Last Updated February, 2020
With its diverse nature, hospitable people, amazing wineries of Kakheti Region, gorgeous hotels on a budget and delicious food, Georgia attracts tourists and travel enthusiasts from around the world. There are many beautiful and interesting places to go in Georgia, with their own history and ancient culture. But one of the most fascinating trips that beckons travelers more and more is a trip from Tbilisi to Kazbegi Region.
In this post, I would love to give answers to basic questions about the best time to visit Kazbegi, what to know about the famous Military Road from Tbilisi to Stepantsminda village, what to wear, where to stay, the best way to get there and a few tips on what to know in general.
If you are looking for a more detailed guide to what to do in Kazbegi and what places to visit along the Georgia Military Road, read my Kazbegi, Georgia travel guide.
To help you navigate better through this post, take a look at my table of contents.
This post contains affiliate links, which means we may earn a commission (for which we will be mega grateful) at no extra cost to you.
Tbilisi to Kazbegi (or Stepantsminda) – What to Know About the Iconic Georgia Military Road
Stepantsminda or Kazbegi in Georgia is an urban-type settlement, the administrative center of the Kazbegi region. According to 2014 data, its population is 1326 people.
Kazbegi is located 165 km north of Tbilisi and 43 km south of Vladikavkaz, Russia. It lies on a mountain plateau at the foot of Kazbek mountain, the second-highest mountain in the Caucasus Mountains of Georgia. Its height above sea level is 1744 m.
About 10 km from Kazbegi there is a border with Russia, from where the famous Georgian Military Road connects two countries.
From 1921 to 2007, this town was called Kazbegi. This name was given in honor of the writer Alexander Kazbegi who was born here, and not in honor of the mountain Kazbek as many people think.
Often, until this day, people call the same village Stepantsminda and Kazbegi. Some of them still get confused since even on the maps and in the navigator the city can be marked in different ways.
Feel free to use whatever is easier. People will understand you either way.
When to Go?
The drive between Tbilisi and Stepantsminda is always stunning. No matter when you go, either in spring, summer, autumn or winter, it’s going to be breathtaking and full of colors. However, on a sunny summer day, it is especially gorgeous.
Before our first trip to Kazbegi in spring, we were checking the weather forecast every day to make sure we could visit when the weather was nice. Then we went during the time when by the forecast it was supposed to rain and storm. Instead, every day was sunny and bright with occasional clouds that hid the Kazbek mountain.
You can’t trust the weather forecast when it comes to this part of Georgia from late spring to early autumn. Seriously. Weather in the mountains there changes every hour and is almost opposite to what forecast says.
If you plan to go on a trip from mid-spring to mid-autumn, keep in mind that the road is usually open but sometimes in the mountains, there are landslides or congestion due to heavy rains. So sections of the route can be blocked.
For winter travel
For winter travel to Kazbegi, there are a few things to know. Since the highway passes through the mountains, and there are no traps for snow, in winter the road can be blocked due to avalanches, landslides, mudflows or accidents. It can happen that you’ll get to Stepantsminda but won’t be able to get out due to the road closure. I am not saying this to scare you but to make you aware and just know what to expect.
My best advice here is when your winter trip to Kazbegi is approaching, enter in Google the query “Georgian Military Road today” (only from November to April) and check the first a couple of sites that have webcams of the entire road from Tbilisi to Stepantsminda in real-time. It will show any collapse on the road or congestion.
Winter is an amazing time to go skiing and snowboarding in Gudauri, enjoy the solitude and almost no tourists. Summer is the best time for hiking and adventure drives. Spring and fall offer an array of colors and beautiful landscapes.
What to Wear?
You definitely need to pack some warm clothes and raincoat even if planning to travel from Tbilisi to Kazbegi in summer. Dress in layers.
In winter, you need to have a warm jacket, boots, and pants. In spring and summer, a jacket or coat with a hood, pants, sweatshirt, snickers or hiking shoes.
For example, when Tbilisi has a temperature of +30C degrees, in 2 hours towards the northern part of Georgia you can be on a mountain pass where the temperature is + 4С degrees. Although our wonderful host in Stepantsminda, told us that summers are not that cool anymore as they used to be when she was a child, you still need to have a cardigan or pullover.
The weather in Stepantsminda often changes even during the day. A calm summer day may surprise you with cool or heavy rain. At the same time, the mountains surrounding the village are even colder. And those who are going to hike far in the mountains or to conquer the peak of Kazbek still need to stock up on climbing shoes, chalk bag, and outdoor jacket.
If you plan to go hiking, take proper hiking boots, not snickers.
How to Get From Tbilisi to Kazbegi and How Much It Costs
There are several options for how you can get from Tbilisi to Stepantsminda. Some of them are more convenient since let you see more in comfort while others are cheaper and help save money. I would love to talk about each type of transportation based on my own experience.
The Georgian Military Road from Tbilisi to Kazbegi winds through the mountains. The farther you go, the more sweeping views it offers. However, if you can’t make a stop, you miss a lot.
Even though I talk about the option of getting from Tbilisi to Kazbegi by bus, I believe it is better to take a taxi, go with a guided tour or by rented car. Yes, it will cost more. But you’ll also get much more in return. And here is why.
Tbilisi to Kazbegi Bus (Marshrutka Taxi) – less than $4
The cheapest and the most popular way to get to Stepantsminda is by marshrutka taxi “Tbilisi – Kazbegi”. The departure point is the Okriba bus station near the Didube metro station.
The bus station looks somewhat messy but it’s really easy to find a marshrutka you need. All of them have signs of the destination using the Latin alphabet. Usually, marshrutkas towards Kazbegi have signs with the name of “Stepantsminda” on them.
In summer, marshrutkas run every hour, starting at 08:00 with the last one being at 18:00. The price of the ticket is 10GEL ($3.5) and travel time is a bit more than 3 hours.
On the way back from Kazbegi to Tbilisi the timetable is the next: 7.00, 8.00, 9.00, 10.00, 11.00, 12.00, 13.30, 14.00, 15.30, 17.00, 18.00.
If you are planning to return back to Tbilisi in the evening then I recommend coming early to take a seat. And better not to wait until the last hour of departure. Somehow, on the way back, transport may leave earlier if it gets full, or not go at all.
TIP: To get to the bus station, depending on where you are staying, of course, the best way is to take the metro or cab. For the cab, I personally can speak highly of Bolt. There is also Yandex taxi which is cheaper but drivers in Yandex are allowed to smoke with a passenger in a car and some cars are dirty.
Pros and Cons of Taking a Bus to Kazbegi
Getting to Kazbegi by bus is the cheapest way of transportation. Obviously. But that’s not the only expense you are going to have if you want to see more than just a village of Stepantsminda. And as to me, there are more cons than pros to this way of transportation.
First of all, taking the Georgia Military Road to Kazbegi is not really about Stepantsminda village or Mount Kazbek only. There are so many things to do and see along the way, including some short pretty cool hikes. But with a bus, unfortunately, you never get to experience them.
Usually, when a majority of travelers choose to go from Tbilisi to Kazbegi, they do the most touristy things that everyone else does. It’s usually a visit to the most famous Rooms Hotel, a hike or a taxi drive to Gergeti Trinity Church and sometimes a local tour to Gveleti waterfall, Juta or Tusco Valley. That’s it. But there is so much more than that.
Once you get to Stepantsminda, you really need to spend more money to be able to see more. Taxi drivers offer to drive you to the mount Kazbek (which takes like 10 min by car) for almost the same amount of money (and even more) than what you paid for a marshrutka from Tbilisi. You can share this expense with others though. A tour to the nearby valley in a shared van starts from 25 GEL ($8.5,) in a Jeep with 2-3 people from 45 lari ($15.)
Second, marshrutka drivers are pretty aggressive (as drivers in Georgia in general.) For us, being passengers was quite a stress. Georgian drivers tend to tailgate, speed, make sharp turns and be in a hurry. On such a road as the one from Tbilisi to Kazbegi, it may take all joy away to be on a bus if you easily get motion sickness or are not used to driving outside the western world countries.
Kazbegi Tour From Tbilisi – $27
First of all, what I want to advise anyone who is thinking to book a Kazbegi tour from Tbilisi is not to book it with a random taxi driver.
You may find tips from others who advise you to hire a taxi driver. There is also a possibility, once you are in Tbilisi, a cab driver who is giving you a ride may offer services as a guide. DO NOT BUY into any of that unless he/she is a licensed guide and knows his stuff well enough.
I don’t mean to offend anyone, sorry. But really, most drivers are not guides and can’t offer you anything except for their vehicle and a few funny but silly stories. Yes, they’ll make stops near the most touristy sights and even share some facts (which may not be even true) but they’ll charge you way more of what you’d pay for a tour with a professional guide, having some meals and snacks included.
During the time we lived in Tbilisi we almost made this mistake and booked a tour with a taxi driver who was giving us a ride one evening. He had a bubbly personality, told us fascinating stories about Tbilisi, so we quickly accepted his offer to be our guide the following day. Later, during the same day, we learned from our host how unqualified taxi drivers are. And, that local companies have an ongoing fight with them over their poor services.
The only time our host would recommend to go with a driver is when he or she is also a licensed guide. You may ask this question and find out.
If you want to get the best of a tour, go with a private tour. The price for a group tour starts from $35 per person and lasts 12 hours. The tour has a maximum of 15 travelers. Take a look at a few options.
Pros and Cons of Going on Kazbegi Tour
Going on a tour is a wonderful idea if you do not feel comfortable enough to drive in Georgia or want to save money and at the same time to see a lot.
What is great about the tour is that you get to make stops along the Georgia Military Road, take photos of famous landmarks and see stunning landscapes before you get into Stepantsminda. Also, since there is usually a professional guide, you get to learn a lot about history. Some food and snacks are included too.
With a tour, you don’t waste time on getting to a bus station and can squeeze in more activities in your day. Tours suit better those who have a week or less time in Georgia and still want to see the Caucasus Mountains in all their beauty.
Cons of one day tours to Kazbegi are no freedom to do what you want and a very limited amount of activities. On a tour you definitely get to see more than you’d do with a marshrutka. However, usually, it’s the standard program where every tourist visits the same places. In summer, they are too busy and don’t feel authentic anymore.
Another note, if you secure a middle seat, you probably won’t see much outside the window.
Tbilisi to Kazbegi Taxi – $45-$55
A taxi is your best bet if you are traveling with a company and don’t want to hire a car. Prices start from $45 for a trip from Tbilisi to Kazbegi (usually one way).
If you book a car with a driver online on gotrip, then the return transfer on the same day is free.
The driver will come to pick you up at the hotel or Airbnb in Tbilisi, on the way to Stepantsminda he will stop wherever you want for a photo, wait near the sights, and in the evening he will return back to Tbilisi. If you want to come back with him, you are welcome to without paying any extras. Otherwise, if staying overnight in Kazbegi, you’ll need to pay for another transfer for a returning trip.
Stops and driver waiting are included in the price. But do not expect him/her to be a guide. People in Georgia are incredibly nice. Chances are high that your driver will chit chat but again, he is not a professional guide.
Pros and Cons
It’s cheaper for money than renting a car without a driver and paying for gasoline. Getting a taxi or private transfer from Tbilisi to Kazbegi means you’ll travel in comfort and visit all the same places as tourists visit on a private tour. The only difference, it will be just you (and people in your party).
There are so many beautiful places along the Military Road in Georgia where you want to stop for lunch or just to take a photo. Having a private vehicle with a driver will let you accomplish that.
The only con is the cost. For most travelers, hiring a taxi is expensive.
Tbilisi to Kazbegi Car – from $25 to $100
A drive to Kazbegi from Tbilisi takes 3 hours one way. The best option to rent a car is in Tbilisi. Make sure to fill up a tank before you leave the city. The petrol there costs a bit less than 3 lari ($0,9) per liter. Two more gas stations are along the way in Gudauri and Kazbegi. But the choice in the Stepantsminda is small and prices are too high.
Freedom is everything. When you have a car, you have the freedom to do whatever you want and visit places off the beaten path.
You do not need a navigator. The maps.me or google maps application on your phone will be more than enough. Don’t forget to download them in advance though.
The main road from Tbilisi to Kazbegi is in a great condition with some parts being totally new. Right before the Gadauri pass, it becomes a serpentine for a few kilometers. The road is open year-round except for a few closures during the winter in case of landslides or avalanche.
You can drive from Tbilisi to Stepantsminda in the warm season by any car, no need to rent a jeep. We easily drove Toyota Prius to Shevardeni village in Truso Gorge and Juta valley while many people told us we needed Jeep.
In winter, when ice and snow come, it is advisable to hire a jeep.
|| READ MY GUIDE TO ||
Pros and Cons
It may seem at first that renting a car is the most convenient way to experience the beauty of Kazbegi Region. But it’s not always the case. As I mentioned earlier, the driving style in Georgia is pretty aggressive. With windy one-lane road and a bit crazy drivers, it may be stressful for some people to go from Tbilisi to Kazbegi by rented car.
Moreover, car rental in Georgia is not cheap at all. On average, the price for an old vehicle with 200,000 kilometers costs between $30-$40 per day. Until this day, there are no big-name international companies, just small privately-owned shops owners of which set up a price that they want. I talk in detail about our experience with renting a car in Tbilisi. Read about it here.
How Much Time Do You Need for a Kazbegi Trip?
It all depends on what type of adventure you are looking for and either you want to spend some time right in the heart of the Caucasus Mountains or not. I personally would need at least 2 nights and 3 full days (although we spent more time and on a few different occasions).
This time is enough to visit all main sights, go on at least one hike, have a meal or/and swim with a view, and explore the northern part, closer to the border with Russia. Yes, that area has a few gems too.
But that’s just me because I love nature and mountains much more than hanging out in the city.
Even if you are not a mountain fan, I still believe spending one day on travel from Tbilisi to Kazbegi and back is just too little time. Because of the drive, which takes 3 hours (or more) one way, you end up sitting in a car more than actually walking around and being in nature.
Book at least one night in Stepantsminda. There are so many beautiful options where to stay. And overrated Rooms Hotel is not your only choice.
I would say, if you plan your Tbilisi Kazbegi itinerary, better spend two days on the road. It is so much worth your time and money.