Top 10 Must-Visit Places in North Ossetia : City of the Dead, Nart Legends & Epic Mountains

Top 10 Must-Visit Places in North Ossetia : City of the Dead, Nart Legends & Epic Mountains

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North Ossetia – Alania is a stunning and culturally rich region along the Georgian military highway leading to the border with the South Caucasus. With its mix of Christianity, Uatsdin pagan faith and a bit of Sunni Islam, it’s the only non-muslim majority republic in the North Caucasus.

North Ossetia is a hidden gem combining the remnants of the ancient Kingdom of Alania, lush gorges and mountains with mysterious Cities of the Dead like Dargavs to explore, endless hiking possibilities to glaciers, waterfalls in the Great Caucasus, abandonned villages full of medieval stone towers and of course unique local traditions that include Ossetian cuisine and its pies famous in all of Russia.

I’ve put together a list of the 10 must-visit places North Ossetia – Alania well beyond Vladikavkaz !

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Why visit North Ossetia – Alania ?

1. Rich History : Explore the ancient Alania Kingdom and historic sites like Dargavs, the “City of the Dead.”
2. Stunning Landscapes : Enjoy breathtaking beauty of the Caucasus mountains, lush gorges, and scenic valleys.
3. Mythology and Legends : Discover the fascinating myths and legends of the Ossetian people, descendants of the Scythians and Alans.
4. Tasty Cuisine : Eat Ossetian pies, reknown in Russia and for good reasons
5. Bizarre Admiration for Stalin : They believe he was Ossetian. They have memorials and even Stalin streets …
6. Gateaway to South Ossetia : The only way to travel to the breakaway region, if you figure out how to get in.

Top 10 Places to Visit in North Ossetia

Vladikavkaz, The Capital City

Vladikavkaz, the capital city of North Ossetia was built as a russian fortress in 1784. Its name litterally means “the ruler of the Caucasus”. The city is named Dzaudzhi-Kau in Ossetian, after the Ingush village of Zaur on top of which the fortress was built.

Vadikavkaz is a really enjoyable multicultural city where you can visit the Lutherian church (Catherine the Great invited Germans to move in), an Armenian church and of course the beautiful Mukhatov sunni mosque along the Terek River.

Walk along Prospekt Mira, one of Vladikavkaz‘s oldest street and its historical center with pretty 19th-20th century buildings including the Imperial hotel (book a room here) built in 1896, trendy cafés and restaurants to taste ossetian cuisine (I recommend Kafé Fyddzhyn for delicious ossetian pies. A local’s favourite), get a great view of the Stolovaya Gora mountain and catch a ride on a Soviet tram.

Don’t miss out the Alania National Museum to learn more about the Alans and Ossetia’s heritage with lots of objects from archeological foinds and costums on display.

How to get there : National and international flights to Beslan airport, marshrutkas from Tbilissi, Georgia and neighboring regions such as Ingushetia, trains from Moscow, Sochi and other russian cities.

📍 Location on Yandex Maps

The Kurtat Gorges in the Fiagdon river valley

The Kurtatinsky Gorge also known as the Fiagdon gorge runs along the Fiagdon river for 50 kilometers. If you only have a short time to spend in North Ossetia, definitely go there.

4 must-visit places along Kurtat gorges :

The St Dormition Alansky Monastery in Khidikus. The complex was built around/on top of two 18th stone watchtowers, it has 2 churches and a chapel.

The Dzivgis Fortress, a complex of 7 defensive fortifications and caves dates back to at least the 13th century. It’s considered the largest fortress in all of Ossetia. Don’t miss out the small necropolis next to it.

The Kurt and Tag stone towers, twin towers linked to a legend of the two brothers Kurt and Tag.

The ancient village of Tsimiti (or Tsmiti), dating back from the 9th to 14th century with stones towers. This picturesque medieval village is said to be the largest complex in Ossetia and has the status of historical architectural monuments protected by the state. I think it’s the easiest tower complex of such size to access in the North Caucasus (no permit needed like in Ingushetia).

How to get there : Daily marshrutkas from Vladikavkaz to Verkhny Fiagdon and other villages along the Kurkat Gorges.

📍 Location on Yandex Maps

Dargavs, the City of the Dead

Dargavs, the City of the Dead is by far the most famous, largest and best preserved medieval necropolis in the Caucasus. Located next to the Kurtat and Karmadon gorges, it a complex of nearly 100 crypts where the deads were placed through small windows. Archaeologists began studying it in the 1960s, finding well-preserved, mummified bodies due to the dry, windy climate.

The necropolis also served as a quarantine site during plagues, with the sick isolating themselves in the crypts. A famous local legend warns that anyone who enters Dargavs will not leave alive ! (I did)

For me Dargavs is the #1 reason to visit North Ossetia, the necropolis is unique and the breathtaking mountains surrounding the place make it even more exceptionnal.

How to get there : I wrote a detailed post on Dargavs including how to travel there from Vladikavkaz, click here to read it.

📍 Location on Yandex Maps

The Alania National Park

Created in 1998, North Ossetia’s National Park named Alania covers 549 km² of mountains, forests, glaciers, waterfalls and alpine lakes (Galdoridon waterfall, Donisar lake, Fatanta meadow, Karaugom glacier to name a few) but also plenty of wildlife including Caucasian mountain goats and last by not least, you can find historical monuments on the park’s territory (see below).

There are 13 villages within the territory of the National Park and over 600 people living there. Of course it’s best explore on foot and you can do multi-day hikes in the park, but excursions are also organised from the various tourists bases in the villages (bed and food available).

⚠️ If you plan on hiking there I highly recommend you to get a border zone permit. I’m not 100% sure though one should be able to go to Galdoridon waterfall without one but not further; Tana glacier, Karaguom and Saldat waterfalls require a permit. Basically if you see a big blue sign (like on the 3rd picture) warning about the border zone, turn around, don’t go any further. There is an FSB office to apply for a permit in Dzinaga village but I doubt they will give one to foreigners just like that, better apply online in advance (free).

The entrance fee to the park is 150₽, you can pay online on the official website if you own a russian bank card, buy it from the tourist office in Vladikavkaz (Av. Mira 9, first floor of the National Museum) or from the Alania National Park office in Chikola village.

How to get there : Marshrukas from Vladikavkaz to Chikola and then to Matsuta village.

📍 Location on Yandex Maps

The Tsey Gorges

The Tsey Gorges are 25 kilometers long and home to the Tsey mountain resort, North Ossetia’s #1 resort where you can ski in the winter and hike in the summer.

Tsey has tones of glaciers (29 apparently), alpines meadows, waterfalls and peaks to hike to : Shagatsikomdon waterfall, Mont Monakh, the Tseysky glacier and the most famous one the Skazsky glacier.

Beside nature to enjoy, another famous “attraction” in Tsey is the pagan sanctuary of Rekom dedicated to the God of fertility. It will most likely be closed unless there is a celebration/ritual. There are rooms specificaly for men, women and children; women aren’t allowed in the men’s. Rekom is said to be 800 years old but the original building burnt in the 1990’s and was rebuilt according to the original one, without a single nail.

At the beginning of the Tsey gorges is the unmissible giant statue of Uastyrdzhi on a three legged horse, the patron of men (not women), warriors and travellers in Ossetian folklore/Nart mythology. Ossetian women should not pronounce Uastyrdzhi’s name.

How to get there : Marshrutkas from Vladikavkaz Market to Tsey, change in Alagir.

📍 Location on Yandex Maps

The Digori Gorges

The Digori gorges are named after the historical region of Digori/Digoria and one of the ethnic subgroup of Ossetians, the Digor people.

In Digori you will find the Alania National Park and also ancient villages with stone towers and medieval necropolis such as the Donifar-Lezgorsk City of the Dead.
There are plenty of ruins of crypts to explore in the villages of Matsuta, Dzinaga, Fasnal, Khanaz, Kumbulta and Dunta. For ancient towers visit the villages of Galiat, Makhchesk, Kamata and Uakats.

How to get there : Marshrutkas from Vladikavkaz to Chikola then either get a taxi or hitchhike along the Digori gorges.

📍 Location on Yandex Maps

The Midagrabin Waterfalls

The Midagrabin gorges are home to Ossetia’s most famous waterfalls, the Midagrabin waterfalls. In this 7 kilometers long valley, one can find 8 waterfalls of 120 to 750 m high. The Bolshoy Zeygalan is 750 meters high and one of Europe’s tallest waterfalls.

⚠️ Important : the Midagrabin waterfalls are within the border zone. You must have a permit to go there or else they will not let you pass the check post.

How to get there : Marshrutkas from Vladikavkaz to Dzhimara. Organised tours take you part of the way in a vehicule but you’ll have to walk to reach the waterfalls.

📍 Location on Yandex Maps

The Mountain Village of Tsamad

Tsamad is considered one of the most ancient settlement in Ossetia located at 1450 meters high in the mountains in the Alagir gorges. Many locals believes their ancestors are originally from Tsamad. Back it the days it was a large village but nowadays only a handful of people live there full time.

Tsamad is popular among tourists for the ruins of its ancient towers especially the Cherchesov tower that once was 7 storey tall built on top of a rock, a couple of other towers in ruins, and a very well preserved crypt but mostly of the splendid view over the Alagar Gorges and Mairamdon valley.

On the main road from Alagir, don’t miss out the Tsallagov’s Tower Complex Museum, they often have cultural events & festivals.

How to get there : No public transport goes to Tsamad, you must hire a taxi, hitchhike or hike up there from Nizhny Unal (Tsallagov Museum). The town of Alagir is 30ish kilometers away.

📍 Location on Yandex Maps

The Karmadon Gorges

The Karmadon gorges also known as the Genaldon gorges after the river nearby are located close to Dargavs and are becoming again a touristy place to visit. Back in 2002 a massive landslide happened due to the melting of the Kolka glacier killing over 100 people including a famous russian film maker. But over 2 decades have passed and now tourists come back to hike in the area again.

Karmadon means hot water in ossetian and there are hot pools where one can swim in the mountains. It’s a great and rather accessible place to go hiking.

How to get there : marshrutkas or shared taxi from Vladikavkaz to Karmadon village.

📍 Location on Yandex Maps

The Stone Towers of Lisri village

The village of Lisri is located in the Mamison gorges at 2000 meters high. Lisri is one of the largest stone towers complex of North Ossetia.

The ruins of about only 7 towers are still visible today (out of 16 or so), also a 1896 christian church, and a christian cemetery with cross headstones and the only known Ziggurat (a terraced temple popular mostly in Mesopotamia) in the whole North Caucasus, Ossetians called it the Migdau-zuar temple.

⚠️Lisri is possibly within the border zone (7 kilometers from the South Ossetian border, no sign nor military post), so better get a permit when going to the Mamison gorges just in case.

How to get there : No public transport goes there obviously but Lisri is less than 20 kilometers from the junction of the road heading to Tskhinvali in South Ossetia. Marshrutkas travel the road often from Vladikavkaz. One could hike there and back in a couple of days. Else, you could get a taxi from Alagir.

📍 Location on Yandex Maps

My Tips to Visit North Ossetia Independently

• Forget about Google maps, use Yandex Maps in North Ossetia. You can find the correct direction, bus stop location and bus number + timetable on Yandex Maps to tavel from Vladikavkaz to most of the places I mentionned previously.

• If you have the budget for it, why not get a taxi ? E.g. A ride from Vladikavkaz to the entrance of the Alania National Park should costs you around 2000₽.

• If visiting during the touristy season, try to book your accomodation in advance on Zenhotels (you can pay with your foreign bank card), North Ossetia is a quite popular place for Russian families in the summer.

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