Georgia is an incredibly special country. It’s difficult to explain exactly why, but there really is something magical about it which captivates many travellers. Whether it’s the heart-warming hospitality, the beautiful architecture, delicious food or the incredibly striking landscapes, it really is a special combination that creates this dream destination. If you’re thinking of travelling to Georgia, then this post will outline everything that you need to know before you go.
The Caucasus has certainly landed on many people’s travel radar in the last few years. The region is seeing a boom in tourism and Georgia is definitely at the centre of that with well-developed tourist infrastructure. However, it’s still far from the popular destinations in Western Europe and you can find a more unique adventure in exploring Georgia and the Caucasus.
I spent seven weeks in the Caucasus Region last year with a month in Georgia and I already can’t wait to go back. So whether you want to know practical tips about transport or general information about the history and places to visit in Georgia, this blog post is for you.
Where to go in Georgia
For a country that’s not all that big, Georgia packs a lot of punch when it comes to sights and destinations worth your time. It’s a country that boasts almost everything; impressive mountains and hiking trails, trendy cities and beautiful architecture, an interesting past and historical sights and delectable food and wine. If you want to hit the highlights of the country, then here are my top places to visit in Georgia:
The capital city and one of the coolest places to visit. You’ll find an incredible blend of old and new architecture, as well as, a fantastic cultural scene.
Kazbegi + the Gergeti Trinity Church
One of the main tourist destinations in the country, this stunning church sits right amongst the Caucasus Mountains in the north of the country.
The beautiful mountain region home to the unique Svan towers. Ushguli is considered one of the highest continuously inhabited villages in Europe.
This fascinating cave city from the 12th century is tucked in a valley in southern Georgia.
The port city of Batumi sits on the Black Sea Coast and is a popular summer getaway with a great party scene.
Pankisi Valley is a misunderstood part of Georgia that is home to the unique Kist population, descendants from Chechnya. A visit here is completely unique and off the beaten track.
When to go to Georgia
There’s never really a bad time to travel to Georgia.
High season in Georgia runs over Summer from June until August. This is when you’ll find beautiful warm weather across the country with most people heading for the Black Sea coast to enjoy the beaches. You’ll also find that the hiking trails in the Caucasus are popular at this time. The downside of travelling during these months is that the country is quite crowded, and prices increase. Although if you’re keen to join day trips during your trip this is the best time to guarantee daily departures with plenty of people to join in with.
Winter can be quite harsh in Georgia and crowds almost completely disappear. It can be a nice time to explore the cities and go skiing in the Caucasus. However, the Black Sea coast area becomes more like a ghost town and remote villages and roads in the north become cut off due to snowfall.
The best time to visit Georgia is either Spring or Autumn. Both these seasons see fewer tourists than Summer and perfect weather for hiking and sightseeing. My personal preference would be Autumn with colourful foliage to enjoy in the Caucasus Mountains and the annual grape harvest in the wine regions of Eastern Georgia.
How to get around Georgia
Most people fly into either Tbilisi or Kutaisi where you’ll find the two main international airports. Major airlines tend to fly into Tbilisi, while European budget carriers tend to fly into Kutaisi.
Across the country
You will soon get acquainted with the humble Marshrutka. These vans or minibuses are the main local transport that service everywhere from major cities to small villages. They are shared transport and generally work to two different systems: leave when full or a scheduled timetable. It can be hard to determine sometimes, but as a general rule the more popular routes have a scheduled timetable while the more rural routes will leave whenever they’re full. You’ll soon work it out.
They tend to congregate in parking lots referred to as stations in major cities or sometimes just in the centre of town in more rural areas. Although they can seem quite disorganised at first, they’re really a sort of organised chaos. The drivers are usually pretty helpful if you need to clarify anything.
You can also find a train network across Georgia that can be useful for travelling between major cities and even across borders. The main routes are from Tbilisi to Batumi and Tbilisi to Zugdidi (for Svaneti Region). International train routes include connecting Tbilisi to Yerevan and Tbilisi to Baku. It’s best to purchase tickets directly at the stations, otherwise, you could ask your accommodation staff to purchase online for you.
If you’re short on time, it’s possible to join day trips and tours from Tbilisi to many of the major tourist destinations and highlights in the country. In high season, you can expect departures for most day tours on a daily basis, otherwise, in other months you might have to pay a bit more to cover empty seats. You can find plenty of tour offices around the Old Town of Tbilisi, or you can check out what’s available on Viator below.
In the city
Within Tbilisi, the metro is the most convenient and affordable transport option. You can buy a rechargeable metro card that can be used on both the metro and city buses. City buses are also another option, although they can sometimes be difficult to navigate.
Taxis are also available although prices are quite high, and they tend to overcharge tourists. Bolt works similar to Uber and is a great alternative for taxis within cities. The fares are very reasonable, especially if you split it with friends and there’s less of a language barrier with the app. You need to have a Georgian SIM to use the app or you can ask the staff at your accommodation to arrange a ride for you.
Read next: 11 free things to do in Tbilisi
Georgia, and the Caucasus in general, are some of the safest countries I’ve visited. Crime is low and I felt extremely safe, even hiking on my own in the mountains. Saying that, I would always exercise the same degree of caution that you should anywhere in the world.
Someone once described Georgia as a place where you could leave your bags unattended and they’d be right where you left them hours or even days later. Although I wouldn’t actually try this, I definitely got the vibe that theft is very rare.
As a solo female traveller, I found Georgia an absolute dream to travel around. I never felt unsafe or vulnerable and I would say it’s a great place to go even for first time solo female travellers.
I even hiked on my own and never felt afraid. The people are some of the friendliest people I’ve met and I was only met with genuine hospitality.
Read more about my experience in the Caucasus as a female traveller in an interview I did with Emily from Wander-Lush blog here.
Politics and history
History is quite pervasive in Georgia. Ancient churches and remnants of the Soviet Union can be seen everywhere. To understand much of what you’ll see in Georgia, here’s a brief history.
A powerful kingdom ruled over Georgia during the medieval period, reaching its peak between the 10th and 13th century. This so-called Golden Age ended with the arrival of the Mongols and thereafter by the Ottomans and Persians who vied for regional dominance.
Slowly in the 19th century, Russia annexed most of the country and protected it from Muslim invaders. After a brief few years of independence following the Russian Revolution, it was incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1922.
The Soviet Union’s infamous leader, Joseph Stalin was born in the Georgian town of Goris and went on to lead the world’s largest country. Following the end of his reign of terror, the economy expanded, and Georgia had a relatively high quality of life towards the end of the Soviet Union’s existence.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Georgia declared independence on April 9, 1991. The immediate period following independence was dominated by instability and rivalry between separatist movements.
This led to bloody civil wars in the breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The turbulent relationships between the Georgian government, Russia and the breakaway provinces are still as complicated and fragile as ever.
Currently, South Ossetia is recognised by most countries as officially being part of Georgia, although Russia has declared it an independent state since 2008. In 2015, Russia made moves to formerly annex the region by taking over the frontier with Georgia and abolishing all border checkpoints.
A similar situation in Abkhazia has led to the province declaring independence in 1999 which Russia formally recognised in 2008. In 2014, Russia and Abkhazia signed an agreement which allowed closer ties and Russia’s formal control over the border with Georgia.
Since the turn of the 21st century, Georgia has been through a bloodless coup in 2003, peaceful protests over poverty and corruption and a new wave of young professionals in government. Although things are looking brighter, average income remains low (particularly in rural areas), mistrust in politicians and political instability on the border with Russia are persistent issues.
Georgia is a devoutly Christian country, having a long-standing history of Christianity dating back to the 4th century. Over 80% of the population identify as Eastern Orthodox. Perhaps more surprising is that respect for the Church is actually growing in Georgia, with attendance increasing over recent years.
At the same time, you’ll find around 10% of the population are Muslim and 4% are Armenian Apostolic.
Georgia has a pretty liberal visa policy. There is a long list of countries that are able to enter and stay visa-free for up to 12 months. This includes the EU, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Canada, US and UK.
Otherwise, e-visas can be obtained online before arriving for other country citizens. For more visa information and requirements, check out the Georgian Foreign Affairs website here.
Georgia has land borders with Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia.
Travelling between Georgia and Armenia is very straightforward and easy. There are three land crossings across the border and you can travel by road and rail.
Marshrutka | The most popular crossings are the roads connecting Tbilisi and Yerevan and further west from Akhaltsikhe to Gyumri. I travelled through both of these options and found them equally stress-free and easy. However, there is only one daily departure of marshrutka between Akhaltsikhe and Gyumri, while there are frequent Tbilisi and Yerevan departures.
Train | There is an overnight train that runs between Tbilisi and Yerevan and vice versa. In the warmer months, you’ll find a daily departure, while in the cooler months, it runs every second day. It’s best to purchase your tickets in advance (especially in summer) and you can do that either in person at the station or online (in person seems to be easier for foreigners).
Read next: The Ultimate Travel Guide to Yerevan
You can travel between Azerbaijan and Georgia quite easily. The border can be crossed by both road and rail. You can read more about how to get to Baku in Azerbaijan from Georgia here.
Marshrutka | You can travel between the two countries using buses and marshrutka. There are two checkpoints, in the far east of Georgia near Lagodekhi and another south of Rustavi. I travelled via Lagodekhi in marshrutka from Tbilisi to Qax in Azerbaijan. There are a couple of daily departures for this more popular option.
Train | The overnight train between Tbilisi and Baku is quite convenient and safe. Similar to the Yerevan train, it runs overnight in both directions every day. You can purchase tickets either in person at the station (easiest option for foreigners) or online. It’s best to arrange a ticket in advance, especially in summer.
Note: Having an Armenian stamp in your passport is not a problem, but it will provoke some questions by immigration on the Azerbaijan side. If you have proof that you’ve been in Nagorno-Karabakh in your passport then you will be denied entry into Azerbaijan. Usually, this stamp is given on a piece of paper, so you can easily remove it if you want to travel to Azerbaijan after Nagorno-Karabakh.
Read next: What to do in Baku in 3 days
There are two border crossing points between Turkey and Georgia. The main checkpoint and most convenient for most travellers is south of Batumi, Hopa-Sarp. This is used by travellers who are coming from Turkey’s Black Sea Coast around Trabzon.
An alternative is the border post further south near Akhaltsikhe in Georgia, Posof-Vale. This is more convenient for travellers who are coming from Kars or southeastern Turkey. I came this way on a bus that travels from Kars in Turkey to Tbilisi in Georgia a couple of times per week. The bus company is Kars VIP Turizm. If you want to read a bit more about this border crossing, check out my post on Ani ruins in Turkey and getting to Georgia here.
There is one official border crossing with Russia north of Tbilisi. There is a daily marshrutka that travels from Tbilisi across to Vladikavkaz.
For the more sensitive breakaway provinces:
Abkhazia | This border is technically open to foreign travellers, although you must have approved clearance by Abkhaz officials first. You can cross from Zugdidi in Georgia.
South Ossetia | This border is officially closed. The only way into South Ossetia is from Russia.
Money and budget
The currency in Georgia is Lari or GEL. ATMs can be found almost everywhere and they’re generally pretty good with international cards.
Georgia is one of the most budget-friendly countries to visit. I easily lived on an average of $30 per day as a budget traveller. For a little more comfort, you could travel quite comfortably on $50-60 per day. Of course, if you want luxury hotels and private transfers, you’ll be looking at a lot more. Still, you can easily travel very well for much less than in other countries in Europe.
I generally spent between $8-15 per night on budget accommodation. A restaurant meal can be around $3-6 or grabbing something from a bakery can be as little as 50c. A marshrutka ride costs between $5-15 depending on how far you’re travelling.
Read next: 25 tips for travelling on a budget
Georgian is the official language and quite a distinct and ancient language. Most local people also speak Russian, which is a remnant from the Soviet past. English is spoken pretty well in the major cities like Tbilisi, Batumi and Kutaisi. Most young people will speak at least some English. However, most older people and those that live in rural areas will speak just Georgian and Russian.
Still, I managed to get by without any Russian, although it would certainly be helpful if you knew a little. Learning some basic phrases in Georgian definitely delights locals too. Madloba! (Thank you!)
Internet and SIM Cards
Wi-Fi is available throughout the country at any accommodation, cafes and some public areas. It’s generally quite high speed and free of cost as long as you’re staying or eating at a place.
Still, having a local SIM is ideal especially if you’re planning on hiking, going off the beaten track or want to use things like ride-sharing apps. There are a few providers available and all offer short term data packs for travellers. It’s generally easy to set up in-store with your passport.
Magti is considered the fastest with the best coverage. I used Geocell and found it was still very good. While Beeline is often considered a budget alternative for travellers with good data packs.
Basic packages can cost around AU$7 for two weeks with 5GB plus. It’s cheap to add additional data with 20GB costing around AU$14.
Food and Drink
The gastronomic scene in Georgia is undeniably delicious. They do incredibly good comfort food and it’s all about rich flavours. The two classic dishes which get all the attention is khinkali (dumplings) and khachapuri (baked bread with cheese filling or regional varieties). However, there’s much more to Georgian cuisine than that. My personal favourite dishes include:
- Pkhali – a variety of pastes/dips that are made from vegetables, nuts and herbs. Often served on a sharing platter with cornbread.
- Lobio – a bean stew cooked in a clay pot with herbs and served with cornbread. It’s cheap and great in winter.
- Kharcho – one of my favourite dishes, a beef soup with rice and plenty of fresh herbs.
- Ojakhuri – pieces of meat (usually pork), with onions and potato served on a clay plate. This is usually very good value.
- Mchadi – a dry cornbread that is often served with a variety of dishes and a great gluten-free alternative to Georgia’s bread heavy cuisine.
You also can’t forget about the wine. The region is believed to be the birth of viticulture and wine is definitely abundant, cheap and incredibly good. Saperavi is the big player here, being a red grape that is native to the region. It’s not unusual to find a glass of house red for AU$2 at a restaurant or a litre of the stuff for AU$14.
For some hard liquor, chacha is like a Georgian-style grappa and an extremely strong spirit that is often served next to dinner. You’ll find most households have some on the shelf and true to Georgian hospitality you’ll likely go to bed with a spinning head.
Georgia has accommodation to suit everyone’s needs and budget. From hotels down to hostels, the major cities have every type of accommodation. I used hostels in major cities in Georgia and found them to be of a high standard and very affordable.
In smaller towns and villages, you’ll find mostly family-run guesthouses. These are my preferred accommodation in Georgia. The hospitality is usually top-notch, with friendly hosts and local food usually on offer.
My favourite budget places I stayed in Georgia were:
Fabrika Hostel | By far the coolest place to stay in Tbilisi for budget travellers, this hostel is housed inside a converted Soviet sewing factory. It has plenty of dormitory rooms as well as private studios. The downstairs cafe doubles as space for digital nomads to work with fast Wi-Fi. The outdoor courtyard is full of cool bars and shops and there is also a co-working space attached. It’s not the cheapest hostel in town but for the facilities, it’s worth the price. Check availability here.
N&N Guesthouse | This family-run guesthouse is right in the middle of Mestia in the upper Svaneti region. I stayed here for a few days and it was one of my most memorable stays in Georgia. The space is very clean and comfortable with private rooms. It’s also super affordable, starting from 20 GEL or AU$10 per room. Check availability here.
Kessane Guesthouse | Kessane is a great family-run guesthouse to stay in Akhaltsikhe. The town is a convenient place to explore Vardzia or head across the border to Armenia or even further Turkey. The clean, bright private rooms at this place were great, plus the Wi-Fi was strong and the free breakfast filling. Prices were around 22 GEL or AU$11 per night. Check availability here.
Nazy’s Guesthouse | If you’re thinking of heading to Pankisi Valley then you should definitely stay here at Nazy’s Guesthouse. Nazy is an incredible woman who is trying to help her community through sustainable tourism. Her guesthouse is a beautiful home in Jokolo village with full board options available. If you want to learn more about the Kists and explore the area, then Nazy will ensure you enjoy your stay. Check prices here.
My ultimate blog post on the Caucasus is: 12 must-see places to visit in the Caucasus + suggested itineraries
If you’re planning on travelling to Georgia, then here are some other blog posts you might be interested in reading:
- 11 free things to do in Tbilisi
- Trek report: Mestia to Ushguli
- A guide for hiking in Kazbegi
- How to plan a day trip to Vardzia
If you’re planning on heading to other countries in the Caucasus, then check out:
- The Ultimate Travel Guide to Yerevan
- The Ultimate Guide to Dilijan National Park, Armenia
- What to do in Baku in 3 days
If you’re exploring countries surrounding the Caucasus then you can have a look at my posts for: