Georgian Military Highway: traveling from Tbilisi to Kazbegi

Miradouro no Zhinvali Reservoir. Paragem na Estrada Militar Georgiana.
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The Georgian Military Highway, also known as the Military Road of Georgia, Military Highway, and Ghalghaï Military Road, is a legendary road that crosses the Caucasus, connecting Georgia to Russia.

I traveled the route from Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, to Kazbegi, on the border with Russia, and was completely captivated by the beauty of the region.

What can you expect from the Georgian Military Highway? Nature enthusiasts will appreciate the high mountains and expansive landscapes, while history lovers will prefer to explore the isolated monasteries and all the secrets they hold.

But what’s no secret to anyone is that the Georgian Military Highway is considered one of the most beautiful roads in the world!

And when it’s time to take a break and indulge in Georgian cuisine, I have an excellent suggestion to share with you.

In summary, because it’s an excellent way to experience the Caucasus, here’s everything you need to know to make the most of your journey along the Georgian Military Highway.

What is the Georgian Military Highway?

Autoestrada Militar da Geórgia. Filas de camiões para entrar na Rússia.
Georgian Military Highway. Lines of trucks waiting to enter Russia.
Estado das estradas na Geórgia.
Road between Tbilisi and Kazbegi, in Georgia.
Conduzir na neve em Gergeti, Geórgia.
Driving in the snow in Gergeti, Georgia.

It’s a winding road with quite a bit of traffic, not only passenger cars heading to the Gudauri ski resort but also many trucks carrying goods between Armenia and Georgia to Russia.

It has only two lanes, one lane in each direction, so I think calling it a highway is not appropriate.

In total, it’s 212 km between Tbilisi and Vladikavkaz, Russia, but as I mentioned, I only traveled to the border.

Although the route has been used by invaders and traders over the centuries, its current path was defined in 1799 by Russian troops.

What to see along the Georgian Military Highway?

Lago Zhinvali, na Estrada Militar Georgiana.
Lake Zhinvali, on the Georgian Military Highway.
Entrar na Fortaleza de Ananuri.
Entering Ananuri Fortress.
Monumento da Amizade Rússia-Geórgia, na Estrada Militar Georgiana.
Monument of Friendship Russia-Georgia, on the Georgian Military Road.
Igreja da Santíssima Trindade Gergeti, na Estrada Militar Georgiana.
Gergeti Trinity Church, on the Georgian Military Road.

In addition to the mountain landscapes, which are reason enough to include the Georgian Military Road in your itinerary through Georgia, there are also many interesting places to see.

So, on my journey from Tbilisi to Kazbegi,

  • Zhinvali Reservoir;
  • Ananuri Fortress;
  • Monument to the Russia-Georgia Friendship, or Georgievsk Treaty Monument (Gudauri View Point);
  • Stepantsminda, better known as Kazbegi;
  • Gergeti Trinity Church.

As I mentioned, these were the places I visited between Tbilisi and Kazbegi, but if you have time, you can also include in your itinerary Mtskheta, the ancient capital of the country, and the Chronicle of Georgia, an unfinished monument intended to tell the story of Georgia.

Zhinvali Reservoir

Montanhas refletidas no Lago Zhinvali.
Mountains reflected in Lake Zhinvali.
Loja no Zhinvali Reservoir.
Shop at Zhinvali Reservoir.
Baloiço no Lago Zhinvali (Estrada Militar Georgiana).
Swing at Zhinvali Reservoir (Georgian Military Highway).
Lago Zhinvali com neve.
Zhinvali Reservoir with snow.

Zhinvali Water Reservoir is an artificial lake created by the construction of a dam in 1980, during the Soviet era.

Locally known as Lake Zhinvali, it’s located near the small village of Zhinvali.

It’s hard to describe the beauty of the place, as the water reflects the sunlight in an incredible way, even on cloudy days.

Near the parking area, there are several stalls selling warm hats, snowshoes, and hot beverages to warm up your day.

There’s also a swing strategically placed in one of the best spots for taking photos, with the silhouette of the mountains in the background.

Parts of the lake were frozen, but in summer, you can go boating, swimming, and even fishing, within the period established by Georgian law.

Ananuri Fortress

Fortaleza de Ananuri, na Estrada Militar Georgiana.
Ananuri Fortress, on the Georgian Military Highway.
Ver as montanhas com neve a partir da Fortaleza de Ananuri.
View of the snow-capped mountains from Ananuri Fortress.
Dress Code para visitar a Fortaleza de Ananuri.
Dress code to visit Ananuri Fortress.
Lojas no parque de estacionamento da Fortaleza de Ananuri.
Shops in the parking lot of Ananuri Fortress.

The Ananuri Fortress is a complex composed of a church in the center, houses, and completely surrounded by walls.

It is an important historical site, as it was the seat of the dukes of Aragvi, known as Eristavis, a dynasty that ruled the region since the 13th century.

On the walls of the church, you can see some ancient symbols of Georgia, such as grapevines.

During the Russian occupation, the church inside the Ananuri Fortress served as a weapons depot. The walls were painted white, hiding the church’s frescoes. After the Russian withdrawal, the walls were cleaned, revealing the original frescoes.

Monument of Friendship Russia-Georgia

Monumento da Amizade Rússia-Geórgia, na Estrada Militar Georgiana.
Monument of Friendship Russia-Georgia, on the Georgian Military Highway.
Painéis do Monumento da Amizade Rússia-Geórgia.
Panels of the Monument of Friendship Russia-Georgia.
Monumento da Amizade Rússia-Geórgia com neve.
Monument of Friendship Russia-Georgia with snow.
Montanhas do cáucaso, a partir do Monumento da Amizade Rússia-Geórgia.
Caucasus Mountains, seen from the Monument of Friendship Russia-Georgia.
Loja perto do Monumento da Amizade Rússia-Geórgia.
Shop near the Monument of Friendship Russia-Georgia.
Miradouro de Gudauri.
Gudauri Viewpoint.
Cão a dormir perto do Monumento da Amizade Rússia-Geórgia. O que ver na Estrada Militar Georgiana.
Dog sleeping near the Russia-Georgia Friendship Monument. What to see on the Georgian Military Highway.

Also known as the Monument to the Treaty of Georgievsk, the Russia-Georgia Friendship Monument is a concrete arch with panels that aim to depict moments of connection between the histories of Georgia and Russia.

There is some controversy surrounding the history depicted here, as it may not entirely reflect what actually happened.

Before this treaty, three empires threatened Georgia’s borders: the Ottoman Empire on one side, the Persian Empire on the other, and the Russian Empire.

With the signing of the Treaty of Georgievsk, Russia committed to protecting Georgia’s borders against attacks from the Persians and Ottomans, in exchange for becoming a protectorate of Russia.

It was during this time that Russian troops constructed the Georgian Military Highway to Tbilisi. However, when Georgia was attacked, Russian troops withdrew.

In any case, the monument was built in 1983 and is located at the top of Mount Jvar, offering a privileged view of the Gudauri ski resort, the high Caucasus mountains, as well as the Devil’s Valley and the Aragvi River.

Stepantsminda (Kazbegi)

Estrada para chegar a Stepantsminda.
Road to reach Stepantsminda.

So you understand the difference between these two names, Stepantsminda is the current name of the small town, whereas during the Russian period, it was named Kazbegi.

However, Kazbegi exists and is the name of the mountain and glacier that can be seen from the Gergeti Trinity Church. The Kazbegi glacier is one of the easiest to conquer in Georgia, requiring no special equipment.

You only need to hike to the top, and it doesn’t involve any specialized gear other than warm clothing and hiking boots.

Gergeti Trinity Church

Visitar a Igreja da Trindade Gergeti.
Visiting Gergeti Trinity Church.
Igreja da Trindade Gergeti, com neve.
Gergeti Trinity Church, with snow.
Grupo com guia no Mosteiro de Gergeti.
Group with guide at Gergeti Monastery.
Monte Kazbegi, visto a partir do Mosteiro e Igreja da Trindade, em Gergeti.
Mount Kazbegi, seen from the Gergeti Trinity Monastery and Church.

The Gergeti Trinity Church is a monastery located 2,170 meters above sea level, where eight monks still live. Without electricity and luxury, but surrounded by stunning beauty.

There’s a funny story about choosing the location for this monastery. In the 14th century, there were three kingdoms in Georgia, and they decided to build a common church but couldn’t agree on the location.

So, they sought help from an elder who suggested they kill a deer on top of a mountain and wait for an eagle to fetch the carcass. Where the eagle stopped to eat the deer would be the place to build the new church.

Everyone followed the eagle from Tbilisi, which stopped at several places but only definitively settled to eat the deer on the mountain where the Gergeti Trinity Church was built.

In the other places where the eagle stopped before reaching Gergeti, they built small chapels named the Holy Trinity.

It’s ironic that the monks sought isolation, yet visitors arrive at this remote location every day to see the monastery.

At the foot of the Gergeti monastery is the small village of Gergeti.

Where to have lunch on the Georgian Military Highway?

Rooms Hotel Kazbegi.
Rooms Hotel Kazbegi.
Restaurante do Rooms Hotel Kazbegi.
Restaurant at Rooms Hotel Kazbegi.

As promised, here’s a restaurant suggestion for lunch when traveling along the Georgian Military Highway: Rooms Hotel Kazbegi (GPS location).

Yes, it’s a mountain hotel, so you can also consider staying overnight in the area. Besides being a charming hotel, the restaurant offers traditional Georgian cuisine for you to enjoy.

Moreover, it’s one of the best spots to take photographs of the Gergeti Trinity Church.

I should mention that some tours often include a lunch stop in Pasanauri, which I’ve heard is also worth it. While it doesn’t offer views of Mount Kazbegi like Rooms Hotel Kazbegi does, Pasanauri is still a very beautiful place!

How to visit the Georgian Military Highway?

Conduzir na Estrada Militar Georgiana com neve.
Driving on the Georgian Military Highway with snow.

To travel along the Georgian Military Highway, you can either rent a car or join an organized tour group.

Renting a car gives you more freedom to stop and visit whatever you want, but I understand that not everyone feels comfortable renting a car abroad.

On the other hand, opting for a one-day tour with a tourism company provides peace of mind since you don’t have to worry about safety, but you lose some freedom and only visit what’s included in the tour.

Renting a car in Tbilisi

Estradas na Geórgia.
Roads in Georgia.

Renting a car in Tbilisi is the ideal way to explore the landscapes of the Georgian Military Highway.

Check how much it cost to rent a car in Georgia.

But if you still have doubts about renting a car in this country, driving rules, and required documents, I’ve written a comprehensive article about renting a car in Georgia that I recommend you read.

Tours from Tbilisi

Tbilisi, a capital da Geórgia.
Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia.

By taking a tour to explore the Georgian Military Highway, you have the opportunity to visit not only the road itself but also some tourist attractions worth seeing.

Furthermore, with the assistance of an experienced guide, you benefit from all the stories they share about the places you visit.

So, here are the tours I recommend for exploring the Georgian Military Highway:

From what I understand, the first three tours are very similar but operated by different companies. On the other hand, with private tours, you travel only with your family without strangers, which can be an advantage.

Honestly, I believe you will be well served with any of these excursions.

Is it worth doing the Georgian Military Highway?

Miradouro no Zhinvali Reservoir. Paragem na Estrada Militar Georgiana.
Viewpoint at the Zhinvali Reservoir. Stop on the Georgian Military Highway.

Yes, without a doubt, it’s worth dedicating a day to travel this ancient route.

*I traveled on a day tour offered by the Georgian Tourism and as part of the Traverse Events.

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