The fabled lands of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan are unheard of by many, but this mountainous region harbors some of the world’s most stunning landscapes and ethno-cultural treasures where Christian and Muslim heritages intersect, millennia-old civilization thrives between wealthy metropolises, and the boundaries of Europe and Asia blur.
To help you plan your visit to Caucasus, I am sharing my Caucasus itinerary. I will also assign a rating of 1-3 hearts as a recommendation of how much I love each site.
Day 1: Baku
After a brief transit in Istanbul, I arrived via Turkish Airlines in the perpetually windy city of Baku (♥♥) in Azerbaijan, awashed in oil capital and ever-growing skyline of skyscrapers. But it’s a city which doesn’t forget its heritage, with a well-preserved cultural hub in its old walled city which has made its way into the UNESCO World Heritage List. In many ways, it is everything I was hoping for Dubai to be (but unfortunately wasn’t).
Day 2: Baku – Gobustan – Absheron – Baku
The morning began with a visit to Gobustan (♥), another UNESCO site renowned for its ancient prehistoric carvings which dates back to 40,000 years ago, followed by an interesting visit to the gurgling subterranean Lok-Batan Mud Volcano (♥).
After a quick visit to Shahidlar Khiyabani (♥♥) for a panoramic view of Baku, we continued to the Absheron Peninsula where we visited the a Zoroastrian fire temple called Atashgah (♥) and the perpetually burning fire mountain of Yanar Dagh (♥) which provides a much needed relief after the windy day.
Day 3: Baku – Maraza – Shamakhi – Qabala – Sheki
Diri Baba Mausoleum (♥♥), which offers picturesque countryside view once you hike up to the top. In fact, the entire countryside view along the way is reminiscent of New Zealand with a clash of autumn colors and snow-capped mountains, especially along Qabala and Muganly Pass.
Day 4: Sheki – Kvareli – Tbilisi
Our morning city tour of Sheki brought us to sites of Caravansaray (♥) and the incredibly ornate Shaki Khan Palace (♥♥♥) which makes me want to visit Iran immediately.
Crossing the border to Georgia, we made a stop at Kvareli (♥♥) for an exquisite wine-tasting at Tunnel Winery Khareba, before continuing all the way for a dinner at a mountain top restaurant overlooking Tbilisi.
Day 5: Tbilisi – Mtskheta – Tbilisi
Tbilisi (♥♥♥) now officially rounds up my Top 3 European capitals with Budapest and Vienna. There were many highlights, but of special mentions are the viewpoints from Metekhi Church and the Kartlis Deda.
The UNESCO-listed Mtshkheta (♥♥) are impressive too, with a splendid eagle’s eye view from Jvari Monastery and we were lucky to catch a wedding ceremony procession in Svetitskhoveli.
Day 6: Tbilisi – Haghpat – Lake Sevan – Yerevan
Haghpat Monastery (♥♥♥) is possibly my topmost favorite monastery in all of Caucasus, with its beautiful large chambers and dramatic mountainside views which befit its UNESCO status.
While it’s a long drive to our next destination, I was entirely kept awake and entertained with interesting sites along the way, from stunning Norway-like panoramas, Soviet-styled Vanadzor where traces of earthquake damages are still visible, and the enigmatic Molokan Village where minority Russians still live.
Finally, we arrived in Lake Sevan (♥) where the most famous postcard shots of Armenia are taken, with the iconic twin of Sevanavank monastic complex.
Day 7: Yerevan – Khor Virap – Echmiadzin – Garni – Geghard – Yerevan
Khor Virap (♥♥♥) with a stunning backdrop of Ararat Mountains, which is another major highlight even if it was a slightly cloudy day.
Another day, another UNESCO attraction. We stopped by Echmiadzin (♥) which is one of Armenia’s holiest site and dubbed as the country’s Vatican City, as well as Zvartnots (♥) which was once an important cathedral but is now a historical ruin site.
We then continued to Garni (♥♥) which offers a glimpse into pre-Christian Armenia with its Greco-Roman architecture, but the main reason why I love Garni is its surrounding mountain landscape. Our next stop was the beautiful UNESCO-approved Geghard (♥♥) which is partially carved out from a cliff, but unfortunately we didn’t manage to go inside due to tight timing.
Instead, we returned to Yerevan (♥) for a brief city tour, starting from a panoramic view at Victory Park, strolling through Opera House and ending at the multi-floored Yerevan Cascade.
Day 8: Yerevan – Borjomi
A rather long day of driving as we returned back to Georgia.
Day 9: Borjomi – Kutaisi
Morning stroll at Borjomi Park (♥) to taste the legendary Borjomi mineral water which is also Georgia’s biggest export, followed by a long day of driving to Kutaisi (♥) with an en-route stop at Prometheus Cave (♥) with elaborate stalactites and stalagmites.
Day 10: Kutaisi – Batumi
Our morning began with a visit to the UNESCO-approved Gelati Monastery (♥♥). Its exterior is nothing to write home about, but the real jaw-dropping beauty is its amazingly well-preserved and colorful frescoes inside the building, easily one of the very best cathedral interiors in all of Caucasus.
In the afternoon, we arrived in Batumi (♥♥), which is another pleasant surprise with its beautiful European-styled streets and squares, relaxing seaside atmosphere and alien-like skyscrapers which could rival the neighboring Baku too! And there in Batumi, we said farewell to Caucasus and caught our flight back home via Turkish Airlines.
My Ideal Caucasus Itinerary
As usual, I enjoy re-looking back at my itineraries to piece out the most essential parts of the itinerary and recommend routing for those without the time to travel extensively.
I find Day 5-7 forms the heart of the Caucasus experience with chock full of WOW moments, so there’s not much I would change except for pushing Yerevan city tour to another day so that you can visit Geghard. Thus, those who are desperately short in time should definitely focus on a 5-day itinerary which goes along this line:
Day 1: Arrival in Tbilisi. Half-day visit to Mtskheta and return to Tbilisi.
Day 2: Full day in Tbilisi.
Day 3: En route to Haghpat and Lake Sevan on the way to Yerevan.
Day 4: Day trip to Khor Virap, Echmiadzin, Garni, Geghard from Yerevan.
Day 5: Morning Yerevan city tour, followed by a flight out from Yerevan.
For those who have enough time to do an Azerbaijan extension, I find the Day 1-4 portion to be quite solid as well, so you could follow my Day 1-7 itinerary as it is, but add a Day 8 for half-day tour of Yerevan before flying out so that you don’t have to skip Geghard.
For those with even more time: The Western Georgia portion of my itinerary (Day 8-10) are rather too long and can be better enjoyed if you cut half the journey by taking a flight directly from Tbilisi to Kutaisi, where you can then visit the impressive Gelati Monastery and continue for another 3 hours to Batumi, or combine it with a visit to Svaneti (more on that below).
Places I Didn’t Visit Which You Should Consider
Svaneti is home to the highest village longest inhabited within Europe. There are direct flights between Mestia (Svaneti’s entry point) with Tbilisi and Kutaisi, though it is weather inclement as it’s a small aircraft so be prepared for a backup plan of driving between Kutaisi and Mestia for 5 hours.
Kazbegi is renowned for its breathtaking mountain view and a must-do if you love hiking. Min. 2 days needed for round trip from Tbilisi and it can be combined with an en route visit to Mtskheta too.
Tusheti is a favorite among off-the-beaten and local travelers, though its very humble infrastructure means you have to be one who is willing to rough it up.
Tatev is perched at a hilltop of Southeast Armenia with a deep river gorge, while slightly out of the way it offers one of the most dramatic backdrops for an Armenian monastery.
Noravank rounds up another hauntingly beautiful hilltop monastery seated atop of a picturesque valley. Can be combined with an en route stop at Khor Virap while you drive to Southeast Armenia.
Candy Cane Mountain is a bizarre, colorful landscape comparable to that of Zhangye Danxia in China.
Masazır Gölü is a surreal pink salt lake in Qaradağ raion near Baku.
Khinalug is home to one of the country’s most ancient settlements while blessed with a view of 2,000m+ mountain pass.
Where in Caucasus would you like to visit the most?
Share your thoughts in the comment section below.