The Vardzia Cave Monastery is one of the most popular attractions in Georgia and a highly recommended must do on your Georgia Road Trip. It’s not like the other monasteries in the country, it’s a massive complex of caves carved into the upper half of the Erusheli mountain. It extends over 13 levels and includes over 600 single chambers. The rooms of Vardzia are connected inside and outside with (secret) tunnels, staircases or terraces. What you see today is just a small part of its former size. Most of it (about 75%) was destroyed by an earthquake in the 13th century. That is also the reason why you can see the hidden cave system from the outside.
Vardzia is still an active monastery and a popular orthodox pilgrimage.
The heart of the complexe is the Church of Assumption with its row of hanging bells on the outside and intricate paintings decorating the interior. The church facade has gone but the inside is beautiful. To go inside woman have to wear long skirts and a head covering, and men must wear long trousers.
The door to the left of the church door leads into a long tunnel (about 150m) which climbs up steps inside the rock and emerges well above the church. A claustrophobic but rather exciting experience.
In front of Vardzia there is a small parking lot where the buses arrive. You can find some small shops to buy water and use the toilets. You buy your entrance ticket at the ticket booth. By the end of 2020 online tickets are not available. To get to the cave entrance you have to walk up a small hill. (about 10 min.) Lazy people have the option to use a minibus for 2 GEL.
When to visit
The monastery complexe opens at 10 a.m. and it is advisable to get there as early as possible. It’s a popular place, it can get crowded. If you arrive in the morning you are maybe ahead of the crowds.
You can walk through the Vardzia complexe by yourself (optionally with an audio guide) or with a personal guide. I recommend the audio guide. There are no signs with explanations in this sightseeing spot. To get at least some background information, an audio guide is useful and interesting. It’s available in english or russian language.
There is no strict dress code for the Vardzia Cave monastery. But because it is still active you should show resepect and dress modestly. Please cover shoulders and knees if possible.
After visiting the cave town itself you can make a small detour to get to the Vardzia viewpoint. It’s a small parking lot on the other side of the river from where you have a great view of the monastery complexe.
Vardzia can be reached from Tbilisi within a day trip and from Borjomi or Kutaisi as a half day trip. I recommend planning your Georgia itinerary so that you visit the monastery after or before Borjomi/Kutaisi. Long distance day trips are exhausting and just recommendable if you just have little time.
If you come from Tbilisi you have to transfer in Akhaltsikhe or Borjomi. There is no direct bus connection with public transportation. Marshrutkas (mini bus) depart in Tbilisi (Didube Station) to Akhaltsikhe every hour (8 a.m. to 7 p.m.) In Akhaltsikhe you change the Marshrutka and take the one to Vardzia. Departure time: 10:35 a.m., 12:20, 4 and 5 p.m.
From Kutaisi you take a Marshrutkas (mini bus) to Akhaltsikhe. From there you take another Marshrutka to Vardzia. Departure time: 10:35 a.m., 12:20, 4 and 5 p.m.
From Borjomi it is easy to travel to Vardzia. The mini buses depart every hour.
If you want to be more independent from the bus times you should consider taking a taxi from Akhaltsikhe. They bring you there, wait for you and take you back. Additional benefit: They can stop on the way whenever you want to take some pictures. Regarding the stunning landscape on the way to the Cave monastery this is a good idea.
An even better idea than a taxi is to rent a scooter or hire a private driver in the first place. So you are fully free of public transportation and can drive your own pace. Contact us for an offer. Short term rental available.
The best place to stay after your Monastery Visit. The Hotel is located directly across the complex and offers not just a great staff and service but also an amazing view.