The city has been around for at least 800 years, and was a regional administrative center for the Ottomans from the sixteenth century up to the Russo-Turkish War. Until the twentieth century Akhaltsikhe was majority Armenian, but today, unlike most of the province, it is majority Georgian. It's a rather sleepy town, but its Old City is worth a visit, and it's a great base for exploring the surrounding areas, including Sapara Monastery and Khertvisi Fortress in the immediate vicinity
Marshrutkas run to Akhaltsikhe's main market/bus station from Tbilisi's Didube market, as well as from the bus stations in Kutaisi and Khashuri. From Kutaisi or Tbilisi, it's best to catch your ride early in the morning if you want to avoid finding another marshrutka upon arrival in Khashuri. But it's not terribly difficult to catch a marshrutka going between Akhaltsikhe and Khashuri before dinner time.
There is at least one direct marshrutka from Batumi, leaving around 10:30 (or full), at the old bus station near the Batumi train station, cost 20 Lari, and arrive at Akhaltsikhe around 16:00.
There are few direct marshrutkas from Yerevan, Armenia, or several connections from Armenia when making a stopover in Akhalkalaki. There is also a daily connection from Gyumri, which starts at 10:00 (3.5 hr, 4,000 dram).
From Borjomi 3 lari.
There's also a route from Batumi via Gorzerdzi pass (4WD needed, closed in winter, scenic views).
Most of the centre can be explored on foot. However, the highway between Borjomi and Vardzia is about 2 km east of the centre and 2.5-3 km east of the castle.
- 1 Akhaltsikhe Castle (Rabati fortress). The highest point of the city and beautifully renovated, including a hotel and an old mosque. 6 lari.
- 2 Amaghleba Church (ამაღლების ეკლესია).
- 3 Old Train Station. Beautifully renovated old train station with the Grand Palace Hotel now inside.
- St. Marina Church.
- 4 Sapara Monastery (საფარის მონასტერი) (About 10-12 km outside of Akhaltsikhe up into the mountains. A round trip by taxi from Akhaltsikhe might cost 15-25 lari.). The monastery was established in the tenth century, but the principal church, St. Sabas, was built sometime in the thirteenth century. Until the twentieth century, the monastery had been perfectly preserved, as its hidden location saved it from Ottoman discovery throughout the empire's three-century long control of southwestern Georgia. Alas, the Soviets found it, and abused it in the usual soulless fashion, albeit not to the same extent as many other Georgian Orthodox establishments—the frescoed walls were not whitewashed, and remain in good condition (especially following a recent restoration). During a visit, make sure to climb up the nearby slopes towards a rocky outcropping to get lovely views over the monastery and the valleys in the distance. Also make sure not to use flash photography in the churches, unless you want to see some seriously angry monks. If you can make yourself understood, you can overnight in the monastery's chambers.
- 5 Khertvisi Fortress (ხერთვისის ციხე). The fortress looms over the village of Khertvisi. The outcrop was used as a fortress from the second century BC, and was reputedly destroyed by Alexander the Great. The "modern" fortress, however, was built around the thirteenth-fourteenth centuries, and saw fighting during the Ottoman invasion (and subsequent occupation) in the sixteenth century. The walls on the far side drop down a sheer cliff to the Mtkvari far below, so if you fancy a bout of vertigo, pull yourself up and look straight down.
If you can make yourself understood, you can overnight in the Sapara Monastery's chambers, 10-12 km outside of Akhaltsikhe.
- 1 Shin Hotel, 2 David and Konstantine St. (at Aspindza Street), ☎ . It is a good 15 minutes walk from the train/bus station on the other side of central. Decent rooms with restaurant attached. 60 to 80 lari Double/Twin. 20 lari Dorm bed.
- Vardzia — the cliff-side cave monastery, a former city, is the biggest reason to visit Akhaltsikhe, and the region more generally. A round trip by taxi from Akhaltsikhe might cost about 60 lari.
- Akhalkalaki — the center of Armenian culture in Georgia is nearby to the southwest, easily accessible via marshrutka from Akhaltsikhe.
- Borjomi — every Soviet traveller’s favourite Georgian retreat, for its parks, Romanov palace, and internationally renowned natural mineral water.
- Khashuri — an interesting small town with an abundance of hammocks.
- Armenia — There are two marshrutkas to Yerevan, Armenia, at 04:00 and 07:00 (35 lari). If you miss them, go to Akhalkalaki, from where marshrutkas leave to Yerevan almost every hour.
- Turkey — You can buy bus tickets to Turkey from the central bus station. Ticket to Posof (city on the Turkish side) is US$10 and leaves at 14:30. If you are going to Kars/Ani and have a tight budget, hitching to Kars is a very easy and quick option and can be done in far less than a day. If you leave in the morning, hitching to the Turkish border or to Posof can be quicker than the bus. From the central bus station, ask for the road to the Turkish border (Turetskoĭ granitsy) and start flagging cars about 1 km from the bus station down the road. The road will pass through the small town of Vale (note: although Vale does not appear to be on the route to Turkey on the Georgian tourist maps found at the tourist information centres, it is indeed on the way). You will be able to walk across the border.