A little city escape to Mtskheta from Tbilisi, Georgia’s captial, and a guide to the cheapest way to visit Mtskheta from Tbilisi using public transportation (marshrutka).
Though Tbilisi is a hopping city with plenty to see and loads to 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... we think) is a great option for a day trip. Mtskheta and the neighboring monastery of Jvari are both UNESCO world heritage sites, and for good reason.
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. The cathedral in the center of the town, Svetitskhoveli (pronounced *???*… don’t ask questions), circa 300 CE-ish, is grand and awe inspiring, and filled with plenty of beautiful icons to be kissed, and loads of dead people and their tombstones to be carefully skirted–or stomped upon, for the more antagonistic souls.
Looking for more things to do in Tbilisi? We got you. Check out our post on three days in Tbilisi on a budget.
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.
[Joke about stroking wood goes here]
Okay, okay, I’ll stop with the smart assery.
The monastery is, to put it frankly, in a fucking 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.
TL;DR cool shit, definitely a worthy day trip. Now, on to how to get there!
How to get to Mtskheta from Tbilisi in the cheapest way possible
Getting to the minibus station
Your journey begins with getting to the Didube bus station in Tbilisi. Take the metro to Didube for 0.50 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 labelled with a blue sign that also has English writing on it. Conversely, you can also pay the marshrutka driver once you get off of 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 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 stopping point in the city–we just got off once we seemed somewhat close to the cathedral and other people were getting off.
Taxi to Jvari monastery
After checking out Svetitdsjaklcan’tspell cathedral/wandering 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 the 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 folk 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 winding roads.
The way back to Tbilisi
Once you’ve communed with God/given up on becoming a monk/seen what you wanted to see, you can head back to Tbilisi via the minibus. They follow the same route going out of the city as they do going in. There’s 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 for transportation is 11.50 GEL, less if you share a taxi with someone, which you probably will. Enjoy your visit to Mtskheta!
Looking for a place to sleep in Tbilisi?
- We recommend BHM Hostel for budget travelers
- We recommend Gallery Hostel Tbilisi for mid-range travelers
Have you ever been to Mtskheta or other places in the Mtianeti region? Have tips for other travelers? Share in the comments below! It will bring great honor to your family.
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