- For other places with the same name, see Georgia (disambiguation).
Georgia (Georgian: საქართველო, Sakartvelo) is a country in the Caucasus. Sandwiched between Russia in the north and Turkey in the south, it sits along the coast of the Black Sea around where Europe and Asia meet. It is a rather mountainous country and is home to some of Europe’s highest mountain peaks. Despite its modest size, Georgia presents a large mix of other landscapes and micro-climates, ranging from dry wine-growing valleys in the east, to lush Black Sea resorts in the west. In Greek mythology, Georgia, known as Colchis, was the site of the famous Golden Fleece sought by Jason and the Argonauts. The tales of Georgia's ancient history are not without foundation; modern archaeological evidence suggests that Georgia is the oldest wine-making country in the world, with some wine samples dating back to 6,000 years BC. In testament to this rich heritage, Georgia's cities and countryside are complete with medieval churches, several of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Enjoying low levels of crime and corruption, since the mid-2000s Georgia has developed into a fast-growing destination. The country's tourist infrastructure continues to expand.
The Georgian heartland, centre of East Georgian culture, and the national economic, cultural, and political hub; home to many major destinations like Tbilisi, Mtskheta, Gori and Kazbegi
|Rioni Region |
The center of Western Georgia and the ancient kingdom of Colchis, land of the Golden Fleece; today home to magnificent UNESCO sites and fantastical mountainous scenery in both Racha and Imereti
Georgia's fertile wine region, with relatively dry climate, full of valleys, beautiful churches, monasteries and wineries
|Southwestern Georgia |
The hub of Georgia's seaside resorts, including the nation's second largest city of Batumi
|Northwestern Georgia |
An area of diverse landscapes, transitioning from marshlands and lowlands of western Mingrelia to one of Europe's highest mountains in Upper Svaneti
Home to the cave city of Vardzia and the enchanting Sapara Monastery. The area also contains much of Georgia's ethnic Armenian population
|Disputed Territories (Abkhazia, South Ossetia)|
Georgia's pro-Russian breakaway regions, not controlled by the central government; Abkhazia is a subtropical beach, while South Ossetia is high in the Greater Caucasus Mountains, with little to offer a traveler beyond danger and mountain vistas. Both areas are controlled by the Russian border guards.
- 1 Tbilisi – The most cosmopolitan and diverse of Georgia's cities, Tbilisi is not just the nation's capital but also a hub that contains nearly a third of all of Georgia's population. It is an interesting mix of old classical and ultra modern buildings.
- 2 Akhaltsikhe – The small capital of Samtskhe-Javakheti is near two popular tourist destinations: Vardzia and the Sapara Monastery
- 3 Batumi – Georgia's second largest city, a mixture of classical buildings against the backdrop of rising skyscrapers and palm treas on the Black Sea coast.
- 4 Borjomi – A picturesque small city with famous mineral water, a national park, and a summer mansion of the Russian Romanov dynasty
- 5 Gori – Stalin's former hometown
- 6 Kutaisi – Georgia's third largest city and the historic capital of ancient Colchis, home to two UNESCO World Heritage sites
- 7 Mtskheta – The historic former capital of Eastern Georgia, the centre of the Georgian Orthodox Church, and another UNESCO World Heritage site is an easy day trip from Tbilisi
- 8 Sighnaghi – A small mountain town popular with tourists for its scenery and wine
- 9 Telavi – The capital of Kakheti is a good jumping off point for nearby wineries, castles, and monasteries
- 1 Georgian Military Highway – Running through a high mountain scenery along dangerously steep curves, from Tbilisi to Vladikavkaz, Russia. Sometimes mockingly known as the Invasion Highway.
- 2 Kakheti wineries – Especially the 19th century Château Mukhrani, Tsinandali Estate and others located in and around Signagi
- 3 Mount Kazbeg – of the highest mountains in Europe is also home to Holy Trinity church, perched on top of a hill overlooking a ravine.
- 4 David Gareja Monastery Complex – A 6th century cave monastery on a mountain overlooking the Azerbaijani desert, with beautiful frescoes.
- 5 Shatili – A high mountainous village near the border with Russia. Located in the deep Arghuni gorge at approximate 1,400 m, the village is a unique complex of medieval-to-early modern fortresses and fortified dwellings of stone and mortar.
- 6 Mazeri – Svaneti mountain village, surrounded by a stunning alpine landscapes and huge waterfalls.
- 7 Vardzia – A 12th century cave monastery overlooking a large river gorge
- 8 Ushguli – In the highest inhabited region of Europe and inhabited by the Svans this small village is home to mountain scenery and medieval towers. and of Georgia's UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
- 9 Uplistsikhe – A 3,600 year old Silk Road cave city that was a major regional centre of pagan religions.
|Currency||Georgian lari (GEL)|
|Population||3.7 million (2017)|
|Electricity||220 volt / 50 hertz (Europlug, Schuko)|
|Emergencies||112, 111 (fire department), 113 (emergency medical services), 122 (police)|
|edit on Wikidata|
Georgia is a country of unique culture and rich history, which can be traced to classical antiquity and even earlier. Archaeologists have found the oldest known traces of wine production, dated 6,000 years BC, in Georgia. Thanks to this long history of viticulture, grapevine is one of Georgia's national symbols, adorning medieval decorations, carvings and paintings. The current Georgian alphabet, with its characteristic curvy shapes, was designed to look like the loops and twists of grapevines.
A people of distinct culture, Georgians are not related to the Russians, Turks or Greeks, nor do they have any ethnic or linguistic ties to other nations that surround them. There are academic theories which link Georgians to Basque and Corsican people in Southwestern Europe, but there is no definitive evidence of this. For centuries, Georgians have been embroiled in power struggles against the world’s biggest empires (Roman, Mongol, Byzantine, Persian, Ottoman and Russian), but they nevertheless managed to preserve their identity. In testament to this long history, Georgia's countryside is covered with ancient towered fortifications, monasteries and UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which have survived through great adversities.
The exact origin of name Georgia has never been established, but there are a number of theories as to its provenance. Some have explained the name's origin by the popularity of St George among Georgians (St. George is Georgia's Patron Saint). Others link the name to the Greek word γεωργός ("agricultural") or some variations thereof. Georgians usually tell you that the name is related to Saint George, since that is an explanation closest to their heart.
The majority of Georgians are Eastern Orthodox Christian, which encompasses Greek, Russian and other European orthodox denominations. Aside from Russia, Georgia is the only Eastern Orthodox Christian country in the region (contrary to popular belief, Armenia is Oriental Orthodox, which is a separate church). Although Georgia's culture is strongly influenced by Christianity, a large portion of nominally religious Georgians do not actively practice their faith and identify with religion for historical and cultural reasons. Most people attend church only on special occasions, and religious holidays are more about feasts and keeping up with traditions than religious dogma. However, to Western Europeans, Georgians seem very religious.
Nevertheless, they are also very modern at the same time, and their taste of music is outstanding and advanced. Where in Asia you get the typical mix of bad local pop music, tear jerker, and traditional jingle-jangle, Georgians prefer international classics, jazz and blues, and old pop music from the 60s and 70s. In addition, the local music often improvises with styles of Reggae and Ska.
Classical and medieval periodsEdit
In Greek mythology, western coasts of Georgia were home to the famous Golden Fleece sought by Jason and the Argonauts. Incorporation of the Golden Fleece into Greek mythology was influenced by an ancient Georgian practice of using fleeces to sift gold dust from the mountain rivers. In addition to ties to ancient Greeks, various early Georgian kingdoms were client states and allies of the Roman Empire for centuries. In the 4th century, a Greek-speaking Roman woman named Saint Nino - who was a relative of Saint George - began preaching Christianity in Georgia, leading to the eventual conversion of this previously pagan kingdom.
By the 10th century, various Georgian-speaking states converged to form the Kingdom of Georgia, which became a potent regional power in the 12th and 13th centuries, also known as the Georgian Golden Age. This period of revival was inaugurated by King David IV of Georgia, son of George II and Queen Helena, who succeeded in driving out the Turks. During this time, Georgia's influence spanned from the south of Ukraine in Eastern Europe to the northern gates of Persia. Like its ally Greece, Georgia was in some sense Europe's gatekeeper throughout the Middle Ages - being a peripheral country, much of the Islamic invasions hit Georgia first.
By the end of the Middle Ages, Georgia began to gradually decline and fracture due to persistent incursions of Mongols and other nomadic peoples. The Mongols were expelled by George V the Brilliant, but various Muslim conquerors followed, not giving the realm enough time to fully recover. Georgia's geopolitical situation further worsened after the Fall of Constantinople, which meant that Georgia was now an isolated enclave, surrounded by hostile Turco-Iranic neighbors with whom it had nothing in common. Under pressure, Georgia soon disintegrated, allowing Ottoman Turkey and Persia to subjugate western and eastern regions of Georgia, respectively.
18th and 19th centuriesEdit
Since the mid-15th century, rulers in both western and eastern Georgian kingdoms repeatedly sought aid from major European powers but to no avail. King Vakhtang VI of Eastern Georgia sent his emissary, Saba Orbeliani, to France and the Papal States in order to secure assistance for Georgia, but nothing tangible could be secured. Lack of Western European assistance left Georgia exposed - pushed by the invading Ottoman Army, both Vakhtang and Orbeliani were eventually forced to accept the offer of protection from Peter the Great and escaped to Russia. In modern-day Georgia, Orbeliani's diplomatic mission to France would become an allegory of how the West neglects Georgian appeals for assistance.
Left with no good options, in 1783 Eastern Georgia signed the controversial Treaty of Georgievsk with the Russian Empire. Recognizing the bond of Orthodox Christianity between the two nations, the treaty established Georgia as a protectorate of Russia, while guaranteeing Georgia's territorial integrity and the continuation of its reigning dynasty. Despite the promises, however, Russia did not hold its end of the bargain: it failed to immediately render assistance against foreign incursions and instead began to absorb Georgia piece by piece against the spirit of the original agreement. Russia downgraded the Georgian Orthodox Church to the status of a local Russian archdiocese, while also downgrading the Georgian royalty to the level of Russian nobility, all of which offended many Georgians. The country quickly turned into a resort for the Russian Imperial Family, some members of which had respiratory problems and cherished Georgia's clean, alpine climate.
Having lived more than a century under the Russian Empire, in 1918 Georgia established its first-ever modern republic with German and British military support. Russia, however, soon cajoled Georgia into becoming a neutral state, which resulted in British troops leaving the country. Once Germany and Britain were out of the equation, just several months later Russia invaded and forcibly incorporated Georgia into the Soviet Union. This unfortunate turn of events would become one of the reasons why in the 21st century, military neutrality is an unpopular concept in Georgia and can end political careers.
During the Soviet era, Georgia suffered terrible repressions at the hands of its own son Joseph Stalin, who had tens of thousands purged and executed. But this period also came with major changes. Georgia turned into one of the more prosperous Soviet republics renowned for its spas, resorts, cuisine and wine. Upon the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Georgia reclaimed its independence but at a heavy price. Pro-Russian separatists in Abkhazia and South Ossetia waged secessionist wars, dragging the country into chaos for most of the 1990s, and those areas were ethnically cleansed of their Georgian populations.
Georgia's turbulent period started to come to an end following the peaceful Rose Revolution of 2003, when the country implemented a series of major democratic and economic reforms aimed at integration with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and various European institutions. Georgia became the most loyal American ally in the region, much to Russia's dismay. As of 2016, Georgia's ties to NATO and the European Union continue to gradually deepen in the face of strong Russian opposition. Due to continuing political disagreements, Russia and Georgia still have no formal diplomatic relations and are represented by the embassies of Switzerland.
According to Transparency International, Georgia is the least corrupt country in the Black Sea region, including all of its immediate neighbors, as well as nearby European Union countries. Georgia is a member of the Council of Europe, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, as well as Eurocontrol; since 2014, it has also been part of the European Union's Free Trade Area. Although Georgia has never petitioned the EU for membership, in 2014 the European Parliament overwhelmingly voted in favour of a resolution, which established that Georgia, along with Moldova and Ukraine, are eligible to become members of the Union, provided they meet requisite democratic standards.
- See also: Georgian phrasebook
For language fans, the Georgian language and its dialects are an object of fascination. For everyone else, however, they could be a nightmare. Georgian is not in any way related to languages spoken outside of Georgia, and it is famous for its consonants. Not only are there quite a few, but many words start off with at least two. It is possible to string together as many as eight consonants, as in vprtskvni (ვფრცქვნი), meaning "I am peeling it". Keep in mind that some of the consonant clusters exist because certain sounds in Georgian can only be expressed in English via multiple letters. Original Georgian words are usually much shorter and less complicated than they appear.
Around and in Tbilisi English is often well-spoken, but further in the west of Georgia, it might become more difficult though. Hence, everyone who visits should attempt to learn at least a few Georgian (and when communicating with older people or minorities, a few Russian words). People most likely to understand Russian include: older generations and ethnic minorities like Azeris, Armenians, Abkhazians, Ossetes, etc. (the reason is that Russian was compulsory during the Soviet period, whereas the local languages of each Soviet republic were not). Speaking Russian is useful and recommended in areas where ethnic minorities live, especially in the regions of Kvemo Kartli where 50% of the population is ethnic Azeri and Samtskhe-Javakheti where 50% of the population is ethnic Armenian.
Georgians who have been educated since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1990, as well as the educated elite, largely prefer to study English, which is in part motivated by their desire to move away from the Russian sphere of influence. Access to good quality English instruction in provinces is low, however in the 2000s, many schools received native English-speaking volunteers, and English is rapidly becoming a second language nation-wide. When in need for help, look for younger people; they are more likely to know some English.
Finally, signs in Georgia are often not bilingual (apart from Tbilisi metro); however, most road signs are in both the Georgian and Latin alphabets. Basic knowledge of the Georgian alphabet is very useful to understand road signs, store/restaurant names, and bus destinations. For those traveling without knowledge of Georgian, it may be a good idea to carry a phrasebook or a travel guide.
Nationals of the following countries and territories may visit Georgia without a visa for a year (unless otherwise noted): All citizens of the European Union (may also enter using ID card), Albania, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Bahrain, Barbados, Belarus, Belize, Bermuda, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, British Virgin Islands, Brunei, Canada, Cayman Islands, Chile (90 days), Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Honduras, Iceland, Iran (45 days), Israel, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Liechtenstein, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mexico, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Panama, Qatar, Russia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Seychelles, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkey (may also enter using ID card), Turkmenistan, Turks and Caicos Islands, United Arab Emirates, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay (90 days), Uzbekistan, Vatican City
Visa exemption also applies to:
- Georgian diaspora members who are citizens of countries that otherwise require a visa – for stays not exceeding 30 days
- United Nations laissez-passer holders for one year
- Persons with refugee status in Georgia
- Holders of diplomatic or official/service passports of China, Egypt, Guyana, Indonesia, Iran and Peru.
- Holders of visas or residence permits of EU/EFTA/Gulf Cooperation Council countries, territories of EU countries, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea or Israel. Do not require a visa for max 90 days in a 180-day period, though apparently only when arriving by air. The visa/residence permit must be valid on arrival to Georgia.
If you are not from one of the above countries, you can obtain a visa using the e-Visa portal online without a visit to the Georgian diplomatic mission or consulate. The standard fee for a 90-day, single-entry "ordinary" visa, which covers tourism, is 60 lari or its equivalent. Double-entry 90-day visas (only available at consulates) are 90 lari.
Hong Kong and Macau SAR passport holders are also eligible to apply for an eVisa. They should choose “China” in Citizenship/Country section of the e-visa application.
Visas are also issued at the official road and air (but not rail or sea) entry points into Georgia. Issuing procedures are pretty straightforward and can normally be completed in a matter of minutes at entry points to Georgia, although consulates require a few days for processing.
Nationals of Nauru, Nicaragua, Syria and Venezuela are not eligible for an online visa, and should visit a Georgian embassy or consulate instead. However if holding a visa or residence permit of certain countries (see above), they do not need a visa for a stay of max 90 days in a 180-day period, provided showing their visa/residence permit at the border.
Georgia’s international entry and exit points are as follows. Visas, for those who need them, are available at the road and air entry points only.
- Batumi International airport (visas available) and Black Sea port (visas not available).
- Böyük Kəsik Rail border with Azerbaijan – visas not available here.
- Guguti/Tashir Road border with Armenia.
- Krasny Most (Red Bridge, Tsiteli Khidi, Qırmızı Körpü) Road border with Azerbaijan.
- Ninotsminda/Bavra Road border with Armenia.
- Poti Black Sea port – visas not available.
- Sadakhlo/Bagratashen Road and rail border with Armenia – visas available for road travellers only.
- Sarpi/Sarp Road border with Turkey.
- Tbilisi International airport.
- Tsodna (Postbina) Road border with Azerbaijan, between Lagodekhi and Balakən.
- Vale/Posof Road border with Turkey, reached via Akhaltsikhe.
The border with Russia at Zemo Larsi/Chertov Most, north of Kazbegi, was only open to Georgians and Russians for several years until 2006, when Russia closed it ("temporarily") to everybody. However, there is an open border crossing point with Russia at Verkhniy Lars (Верхний Ларс). It does not issue visa.
The crossings from Russia into South Ossetia (the Roki Tunnel) and Abkhazia (Psou River between Gantiadi and Adler) are considered illegal by Georgia. Some travellers who continued on into Georgia after entering South Ossetia or Abkhazia from Russia have been fined or jailed. Others have got away without problems.
Visiting Abkhazia from Georgia is possible, but it is not possible to visit South Ossetia from Georgia.
There are flights to Tbilisi from a number of European and Gulf cities, including London Gatwick, Amsterdam Schiphol, Vienna, Kyiv, Prague (Georgian Airways), Munich (Lufthansa), Warsaw (LOT Airlines), Athens (Aegean Airlines), Riga (airBaltic), Istanbul IST (Turkish Airlines), Minsk (Belavia).
Kutaisi has numerous flights with Wizzair from many European destinations, including London Luton, Berlin Schönefeld, Milan Malpensa, Budapest, Prague, and Brussels Charleroi. There are also flights to Kutaisi from Moscow Domodedovo with Ural Airlines and S7 Airlines.
There are direct bus services from Istanbul, Turkey, which stop at various places en route and terminate in Tbilisi. Metro Georgia [dead link] has bus services from Batumi to Istanbul, Antalya, Izmir and Ankara. MetroTurizm has buses from Istanbul to near the Georgian border, such as at Hopa. There are also several non-stop bus services between Tbilisi and Baku, Azerbaijan. There are direct buses connecting Tbilisi to Thessaloniki and Athens, Greece, which both have Georgian expat communities. There are also buses from Russia, with companies such as Hayreniq Tour providing journeys from Moscow (and other Russian cities) to Tbilisi.
Entering with a car is no major problem. It is recommended to carry a power of attorney with you if you are not the car owner. In the past, the International Insurance Card was not valid for Georgia, purchasing insurance at the entry point was necessary (even though the amount covered to be ridiculously low). Only the driver may enter the control area with the car, anyone else in the car has to use the pedestrians' lane.
Roads within Tbilisi and other major cities are typically smooth and safe, but country roads are often in disrepair. Though traffic laws are enforced, driving can still be very chaotic. In rural areas, cattle and deer may occasionally slow traffic. A car is a convenient way to tour the countryside, but with the abundance of taxis, buses, and minibuses, most visitors may be better off in the passenger's seat.
There is a daily overnight train from Baku, Azerbaijan (daily) operated by Azeri Railways (timetable here, click on the earth for international connections). Also, there is a sleeper service every other day (daily in the summer) from Yerevan, Armenia operated by South Caucasus Railaways (timetable here, passenger transport on the left). It takes quite a bit longer than a minibus, but the ride is very comfortable, and you will share the compartment with strangers which are usually happy to share a drink and a good story.
Georgian Railways are the national rail operator in Georgia, and offer trains around the country.
The long-delayed rail link between Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan opened on 30 Oct 2017, initially for freight only. Passenger service is projected to start in the third quarter of 2019; however, it is not clear whether this target date will be met.
There are boat services to Batumi and Poti from Istanbul and Odessa. The Turkish Black Sea port of Trabzon is closed to passenger services. The Georgian port of Sukhumi also is closed for passenger boats. All vessels going to Sukhumi must undergo border check with Georgian coast guard in the nearby port of Poti.
Overland/sea borders to Georgia have re-opened to all approved countries: EU countries, Swiss Confederation, United Kingdom, Kingdom of Norway, USA, United Arab Emirates, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, State of Qatar, Kingdom of Bahrain and State of Israel, Turkey, Ukraine, Republic of Azerbaijan, Republic of Armenia, the Russian Federation, Republic of Kazakhstan, Republic of Belarus, the republic of Uzbekistan, the republic of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, the Kyrgyz Republic, the People’s Republic of China, Japan, Canada, the State of Kuwait, Republic of Moldova, Sultanate of Oman and the Republic of Korea. PCR tests are mandatory for all of these border crossings, even if you are vaccinated.
All persons crossing the border must fill in registration form before entering the country. Medical insurance to enter via any borders is not mandatory.
To get to the more remote regions of Georgia (e.g., Tusheti, Khevsureti, etc.) without a tour company, buses and taxis will only take you so far. At some point, it will become necessary to hike, catch a ride on a goods-transporting truck, or hire a jeep. Catching a lorry requires that you are flexible in your travel plans. Hiring a jeep can actually be quite expensive because of the high cost of gas caused by scarcity in the remote regions. To find out about either option, ask around at the bus station or central market of the last town on the bus or marshrutka line.
Georgia is an excellent place for hiking and trekking, providing many interesting trails. Tusheti, Kazbegi, or Borjomi, just to name some destinations. However, due to the often remote nature of these trails, it is important that you are well prepared and have a proper and reliable map with you. In addition, using GPS adds an extra layer of safety, both in cities as well as the countryside. For reliable offline maps and comprehensive trails and map information, consult OpenStreetMap, which is also used by this travel guide, and by many mobile Apps like OsmAnd (complex with many add-ons) and MAPS.ME (easy but limited).
Buses are not very popular means of transport in Georgia. They are mostly used to ride inside big cities or international routes.
Prices and minibus driversსალარო) if there is one.
A marshrutka (from Russian: маршрутка, plural marshrutki; Georgian: მარშუტკა or მარშრუტკა), which essentially is a minibus, is the most common way to travel and 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 marshrutkas routes between cities. 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.
Start early, because marshrutkas mostly run in the morning and become sparse in the afternoon. After 16:00 it can be hard to catch a marshrutka to/from smaller destinations. Larger cities have connections up to 19:00.
Often, it is better to head to the exit of a city and catch marshrutkas there instead of hoping to get one at the bus station. This way you can even try by thumb if necessary.
Georgian Railway (GR) has an extensive network of trains in Georgia. There are two types of trains: fast (with limited places, almost always modern) or local (slow and old but very cheap with unlimited places). There is also night trains available, between Zugdidi or Batumi and Tbilisi, and Tbilisi and Yerevan or Baku. The train is generally not cheaper than marshrutkas, instead sometimes twice as expensive. But of course it is far more comfortable than being squeezed into a minibus.
There are several ways to buy ticket:
- railway.ge (the official website). Needs registration. Has a dedicated app. See instructions (languages: GE, EN, RU)
- tkt.ge. The most convenient and easy to use website of all 4 (languages: GE, EN)
- biletebi.ge. (languages: GE, EN, RU)
- matarebeli.ge. Has a dedicated app (languages: GE, EN)
Hitchhiking is the best thing to do in Georgia. It is often called autostop and a great way to get to know locals like nothing else. Specifically mentioning "autostop" will let people know, you are not looking for a taxi or paid ride.
Generally, Georgians do not use the thumb but just stand by the road and are occasionally be picked up by cars. However, since its opening to the west, Georgia has changed a lot and nowadays many people, especially younger folks, understand the meaning of the thumb and due to the ever improving English of the population are happy to take tourists along the way for a chat or even a lunch together to show their hospitality.
Taxis in Georgia are a convenient method of travel, and they are very cheap. Trips within Tbilisi range from 3 to 5 lari, depending on distance (6 lari costs a taxi from one corner of Tbilisi to another), and you can negotiate a price with cab drivers. The vast majority of taxis in Georgia used to be unofficial "gypsy cabs", driven by anyone looking to make some money. Such unmarked taxi services in Georgia were generally safe and widely used by foreigners living and visiting the country. Drivers would, however, exaggerate the price for foreigners and so it was best to establish the destination and price before getting in the car. The situation changed a few years ago when all official taxis were obligated to install meters with fixed rates (about 1 lari/km). All taxis in the capital of Georgia that can be hailed are white and have taxi lights.
The ride service apps Bolt (in Batumi, Kutaisi, Tbilisi), Maxim (Batumi, Gori, Kobuleti, Kutaisi, Poti, Rustavi, Tbilisi, Zestafoni, Zugdidi) and Yandex.Taxi are very popular in cities. Using them can spare you from a lot of negotiations with potential taxi drivers. The price is 3 lari for calling a taxi, which includes couple of kilometers. Also, they offer great rates for longer trips outside of cities (for example, 12 lari for a 20-min ride) and sometimes even across borders.
As the country is relatively mountainous, you should consider a mountain bike. Many roads remain unpaved. But by bike allows you to reach more remote regions. You can rent mountain bikes in bigger towns, for example at the Jomardi club [dead link] in Tbilisi.
Georgia has domestic flights, though they're seldom convenient. Georgian Airways fly once a week between Tbilisi International Airport TBS and Batumi. There are other flights, in rinky-dinky light aircraft, to the mountain resorts of Mestia and Ambrolauri, from Natakhtari airfield on the northern edge of Tbilisi and from Batumi.
Be very careful when driving in Georgia. The driver license exam in Georgia is quite lenient: locals only have to pass theory and driving test on a polygon, without a real test on streets. So, Georgians learn how to drive only after getting their driver license or even years before getting one. Also, overtaking without any visibility is a common practice. A 6-yo child sitting on a parent's lap and driving a car on a serpentine road is not that uncommon. So be extremely careful when driving in sophisticated places.
Rent. Many of the big rental companies like Budget, SIXT, Dollar, and AVIS are present in Georgia. However, their prices are as high as in Western Europe. Otherwise, you can try a local rental company, which have rates from 60 lari (Tbilisi) or 100 lari (Kutaisi) per day with full cover. You won't even have to put down a deposit or have your credit card blocked. In Tbilisi many private people rent their second car during the week and use their smaller car for the city.
- Monasteries – The amount of churches and monasteries is overwhelming and seeing all of them will take you a month or two.
- Hot springs – Found all over Georgia, some good, some great and some ordinary. Get informed, and you will not be disappointed.
Exchange rates for Georgian lari
As of 20 Nov 2020:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
What does it cost?
As of 2020:
At an average restaurant (+10% service fee):
At bazaar (fruits and berries):
At bazaar (vegetables):
At bazaar (other):
The national currency is the Georgian lari, denoted by the symbol "₾" or sometimes by "ლ" (ISO currency code: GEL). It is divided into 100 tetri. Banknotes are issued in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100 lari, and the rarely-used 200 and 500 lari. Coins are issued in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 tetri, and 1, 2 lari.
There are two issues of the 20-, 50- and 100-lari notes: from 2004 and (in stronger colours) from 2016. Both are valid, and no date has yet been announced for withdrawal of the older notes, but you obviously don't want to leave the country with these. Indeed it's difficult to redeem any form of Georgian currency outside of Europe.
Always have small money with you. 50- or 100-lari notes or so might be difficult to use for payment, especially with taxi drivers. But the latter is often just an excuse not to give change, just ask ahead if the taxi driver has change.
Many Georgians are not very good with numbers and money. Don't bother paying amounts of money, so you get back an even amount, like 10.75 if you owe 7.75. That will confuse them infinitely, and you will never get your desired change.
Exchange kiosks in Tbilisi and Kutaisi generally have only a 1% spread between "buy" and "sell" for major currencies like US dollars or euros, but could be as little as 0.25%. Rates for other currencies like Turkish lira or ruble, or outside of cities, may be much worse. The kiosk may ask for your ID, but usually won't for routine amounts.
ATMs are available countrywide and it is generally good to have a card from providers like Visa or MasterCard. In smaller cities or village the ATMs become more sparse.
If withdrawing lari (GEL), never accept on-site currency conversion at ATMs, always let your bank do the exchange. ATM rates can be more than 7% or worse. Your foreign bank is usually 0.5-1.5% off, in addition to the credit card fee. Apparently only Bank of Georgia charges 2 lari extra for cash withdrawals at ATMs.
If withdrawing US dollars, almost all banks allow their ATMs to withdraw USD (except for VTB bank, which allows it only to their customers).
|ProCredit Bank||Tbilisi||ალ. ყაზბეგის გამზ. 21 (headquarters)|
|TBC bank||Tbilisi||7 Marjanishvili|
|13 Chavchavadze ave.|
|2 Gr. Abashidze|
|1/6 sector Mukhiani district (TBC Bank branch)|
|34 Guramishvili ave. (TBC Bank branch)|
|Kutaisi||58 Chavchavadze ave.|
|International Airport, Kutaisi|
|Poti||5 Rustaveli Circle|
Very few banks and ATMs allow withdrawing euro (€) with foreign bank cards. There are only 2 banks (as of November 2020):
- ProCredit Bank have 24/7 working places that have a special ATM to withdraw USD/EUR: 4 in Tbilisi and one in Batumi, Kutaisi and Zugdidi.
- Maximum amount of withdrawal is €500 and the fee is €8 (as of November 2020).
- TBC bank has higher withdrawal fees, but much wider network — 8 ATMs in Tbilisi and one ATM in each big city: Kutaisi, Batumi, Gori, Zugdidi, and Poti (see "Cash withdrawal and deposit" section here) (as of November 2020)
- $100—$200: withdrawal fee $5
- $300—$500: withdrawal fee $5
- $600—$1000: withdrawal fee $20
- €100—€200: withdrawal fee €5
- €300—€500: withdrawal fee €10
- €600—€1000: withdrawal fee €20
- Gold & other jewellery – Gold, silver, handmade & other miscellaneous jewellery and precious stones are very cheap in Georgia and the quality of the precious stones, gold and silver is superb.
- Art & paintings – Georgian artists, such as Pirosmani, Gigo Gabashvili, David Kakabadze, Lado Gudiashvili, Korneli Sanadze, Elene Akhvlediani, Sergo Kobuladze, Simon Virsaladze, Ekaterine Baghdavadze and others, are famous for their work. In Georgia you will find many art shops, paintings and painters who sell their works on the streets. Their work is of high quality and is often very good value.
- Antiques & other miscellaneous gifts – In Georgia you will able to find many antiques not only from Georgia, but also from the Middle East, Russia, the Mediterranean and other parts of Europe.
- Georgian wine. Georgia is the cradle of wine making, and with 521 original varieties of grape you will be sure to find excellent wines. Wine can be bought in vinoteques and thise have a great choice, but in supermarkets might have some those wines for a cheaper price. Some home-made wine might be cheap and tasty, but beware buying wine that is ubelievably cheap, since, according to some locals, it might be concocted from a wine powder. The quality of wine making improved immensely following re-orientation of wine exports to EU markets.
- Cognac. Georgian cognac is unique as it is made from Georgian wine. Try Saradjishvili 'Tbilisi' cognac.
- Outside the cities, you might find hand-made carpets for sale.
- Georgians love to drink, so the country has a seemingly infinite number of beers, wines, liquors and distilled drinks. To take home, buy a bottle of chacha, a potent grape vodka somewhat similar to Lebanese arak, Italian grappa or German obstler.
- If you'd like to bring souvenir food to home, you may easily find packaged churchkhela or tklapi (Georgian: ტყლაპი), clay bottles with wines, or spices. By the way, some supermarkets are included in the tax free system, so you can contact the store administrator and apply for a tax refund on your purchases.
Georgian export commodities (especially wine and mineral water) used to be widely counterfeited in the domestic and former Soviet Union markets. For example, the Borjomi bottling plant used to produce roughly one million bottles of Borjomi per year, but there were three million bottles sold in Russia alone! In 2007, the government and business groups began a large-scale fight against counterfeit wine and mineral water so the sale of counterfeit products has almost been eliminated. However, when stocking up on bottled wine or mineral water, it is best to buy it at large supermarkets which have better control of their procurement than smaller stores.
In supermarkets, you will find all the usual food products, mainly brought from Russia, Turkey and sometimes Europe.
There are only 2 hypermarkets chains: Goodwill (გუდვილი) and Carrefour (კარფურ). An average locals frequent Carrefour; Goodwill is a bit more expensive. Smaller chains could be found in any district of any town. The most popular chains are: Nikora (ნიკორა), SPAR (სპარი), Smart (სმარტი), and Ori Nabiji (ორი ნაბიჯი). The latter is the cheapest of them. There is also a special chain of supermarkets called Europroduct (ევროპროდუქტი), that imports food from EU.
Besides mentioned supermarket chains, small no-name shops are very popular with locals. You can buy groceries there, although the choice will be much more modest. However, those shops have a friendly and homely atmosphere, because the locals are regulars; if you visit the same place for 4 or 5 times, shop vendors who are usually the owners will start to recognise you.
Travelling in Georgia is very affordable. Restaurants, street food and hotels are cheap for a Western traveller. But keep in mind not to brag around about your money or expenses, because many locals live very poor and drag on — a taxi driver in Tbilisi earns around 50 lari per day (working 8-10 hr) and monthly retirement check is 200 lari. So the next time you haggle over a trinket, it may be a good idea to yield.
A budget traveller would have no difficulties getting by (staying very well fed and exploring many of the sights) on less than 500 lari per week, even in the capital. If you visit Georgia for one week, you would have a great time if you bring US$400 (€350) with you. With this amount you will be able to stay in a good hotel, go on wonderful sightseeing tours and eat good food. If you want to travel like a king, everything beyond US$800 (€700) per week will bring you close to this goal.
Good indicators whether you are in a very touristy area or not, is the price of 1 khinkali (0.7-0.8 lari is a normal price).
Tipping is common in Western-style restaurants in the capital, but almost never expected in more traditional establishments. In many restaurants, especially in big cities, there is a 10% service charge. In some places in Tbilisi it could be even up to 15%. This is almost never explicitly mentioned and may be added to your bill without warning, so it is advisable to ask beforehand.
Also, tipping is never expected in bars.
- See also: Georgian cuisine
Georgian traditional cuisine is delicious, cheap, and universal. It is also justly famous throughout the former Soviet Union (visitors to Moscow will have noticed the large number of Georgian restaurants). Georgia fills a list of wonderful, often meat, dishes, usually flavored with garlic, coriander, walnuts, and dill. A traditional Georgian feast (supra) is a sight to behold, with a spread that no group could finish, accompanied by at least 20 toasts set to wine or brandy.
Just wandering into the likeliest looking local joint in any neighborhood whatsoever, even just a block or two from the main tourist streets, will inevitably provide an excellent dining experience at bargain prices - and quite possibly any amount of proud attention and invitations to drink wine from staff and regulars delighted that a foreigner has discovered their haunt. Simply pick by random off the menu and let the unique tastes of Georgia surprise you. Italian- and American-style dishes (pizzas, hamburgers, etc.) are usually a pale copy of the originals. It is much better to try local food.
If you can, try to get yourself invited to dinner at someone's home (this is not too difficult in Georgia, owing to their hospitality and general desire to stuff foreign visitors full of all the food they can afford). The food in restaurants is an odd set piece of the same dishes over and over. But Georgian cuisine is far richer, and has an untold number of dishes to try, prepared from scratch with fresh, locally grown products (although supermarkets are now spreading throughout Georgia).
One special kind of meal in Georgia is the supra, which means a banquet to celebrate something like a wedding or a birthday. These events, led by a tamada (master of ceremonies), include an abundance of food and drink (wine especially) and go on for hours.
One of the most famous dishes of the Georgian cuisine is khinkali. . These are dumplings with different fillings: minced spiced meat, mushrooms, cheese, or vegetables, served in enormous quantities. But not like what you are used to doing with dumplings. Georgian men will easily eat 15 huge dumplings, and begin by seasoning the dumplings with pepper. Then grab the dumpling however you like, from the top "handle" if it pleases you (locals often stick a fork in the side of the knot so as not to puncture the dumpling), and take a small bite out of the side to slurp up the juice. Do not let any juice fall on your plate, or you will get your chin messy. Then, still holding the khinkali, eat around the top, finishing the dumpling and then placing the twisted top on your plate—traditionally the top is not eaten. It is also nice to look with pride upon all your tops once, with practice, you get into the double digits with these dumplings. Wash them down with wine, Kazbegi beer, or a "limonati" of whichever flavour you prefer (most common flavours are lemon, pear, and estragon/tarragon—which is quite refreshing).
Another signature dish is khachapuri. – a cheese filled bread, which more resembles cheese pie. It comes several different varieties:
- imeruli (იმერული) or imeretian: These are the most common and often come with every meal, just filled with (imeruli aka cooking) cheese. Often circular, similar to Lobiani.
- megruli (მეგრული) or mingrelian: Like imeruli but topped with additional cheese.
- acharuli (აჭარული) or adjarian: Boat-shaped like puri (break) with an open face and filled with egg in addition to cheese. This one is much more filling and a single proper dish.
- There also exist these less common variations:
- guruli (გურული) or gurian: This one, looking like a half moon, has cut boiled eggs as additional filling.
- phenovani (ფენოვანი): A version made with puff pastry dough instead of normal dough.
- samepho (სამეფო): Instead of regular Imeruli cheese, the better Sulguni cheese is used.
- mkhlovana (მხლოვანა) or mtiuluri (მთიულური) : Besides the cheese also spinach is included.
- osuri: The Ossetian version, with potatoe added.
Lobiani. , a bean-filled bread is another notable dish and the most popular version is Rachuli Lobiani (რაჭული ლობიანი), like a Khachapuri, but with bean and bacon. Imeretian , again, is just bean-filled. One is mostly too much for one person.
Any one of these just listed dishes beyond 5 lari in a reasonably priced local restaurant is probably too much for 1 person. So, you better combine only one dish with salad and drinks for two people.
As in most traditional cuisines, there are many meat dishes. They are common in the form of stews or sauces, but also barbecued meat is popular: mtsvadi which is known as shashlik in Russia is not just a favorite at outdoor meals but at restaurants too.
There are lots of vegetarian dishes too (mostly in western parts of Georgia) which are quite tasty and accompany most of local parties with heavy wine drinking. However, vegetarianism as such is an alien concept to Georgians, even though the Georgian Orthodox Church obliges its followers to "fast" at various times of the year including the run up to Christmas (7th January). Such fasting means abstaining from meat and eating vegetables and dairy.
Bread plays a big role in the Georgian cuisine and (shotis) puri. (შოთის პური) is the most regular bread found in Georgia, made of white flour, and shaped like a canoe. There is also Lavashi, which is larger.
Unfortunately, there are certain problems with milk and dairy products in Georgia. There are few cows in the country, the Georgian strains yield much less milk than in Western countries, and the government doesn't subsidize the industry. For these reasons, almost all dairy products are imported from Europe, Russia and Turkey and hence are not cheap. Strangely, despite all this home-made cheese is very popular ingredient in dishes and is sold almost everywhere.
One signature sweet of Georgia is Churchkhela. (ჩურჩხელა), a candle-shaped candy made of grape must, nuts, and flour. 1.5-2 lari.
Chacha (ჭაჭა) is a home-made fruit-based distilled clear spirit analogous to Italian grappa. Chacha is made of grape pomace (grape residue left after making wine). It can also be produced from non-ripe or non-cultured grapes and in some cases fig, tangerine, orange or mulberry. It is usually bottled "manually". It can be purchased in corner markets, Farmers Markets, back alleys and basements (kind of under the table) throughout Georgia. 0.5 l start at 2.50 lari. It generally comes in regular water bottles. When bought, it is a good idea to check it right away. Sometimes it can be sour, you will note a weird taste right away. There is also commercially-made chacha that can be found in many shops and supermarkets, throughout available in Tbilisi, where you will have a hard time finding home-made one. The industrial however is much more expensive, starting at 10 lari for 0.5 l.
Georgia has one of the oldest wine-making traditions in the world and has been called the birthplace of wine (also as "Cradle of Wine"), due to archaeological findings which indicate wine production back to 5000 BC. Georgia produces some of the best wines in the world, and thanks to the ancient tradition of wine production and amazing climate, it holds its own with French and Italian wines. Georgian wines are quite famous. It may be true that they are little known in the West, but they certainly are famous among the roughly 280 million people in the former Soviet Union, where Georgian wines remain a welcome drink at any dining table.
Export of home-bottled wine, which is often the best type, is prohibited.
- Saperavi (საფერავი sah-peh-rah-vee)
- Mukuzani (მუკუზანი moo-k'oo-zah-nee)
- Khvanchkara (ხვანჭკარა khvahnch-k'ah-rah) - semi-sweet
- Kindzmarauli (კინძმარაული keendz-mah-rah-oo-lee) - semi-sweet
- Tsinandali (წინანდალი ts'ee-nahn-dah-lee)
- Kakheti (კახეთი k'ah-kheh-tee)
- Tbilisuri (თბილისური tbee-lee-soo-ree)
- Rkatsiteli (რქაწითელი rrkah-tsee-tellee)
Imports of Georgian wine and mineral water have been banned by the Russian government, because of the political tension between the two counties.
Georgia produces a growing number of local beers. A beer tradition has existed in Georgia since ancient times in the mountainous regions of Khevsureti and Tusheti. After independence from the Soviet Union, Georgia revived its beer production and introduced its high quality beers to the market. The first and most popular Georgian beer was Kazbegi. Today, beer production in Georgia is still growing, offering high quality beers (thanks to the high quality mountain spring waters in Georgia and to German designed beer factories). There are also many foreign beers such as Heineken, Bitburger, Lowenbrau, Guinness, etc.
- Bavariis Herzogi
- Kazbegi (ყაზბეგი q'ahz-beh-gee)
Georgian mineral waters have exceptional and interesting tastes, which are very different from French and Italian varieties. The most famous Georgian mineral waters are Borjomi (ბორჯომი bohr-joh-mee), Likani (ლიკანი lee-k'ah-nee), and Nabeglavi (ნაბეღლავი nah-beh-ghlah-vee). But there is a plethora of less well-known springs located in small towns and alongside roads throughout the country that is worth sampling. Borjomi isn't just ordinary sparkling water as it has a very high fluoride content and it may take some time to get used to the taste. It is however quite popular also outside Georgia (in the former Soviet republics).
Lagidze waters (soft drink)Edit
Mitrofan Lagidze (ლაღიძე lah-ghee-dzeh) is a surname of a famous Georgian businessman of the 19th century who produced very popular soft drinks in Georgia. Nowadays these waters are called “the Lagidze Waters”. Lagidze soft drinks are made only with natural fruit components, without any chemical, artificial sugars or other additives. The most popular flavours are estragon/tarragon and cream & chocolate.
The number of major Western European hotels and also budget hostels is growing every year, and not only in Tbilisi, but also in Batumi and other Georgian cities. Throughout much of the countryside, however, private homes are the cheapest and most enjoyable option, though this option is very much a home-stay; expect little privacy.
Since many hostel-like places are popping up rapidly, they are often poorly signposted, and from the outside a great hostel might look like an ordinary apartment. Hence, make sure beforehand to get a detailed description (including GPS) of where to find the place and which apartment to ring at—90% of the time GPS and address are correct. Otherwise, you might be lost forever and even locals won't know where this newly popped up place is. On the other hand, there are countless guesthouses all over the country, often marked with a guest house sign. So, don't bother too much about booking ahead, go with the flow and see where you end up.
Check prices on the usual reservation websites and turn up on site stating the price; owners will happily give you the online rate, so they can skip the fee they pay on such websites. Use Viber or Facebook Messenger to communicate with them.
There are a handful of universities in Georgia which offer degrees or exchange programs taught in English, and among them are:
- University of Georgia
- Grigol Robakidze University
- International Black Sea University (English exclusively)
- Caucasus University
- Georgian American University [dead link] (English exclusively)
- Free University of Tbilisi
- Kutaisi University
- Intensive Georgian Language Workshop for Beginners, American Councils
Georgians are hard-working people in general, but they also like to have enough free time to enjoy life. Work can start at 10:00 or 11:00 and end at 18:00–19:00. Georgians like to take an hour lunch break and enjoy their food while socializing with their co-workers. People often take two weeks or a whole month off work to enjoy holidays with family. It is an attitude in many ways similar to southern Europe and Mediterranean ones. Approaches to punctuality used to be very relaxed, but this is now changing (at least, in Tbilisi and other main cities).
Foreigners from most countries, including all major English-speaking countries and EU members, are allowed to live visa-free in Georgia for 360 days (and can renew their stay by leaving and re-entering), and to work and engage in business without a visa. Despite this, work for foreigners is generally very limited due to the local salaries being below a living wage by most standards, even for people from other parts of Eastern Europe and the more "well off" former USSR countries like Estonia and Lithuania. A local wage will typically be around 300–400 lari a month, with only a small section of professional managers earning 2000–2500 lari a month. However, most Georgian families have one or more apartments and houses in the countryside, and when one does not have to pay full private sector rent and can share utilities, the local wages will be sufficient for food and drink. If looking for a hospitality job in Georgia, expect to be overworked (14-16 hour days are hardly unheard of), and remember hourly wage isn't really a concept here so any overtime is effectively unpaid.
Foreigners working in Georgia are either employed by the main NGOs like the UNHCR, Save the Children, Danish Refugee Council, etc. Some large Georgian companies may employ foreign managers and consultants. These workers are generally salaried according to Western European norms. One great way for travelers to experience Georgia is to participate in the Teach & Learn with Georgia program. This program places English-speakers in Georgian schools all over the country to assist local teachers in public schools. The Georgian government has set ambitious goals to make English the second language of the country (replacing Russian) by 2020. Participants in the program will have their airfare paid for, will be housed with a local family and will receive 400–500 lari stipend a month, there might not be vacancies, though. However, there are a handful of language schools, especially in Tbilisi that pay roughly the same, though without providing airfare, room or board.
Most of Georgia is very safe for foreigners. Crime rates are among the lowest in Europe. The Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs provides some useful information for foreign visitors.
Corruption, once a big hassle for tourists, has become far less visible since the Rose Revolution. It is now safe and reasonable to trust the Georgian police, as the infamous and corrupt traffic police have been disbanded. Police cars patrol streets in Georgian cities and towns regularly, and can help in case of car trouble or any other problem on the road.
Use of seat belts is now obligatory and strictly enforced. Radars are installed at all main junctures and on key streets and highways throughout the country. However, Georgia leads the South Caucasus in reported road traffic accidents. A person is injured every hour in a traffic-related accident, while one death occurs every 18 hours, according to a study released by a Georgian NGO, the Safe Driving Association. The World Health Organization puts the number at 16.8 fatalities per 100,000 a year (compared to Azerbaijan at 13 and Armenia at 13.9).
Women should be aware that many Georgian men do not believe "no" means no. They believe that no means maybe and maybe means yes. It is not uncommon for men to be very pushy with foreign women in particular. It is best to stay with groups and not to smile or give men attention. If you make a Georgian friend or get to know a Georgian man well, they will take care of you when you go out. There are many kinds of Georgian men, but keep your guard up. As for dressing, follow the general rules of being more conservative in the countryside than in cities. An easy way to avoid unwanted attention is to cover your legs. Georgian girls don't show a lot of leg even in summer, so even a naughty hint of knee can elicit public ogles. Conversely, tight clothes are fairly standard.
According to new marijuana laws, as of early 2019 it is decriminalized to be actively smoking a joint but not legal to have marijuana in your possession (or to sell, etc.) If you are out with young Georgians, you're likely to be invited to smoke, but even if you find somewhere, usually best not to risk actually buying it. It's not great quality outside of Svanetia anyway.
Taking picture inside of churches is not welcome, and taking a picture of a priest in churches is an offence and even a crime.
Things in Tbilisi and the surrounding countryside have calmed down a lot. Although Tbilisi sometimes has been singled out for its (not always deserved) reputation for street crime, muggings are rather rare.
In the early 2000s, other crime-related hazards in Tbilisi included apartment break-ins and car-jacking, but the situation has changed dramatically, and today Georgia boasts one of the lowest crime rates in Europe.
The available evidence indicates that Kutaisi, the second largest city in Georgia, suffers from crime rates significantly higher than the national average. It is very important to exercise caution in Kutaisi after dark.
The conflict between Adjara and the central government ended with little violence, and it is now perfectly safe to travel throughout the region. The once rampant corruption should now be a rarity for foreigners. Passing through customs at the Sarpi-Hopa border crossing is now routine and uneventful for most tourists, though at certain times it may take two hours or longer, due to long queues.
Abkhazia and South Ossetia pose challenges for visitors, South Ossetia more than Abkhazia. Abkhazia is easy enough to visit, provided attention is paid to paperwork and border crossings. South Ossetia remains more untamed.
While support of LGBT rights has been slowly increasing among the general public over the past several years, homosexuality is considered a major deviation from highly traditional Orthodox Christian values prevalent in the country, where public discussions of sexuality in general tend to be viewed in a highly negative light.
Georgia prohibits discrimination against all LGBT people in legislation, labor-related or otherwise (one of few former Soviet countries that does). Since 2012, Georgian law has considered crimes committed on the grounds of one's sexual orientation or gender identity an aggravating factor in prosecution.
Homosexuals are often targets of abuse and physical violence, often actively encouraged by religious leaders. LGBT persons must exercise maximal caution when showing affection towards a person of the same sex. Doing this anywhere outside the capital centre or designated spaces might result in violence.
Hugging, kissing on the cheek and touching in public between heterosexual men is pretty common and is an innate part of the Caucasian culture. Hence, such actions between partners are often unnoticed, but they are still dangerous if they show you are more than friends.
There are one or two places in the country that are safe places for LGBT people: one of them is the Bassiani club, which has a weekly LGBT night.
In terms of ecology, Georgia has a lot of problems with waste management, especially in villages and small towns, where municipal services are almost non-existent. Many Georgians don't feel any guilt, when throwing away trash just outside their property. Whole slopes of hills could be filled with trash thrown out, even close to sacred places such as cemeteries.
Giardia is a common issue for foreign visitors. Contraction is most likely via:
- tap water
- swallowed water from lakes, rivers, pools, or jacuzzis
- raw fruits & vegetables
- unpasteurized milk or other dairy products
Drinking tap water is generally safe, but it's better to ask house owners if they drink it themselves.
In Central and Western parts of Georgia there are two types of scorpions: Euscorpius mingrelicus and Euscorpius italicus. Both types reach lengths of 4 cm. Locals assure, that these scorpion bites are not pleasant (similar to a wasp bite), but never deadly.
Passive smoking could be a big problem, since tobacco is very cheap compared to Western countries and many men smoke, even inside taxis, bars and restaurants.
Good quality prescription drugs can be easily obtained in pharmacies without any prescription. Highly recommended to pay attention to the warranties, since pharmacies would want to ditch outdated drug as fast as possible.
Rarely, but one might stumble upon levant blunt-nosed vipers (Macrovipera lebetina obtusa). Locals call it გიურზა (from Persian gyurza). These vipers live in desert, semi-desert and mountain-steppe areas. They are common in dry foothills and on mountain slopes overgrown with bushes, in rocky gorges with streams and springs, in river valleys. Gyurzas are also found on the outskirts of large cities, where they have the necessary shelter and a good food base in the form of rats.
In Tbilisi you will be able to find many gyms and fitness centres with swimming pools and brand new training equipment. In other cities they are rarer.
NCDC, Georgian NATIONAL CENTER FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PUBLIC HEALTH does not provide information whether any vaccination is obligatory or recommended before travelling to Georgia. But CDC recommends these vaccination to have completed:
- routine vaccinations: these include Chickenpox (Varicella), Diphtheria-Tetanus-Pertussis, Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR), Polio, Shingles
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Flu (influenza) season (Jan-Mar) is perhaps worse in Georgia than in, say, Western Europe and vaccinations might be a consideration for the particularly vulnerable.
Rabies. Stray dogs are everywhere in Georgia, about a half of which are not vaccinated. Being a vestige of the old times and outdated needs, many locals get themselves a dog not as a pet, but to guard their property. Most of the time stray dogs are not aggressive, but there are quite some cases when people get bitten by them. Georgians are very cautious and afraid of dogs, and very often aggressive towards them; dogs in their turn are quite afraid of people (especially those holding a stick) and might get aggressive out of fear as well. Deaths from being bitten by rabid dogs decrease every year, but it's better to get vaccinated before travelling to Georgia, since developing partial immunity takes more than 1 month. One shot costs 18 lari (Indian vaccine). The French vaccine called Verorab costs 45 lari in a pharmacy and 70 lari in a clinic. If you get bitten by a dog (even having being vaccinated), immediately visit one of below-mentioned state hospitals:
- in Tbilisi: 1 [dead link] Preventive Medicine and Immunization Centre (პრევენციული მედიცინისა და იმუნიზაციის ცენტრი), Tbilisi, Tashkenti 10a, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. 24/7.
- in Kutaisi: 2 Imereti Regional Clinical Hospital (ქუთაისის რეფერალური ჰოსპიტალი), Kutaisi, Otskheli 2, ☏ .
- in Batumi: 3 Republican Clinical Hospital (რესპუბლიკური კლინიკური საავადმყოფო), 2 Javakhishvili St, Batumi, ☏ .
Tick-borne encephalitis happen extremely rarely and local immunization centers don't even have vaccines for this.
Georgians in general are friendly, welcoming people, and they are hospitable to a fault. If a Georgian invites you somewhere, they will often pick up the tab. Even raising the subject of who will pay the bill can be considered embarrassing for your host. As the country is an emerging capitalist country, don't take advantage of people's hospitality.
Georgians in general are direct communicators. They are unafraid of expressing their emotions and thoughts on something, no matter how bad or good something might be. They also use aggressive body language and raise their voices in conversations; to most visitors, this implies that Georgians may be an argumentative bunch, but Georgians tend to use emotions to convey interest in a conversation. What may seem like a shouting match in public may actually be a simple, friendly discussion!
Direct personal questions are commonly asked. To Georgians, it's not considered impolite, but rather it's a way to get to know someone fully.
As in many places around the former Soviet Union, women are treated with chivalry. Women should not be surprised or alarmed if their male Georgian friends take the initiative to pay the bills at a restaurant, open every door in front of them, and/or help them carry items or objects. Men should understand that these nuances will be expected by Georgian women, even if they're not in a romantic relationship with them.
Be very cautious when talking about Russia. Georgia and Russia have had a hostile, strained, violent history, and discussing Georgian-Russian relations can very quickly make Georgians emotional. Although most Georgians express dislike for the Russian government, some Georgians take it a notch further by expressing hatred towards Russian people.
Respect Georgia's development. Historically, many Western Europeans visited Georgia because they were attracted to the country's ruins and derelict classical buildings. But as Georgia recovers from years of instability, these signs of neglect are inevitably fixed-up, painted and repaired. This causes some ruin enthusiasts to sneer at revitalized historical districts as no longer "authentic". Such comments can be rather offensive because they imply that locals are not the "real" themselves unless they are dirty, poor and living in buildings with collapsing ceilings. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, many of Georgia's now-derelict buildings were glitzy aristocratic abodes.
Do not draw parallels between Georgia and neighbouring Islamic cultures. Many tourists are surprised to learn that much of the "exotic flair" in Tbilisi was imported from Europe, as opposed to Asia. Most of the "Oriental", "Moorish" and "Asian"-looking buildings were constructed by famous European architects in the 19th century during Europe's fascination with exotic styles. These landmarks are purposefully designed to look as they do. It is therefore inaccurate, not to mention clichéd, when visitors describe these elements of Georgia as "authentic" or "local"; such descriptions can irk the locals.
- Hostels and hotels usually have free Wi-Fi for their guests, even in Mestia. The same is true for cafés and restaurants. As with any public network, use VPN at all times to secure your data.
- There is a free Wi-Fi network all over Tbilisi named "Tbilisi Loves You".
Georgia's country code is +995. Georgia uses GSM (900 MHz and 1800 MHz) for mobile phones.
Here are the operators:
- Beeline – a Russian company, the cheapest, but does not get the best reception in some areas. Prices as of Sep 2019: 4 weeks, 4 GB, 9 lari. 2 weeks, 10 GB, 10 lari. 3 weeks, 10 GB, 15 lari.
- Geocell — a Turkish company, does not has the best reception in some areas. Tariff prices
- Magti — has better reception, but might be slightly more expensive. Tariff prices as of Apr 2021:
- 30 days — 1 GiB (5 lari), 3 GiB (9 lari), 5 GiB (12 lari), 20 GiB (30 lari), unlimited (150 lari)
- 30 days, "Wonder days" special offer (eligible every Sunday): 5 GiB (5 lari), 8 GiB (8 lari), 9 GiB (9 lari), 18 GiB (16 lari), 20 GiB (18 lari) etc.
- 1 day unlimited (1 lari), 7 days unlimited (5 lari)
SIM cards are given out for free at the airport. Charge them later, since at the airport there might be a steep surcharge. Do not fall for seemingly good minute deals — these are rip-offs, everyone uses messengers (hotel owners, guides, bank customer service, even government officials and bank workers would prefer a messenger), so you won't need minutes at all, just data. Definitely wait for special offers to buy the same amount of traffic 2-3 times cheaper than regular tariffs.
Magti and Beeline allow tethering. eSIM is not yet available.
If you plan to use Georgian SIM-card outside of Georgia in the future (for example, for SMS-authorization for banking), it is impossible to receive any a service if you hadn't turned on roaming in person at an operator salon.
Communication with accommodation, tourist information and so on, WhatsApp, Viber and Facebook Messenger are used overwhelmingly in Georgia. A few have Telegram as well, but it is not wide-spread, and you are better off with the former ones.
Postal services in Georgia have almost ceased to exist. There are no letterboxes or home delivery. Mail does not arrive to recipients, but they are notified and have to collect mail at a post office. Postal rates are very high (it costs 4 lari to send a postcard to another country without tracking number and 14 lari to send it with a tracking number, while in neighbouring Armenia it costs ~1 lari). Postcards cost 1-2 lari throughout the country. The few post offices still maintained by Georgian Post are badly signposted and often in derelict buildings.