Resting on the eastern shores of the Black Sea, Georgia is a country that is seldom visited, despite today’s travel-obsessed world. Enveloped by Russia and Turkey on its north and south borders, Georgia has developed its own unique culture, full of hospitable people, delicious Georgian cuisine and some truly spectacular landscapes. Couple all of this with budget-friendly prices and Georgia is the perfect, off-the-beaten-track destination for everyone.
Best Time To Travel
There is no best time to visit Georgia. Bathed in sunshine, blanketed in white snow, buried in a golden haze of autumnal leaves or flourishing with spring greenery, Georgia is a fantastic destination all year-round.
Summer During the summer months, average temperatures in Georgia hover around the 20-30°C mark and everyone flocks to the country’s western border, which happens to be marked by the Black Sea. Batumi is one of Georgia’s most popular seaside towns and it is no surprise why; with the crisp Black Sea to its west and a backdrop of the Caucasus Mountains to its east, it surely is a scenic location to soak up some of that summer sunshine. As a top summer destination amongst Russians, accommodation is not cheap, especially during peak seasons. You may want to consider heading further down the coast to Kvariati or Sarpi, where the crowds are fewer and prices considerably lower.
With temperatures often dipping well below zero, spending winter in Georgia is a bitterly cold but uniquely magical experience. Thanks to the cold weather, the winter months are Georgia’s off-peak season, so visitors can enjoy lower prices and even fewer tourists. To witness the grand Caucasus Mountains blanketed with knee-deep snow is a good enough reason in itself to visit Georgia during winter. During this time, the ski slopes in Svaneti are also up and running so head here if you fancy skiing in Georgia!
Autumn is an unpredictable season in Georgia, but those who visit around this time can witness the country bathed in some truly spectacular colours. Autumn is also harvest time in the grape region of Kakheti, so make sure to budget for several wine tours during your holidays in Georgia. Unfortunately, this time of the year is also prone to a sporadic autumn shower or three so don’t forget to pack your raincoat!
During spring the weather is idyllic and neither too hot, nor too cold. Rain is infrequent, and many of the northern mountains are still topped with snow. Although skiing is out of the question during spring, a trip to Svaneti is still a must-do if you are visiting Georgia. Hiking to the glaciers in the Svaneti region is at its prime during spring when the temperatures are comfortable, and the views of the snow-topped mountains, speckled with hints of spring green, are magnificent.
Georgia’s visa requirements are surprisingly relaxed, with over 90 nationalities permitted a visa-free stay for up to a year. This includes all citizens of EU countries as well as Australia, New Zealand, Russia and the United States, just to name a few. Those who do require a visa for Georgia can apply for short-term visas of up to thirty days using the easy e-visa portal.
How Long To Go For
With so many nationalities being granted a 365-day long Georgian visa, the possibilities are endless when you are planning how long to spend in Georgia.
At a push, you can see all of the main attractions of Georgia during a ten-fourteen day holiday. However, if you have the time, a month (or possibly even more) would give you a chance to wander off the beaten track, get to know the hospitable locals and eat as many khinkali as you can.
Here’s a rough recommendation of how long you’ll need in each major town:
Tbilisi – 3 to 5 Days
Mtskheta – 1 Day
Kakheti & Sighnaghi – 2 to 3 Days
Kazbegi – 2 to 3 Days
Mestia – 2 to 5 Days
Kutaisi – 2 to 3 Days
Batumi - 2 to 3 Days
Gori- 1 Day
Where To Stay
Still a relatively new travel destination for international visitors, Georgia’s hotel and hostel scene is very much in its infancy. Staying in guesthouses in Georgia is still common practice and can be much more of an immersive experience than staying in a brand spanking new hotel. Saying this, the quality and range of accommodation varies wildly from location to location.
Thanks to its impressive nightlife, great restaurants and reasonable prices, Tbilisi has an emerging backpacker scene, meaning you will find a range of hostels opening in the next few years. For those who have slightly deeper pockets, big-brand hotels such as The Radisson also operate here.
Rural towns such as Kazbegi and Mestia still rely on traditional guesthouse accommodation. Despite being a traditional type of accommodation, the process of booking guesthouses has become relatively modern. Travellers can now find a number of guesthouses listed on Air BnB (click here for a lovely £34 off your first booking with Air BnB). Do not expect to have an immaculate, hotel-like experience when staying in guesthouses. Often part of the family’s own home, you will be treated like an extended member of their family and expected to socialise and eat with them too. Georgians are some of the most hospitable people I have met on my travels and will do their utmost to make you feel comfortable. The experience you will get from spending a few nights in a guesthouse far surpasses that of any 5-star hotel.
In stark contrast to these small traditional villages are the beachside resorts of Batumi. Advertised as a luxury resort on the cusp of the Black Sea, Batumi has been a popular holiday destination amongst Russians for years. A booming tourism industry already exists here and boasts a huge choice of budget and high-end hotels to choose from. Luckily for the budget traveller, hostels are a relatively established form of accommodation here too.
There are several options when it comes to finding your way around Georgia.
Marshrutka (a Georgian bus)
Although slightly unpredictable, public transport is one of the best ways to see all of the weird and wonderful Georgian quirks. The Georgian bus system is served by a range of privately owned minibuses, otherwise known as marshrutkas. These are essentially minibuses that seat around 15 people, or in some cases as many as the driver can fit on. For longer journeys such as from Kutaisi to Tbilisi, these minibuses can be booked in advance. For shorter journeys, these buses can be flagged down on the side of the road. Whilst longer journeys can be paid for in advance, shorter journeys can be settled with the driver just before you get off.
Vanilla Sky – Domestic Airline
If you don’t fancy the long drive along some of Georgia’s winding roads, there is a relatively new domestic airline that serves routes between Tbilisi, Mestia and Kutaisi. The small aircraft that run the routes seat just ten people and the views over the Caucasus Mountains and vast Georgian landscapes are simply spectacular. Even if you don’t want to use the planes for their convenience, it is worth booking onto one for the unique experience and breathtaking views.
Car Rental in Georgia
For those who have nerves of steel and a few extra days, car rental is also a great option for getting around Georgia. Although this is one of the more expensive transport options, it undoubtedly gives you the most freedom and will save you the expense of tours into the Kakheti region and beyond. Don’t forget to have a quick read-up of the unwritten Georgian driving code though, and be ready for some bumpy, possibly unpaved roads during your adventures. If your budget stretches to it, 4x4s are strongly recommended!
Bar the expensive flights from most European destinations, Georgia is an extremely affordable country to travel around. Georgia’s currency is the Georgian Lari (commonly written as GEL) and can be broken down into smaller units known as Tetri. Here’s a quick breakdown of what you can expect to spend in Georgia.
Not yet fully on the tourist map, flights to Georgia are still quite expensive. This isn’t surprising as it is a six-hour flight away from London, four hours from Munich and Amsterdam. Expect to spend anything from £300-£400.
Accommodation in Georgia can be incredibly affordable if you stick to guesthouses and hostels and try to avoid chain hotels. At the lowest end of the scale, hostels can cost as little as £5 per night for a dorm room. Next up, a room in a guesthouse can be around £10 but will often include breakfast (and if you’re lucky, dinner too). If you would rather, you can opt for a budget hotel for as little at £20 a night.
Georgia’s public transport is incredibly affordable and, although it can seem daunting, it is relatively straightforward. Even better, taxis are very affordable and, with lots of apps similar to Uber being introduced to the country, they are easy enough to organise. Consider downloading Yandex or Taxify before you arrive in Georgia to make life a bit easier. You will also need to pick up a sim loaded with data to use these when you’re out and about, although there are some Wi-Fi hotspots in larger cities.
For a better idea of prices:
Marshrutkas can cost as little as 0.5 GEL
Longer Distance Marshrutkas can be up to 40GEL
A metro ride in Tbilisi or local bus is 0.5GEL per journey
Two and a half-hour train journey is around 10GEL
A general rule of thumb in any country is that if you eat local food, you will keep costs down. And this is especially true in Georgia. Both Georgian food and wine are very affordable and available everywhere you look. In fact, other than a few Wendy’s and McDonald’s that are dotted around here and there, there is almost no western food on offer. Expect to pay anything from 50-60 GEL for an inexpensive meal and around 5GEL for a glass of house wine or 15-20 GEL for a bottle. If you are looking for the authentic Georgian experience, order a bottle of traditional qvevri wine, which will set you back a few GEL but it’s the best money can buy.
As a country steeped with history and swathed in culture, there are a lot of things to do in Georgia, including historic museums, art galleries, caves and gorges. Whilst entry prices to most attractions hover between 5-10GEL, tour prices can get expensive. The high prices are usually justified by smaller tour groups (usually no more than 8), and jam-packed days. Do make sure to shop around before you d on one, as many excursions are advertised as private tours and are extortionate. For example, a wine tour to the Kakheti region from Tbilisi can cost anything from 150-300GEL.
Bridging the Language Gap
Quite frankly, Georgia is one of those countries where if you don’t know some basic Georgian language or Russian phrases you may struggle to get around. Only escaping the grasp of the iron curtain in the 90s, much of the older population speak fluent Russian and are happy to converse in it. Younger Georgians can be slightly less inclined to communicate in Russian, which isn’t surprising due to political tensions, but they generally have good levels of English.
Whilst the Georgian alphabet is slightly harder to get a grasp of, learning some basic phrases will give you a few extra brownie points in Georgian restaurants and whilst you’re out and about in town. Why not ask your host at your guesthouse to teach you a few of these essential phrases:
Gamarjoba (ga-mar-jo-ba) - Hello
Madloba (mad-lo-ba) - Thank You
Ki / Ara (ki / ara) - Yes / No
Tu Sheidzleba (tu she-id-zle-ba) - Please
Ver Gavige (ver ga-vi-ge) - I Don’t Understand
Nakhvamdis (na-khvam-dis) - Goodbye
A few facts about Georgia that are useful to know before your trip.
How to Eat Khinkali
For those who don’t know, khinkali is a type of boiled dumpling filled with a clear broth and usually some type of meat. A staple of Georgian cuisine, khinkali must be eaten in one way, and one way only. First off, make sure you season the freshly boiled khinkali with plenty of pepper. Then, hold the knot of the khinkali in whichever hand you may please, take a bite out of the side of the dumpling, quickly slurp up the soup (carefully – it’s hot!) and then enjoy the rest of the dumpling at your leisure. The knots should be left behind.
Bring a Gift For Your Host Family
If you are lucky enough to be invited to someone’s family home or a family event, do remember to bring a gift with you. A simple offering of flowers or chocolate will suffice, it doesn’t matter how big or small, it is simply a sign of respect. The same etiquette should be followed at any guesthouses that you might be staying in too.
Easter Holiday Is Huge
Culturally and religiously, Easter is an incredibly important holiday in Georgia. Despite a lot of touristic destinations closing down during this time, it is still a great season to visit to watch how Orthodox Christians celebrate Easter. Although there are special services and events held during the week leading up to Easter, Easter Monday is host to one of the most fascinating events. On this day, Georgian families visit the graveyards of their ancestors to pay their respects to the dead. They bring with them tables adorned with red decorations and a small feast which they enjoy after they have raised a toast to the dead and poured a small portion of wine on the grave.
How to Eat Khachapuri
More commonly known around the world as ‘Georgian pizza’, Khachapuri is another delicious Georgian delicacy. Essentially, Khachapuri is Georgian bread stuffed with cheese, eggs and butter. Whilst it comes in a variety of shapes, sizes and varieties, Adjarian Khachapuri is by far the most iconic. Shaped like a boat, the middle is filled with melted cheese and topped with an egg yolk. If you can resist diving in straight away, take a fork and swirl the egg yolk into the cheese, before tearing off the edges of the bread and dipping them into the delicious melted cheese mixture.
Georgian supras or feasts have become an integral part of any family gathering or social event in Georgia. Every supra has a designated toastmaker or tamada. This person is essentially the leader of the dinner and has the very important task of presenting several different toasts throughout the dinner. If you are lucky enough to be invited to one of these events, remember it is extremely disrespectful to decline the offer when invited to make a toast. A simple toast to the host family will suffice!
Lil’s Top Ten
Ten Things You Cannot Miss When You Visit Georgia
Take a trip to Ushguli
Bathe in a sulphur bath in Tbilisi, Georgia
Try Chacha, at least once
Drink qvevri wine straight from the urn
Take a domestic flight over the Caucasus Mountains
Enjoy a traditional Georgian meal at Tomas’ Wine Bar in Kutaisi
Join a free walking tour through Georgian Narnia
Take a ride on a marshrutka
Watch the sunset from Batumi’s pebbled beach
Hike to the Chalaadi glacier with a loaf of freshly baked shoti