11 Great Things to Do in Gori (except the Stalin Museum)
Looking on the map, I was a little concerned how close Gori sits to the border of the Russian occupied territory of South Ossetia. With the claim to fame of being the birthplace of Stalin, as well as housing a museum dedicated to him, it all just felt wrong. But, there had to be more to this city than its relation to Stalin and proximity to Russian occupiers. So we booked our accommodation and off we went in search of all the things to do in Gori.
And it was a really good move.
Gori ended up being one of the most underrated parts of Georgia that we visited, especially if you’re in to modern history like us: the city is full of Soviet relics.
Gori has such charm with its retro and Soviet detailing, its old town, fortress, memorials, churches and street art. And the city also works as a great base to visit the ancient cave city of Uplistsikhe. But, unfortunately, it is the dark tourism and pull of the controversial Stalin museum that still brings in Gori’s visitors. Let’s try to change this narrative and start visiting Gori for Gori, because it really is a fascinating place irrespective of the bizarre museum. I hope I can answer your questions on Gori and convince you to visit with this post!
11 Great Things to Do in Gori (except the Stalin Museum)
How to Get to Gori
Gori is an easy journey from Tbilisi taking just over an hour whether you travel by train or marshrutka.
We took the 08:50 train from Tbilisi Central Station and arrived into Gori just after the 10:00. The ticket price was 8 GEL (+1 GEL online booking fee if you book through TKT.ge). Once you get off the train, walk across the abandoned tracks and head over the bridge into town. We walked to our accommodation which took about 20 minutes, but local buses kept stopping for us to offer us a lift (probably because it was so bloody cold!).
Regular marshrutkas also head to Gori each day. Get to Didube bus station (brace yourself, it’s manic) which is easily accessible by metro, and ask for Gori. Someone will point you to the right van. Pay on the bus in cash. It will likely be around the same price as the train (between 5 and 10 GEL). Gori bus station is in the north of the city and is a good 30 minute walk into the centre. Local buses will take you into the centre; just ask around at the bus station.
When to Visit Gori
Gori has a definite no-go season: this was the time that we visited! Winter is brutal here; we have never experienced cold like it. The weather forecast was misleading. When we were planning our trip, we saw that the temperature was expected to be around the freezing mark, maybe a little below. However, this did not factor in the real feel, which was at least ten degrees colder because of the icy wind.
So, yes, we were exploring Gori in -13°C real feel. Taking my gloves off for a minute to take a picture would genuinely feel like the blood in my fingers was icing up. Having said that, we really enjoyed the city (more than we were expecting) even in Arctic conditions, so that speaks volumes. I’d recommend heading to Gori no earlier in the year than March.
How Long to Spend in Gori
We stayed for five days, which I think is a record based on the surprised faces of everyone who asked how long we were in town. I would recommend allowing for two full days to get a chance to see everything in Gori and take a day/half day trip out of the city.
A Short Gori History
Gori was founded by King David the Builder in the seventh century. As the medieval kingdom of Georgia started to fall into decline, the city came under the control of several empires, namely Persian, Ottoman and Russian.
An earthquake destroyed most of the city in 1920. As Gori was the birthplace of Stalin, the city was largely rebuilt during Soviet rule under Stalin’s orders.
In 2008, the Russo-Georgian War saw Gori controlled by Russian and South Ossetian military for less than two weeks, before control returning to Georgia.
Today, Gori still has a distinctly Soviet feel about it.
The South Ossetian region, as with Abkhazia, is run by its own separate government alongside Russia. These two areas make up the 20% of Georgian territory controlled and occupied by Russia.
2008 Wasn’t Too Long Ago. Is the Situation Now Safe?
When we were in Gori, we felt safe the entire time (as we have done throughout the rest of the country). The town is not so close to the border that the likes of gov.uk recommend against visiting. The biggest current issue is ‘border creep’, where locals living near the border wake up one morning to find that the border has been moved forward and their garden is now sitting in the ‘occupied territory’. However, the main city of Gori is not in this zone.
South Ossetia, however, is completely off limits for tourists visiting from Georgia.
Should You Visit the Stalin Museum?
Is it the right thing to do? I had my reservations before visiting, as I had read many reviews about how appalled visitors were about the museum almost feeling like a shrine. I do feel that you should visit the museum, just take everything you are told in the museum with a big old pinch of salt. Full blog post on the Stalin Museum is on its way.
Things to Do in Gori
Search for all the Retro Details
Keep an eye out and you will no doubt find examples of Soviet retro-ness all over Gori. Rusted signs and staircases, hammer and sickle symbols, letterboxes in Cyrillic, classic Ladas parked up roadside, communist style apartment blocks, propaganda-style memorials.
Spot the Relevant and Thought-provoking Street Art
You will find really good street art around the city, in particular the new pieces in the underpasses near the town hall. There are a few pieces that perfectly depict very current issues that Gori is going through. The best-known displays the tragic reality of border creep on a bullet-hole ridden wall from the recent barrage from the Russian occupation of 2008.
As well as street art, Gori has its own Art House. When we visited in January, it was unfortunately closed, so we didn’t get a chance to see any of the exhibitions. If you have had the chance to visit, please let us know how it was!
Walk up to the Fortress for Uninterrupted City Views
Gori Fortress offers beautiful panoramic views over the city and surrounding mountains. The fortress itself isn’t much to rave about, but the views from up here are worth the short climb. There is no entrance fee for the fortress.
See the Creative Memorial for Georgian War Heroes
The memorial is at the base of the fortress. It consists of large statues of soldiers sat in a circle with varying degrees of woundedness. Completely different to any other memorials we have seen in Georgia, this is particularly striking and thought-provoking. Definitely worthy of a visit.
Take a Free Walking Tour with Zhana
Taking a walking tour with a local always gives you a great flavour for the city, and Zhana’s free walking tour is no exception. With plenty of insight into the current political situation, the Russian occupation of 2008 and the continuation of border creep, Zhana helps you to understand what the people of Gori and IDPs of South Ossetia have gone/are still going through. Explore the rest of city and get some great restaurant recommendations. Contact Zhana on Facebook to arrange your tour.
Stop by the Holy Archangels Church
Close to the base of the fortress and the Georgian War Heroes memorial is the Holy Archangels Church. Step inside to see the brightly painted walls.
See the Unique Designs of All 1001 Tiles
1001 Tiles is an art installation of (you guessed it) 1001 ceramic tiles. Each is decorated with traditional Georgian designs, patterns and pictures. The end result of all these carefully curated tiles placed together is beautiful.
Pop your Head into Gori Train Station Waiting Room
Inside Gori train station you will find two waiting rooms: one where you can actually wait for your train, and another that is off limits (ish). Inside the off limits waiting room is a huge statue of Stalin. There are signs on all the doors forbidding entry, but the doors are made of glass so you can easily see the statue and/or get a half decent picture.
Wander the Ethnographic Museum
The Ethnographic Museum has some really interesting pieces including deer-shaped drinking vessels and small, mysterious human figures with their hands raised. It is a small museum that won’t take you more than thirty minutes to get around. Entrance is 5 GEL to be paid in cash.
Gorge on Ossurian Khachapuri
Oohh, I am big khachapuri fan. And on our travels around the country, I hunt down regional varieties of these cheesy and fluffy breads (or pies depending on who you are talking to). Ossurian khachapuri is traditional to South Ossetia so you can find it here, in nearby Gori. It is a beautifully baked bread stuffed with cheese and potato. It’s pretty substantial because it is essentially carbs stuffed with carbs, but it is absolutely perfect for the cold weather we were experiencing in Gori.
Take a Half-day Trip out to Uplistsikhe Ancient Cave City
Uplistsikhe is about a twenty minute drive away from Gori, and so makes a perfect side trip. The ancient city carved into the rock is reminiscent of those in Petra and Cappadocia but on a much smaller scale.
Have you been to Gori? Or maybe you have other suggestions to add to the list?
I’d love to hear your thoughts, recommendations and questions.
Thanks for reading!