Things to do in Sighnaghi: Georgia’s wine region
This post is all about the best things to do in Sighnaghi in Georgia. Sighnaghi is a lovely town in Georgia’s Kakheti region that is famous for its wine.
Which country has the best wine? It’s a controversial debate, but Georgia is a respectable competitor. Georgia’s viticulture goes back to the neolithic period and its said to have one of the oldest wine regions in the world.
Kakheti: Georgia’s wine region
The heart of it lies in Kakheti. A region also known for its delicious food and hospitality. With its mediterranean climate it offers the perfect conditions for cultivating grapes.
Even though I don’t really like wine, my travelbook convinced me there were enough other things to do in Sighnaghi to make a stop here on my overland journey to Azerbaijan.
Sighnaghi, the capital of Georgia’s wine region, is an old medieval town with old fortress walls, beautiful mountain vista’s and cosy homestays. The area is excellent for making hikes through vineyards and past ancient monasteries and churches. It is also the city of love, because of its wedding house where couples can get married any time of the day.
From Tbilisi to Sighnaghi
My journey started at Tbilisi’s bus station at my first morning in Georgia. The road to Sighnaghi was recently renovated with help of the World Bank in an effort to boost the economy of Kakheti. Because not all is well here.
An economic crisis and the collapse of the Russian market for wine after the war in Ossetia turned Kakheti into one of the poorest areas of Georgia. Families still grow grapes and bottle their wine, but tourism is more than welcome, because it is a much needed additional source of income.
Sighnaghi is now only 2 hours from Tbilisi and makes a nice daytrip or weekend break. I was on my way to Azerbaijan and it made a perfect stop-over in what would otherwise be a very long journey.
I was glad I stayed in one of Sighnaghi’s homestays to experience the wonderful Georgian hospitality. The lady of the house was also the teacher at the local school and wasn’t home yet when I arrived. However, the neighbour children blindly trusted me that I was their guest and gave me the key. I settled on their balcony with a beautiful view on Sighnaghi and the Caucasian mountains surrounding it.
When the lady of the house arrived she immediately prepared a hot cup of tea for me and a delicious lunch. Fresh bread with vegetable soups, aubergines stuffed with walnut, slices of goat cheese and of course home made wine.
Things to do in Sighnaghi Georgia
It was tempting to spent the rest of the afternoon on their lovely balcony, but there were more things to do in Sighnaghi. Even though it is not that big I could not afford to waste more time.
1. Wandering around in Sighnaghi
Overall, Sighnaghi is a touristic place, as far as it can be touristic in Georgia. The best thing to do in Sighnaghi is walking through the charming streets where the knitting ladies try to sell their souvenirs with a friendly smile and the restaurants make it their job to make Georgia’s delicacies at their best.
2. Sighnaghi fortress
If you walk through Sighnaghi you will come across it’s ancient city walls and gates. Sighnaghi has a strategic location up on a hill with beautiful views over the valley. Because of that, King Erekle who built the city in the eighteenth century, also built a 4 kilometer defensive wall with several gates and towers to protect the city from attacks.
3. Visiting the church in Sighnaghi
There is a small old church in the middle of the town of Sighnaghi. Although nothing spectacular it is free to visit.
4. Shopping at the local market
The local market is one of the fun things to do in Sighnaghi. It is a great place to get a feeling of local life and buy some wine. It’s sold in reused plastic soda bottles that look dodgy. Don’t be fooled, because the quality is very good.
5. Buy souvenirs from the knitting ladies
When you walk through Sighnaghi you will for sure meet the knitting ladies. They make some great souvenirs that I didn’t see elsewhere in the country.
I bought some hand knitten socks that still keep me warm in the winter in the Netherlands.
6. The wedding house
In Georgia Sighnaghi is known as the city of love, because of its wedding house. At the central square is the municipality house where people can get married any time of the day. It is open 24 hours for seven days per week.
7. The Soviet era war memorial
Near the modern wedding house is the war memorial. On the walls are all the names of the Georgian soldiers from Sighnaghi that lost their lives in the Great Patriotic War when they were fighting for the Soviet Union against the Germans.
8. Hiking to the Bodbe convent and the Nino spring
Two kilometers outside of Sighnaghi is the Bodbe convent. A nunnery whith the burial place of the holy Nino and some well kept gardens. Further down the hill from the monastery you find the Nino spring where you can wash yourself with holy water. The hike offers some more nice views over Kakheti and the mountains.
Things to do beyond Sighnaghi
Sighnaghi offers just a glimpse of everything there is to do in Kakheti. If you have more time at your hand you should consider renting a car and driver for the day to show you around the countryside to visit more wineries and churches such as the Nekresi monastery, the Kvelatsminda church and the Gremi church.
If you want to know more about Kakheti I can recommend this 3 day itinerary from wanderlush. I used this as an inspiration for my own roadtrip through Kakheti when I visited Georgia the second time.
Georgia is such a lovely country and if you like to know more you can read this excellent post from Cycloscope about the best places to visit in Georgia.
Where to eat in Sighnaghi
The best place to eat is your homestay. Nothing can beat the fresh and homemade cuisine they will offer you.
If you do need to eat outside Pheasant Tear’s is very good for Georgian food and winetasting. I can’t imagine you would want something else than the delicious Georgian food, but if you do there is Pancho village. Probably the only Mexican restaurant in Georgia and one with a nice view.
The market is also a great place to buy some local food. Of course there is wine, but you can also try churchkhela, also called Georgian snickers. They come in different varieties of strings of nuts draped in grape juice. My favourite are the ones with walnuts.
Where to sleep in Sighnaghi
I stayed in Abramichi Guesthouse. It was one of the cheapest options and I was very happy there. The people are very friendly and their balcony has a lovely view on Sighnaghi and the mountains.
It is a bit difficult to find as it is at the end of the town. After the main square, go under the old town port and walk along the street with the knitting ladies. Then the road continues along two paths. Take the right road where the pavement will stop. Abramichi guesthouse will be on your rightside.
How to get to Sighnaghi
From Tbilisi to Sighnaghi
At Tbili’s Samgori metrostation there are daily minivans to Sighnagi at 9:00, 11:00, 13:00, 15:00, 17:00 and 18:00. From Sighnaghi they return at 9:00, 11:00, 13:00, 16:00 and 18:00. (6 GEL as of June 2017 – 2 to 3 hours)
Telavi and Lagodekhi
For Telavi and Lagodekhi take a taxi to Tsnori (15 minutes down the mountain) and take a minivan from there.
If you want to visit David Gareja as well, it is better to rent a taxi. Also keep in mind that even though it looks to be midway between Tbilisi and Sighnaghi it takes a long time to get there.
The road to David Gareja is not too good and you are probably better off making a day trip from Tbilisi
When to visit Sighnaghi
The best time to visit Sighnaghi and Kakheti is spring and autumn when the temperatures are pleasant. Autumn is also harvest season and you can see the harvest of the grapes in action as people are working in the fields and trucks full of grapes drive on the roads.
Spring is lush and green and Kakheti is lovely with blooming flowers. Summers get warm, but this is a good time to go hiking in nearby Lagodekhi National Park.
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