From the ancient streets of Baku to the rugged peaks of the Georgian mountains to the historic monasteries nestled in Armenia’s serene landscapes, the Caucasus region of the world has rich history and culture.
This mountainous region, situated between the Black and Caspian Seas, is home to three unique countries: Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia. And Arara Tours will take you on a journey of them all!
Here are some of my favorite highlights from my Classical Tour Azerbaijan, Georgia & Armenia with Arara.
The Best Stops and Things to Do on a Tour of the Caucasus (Azerbaijan, Georgia & Armenia)
The Maiden Tower, or Qiz qalasi (Tower of Virgin in Azerbaijani), stands tall in Baku’s Old City, Azerbaijan. This UNESCO World Heritage Site, dating back to the 12th century, reaches 29.5 meters (97 feet) with eight floors. Over the centuries, it is believed to have served as a defensive tower, lighthouse, and mosque.
While many tales surround its design and purpose, the most popular one is that a king built it for his daughter, who tragically leaped from it to escape an unwanted marriage.
PS: you can climb to the top of the tower and take in a great view of the city.
Palace of the Shirvanshahs
The Palace of the Shirvanshahs is a 15th-century palace complex located in the Old City of Baku, Azerbaijan. This complex served as the regal abode for the illustrious Shirvanshahs, the rulers of the Shirvan Khanate. The palace consists of several buildings, including the main palace, the Divanhana (council hall), the mosque, and the bathhouse.
The palace is known for its beautiful architecture, which combines elements of Islamic, Persian, and Azerbaijani architecture. Furthermore, it has earned its place on the prestigious list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, in tandem with the iconic Maiden Tower.
Highland Park, is in the Nasimi district of Baku, Azerbaijan, claims the prestigious title of being the city’s highest point, with its highest peak reaching an elevation of approximately 600 feet above sea level. From this elevated vantage point, you’ll be treated to panoramic views that stretch across the urban sprawl and the Caspian Sea.
One of the best things you will see is the Flame Towers trio, whose heights range from 528 ft to 597 feet.
You will find the Bibiheybat Mosque tucked away in the historic Bibiheybat settlement of Baku, a testament to Islamic heritage dating back to the 13th century.
It is one of the oldest mosques in the city and is considered to be one of the most sacred Islamic sites in Azerbaijan. The mosque is known for its beautiful architecture and its elaborate carvings.
The Bibiheybat Mosque’s hallowed ground is also believed to be the resting place of a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, lending an even deeper sense of sanctity to this cherished place of worship.
Azerbaijan is home to over 300 mud volcanoes, which are the highest concentration of mud volcanoes in the world. Unlike traditional volcanoes that spew molten lava, mud volcanoes are an eruption of mud, water, gases, and sometimes even rocks and debris from the Earth’s surface.
The formation of these mud volcanoes is attributed to the collision of the Arabian and Eurasian tectonic plates. The intense pressure and heat resulting from this geological interaction cause the mud to erupt from the ground.
Gobustan National Park Petroglyphs
Gobustan National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the Gobustan district. The park is home to over 6,000 rock carvings and petroglyphs that date back to the Stone Age. The petroglyphs depict a wide range of subjects, including humans, animals, plants, and natural phenomena. They also provide insights into the daily lives and beliefs of the people who created them.
Aside from the rock carvings, there are also other rock attractions in the area, such as the Roman inscription on a big rock found close to the Boyuk-Dash mountain’s southeast side, and the Gaval Dash, a natural musical stone which produces a sound resembling a tambourine when hit with a small rock (there’s one at the entrance to the reserve.)
Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center
The Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center is a modern masterpiece designed by Zaha Hadid in 2012. Its unique, fluid design avoids sharp angles and conventional architectural elements, featuring a seamless white exterior that exudes movement and dynamism.
Beyond its striking appearance, the center’s functionality shines. Its curved walls and open spaces create a sense of flow and connection. It houses state-of-the-art facilities, including a 1,000-seat auditorium for cultural events, a conference hall for up to 1,500 attendees, a contemporary art and design gallery, a museum dedicated to Heydar Aliyev’s legacy.
Imagine a serene water escape in the country’s northern mountains—Nohur Lake. It’s a hidden oasis with boating, birdwatching, and scenic hikes. And here’s a fun fact: It’s a man-made marvel dating back to post-World War II.
Even if you don’t stick around for water activities, it’s great to have an outdoor lunch at Nohur Gol restaurant.
In Sheki, the 18th-century Sheki Fortress holds immense historical value. It includes the renowned Sheki Khan’s Palace, another Azerbaijan UNESCO World Heritage Site, showcasing Azerbaijani architectural brilliance with intricate tilework and vibrant stained glass windows.
Inside the fortress grounds, you’ll also find a museum, art gallery, a Shebeke workhouse (where you can watch how the art of stained glass windows are created without glue or nail!) and a caravanserai—a traditional roadside inn for travelers.
Traditional Restaurants To Try
If you like to eat the local cuisine the city of Baku has a wide variety of traditional restaurants that serve authentic Azerbaijani cuisine. Some of my favorites in the city include:
- Firuza: This is a fun underground restaurant renowned for its delectable kebabs, grilled meats, and popular dishes like dushbara, qutab, and plov.
- Quaynana: This is one of the most popular places inside the city wall of old town Baku. They have plenty of traditional food, but the chicken kebabs were my favorite and their house bread that came warm from the oven!
- Dolma: This restaurant celebrates its namesake dish, dolma, comprising grape leaves filled with a delectable mixture of rice and ground meat.
- Nergiz: An underground dining gem (literally!). Nergiz presents a diverse menu featuring both traditional Azerbaijani dishes (like sadj and plov) and international cuisine.
Hotel: Shah Palace
Our hotel in Azerbaijan was the 4-star Shah Palace Hotel in the heart of Baku’s historic Old City. Located just a stone’s throw from iconic landmarks such as the Maiden Tower, the hotel offers guests unrivaled access to the city’s rich heritage.
The hotel’s design is inspired by the rich history and culture of Azerbaijan, and its décor features many traditional Azerbaijani elements, such as carpets, rugs, and furniture. One of its highlights is the central atrium, where you’ll get to see the palace’s interior designs in all their glory. You can even see some historical artifacts through a glass panel on the floor!
Jvari Monastery is a 6th-century Georgian Orthodox monastery located on top of a hill overlooking the confluence of the Mtkvari and Aragvi rivers. It is one of the most important religious and cultural monuments in Georgia.
The monastery is built in a cruciform style with a central dome and four apses. The exterior is decorated with elaborate carvings, while the interior is adorned with frescoes dating back to the 11th century.
Svetitskhoveli Church, one of the most revered religious sites in Georgia, holds a special place in the country’s religious history. It is said to be the burial place of Christ’s robe, and has been a pilgrimage site for centuries.
The church is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it is renowned for its stunning architecture. The church’s massive dome and intricate carvings are a testament to the skill of Georgian artisans.
Old Town Tbilisi
Old Town Tbilisi is the historic heart of Georgia’s capital city. It is a maze of narrow streets and alleyways lined with centuries-old buildings and monuments.
There’s plenty to see, but don’t miss hopping on the cable car for a ride that provides some killer city views. As you ascend, you’ll spot the iconic Mother of Georgia atop Sololaki Hill, a symbol of Georgian strength and independence. You walk right up to it! Also, stroll across the Peace Bridge, a modern architectural masterpiece which connects the Old Town with Rike Park.
Perched on the shores of the Zhinvali Reservoir, the Ananuri Fortress is a testament to Georgia’s rich history. Dating back to the 13th century, it once served as the noble seat of the Dukes of Aragvi.
This complex boasts an array of churches, towers, and formidable walls, with the Church of the Assumption and the Church of the Savior standing out as its jewels.
Panorama Gudauri Mural (& View!)
Panorama Gudauri, with its sweeping mountain views, is a canvas for both nature’s artistry and human creativity. Located along the Georgian Military Highway, it overlooks the Devil’s Valley in the Caucasus mountains.
Along its inner circumference, you’ll see scenes depicting events from both Georgian and Russian history.
Gergeti Trinity Church
High in the misty mountains, the Gergeti Trinity Church reigns as a beacon of spirituality and a symbol of Georgia’s enduring faith. Arara Tours, transferred us from a shuttle bus to a 4WD to get up the mountain!
The church’s simple stone façade against the dramatic backdrop of Mount Kazbek creates an unforgettable tableau, reminding us of the spiritual heights Georgia reaches.
Tsinandali Estate is a former aristocratic estate located in the village of Tsinandali in Georgia’s renowned wine country, Kakheti. The estate was once home to the Chavchavadze family, one of the most influential families in Georgian history.
You can explore the estate’s gardens, dine or drink in one of their bars and restaurants, visit the Chavchavadze House Museum, and sample some of their award-winning wines at the Tsinandali Wine Cellar. They also hold the annual Tsinandali Festival, a must for classical music lovers.
Batonis Tsikhe Fortress Museum
The Batonis Tsikhe Fortress Museum is located in the village of Akhmeta in Kakheti, Georgia. The museum is housed in a 17th-century Persian-style fortress that was once the home of the Kakhetian kings.
The museum was opened in 1935 and houses a collection of archaeological and ethnographic artifacts, including manuscripts, rare publications, military equipment, and a fine arts gallery.
Around the fortress, you’ll be treated with the impressive architecture of the well-preserved fortress walls, two royal chapels, gardens, and park. Plus, you’ll also get sweeping views of the city and Caucasus mountains.
Khareba Winery is one of the largest and most popular wineries in Georgia. It offers a variety of wine tastings, as well as tours of the place and its wine cellars. We did a tasting in the cellar of some of their signature wines like Kindzmarauli, Saperavi Classic, and Mukuzani. But that’s not all; delve into the world of Georgian spirits with a sampling of chacha, a potent hard liquor.
For those looking to embrace Georgian culture fully, there’s an option to learn the art of making traditional shoti bread (Georgian flatbread) and Churchkhela candy (Georgian candle-shaped candy made from nuts and dried fruit). That was my favorite part!
Perched on a hillside overlooking Kakheti, Sighnaghi offers postcard-worthy views. Known as the “City of Love,” it’s popular for romantic getaways and weddings. Its cobblestone streets and pastel buildings create an ambiance straight out of a fairy tale.
One of my favorite things we did there was to walk the fortress walls for some pretty spectacular valley views, especially during sunset.
The town’s colorful buildings and charming setting also make it a haven for taking photos. Of course, don’t forget to relax and savor the simple pleasures of life in Sighnaghi – take a leisurely stroll through the town’s streets, visit a local cafe, or sample some of the region’s delicious wines.
Hotel: Brim hotel
Our hotel while in Georgia was in Tbilisi at the modern Brim Hotel. This boutique gem offers a blend of modern comfort and Georgian hospitality with different rooms and suites, each with its own unique style and amenities. They also have a rooftop bar, a restaurant, and a spa—just to name a few.
Their buffet breakfast was one of my favorites!
Goshavank Monastery is a 12th-century Armenian masterpiece located in the village of Gosh. Founded by the renowned scholar and jurist Mkhitar Gosh, the monastery quickly became a center of learning and culture. Its stunning architecture, with its soaring domes and intricate carvings, is a testament to the skill and artistry of medieval Armenian builders.
When you visit Goshavank, take the opportunity to explore the monastery’s two churches, its library, and its collection of khachkars, or Armenian cross-stones. The khachkars at Goshavank are particularly noteworthy for their intricate designs and symbolism.
Another architectural gem in Armenia is Haghartsin Monastery, in the lush Dilijan National Park. Built in the 13th century, this monastic complex is home to three churches, a refectory (dining hall,) a sepulcher, and a library. The St. Astvatsatsin Church, the largest church in the complex, is renowned for its 16-sided dome that is decorated with arches, columns, and triangular ledges.
The Matenadaran Museum in Yerevan houses an impressive collection of 23,000 manuscripts, including the ancient 10th-century Echmiadzin Gospel. This repository of knowledge serves a triple purpose as a museum, a manuscript repository, and a research institute, making it an indispensable pilgrimage for history aficionados and scholars.
Within its walls, you’ll have the opportunity to delve into the history of Armenian writing, calligraphy, and illumination, while also marveling at an array of other historical artifacts, including ancient maps, coins, and sacred relics. It’s a place where the past comes alive, and the pages of history reveal their timeless secrets.
Genocide Memorial and Museum
A somber yet essential visit, the Genocide Memorial and Museum in Yerevan commemorates the Armenian Genocide of 1915. The museum documents the genocide of over 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire during World War I.
The museum complex consists of two main parts: the memorial and the museum. The memorial is a towering obelisk that symbolizes the rebirth of the Armenian people after the genocide. In the center it has an eternal burning flame that represents the un-extinguishable Armenian spirit. The museum is housed in a modern building that contains a permanent exhibition on the Armenian Genocide, as well as a memorial wall with the names of over 1 million victims.
Echmiadzin Cathedral holds a special place in the hearts of Armenians, widely considered to be the oldest Christian church in the world. This UNESCO-listed site is the seat of the Armenian Apostolic Church, and is one of the most sacred sites in Armenia. Its ancient architecture and religious significance make it a pilgrimage destination for the faithful.
The interior of the cathedral is decorated with colorful murals and mosaics. You’ll also get to see relics such as the Holy Lance, believed to be the spear that pierced Jesus’ side at the crucifixion, and a piece of Noah’s Ark.
Zvartnots Temple Ruins
Zvartnots Temple is a 7th-century Armenian cathedral located near the town of Vagharshapat in the Armavir Province of Armenia. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most important religious and cultural monuments in Armenia.
Zvartnots Temple was one of the largest and most impressive churches in the world at the time of its construction, boasting a three-story circular structure with a diameter of 38.7 meters and a height of 45 meters.
The temple was destroyed in the 10th century, with theories suggesting an earthquake or Arab attacks as the possible causes. While only the temple ruins remain today, it is still a testament to the skill and artistry of medieval Armenian builders and architects.
Khor Virap Monastery
Khor Virap Monastery is a 7th-century monastery perched on a rocky hilltop overlooking the Ararat Valley. The monastery is one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Armenia and is said to be the place where Saint Gregory the Illuminator was imprisoned for 13 years.
As you step into the monastery, you’ll have the chance to explore its church, chapel, and the infamous pit where St. Gregory was once confined. And don’t miss the opportunity to soak in the awe-inspiring vistas of Mount Ararat, a sacred symbol for the Armenian people, from the monastery grounds.
Tucked away within the stunning Amaghu Canyon, Noravank Monastery is a jewel of Armenian medieval architecture. Dating back to the 12th century, it’s renowned for its intricate stone carvings and dramatic red rock formations.
One of its most notable attractions is the Surb Astvatsatsin (Holy Mother of God) Church, which features a two-story design and soaring dome. Its facade is covered with intricate patterns, which adds to the church’s beauty.
You’ll also find several surviving khachkars along the compound walls, as well as other structures like the Surb Karapet church and Surb Grigor Chapel.
Geghard Monastery, partially carved into Azat River Gorge cliffs, is an ancient marvel with deep religious significance. Named after the Holy Lance, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a key cultural and religious center in Armenia.
This complex features two churches: Katoghike (1215,) renowned for its intricate carvings and frescoes, and Gavit (1225,) with its own set of beautiful designs and murals. The St. Gregory the Illuminator chapel rests in a hillside cave. The monastery complex also contains a number of caves that were used as living quarters and storage rooms by the monks.
What better way to add some traditional Armenian recipes under your belt than learning the art of lavash making? This traditional flatbread, often prepared in underground clay ovens, is an integral part of Armenian cuisine.
Our tour guide made a stop to a local home where we got to see the fascinating process live! It was then served with a selection of fresh herbs and local cheese.
Garni Temple stands as a testament to Armenia’s pre-Christian heritage. This ancient Hellenistic temple, dedicated to the sun god Mihr, dates back to the 1st century AD, and is the oldest pagan temple in the country. Its well-preserved colonnades and pagan symbolism make it a fascinating historical site, offering a glimpse into Armenia’s ancient beliefs.
Visitors to Garni Temple can explore the temple’s ruins, which include the main temple building and a number of other structures, such as a bathhouse and a guesthouse. The temple is located in a beautiful setting, surrounded by mountains and rivers.
History Museum of Armenia
If you’re looking to immerse yourself in Armenia’s rich history, look no further than the History Museum of Armenia in Yerevan. The museum houses a vast collection of artifacts from Armenia’s long and complex history, including archaeological finds, manuscripts, coins, and works of art.
The museum was founded in 1919 and its collection includes over 400,000 artifacts, making it one of the largest museums in Armenia.
Traditional Restaurants to Try
Of course, our tour of Armenia will not be complete without getting a taste of their local cuisine. Indulge your taste buds at Tavern Yerevan, where Armenian cuisine shines. From aromatic kebabs to delectable dolma, this restaurant offers an authentic culinary experience. It was our favorite meal on the trip! Make sure to make reservations well in advance.
Meanwhile, Lavash Restaurant invites you to savor the flavors of Armenia, including freshly baked lavash, in a cozy and modern atmosphere. Don’t miss out ordering the hummus eggplant appetizer. It was my favorite thing I ate in Armenia!
Hotel: Ani Plaza hotel
We stayed at Ani Plaza Hotel in the heart of Yerevan. It is a larger 4-star hotel that is known for being conveniently located close to all of city’s major attractions, including Republic Square, the Armenian Opera House, and the History Museum of Armenia, allowing for exploration of the city on foot or by public transportation.
About Arara Tours: We went on this 3 country adventure with Arara Tours, a travel company that specializes in tours of the Caucasus region. They offer a variety of options, but the one written about here was the Classical Tour Azerbaijan, Georgia & Armenia. This 13-day itinerary covers all three countries, starting in Baku, heading to Azerbaijan, and wrapping up in Yerevan, Armenia.
The Caucasus region, where history, culture, and stunning landscapes converge, unveils an alluring tapestry of experiences. Exploring Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia with Arara Tours allowed me to delve into this rich tapestry.
From the vibrant streets of Baku to the rugged Georgian mountains and the serene Armenian monasteries, the region’s charm is boundless. Whether your heart beats for history, culture, nature, or sheer adventure, the Caucasus region generously offers its treasures to all who seek them.