This is a guide to travelling the Georgian Military Highway from Tbilisi to Kazbegi and beyond to the Russian Border. I describe the top stops to make and best places to visit.
The Georgian Military Highway is a 212km stretch of road that connects the Georgian capital of Tbilisi with Russia. The route is steeped in history and along the way travellers can visit beautifully placed churches, explore ancient fortresses and become mesmerised by towering, snow capped mountains.
Driving the Georgian Military Road on an overland tour in Autumn of 2015 was my first adventure into the Greater Caucasus of Georgia. I immediately fell in love with the region! On Silk Road tours in 2018 I travelled through Georgia twice more and again made the pilgrimage along the highway to Kazbegi.
Finally, in Winter 2022 I spent a month living alongside the Georgian Military Highway, using Gudauri as my base to explore the incredible Caucasus mountains in my campervan. As a route I’ve come to know very well over the years, I decided to put together this travel guide.
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- 1 What and Where is the Georgian Military Highway?
- 2 How to Travel the Georgian Military Highway
- 3 When to Travel Along the Georgian Military Road
- 4 Georgian Military Highway Map With Pinned Stops
- 5 A Georgian Military Highway Travel Itinerary: 13 Top Stops To Make Along The Way
- 5.1 1. Jvari Monastery
- 5.2 2. Zhinvali Reservoir Viewpoint
- 5.3 3. Ananuri Fortress
- 5.4 4. Cross Viewpoint and Panorama Cafe
- 5.5 5. Gudauri Ski Resort
- 5.6 6. Russian-Georgian Friendship Monument
- 5.7 7. Jvari Pass
- 5.8 8. Bidara Travertines
- 5.9 9. Kobi Gondola
- 5.10 10. Sno Village
- 5.11 11. Stepantsminda (Also known as Kazbegi)
- 5.12 12. Dariali Gorge
- 5.13 13. Dariali Monastery
- 6 Side Trips off the Georgian Military Highway
- 7 Need A Place To Stay On Your GMH Trip?
What and Where is the Georgian Military Highway?
The Georgian Military Highway is a road that runs from Tbilisi in Georgia to Vladikavkaz in Russia. The route gradually snakes its way through the Greater Caucasus mountains and is the only land crossing between these neighbouring countries.
From as early as the 1st century BC, traders used the route to transfer their goods between Europe and Asia. In 1769 the route was upgraded to a wider horse and cart track and in 1799 the Russian Military converted it to a formal road, which is the basis of what remains today.
The road is still an important route for trucks transporting goods between Russia, Turkey and Armenia. The border crossing into Russia is notoriously slow, so you’ll often find lines of trucks parked up on the side of the highway as they patiently wait for their turn to cross.
This is made worse in Winter as the Jvari Pass, which is the highest point along the route, often closes due to heavy snowfall. The pass can be closed for days at a time. Currently there is a huge tunnel being built from just below Gudauri to Kobi village. Once complete this tunnel will allow drivers to bypass the Jvari Pass altogether and prevent truck congestion along this stretch of the highway.
The Highway itself is in decent condition but is prone to potholes. Between Gudauri and Kobi and again after Kazbegi, narrow, unlit tunnels are used to pass safely between the mountains. Many of these tunnels are mostly reserved for use in Winter and Spring when snow avalanches and landslides are at their highest risk.
Gergeti Church in the mountain town of Kazbegi is a highlight for many on their visits to Georgia, therefore the Georgian Military Highway is just as popular with tourists as it is with traders.
How to Travel the Georgian Military Highway
A popular way for intrepid, budget conscious travellers to see the Georgian Military Highway is on a shared minibus (Marshrutka). Departing from Didube bus station in Tbilisi, Marshrutkas take around 3-4 hours to wind their way up the highway, only stopping for a break at Gudauri.
2. Group Tour
There are many tour companies offering day trips along the GMH. These full day tours start in Tbilisi and take in some of the stops suggested in this guide. I personally think more time is needed to fully explore the places along this route, but if you’re short on time and just want the highlights a tour is a good option. Some good tours include the following.
3. Private car/taxi
There is also the option to hire a private car and driver for the day. You can haggle with the drivers touting for business in Tbilisi or you can organise your own trip on GoTrip. With GoTrip the negotiating isn’t a concern as the fare is set before you make the booking.
With both of these options, you can decide where and for how long to stop at each location.
4. Self drive
If you’re a confident driver then I suggest the best way to travel the Georgian Military highway is through renting a car. With your own wheels you can explore the Highway at your own pace. You can take several days meandering your way along the highway, taking time to fully explore each area.
Just be warned that Georgian drivers are erratic, impatient and tend to treat the highway as a racetrack! Also this road is the main land bridge between Georgia and Russia so is often busy with trucks travelling to and from the border.
In Winter the road is prone to snow, ice and thick fog. In Winter you are also forced to use the tunnels, however in Summer these can be by-passed. The tunnels are unlit so you plunge into darkness every time you enter one. The tunnels are also quite low-cut so you’ll have to battle with oncoming trucks for right of way.
If this sounds more exciting than scary then having your own driving adventure along the Military Highway is the way to go! If you’ve never driven in such conditions before, then best to pick one of the other options.
Check car rental deals here.
When to Travel Along the Georgian Military Road
The Military Road is open all year. The best time to travel along this beautiful highway depends on what you want from the journey, however most people typically travel the GMH from June to September.
If you want to explore the valleys and mountains that branch off the Georgian Military road then the best time to visit is in the Summer months from June to September. In these months the mountains will be clear of snow and perfect for hiking adventures. This is also the most popular time to visit so stops will be busy with tourists.
If you have an interest in photography I would suggest visiting in Spring or Autumn. In the months of April and May the Spring flowers will be in bloom and fill the region in vibrant colour. However, the mountains can be prone to fog during these months.
In the Autumn months from September to November the trees turn deep shades of yellow, orange and red and the first snowflakes begin to fall. The skies are often clear and the air is crisp.
However, if it’s snow you want then the Winter months from December to March are your best bet. For guaranteed snow I suggest February, however March is often the snowiest month in the Ski Resort of Gudauri.
Be aware that the Jvari pass may close with heavy snowfall which blocks road access to Kazbegi. At this time the only way to travel beyond Gudauri is by taking the cablecar to Kobi and continuing your journey from there.
Georgian Military Highway Map With Pinned Stops
A Georgian Military Highway Travel Itinerary: 13 Top Stops To Make Along The Way
1. Jvari Monastery
- Time required: 30 minutes
Jvari Monastery is a sixth century Georgian Orthodox monastery perched on the side of a cliff, just outside the city of Mtskheta. Jvari was the first Monastery to take on the cross shape, a design that later became commonplace and it is remarkably intact for a church of this age.
However, one of the main reasons to visit Jvari is to admire the views its position on the hillside offers over Mtskheta and the confluence of the Mtkvari and Aragvi rivers below. The Monastery is a popular spot for weddings so you may observe couples in traditional Georgian dress enjoying their special days.
The Monastery is accessed from a turnoff on the E60 (Tbilisi Bypass), around 19km from Tbilisi old town and is well signposted.
Many itineraries will include Mtskheta in their trips along the Georgian Military Highway, however the former capital and important religious centre deserves more time than can be offered here. Dedicate half a day to exploring the UNESCO heritage town of Mtskheta.
2. Zhinvali Reservoir Viewpoint
- Time required: 10 minutes
The next stop along the Military road comes some 40km later at one of several viewpoints overlooking Zhinvali Reservoir. The viewpoints will become apparent as you see the heart-shaped props which seem quite popular at photogenic places these days.
The Zhinvali Reservoir was created in 1986 after the construction of a dam. Despite protests from locals wanting to protect important archaeological sites, the Soviets decided the need for water was greater and the valley was flooded.
Today the azure waters of the man-made lake offer a pretty photo stop for travellers along this well-trodden route.
3. Ananuri Fortress
- Time required: 45 minutes
Further along the reservoir we reach our next stop, the Ananuri Fortress. The fortress is a mish-mash of architectural styles dating back to the 17 century. Consisting of two castles and three churches, Ananuri has witnessed many battles and much bloodshed throughout its history .
Take time to explore the Church of the Mother of God within the fortress. The church façade is decorated with intricate carvings and there are remains of some impressive frescos inside.
For the best views over the complex overall, walk out to the bridge further back along the Highway. When water levels are low you will also be able to see the old Military Highway which was flooded when the dam was built.
This is a popular spot along the Georgian Military Highway and can get busy when tour groups arrive. There is a restaurant and several food stalls here if you’re feeling hungry, alternatively travel a little further on to Pasanauri, for some of the best dumplings (Khinkali) Georgia has to offer.
4. Cross Viewpoint and Panorama Cafe
- Time required: 15 minutes
Around 50km on from the fortress you will reach the next stop. The landscape begins to change as you leave the plains behind and start climbing into the mountains.
This viewing platform comes after the first series of hairpin bends. The final bend takes you around the gorge and you will see the viewing platform on the lefthand side.
From the platform you will have views of Aragvi Gorge and the surrounding mountains.
5. Gudauri Ski Resort
- Time required: 2 hrs to ride the chairlifts
Nestled in the heart of the Caucasus, Gudauri is Georgia’s biggest Ski Resort and a great stop on your tour of the Military Highway. If you like skiing or snowboarding, then you need to dedicate at least a day here. However many people like to visit and simply ride the chairlifts to enjoy the mountain views.
Gudauri is a sprawling resort with the GMH crawling through the middle of it. It’s difficult to identify where the town centre is but a turn off the main highway will lead you into New Gudauri, which is the central hub.
Gudauri isn’t just a Winter stop though as the chairlifts also operate in the Summer months. A series of chairlifts will provide access to Sadzeli Peak. At 3628 meters high, the panoramic views from on top are seriously incredible.
If you’re partial to an adrenaline rush you can also take a tandem paragliding trip. A flight typically lasts around 10 minutes and costs 300 GEL. Instructors wait at the chairlifts for their next unsuspecting victims!
6. Russian-Georgian Friendship Monument
- Time required: 15 minutes
Shortly after Gudauri you will arrive at one of the most popular and iconic stops along the Highway. From the outside the Russian-Georgian Friendship Monument doesn’t look all that appealing, however the mosaics on the inside are certainly more impressive, as are the views on offer from the arched balconies.
The Monument was built by the Soviets in 1983 to commemorate relations between the two countries and mark the 200 year anniversary of the Treaty of Georgievsk. Given the often bumpy relationship between these neighbouring countries, it’s fascinating that locals and foreigners alike, still flock to this monument.
In the Summer you’ll find stalls with locals selling various souvenirs and plenty of other tourists, so be prepared to jostle for space.
7. Jvari Pass
- Time required: 5-10 minutes
Next on the route is the highest point along the highway, known as Jvari Pass. There is a cross to mark the pass which sits at 2379 meters high.
Stopping along this stretch can be tricky as there aren’t many laybys to stop in, so it may be enough to admire the beauty of these surroundings as you slowly amble past in your vehicle.
8. Bidara Travertines
- Time required: 15 minutes
Shortly after the pass you’ll fail to miss the next colourful stop (unless travelling in Winter when it’s covered in snow!). On the lefthand side you will see red-orange limestone formations, created by mineral deposits from the geothermal hot-springs underneath.
If you can stomach the taste, these minerals waters are reputed to be good for health, much like the water at Borjomi. The taste is more bearable once the water is cooler and I suggest only having a small sip!
There is a lay-by opposite the hot-springs filled with stalls selling snacks and souvenirs.
9. Kobi Gondola
- Time required: 1-2 hours
If you didn’t ride the chairlifts at Gudauri, but instead prefer to ride in a modern cable car, then you should take a trip on the Kobi gondola. Two cable cars will transport you from the ancient town of Kobi, across the GMH and up to the Kobi Pass at 2900m.
The Gudauri-Kobi cable cars were installed to provide access to locals when the Jvari Pass closes with heavy snowfall, however for tourists they offer a pleasant trip with stunning views.
Whilst the views here aren’t as impressive as the views from on top of Sadzeli Peak, they are still spectacular in their own right. Choose from a ride on one cable car which takes you 3/4s of the way to the pass, or two cable cars to take you all the way to the pass.
10. Sno Village
- Time required: 1 hour
As the Highway continues its way towards the Russian border the landscape begins to change once again. A short detour off the Highway takes visitors to the village of Sno and the gateway to the Juta Valley. The Juta Valley is a haven for hikers and deserves more attention, but for now stop at Sno and explore the village.
Just before entering the village, on the right hand side you will see the intriguing carved heads. Each of these heads is carved from a single piece of stone and represents an important person from Georgian history.
There is no official entrance fee but there is a donation box in the car park with a suggested donation for the sculptor, Merab Piranishvili of 5 GEL.
Continue into Sno, turning left at the roundabout. Cross the river and you will arrive at the remains of Sno Castle. This 16th century watch tower sits atop a rocky outcrop which you can scramble up for closer inspection.
11. Stepantsminda (Also known as Kazbegi)
- Time required: 1 hour or several days!
This small mountain town straddles both sides of the valley and is dominated by the surrounding mountains. The main attraction in this town is Gergeti Church, which perches on a hillside in the shadow of Mt Kazbek. The church sits at 2170m and still operates as a Georgian Orthodox Church.
There are two ways to visit the church, either by a half day hike or through taking a jeep ride to the top. Jeep drivers hang out in the main square of the town waiting for customers and charge around 15 GEL per person.
12. Dariali Gorge
Time required: 10 minutes
Leaving Kazbegi to the north you will begin to travel through the beautiful Dariali Gorge, cut into the mountains by the Terek River. The environment becomes a little more arid as you begin to wind your way through the gorge.
Shortly after the village of Tsdo there is a viewpoint which is certainly worthy of a photo stop. Wander out to the small monument and stand in awe at the scene laid out in front of you. Happy snapping!
13. Dariali Monastery
- Time required: 1 hour
At the final stop on the Georgian Military Highway, almost at the border with Russia, you will find Dariali Monastery Complex. This impressive complex unites several churches but the main church is dedicated to Archangels St Michael and St Gabriel.
Entrance to the complex is free and a respectful dress code is required. Be sure to have your passport handy here as it’s located very close to the border.
Side Trips off the Georgian Military Highway
If you have lots of time to spare and are taking more than a day to travel the GMH (which I highly recommend you do), then there are several side trips which are worth exploring.
As mentioned before, this UNESCO town is worthy of some exploration, not least to see the Svetitskhoveli Cathedral which lays claim to having the robe of Christ buried underneath.
2. Truso Valley
Truso is another valley with ample hiking potential. The most popular option is hike hike via colourful travertines to the impressive Zakagori Fortress which sits on the border with Ossetia.
3. Juta Valley
Known as the Dolomites of Georgia, Truso Valley is a paradise for hikers. Options vary here from single day to multi-day hikes.
4. Gergeti Church and Glacier
As mentioned before, the main highlight of Kazbegi for many is Gergeti Church. A hike here from Kazbegi town (Stepantsminda) will take around 2 hours one way. For those looking for a more involved hike there is the option to continue on to Gergeti Glacier. This mammoth 20km hike involves 1600m elevation gain and understandably takes all day.
5. Gveleti Waterfalls
For a much shorter but equally picturesque hike, explore the Gveleti waterfalls. Two waterfalls await those willing to hike the relatively short distance from the car park.
Learn more about these side trips in this complete guide to visiting Kazbegi.
Need A Place To Stay On Your GMH Trip?
The best location to stay to fully explore the listed side trips above is Kazbegi (Stepantsminda).
If you want the best hotel in town with incredible mountain views, modern rooms and a beautiful outdoor terrace, check yourself into Rooms Hotel.
The Veranda Guesthouse is near the town centre and offers comfortable rooms with a balcony. The shared living spaces also offer beautiful views of Mt Kazbek and the hearty breakfast will certainly fuel your hiking needs.
For a budget friendly option close to the town centre try Sunny Mountain House. The rooms come with their own kitchen and there is a shared lounge, terrace and BBQ facilities.
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