At the boundary between Europe and Asia, Georgia has a growing reputation as the place to go for travelers who love exploring the fringes of the travel map. The oldest wine-producing nation in the world has a timeless quality that permeates its thriving cities, its bucolic mountain villages and its rugged mountain terrain.
The South Caucasus region spans Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan – nations still marked by the shadows of past conflicts and the long reach of their vast Russian neighbor to the north. But Georgia is emerging as the most popular and most accessible gateway to the Caucusus, helped by the growing buzz surrounding its energetic capital city, Tbilisi.
To help ease you into this fascinating corner of Europe, here's a guide for first-time visitors to Georgia.
Visa requirements for Georgia
Visiting Georgia is usually easy for travelers from most countries. Citizens of 98 nations – including the member states of the EU, Australia, New Zealand, USA, Canada, South Africa, Turkey, Russia and many nations in the Middle East, Central America and Central and Southeast Asia – can visit and stay in Georgia visa-free for 365 days. The Georgia Ministry of Foreign Affairs website has more details. Citizens of many other nations can apply for an e-visa before departure, which requires five working days to process. Check the latest Covid regulations before booking your trip.
The best time to visit Georgia
Despite its mountainous topography, Georgia is a year-round destination. Late spring and early autumn are ideal times to visit Georgia's cities, the central plains and the low ridges of the Lesser Caucasus Mountains in the south. Summer (July and August) can get uncomfortably hot and humid in the major cities but this is the peak holiday season on the Black Sea coast. With rising temperatures at higher elevations, summer is also the perfect time to visit the remote valleys and ridges of the Greater Caucasus Mountains in the north.
November to April is the low season in Georgia, with temperatures dropping to below freezing, particularly at higher elevations. However, the chilly weather can start as early as October and last until mid-March. The winter months see heavy snow, particularly in the north of the country, attracting both on-piste skiers and free-riders to the slopes of ski resorts such as Gudauri, a two-hour drive north from Tbilisi.
How to get to Georgia by plane
Despite being on the fringes of Europe, Georgia is relatively accessible from most parts of the world. The international airports at Tbilisi, Kutaisi and Batumi are served by numerous carriers – including the national airline, Georgian Airways. The most frequent flights are from Turkey and the Gulf States.
The easiest place to fly into is Tbilisi International Airport, which receives regular flights from cities in Western Europe and the Middle East. The list of budget airlines serving Georgia changes regularly, but Tbilisi and Kutaisi are the main budget hubs. The seaside resort town of Batumi is served by a handful of airlines, with regular flights to Turkey, Ukraine and the Middle East.
How to get to Georgia by land and sea
Georgia has one land border with Russia, close to Stepantsminda (Kazbegi), with road transport on to the Russian town of Vladikavkaz. Turkey and Georgia share three land borders, of which Sarpi–Hopa near Batumi is the most frequently used, with easy onward travel along the Black Sea coast to Trabzon. Frequent passenger and cargo ferries transport visitors to Georgia's main ports at Poti and Batumi from destinations around the Black Sea.
Borders to Armenia (Sadakhlo–Bagratashen) and Azerbaijan (Red Bridge–Shikhli) are within an hour's drive of Tbilisi, allowing easy onward travel deeper into the Caucasus by bus, marshrutka (minibus) or rail. Night trains run daily to Baku, while overnight sleepers to Yerevan run daily from June to September, then every second day for the rest of the year. A rail link from Tbilisi to Istanbul in Turkey is under development, but currently, the section between Kars and Batumi must be completed by bus.
Getting around in Georgia's cities
Georgia's major cities have relatively well-organized public transport systems, though not much in the way of integrated public transport. Tbilisi is the only city with a metro; in the rest of Georgia, the primary means of transportation are buses and Russian-style marshrutky (minibuses).
Tbilisi's metro has just two lines, making it very easy to navigate. To explore the city, buy a Metromoney card from a metro-station ticket office and use it to pay for metro trips, city buses and marshrutky. City buses run on schedules displayed on digital boards at the bus stops, but marshrutky run more often than buses, making them a favored means of transport for locals.
Traveling around Georgia
As well as being the backbone of public transport in cities, marshrutky are the most-used form of transport when traveling around the country. Services between major hubs run approximately every hour, depending on the destination. However, minibuses are the least comfortable option, with little legroom or space for luggage. In Tbilisi, Didube Bus Station has marshrutky going west, while vehicles going east depart from Navtlughi Bus Station.
Georgia also has a fairly well-organized train system, run by Georgian Railway. However, the network is only slowly being upgraded from Soviet times, and trains take longer to get to their destinations than marshrutky or buses. The only moderately fast train runs on the Tbilisi–Batumi route; book well ahead on this line in summer.
Money tips for Georgia
ATMs are widely available, easy to access and safe to use in cities and small towns in Georgia. The majority of businesses accept card payments, including hotels, convenience shops, restaurants, and pharmacies. However, if you're heading into the mountains or remote villages, be sure to take cash with you. US dollars and euros are the most useful currencies to carry as backup cash.
Travel costs in Georgia
Depending on how you choose to travel, Georgia can be either expensive or very budget-friendly. There are comfortable international hotel chains for those willing to spend a little more, but Georgia also has plenty of small boutique hotels, inexpensive guesthouses and apartments for rent. Tbilisi, Kutaisi and Batumi are particularly well stocked with accommodation. Renting a central apartment from Airbnb can cost as little as 100 GEL (US$35) a night, while a mid-range hotel room will cost from 40 GEL (US$15) upwards.
Georgia doesn't have any Michelin-star restaurants, but the national cuisine is feted as the best in the Caucasus, and there are plenty of opportunities to feast at all price ranges. For luxurious dinners, check out the best restaurants in Tbilisi or Batumi – dinner often comes with a spectacular panoramic city view. A meal in a high-end restaurant with a bottle of premium Georgian wine can set you back 100 GEL (US$35) or more, but eating at local restaurants will rarely set you back more than 20 GEL (US$7) for two courses.
The price of public transport in major cities can be as little as 1 GEL (US$0.34) for a local marshrutka ride. Tickets to travel around the country by marshrutka and bus vary depending on the destination; the ride between Tbilisi and Batumi costs around 30 GEL (US$10). Sightseeing is moderately priced as well – museum entry fees range from 3 GEL (US$1) to 15 GEL (US$5).
What to eat in Georgia
Georgian food is the original fusion cuisine, influenced by flavors from both Europe and Asia. The Georgian kitchen makes extensive use of local beef, lamb, pork and poultry, fresh fruits and vegetables, many kinds of bread, walnuts, cheeses and various spices that show the influence of neighboring Turkey and Russia. Vegetarians will find plenty of plant-based meals as well, though vegans may struggle with the widespread use of cheese.
Khinkali, boiled meat dumplings, are one of the national dishes of Georgia and a firm favorite meal for locals and visitors. Another must-try treat is khachapuri, a pizza-like cheese pie that is similar to a Turkish pide; every region has its own version. Another staple is mtsvadi – grilled pork or beef chunks on a skewer – which plays an obvious nod to Russian shashlik, Turkish shish kebabs and Greek souvlaki.
To lighten your lunch or dinner, order pkhali, a simple but healthy tomato and cucumber salad with a walnut and vegetable paste. Spinach, eggplant, beetroot leaves and cabbage are also common ingredients in pkhali. As a snack to munch while exploring, seek out churchkhela, nuts preserved in a chewy confection made from grape juice.
Georgian wine is famous across the region, and it's well worth sampling local vintages from the Kakheti region when you come. Be sure to try qvevri wines, which are generally organic and unfiltered and have a very distinctive taste. For something stronger, chacha is a traditional Georgian spirit made from fermented grape skins, and it makes a nice break from the ubiquitous vodka. Last but not least, try Borjomi, a salty mineral water that was the beverage of choice for every Soviet leader from Lenin onwards.
Get to know Georgian culture
When traveling to a new country, it's always helpful to know a few words in the local language, and Georgia is no exception. The Georgian language has only around 4 million speakers, and knowing essential words such as gamarjoba (hello) and madloba (thank you) will get you a warm smile of appreciation from the locals.
Georgians are known for their hospitality. A guest for Georgians is "a gift from God," so don't be surprised if a stranger you met an hour ago invites you home for dinner with their family. If you choose to go, go hungry; the host will insist you eat every dish on the table and drink as much wine as you possibly can.
Georgia is still a traditional country when it comes to social mores. Very short skirts or dresses, off-the-shoulder tops, and skimpy or see-through clothes are likely to attract a stare. When entering churches, women should cover their heads and shoulders (some churches will provide scarves for this, but it's better to bring your own). Skirts and shorts (for men and women) should cover the knee. Men should also ensure shoulders are covered and ideally wear trousers rather than shorts.