The countries of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan have until recently been highly underrated places to visit. The three countries making up the Caucasus region have suddenly become one of the most sought after destinations in Eurasia. And I can understand why. The Caucasus is one of the most rewarding trips that I’ve taken.
The Caucasus is a region situated between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea and dominated by the mighty Caucasus Mountains. After spending nearly two months across these countries, I’ve rounded up the 12 must-see places to visit in the Caucasus.
If you’re planning on travelling to this incredibly beautiful part of the world, this blog post will help you plan your ultimate Caucasus trip. I’ve put together sample itineraries from six weeks to one month as well as two-week trips across Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, to make your independent planning easier.
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Why visit the Caucasus?
I could write an entire blog post on reasons why you should visit the Caucasus. The countries of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan really combine all of the best things that I enjoy about travel.
The people are very friendly and some of the most hospitable I’ve ever encountered. It was a real joy to explore the region as a solo traveller.
The countries all have a really fascinating history. From the former Silk Road to the Soviet Union, history is pervasive in the Caucasus which makes it a really interesting place to explore.
The food (and wine, of course) is to die for. I enjoyed the cafe and wine bar scene in Yerevan and Tbilisi, which reminded me a bit of Melbourne.
The region is also sitting in one of the most incredibly beautiful places in the world. The dominant Caucasus Mountains running in the north are simply breathtaking, but the rolling hills and valleys even down to the south of Armenia are beautiful. I found that the hiking opportunities in the region are also a real appeal and completely underrated.
The region is slightly off the beaten track but also starting to become more popular. I met some great travellers during my time there but not too many that it felt crowded or commercialised.
Read about my experience as a solo female traveller in the Caucasus in an interview I did with Emily from Wander-Lush blog here.
Best time to visit the Caucasus
The best time to travel to the Caucasus is in Spring and Autumn/Fall. The months from April to May and September to November offer the most temperate weather. I personally prefered Autumn around October and November because of the beautiful fall colours and fewer crowds.
Winter is a hard time to travel to the Caucasus. The cold is harsh and snow falls in most places across the region. Some of the mountain passes and trails are still covered in snow until April.
Summer from June to August is the most popular time to travel around the Caucasus and places like Mestia, Batumi and Kazbegi can become especially crowded at this time.
How to travel around the Caucasus
The most common form of transport in the Caucasus is the local marshrutka or marshrutky, which are minivans or minibuses. You pay for a seat from one place to another (you don’t always receive an official ticket). They tend to congregate in either official bus stations or random car parks, but they are relatively well organised. Most marshrutkas have signs on their dashboards and the drivers will often help you work out where you need to go.
They sometimes adhere to a timetable and other times simply leave whenever they’re full. Although it may not sound like it, they’re quite efficient and it’s easy to travel around the entire region using them.
There are also some decent train journeys that you can take instead. Although they tend to cost more than a marshrutka, they are more comfortable. Popular train trips are from Tbilisi to Zugdidi in Georgia, from Tbilisi to Batumi in Georgia, from Tbilisi to Baku in Azerbaijan and from Tbilisi to Yerevan in Armenia.
All of the places I mention are marked on this map
Best places to visit in the Caucasus
Here are the 12 must-see places to visit in the Caucasus region:
I fell in love with Tbilisi and a lot of people do. It’s one of the coolest cities I’ve been, with an edgy vibe that perfectly straddles both the history of the city with new modern trends. The architecture is incredibly picturesque with rundown buildings, washing hanging from balconies and brand new cutting edge designs all blending into one.
The cafe and bar scene and nightlife in Tbilisi are especially intoxicating and you can find yourself spending days just going from one local haunt to another.
It’s also one of the most affordable places to visit in the Caucasus, and there are plenty of things to do in Tbilisi for budget travellers. You’ll also find a variety of accommodation options from backpacker hostels to high-end hotels.
I would recommend a minimum of three days in Tbilisi to really appreciate the old town, vintage markets, trendy bars and quirky streets.
Kazbegi, in the far north of Georgia, is one of the most popular places to visit in the Caucasus. The small town, which is known as Stepantsminda, is situated in the magnificent Caucasus Mountains and is home to the Gergeti Trinity Church. The church is perched on the edge of a hill above town and has become an iconic Georgian attraction, with crowds of people coming to visit from Tbilisi.
The church itself is beautiful, but the real appeal is the spectacular location. The surrounding mountain backdrop of the church is what makes for such incredible photographs. The best way to visit Gergeti Trinity Church is by hiking up to it from town. You can also continue further and hike up to the Gergeti Glacier, for one of the best day hikes in Georgia.
I would recommend spending at least one night in Stepantsminda to have enough time to do some hiking in Kazbegi. If you have limited time, it’s possible to visit on one long day trip from Tbilisi as well.
The Svaneti region is another top place to explore in the Caucasus Mountains. The area is in the north-west and is one of the most popular places to visit in Georgia. It was once a remote, secluded part of the Caucasus and the villages in the valley are still dotted with the old defensive Svan towers.
The boom in tourism has made the region feel slightly less secluded and hotels and restaurants have popped up all over the area. Still, the stunning mountainous landscape is one of the best places to visit in the Caucasus for hiking, with the popular four-day trek from Mestia to Ushguli being incredibly worthwhile.
I would recommend setting aside at least a couple of days in Svaneti. Mestia is the main town and hub of activity and is where most of the comfortable accommodation is found. From there, you can explore by car or on foot. A popular day trip is to Ushguli, the highest village in Europe, and day hikes can include out to Chaladi Glacier.
If you have more time, I definitely recommend the Mestia to Ushguli trek. You can read my trek report about it here.
Batumi is a port city on the Black Sea coast and is known as the ‘summer capital’ and party town of the country. It’s the closest you’ll get to tropical in Georgia with a much warmer climate than the rest of the country and a beach-strewn esplanade.
The architecture is quirky and you’ll find interesting artwork and sculptures around, but the construction boom is bringing more modern buildings to the cityscape.
I recommend a couple of days in Batumi. There’s not exactly any show-stopping attractions there but the party atmosphere and calming waters of the Black Sea make it worthwhile.
Vardzia is the largest of the ancient cave cities in Georgia. It’s found in a remote valley of southwestern Georgia and dates back to the 12th century. It’s one of the most unique places to visit in the Caucasus, with the montage of hollow windows in the rock face quite striking to see.
The cave city housed up to 50, 000 people at its peak with a fully functioning monastery at its heart. However, an earthquake destroyed much of it and it was later abandoned when the region came under Ottoman rule in the 16th century.
To explore the network of tunnels and rooms in the rock-cut complex, some people take a day trip from Tbilisi. However, it’s possible to visit independently. An independent trip to Vardzia is best done with an overnight stay in Akhaltsikhe, the nearest major town which is also home to the Rabati Castle.
Sighnaghi is often referred to as Georgia’s prettiest town. This walled settlement is perched on a high plateau facing the snowcapped Caucasus Mountains in eastern Georgia. Its preserved 18th and 19th-century architecture is very picturesque and even though it’s becoming more popular with visitors, Sighnaghi is still a charming place to visit.
Its other appeal is that it lies inside Georgia’s Kakheti region which is also the country’s prime wine-producing area. You can easily combine a couple of days in Sighnaghi with a visit to some of the nearby wineries.
On any trip to the region, you can’t miss the Armenian capital, Yerevan. It’s one of the must-visit places in the Caucasus. While some people get bogged down in comparisons with Tbilisi, it seems a little unfair. Yerevan is a cool city in its own right.
It certainly won’t capture your attention as quickly as Tbilisi, but if you give the city some time, you might agree that it’s one of the most underrated destinations in Eurasia. The city has countless museums, art galleries, wine bars and trendy cafes, flea markets and grand old Soviet architecture.
You could easily spend at least three days in Yerevan.
With Armenia’s chaotic marshrutka network, many prefer to use Yerevan as their base for exploring the rest of Armenia on organised day trips from the capital. This is a good option if you don’t have a lot of time or patience!
Dilijan National Park is one of the best places to visit in the Caucasus for outdoor enthusiasts. This national park in northern Armenia is a beautiful area of forest-covered hills, snow-capped peaks in winter and ancient monasteries. There are endless opportunities for hiking and biking with marked trails and one of the most well-organised tourist information centres I’ve ever come across.
You could easily spend anywhere from two days up to four or five depending on your interests and how much time you have. The main town of Dilijan is a great base with good value guesthouses to stay. There are plenty of day hikes and a multiday trail that you can tackle during your stay. If you’re not into hiking so much, you can still visit a couple of the more well-known monasteries like Haghartsin which is reachable by taxi.
Goris + Tatev
The road from Yerevan to Goris is enough to warrant a visit to the south of Armenia. However, it’s worth spending a couple of days in Goris to explore the surrounding area.
You can hike up to Old Goris from town which offers incredible views over the volcanic landscape which appears similar to the fairy chimneys found in Cappadocia, Turkey.
Another old cave city known as Old Khndzoresk is just 10km from town and was inhabited up until the devastating earthquake in 1931. You can easily spend a couple of hours exploring the old remnants of this ghost town.
For independent travellers, Goris is also the best base for getting to Tatev Monastery. This 9th-century church stands on the edge of a deep gorge of the Vorotan River. It’s an incredibly beautiful place to visit and is accessed via a ropeway which is the longest non-stop double track cable car in the world.
Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, is still a mystery to many people. It flew under the radar for even the most intrepid of travellers until recently. It’s now finding itself as one of the new must-visit metropolises in the world with a sudden fascination with the city’s unique architecture.
It’s described by Lonely Planet as an architectural love child of Paris and Dubai and I couldn’t describe it better myself. The booming oil wealth has meant an incredible construction boom which has brought cutting edge designs to the cityscape. However, the old city also hides remnants of the former Silk Road, which makes it a fascinating city to wander around.
Three days in Baku is the ideal amount of time. You can explore the main parts of the city as well as head out on a day trip as well.
Sheki is a small town in far north Azerbaijan at the base of the Caucasus Mountains. Its appeal lies in that it was a popular resting place on the fabled Silk Road, connecting East and West. Remnants of this time can be found in the town’s architecture with an old caravanserai and former palaces open to visitors.
The town itself is otherwise quiet and it seems a world away from the cosmopolitan city of Baku.
It’s also a convenient stopover if you’re travelling by marshrutka from Tbilisi to Baku. Many travellers stay for at least a night so they can take the time to wander around the streets, before continuing their journey.
Gobustan National Park
Gobustan (or sometimes written Qobustan) National Park is a popular day trip from Baku. The area is characterised by an almost apocalyptic landscape of mud volcanoes.
More than half of the world’s mud volcanoes lie in Azerbaijan and the ones in Gobustan National Park are some of the most accessible. They’re not dangerous as such but rather mounds of cold bubbling mud created by gases underneath the earth’s surface.
Another attraction of the area is the rock caves decorated by petroglyphs or rock art drawn around 40, 000 years ago by early humans. There’s a dedicated museum and protected drawings which you can visit.
To find out more about a day trip to Gobustan National Park, read my post on Baku here.
One month itinerary Georgia + Armenia + Azerbaijan
The ultimate Caucasus itinerary that takes in the best of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan in one month. This itinerary is suited for independent travellers who are comfortable using public transport, although private transfers and day trip options can be utilised if you prefer more comfort.
Tbilisi (3 days) – Mestia (2 days) – Batumi (2 days) – Akhaltsikhe & Vardzia (1 day) – Gyumri (1 day) – Yerevan (4 days) – Goris & Tatev (2 days) – Dilijan (2 days) – Tbilisi (1 day) – Kazbegi (2 days) – Tbilisi (1 day) – Sighnaghi (2 days) – Sheki (2 days) – Baku (3 days) – Tbilisi
Begin your Caucasus trip in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. You could easily spend three days in Tbilisi. There’s plenty of things to see and do in the trendy city, from exploring the Old Town and colourful markets to trying all the typical Georgian food in one of the many restaurants.
From Tbilisi, you can head to Mestia by marshrutka to explore the beautiful Svaneti region. Spend a couple of days there taking a day trip to Ushguli and a day hike to Chaladi Glacier.
From Mestia, travel down to Batumi, the party city on the Black Sea coast. A couple of days is enough here to explore the port city that is known for its interesting architecture and fun nightlife.
From Batumi, take a marshrutka to Akhaltsikhe. Stay one night in the small town, which is enough time to see the Rabati Castle and explore the cave city of Vardzia.
From Akhaltsikhe, you can take a marshrutka to Gyumri in Armenia, a road not many tourists tend to take. Gyumri is the second-largest city in Armenia and a nice place for a one-night stop for an introduction to the country.
From Gyumri, travel to Yerevan, the beating heart of Armenia and a great city to explore for four days. There’s plenty of things to do in Yerevan from exploring the various museums to cafe hopping with the locals and taking a day trip outside of the city.
From Yerevan, head to Goris in the south of the country for a couple of days. This will give you time to appreciate the beautiful landscape of southern Armenia and visit the stunning monastery at Tatev.
Head back to Yerevan and then change marshrutka to continue north to Dilijan. Spend a couple of days exploring the Dilijan National Park, the perfect place for outdoor enthusiasts.
Go back to Tbilisi, Georgia from Dilijan for a night to break up your travel time. From there, you can head north the next day along the Georgian Military Highway to Kazbegi. Spend a couple of days in Stepantsminda to see the famous Gergeti Trinity Church as well as hiking up to the Gergeti Glacier.
Return again to Tbilisi and then go east to Sighnaghi, a picturesque town in Georgia’s wine region.
From Sighnaghi, head just an hour further east to the border by marshrutka or taxi. Cross the Georgia-Azerbaijan border on foot. Once in Azerbaijan, you can catch an onward marshrutka or hitch a ride to Qax in Azerbaijan. From there you can take a bus to the small town of Sheki. Spend a couple of days understanding the role Azerbaijan played along the famous old Silk Road.
From Sheki, head to Baku, the fascinating capital of Azerbaijan. You can easily spend three days there seeing the Old City and going on a day trip to Gobustan National Park.
Take the overnight train from Baku to Tbilisi in Georgia to end your trip!
If you have longer than a month?
Here’s what you can add to your Caucasus travel itinerary to extend it to six weeks of travel in the Caucasus:
From Tbilisi, you can head north to Pankisi Gorge and stay for a couple of days in the small town of Jokolo. This is one of the most misunderstood places in Georgia. It’s a narrow valley running to the Russian border and home to the ethnic minority, Kists, who have roots across the border in Chechyna.
From Tbilisi or from Jokolo, head to the Tusheti region of northern Georgia. You can spend a couple of days hiking around the town of Omalo in Tusheti. The beautiful Caucasus Mountains there are far less explored than around Mestia in the Svaneti region.
If you’re a keen hiker and have the time spare, you can’t miss tackling the four-day trek from Mestia to Ushguli in the Svaneti region of Georgia. This popular multiday trek takes in incredible Caucasus Mountain scenery and utilises local guesthouses along the way.
You can head away from Baku and into the stunning mountains of northern Azerbaijan. From Baku go to Quba by marshrutka where you can spend a few days visiting the remote villages of Khinaliq and Laza.
Two week itinerary Georgia + Armenia
If you have two weeks to explore the region, then you have enough time to see some of the best places to visit in the Caucasus in Georgia and Armenia.
Tbilisi (3 days) – Kazbegi (2 days) – Dilijan (2 days) – Yerevan (3 days) – Gyumri (1 day) – Akhaltsikhe & Vardzia (1 day) – Batumi (2 days) – Tbilisi
Start your Georgia and Armenia trip in Tbilisi, Georgia. The capital is easy to lose time in and you can spend days wandering the old streets of the city.
From Tbilisi, head to Kazbegi for a couple of days amongst the extraordinary Caucasus Mountains.
From Kazbegi, start early and head back to Tbilisi where you’ll need to change marshrutka and head south to Dilijan in Armenia. Spend a couple of days exploring Dilijan National Park, before continuing south to Yerevan, the capital of Armenia.
Spend a few days in Yerevan, visiting the antique markets and history museums. Take a day trip to some of the surrounding monasteries in Geghard and Khor Virap. Then head for Gyumri, the second-largest city in the country.
From Gyumri, take the daily marshrutka to Akhaltsikhe in Georgia. Take one day there to visit the cave city of Vardzia.
From Akhaltsikhe, head to Batumi on the Black Sea coast. Spend a couple of days in the port city admiring the quirky architecture and the vibrant nightlife.
Head back to Tbilisi to end your trip!
Two week itinerary Georgia + Azerbaijan
With two weeks, you can explore the best of Georgia and Azerbaijan.
Tbilisi (3 days) – Kazbegi (2 days) – Sighnaghi (2 days) – Sheki (2 days) – Baku (3 days) – Akhaltsikhe & Vardzia (1 day) – Tbilisi
Start in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. Spend at least three days there to soak up the vibe of the trendy city. There are plenty of things to do in Tbilisi to keep you busy.
Head north to Kazbegi for a quick trip into the Caucasus Mountains and to see the famous Gergeti Trinity Church.
Then travel out east to Sighnaghi, Georgia’s wine region and spend a couple of days there learning about the ancient process of making Saperavi.
From Sighnaghi, take a taxi to the border with Azerbaijan, just an hour away. From there, take a marshrutka or taxi to Qax in Azerbaijan from where you can take a short bus ride to Sheki. Spend a couple of days in Sheki learning about the old Silk Road.
Leave Sheki for the glitzy city of Baku. Spend a few days in Baku exploring the Old Town and taking a day trip to Gobustan National Park.
Take the overnight train from Baku to Tbilisi. Then head west to Akhaltsikhe for a night. From there you can explore Rabati Castle and the cave city of Vardzia.
Return to Tbilisi to end your trip!
Two week itinerary Georgia
Georgia has some of the best places to visit in the Caucasus region. If you have two weeks, you can easily spend that time exploring the beautiful country of Georgia.
Tbilisi (3 days) – Mestia (2 days) – Batumi (2 days) – Akhaltsike & Vardzia (1 day) – Tbilisi (1 day) – Kazbegi (2 days) – Sighnaghi or Telavi (2 days) – Tbilisi
Start your travels in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. This intoxicating city will be the base for your entire trip as it’s the country’s main transport hub.
After three days in Tbilisi admiring the balance of old and new architecture, head north to the Caucasus Mountains. Travel by train and then marshrutka to Mestia in the Svaneti region. Take a couple of days there to explore the old traditional villages, particularly Ushguli.
From Mestia, head to Batumi, a port city on the Black Sea. This party town is popular with locals and tourists alike.
From Batumi, head to Akhaltsikhe for the night. Walk up to the Rabati Castle and take a marshrutka or taxi to Vardzia, the ancient cave city.
From Akhaltsikhe, head back to Tbilisi for the night. The next morning, take a marshrutka north to Kazbegi. Stay in Stepantsminda and hike up to the Gergeti Trinity Church and further on to the glacier, if you can.
Return to Tbilisi and then head out east to either Sighnaghi or Telavi, 1.5 hours away from each other. Telavi is the main town in Georgia’s wine region and you can use it as a base to explore the surrounding wineries. Sighnaghi, on the other hand, is one of the most beautiful towns in the country and is also within reach of some wineries.
Head back to Tbilisi to end your trip!
If you want to read more about the Caucasus Region:
An interview I did with Emily from Wander-Lush blog: Solo Female Travel in the Caucasus: What’s It Really Like?
An article I wrote for Matador Network: 9 treks that showcase the Caucasus’ remote and rugged beauty