I am from Georgia (the country, not the state 😀). Many people haven’t even heard of Georgia, or know much about it. Actually, when I say Georgia, most people usually think of the US, look at me suspiciously and respond: “but you don’t sound American”. Then I have to start explaining that I am not one 😀
In fact, Georgia in Georgian language is called Sakartvelo (საქართველო) while Georgians are called Kartvelebi (ქართველები). I was born and raised in Tbilisi. Haven’t travelled everywhere in Georgia, but will be happy to answer any question you have about the country.
The main reasons to visit Georgia include its amazing mountainous areas (you can hike or visit to admire these regions without doing any hikes), long history and culture (you find cave cities, churches on top of hills and mountains, fortresses, Tbilisi balcony houses and much more), wine and food. Some people do visit for the seaside as well, but in my opinion, Georgia is not the right destination, if you would like a beach vacation. Yes, it does have beaches, but they can’t compare to the Mediterranean for example. Below I will give suggested itineraries, which will show you where the major attractions of the country lie.
How long to spend in Georgia is a hard question to answer. If you wish to experience some of the best areas of the country, 2 weeks would be good. You could also get highlights within one week – if you only have a week, I suggest basing yourself in Tbilisi and doing day trips from there.
When to Visit?
There are distinct four seasons all around Georgia:
- Winter brings some freezing temperatures in Tbilisi, while it is very cold in the mountains. If you want to go skiing, then you will find relevant spots here (Gudauri, Bakuriani). In winter most mountaneous regions are a no-go though, however, you can go to Kazbegi even in winter, unless the roads are blocked. You can also access Mestia (in Svaneti) for skiing.
- Spring and Autumn can be unpredictable, as anywhere. If you visit during these times, you may or may not be able to go to some mountainous regions, like Svaneti.
- May, June and September are the best times to visit all areas, not too hot in Tbilisi and other cities and not too cold to visit mountains and hike.
- July and August are overly hot in the lowlands, while they make a nice time to visit mountainous areas and do the hikes, if that’s what you are interested in. They are also the most popular months for tourism, particularly to the seaside and mountains, as basically anywhere in the world.
You can choose the right time for you depending on your preferences. My advice would be to aim for June or September, even October for milder temperatures.
Georgia has visa free regime for a number of countries. Citizens and residents of over 60 countries – all of Europe, Canada, US, Australia, many South American countries, etc. can visit without a visa for a year. Otherwise, there is an electronic visa process for almost 70 countries – check out the official website for the details. The rest need to obtain the usual visa from the embassies.
Btw. keep in mind that according to Georgian law, entering Abkhazia and South Ossetia is forbidden from elsewhere other than crossing points in Georgia. So, if you ever visited these regions from Russia, you may not be able to enter Georgia after that.
How to Travel to Georgia
There are 3 international airports in Georgia – Tbilisi, Kutaisi and least used Batumi.
- Kutaisi airport serves mainly Wizzair flights, which can be relatively cheaper option to travel from Europe and a couple of Middle Eastern areas. Flights are quite cheap outside the popular tourist seasons.
- Tbilisi airport serves a wider range of airlines, including Turkish Airlines, Qatar Airlines, LOT, Aegean airlines, FlyDubai, Lufthansa, AirBaltic, etc.
- Batumi airport is smaller and serves only a few airlines (getting there is not cheap either usually).
For travelling on land, you could get to Georgia from either Turkey, Armenia or Azerbaijan (currently not available):
From Turkey (Istanbul, Trabzon, etc.), you can take a bus to Batumi or Tbilisi by crossing the Sarpi border. However, this is a very exhausting journey. It usually takes about 24 hours to get from Istanbul to Tbilisi by bus. The buses run from/to Tbilisi Ortachala bus station, however, I never saw any options of buying tickets online.
From Armenia, Yerevan getting to Tbilisi is very easy. The minibuses run from Avlabari, Station square and Ortachala bus stations. Taking them from Avlabari is the best option though – the minibus stop is just across the station in front of the Armenian church (when you get out of the metro, turn left and you will see the Armenian church and the minibus stop). They run from Avlabari to Kilikia bus station from 9am to 5pm every 2 hours, while from Yerevan Kilikia bus station to Tbilisi Avlabari 8.30am to 5pm every 2 hours. The journey takes about 5-6 hours, depending how much time you would need to cross the border and traffic. Tickets cost 50 GEL or 7,000 AMD.
From Azerbaijan during the pre-COVID times and overnight train was running and was a very convenient option. Although currently (June 2023), the Georgia-Azerbaijan land border is still closed, hopefully it will be reopened in the near future. The train took somewhere between 10 to 12 hours (depending on the land border crossing) and had open carriage and compartments for 2 and 4 people, which were quite clean and convenient. Purchasing tickets online on the Azerbaijan railway website was inconvenient, so we purchased tickets in person at the Tbilisi Train Station.
Transport in Georgia
What to Wear in Georgia?
You can wear basically anything you like. Especially in Tbilisi, the guys no longer gape at women, they became more educated, I guess. When I was a teenager, it was really disgusting with comments and gaping.
As for some regions, you will still find more traditional people. You probably won’t hike in revealing clothing anyway, but still avoid them especially in mountainous regions, where people are more conservative. This is just to avoid discomfort, otherwise, no one will tell you anything.
For visiting churches, as a woman it’s best if you have shoulders covered and wearing a dress – I know it sounds funny, but in some churches, you may need to put a scarf around your trousers. So do carry a scarf to cover up if necessary. Technically, when going to church women cover their head too, but you don’t have to. I definitely never do.
Georgia uses local currency called Lari. 1 dollar used to be under 3 laris, depending on the tim. Exchange offices on Rustaveli avenue in Tbilisi usually are not too great, the one next to Marjanishvili metro, as well as a couple in the old town offer good rates. Be sure to look around and check before changing.
Obviously at the airport the rate is bad, so exchange only very little to get you to your hotel before you exchange money in the city.
Using any card in atms to get cash is rather easy. There are no restrictions on using foreign cards, like in some other countries. So you should have no problems either to get cash from atms or to pay with your card in most places. Although I do advice to have at least some cash on you, especially if you go to markets or to areas out of bigger cities.
Many people asked me about safety. Overall, unlike in the 90s, the country is safer. Of course, there are cases of theft and other crimes, as anywhere, but nothing outstanding for tourists. Just be aware of any pickpockets and take the usual precautions you would anywhere else.
Of course, there are still conflict regions, which are under Russian control and basically inaccessible for Georgians. If you plan to travel to Abkhazia and South Ossetia, you should keep in mind that you should not do this from the Russian side, as this is forbidden according to Georgian law. So if you do this, You won’t be able to enter other parts of Georgia, as they won’t let you in. Actually, accessing the Tskhinvali region is basically impossible for most people, while going to Abkhazia still might be possible, but if you want to travel there, you should cross the checkpoints on Enguri river. You would have to go through the three checkpoints there and you may or may not be let through. Overall, unless you have something essential to do or are an adventurous traveler, travelling to these regions is not advisable.
There are no particular diseases, but hepatitis A and Thyphoid can be found, although already rarely (I haven’t heard of any cases in big cities for a while), so be aware and try to be careful when buying street food, etc.
The street dogs in Tbilisi are usually vaccinated, they have a sign of this on the ear. So normally they shouldn’t cause you any problems, however, rabies still exists and if you get bitten or scratched by a dog or a cat, seek medical advice.
Where to Stay
In the past years, the country has developed infrastructure to accommodate tourists in all major areas. Therefore, you have numerous choices of hotels, hostels and homes. Because of this competition, the prices of accommodation are much cheaper than they used to be years ago. Unfortunately, prices of everything became expensive post-COVID and the influx of Russians due to invasion in Ukraine, but the hotel prices are still steady (unlike the longer-term rent prices, which became insane).
In Tbilisi, I suggest looking at not only central areas, like near Rustaveli, Avlabari, the old city and Marjanishvili, but near other metro stations too. Some areas are weird – I would avoid staying near the Railway station, Nadzaladevi or Didube, but look at the Isani, 300 Aragveli, Tsereteli, as well as near metro stations of line 2 – Saburtalo line. Being near metro will make getting around the city much easier, as it’s cheap and quick (although more complicated during rush hour).
In other smaller cities, it’s best to arrange accommodation, where everything would be in a walking distance, as getting around will be more complicated (unless you have a car hired, in which case, that doesn’t matter).
Getting a SIM card
This is a very easy and cheap task in Georgia, unless you buy at the airport. You will find the relevant spots for buying SIM cards at the airport, however, they are always far more expensive than normal.
Magti has offices in many parts of Georgia. Here is the list of all offices. Most of them are closed on Sundays and national holidays though. You can just buy the cheapest available sim card and then top it up with mobile data or whatever else you prefer via Mymagti app.
Similarly, buying Geocell sim card at the airport would be more expensive than elsewhere. Here are the Silknet/Geocell offices. You can also order a sim card online and get it delivered to any address in Tbilisi for free.
Apps You will Need in Georgia
Maps – let’s start with the most important app – maps. Google maps usually works pretty well and provides relevant destinations. If you are driving, however, Google doesn’t always know which roads are one way or where the turn is allowed. So don’t blindly follow it, rather be sure to double check the signs. There really is no navigation app, which is better though in this sense. That said Google is pretty good at telling you where the traffic is heaviest by showing you the red line for the most congested areas and yellow, for more or less congested ones.
Translate app – Google translate offline is ok. It does make mistakes with Georgian, however it’s pretty fine for basic phrases that you will be needing.
For taxis, download Bolt application. Bolt works really well in Tbilisi and also does in some other cities, like Batumi, Kutaisi and Zugdidi, although it’s pretty useless in more remote areas. I and most people around me always use it, when we need a taxi. There are also some Russian owned apps operating, but I absolutely don’t advice using them.
Tkt.ge app – this may come in handy, if you would like to prebook train and bus tickets. It also offers tickets for concerts, theatre and concerts, but I doubt you would be needing those during your short visit.
Other than these, none of the apps you will be needing are country specific. You can use your usual weather apps or the relevant flight apps.
Food and Cafés
Georgian food is widely liked. I won’t list here the common foods you will be seeing of course, will just mention that you can get a variety for anyone’s taste.
- Meat dishes – Khinkali (dumplings), Chakapuli (beef stew), Mtsvadi (shish)
- Cheese dishes – various types of Khachapuri (cheese pastries), mushrooms with cheese, Gebzhalia, Elarji – we love cheese
- Vegan food – aubergines with walnuts, spinach with walnuts, lobio (beans with walnuts), ajapsandali (auberjine dish). You even get khinkali with mushrooms, as well as lobiani (pastry with beans) and Pkhlovana (pastry with greens)
Sauces are also widely loved, like baje (walnut sauce), tkemali (plum sauce), ajika (hot spicy dip). Spices are also widely used in dishes.
I am not great with restaurant recommendations, as I don’t go to Georgian restaurants often. Many of them have extremely loud music, shouting crowds and drunk people. So be aware of that, when you choose a Georgian restaurant to go to. There are nice ones too of course and below are a few of the widely loved and great restaurants with Georgian food in Tbilisi (they aren’t cheap though):
Some of the widely liked and cheaper restaurants – I can’t say they have the best food, but they are pretty decent:
- Pasanauri – various locations in Tbilisi
- Machakhela – various locations in Tbilisi
- Sakhachapure #1 – at least 2 locations on Rustaveli
Also do buy bread from a number of tones (sort of bakeries) you can find around. They are very tasty with cheese.
Coffee and sweets culture has been slowly developing, especially in cities. In Tbilisi in particular you already get a wide variety of cafes with various options. Here is a dedicated article to cafes in Tbilisi.
Best 2-Week Itinerary Tips
There are several versions of itineraries depending on your interests and wishes. Here is the most optimal itinerary for your 2-week trip, if you are relying on public transport or short tours:
Day 1 – Tbilisi
Day 2 – Mtskheta – day trip from Tbilisi
Day 3 – Uplistsikhe – half day trip, explore Tbilisi during the second half
You can combine visit to Uplistsikhe with your visit to Mtskheta, if you have enough time on day 2.
Day 4 – Kazbegi – day trip from Tbilisi
If you prefer, you may decide to stay overnight here and visit Juta next morning before returning to Tbilisi
Day 5 – Kakheti – day trip to Sighnaghi (and other areas in Kakheti if you do a tour) from Tbilisi
Day 6 – Akhaltsikhe – head to Akhaltsikhe and visit Rabat fortress
Overnight in Akhaltsikhe
Day 7 – Sapara Monastery, Khertvisi fortress, Vardzia and travel to Kutaisi
Day 8 – Kutaisi and Tskaltubo
Overnight in Kutaisi
Day 9 – Mestia – travel to Mestia, explore Mestia
Day 10 – Hatsvali and Tetnuldi – day trip from Mestia
Day 11 – Ushguli – day trip from Mestia
Day 12 – Koruldi lakes – day trip from Mestia
Day 13 – Zugdidi or Tbilisi
Fly to Tbilisi or alternatively take minibus to Zugdidi to stay overnight and then travel to Tbilisi next morning.
Day 14 – Tbilisi and departure
If You Have more Time in Georgia
Day trip to David Gareji monastery from Tbilisi – this trip takes over 2 hours from Tbilisi and on a 2-week itinerary it’s not really worth it. However, if you do have more time, you can explore it. There is no public transport going there. The Gareji line bus (minibus) makes a roundtrip leaving at 11am from Tbilisi, waiting for you to explore and getting you back to Tbilisi at about 6-6.30. there are also a number of tours.
Visit Batumi and spend 2 days in the mountainous areas of Adjara – to add this to your itinerary, you will need at least 3 days: day 1 to arrive to Batumi and explore it; day 2 to travel to Khulo and Skhalta Monastery, day 3 to explore Keda and other sights on the way and get back to Batumi.
Day trip from Kutaisi to Okatse and Martvili canyons – doing this is difficult without a car or a tour. If you do it with public transport, choose one of the canyons – Martvili is easier to get to by minibus from Kutaisi minibus station.
Day trip to Chiatura and Katskhi column from Kutaisi
Visit Racha – Oni, Utsera and Shovi – for this you will need to add at least 3 days to your itinerary that will give you 2 days on the spot. You can get to Oni by minibus from Tbilisi Didube station or from Kutaisi.
Visit Tusheti – you will need to add at least 4 days to your itinerary for this, unless you wish to track, in which case it will take even more. This is the most difficult thing suggested on these pages and certainly not unless you are an avid traveler and nature lover. I myself haven’t been there, simply because the road is scary. You will need to hire a 4×4 experienced driver to get you there. Do not attempt this yourself, even if you are an experienced driver, as you don’t know the road.
Visit Khevsureti – this is another thing difficult to achieve by public transport. There are minibuses running from Didube station at 9am twice a week. However, it’s preferable to hire a driver with 4×4.
Other Tips for Travelling Independently in Georgia
- Expect Tbilisi and other major cities to have well-developed infrastructure, but if you venture to more remote areas, you will find quite poor places. If I do the excursions, I keep the toilet paper and hand sanitizer with me at all times.
- Most travelers choose not to drink tap water just in case. Most of the locals do drink it though, but if I was visiting for a short time, I wouldn’t either, as you don’t need to lose precious travel time, if for some reason it upsets your tummy.
- You won’t find almost any cafes, restaurants or basically anything open before 9. In fact, most of the places won’t open before 10.
- English is spoken more by younger generation, so if you need help on the streets, try to find people under 40. Certainly, you will have more problems finding anyone speaking English outside Tbilisi and Batumi, except at some particularly touristy spots, however, Google translate will help with this. In Tbilisi and some of the other touristy areas, like center of Mtskheta, Batumi, Kutaisi, Mestia – most restaurants and cafes, as well as in most shops, will have English speaking staff.