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Kazbegi is a popular destination for travellers from Tbilisi. The mountain town near the Russian border is actually called Stepantsminda, but it is still coloquially known as Kazbegi after the mountain that towers over the region. It has breathtaking views in all directions making it a popular place for hikers in summer and skiers in winter. If you can spend some time here I highly recommend it, but even if you are pushed for time, you can still have an incredible experience in just a couple of days.
As I was working in Tbilisi as a digital nomad, I only had the weekend to explore this mountainous region of northeast Georgia. I finished work early on Friday and was back on Sunday. Here’s how I spent my two nights in Kazbegi.
Where Is Kazbegi?
Kazbegi is actually the name of a region on the eastern side of north Georgia. It borders Russia to the north and the breakaway region of South Ossetia to the west. At one point on my hike I was only 6km from the border with Russia and less than 20km from South Ossetia. When most people talk about going to Kazbegi, they actually mean they are going to the town of Stepantsminda however all Georgians and travellers will know what you mean when you say you want to go to Kazbegi. Being in the mountains, the temperatures are a lot cooler than in Tbilisi and the rest of Georgia. For those that don’t like the heat, I highly recommend going to Kazbegi to cool off in summer or if you want to experience the freezing temperatures in winter.
How Go Get to Kazbegi:
There are plenty of ways to get to Kazbegi from Tbilisi.
If you are really pushed for time, you can take a one day tour with various different tour companies in town. They will drive you there early in the morning, stopping off at a few different places along the way and allow you to see the main town and church.
However, I would always recommend spending extra time in a place if possible. Its also more fun makinng your own way there than on a tour!
Shared taxi’s are popular in Georgia, as are private transfer with companies such as GoTrip but I would rather take budget local transport if possible. Head to Didube bus station in Tbilisi, via the metro for 50 Tetri ($0.16/ £0.12) from somewhere like Liberty Square, or (as I was running late) take a Bolt for 10-15GEl from near Liberty Square.
Want to know how to get around Tbilisi? Check out: How to Travel Around Tbilisi
Once in Didube, ask around and you should be able to find a Marshrutka to Kazbegi without much hassle. They leave roughly every hour in the morning and every couple of hours in the afternoon. Marshrutkas are local minibuses that go all around the country and tend to run to a schedule. The schedule is normally pretty accurate and tend to leave on time. They may feel a bit cramped but nothing too bad. I had also read that marshrutkas can be dangerous as they drive fast and overload the vehicle but I never experienced that.
As a popular tourist destination, the marshrutkas will have Kazbegi written in English as well as Georgian. If you have maps.me, there is a pin in the south of the bus station showing exactly where to take buses to Kazbegi and if you are still struggling, ask locals and they are normally happy to help. I took the marshrutka that left Didube bang on 3.30pm, paid 10 GEL to the driver and was in Kazbegi by 5.30pm. The driver didn’t stop at all but it could be a whole other story on another day!
The entire journey was along the Military Highway, the major transport route between Georgia and Russia and you will pass plenty of trucks parked up on the side of the road awaiting the customs to be open. Excluding the rows of parked trucks, it is a beautiful drive through the Caucasus mountains.
What To See and Do in Kazbegi
Gergeti Trinity Church
The main attraction in Kazbegi is visiting the Gergeti Trinity Church. It is an icon in Georgia and with such a stunning backdrop, its easy to see why!
The church is perched on the hillside 400m above the main town centre. If you walk around town with a backpack on for long enough, a driver of the white 4×4’s that shuttle guests to the church on the main road will ask if you want a lift. I’ve heard of quotes for as much as 50GEL for the short journey up there! Don’t pay that much! I’ve read around 10-20GEL is normal.
However, I decided to hike up which doesn’t cost a thing! The hike takes just over an hour and snakes around the hillside with a couple of steep bits in places. There are a few paths you can take but they all go to the same place eventually. The church is lovely and you can step inside it and smell the old rock and stone if you come appropriately dressed. This means knees covered for the men and shoulders and heads covered for the women.
The views from the church are stunning but I definitely recommend hiking further up if you can. Follow the road away from the church and on the left hand side is a small car park. Follow the paths up the small hill for views of the church.
Extend Your Hike To The Glacier
From the viewpoint above the church you can keep walking up for better views of Mount Kazbeg and the Gergeti Glacier. At one point the path splits in two. The left path has a constant incline but with more scrambling whereas the right path has a steeper ascent in places but interspersed with flatter areas. I choose the right path and on a clear day I would have had amazing views of Mount Kazbeg for the entire hike. The left path is more popular with those going up to the huts.
Unfortunately, the weather was not on my side so I didn’t get the stunning views I wanted. Clouds settled on the mountain so I made the sensible decision to turn back. If you have a few day in the area, try and pick the day with the best weather for an extended hike. The last thing you want is a 7 hour hike and not see anything like I did. After living in Franz Josef for three years, you would think I would know how to judge a mountain climate!
What Else Can You Do In Kazbegi
If you are stuck for ideas of what to do next, take a visit to the Visitor Information centre on the main road, just down from the bus station. They have plenty of options for you and different tour companies to go with. Paragliding is available and hikes to other valleys around Kazbegi. If you want something more adventurous, or to climb Mount Kazbeg, Mountain Freaks are highly recommended.
After all the walking and adventures are done, you deserve a beer at Cafe 5047. Sit on the terrace outside and enjoy views of where you’ve just been. For dinner head across the way Stepantsminda Restaurant for great kebabs, Georgian wine and chacha or for a more authentic Georgian vibe go to Beba Bar on the road behind the bus station.
There is also a Spar and another minimart in town for snacks and drinks but like most things in Georgia, don’t expect them to be open early.
I stayed at Hill House, a small family run guesthouse that has a balcony and hammock with views over the mountains. It was 35GEL per night for a private room with bathroom that also had access to a common room and kitchen. The kids of the family speak excellent English and were a big help! It is actually in Gergeti, just over the river and a 10 minute walk from the main town. However that does mean that it cuts 10 minutes off your walk when going up and down to the church.
Looking for something to eat? Check out: The Best Foods in Georgia You Have to Try
Heading Back to Tbilisi
The marshrutkas that drop you off depart from the same place. The timetable is posted on a board above the bus stop in case you forget. The journey back took a bit longer but we did stop twice to maintain the drivers cigarette habit. I returned to Tbilisi on Sunday at 11.00am, getting into Tbilisi by mid afternoon.
Kazbegi makes an excellent spot to go to if you only have a short amount of time in Georgia. If you live in Tbilisi and want some adventure for a weekend it is the perfect choice.
Have you ever been to Kazbegi? If you have any more recommendations fire them my way!
Dan is an avid traveller from London. His first big adventure was in 2010 living in Malaysia for 3 months and becoming a divemaster. He has been on the road almost constantly since 2015 travelling to destinations that aren’t on the mainstream tourist trail.