- For other places with the same name, see Georgia (disambiguation).
Georgia (Georgian: საქართველო, Sakartvelo) is a country in the Caucasus, in between Western Asia and Eastern Europe. Sandwiched between Russia in the north and Turkey in the south, it sits along the coast of the Black Sea. 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 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 winemaking 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 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 Sukhumi — the capital of Abkhazia is a beautiful beach resort up against the mountains, but has suffered from the war and economic embargo
- 9 Telavi — the capital of Kakheti is a good jumping off point for nearby wineries, castles, and monasteries
- 1 Upper Svaneti — the highest inhabited region of Europe, centred around Mestia, is home to the mysterious Svans and is a UNESCO World Heritage site
- Bakuriani ski slopes — one time Winter Olympics bid and the major ski resort in the south of the country
- The 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
- Mount Kazbeg — one of the highest mountains in Europe is also home to Holy Trinity church, perched on top of a hill overlooking a ravine.
- 3 David Gareja Monastery Complex — a 6th century cave monastery on a mountain overlooking the Azerbaijani desert, with beautiful frescoes
- Pasanauri ski slopes — the main ski resort in the Georgian Greater Caucasus Mountains, along the Georgian Military Highway to Kazbegi
- Shatili — a high mountainous village near the border with Russia. Located in the deep Arghuni gorge at approximate 1,400m, the village is a unique complex of medieval-to-early modern fortresses and fortified dwellings of stone and mortar.
- 4 Mazeri - Svaneti mountain village, surrounded by a stunning alpine landscapes and huge waterfalls.
- 5 Vardzia — a 12th century cave monastery overlooking a large river gorge
- 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 (2014)|
|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.
Classical and medieval periods
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 it's 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 centuries
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 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 it's 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.
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 States states. Georgia is a member of the Council of Europe, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, as well as Eurocontrol; since 2014, it is also 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 (2014/2717(RSP)) 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, 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's 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.
Everyone who visits should attempt to learn at least a few Georgian (and when communicating with 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.
Younger Georgians, 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 recently 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 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, Kiev, Prague (Georgian Airways), Munich (Lufthansa), Warsaw (LOT Airlines), Athens (Aegean Airlines), Riga (airBaltic), Istanbul Atatürk (Turkish Airlines), Minsk (Belavia).
Turkish Airlines flights run every day between Batumi and Istanbul. Other destinations serviced by the Batumi airport include Kiev (Yanair) and Minsk (twice per week with Belavia). The Batumi airport is located about 10 km south of the city center and is accessible by minibus and taxi.
Kutaisi has flights with Wizzair to many European destinations, including London Luton, Berlin Schönefeld, Milan Malpensa and Budapest. There are also flights from Kutaisi to 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 has bus services from Batumi to Istanbul, Antalya, Izmir and Ankara. MetroTurizm also 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 even direct buses connecting Tbilisi to Thessaloniki and Athens, Greece which both have Georgian expat communities. There are also buses into 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. The start date and timetable for passenger trains has not yet been announced.
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.
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. Reservations are available at Vanilla Sky agency (+995 322427427, +995 599659099, email@example.com). Its office is at 5 Vazha-Pshavela Avenue Tbilisi, close to Metro Medical University station. Fares include transfers from downtown. These aircraft have limited luggage capacity and are often disrupted by weather.
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.
Minibuses or marshrutkas are 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 minibus lines from city to city. 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.
There is a relatively extensive network of trains in Georgia; you can view the website of the train company here. There are two types of trains: fast (with limited places, almost always modern) or local (slow and old but very cheap with unlimited places). The only night train is Tbilisi-Batumi + a second train on the Yerevan-Tbilisi-Batumi route in the summer.
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, and you can negotiate a price with the 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.
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 in Tbilisi.
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).
Exchange rates for Georgian lari
As of January 2019:
Exchange rates fluctuate. Current rates for these and other currencies are available from XE.com
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 the country, except in Yerevan.
Exchange kiosks in Tbilisi generally have only a 4% spread between "buy" and "sell" for major currencies, good value by western standards. Rates for others eg Turkish lira, or out of the city, may be much worse. The kiosk may ask for your ID, but usually won't for routine amounts. ATMs in Tbilisi often take foreign cards, but those outside often not. Be aware that ATM currency conversion rate can be more than 7% worse (even for "low cost" cards such as Revolut) than that at local exchanges. Also, while prices are generally very reasonable in Georgia, a side effect is that small places and taxis may not have change for larger lari notes (ie 50 or higher).
- 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 Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, Russian and European as well.
- Georgian wine, as much as you can. Georgia is the cradle of wine making, and with 521 original varieties of grape you will be sure to find excellent wines.
- Cognac. Georgian cognac is unique as it is made from Georgian wine. Try Saradjishvili 'Tbilisi' cognac.
- When heading 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.
Georgian export commodities (especially wine and mineral water) used to be widely counterfeited in the domestic and CIS 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, it is best to buy it at large supermarkets which have better control of their procurement than smaller stores. Such supermarkets are Goodwill, Big Ben or Populi. The same applies to mineral water.
The quality of wine making improved immensely following re-orientation of wine exports to EU markets.
The Georgian lari has lost about 30 % of its value in the last 5 years, which makes travelling in Georgia very affordable.
If you visit Georgia for one week, you would have a great time if you bring US$700–800 with you. With this amount you will be able to stay in a good hotel, go on wonderful sightseeing tours and eat good food. All other items such as gifts & jewellery might require more. For more details try searching and contacting travel & tourist agencies.
A budget traveller would have little difficulties getting by (staying very well fed and exploring many of the sights) on less than 300-400 lari per week, even in the capital.
Costs of general expenses:
- Budget accommodation: 10-20 lari
- City bus: 0.50 lari
- Overland (mini)bus: 6-10 lari/100 km
- Most churches: free
- Snack: 2-5 lari
- Meal: 6-15 lari
- Beer: 1-2 lari
- Apples: 2 lari/kg
Tipping in Georgia is virtually unknown, and in many cases could deeply offend the recipient's sense of hospitality.
In addition, in many restaurants, especially in the big cities, there is a 10 % service charge. This is often not explicitly mentioned, so it is advisable to ask.
Eating khinkali like a local
Eating khinkali is not like what you are used to doing with dumplings. First of all, you use only your hands. (There is a real reason for this, because cutting the large dumpling would spill the juice and ruin the taste.) Locals will begin by seasoning the dumplings with pepper. Then grab the dumpling however you like, from the top "handle" if it pleases you, 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—it is considered an extreme mark of poverty in finances and taste to eat the doughy top. 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).
Dough and cheese
The cuisine of Georgia is justly famous throughout the former Soviet Union (visitors to Moscow will have noticed the large number of Georgian restaurants). Popular national dishes include khachapuri (a cheese filled bread, it more resembles cheese pie) and khinkali (minced, spiced meat in a dumpling, served in enormous quantities). While the khachapuri comes with every meal, khinkali is usually reserved for its own separate meal, where Georgian men will easily eat 15 huge dumplings.
Mtsvadi, tasty grilled chunks of marinaded pork or veal on stick with onions, is another staple. Chkmeruli is delicious chicken in garlic sauce. But this is by no means the end of the list of wonderful 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. Another streak of dishes made out of lamb (chanakhi, chakapuli) is simply delicious.
Pastry and fast food
For a quick snack, you can try all variety of ghvezeli pastry stuffed with meat, potatoes, cheese or other ingredients, usually sold in markets and on the side of the street. Western-style dishes (pizzas, hamburgers, etc.) are usually a pale copy of the originals. It is much better to try local food.
Fruit and vegetables
The fruit and vegetables here are bursting at the seams with flavor, and very cheap. Even if you only speak English and stand out as a foreigner like a slug in a spotlight, you can get fruit and vegetables in the market for a mere fraction of what you would pay in, say, Western Europe. Grabbing a quick meal of tomatoes, fresh cheese, puri (bread), and fruit is perhaps the most rewarding meal to have in the country.
There a lot of vegetarian dishes (mostly in western parts of Georgia) which are surprisingly tasty and accompany most of local parties with heavy wine drinking. Try ajapsandali, a sort of vegetable ratatouille, made differently according to each family's recipe, and which is wonderful.
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).
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 throughout Georgia. There is also commercially-made chacha that can be found in some shops and supermarkets. The term "Chacha" is used in Georgia to refer to any type of clear spirit made of fruits.
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)
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 lick-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)
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 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.
Check prices on the usual comparison websites and turn up on site stating the price; owners will happily give you the online rate, so they can skip the fee the pay on such websites.
There are a handful of universities in Georgia which offer degrees or exchange programs taught in English:
- University of Georgia
- Grigol Robakidze University
- International Black Sea University (English exclusively)
- Caucasus University
- Georgian American University (English exclusively)
- Free University of Tbilisi
- Kutaisi University
- Intensive Georgian Language Workshop for Beginners, American Councils
and a few others...
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.
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 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.
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).
The Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs provides some useful information for foreign visitors.
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.
Things in Tbilisi and the surrounding countryside have calmed down a lot in the last several years. 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 used to include 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 separatist conflict between Adjara and the central government has 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 paper work and border crossings. South Ossetia remains more untamed.
Tick-borne encephalitis might happen but very rarely and only if one spends time in the countryside. A cautious visitor may want to make some vaccinations for tetanus, polio and diphtheria, but these are not really necessary. 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. Passive smoking could be a big problem since tobacco is very cheap compared to Western countries and many men smoke.
Good quality drugs without a prescription, can be obtained from pharmacies. Recommended to pay attention to the warranties.
Information about infectious diseases you should get on www.ncdc.ge.
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.
Georgians are hospitable to a fault. If a Georgian invites you somewhere, they will often pick up the tab and even raising the subject of who will pay the bill can be embarrassing for your host. However, Georgia is an emerging capitalist country and many people there are in economic difficulty, so their hospitality should not be taken advantage of by those on a budget with unreasonable expectations of receiving freebies.
Be careful while talking about Russian Federation or the Georgian separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which are supported by Russia. Georgia has lost large swaths of its territories as a result of Russian involvement and must now support a large number of displaced refugees as well. In 1992 and 2008, there was an ethnic cleansing of Georgians in the separatist regions reportedly aided by the Russians. These subjects can quickly become emotional and lead to hostility. Most Georgians are supportive of Ukraine's struggle against Russia, so this topic is sensitive as well. Do not try to convince Georgians that they misunderstand Russia or that Russia has good reasons for its actions: they have lived next to Russia for centuries and have had plenty of time to form their opinions. If you can set politics aside, Georgians are almost always friendly toward ordinary Russians.
The attitude towards the United States may be quite negative, since many people (especially older generation) perceive the USA as the military and/or cultural aggressor, which benefits only for itself. Talking about these subjects can lead to fierce debates and should be avoided. Attitude towards ordinary Americans as common people is invariably hospitable and one rather wouldn't experience any problem about their nationality.
Respect Georgia's development. Historically, many Westerners 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.
Be conscious that for historical and religious reasons, drawing parallels between Georgia and neighbouring Islamic cultures can be particularly sensitive. 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 who had to defend themselves against Islam for centuries.
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 high (3 lari to send to another country, while in neighbouring Armenia it costs ~1 lari). Postcards cost 1 lari throughout the country. The few post offices still maintained by Georgian Post are badly signposted and often in derelict buildings.
Georgia uses GSM (900 MHz and 1800 MHz) for mobile phones and there are the following providers,
- Geocell (pre-paid LaiLai card),
- Magti(com) (two prepaid brands "Bali" and "Mono"),
- Coverage – provides 3G, covers all of Georgia, packet data deals available for prepaid, and
- BeeLine – Russian company, the cheapest of all SIM cards, but does not get the best reception in some areas. SIM card available at the office on Rustaveli Avenue in Tbilisi.
Service provided by Geocell and Magti is exceptionally good and you should be able to use your phone in most non-mountainous areas provided it supports the aforementioned technologies. They also have UMTS/3G service including video call and high speed data. Roaming is possible if you own a UMTS capable mobile phone. Geocell is the cheapest for mobile internet.
Check with your mobile provider to ensure that they have roaming agreements with at least one of the Georgian operators.
DSL and fiber optic lines are available in Georgia. There are two major provider companies: "Caucasus Online" and "Silknet".
There is free WiFi network all over the Tbilisi. Network name is: "Tbilisi Loves You"
Elsewhere, free WiFi is available in many hotels, hostels, cafés and restaurants.