The country of Georgia is growing popular for a reason! This guide to travel in Georgia has everything you need to know before visiting the country, which you should definitely be doing ASAP.
Lonely monasteries in seemingly impossible places. Warmly welcoming locals willing to overcome language barriers. And wine—lots and lots of homemade wine made using recipes thousands of years old.
These are but a few of the reasons you need to travel Georgia ASAP.
This little Caucasus country is rapidly increasing in popularly, and deservedly so. It’s got the nature, it’s got the history, and aside from a bit of a language barrier for some tourists—English is not common among the older generations—locals are quite warm and welcoming to tourists. Nevertheless, there are some things you should know before traveling to Georgia. Read on in this Georgia travel guide to find out what they are!
Everything you need to know before going to Georgia (the country, not the state!)
- Background and history
- Best time to visit
- Currency and payment
- Dress code
- Food and drinks
- Travel resources
Background and history
Georgia is a small mountainous country in the Caucasus region made up of Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia.
About 3.7 million people live in the country, around one million of whom live in the capital, Tbilisi.
Georgia’s history has long been in flux. Several kingdoms were established in the classical era in the area that is modern-day Georgia. Later, when these kingdoms disintegrated, several empires—including the Ottomans, Persians, Russians, and Mongols—vied for control of the region. In the early 20th-century, Georgia became part of the Soviet Union.
The country became independent in 1991, but lost some its territory to two break-away states: Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In 2008, Georgia fought a brief war with Russia due to it increasingly looking towards Europe in the hopes of joining the European Union.
Visas for Georgia
Rejoice! Citizens of 94 countries don’t need a visa to visit Georgia. If your country is on this list, you can travel to the country visa-free for one year. This means you’ll get a stamp in your passport at the airport or land border crossing without having to fill out any visa forms or pay any money.
There’s also no minimum requirement for the number of days out of the country before returning; technically you can leave and come back the next day to start another visa-free year. That’s one hell of a deal!
If you are one of the unlucky ones who do need a visa, don’t despair. It’s relatively straightforward to get an e-visa. Head to the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to apply.
Best time to visit Georgia
The best time to visit Georgia is between May and October… unless you’re skiing, that is!
In winter it gets cold and snowy. Think freezing temperatures and loads of snow in the mountains.
Peak travel season is in the summer months of June – August, when everyone from beach-going Russians to trekkers of all backgrounds flock to the Caucasus country. Accommodation increases in price, and often fills up in places like Batumi. Unless you’re only off around this time, it’s better to avoid the high season.
The most ideal time to visit is in the shoulder seasons of spring and fall. If you can wangle a trip during April/May or September/October, do it!
Language in Georgia
Georgian is the national language, which uses the Georgian alphabet. Although the alphabet is beautiful, it’s quite difficult to read. Most visitors won’t bother with learning it, though it’s certainly worth trying! I managed to learn it from reading signs after 3 weeks of travel in Georgia.
It isn’t necessary to know the alphabet to travel in Georgia, but picking up a few words of Georgian is always ideal. Some handy phrases include:
- Hello – Gamarjoba
- Thank you – Madloba
- Yes – Ki
- No – Ara
- Excuse me – Ukatsravad
Many people, especially the older generation, also speak Russian. It’s perfectly possible to travel around speaking only Russian, although not everyone will be happy if you don’t try to learn some local phrases. Russian is more useful than English across the country.
Tip: Unless you’re Russian, it’s recommended to first ask if someone speaks English, then ask if they speak Russian if they say no—Georgians are understandably sensitive about their history with Russia.
Currency and payment in Georgia
Georgia uses the Georgian lari, abbreviated GEL. At the time of writing, 1 USD = 2.79 GEL
There are 100 tetri in each lari. GEL come in denominations of 1 GEL (coin), 2 (coin), and 5, 10, 20, and 100 notes.
Georgia is not a cash-only country. In cities, it’s becoming increasingly popular to pay by debit card or credit card. Services like Apple and Google Pay or also increasingly becoming popular. However, you’ll still see more people paying for things in cash, especially outside of major cities.
Culture in Georgia
Georgians are very hospitable people, and when wine or liquor is involved—which is most of the time—they’re quite open and jolly. However, Georgian people can be initially shy, especially when they think you can’t communicate due to language barriers. Don’t let that deter you; if you walk up to any Georgian and ask them for directions, it’s likely they’ll take your arm and show you the way personally!
Yes, drinking culture in Georgia deserves its own section. It’s that intense. For example, a man once told me a “true Georgian man can drink four liters of wine at dinner alone.” That’s pretty crazy methinks.
Women are somewhat exempt from the pressures of drinking, but men aren’t so lucky. It’s considered manly to drink, so unless you’re Muslim or can’t partake for other reasons, ready your liver. And don’t be surprised if hosts serve you alcohol… for breakfast (no joke).
Tipping in Georgia
A 10% service charge is added to most bills in most restaurants, so tipping isn’t necessary. If you do want to tip, or if there isn’t any added service charge, just round up the total to whatever feels like an even number.
Georgians are generally accepting of whatever clothing you want to wear on the streets (… with the exception of nudity, of course). However, all religious sites have a dress code:
Guys: No shorts or tank tops.
Girls: No shorts, short skirts, or tank tops. Heads need to be covered with some kind of scarf. Oftentimes pants are also not allowed. Most churches have scarves and wraps for visitors in these cases, but it’s good to carry a scarf around at all times, just in case.
Unfortunately, many people in Georgia oppose the LGTBQ+ community. The church has a large influence on this. In Tbilisi, pride parades are held but there are often (violent) counter-demonstrations. In 2019, Pride was canceled altogether.
However, the country does have laws in place to protect the LGTBQ+ community. Discrimination based on one’s sexual orientation is not allowed. Regardless, the majority of Georgians believe same-sex relationships are unacceptable and frown upon the idea. Aside from a handful of free spaces in major cities such as Tbilisi, it’s safer to keep your sexual preferences to yourself. For more on LGBTQ+ travel in Georgia, check out this gay travel guide from Brett and Michael.
Religion in Georgia
Georgia is a deeply religious country. More than 80% of the population is Eastern Orthodox Christian. Another 10% of the population is Muslim.
Religion is part of everyday life for most Georgians. As always, as a guest, it’s your duty to respect their religious beliefs. Most Georgians won’t be offended if you proclaim to not have a religion, but many will not understand. In places like Tbilisi people probably won’t ask you about your religion, but it can come up in conversation in small towns.
Dress modestly when visiting churches (covered knees and shoulders), and try to minimize public displays of affection if with a partner.
Food and drinks in Georgia
Bread, cheese, nuts, dumplings, and wine. That more or less sums up Georgia’s food game.
The food is delicious, filling, and cheap… but you might get scurvy and/or gain a metric ton of weight by the end of your trip to Georgia!
Some famous dishes include:
- Khachapuri – bread filled with molten cheese. The ultimate pre-drinking food.
- Khinkali – dumpling filled with soupy broth. Eat with your hands by holding the top of the dumpling, called the crown. Don’t eat the crown, though!
- Lobia – pie stuffed with bean (lobia) paste
Georgian food is almost always accompanied by wine, as Georgia considers itself the birthplace of wine. And yes, the wine is delicious, though perhaps not like the wines you’re used to. It’s common to make long-winded toasts to everything and anything during meals with friends and family, rather than a simple cheers.
Chacha is the local liquor of choice… and I still shudder to this day when thinking about it. Though you can buy it in shops, many Georgians make their own. Watch out, homemade versions can be upwards of 60% alcohol by volume, so be careful when someone offers you their stock (which will most definitely happen). In places like Tbilisi you can find specialty chacha bars, which offer a great and unique introduction to the drink.
Accommodation in Georgia
In more remote villages and towns, especially in the mountains, there are many homestays available alongside hotels and guest houses. Whenever possible, I recommend staying at homestays. Not only does this mean money flows directly into the community, it’s also a great way to meet local people. (Extra bonus: you’re likely to be treated to delicious food and wine on the house.)
It’s usually possible to show up at any type of accommodation and inquire if there is space available. However, I also recommend checking out booking websites, especially in the off-season. I found many good deals on Booking.com during my travels in Georgia, and there are many homestays listed on the platform, too.
Transportation in Georgia
Georgia is well-serviced by bus, train, metro, taxi, and marshrutka (minibus).
Buses and marshrutka (minibusses)
Buses and marshrutka are the cheapest way to travel between cities and towns.
Short distance marshrutka rides within cities are usually around 0.5 to 1.5 GEL per person–I’m never entirely sure exactly how much they’re supposed to cost. You can hail a bus or marshrutka from anywhere on the street; just make some kind of gesture and eye contact with the driver. To get off, say kacheri (ka-cherry) and move towards the front of the vehicle to indicate you want to get off. You pay for the ride once you get off.
Longer distance rides usually cost around 10-20 GEL. You can buy tickets ahead of time at a station ticketing counter, or pay the driver. You can also get off wherever you’d like, should you want to get off before it reaches the end destination.
Taxis range from around 10-30 GEL, depending on your destination and bargaining skills. Most taxis do not have meters, so decide on a price ahead of time. If you want to tip, just round up to what feels like a nice, even number.
Tbilisi is the only city in Georgia with a metro system, and the metro in Tbilisi is cheap and easy to use. You need to purchase a metro card for 2 GEL, then load credit on it when you purchase it. Metro rides are 0.5 GEL regardless of distance–you only need to check-in, not check out. You can use one metro card for multiple people.
Done in Tbilisi? You can return your metro card to a ticket counter to get 2 GEL back.
For train travel, check out the Georgian Railway website. The site is not the easiest to use, but you should be able to see fares for different trips. If not, ask your guesthouse to help, or go directly to the train station. E-tickets via the Georgian Railway site are also possible for train journeys.
In general, trains are quite decent and comfortable, but definitely the slowest option. Sleeper trains are available for some routes. First-class is only a few GEL more than second class, and generally worth the upgrade. Some first-class trains offer working onboard WiFi for the entire journey!
Safety in Georgia
Georgia is generally a safe country to travel in, and few tourists face problems. There are, however, a few things to keep in mind:
Drunk driving in Georgia
Alcohol is often involved in traffic accidents in Georgia. Drunk driving is especially problematic in rural areas. Always be mindful of this if someone is offering you a ride somewhere. Bus drivers usually don’t drink, but if you feel something is wrong, politely but firmly ask to be let out.
Stray dogs in Georgia
In cities, most stray dogs are calm, and they’re usually vaccinated by the government (note the yellow tags on their ears). In more touristy areas, semi-wild dogs are friendly, too. However, when you go out hiking and pass small villages, always be wary of aggressive stray dogs. In hiking seasons people are regularly bitten by strays. Aside from obvious discomforts, rabies is a big problem, too. If you get bitten, make sure to get medical attention as soon as possible.
Connectivity in Georgia
Georgia’s cities and major tourist villages are decently connected, even in the mountains. That’s not to say you can Livestream your trek to remote corners of the Caucasus, but you’ll at least have 4G in places such as Mestia and Lagodekhi.
The two major mobile operators are Magti and Beeline. Magti has the best coverage, and is my preferred choice for mobile connectivity.
To get a local SIM card in Georgia, head to of the operator-run stores. They will set it up for you. A SIM card costs around 5 GEL, and 15GB of data costs around 30 GEL.
More useful resources for travel in Georgia
- The Bradt Guide to Georgia
- Three-day Tbilisi itinerary
- A day trip from Tbilisi to Mtskheta
- A guide to travel in Kutaisi
- A guide to travel in Signagi
- Visiting Telavi and the surrounding vineyards
- How much it costs to travel in Georgia
- Why you should visit Georgia
Annnnd that’s it for this Georgia travel guide. Have more questions? Ask in the comments!
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