The best things to do in Borjomi, Georgia
This post is about the best things to do in Borjomi Georgia. A small town in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region in central Georgia.
I knew about Borjomi only because of the fizzy mineral water famous throughout the ex Soviet world. Borjomi was a popular holiday destination for the Soviets that came to visit the spa and sanatoria in town.
Most of them are now left abandoned. However, there are still plenty of things to do in Borjomi that make it a worthwhile place to visit.
Why visit Borjomi Georgia
People believe that the mineral waters of Borjomi cure a range of diseases from obesity to diabetes. The Romanov tsars were the first to come to Borjomi for healing treatments. It was in the Soviet days though that the town truly thrived as a spa resort for the communist apparatchiks.
This all changed with the fall of the Soviet Union. People stopped coming and unemployment soared. Borjomi hasn’t fully recovered yet. Only a few of its royal heritage homes are renovated. Most of its Soviet sanatoriums closed down
Among Georgians, Borjomi remains a popular holiday destination. But, despite its natural beauty and appeal, few foreign tourists know about the variety ot things to do in Borjomi.
Borjomi is more than its iconic mineral water alone. Borjomi also happens to be a very scenic town with its picturesque location in the lush and green Borjomi gorge. The landscape has rivers and waterfalls as well as dense forests and alpine meadows.
Borjomi lies in the foothills of the Caucasus mountains. This means lots of hiking opportunities in summer and winter sports in winter. It is also the perfect gateway to other sights in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region such as the Vardzia cave monastery and the Rabat Castle.
Although it is possible to visit Borjomi on a day trip from Tbilisi, there really are enough things to do in Borjomi to stay for a couple of days.
Things to do in Borjomi Georgia
Borjomi mineral water springs
The Borjomi mineral springs are of volcanic origin and have attracted people believing in its healing properties for thousands of years. It was the Russians in 1890 that started bottling it. The Soviets made it into a national icon.
Borjomi mineral water remains famous throughout the ex Soviet world. The bottling plant is still up and running. The fizzy water is exported to more than 40 countries.
The springs are at a depth of 1500 meters and naturally rise to the surface. In Borjomi you can taste the real deal straight from the source. At the green pavilion in the central park there are two taps that are directly connected to the spring.
Insider tip: You can buy bottles at the spring, but it is best to bring your own to fill it up. Beware that the sulfuric taste is much stronger than in the bottled product.
Borjomi central park
Borjomi’s lush and green central park is a nice place for a walk. At the beginning you will find the mineral springs and some attractions for kids. But, the further you go, the more quiet the park becomes.
At last, as you follow the Koera river it feels like you are in the forest. If you follow the path for another 3 kilometer you will reach the Borjomi sulfur pools.
Borjomi sulfur pools
The sulfur Pools in Borjomi, or the Tsar’s baths, were built for the Russian royal family in the 19th century. There are now several open air thermal pools in the midst of the forest. The water is between 32 and 38 degrees Celsius and will warm you up on even the coldest days in winter.
Getting there: you can’t reach the pools by car. To get here you will need to enter the park and walk all the way to the end where a forest trail starts. All together it is a little less than 4 kilometers. It is a 45 minute scenic walk alongside the Borjomula river
Visitor tips: entrance is 5 Lari. You need to bring your own swim gear. There are changing rooms and showers.
Borjomi cable car
For the best panorama views over Borjomi and the Borjomi gorge you can take the cable car up the mountain. The cable car starts at the entrance of Borjomi park and brings you on top of a plateau with a ferris wheel. It is a nice place to do some short hikes in the forest, but most of all enjoy the views.
At the park entrance there is one building that stands out with its bright blue wood latticework. It’s a strange mix of different styles and although it looks Georgian it also has an eastern feel to it.
The interior mirror decorations reminded me a lot of the shrines I saw in Shiraz, Iran as well as the old heritage homes in Kashan. It was therefore no surprise for me to learn that the Firuza building was built for Mirza Riza Khan, the consul of Iran in Georgia in the late 19th century.
Although his main home was in Tbilisi, he loved to be in Borjomi in summer. It is now a hotel, but the hotel kept most of the unique Persian style decorations to preserve its cultural value.
The Kukushka train
Besides its mineral water and Borjomi I had another reason to visit Borjomi. As a train lover I wanted to take the Kukushka train. One of Georgia’s most scenic railway journeys.
Kukushka is Russian for little cuckoo. It was the Russians in 1897 that started the construction of a 37 kilometer narrow gauge railway connecting Borjomi with the ski resort of Bakuriani higher up in the mountains.
Because of the difficult terrain it took more than 4 years to build the Borjomi to Bakuriani railway. In 1902 the first train went up. Despite the fact that the travel time by train is much longer than bus, the train remains popular by both locals and tourists.
Taking the Kukushka train means 2.5 hours of beautiful scenery with dense forests and the occasional alpine meadow. The actual trains may be new, but the old train stations on the way are a journey back in time.
Soviet Mosaics of Borjomi
Borjomi is a great place to see Soviet mosaics. Although dissapearing fast there are several places in and around Borjomi where you cvan see Soviet architecture and mosaics. Geo Air has done a great job in mapping them and for the exact locations I can recommend this map.
Things to do near Borjomi Georgia
Borjomi Kharagauli National Park
The Borjomi National Park is just around the corner from Borjomi. This is one of the largest national parks in Georgia and it protects 85,000 hectares of native forests.
The Borjomi Kharagauli National Park entrance near Borjomi is the start of two hiking trails. There is an easy 3 kilometer trail to the Saint Nino church. The 13 kilometer Footprint trail offers a more challenging hike, but also more beautiful mountain sceneries and the chance to see yew. This tree is among the European trees with the longest lifespan and is unfortunately on the red list.
Likani Romanov palace
The Romanov palace in Likani was one of the summer residences for the Russian royal family. It was built in 1895 on the banks of the Mtkvari river. The complex also included a hydro power plant and a large garden.
For years, the Romanov palace was the summer holiday house for the ruling parties. First the Romanovs. Then the Soviets, including Stalin, and after independence the President of Georgia
When I was in Borjomi the Romanov palace in Likani was closed, but there are plans to open it for visitors in the future.
Likani’s Soviet sanatoriums
Likani was not only home to the Romanov palace, but also a number of sanatoriums. In the Soviet time, Likani was a thriving spa resort attracting thousands from the Soviet elite that sought health treatments from the sanatoriums in Likani.
Likani reminded me a lot of Tskaltubo, another sanatorium town near Kutaisi. Most historic buildings are in a bad state. Some are now home to refugees from Abchazia and South ossetia.
Nowadays, Likani is a far cry from being a tourist destination. But if you have any interest in Soviet history it still is an interesting place to visit.
12 kilometers South of Borjomi at the border of the Borjomi Kharagauli National Park is the Green Monastery. It has a remote and peaceful location in the middle of the forest. When I was there it was just me and lots of birds and trees.
This monastery has a somewhat dark and mysterious history. The basilica’s style indicates the first structures were built as early as the 9th century, but the bell tower is more likely to be from the 15th century.
The Borjomi valley saw lots of wars and conflicts and the monastery was raided several times. In the 1550’s the Persian Shah Tahmasp tortured and killed all the monks. People believe that this explains why the stones in the river still have a reddish color that remains regardless of season or water temperature.
Other evidence of the monastery’s turbulent past are the bones that the monks find in the area. Somewhere in the 18th century the monastery was abandoned and soon it was completely taken over by nature. It was only in 1988 that the monastery was repaired and since 2003 a few monks live here again.
Bakuriani ski resort
The Ski resort of Bakuriani is a great place to visit for winter sports. In winter the place is full with families on holiday. There are amusement parks for kids, ski slopes, ski schools, ski lifts and an alpine coaster. Snowboarding and skiing are the most popular activities.
In summer, Bakuriani has a totally different feel. People still arrive on the Kukushka train, but most head back to Borjomi immediately. There is indeed not much happening in Bakuriani when there is no snow.
That said, there are a couple of scenic hiking trails to enjoy. Honestly, the mountains are not as spectacular as Svaneti or Kazbegi, but they offer a more quiet alternative with beautiful alpine valleys and panorama views.
Akhaltsikhe is the capital city of the Samtskhe-Javakheti region. It is mostly famous for its 9th century Rabat castle and it is a convenient stop in between Borjomi and Vardzia.
The Rabati castle is pretty large and up till the 19th century it was all there was.Nowadays Akhaltsikhe is a modest post Soviet town with a large Armenian population. The castle is still the main attraction, but is so lavishly renovated that it has lost its historic feel.
It’s an eclectic mix as a result of its multicultural history. The castle was occupied by the Georgians, the Ottomans, the Persians and the Russians. Within its complex are a mosque, a catholic church, an Armenian church and a Georgian orthodox church. You can visit the gardens, climb the towers and learn more about its history in the regional museum.
The nearby Sapara forest monastery is as old as the Rabati castle. Because renovations were more modest, the monastery offers a more authentic experience. It is a scenic 10 kilometer drive from Akhaltsikhe
Vardzia cave monastery
If you visit Borjomi you must visit Vardzia cave town. First of all, the cave monastery is one of the top tourist attractions in Georgia and second of all, because of the beautiful landscapes in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region.
Cave settlements around Vardzia were around as early as the 5th century BC. The slopes of the Erusheti mountains along the Kurva river are full with archeological excavations. They were mostly used as homes, but from the 8th century religious structures were made as well.
The Vardzia cave monastery is the largest and most impressive cave monastery in the region. The complex stretches over 500 meters and has more than 19 levels. The monastery had several churches and shrines as well as wine cellars, a bakery and several homes. Everything is connected by a network of channels, tunnels and steep stairs.
There are still 5 monks that live at the cave monastery and the church with its beautiful wall paintings is still an active place of worship.
Borjomi Georgia Travel Tips
Where to sleep
Borjomi has lots of accomodation options. Although it doesn’t come cheap you can still stay at a spa and wellness resort such as the Likani Health and Spa Centre or the centrally located Crowne Plaza. You can also sleep at the historic Firuza building that is now the Golden Tulip.
There are lots of budget friendly options too. I stayed at Apartment Erekle and I can truly recommend this, because of the super friendly owner and the somewhat Soviet experience of staying in a Soviet flat apartment.
Where to eat
For delicious Georgian food on a budget I can recommend the quirky Cafe Tourist and My House.
How to get there
From Borjomi there are frequent marshrutka to Tbilisi (2 hours), Akhaltsikhe (1 hour) and Bakuriani (30 minutes). From Tbilisi marshrutka to Borjomi leave from the Didube bus station. Less frequent marshrutka connects Borjomi with Batumi (6 hours) and Gori (2 hours).
There are also two daily trains between Borjomi and Tbilisi. Although this is the cheapest option it is also the slowest. The journey takes more than 4 hours compared to 2 hours by bus.
When to visit
Borjomi really is a year round destination and each season has its charms. In winter people mostly come to Borjomi for the ski resort of Bakuriani. Other times of the year it’s the natural beauty that changes with the seasons. Wildflowers in spring, lush greenery in summer and golden colours in the trees in autumn.
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