Backpacking Georgia was everything I thought it would be.
For years, I’d heard from my more well traveled friends that Georgia was the place to be: it was cheap, had delicious food and wine, incredible hikes and mountain scenery, and was devoid of huge numbers of tourists.
When I finally traveled around Georgia, I found they were right. I loved Georgia. It was better than I thought it could possibly be.
Georgia has a rich history. The country is at the intersection of Europe and Asia and has long been at the crossroads of history. People have been living here for thousands of years. It is supposedly where wine was invented.
From ancient monasteries to vineyards to tiny mountain towns to the Black Sea beaches and wonderful day hikes, Georgia has it all – without the prices or crowds of Europe. The capital, Tbilisi, known for the diverse architecture and maze-like cobblestone streets, has a hip art and robust foodie scene. (I loved Tbilisi so much I extended my time there.)
And, while hard on the exterior, Georgians warm up quickly.
This Georgia travel guide will give you everything you need to know about visiting the country. Trust me, it’s better than you imagine!
Table of Contents
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Top 5 Things to See and Do in Georgia
1. Visit Tbilisi
2. Check out Batumi
3. Explore Stepantsminda
5. Gelati Monastery
Other Things to See and Do in Georgia
1. Visit Vardzia Cave Monastery
This was built during the Georgian Golden Age for Queen Tamar the Great as a sanctuary to hide from invaders and is built into the side of Erusheli mountain. The fortress contains 6000 apartments as well as a throne room, 25 wine cellers, a bakery, and a large church. Today, the monastery is occupied by a small number of monks with about 300 of the original 6,000 apartments in use. It is easy to get here by Marshutka to either Miramkhani or Vardzia from Akhaltsikhe. The journey takes about 1.5 hours.
3. Wander around the National Botanical Garden
Located 9km from Batumi, these gardens are located on a hillside overlooking the sea. The main trail takes about 1.5 hours to complete. You’ll see some of a diverse range of flora and fauna as well as waterfalls and a river you can swim in. The entrance fee is 8 GEL ($3 USD) and camping overnight is possible for a fee of 20 GEL ($7.50 USD).
4. Take a day trip to the town in a cave
Founded in the late Bronze Age, Uplistsikhe Cave Town is an ancient rock-hewn town located outside Gori. Between the 6th century BC and the 11th century AD, this was one of the most important political and religious centers in the country. The town was abandoned in the 13th century after multiple invasions by the Mongols. The entrance fee is 7 GEL ($3 USD).
5. Soak in the sulfur baths
Although there were once 63 bathhouses in Tbilisi, sadly, there are now only a handful left. The baths are still wildly popular and you can still go inside them. They are supposed to have healing powers and be good for your skin. These bathhouses straddle a small river that feeds them and then meanders through a canyon that you can follow to the amazing Dzveli Tbilisi sulfur waterfall.
6. Visit Svaneti and the Caucasian Mountains
One of the most visited places in the mountains is Svaneti thanks to its hundreds of ancient watchtowers dotted around the landscape. Historically, these watchtowers were used to keep citizens safe from invaders. While you can fly there, I’d recommend taking the long winding road through the mountains. It’s more scenic and there are lots of great photo ops.
7. Explore the Caves of Gareji
Close to the border with Azerbaijan, you’ll find the David Gareji monastery complex constructed on the side of the hilly landscape. The David Gareji complex consists of hundreds of rooms and churches. To get here you can easily take a day trip from Tbilisi for around 108 GEL ($40 USD) or you can travel there by bus and stay locally. The site opens from 10am-7pm daily and the entrance fee is 7 GEL ($3 USD), and an additional 10 GEL ($4 USD) if you want an audio guide.
8. Go Skiing
Thanks to the high Caucasus mountains, there is some really underrated skiing in the country. The most popular resorts are Gudauri, Bakuriani, and Mestia. Expect to pay anything from 5.50-540 GEL ($2-200 USD) for a pass and you can easily find accommodation from 40 GEL ($15 USD) a night.
10. Visit the Georgian National Museum
One of the best museums in Tiblisi, this massive museum has a wealth of pre-Christian gold, silver and precious-stone work from burials in Georgia going back to the 3rd millennium BC. Most stunning are the fabulously detailed gold adornments from Colchis (western Georgia). On the top floor, the Museum of Soviet Occupation has copious detail on Soviet repression and resistance to it. Admission is 5 GEL ($2 USD).
11. Mtatsminda Park
At the top of Mount Mtatsminda overlooking Tbilisi, you will find Mtatsminda Park, a famous amusement park with a killer view. It’s the highest point in Tbilisi and worth the trip just for the view. The park costs nothing to enter, if you want to go on the rides you will need to buy a plastic card for 2 GEL ($1 USD) and then top it up to pay.
12. Katskhi Pillar
The Katskhi Pillar marks the site of a small church that was first to be built in the country during the 7th century. It sits on top of a pillar was once used by a Christian group called the “Stylites”. These early Christians were known as “pillar monks” as they would spend long periods of time sitting (or standing) on top of pillars as they believed it would bring them closer to God.
13. Visit the Stalin Museum
Stalin was born in the town of Gori, Georgia. It’s a weird museum that pays homage to his life (and forgets all the bad stuff). The museum takes you through Stalin’s life: from his early years growing up in Gori to his leadership of the USSR and finally his death in 1953. It’s a whitewashed experience that’s worth a visit. It’s a weird experience. Admission is 10 GEL ($4 USD) including an English speaking guide.
14. Visit the Tusheti region
In the northeast of Georgia, you will find the Tusheti region on the northern slopes of the Caucasus Mountains. If you want to go hiking in Georgia and get off the beaten path, this is the region to go to. It’s incredibly beautiful and panoramic, and many people hike village to village to stay in guesthouses. The Omalo Loop Trek is a good one, although long — if you’re just looking to do some day hikes, do Omalo to Diklo Fort or Ghele to Parsma. On the Ghele to Parsma, you’ll be following the ridge of the Pirikiti range!
Georgia Travel Costs
Accommodation – Georgia is a great budget backpacker destination because it has a ton of cheap accommodation. Hostel dorms in some of the smaller cities like Kutaisi begin at 13 GEL ($5 USD) for a larger dorm. But, in most bigger cities, like Tbilisi, dorm beds are between the 22-27 GEL ($8-10 USD) range per night. For a private room in a hostel, expect to pay between 67-80 GEL ($25-30 USD) per night in Tbilisi and about 54 GEL ($20 USD) per night outside the capital.
Two star hotels will cost between 40-67 GEL ($15-25 USD) per night for a double or twin and come with basic amenities. These are actually lovely to stay in, however, and offer good value for your money. Mountain guesthouses start from 67 GEL ($25 USD). Airbnb is another great budget option, with shared accommodation starting at 27 GEL ($10 USD) per night. For an entire home or apartment, expect to pay around 243 GEL/$90 USD).
Camping is available around the country. There are a few hundred campgrounds scattered around, with prices costing around 20 GEL ($7 USD) per night for two people and a tent (closer to 25 GEL/$9 USD) during peak season). Wild camping is also legal in Georgia as long as you’re not camping on someone’s private property.
Food – Food is very cheap in Georgia, especially if you stick to eating the local cuisine. For an inexpensive lunch at a local restaurant, expect to pay at least 17 GEL ($7 USD). Fast food is also around 13 GEL ($5 USD) while a nicer meal at a mid-range restaurant will cost around 50 GEL ($19 USD). Expect to pay around 2.45 GEL ($1 USD) for a beer. If you are planning to cook your own food, a week’s worth of groceries will cost between 68-95 GEL ($25-$35 USD).
Activities – Georgia is a country steeped in history. Most buildings are free to enter which is great to keep costs down. Hiking in Georgia’s Caucasian mountains is also free. If you want to do a guided hike, one day will cost you about 145 GEL ($54 USD), but a multi-day hike (e.g. 2 nights and 3 days) costs 540 GEL ($200+ USD). Museum admission starts around 5 GEL ($2 USD). If winter sports are your preference, lift passes start at just 43 GEL ($15 USD) for the day.
Backpacking Georgia Suggested Budgets
If you are backpacking Georgia, my suggested budget is 121 GEL ($45 USD). This will cover the cost of a hostel dorm even in bigger cities, eating only cheap meals but also mostly cooking at the hostel, limiting your drinking, taking advantage of free walking tours, and checking out one attraction per day (like a museum). You’ll also use local transportation to get around all day.
On a mid-range budget of about 295 GEL ($110 USD), you can stay in a hostel private a budget 1-star hotel, or an Airbnb. You can eat out for about half of your meals (and enjoy some drinks!), take one guided day hiking trip, drink more, and take some private taxis. Other than the guided hike, you can also see about 2-3 attractions per day. Overall, this budget gives you a lot more wiggle room to enjoy yourself without going too crazy on the spending!
If you want to travel Georgia in luxury, you can expect to pay around 780 GEL ($290 USD) per day. While the country isn’t expensive, there are a lot of nice accommodation options here, especially on the resort focused coast, or you can rent a full Airbnb apartment. On this budget, you can stay at a nice 4-star hotel or resort, do multi-day guided hikes (or other guided activities, like a food tour), eat out for all your meals, take a taxi about twice a day, and, generally, live the high life.
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less everyday). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in USD.
Georgia Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
Georgia is a great place for backpackers as both food and accommodation are so cheap. However there are still some ways you can keep costs even further down. Here are my tips on saving money when you visit:
- Take a free walking tour – Tbilisi offers a handful of free walking tours which are great ways to get familiar with the city and the culture. (Just be sure to tip!).
- Drink the tap water – The water in Georgia is perfectly safe to drink, so an easy way to save money is to make sure you have a reusable water bottle and save on the bottled water.
- Wild camp – If you really want to save money in Georgia, camping is perfectly legal on public land.
- Cook your own meals – Many hostels here include kitchen facilities, so if you want to save money make sure you book accommodation with a kitchen. Buying your own groceries may not be as glamorous as going out to eat, but it will definitely save you money!
- Stay with a local – Staying with a local via Couchsurfing (or similar sharing economy sites) is a great way to not only save money but its a great way to meet a knowledgeable local who can help you better understand the city and its people.
- Walk everywhere – All of the major towns and cities in Georgia are quite walkable, so skip the public transportation if you want to save a few extra Lari.
- Have an ISIC Card – You can save 20-50% on the cost of admission to museums and other tourist attractions with this card!
Where To Stay in Georgia
You can find some incredibly cheap accommodation options throughout Georgia. These are some of my favorite places to stay in Georgia:
How to Get Around Georgia
Public Transportation – Larger cities in Georgia are served by buses, mini-buses and taxis. In addition, Tbilisi is the only city that has a metro system costing around 0.5 GEL ($0.20 USD) per ride.
Public transportation prices will vary by city, but expect to pay around 0.5 GEL ($0.25 USD) for a standard adult ticket. Most cities are walkable, although Tbilisi, with the exception of the old town, is pretty spread out so you may want to try and navigate the public transport system here.
If you need to take a taxi, prices start around 3 GEL ($1.20 USD) and cost around 0.60 GEL ($0.25 USD) for every 1km. Be sure to negotiate a fair before you get in.
Alternatively, if you are in Tbilisi and don’t want to take the bus then you can use Yandex, which is Georgia’s answer to Uber. You can download the app and use it to book a driver. Most journeys will cost no more than 5 GEL ($2 USD).
Trains – Train travel within Georgia is slow and most of the trains are old and without AC. If you do decide to travel by train and are traveling in high season, you will need to book at least a day in advance or risk your train being sold out.
If you are entering or leaving Georgia by train, you can find direct routes from Armenia and Azerbaijan. Prices are very budget friendly with the overnight train from Baku in Azerbaijan costing from 54 GEL ($20 USD) for a second class ticket. Although the journey is around 13 hours so it may be worth paying a little extra for first class.
Bus – Buses, known locally as a Marshrutka, are the best way to get around the country. Expect to pay 35 GEL ($13 USD) to get from Tbilisi to Yerevan in Armenia.
Budget Airlines – You can fly between Tbilisi, Batumi, and Kutaisi. Flights cost anything from 215-1078 GEL ($80-400 USD) so this is not the most economical option. I’d only recommend it if you’re short on time.
Ridesharing – You can also try the ride-sharing app, BlaBlaCar. You can usually find rides for popular routes here, though there is a nominal fee.
Car Rental – One of the best ways to see Georgia is by hiring a car, this way you are free to roam without restrictions. However the roads in Georgia really aren’t the best and accidents are common. If you’re driving, make sure to buy an International Driving Permit (IDP) – you’ll need one for any car rental! It costs about 44 GEL ($20 USD) and is valid for one year after the date of issue (plus it’s valid in 150 countries). Car rentals can sometimes be as low as 94 GEL ($35 USD) per day, but this certainly isn’t the most economical way to get around.
Hitchhiking – While many people do, I wouldn’t hitchhike here. I personally don’t think it’s very safe. If you get stuck in some of the small mountain towns, you’ll be safer but I wouldn’t do it around the big cities.
When to Go to Georgia
The best time to visit Georgia is during the spring or autumn. During the summer months, Georgia can get extremely hot and winters can be bitterly cold. As the weather begins to get warmer from April to June the cities become more alive with people taking advantage of the warmer weather. The temperatures also make hiking and outdoor activities more pleasant, the summer can be too warm to hike comfortably.
The exception to this is if you intend on traveling to Georgia to ski. The ski season in Georgia is from December through to April.
How to Stay Safe in Georgia
Georgia is a very safe country, especially for solo travelers. The revolution of 2008 is firmly in the past and the country is growing and developing each year. The only areas to be avoided are the Russian-occupied areas of Georgia in the north (Abkhazia and South Ossetia) where things are still a bit rough and contentious.
You are very unlikely to encounter any common scams or petty crime while in Georgia. The one thing you will need to be aware of though is Georgian driving. Road accidents are very common so be sure to always wear your seatbelt.
You can read about the 14 travel scams to avoid right here.
Always trust your gut instinct. If a taxi driver seems shady, stop the cab and get out. If your hotel is seedier than you thought, get out of there. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID.
If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it in Georgia!
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Georgia Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Georgia. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the ones I use the most and are always the starting points in my search for travel deals!
- Momondo – This is my favorite booking site. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engline which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Europe, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- The Man in Seat 61 – This website is the ultimate guide to train travel anywhere in the world. They have the most comprehensive information on routes, times, prices, and train conditions. If you are planning a long train journey or some epic train trip, consult this site.
- Rome 2 Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. It will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- Bla Bla Car – BlaBlaCar is a ridesharing website that lets you share rides with vetted local drivers by pitching in for gas. You simply request a seat, they approve, and off you go! It’s a cheaper and more interesting way travel than by bus or train!
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat home cooked meal with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) but this is a great way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.
Georgia Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Georgia Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
The Ghost of Freedom: A History of the Caucasus, by Charles King
The Ghost of Freedom sheds light on the complex and turbulent history of The Caucasus area including shedding light on the ongoing disputes between Georgia and Azerbaijan and the ongoing war in Chechnya. For most of the twentieth century, The Caucasus lay inside the Soviet Union as countries in the area declared independence more issues arose. This book paints a rich portrait of one of the world’s least understood regions. King tells the story well and goes into just enough detail to answer all of your questions and more.
The Caucasus: An Introduction, by Thomas de Waal
Written by journalist Thomas de Waal (the author of Black Garden) this book is especially interesting if you have an interest in economics and politics. The book focuses on the post-Soviet history of Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, three of the countries that make us the Caucasus. The book offers a well written and dynamic account of this turbulent region. It delves into the political issues the region has faces after the 1991 conflicts as well as examining the role the region provides as a major energy producer and exporter. It is a compact book and perfect reading for a vivid and compelling account of the modern history of this region.
The Kingdom of Georgia, by John Oliver Wardrop
This book, as you may be able to tell from the title, is pretty dated. It was actually first published in 1888. The Author Sir (John) Oliver Wardrop was a British diplomat and writer who went on to become the leading foreign authority on Georgia. The book is a collection of his notes which he took on his first trip to Georgia to document his first impressions. What makes this such a fascinating read though is it is a perfect example of the notes typically taken by the British during their colonial expeditions. It is a short book making it a relatively quick read.
A Little War That Shook the World: Georgia, Russia, and the Future of the West, by Ronald Asmus
In August 2008 Russia and Georgia went to war for 5 days. A Little War That Shook the World tells the story of this brief war that seemed to many like it came out of the blue. The author Ronald Asmus who was the Deputy Secretary of State at the time sets the record straight revealing that the conflict had been in the planning for a long time by Moscow as part of a wider strategy to flex its muscles and show power to the United States. If you have an interest in politics, this will be a fascinating read to accompany your trip.
Georgia Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on backpacking/traveling Georgia and continue planning your trip: