Tbilisi to Gori: a day trip guide
This post is a day trip guide on how to get from Tbilisi to Gori and all the things to do in Gori. Gori is a small town in central Georgia in the Shida Kartli region. Getting from Tbilisi to Gori only takes 1 hour and therefore it is an easy day trip from Georgia’s capital.
Why visit Gori?
Today Gori is famous for being the town where Stalin was born. Most tourists visit Gori just to see the Stalin Museum, but there is more to see and do.
Gori’s history goes all the way back to the 7th century when it was a trade post on the Silk Road and a military stronghold. The Gori fortress protected the strategically located city from the Mongols, the Ottomans and the Persians.
Nowadays Gori is located very close to the border with the breakaway region of South Ossetia. Unwillingly, the city was involved in the 2008 war between Georgia and Russia.
Many Georgian refugees from Ossetia now live in or around Gori. The threat of Russia still lingers in the air, yet Gori is once again a peaceful place with a charming old town, a lively market and some interesting museums.
How to get from Tbilisi to Gori
The cheapest option to get from Tbilisi to Gori is by minivan (marshrutka) or shared taxi. From Didube bus station there are frequent minivans and shared taxis that should cost between 3 – 6 lari. The journey takes about 1 – 1.5 hours.
Insider tip: ask the driver to let you out at the Stalin museum. The actual bus station in Gori is on the other side of the town close to the bazaar.
There are also trains from Tbilisi to Gori, but for me the timing was inconvenient. A more expensive option to get from Tbilisi to Gori is to take an organised day tour or arrange a private taxi.
The advantage of a private taxi is that it saves you time and that you can easily include a visit to Uplistsikhe that is 20 minutes from Gori. If you are with a group of people and you are able to share the costs it is an option worth considering.
There are plenty of organised day trips as well and most of them include Uplistsikhe. Prices are reasonable, but the focus in Gori is all on the Stalin museum. I am glad I had more time in Gori to see the other things Gori has to offer.
Things to do in Gori
Stalin is a very controversial subject in Gori. Some people take pride in the fact that Stalin was born here as Joseph Jugashvili in 1878, others are less happy with this part of their city’s history.
Throughout Gori he is still very much present in street names, posters, souvenirs and of course the Stalin museum. Some of this seems to be pragmatic, cashing in on potential tourist dollars.
The Stalin museum for sure does not reflect the different opinions about Stalin. It gives a good overview of Stalin’s life in Gori. There is also plenty of room for his achievements as leader of the Soviet Union, but do not expect to learn more about his reign of terror such as his role in setting up the Gulag system and the forced deportation of a number of ethnicities after WW2.
One of the reasons is that the museum was built by the Georgian Communist Party in 1957. Just five years after his death. The collection of paintings, pictures, posters, carpets, personal belongings and gifts hasn’t changed much since then.
Most information is in Russian or Georgian so I recommend taking the guided tour in english.
Stalin’s railway carriage
Part of the Stalin museum is the Stalin railway carriage outside. Stalin used this bullet proof train carriage to travel through the Soviet Union until he died.
Also nearby the museum is a small wooden house. They say this is the original house where Stalin was born. It was in a different location though and moved to the premises of the Stalin museum.
Few people visit the war museum in Gori, but I found it almost just as interesting as the Stalin museum.
It is obvious that the original museum was all about WW2 or the Great Patriotic War. Most of the exhibition is about how the Soviets gained victory over Nazi germany.
However, there is now also a new section about the 2008 war between Georgia and Russia over South Ossetia.
Gori is just south of Ossetia and as the war escalated, the Russians shelled Gori. The information is in Georgia only, but the pictures and bomb parts explain enough to understand the impact on Gori and its people.
Memorial of Georgian war heroes
Just below the Gori fortress you can find the memorial of Georgian War Heroes. 8 large statues of soldiers sit in a circle.
The Georgian War Heroes were a project by Giorgi Ochiauri in 1985. For years they had their place in Vake Park on the outskirts of Tbilisi. In 2009 they were moved to Gori.
The medieval Gori fortress ruins on top of the hill are another must see in Gori. Archeological evidence indicates there were fortifications as early as the first century BC.
The ruins that still stand are probably from the 17th century. The Ottomans, Persians and Georgians all took power over the fort as it was on a strategic position on the Silk Road.
Surprisingly, the fort survived many power struggles. In the end it was an earthquake in 1920 that caused severe damage. Now all that remains are the fortress walls.
When I visited the fort it seemed nobody really cared about it. I was the only person up there enjoying the nice views over the city. There is honestly not that much to see inside, but the views alone are a good reason to climb up the hill.
There are now plans to renovate it and make it into a museum.
Virgin Mary Cathedral
The Virgin Mary cathedral started as a catholic church before becoming an orthodox cathedral. During Soviet times it was a music school.
Unfortunately it was closed when I was there, but I heard there are beautiful frescoes inside.
I finished my day in Gori at the lively Gori bazaar. The bazaar in Gori is like any other market in Georgia.
Lots of stalls with fresh fruits, vegetables, preserves as well as friendly, smiling people. It seems they are less used to see tourists than in the markets of Tbilisi and I got a lot of attention.
Several people actually asked me to take their picture or offered me to taste some of their fruits and nuts for sale.
Visiting Uplistsikhe on a day trip is possible, but it will be a long day. I had already spent most of my time at the museums. Because I had already visited Vardzia cave town and the David Gareja cave monastery I decided to skip Uplistsikhe.
Uplistsikhe is an ancient cave town from the first century BC. It’s a network of tunnels and caves that was first home to pagan temples and later Christian churches.
In the 13th century the Mongols destroyed Uplistsikhe. Excavation and Restoration efforts are still ongoing and I Am sure it is worth a visit if you have the time.
How to get there: Uplistsikhe is 20 minutes from Gori. Best is to arrange a taxi that brings you, waits for you and takes you back again. This should be around 30 – 40 lari.
Tbilisi to Gori travel tips
Where to eat in Gori
Cafe bar avenue: Going out for lunch or dinner in Georgia is always a reward. This cafe is very close to the Stalin museum. I had a delicious ojakhuri. A one pot dish with meat, potatoes, herbs and vegetables.
Where to stay in Gori
In Gori I can recommend the small scale Nitsa Guesthouse. I do recommend to spend at least one night in Gori so you can see everything in the city and visit Uplistsikhe.
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