From its sublimely perched old churches and watchtowers dotting fantastic mountain scenery to its green valleys spread with vineyards, Georgia (Saqartvelo, საქართველო) is one of the most beautiful countries on earth and a marvellous canvas for walkers, horse riders, skiers, rafters and paragliders. Equally special are its proud, highspirited, cultured people: Georgia claims to be the birthplace of wine, and this is a place where guests are considered blessings and hospitality is the very stuff of life.
A deeply complicated history has given Georgia a wonderful heritage of architecture and art, from cave cities to the inimitable canvases of Pirosmani. Tbilisi, the capital, is still redolent of an ageold Eurasian crossroads. But this is also a country striving for a place in the 21st century Western world, with eye-catching new buildings, a minimal crime rate and a heap of new facilities for the tourists who are a big part of its future.
When to Go
The ideal seasons are from mid-May to early July and from early September to mid-October, when it’s generally warm and sunny. Most of July and August can be uncomfortably humid, and lowland temperatures can reach 40°C. However, this is an excellent time to be in the mountains, and it’s the peak season on the Black Sea.
Early autumn brings the festive wine harvest in Kakheti, from about 20 September to 20 October. The eastern half of Georgia often suffers below-freezing temperatures between December and February.
Tbilisi has direct flights to/from numerous European cities, several in the Middle East and Kazakhstan, and even Ürümqi in China. Batumi has direct flights to/from Istanbul, Tel Aviv, Moscow and several Ukrainian cities. Both Tbilisi and Batumi have Baku flights, and Tbilisi has flights to/from Yerevan.
The busy Sarpi border crossing to/from Turkey is used by buses between Tbilisi and Istanbul as well as shorter distance services. Some Georgia–Turkey transport also crosses the Vale–Posof border near Akhaltsikhe.
Marshrutky (public minivans), taxis and a train connect Tbilisi with Yerevan via the Sadakhlo border. There is also marshrutka service between Akhaltsikhe, Gyumri and Yerevan via the Zhdanovi–Bavra border.
An overnight train runs between Tbilisi and Baku, as do buses and marshrutky via the Tsiteli Khidi (Krasny Most, Red Bridge) border. The more attractive route to/from Azerbaijan, via Lagodekhi, Balakәn and Zaqatala, is a matter of several marshrutky or taxi hops.
Many nationalities need no visa for stays up to 360 days. Those who do need visas can obtain them on arrival at Tbilisi airport or road entry points into Georgia (50 GEL for 90 day single entry visas), or beforehand from Georgian embassies or consulates. Visas on arrival are not available for those coming by train or sea.
Citizens of EU countries, Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Switzerland, Turkey and the USA are among those who need no visa to visit Georgia for up to 360 days.
The full list of visa-free nationalities, and further information, is given on the websites of the Georgian Foreign Ministry (mfa.gov.ge) and Georgian police (www.police.ge).
Those who do need visas can obtain one from a Georgian embassy or consulate (listed at mfa.gov.ge), or on arrival in Georgia by air or road.
Single-entry 90 day visas on arrival cost 50 GEL; multiple-entry 360-day visas are 100 GEL.
Visas are not available on arrival for travellers arriving in Georgia by train or sea, or for any travellers arriving from Abkhazia or South Ossetia.
If you have entered Abkhazia or South Ossetia from Russia, Georgia considers this a crime subject to up to five years’ imprisonment, so don’t try to continue into undisputed Georgia from either of the breakaway enclaves.
Visa-issuing procedures are pretty straightforward and are normally completed in minutes on arrival in Georgia. Consulates require a few days for processing.
- New Year’s Day — 1 January
- Orthodox Christmas Day — 7 January
- Epiphany — 19 January
- Mother’s Day — 3 March
- Women’s Day — 8 March
- Orthodox Easter Sunday — April or May (dates vary); Good Friday and/or Easter Monday may also be holidays
- Independence Restoration Day — 9 April
- Victory Day — 9 May
- Mariamoba (Assumption) — 28 August
- Svetitskhovloba (Day of Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, Mtskheta) — 14 October
- Giorgoba (St George’s Day) — 23 November