GEORGIA TRAVEL GUIDE
The fabled land of the Colchis from the Greek tale of the Argonauts and the Golden Fleece has had more than its fair share of turbulence. Incursions by powerful neighbours all the way from ancient times, separatist movements recently, post-Soviet era reconstruction - the challenges to stability in this beautiful country which one day might yet become the "Switzerland of East Europe" have been relentless.
Straddling the East and the West, Georgia is where you’ll find the sunny Mediterranean and the frosty mountains. This is where the Black Sea tempers the wild Caucasus, where the people for all the troubles they’ve had are a warm and keenly affectionate lot, where the food is delicious; this here is a destination waiting to be discovered and if you can look beyond the lack of tourist infrastructure, you’ll find that you’ve had a jolly good time.
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GEORGIA QUICK FACTS
Currency: Georgian lari (GEL)
Population: 10,62 million (2019)
Religion: Georgian Orthodox 83.9%, Roman Catholic 1.2%, Muslim 9.9%, other 0.8%, none 0.7%.
Electricity: 220V, 50Hz (European plug)
When visiting someone’s home, take a gift, and offer to remove your shoes.
If invited to a dinner or an overnight stay, tactfully offer some money, but don’t insist. If it’s a wedding, you will be expected to pay a (fairly hefty) contribution.
A handshake is the normal greeting between men. Women generally don’t shake hands, though if foreigners don’t follow this it won’t be an insult. Friends (of whatever sex) normally peck each other on the cheek.
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GEORGIA PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
- 7 January, Orthodox Christmas
- 19 January, Orthodox Epiphany
- 3 March, Mother’s Day
- 8 March, International Women’s Day
- 20/21 March, Now Ruz
- 9 April, Independence Restoration Day (1991)
- 9 May, Victory Day
- 12 May, St. Andrew’s Feast Day
- 26 May, Independence Day (1918)
- 28 August, Virgin’s Assumption
- 14 October, Day of Svetitskhoveli Cathedral
- 23 November, St. George’s Day
Also, Orthodox Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter, and Easter Monday.
BEST TIME TO VISIT GEORGIA
For a relatively small country, Georgia’s climate is quite diverse, with the Caucasus Mountains and the Black Sea both playing a part in the differing conditions. In general, it’s drier - yet colder - in the east, and wetter - but warmer - in the west.
July and August are the peak holiday months for Georgians when tourist accommodation is crowded, and Tbilisi and the lowlands can get uncomfortably hot. This is a pleasant time in the mountain areas, and the only time you can guarantee snow-free hiking in the Caucasus.
Snow starts to fall as early as September in the mountains, though September and early October offer the most pleasant temperatures in the lowlands. November to April is the low season, with freezing temperatures setting in in December, January, and February and sometimes into March. This is also winter sports season when ski lodges are full and there are plenty of public festivities. Wintry weather often lasts into April, but May is rainy and mild, with wildflowers carpeting the landscape and walking trails in the mountains accessible once again. June is an excellent time to visit Georgia – before the summer rush but with warm temperatures.
The best time to visit Georgia is May, June, or September, especially in the lowlands around Tbilisi, as you’ll avoid the summer heat and humidity as well as the freezing winter. Autumn harvest time is well worth a mention, especially around the vineyards of Kakheti. You’ll need to pack quick-drying and waterproof gear no matter when you visit as weather can change in an instant.
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
SNOW SPORT IN GEORGIA
The snow sports season in Georgia is from December until April and boasts both beautiful and affordable ski opportunities suitable for both amateurs and professionals.
HIKING & CYCLING IN GEORGIA
The best time for outdoor activities in Georgia is from May to October. July and August can be hot but perfect for hiking the higher altitudes.
BEACH OPTIONS IN GEORGIA
Georgia has some beautiful beaches with the summer beach season stretching from May to October, although these months can be cooler. July and August are the peak (and hottest) months! Beware of jellyfish, particularly in August!
GEORGIA TRAVEL COSTS
If, as a traveller, you are accustomed to travelling in continental Europe, you will find prices in Georgia to be quite agreeable and, in fact, it might well be the most affordable destination in all of Europe. Compared to other “cheap” destinations in Europe like the Balkans, Central Europe, or the Baltics, Georgia is positively a steal, with an average daily cost being about 20-30% less expensive than the aforementioned regions. Everything from the cost of accommodation to the price of a meal to a tour into the surrounding area can come at a very affordable price tag for western travellers.
GEORGIA TRAVEL TIPS
Taxis in Georgia are the most convenient method of travel, and they are very cheap. Trips within Tbilisi range from $ 1.50 - 4.50 USD, depending on the distance. Drivers are unfortunately known to exaggerate prices for foreigners. You should definitely confirm your destination and price before getting in the cab. All official taxis are required to install meters, but the drivers may not use them unless prompted. It shouldn’t cost more than 20 lari ($ 6 USD) to go anywhere in the city.
Ridesharing is not as yet as common but in Tbilisi, Batumi, and Kutaisi, Yandex and Bolt are available - this might be the preferred option as booked through these have a set price, so you are sure to not be overcharged. The best is to take a Yandex taxi from the airport, since Tbilisi cabdrivers may hold your luggage hostage in their trunk until you pay an even-higher-than-agreed-upon fare. (Download Yandex before you arrive. Get it on Android or Apple.)
Minibusses are locally called marshrutkas, and they operate on established routes. After finding out the number of your route, flag down a marshrutka on the street by holding out your hand, palm facing down. There are also minibus lines from city to city. Their routes end usually at bus stations and city markets. Their destination is written in Georgian, on a sign in the front window. Ask marshrutka drivers if you cannot find the minibus you are looking for. Two major marshrutka stations in Tbilisi are around didube metro station and around the main train station.
Tbilisi and Batumi operate a large fleet of modern, blue buses. There are also a number of inter-regional bus services between Tbilisi and Batumi, and Tbilisi and Zugdidi. These can often be booked online, and run several times per day. These buses are frequently air-conditioned and have undercarriage luggage storage.
There is a fairly extensive network of trains in Georgia. It is worth retrying to book online once you are in Georgia, or to simply go to the train station and ask.
SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF GEORGIA
The Great Caucasus mountains will take your breath away with snowy peaks, green valleys, and stone villages. The lowlands are strewn with vineyards, rivers, forests, and rocky canyons, while the Georgian habit of building churches and fortifications on picturesque perches only enhances the glories of the land’s natural beauty.
Long-distance trails abound, some linking isolated mountain hamlets where time seems to standstill. Villagers offer homestays and can supply horses should you tire of carrying a backpack. Rafting, paragliding, and skiing are also popular.
SUGGESTED 7 DAY ITINERARY
Fly into Tbilisi and base yourself there for the first three nights of your stay - take enough time to explore the throbbing heart of Georgia. Don’t miss the opportunity to take a sulfur bath, journey by cable car to Narikala Fortress, enjoy amazing views of the city from Mtatsminda Park or see the excellent National Museum.
On day four, head north via Mtskheta – the historic former capital of Georgia and home to two of its most important churches – to the town of Stepantsminda. Two nights here will allow you to visit Tsminda Sameba Church and do a day hike in the Truso Valley, a magnificent walk through a sulfurous landscape that includes a mineral lake and abandoned villages.
Head back to Tbilisi and then do a day trip to Davit Gareja, the extraordinarily located complex of cave monasteries right on the Azerbaijan border. Head back to Tbilisi via the charming Oasis Club for a late lunch and spend your last night checking out Tbilisi’s night-life.
Further details on sights and locations are available from the map below.
Nowhere blends the romance of Georgia’s past with its exciting future better than its magical and chaotic capital, Tbilisi. Its Old Town, in parts gloriously restored and in others still totally dilapidated, is a wonderfully atmospheric place of winding lanes, ancient stone churches, and shady squares. The rest of the city is relentlessly fast-paced and a showcase for all that contemporary Georgia has to offer: world-class dining, fabulous natural wine bars, local fashion brands, a thriving techno scene, and a slew of architectural gems from the ancient to the modern.
The mysterious mountain valleys of Georgia’s Svaneti sit high in the Caucasus, surrounded by spectacular snowy peaks, alpine meadows, and thick forests – a paradise for walkers in summer. Long isolated and insulated from the outside world, Svaneti has its own language and a strong traditional culture, symbolized by the centuries-old 175 koshkebi (ancient stone defensive towers) that stand proudly in its villages, and the 1000-year-old frescoes in its churches. Accessible only by a long road trip until relatively recently, Svaneti can now be reached by plane from Tbilisi.
Just a couple of hours’ drive from Tbilisi, the small town of Stepantsminda is the hub of one of the South Caucasus’ most spectacular, yet easily accessed high-mountain zones. The sight of Tsminda Sameba Church silhouetted on its hilltop against the massive snow-covered cone of Mt Kazbek is perhaps Georgia’s most iconic image. Numerous walking, horse and mountain-bike routes lead along steep-sided valleys and up to glaciers, waterfalls, mountain passes, and isolated villages – ideal for getting a first taste of the high Caucasus.
Set in remote, arid lands near Georgia’s border with Azerbaijan, these much-revered cave monasteries were carved out of a lonely cliff-face by 6th-century missionaries. They became a cradle of medieval monastic culture and fresco painting. Saints’ tombs, vivid 1000-year-old murals, an otherworldly landscape, and the very idea that people voluntarily chose – and still choose – to live in desert caves all combine to make visiting Davit Gareja a startling experience today. Though remote, the site makes an easy day trip from Tbilisi, Telavi, or Sighnaghi.
WHAT TO EAT IN GEORGIA
Popular "national" dishes include khachapuri (a cheese-filled bread - it more resembles cheese pie) and khinkali (minced, spiced meat in a dumpling, served in enormous quantities). While the khachapuri comes with every meal, khinkali is usually reserved for its own separate meal, where Georgian men will down 15 huge dumplings as if it was nothing. Mtsvadi, tasty grilled chunks of marinated pork or veal on a stick with onions, is another staple. But this is by no means the end of the list of wonderful dishes, usually flavoured with garlic, coriander, walnuts, and dill.
For a quick snack, you can try all varieties of ghvezeli - pastry stuffed with meat, potatoes, cheese, or other ingredients, usually sold in markets and on the side of the street.