Georgian Military Road: itinerary and tips
I tell you about the Georgian Military Road: what to see, how to get, where to sleep and eat and how much time to travel.
Georgian Military Road is like a string with some pearls strung on it, and now and then you meet a pearl along the way. Who hasn’t admired it: Griboedov, Pushkin, Marlinsky, Tolstoy, Lermontov, Chekhov, Ilf and Petrov. We are very impressed by the scenery, too, in addition, unusually lucky with the weather – in the valleys were swirling mysterious fog, and this is always to the mountains to suit. Let’s go together on a little trip along the Georgian Military Road!
What is the Georgian Military Road?
Military-Georgian road, or VGD in short, is a 208 km long road from Vladikavkaz to Tbilisi, which runs through the Main Caucasus Range. So get ready to be impressed by every turn. This is the only land road to get from Russia to Georgia (routes through Abkhazia and South Ossetia are now closed).
Why such a strange name, what does it have to do with the military? It came from the fact that the construction and maintenance of the road in the XIX century was entrusted to the military department. But in general, the road has been known since ancient times, it has been described in detail by the ancient historian Strabo and it is mentioned in Pliny in the “Natural History”.
The road itself is impressive – it is probably the most beautiful in Georgia. Add to that the many sights along the way, and you can see why it is so popular with tourists.
Useful articles on Georgia:
How to get to the Georgian Military Road
There are two ways to get to the Georgian Military Road.
The classic and historical route, described by many, is from north to south, that is, from Vladikavkaz to Tbilisi through the Upper Lars checkpoint. Since May 17, 2022, Russia has finally opened the land border, and now you can freely enter Georgia by car.
The second route, along the Georgian Military Highway, runs from south to north, from Tbilisi to Stepantsminda. It is easier because there is no need to cross the border. This route is most often used for excursions. We drove it twice: first on our own in a rented car, and then from Tbilisi in a minibus when we returned to Russia. Learn from personal experience how to rent a car in Georgia.
What to see on the Georgian Military Road
There are tons of sights on the Georgian Military Road! I will tell you about the most interesting ones. I will follow the route we did – from south to north.
The first beautiful point on the IOP is the turquoise reservoir, which was formed by the dam in the 80s. It flooded the ancient, beautiful town of Zhinvali, with its fortress and temples. This was done to provide water and electricity to Tbilisi. Before the beginning of the reservoir there is a monument to three hundred Araghvians, who fought against the Persians in 1795.
There are several viewpoints along the reservoir. We stopped here: 42.141631, 44.769278.
The fortress suddenly comes up out of the bend and stuns with its beauty. It was built around the 16th century, although the central tower is believed to be of the 13th century. You can climb the square tower all the way to the top! Inside the fortress stands the Church of the Assumption, with beautiful frescoes inside.
If you go down, you will see the reservoir and the ruins of another temple. If the water level drops, you can see a section of the old road and bridge.
Entrance to the fortress and the temple is free. There is parking nearby. Coordinates: 42.163782, 44.703164. The best view of the fortress is from the bridge.
View of the fortress of Ananuri from the bridge.
A spectacular observation point in the form of a cross overlooking the canyon. Below you can see the river, houses and cars winding along the serpentine.
The lookout is to the left of the road, turn carefully: 42.438581, 44.493826. There is a large parking lot, stalls, and what appears to be a restroom.
Lesha is at the “Cross” lookout.
Gudauri is the most famous Georgian ski resort. It consists of several villages and stretches along the VGD. The mountains around are stunningly beautiful. In the past, travelers stayed overnight in Gudauri, and there is even a post office there. We stayed overnight in Gudauri too, and in the morning we were rewarded with beautiful views of snow-covered mountains and rolling fog. I really wanted to go up in funiculars to 3300 meters, but they do not work in summer, unfortunately. The best view of the mountains, it seems to me, is in New Gudauri: 42.469555, 44.482981.
The mountains in Gudauri.
A bright, beautiful, distinctive landmark of VGD. The Arch was erected in 1983. If you like Soviet mosaics, you will love it! The view from here is wonderful. If you are not afraid, you can take a paraglider ride.
The arch is to the left of the road, right on the edge of the cliff – you can see it from afar. There is a large parking lot and plenty of food and souvenir stalls. The coordinates are 42.493802 and 44.452734.
Mosaic Friendship Arch.
After the Cross Pass you will pass the red travertine mineral spring. If you go down from the parking lot, you can draw mineral water. Unusual place, but we have already been to such in Jili-Su and Pamukkale, so we did not stop. Coordinates: 42.531728, 44.471448.
The red travertine right by the road.
To get to this secluded place, you just need to take a little turn off the road. It is a very beautiful place: a small village with an ancient watchtower, a river, a monument to King Gorgasali and a picturesque glade with boulders on which the faces of famous Georgians are carved. The coordinates are 42.607348 and 44.632284.
Further away begins the road to Juta, where you can admire the beautiful teeth of Chauha Mountain, but you need to allocate a day for this with an overnight stay. We drove a little farther for the sake of curiosity, but then returned to VGD.
The old signal and watchtower in the village of Sno.
Here are two of the main attractions of the Georgian Military Road – Mount Kazbek and the Gergeti Church at an altitude of 2170m. We didn’t see Kazbek because of the weather, but we enjoyed the church.
The Gergeti church of the 14th century looks magical against the background of the mountains. It is now completely enveloped in mists, then comes up and bathes in the rare rays of sunlight. But from the inside, the church was not at all impressive. Nearby there is an observation deck from where you can see the villages of Stepantsminda and Gergeti.
It takes about 1.5 hours to get to the church on foot or 40 minutes by car. Since we were short on time and it was cold and rainy, we climbed by car. If you don’t have a car, the locals will drive you up for a fee – there are cars waiting for tourists below.
The Gergeti church looks magical in the fogs!
How long does it take to get to VGD?
Usually, tourists allocate one day to the Georgian Military Road, and all tours are designed for this period. But I prefer our way: see part of the VGD in the sunset light, sleep overnight in a nice hotel, wake up at dawn with a view of the mountains and continue the leisurely journey.
Where to spend the night
Since we went to explore the Georgian Military Road from Kutaisi, we had a day to see only the beginning of the route. Twilight caught us in Gudauri, and we settled in a cool spa hotel Tsar Bani 3*. I highly recommend it! We chose it by photos, reviews and rating. Interesting interior, warm, comfortable check in, gorgeous view of the mountains. You can drink coffee and admire. You can eat at the hotel, but the food is not too good. Our room with a balcony and a view of the mountains in the summer cost about 1500 rubles per night.
If we were driving from Tbilisi, we would have stayed overnight in Stepantsminda (Kazbegi) to see Kazbek and drive to Gvelet waterfalls. There are many hotels and guest houses in Stepantsminda. Of all stands out beautiful and trendy Rooms Hotel Kazbegi 4*. Rooms cost from 9000 rubles per night for two people.
But I liked more the houses with panoramic windows in Kazbegi View Hotel: they are twice cheaper, but just as beautiful. In general in Stepantsminda it is hard to choose lodging – everything is so stylish, look for yourself:
Look for hotels with discounts on Hotelluk. And look for cool apartments on Booking.com – there’s a huge selection of accommodations for all tastes and wallets.
Our cozy room is in the Tsar Bani hotel.
Where to eat
There are few cafes in the mountains, so take a snack with you. You can buy food at Spar supermarket in the village of Natakhtari: 41.921219, 44.728932.
We ate in Gudauri at our hotel, but in general we saw several cafes and restaurants at the resort. Though most of them are in Stepantsminda. There we had lunch at restaurant Cozy Corner and tried some delicious national dishes – they have great shashlik, pkhali and khachapuri in Oajarian style. Coordinates of the restaurant: 42.660941, 44.641135.
Where to go on excursions
If you can not rent a car, and you do not want to go by bus, do not get upset. You can always take an excursion, good thing there are plenty of them along the Georgian Military Road! This even has its advantages: you will be shown and told everything, and you do not need to drive. The most popular excursion on VGD is from our guide Artur.
All tours we buy only on our favorite service Tripster. There you can read real reviews of tourists, so it is easy to choose a good and interesting tour. Prices are lower than the street vendors, and there is more reliability. In addition, there are unique author’s tours that will show you the country from a new side. I heartily recommend it.
Georgian Vacation. Part 1. Georgian Military Road
Georgian Military Road connects Vladikavkaz and Tbilisi. Full route: “Vladikavkaz – Balta – Nizhny Lars – Russian-Georgian border – Stepantsminda – Gudauri – Pasanauri – Ananuri – Zhinvali – Mtskheta – Tbilisi”. The total length of the route is 208 km on the territory of Russia and Georgia. The Georgian part of the road is the most interesting for tourists and travelers. 160 kilometers of stunning beauty, natural, historical and architectural sights. Today you will learn:
- what to see on the Georgian Military Road and how long it takes,
- where the best viewpoints and the most romantic places are located,
- which ski resort is located here, and what to do there in the summer,
- which village on the VGD is considered the birthplace of khinkali and a mecca for rafters,
- where to stay in the mountains – to spend the night, rest or travel (hotels, guest houses, apartments),
- where to eat on the way to Tbilisi (cafes, restaurants).
The Georgian Military Road is a sight in itself. Even those tourists who came to Georgia by plane specially go here for excursions. We, the auto-travelers, are just lucky. We get beautiful things as a bonus. Going to Tbilisi, Kakheti (Telavi), Adjara (Batumi), and any region of Georgia, we can see this northern region of Georgia – Mtskheta-Mtianeti – on the way. Georgian Military Road runs from north to south through the entire region. Mtskheta-Mtianeti is marked in bright blue on the map:
Kind advice – budget at least 3 hours for sightseeing, not 3 hours (in this time you can only get from the border to Tbilisi), but at least 3 times more. We drove from the border to Mtskheta, where we had our first hotel, for almost 10 hours – from 7:10 to 16:00. We were tired, of course, but it was worth it. The Georgian Military Road – a must-see in Georgia!
The list of settlements, places and attractions on the Georgian Military Road:
- Stepantsminda (Kazbegi),
- Sno (N 42 ° 36.282′ E 44 ° 38.223′),
- Mineral spring (N 42° 31.900′ E 44° 28.350′),
- Viewpoint (42.49356, 44.45198),
- The Arch of the Friendship of Peoples (42.49254, 44.45306),
- Lookout point “The Cross” on the Gudauri Pass (42.43859, 44.49382),
- The confluence of the White and Black Aragvi (42.34459, 44.69459),
- The Ananuri fortress (N 42° 9.828′ E 44° 42.209′),
- Jinval Reservoir (observation point),
- Jvari monastery with a vantage point, where the river Kura and the river Aragvi merge (41°50′ 17 “N 44°44′ 0 “E),
- That is not all. You can also visit Gergeti church, alpine village Juta, Gveleti waterfall, Arsha waterfalls, Truso gorge and much more. BUT, keep in mind that these sights can be reached only by jeep and on foot. You cannot see them from the Georgian Military Road. It takes a lot of time. As an option, you can come here on vacation (for example, in Gudauri or Stepantsminda) and drive quietly around the area. If it is interesting, put in extra 2-3 days in your itinerary for distant attractions – gorges, waterfalls, temples.
Well, I’m going back to our trip. For better orientation I made a map on which I marked everything that in my opinion could be useful for a traveler, the same will be discussed in the article below.
Attractions, hotels, cafes on the Georgian Military Road on the map:
Click on the plus square at the top left of the map. A list will open. For ease of use, all sights, hotels and cafes in it are arranged in a strict order of their location (from the border towards Tbilisi). Color codes:
- Sightseeing and sightseeing points are marked in yellow,
- In red – hotels,
- purple – cafes,
- brown – store in Gudauri,
- Green – waterfalls, gorges, churches, which are to be reached by jeep and (or) on foot.
Georgian vacation. Part 1. Georgian Military Road.
On June 7 in 1 hour. 20 minutes we crossed the Russian-Georgian border (beginning of the crossing at 05.45 Moscow time), and our unforgettable Georgian vacation began. We drove into Georgia over the Georgian Military Highway.
The mountains, the mighty giants of the Daryal Gorge, seemed to rest against the sky. It was breathtaking to contemplate this power. Georgia immediately stunned us and did not let us go until the last minute of the journey.
The first thing we had to do was to buy car insurance. Not far from the border on the way we saw a compulsory insurance point. We stopped. At the border we were unable to exchange rubles for GEL, so we purchased the insurance in rubles (at an unfavourable exchange rate). We paid 1,000 rubles for insurance costing 30 lari (the usual exchange rate: 1 lari = 26-27 rubles).
The first stop was Stepantsminda (old name Kazbegi, both variants are used in our colloquy). We had to fill up our tank.
We drove almost with an empty tank. Kostya purposely did not refuel in Russia. Yes, gasoline is expensive in Georgia (~ Yes, gas is expensive (65 rubles per liter), but it is of very high quality. When we arrived in Kazbegi our crews were divided – we went to look for gas stations, and Karina and Sasha went to the guest house “Gogi Alibegashvili” – the place of our final overnight stay in Georgia. On this day Kazbek (5,033 m) did not reveal itself to us. We decided not to go to the Trinity Church of Gergeti (seen in the photo below). We would have spent a lot of time (not less than 2-2.5 hours) and the scenery would not be the same. Take note for the future: the transfer to the Gergeti church is paid, 50 GEL per car, and it’s better to go there when the weather is clear. You can easily find the car at the bus stop.
Yes, on the day of the start of our trip to Georgia, Kazbek did not appear to us. But on the way back from the balcony of the guest house
we admired this great beauty, which no photo in the world can not convey. The photo was taken at 5 am, at sunrise.
Given that inexpensive quality accommodation in Stepantsminda is not easy to find, take note of our guest house Gogi Alibegashvili (rating 9,4). The cost of 2-bed rooms for August 2018. ~ 2 100 rubles (80 lari), 3-bed. ~ 2,600 rubles (100 lari). Is it worth spending the night in Stepantsminda at all? The question is not clear. If you came here from Tbilisi in the evening and want to cross the border in the morning, it’s worth it. If you want to admire Kazbek at sunset and at dawn, you should. In other cases you can look for better and cheaper accommodation. For example, Tsar Bani Spa Resort in Gudauri. The choice of hotels in Gudauri is very large, and the prices in summer are low. The distance between Gudauri and Stepantsminda is only 30 km.
The car is filled up at Stepantsminda network Socar gas station. FAQ: Where is the best place to fill up your car in Georgia? At which gas stations is it better to fill up? Fill up at chain gas stations like Gulf, Socar, Wissol and Rompetrol. We’ve tested them all, the gasoline is excellent, whether it’s in Tbilisi and Batumi or small mountainous Stepnzminda. I will say more, the gasoline is so good that at first we thought the fuel gauge was broken – it took so long (economically!) to run out. Understandably, the car ran like a doe on such gasoline, too. At the gas station we paid by card (from the euro account). The inscriptions at gas stations were all in Georgian. We told the gas station attendant “95,” and they filled us up. Perhaps it was called something else in Georgian. And we drove on, staring with our eyes wide open.