta from Tbilisi on a budget
Mtskheta is easily reached by public transport from the capital; it’s one of the easiest day trips from Tbilisi. Below you can find out how.
Getting to the minibus station in Tbilisi
Your journey begins with getting to the Didube bus station in Tbilisi. Go to your nearest metro station, and take the metro to Didube for 1 GEL (it’s a flat rate regardless of distance).
Once there, exit the metro and head through a tunnel out into the market/bus area. There will be plenty of taxi drivers, marshrutka (minibus) drivers, and random drivers of questionable origins milling about. Ignore the drivers that tell you there are no marshrutky going, or that they can do it cheaper. They’ll probably be telling you this in Russian anyway, so if you don’t know any Russian, it will be even easier to ignore them! Joy!
Head towards the signs that say “Kazbegi“. If you don’t see them, you can ask people “marshrutka Mtskheta?” and point in some direction questioningly. If you hear the word taxi, ignore and remind them you want a marshrutka. A useful Russian phrase: tollko marshrutka (только маршутка), only marshrutka.
Once you find the minibus area, you can get a ticket from the cashier counter. It’s labeled with a blue sign that also has English writing on it. Conversely, you can also pay the marshrutka driver once you get off the bus, but it’s probably easier to determine the amount to be paid before getting on the bus, rather than while it’s in motion. A round trip to Mtskheta and back should be 1 GEL per person. Cheap, right?
The minibus from Tbilisi to Mtskheta
You’ll know you’re in Mtskheta once you see the cathedral in the city center. The ride is about 20 minutes from Tbilisi. We’re not sure if the minibus has a specific halting point in the city–we just got off once we seemed somewhat close to the cathedral and other people were getting off.
Mtskheta to Jvari monastery
After checking out Svetitskhoveli Cathedral and once you’ve wandered around the city a bit, you can head to the Jvari monastery by taxi. We were told you could get there on foot, but we’re thinking that’s only for the hardcore walkers–the monastery is around 12 kilometers from the city.
For us normal humans, a taxi is the way to go. The taxi can be bargained to 10 GEL (in total, not per person) for a round trip to the monastery, or so we’ve heard from others. We paid 20 because derp, and we couldn’t remember how much it was supposed to be at the time.
You can always share a taxi with other stingy backpacker folks that you might see wandering about. We only saw Russian tour groups, but February isn’t exactly peak tourist time. The taxi ride takes about 15 minutes because of the winding roads.
Getting back from Mtskheta to Tbilisi
Once you’ve communed with God/given up on becoming a monk/seen what you wanted to see, you can head back from Mtskheta to Tbilisi via the minibus. They follow the same route going out of the city as they do going in. There are no specific stops, so if you see a minibus with some kind of sign in the window, just flag them down and ask if they’re going to Tbilisi (they probably are). We caught ours outside of the Samtavro cathedral, a smaller church + monastery combo nearby the main cathedral which, coincidentally, was also filled with 10001 wedding parties. Go figure.
All in all, the total cost of transportation is 12 GEL, less if you share a taxi with someone, which you probably will. Enjoy your visit to Mtskheta!
It is also possible to do the trip by taxi from Tbilisi, or as part of an organized group. I think you should skip the group tour, as getting from Tbilisi to Mtskheta is easy, but if you want to take a taxi call an Uber. Getting to Mtskheta by taxi should be around 20 – 25 GEL.
Where to stay in Tbilisi
Tbilisi is a hopping city with loads to do. Many travelers plan to stay only a few days, but end up staying much longer than that.
If you’re looking for a good budget places to stay in Tbilisi, consider the following options:
Centrally located with friendly and helpful staff, this place is great for budget travelers. It has comfortable beds with privacy curtains, and it’s a very social affair. Book BroBro Hostel now.
Gallery Hostel Tbilisi
A stylish hostel catering to the upper-budget and mid-range segment of travelers. A little less lively than BroBro, but very comfy for a hostel. Book Gallery Hostel Tbilisi now.
We are a big fan of homestays, as they allow you to get a better understand of the people and culture you’re visiting. Book your homestay in Tbilisi now.
If you’re looking to stay for a while, or just want a bit more comfort, consider the following Airbnbs:
A stylish house on the river: This stylish house has incredible views and a very warm atmosphere. Dave, the host, is a super friendly guy who can help you make the most out of your trip to Tbilisi. It’s also within walking distance of the old town.
Chrono room: Curiously named, charming as hell. Staying here is like living in an old-world wine cellar. Book a stay at Chrono room.