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Georgia, also known as Sakartvelo to locals, or even the Republic of Georgia, is an incredibly diverse and culturally rich country located in Eurasia. Because of its location, the country has been fought over for ages and has most recently gained its independence in 1991 after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Unfortunately, today, Russia occupies about 25% of Georgian land; South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Both areas which aren’t recommended to visit by tourists. And while the country is located in Eurasia, it identifies mostly with Europe and will formally apply for European Union membership in 2024.
While I could go on about all of the reasons that you should visit Georgia (trust me, there’s a lot), instead I’m going to share a practical guide if you do decide to visit Georgia (and you should). Having traveled extensively around Europe, I can say that this country is one of the most special places I’ve had the honor of visiting. The traditions that have been kept alive, the food and drink scene that rival any country, and the warm hospitality that is received time and time again. Here is the most practical information you’ll need to know before visiting Georgia.
Before reading further, make sure to check out my Instagram page/highlight reel and search #ppingeorgia or look for the highlights “Georgia 1”, “Georgia 2”, “Georgia 3” for a visual representation of the country and suggestions on things to see and do!
Everything You Need to Know About Visiting Georgia – A Complete Guide to the Country
What to Wear in Georgia
People in Georgia dress relatively modernly. The only thing to be aware of is that most monasteries won’t let you in unless you’re covering your knees and your head. Because of this, I recommend bringing a longer dress/skirt and a scarf to wrap around your head if you want to visit the monasteries. If you forget these things, some monasteries will have clothing for you to borrow before stepping inside.
Outside of the monasteries, you can pretty much wear anything that you’d like. Just know that the more remote you get, the more conservative people dress.
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Weather in Georgia
The weather in Georgia can vary depending on whether you’re in the middle of the country, near the sea, or in the mountains. However, Georgia receives every season – summer, fall, winter, and spring. Know that if you choose to visit Georgia in the winter some roads to the mountains may be closed off due to snowfall.
In Tbilisi, the summer months are from July-August, where the city becomes very hot and humid with average temperatures in the 80s. December through February are the cold, wintery months with average temperatures in the 40s, and yes, Tbilisi does get snow.
May is typically the rainiest month, but the temperatures in May make it worth it to visit Georgia at this time. I ventured to Georgia from May to June and can say that in my experience, it was a great time to visit.
Georgia operates on the Lari (also referred to as the GEL). The symbol for the Lari is ₾. At the time of writing, 1 USD = 3.26 Georgian Lari. There are ATMs located everywhere throughout the country and the charge of taking money out (excluding what your bank may charge you) is around $0.60-$0.89, or 2-3 Lari.
When you visit Georgia you’ll want to have cash on hand. Most drivers require cash along with some bars, restaurants, and even hotels. This is especially something to consider if you’re outside of Tbilisi in smaller towns.
As for affordability, Georgia is one of the most affordable places I’ve visited. As long as you’re in non-touristy spots, a glass of wine will run you under 5 Lari, a meal will run you under 20 Lari, and so on. You can find affordable Airbnb’s and/or guesthouses to stay in, or you can splurge on nicer hotels.
Getting Around Georgia
Georgia can feel challenging to get around if you don’t know where to look. For starters, you could rent a car, however, the drivers in Georgia can be unpredictable and the roads aren’t kept up well. If it’s your first visit to Georgia I don’t recommend renting a car but instead relying on public or private transportation.
If you’re on a budget then by far the cheapest way to get around is by marshrutka. Marshrutka is a form of public transportation and is super affordable. However, using the marshrutka can at times be confusing. Sometimes you have to stop in certain cities and switch buses, and the drivers aren’t always the best at telling you when to get off the bus. In my experience, the marshrutka also didn’t leave when they said they would so I was at the mercy of the driver and everyone else on board. We even stopped for lunch at one point delaying our arrival by over an hour. I wasn’t a fan of getting around this way, but again, if you’re on a budget it’s by far the cheapest option. Please know, the marshrutka only takes cash.
If you’re trying to get around Tbilisi or another city in Georgia, then you’ll want to download the Bolt app ahead of time. Bolt operates like Uber/Lyft in the United States and is also a very affordable option. The good thing about Bolt is that you can pay with a credit card instead of having cash on hand.
If you don’t want to download Bolt you’ll also see several taxi drivers in the streets. All you have to do is wave one down! Make sure to discuss the price ahead of time because there aren’t meters in the taxis. Know that it’s common to negotiate taxi prices.
My favorite way to get around Georgia was by private driver. By booking with GoTrip you can customize any type of trip you want to take. While this wasn’t the cheapest option, it also wasn’t expensive.
Lastly, if you can’t get a ride with GoTrip for some reason, another private option is to book with Budget Georgia and create a custom tour. This company is based in Kutaisi so if you aren’t in Kutaisi you may need to arrange a ride quite a bit ahead of time. In my experience, GoTrip was quite cheaper and more flexible for private rides.
If you’re insistent on renting a car, there are mixed reviews online on whether or not you’ll need an international drivers license. To be safe, I suggest getting one if you plan on renting a car. You can get one from AAA or get an express license here. As far as rentals, I generally prefer to use Enterprise but also search QEEQ to compare prices and ensure I’m getting the best deal.
Georgia is the birthplace of wine, also called the “cradle of wine”. There’s evidence of winemaking dating back to 6000 BC so to say that wine is a part of their culture, is an understatement. Wine is a staple everywhere you go in Georgia. Families make it, restaurants carry it, and there are wine bars scattered throughout the country. If you enter into a family home, chances are the thing that they will offer you first will be their housemade wine.
Aside from wine, you can find Georgian beer too, but again, wine is a Georgian staple.
When you’re drinking with other people, specifically locals, it’s important to follow a few customary traditions. First off, there’s usually a tamada – or a toastmaster. The toastmaster is sometimes the head of the family but can be passed off to someone else (including a guest) at any time. The toastmaster will give a short speech about something they are grateful for, usually, the toasts start by thanking god and then move on from there, and then everyone says “gaumarjos”, and you drink. It’s custom for men to chug their entire glass of wine and refill before the next toast, while women sip. If you’re the guest and you’re called to give a toast, stand up, and speak with confidence. Nobody cares what you say as long as it comes from the heart.
The food scene in Georgia is out of this world. Traditional Georgian foods are full of flavor and are typically heavy on meat, cheese, butter, and bread. A common way to consume traditional food in Georgia is by having a supra. A supra is a big meal with traditional food, wine, and company. And most importantly – a tamada.
I ate my way through Georgia and came up with a comprehensive list of must-try traditional foods to consume. You can read all about it here – 20 Georgian Foods You Have to Try When You Visit Georgia.
Simple Phrases to Know
While most Georgians know at least some English, it’s smart to come prepared with a few key phrases to make your trip easier and to show that you’re trying to learn about Georgia.
- Thank you – Madloba (mad-loba)
- Very big thanks – Didi madloba (dee-dee mad-loba)
- Hello – Gamarjoba (gow-mar-joba)
- Cheers – Gaumarjos (gow-mar-joose)
- Goodbye – Nakhvamdis
A guide to Georgia wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Georgian hospitality. Georgians are some of the kindest and most hospitable people that I’ve ever come across in my travels. A majority of Georgians believe that guests are a gift from God and if you bless your guests, God will bless you.
Speaking as a solo female traveler, I found that by asking questions about people and trying to learn about their history, people in turn wanted to teach me about Georgia and their family traditions. On numerous occasions, I was served an extra glass of wine, invited to family dinners, and even had strangers pay for my meal without me knowing who they were. While my experience might not be your experience, I encourage you to go into every setting with a smile and a sense of curiosity. You may be surprised to see where it leads you.
Also, don’t be surprised if you’re invited to someone’s home for a traditional meal. I would encourage you to take them up on it, homecooked Georgian food was better than any restaurant food I ate. Oh, and it’s okay to say no when you’re full. Meals are often quite large and you aren’t expected to finish it all.
While I felt safe in Georgia (as I mentioned locals are incredibly hospitable), it doesn’t mean that there aren’t bad apples out there. I always preach safety when traveling and recommend taking these simple steps to ensure your safety.
- Copy your passport. Keep a copy in a separate place from where you keep your passport. Take a picture on your phone and send it to loved ones in case anything were to happen.
- Copy your vaccination card and keep pictures of it on your phone as well.
- Know the number and address of the US Embassy (or whatever country you’re from). In this case, the US Embassy number is 032 227 70 00 and the address is 29 Georgian-American Friendship Ave, Tbilisi.
- Know how to dial out – the code for Georgian numbers is +995.
- Know how to contact the police – 112.
- Travel with travel insurance to ensure that you’re covered in case anything were to go wrong. I prefer and recommend purchasing World Nomads.
Georgia is an incredible country. I hope that if anything, this guide has inspired you to at the very least, visit a Georgian restaurant, order Georgian wine, or learn a little bit about Georgian history. At the most, I hope that this guide has inspired you to book a flight to visit and see for yourself what makes Georgia so special. If you have any questions about Georgia or plan to visit Georgia yourself, let me know in the comments below!
Are you itching to plan a trip to Georgia? Here are some more specific guides to the cities, towns, and regions in Georgia:
The Ultimate 10 Day Georgia Itinerary
A Guide to Visiting Akhaltsikhe and Vardzia
Visiting the Svaneti Region in Northern Georgia
The Best Things to Do in Kutaisi
How to Spend 2 Days in the Kakheti Wine Region – Georgia’s Premiere Wine Destination
How to Spend 3 Days in Tbilisi