In this guide we will tell you all about backpacking in Georgia on a budget, including what to see, where to stay and how to get there.
We’ll cut to the chase here: Georgia is a stunning country! The ancient monasteries scattered around the incredibly scenic countryside, the mountain peaks and the quality wine will surely make it one of your favourite destinations. Georgia’s capital Tbilisi has a trendy mainland Europe feel without the price tag or the hoards of tourists. The locals are incredibly friendly and welcoming, and there is always waaaay too much food!
The cool, laid-back, youthful vibe of Tbilisi makes it a favourite stop for most people visiting Georgia. Tbilisi packs in enough sights to keep you busy for two full days. The best part is that most of it can be seen by foot. Spend one day checking out the Rezo Gabriadze Marionette Theatre and the Tsminda Sameba Cathedral before taking the cable car up to Narikala Fortress. On day two take in the Georgian National Museum followed by the National Gallery of Armenia. Then head up the Funicular for some amazing views across the city.
TRAVELATOR TIP: Take a break from meat-heavy Georgian cuisine with some incredible vegetarian food at Cafe Leila. The pumpkin soup and apple pie are amazing!
Georgia’s second largest city is less touristy and slightly more gritty than the capital, but has a great student feel and has plenty to see. There are quite a few attractions within a short drive from Kutaisi making it well worth a few nights. Head just outside of town to visit the Prometheus Cave and then to Gelati Monastery. In Kutaisi, walk up to the stunning Bagrati Cathedral and check out the surrounding cobble stone streets. If you have time, a visit to Okatse Canyon is also worth a trip.
TRAVELATOR TIP: Wizz Air has just started flying to Kutaisi, and flights are dirt cheap! It’s often cheaper to fly to Kutaisi than Tbilisi.
The birthplace of Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili, better known as Joseph Stalin, is the small town of Gori. Located in central Georgia, this is an intriguing stop for history buffs. The biggest attraction is the Stalin Museum. The guided tour (included in the entrance fee) is definitely worth the wait and provides some amazing insight into the life and family of one of the 20th century’s most controversial figures. Within walking distance is the Gori Fortress, the small but interesting Ethnographic Museum and the War Museum. Before you leave be sure to jump in a cab and head out to the Uplistsikhe Cave Town to check out the fascinating cave city.
TRAVELATOR TIP: For a cheap and tasty dinner, head to Sport Cafe in central Gori. The owner was apparently once a champion boxer!
No trip to Georgia is complete without spending a few days in the Kakheti region, home to most of Georgia’s wineries. Our favourite stops were Telavi and Sighnaghi. In Sighnaghi, check out the old City Walls and spend some time wandering around the cobble stone streets – it almost reminded us of a little village in Italy! Around 2km out of town is the Bodbe Monastery, which is the final resting place of St Nino, the Saint responsible for bringing Christianity to Georgia. In Telavi, the main attraction is the wine. We recommend Schuchmann Estate, Shumi Winery, and Chavchavadze Estate.
TRAVELATOR TIP: Obviously you don’t want to be designated driver during a wine tasting trip, so speak to your guesthouse about arranging a wine tour or simply speak to a taxi driver on the street. The wineries listed above are all within a short distance of Telavi (less than 10 km) so a taxi is very affordable.
Not the easiest place to get to but the stunning cave complex make it worth the journey. Located in the south of Georgia, the Vardzia Cave Complex at one time housed up to 2000 monks! Much of the complex is still in good condition and we recommend allowing at least 1 hour to explore the whole site. Khertvisi Fortress is on the road to the cave complex.
Aklhaltsikhe is a handy stopover between Vardzia and Kutaisi. There are hardly any tourists so you will largely have the sights to yourself! The Rabati Castle is the main attraction. It has been restored nicely (although is a little convention centre-y) and the grounds are lovely to walk through.
TRAVELATOR TIP: Between Vardzia and Aklhaltsikhe make sure you stop by the remote hilltop Sapara Monastery. It has a truly medieval feel!
Where To Stay
Georgia has an interesting mix of hostels, guesthouses and cheap hotels. In Tbilisi we recommend a hostel but throughout the countryside it is the warm and inviting guesthouses that will make your stay more memorable.
- Tbilisi – Tbili Hostel – don’t let the exterior put you off, this brand new hostel has everything you’re after! Comfy beds, clean bathrooms, shared kitchen, great location and a fantastic host make this the perfect place to stay.
- Kutaisi – Hostel Lviv – cheap, clean, comfortable and in a great location. Hostel Lviv has both shared and private rooms, spotless bathrooms and a share kitchen.
- Gori – Guesthouse Levani – the hosts at Levani are the most welcoming you are likely to meet. They speak fantastic English (and French) and will happily give you a run down of how to spend your time in an around Gori. Excellent rooms and a huge breakfast at a great price.
- Sighnaghi – Maya Guesthouse – if Sighnaghi is your pick in Kakheti this is the place to stay. In a great spot but away from all the noise. The incredibly friendly host Maya will make your stay a memorable one!
It is virtually impossible to travel through Georgia and not try Khachapuri. They are basically like a flat and delicious cheese pie. Khachapuri comes in any number of varieties but most will usually just be bread and cheese with the occasional extra filling.
Being wedged between Europe and Asia of course Georgia has it’s own form of dumpling! The khinkali is up there with some of the better types of dumpling we have tried. They come filled with anything from potato to fish. Usually the price on the menu is per dumpling and there will be a minimum you can purchase.
Ojakhuri is simple and while it doesn’t look amazing, it’s absolutely delicious. Usually chicken or pork with potato, onions and herbs mixed together and served on a piping hot clay dish. Ojakhuri will come out still sizzling so give it some time to cool off before you dive in.
It doesn’t matter which bar, restaurant cafe or guesthouse you are in, there will be a bottle of chacha kicking around somewhere. This clear spirit is usually made from grapes, can be anywhere between 40 and 60 percent alcohol and differs greatly in quality depending on who made it. Large Georgian vineyards make it and so do people’s grandmothers, but regardless of where it came from you need to give it a go.
In Tbilisi: we spent 2 days in Tbilisi and managed to see everything on foot! It’s a beautiful city to walk around and all of the sights are quite close together. If walking is not your cup of tea there is a metro that runs pretty much everywhere, which is cheap and easy to use. Taxis are also readily available but be sure to agree on a price before getting in. If possible have your accommodation call a registered taxi for you with a meter.
Between cities: from Tbilisi, minibuses and trains will get to to pretty much anywhere you need to go. Once you are outside of Tblisi, minibuses are the most common form of transport but frequency and reliability can vary from place to place. We hired a car, which was great fun!
Getting In and Out
Tbilisi is well connected by air with both mainland Europe and Central Asia. From the Middle East both FlyDubai and Qatar offer services out of Dubai and Doha respectively. If you are looking for cheap options, Kutaisi has some incredibly cheap flights through budget carrier Wizz Air. Aegean Airways also have a really cheap fare through to Europe flying via Athens.
Georgia shares land borders with Armenia, Russia, Turkey and Azerbaijan. All borders are usually open to tourists. The only dicey area is Ossetia, a region in northern Georgia that has been annexed by Russia. It is illegal to enter Georgia via Ossetia.
- Armenia: taking a bus/marshrutka from Yerevan is the easiest way to get to Tbilisi. The journey takes around 6 hours and most will depart between 8am and 11am in the morning. Make your way to the Kilikya Avtokayan station and find the van heading to Tbilisi.
- Russia: it’s a long slog but you can actually catch a bus from Moscow to Tbilisi! There are 2 daily departures and the journey will take around 32 hours. Closer to the Georgian border, Vladikavkaz is the best destination to get the much shorter 4 hour bus to Tbilisi.
- Turkey: it is possible to catch a bus from Istanbul, but you’re looking at a journey of at least 26 hours. There are regular departures however. The buses depart from the Istanbul Otogari station and tickets can be purchased through Metro Turizm.
- Azerbaijan: from Baku the best route to Tbilisi is on the overnight train. Leaving around 8pm each day the train takes around 15 hours. Tickets can be purchased at the Baku Railway station or online.
Georgia is also accessible from Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine and Russia via the Black Sea. Departues and prices vary depending on the time of year so head to the super helpful UKR Ferry site for more information.
Our budget for Georgia was higher than usual as we chose to hire a car. We spent approximately US$90 per day (for two people), which included our car hire costs, petrol, parking, entrance fees, private rooms in guesthouses, and most meals in restaurants. Exchange the car for public transport you would spend around US$70 per day (for two people).
Best Time to Visit
The high season in Georgia are in the summer months (June to September), when you can expect hot and dry days. Spring are autumn are great times to visit although Autumn can be a bit cold and rainy. While there is great snow skiing in winter, during our visit in October it was freezing and even snowed! So be prepared for variable weather.
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