Mtskheta (მცხეთა) is a town lot about 8,000 people (2014) 15 km north of Tbilisi in the Kartli region of Georgia.
Mtskheta was the capital of the ancient eastern Georgian kingdom of Iberia from the 3rd century BC to the 5th century AD. It is of extraordinary importance to the Georgian people and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was here that Georgia adopted Christianity in AD 334 and it remains the headquarters of the Georgian Orthodox Church. Mtskheta is of primary interest to anyone interested in Georgian history or Orthodox Christianity.
Mtskheta lies at the junction of the Georgian Military Highway and the main road that connects Gori with Tbilisi.
Marshrutkas run regularly every day of the week between Tbilisi's Didube market and the main street in Mtskheta. From the Didube metro station, walk out to the left of the metro tracks (when coming from city center), cross a street and in the next lot you'll find the 1 marshrutka to Mtskheta—ask around. In the south-east corner of the lot, there is a 'cash desk' where you can buy a ticket for the marshrutka. The cost to Mtskheta is 2 lari per person, or pay the driver directly and exactly this amount. Some will try to extort more, expecting you not to care much. Bring a map and stop near the historic center of Mtskheta. Otherwise, the marshrutkas continue to the Mtskheta bus station which is 500 m north of Mtskheta's cathedral. There are fewer marshrutka drivers operating on Sundays and that this mode of transportation therefore becomes less dependable and more crowded.
- 2 Bus stop. It's possible to catch a marshrutka going to Tbilisi here. 2 lari (not more).
- 3 Train station (1.5 km W of city center. It's possible to walk there or get on a public marshrutka waiting near the station).
- 4 Tourist office (opposite Svetitskhoveli Cathedral). 10:00-18:00.
Mtskheta lies on the Tbilisi-Kutaisi railway and thus any trains connecting these cities will pass Mtskheta.
You can take a taxi from Tbilisi or book a guided tour. To make sure you can get back to Tbilisi without problems get a phone number of a cab company before heading to Mtskheta, they will send someone to pick you up for the way back.
Mtskheta is small enough that it is possible to see the entire town on foot. The one exception is Jvari Monastery, far from the town center on top of a mountain. As there is no public transport to Jvari, it may be best to hire a cab in town (expect to pay 15 lari for the return trip), or take the shuttle offered by the tourist office opposite the Cathedral, at a cost of 5 lari per person, to Jvari Monastery. Although hiking up is possible, it probably wouldn't be wise as the walk involves a stretch of main road with blind bends and characteristically chaotic driving.
- 1 Svetitskhoveli Cathedral (The Life Giving Pillar Cathedral). Svetitskhoveli is one of the most sacred places in Georgia and, along with Jvari Monastery, the clear highlight of a trip to Mtskheta. It was founded in 1010, built on the site of Georgia's first church, and contains the graves of the ancient Georgian kings, including Sidonia, who was said to have been buried holding Christ's robe. There are many (unaggressive) beggars at the entrance gate. free.
- 2 Jvari Monastery (on a cliff above Mtskheta). The 6th-century monastery is the culmination of a number of artistic and architectural aspirations in early Christian Georgian architecture. The view from above is great. Be sure you travel there when there's clear weather and before dusk. It's fairly far to walk.
- 3 Samtavro (Place of the Ruler) (to the north up the main road, within easy walking distance from the Svetitskhoveli complex). According to legend, St. Nino lived on this site and prayed within the smaller of its two extant churches. This small church dates from the 4th century. The larger church on this site was built in the 11th century and contains the graves of Mirian, the Georgian king who adopted Christianity, and his wife.
- 4 Bebris Tsikhe (The Elder's Fortress) (further up the main road from Samtavro). The ruins of Bebris Tsikhe are fun, if a bit dangerous, to climb on for views overlooking Mtskheta and the valley formed around the Mtkvari and Aragvi rivers. free.
- 5 Shio Mgvime Monastery (Shio Cave Monastery) (NW 12 km). Spectacular 6th-century monastery. Its main church is of 11th century. Fantastic views over the city.
- 6 Zedazeni Monastery (NE 10 km, on the top of the mountain, closer to Saguramo village). Church built in 8th century. Views over Tbilisi.
- 7 Armaztsikhe-Bagineti Archaeological Site (on the right bank of the Mtkvari; access to the excavation site is signposted on the regional road south of Mtskheta). The main fortress of the ancient town of Mtskheta was located at the high point above the river in strategically good position. The excavations of Armaztsikhe-Bagineti have been prepared for visitors and possess explanations in English. Archaeological investigations began in 1943 and three main cultures were identified: the oldest finds were dated to the 1st century BC to 2nd century AD, the central findings on the 3rd-5th centuries, and the latest to the 6th century. Consequently Armaztsikhe was destroyed by the Arabs in the 8th century. There are a royal sarcophagus, vestiges of the ramparts, a fortified tower and supporting pillars, foundation walls of the palace, a bath house, a wine cellar, a pre-Christian temple and a canal system. Free.
- If you happen to be in Mtzkheta in October, do not miss the Georgian Air Balloon Open Competition.
- Mtskheta City Festival is held annually on 14 October around the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral. Folk dances, music, crafts and religious events all happen there.
There are some traders and a small shop in front of the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral where you can buy souvenirs and drinks.
- There is also a relatively large grocery store ("უნივერმაგ" or "Универмаг") (north of Samtavro on the main road (between Samtavro and Bebris Tsikhe)). Where you can buy cheap basic foods and drinks.
There are several cafes in Mtskheta, but one deserves special recognition: Cafe Guga. It has indoor and outdoor seating—the outdoor seating is especially nice in warm weather as each party will have their own private dining "hut." The Georgian cuisine available is outstanding and costs far less than a comparable meal in Tbilisi. It's almost worth it to come from Tbilisi to Mtskheta just for dinner here!
- Another extremely popular place is "Salobie" (on the way to Mtzkheta to Tbilisi). It's a large restaurant with both outdoor and indoor seating areas and the food is exceptionally good.
- 1 Restaurant. Rather big restaurant with mediocre food. 8-13 lari.
Those who want to visit discos and nightclubs must drive to Tbilisi.
- Guesthouse Lizi, Agmashenebliz 52. Clean, comfortable rooms in a family-run B&B. Free internet. Good food, and within easy walking distance of all sights in Mtskheta. Very pleasant and quiet place to stay. 30 min by bus to Tbilisi Didube metro station. 30 lari per person incl. breakfast and dinner.
- Mtskheta Sanapiro Guest House, Sanapiro Street 6, ☏ +995 597182244. Owner is extremely charming and very kind. Spacious rooms with magnificent view from the balconies to Jvari Monastery, Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, mountains and rivers. Delicious breakfast. Guest House has fantastic location, peaceful and quiet.
- The Georgian Military Highway runs north through the mountains to the Russian border. The next sizeable town north from Mtskheta is Dusheti
- Gori, to the west, is easy to reach