A first-time guide to Georgia


Mountainous Georgia is the queen of the Caucasus. For the past decade, it has slowly been making a reputation for itself among those in the know for its unique combination of ancient and modern attractions, extraordinary natural beauty, and rich and proud cultural traditions.

Rarely has such a small country appeared so enormous in scale upon arrival, with a glimpse of Europe’s highest mountain range never far away, and an almost limitless variety of landscapes that few countries five times the size could hope to rival.

From its subtropical Black Sea coastline and pristine inland river gorges to its ancient, cave-hewn monasteries and undulating vineyards backed by the snowcapped Great Caucasus, Georgia is an absolute treat. 

When should I go to Georgia?

When to visit Georgia hinges on what type of trip you’re planning. Most importantly, if you want to visit the mountains and do any serious hiking, then June, July and August are definitely your best bets. That said, these three months can be uncomfortably hot in the lowlands, where Georgia’s three main cities, Tbilisi, Kutaisi and Batumi are found. If you’re after more urban pursuits and are keen to avoid the crowds and high season prices, then May and September are two outstanding months to travel. 

The long and dark winter (November to March) is generally best avoided, as most traveler infrastructure closes down and the High Caucasus are largely inaccessible. That said, if you do find yourself in Georgia in winter, you’ll find it remarkably tourist-free and the hotels that are open will offer you their lowest rates of the year. 

 Allow plenty of time to check out Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi © mgstudyo / Getty Images

How much time should I spend in Georgia?

Given the not-insignificant effort necessary for many travelers to reach Georgia, staying for less than four nights might seem like a wasted opportunity. Ideally, spend at least a week in the country, which will allow you to get to know Tbilisi, travel for a few days around the country’s interior and spend at least a couple of nights in the mountains. 

How do I get to Georgia?

Due to its location, nearly all visitors to Georgia arrive by plane, and it’s never been so easy to reach the country. Tbilisi’s modern airport boasts a dozen flights a day from major cities in Europe, as well as several daily connections to the Middle East and Asia. In contrast, David the Builder airport, near the centrally located city of Kutaisi, has created a niche as the country’s low-cost airline hub and is well connected to other (mainly eastern) European airports.

People relax at the beach near Batumi
For some beach time in Georgia’s second city, Batumi, you can take a train from Tbilisi © David_Bokuchava / Getty Images

Is it easy to get around Georgia?

Once you’ve arrived, you’ll have to decide between making your way around the country by privately run minibuses known as marshrutky, which serve specific routes, or by self-driving a hire car, which is significantly pricier, but offers you unparalleled freedom. The only train most travelers take is the modern and relatively fast service between Tbilisi and the second city, Batumi, on the Black Sea coast. Extremely cheap internal flights zip travelers from the capital up to the mountainous regions of Svaneti and Racha, saving hours of driving.

In Tbilisi, the two-line metro system is a good way to get around, while taxi apps Yandex, Bolt or Maxim are affordable and your best option in areas of town not served by the metro. 

Top things to do in Georgia

In short, explore Tbilisi’s wealth of churches, and its semi-renovated Old Town, and take the cable car to the Sololaki ridge for unbeatable city views. Some techno lovers come to Georgia solely to visit Bassiani and a number of other venues that have put the city on the world’s clubbing map.

If you only have time for a day trip, then drive the Russian Military Highway to the town of Stepantsminda in the High Caucasus for what will be one of the most memorable car journeys of your life. Once there, take in the extraordinary sight of the town’s iconic hilltop church silhouetted against the snow-capped peak of Mt Kazbek. 

Hikers walk along a lush green mountain trail from Svaneti, through the huge peaks of the Caucasus mountains
If you enjoy hiking, there are countless routes to tackle in the Svaneti region © Maya Karkalicheva / Getty Images

My favorite thing to do in Georgia

Georgia offers such a wealth of fascinating experiences and dazzling sights that narrowing it down to one single spot or activity could be self-defeating. But very few visitors would deny that the absolute highlight of the country is any time spent in its extraordinary mountains, which despite their height (Europe’s highest peak, Mt Elbrus, is just over the country’s northern border with Russia) remain surprisingly accessible. 

Now that there are regular 40-minute flights from both Tbilisi and Kutaisi to Mestia, the main town of the mountainous and once truly remote region of Svaneti, it’s possible to make a quick, easy and affordable trip to the peaks of the Great Caucasus. Here, those uninclined to go hiking can take the combination ski-lift and cable car to Hatsvali for easy access to an unforgettable panorama. Walkers will find themselves spoilt for choice by the limitless array of possible hiking routes, though the four-day hike to the village of Ushguli is one of my absolute favorites.

How much money do I need for Georgia?

Georgia remains inexpensive by European standards, though it’s still pricier than most other countries in Asia. As the tourism industry develops and standards continually rise, prices are unsurprisingly on the rise here too.

While Georgia remains backpacker friendly, with atmospheric family homestays still widely available and dozens of contemporary hostels geared to the needs of travelers in bigger cities, it’s fair to say that the average hotel price has gone from around €40 to around €60 in less than a decade. Short-term apartments are now a huge industry, with both prices and quality varying hugely and competition fierce. However, the cost of food and drink remains very reasonable, and you can easily have a good dinner for €10 per person in most parts of the country. 

Transport is incredibly good value unless you want to rent your own vehicle, which is pricier than in most European countries due to a lack of large agencies and relatively little competition. The flight up to the mountainous region of Svaneti often costs less than the grueling hours-long marshrutka (minibus) ride, but you’ll normally need to book several weeks in advance during the summer months to ensure you can secure a seat.

  • Family homestay: €15–25 per person per night 
  • Contemporary hostels: €10–20
  • Average hotel: €60 
  • Dinner: €10 per person
  • Cup of coffee: €1-3 
  • Bottle of local wine: €2-10 
  • Train from Tbilisi to Batumi: €12
  • Flight from Tbilisi to Batumi: €53
Six people raise a toast with glasses of red wine over a table laid with many different traditional Georgian dishes
You can expect legendary hospitality and hearty meals in Georgia © Yana Tatevosian / 500px / Getty Images

Is Georgia tourist-friendly?

The hospitality of the Georgians is the stuff of legend, and you’ll be warmly welcomed everywhere you go. Tourism has provided a huge boost to the country’s post-Soviet economy, and almost everyone you meet will have some connection to the industry.

If you sleep in private homes during your stay, particularly in the country’s remoter mountain regions, be prepared to be spoilt rotten. It’s not uncommon to be served huge meals accompanied by copious homemade wine, before the evening is rounded off with several rounds of chacha, Georgia’s national firewater, and emotional toasts from your hosts. If you’re lucky, you’ll also get to experience either traditional dancing or an impromptu performance of Georgian polyphonic singing. 

Do I need a visa for Georgia? 

Georgia offers visa-free travel to over 100 nationalities, including citizens of the EU, US, UK, Australia, Canada, Israel, New Zealand, South Africa and Switzerland. For those who require them, visas cost US$20, take five days to process and you can apply on Georgia’s e-Visa Portal.

Is Georgia safe? 

While you should be as conscious of the potential for petty crime as you would be anywhere else, Georgia is in general a remarkably safe country. The biggest risk you run is being a victim of a car accident – drive defensively and be very careful when crossing busy roads. 

A senior woman is packaging up spices in a market stall in Kutaisi, Georgia
Older generations are more likely to speak Russian, while younger Georgians tend to know some English © photoguns / Getty Images

How much English is spoken in Georgia? 

While the only foreign language most older people are likely to speak is Russian, most people under 40 in urban areas are likely to know at least some English. Teenagers and anyone working in the travel industry tend to speak English very well. Nevertheless, making the (considerable) effort to learn a few words of Georgian is hugely appreciated by locals.  

Are there any important dos and don’ts in Georgia? 

The vast majority of Georgians identify as Georgian Orthodox Christians and appreciate visitors making an effort to dress appropriately when visiting the country’s scores of ancient churches and cathedrals. In practice, that means covering up the flesh that’s totally fine to have on display elsewhere. In particular, women should cover their heads, while men should remove anything on their head. Luckily, most churches have a selection of smocks, cloaks and head scarves to borrow just outside the entrance, so you can help yourself.

This article was first published Mar 31, 2020 and updated Jun 17, 2024.



Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top