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The Republic of Georgia is a former Soviet country located in the Caucasus region of Western Asia. Since gaining independence in 1991, the country has struggled economically.
Lonely Planet named Georgia as one of its top travel destinations for 2018. Since then, more and more international travellers have been discovering the diverse delights that the country has to offer.
GEORGIA TRAVEL BLOG ESSENTIALS
VISA: Georgia offers visa-free travel for up to one year for all EU passport holders plus approximately 60 other nationalities including US, British, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand visitors.
South Ossetia and Abkhazia are Georgian regions that are Russian-occupied. The UN and most countries recognise these regions as part of Georgia, but many governments advise their citizens against travelling to them.
GEOGRAPHY: Georgia’s best asset is its geography as it gives it the diverse landscape that so many travellers love.
The north and south of the country are mountainous with the Greater Caucasus mountain range running the length of its border with Russia. The Lesser Caucasus mountain range skirts its southern border with Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The Likhi Range connects the two Caucasus ranges.
The east and west of the country consists of lowlands. The Black Sea runs the entire length of Georgia’s western border.
BEST TIME TO VISIT: Georgia has a similar climate to Eastern European countries, that of warm summers and cold winters. May to October is the best time to visit the whole country. July and August in Tbilisi are said to be uncomfortably hot.
I visited in early October and found temperatures of 20 – 22°C. The Black Sea in Batumi was warm enough to swim in.
LANGUAGE: Georgian has its own alphabet which I couldn’t figure out. Russian is widely spoken/understood for (a) historical reasons and (b) Georgia receives a large influx of Russian tourists. If you are not Russian, avoid speaking Russian for reasons outlined in the History section below.
CURRENCY: The Lari written as GEL.
TIME ZONE: Georgia is three hours ahead of Ireland/UK time and two hours ahead of Central Europe.
DIALLING CODE: +995
PLUGS: The 220-240V types C and F from the World Standards List which is what countries in continental Europe use.
FOOD: One of the highlights of a trip and too numerous to fit into this Georgia travel blog post. My favourites were Khinkali (meat dumplings) and Adjarian Khachapuri (boat-shaped bread with cheese and an egg floating in the centre). I loved the various stews and the stuffed pastries as well.
DRINK: Georgia is the land of magnificent wine with over 8,000 years of brewing experience. Crushed grapes ferment in underground terracotta pots called qvevri. No sulphites are added which means Georgian wine doesn’t have the negative effects of most other wines. Plus it tastes gorgeous. Highly recommended.
IS GEORGIA SAFE: I travelled to Georgia solo and didn’t experience any major problems. I was bothered by a few characters hanging idly around the Marshrutka and Metro stations in Didube, Tbilisi.
Footpaths in Georgia have a tendency to be uneven so the biggest risk you face is a sprained ankle.
GEORGIA HISTORY: Before the advent of Christianity, several kingdoms united to form Georgia. David the Builder and Queen Tamar were the best known leaders of united Georgia. From 13th century onwards, Georgia was invaded by various powers such as the Mongols, Ottomans and Persians. These were followed by Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union.
Georgia’s independence hasn’t been plain sailing either. A coup d’état and a civil war were followed by conflict in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. In 2008, Russia invaded but a ceasefire was brokered later in the year between the two countries. Relations between Georgia and Russia are still fraught.
GETTING TO GEORGIA: Georgia has several land crossings with all of its neighbouring countries with the exception of Russia where the crossing north of Stepantsminda is the only legal crossing.
Georgia’s main airports are Tbilisi, Kutaisi and Batumi. Tbilisi is the largest while Kutaisi is popular with low-cost airlines. I flew from Dublin to Tbilisi via Istanbul with Turkish Airlines.
Batumi and Poti are the main ports on Georgia’s Black Sea coast and receive ferries from Ukraine, Bulgaria and Sochi in Russia.
Direct train services travel between Tbilisi and Baku in Azerbaijan, and between Tbilisi and Yerevan in Armenia.
GETTING AROUND GEORGIA: Marshrutkas rule the roads in Georgia. These minibuses are relics of the Soviet Union and depart when full. Driving is at breakneck speed. Luxury travel they ain’t but they are a godsend to budget travellers. I paid approximately 3 GEL (approx. €1) per hour of the journey (i.e. 9-10 GEL for a three hour journey).
I travelled from Batumi to Kutaisi (3-4 hours) and from Kutaisi back to Tbilisi (3-4 hours) by marshrutka. I travelled from Tbilisi to Batumi by train (6 hour journey). This train has to be booked in advance.
Georgia’s mountainous topography and driving culture means self-driving will be challenging. Driving is officially on the right-hand side although most cars spend their time on the left overtaking everyone else.
DESTINATIONS AND ACCOMMODATION IN GEORGIA
TBILISI: My first port of call was capital city Tbilisi. Tips and advice on the city can be found in my What to Do in Tbilisi post.
As Tbilisi is located in the centre of Georgia, it makes for a great base for day trips. I did three day trips from Tbilisi: the spectacular Kazbegi region, Kakheti wine region, and Gori, the birthplace of Joseph Stalin which are covered in my Day Trips from Tbilisi post.
My accommodation choices in Tbilisi were a private Airbnb initially and Hotel Vita in the Alvabari district when I returned from Kutaisi. Hotel Vita was an excellent budget choice with friendly staff.
BATUMI: The Black Sea resort of Batumi was my second stop and one I thoroughly enjoyed. Read about my experience in Things to Do in Batumi. I stayed in Hotel Aisi during my time in Batumi. The room was spacious and the bed very comfortable.
KUTAISI: After the highs of Batumi, I travelled to Kutaisi which was a disappointment on many levels. I initially booked an Airbnb but it was sub-standard so I departed after the first night. I checked into the Hotel King David which was very reasonably priced for the luxury it offered.