Sandwiched between Europe and Asia, Georgia is a country of lush nature, centuries-old traditions, and rich history. Here, old and new harmoniously co-exist next to each other – remote villages are still untouched, while cities are bustling with life. Even though hundreds of thousands of tourists flock in the country, Georgia still can be quite overwhelming with not so well organized public transport or tourist infrastructure. Therefore, as a local, here are some of the essential Georgia travel tips to ease your travel here as much as possible.
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Essential things to know about Georgia (country)
Where is Georgia
Geographically, Georgia is in the crossroads of Europe or Asia, with Russia, Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan being its land neighbors. It’s a subject of lengthy debate whether Georgia is Europe or Asia. We, Georgians, consider ourselves as part of Europe. However, with mentality and traditions, we tend towards Asian countries. But, this is not a bad thing, and one of the aspects that makes Georgia a truly unique place – you’ll have the possibility to experience both cultures, architecture, and customs.
The capital: Tbilisi
Population: 3.731 million (2018 census)
Official language: Georgian
Writing system: Georgian (Mkhedruli script)
Currency: Georgian Lari (GEL)
Do you need a visa?
Unlike many countries of the region, Georgia has very liberal visa requirements. Citizens of 90 countries can stay visa-free for 365 days in the country. If you are not a citizen of one of those countries, you may stay in Georgia for visa-free for 90 days or may even require to obtain a visa before your arrival. To make your visa application process easier, here’s an e-visa portal to send the application and get it in a few days.
Is Georgia safe to travel?
One of the things to know about Georgia is that it’s a safe country to travel for anyone, including families, backpackers, and solo female travelers. As elsewhere, there are petty thefts, mugging, and robbery reported, but in general, the crime rate of Georgia is one of the lowest in Europe.
Best time to visit Georgia
Depending on where you want to travel throughout Georgia determines the best time to visit that particular location.
Spring and autumn months, from mid-April to the end of May and September to mid-October are ideal for Tbilisi and lowland cities. Autumn is also great for traveling to Kakheti, the wine region of Georgia to extend the harvest.
Summers are quite hot. July and August are the hottest for Tbilisi, while it’s the perfect time to visit mountainous areas like Tusheti, Svaneti, Guria, and Khevsureti. Summers in Kutaisi is also very hot, maybe hotter than Tbilisi, thus traveling to nearby attractions is quite okay in terms of weather. During this time, Batumi sees tons of tourists, both locals, and foreigners, so if you don’t like overcrowded places, I suggest avoiding this seaside resort of the Black Sea.
Winter here is excellent for skiers, as we have four ski resorts for winter sports lovers. The ski resorts have various slopes, making it ideal for skiers and snowboarders of all levels.
Festivals to attend in Georgia
- New Wine Festival in Tbilisi – May
- Tbilisi Open Air/Altervision (music festival) in Tbilisi – June
- Black Sea Jazz Festival in Batumi – July
- Art-Gene (folk festival) in Tbilisi – July
- Rtveli (grape harvest season) in various parts of Georgia – mid-September to mid-October
- Tbilisoba in Tbilisi – Fall, date varies.
How to get to Georgia
Currently, we have three international airports serving both small and big airline companies. Depending on where you want to start your journey, you can either fly to Tbilisi, Kutaisi, or Batumi. There are big and small international airline companies offering flights to these cities from almost anywhere in the world. For budget-conscious travelers, Tbilisi and Kutaisi host flights from Wizzair and Ryanair from various cities of Europe.
How to get from Kutaisi International Airport to Tbilisi
Two bus companies take travelers directly from Kutaisi Airport to Tbilisi. Georgian Bus and Omnibus vehicles are parked right outside of the Kutaisi Airport. You can purchase tickets online or right upon arrival. One way costs 20 GEL, but if you buy a return ticket too, the price will be 35 GEL.
How to get from Batumi International Airport to Tbilisi
There are no direct buses from Batumi International Airport, however, there are various public transportation going from Batumi to Tbilisi, included Metro Georgia buses, marshrutkas, and trains. Additionally, there’s a flight from Batumi International Airport to Tbilisi airport operated by Vanilla Sky.
Georgia has land borders with its neighboring countries – Russia, Turkey, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, enabling travelers to explore these countries easily from here.
The only functioning Georgia-Russia land border is in Stepantsminda taking travelers to the city of Vladikavkaz. There are boarders with breakaway territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but it’s better to steak with Stepnatsminda one for safety reasons.
Georgia and Armenia have three land borders: Sadakhlo-Bagratashen, Guguti-Gogavan, and Ninotsminda-Bavra. All of them are open for international travelers, however, the first one is the most frequently used Georgia-Armenia border crossing due to being the main road between Yerevan and Tbilisi. This land border also enables visitors to travel to and from Iran via Armenia.
There are two land borders between Georgia and Azerbaijan: Red Bridge (Tsiteli Khidi in Georgian)-Shikhli and Lagodekhi-Balakan. The first one is a frequently used Georgia-Azerbaijan border crossing from Tbilisi as it’s only around an hour’s drive from the capital. The second one enters the Kakheti region of Georgia.
Similar to Armenia, Georgia has three border crossings with Turkey: Sarpi-Hopa, Vale-Posof, and Aktas-Cildir. Sarpi-Hope is the mostly used Georgia-Turkey border crossing that follows the coast of the Black Sea. Frequent buses run to Tbilisi, Kutaisi, and Batumi from the major cities of Turkey.
Georgia’s two main maritime ports are in Batumi and Poti and provide international connections with the Black Sea area. There are frequent ferries and cargo ships transporting passengers from Ukraine (Odesa), Bulgaria (Varna and Burgas), and Russia (Sochi) to Georgia.
Unfortunately, there are only two options for train lovers coming to Georgia. There are overnight trains from Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Georgia-Azerbaijan overnight train runs daily, while the Georgia-Armenia train operates every other day on odd dates.
Georgia travel tips: Things to know before traveling to Georgia
Is Georgia expensive?
Georgia is still considered a relatively inexpensive destination. One of the great things about Georgia is that it can be as expensive as you want it to be. Here, you can spoil yourself with fancy dining, staying at international hotel chains, and hiring a private jet, or you can be as budget-friendly as possible.
Food, transportation, and accommodation are generally quite cheap. You can find a decent, well furnished Airbnb apartments under $30, for instance. Dining out can get expensive, but again, this depends on which restaurant you’ll go to. The price for a meal for two at an average restaurant will cost between $20-30, in some places even cheaper.
Public transportation to other cities depends on the distance and ranges from $0.50 to 10. Tickets for metro and buses start from $0.11.
Prices for museums in Tbilisi and elsewhere in the country together with other attractions are relatively cheap as well. The entrance fee of the museum can start from $1.59, while fees for national parks start from $4.78
Do Georgians speak English?
As Georgian tourism is rapidly developing, more and more Georgians speak English so navigating yourself through the major towns won’t be a problem. The older generation mostly speaks Russian because of being part of the Soviet Union. You might find challenging to find a person speaking English in mountainous and remote areas.
Learn basic words in the Georgian Language
The Georgian language is one of the oldest languages in the world and uses its own alphabet that is not similar to any. It might sound hard and complicated to learn but in terms of grammar, it’s relatively easy. Luckily, you won’t need to master any grammatical structures when traveling through Georgia, knowing some essential and basic words will do just fine.
- გამარჯობა – Gamarjoba – Hello/Hi
- ნახვამდის – Nakhvamdis – Bye
- მადლობა – Madloba – Thank you
- არაფრის – Arapris – You are welcome!
- რა ღირს – Ra ghirs? – How much does it cost?
- თუ შეიძლება – Too sheidzleba – Please
- კი, კარგი, დიახ – Ki, Kargi, Diakh – yes/okay
- არა – Ara – no
- სად არის – Sad aris…? – Where is…?
- ინგლისურად ლაპარაკობ? – Inglisurad laparakob? – Do you speak English?
- გაგვიმარჯოს – Gagvimarchos – Cheers (to us) as in toasting
Note: Don’t rely on Google Translate as your primary means of communicating with locals who don’t speak English. It still doesn’t work when translating complex sentences and you might get nonsense.
Georgia travel tips: Public transportation in Tbilisi
Tbilisi has a relatively well organized and simple and public transportation system with a subway, buses, and minibusses (marshrutka).
Subway is only available in Tbilisi and has two lines, so it’s quite easy to navigate. Opened in 1966, Tbilisi Metro was the fourth metro system in the ex-Soviet Union. And much like any other metros of that time, most of the stations are decorated with stucco and bas reliefs as well as the mosaics and are dug deep underground.
In total, the metro line is 27km long and has 23 stations, out of which Rustvali has the longest escalator. The changing station is Station Square.
Tbilisi buses are well organized running on set schedules. They go to pretty much every area of the city, especially to those places where the metro is not available. You can check the bus timetables in Google Maps. There are two mobile apps, but unfortunately, none of them work in the English language.
Marshrutkas have their own schedule which is not displayed or tracked anywhere. They are fast means of transport for many locals, but very chaotic for foreigners. Except for main avenues and highways, Marshrutkas can stop anywhere, just like taxis. Unless you know which number of marshrutka you need and where you need to stop, I would suggest sticking to straightforward metro and buses.
How to use public transport in Tbilisi
Except for the metro, you can pay with cash on buses and marshrutkas. The easiest way to use public transport in Tbilisi is to purchase Metro Money Card for only 2 GEL. The card is valid for all three means of transport.
The price for metro and buses is 0.50 GEL and you can travel within 90 minutes free of charge. Marshrutka costs 0.80 GEL for the first time in 24 hours, every other trip within a day will cost you 0.65 GEL. However, the discount doesn’t apply when paying cash of course.
You can pay by cash on buses, however, you need to have exact change. The machines accept 10, 20, and 50 Tetri coins and 1 or 2 Lari coins. Do note, that it doesn’t give a change back! We have new card scanning machines on the buses, which has Visa and Mastercard icons. Unfortunately, you can’t pay transport fees with your credit/debit cards.
How to top up Metro Money Card
You can do this in every metro station or with orange self-service payment machines from Bank of Georgia. Those self-service payment machines are pretty much in every corner of the city and are often found near the bus stops as well.
The machine has an English language menu and accepts only 50 Tetri coins (no other coins, unfortunately), 1 and 2 Lari coins, and any Lari banknote. Do note: machines don’t give change back, so top up with the exact amount you thing you might need.
Taxi is very affordable in Georgia. In order not to get ripped off and pay a decent price, I would suggest downloading taxi apps like Bolt, Yandex taxi, or Smart Taxi. They all have similar tariffs, with very small differences. I usually use Bolt and Yandex and compare prices between my destinations; whoever offers a cheaper price, I order from that app.
Smart Taxi has free wifi inside the car and provides a terminal for card payments. This is also ideal for those who need a receipt for reimbursement or other reasons. The only downside of the app is that they don’t have my drivers and the wait time can be a bit longer than of the other two.
How to get from Tbilisi International Airport to the city center
You can get to Tbilisi city center from Tbilisi airport either by bus or a taxi. Bus 37 runs from Station Square to Tbilisi International Airport. This is the only bus on the route. At night, Bus 137 runs the same route in about every 40 minutes. You can check schedules in Google Maps.
Taxis standing right at the exit of the airport will charge you A LOT. So I suggest downloading one of the taxi apps. Depending on where you are staying, the amount should be between 15-30 GEL for central areas.
Renting a car in Georgia
Renting a car in Georgia seems quite expensive when I compare prices with other European countries. The cheapest price for car rental in Tbilisi starts from $30 a day for a quite old model. Two international car rental services such as SixT and Europcar operate in Georgia, while the rest are local ones.
For a cheap and budget-friendly option of renting a car in Georgia go to myauto.ge and look for daily car rental from individual citizens. Prices may start from 30 GEL a day depending on the car. The website has an English version and is easy to navigate.
I recently discovered Gotrip.ge – its a car rental service with a driver and enables you to plan your trip across the country with pick-up and drop-off locations all across the country. Prices are also very reasonable. I haven’t tried it yet, so I can’t give you my honest opinion, but I decided to include it as an option.
If you will be spending most of the time in Tbilisi and want to rent a car, there’s a new service called AiCar – 100% electric cars with no CO2 emissions. To rent the car, you need to download their app and find the closest AiCar to you. Then you’ll have 10 minutes to get to the car and start the trip. Once done, you drop off wherever you want. The only downside of AiCar is that it can only be used within the territory of Tbilisi.
Georgia travel tips: How to travel around Georgia
When it comes to traveling around Georgia, you have several options: marshrutkas, buses, trains, and renting a car.
Marshrutkas are the most frequent and preferred means of transportation when traveling to other cities of Georgia. It is fast and drives to remote areas as well, but they are the least comfortable ones with short leg space and uncomfortable chairs.
Vehicles depart from Didube and Navtlughi Bus Stations. The first one serves those going to the west, while the latter to the east. Depending on the destination, marshrutkas run daily and hourly. There is no need for buying tickets before the departure – just show up and ask around where to find the one to your desired destination.
Sadly, Georgia doesn’t have an organized bus system. The only option is the coach bus Metro Georgia, a Turkish company that mostly operates on the Georgia-Turkey route. However, they have separate and frequent buses going from Tbilisi to Batumi and vice versa.
Georgia does have a moderately organized train system. However, the majority are of Soviet times, meaning that they are slower compared to buses and marshrutkas. The only, somewhat fast train we have is on the Tbilisi-Batumi route.
How to buy tickets on the Georgia Railway website
Unfortunately, the website of the Georgia Railway is not user-friendly. The best way to find the timetable is to Google your destinations, for instance, Tbilisi to Batumi train and look for the railway.ge website.
Here’s the general timetable. Do note that the second Departure column means that the train departs FROM the end destination and not from the starting point.
You can buy tickets online by registering on the website and choosing the preferred option. Note that when buying online, the website will charge you a 1-2% commission. Another downside of Georgian Railway trains is that you can’t choose the seat, neither when buying online nor in the station itself.
Read: 45+ Places to Visit in Georgia – Perfect Georgia Bucket List
Other practical Georgia travel tips to know
Tap water is safe to drink
Due to its proximity to the Caucasus Mountains, Georgia boasts with many freshwater sources; therefore tap water is safe to drink anywhere. Bottled water is cheap to buy as well, and to stay on the safe side, I would recommend adjusting your tummy to Georgian water for the first two days and buy a bottled one. However, as a conscious traveler, please reduce the usage of plastic bottles as much as possible!
We have a standard, European plugs with 230 V, so no need for a travel adapter if you are coming to form Europe. In other cases, you’ll definitely need one. And if you don’t have one or forget, there are plenty of shops where you can buy one; sometimes even small convenient shops might have it.
ATMs and Money Withdrawal
ATMs are almost anywhere, no matter if its a big or a small city. The only problem you might see is to find them in remote villages. ATMs are safe to use here and most of them even let you withdraw USD which you can exchange at exchange booths at a better rate than banks may offer. I have seen a couple of ATMs at TBC Bank branch offices that let you withdraw Euro.
You can pay with cards almost everywhere starting from cafes to small convenient shops. However, do carry cash just in case. And if traveling to the remote mountainous villages, always have cash with you.
Georgia has three main network provider companies: Magti, Geocell by Silknet, and Beeline. All of them have either 4G or 4.5G internet service and various MB and GB packages.
Magti has the best coverage in Georgia, even in the mountain areas, so if you’ll be spending more time in the highlands, I suggest getting a Magti Card.
I have been a Geocell user for years, mainly because I love their low-cost local call package bundles. Their internet service is not bad either but is not as best as Magti.
Beeline is a Russian company with the lowest prices on both calls and internet bundles. However, their Internet service is quite slow even though its 4G and the coverage is very poor.
The best way of buying sim cards is to go to their service centers scattered across the city. The staff will help you to set it up and choose the right bundle or package that suits your needs. The sim card prices vary by the company and start from 3 GEL.
How to top up the sim card
If you run out of credit on your phone, the easiest way to top up the sim card is via self-service payment machines. There are several different company machines all over the country and every single of them are the same when it comes to topping up the sim card. Do note that they take a 4% commission. I usually top up through my internet bank with no extra fee.
Georgia travel tips: Local cuisine and drinks
Georgian cuisine is a mixture of each regional dish, influenced by many invaders throughout the centuries. That’s why food here has traces in Mongolian, Turkish, Mediterranean, and Persian cuisine which makes Georgian meals genuinely assorted. The local kitchen focuses mainly on meat, walnuts, dough, walnuts, and various spices. However, there is plenty of vegetable and plant-based meals to cater to vegetarians.
Here are the must-try meals when in Georgia:
- Khinkali – boiled meat dumplings and a national dish of Georgia
- Khachapuri – a pizza-like cheese pie
- Adjaruli Khachapuri – a boat-shaped version of the classic Khachapuri
- Mtsvadi – a grilled pork or beef meat chunks on a skewer.
- Simple cucumber and tomato salad – try with walnut sauce
- Kharcho – a walnut chicken stew that goes well with elarji or ghomi
- Pkhali – vegetable appetizer in walnut sauce mainly made from spinach, beetroot leaves, and cabbage
- Badridjani Nigvzit – fried eggplant in a walnut paste.
- Lobio – black bean stew
- Lobiani – similar to Khachapuri but made with black beans
- Elarji and ghomi – corn grits with or without the cheese
- Kebab – grilled meat wrapped in Lavash bread
Here’s a detailed guide of best and my favorite restaurants in Tbilisi for trying different Georgian food.
What to drink in Georgia:
- Wine – Georgia has broken the GUINNESS World Records for being the first winemaking country in the world, producing the beverage for at least 8,000 years.
- Chacha – Local strong spirit made from the leftovers from wine production. However, today there are fruit versions as well
- Sparkling waters – Georgia has plenty of mineral water sources out of which Borjomi and Nabeghlavi are the absolute favorites of many locals.
- Lemonade – several companies that make lemonades in bottles, they are sweet, sparkly, and come in different flavors. Tarragon and pear are local favorites. However, I love Laghidze Water’s lemonade, the original company that I used to drink when I was a kid. It’s not bottled, so the best place to try them is at the following cafes: Puri Guliani, Stamba, and Laghidze Water itself.
Georgia travel tips: Do’s and don’ts in Georgia
Georgians are recognized as a hospitable nation, where a guest is “a gift from God”. Therefore, Georgians pay a special interest no matter if you are is a local or a foreigner. When you meet a Georgian and engage in a friendly conversation, don’t be surprised if he/she invites you to a family dinner. You can accept or kindly reject and if you decide to go, make sure to go hungry; the host will insist on eating every dish on the table and drinking as much wine as you can stomach.
The country is still a bit conservative when it comes to dressing and behavior etiquette. Avoid bringing very short skirts/dresses or see-through clothes; you won’t be punished but will attract a staring eye.
Females should wear a headscarf to cover a head and shoulders when entering churches and monasteries. Ideally, wear an up-to-knee skirt or a dress. Some churches provide scarfs at the entrance, but having your own is better. Men can wear normal t-shirts and pants in churches, no strict rule applies here. Ideally, avoid shorts and tank tops. Do note that these rules are stern in monasteries outside the major cities.
- Don’t blow your nose and french kiss in public.
- Don’t start a conversation about politics and religion with a Georgian you just met.
- Do leave a tip if there is no extra service fee included in your bill
- Do take usual safety precautions
- Avoid petting or encountering with stray dogs. Some of them could be vaccinated, but the majority in remote areas and small towns may not.
Prepare for the trip
To ease your travel planning, check out all the posts about Georgia travel. Additionally, here are some of the websites and services I use when preparing for my next adventure anywhere in the world.
– Check iVisa to see if you need a tourist visa to visit Georgia, how to apply online if applicable, or where’s the nearest embassy or consulate
– Pre-book a private car transfer from Tbilisi Airport to your hotel
– Buy the most flexible and budget-friendly travel insurance, SafetyWing, to cover all sorts of health problems on the road
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