At the end of 2016, I travelled to Georgia after finding some cheap flights. I was looking to get away and immerse myself in a totally different country with stunning nature, rich culture and plenty of adventure. Georgia did not disappoint. Here are my 7 reasons to visit Georgia:
In a lot of ways, Tbilisi is a typical East-European capital. There are old impressive monuments mixed with communist-era grey buildings, underground metro markets and old rundown pubs with cheap boos. However, the capital also has a very unique side. Georgia’s mountainous nature is definitely reflected in Tbilisi, where you can see the impressive Narikala fort on the edge of a cliff over the Kura river, right in the centre of town. The city’s architecture also mirrors the diversity of the region with both European and Turkish/Middle Eastern traits visible in many of the city’s big buildings.
Tbilisi is a great place to soak up some Georgian culture and have some fun. The city is relatively cheap, though hostels and hotels tend to be quite expensive when compared to the prices of food and activities. We stayed at the Opera Hostel, which was an awesome hostel in the heart of the city.
What stood out especially to me was the city’s vibrant social scene. There are tons of bars, cafes and restaurants, many of which are very hip and modern. I would definitely recommend checking out one of the jazz bars (like PurPur) and going for local wine tastings (in g.vino). Oftentimes you will find the fanciest places tucked away in buildings that are falling to ruin.
And then there’s the famous sulphur baths of Tbilisi…
The Private Sulphur Baths
Technically the sulphur baths are a part of Tbilisi, but I enjoyed them so much that I figured they are one of the top reasons to visit Georgia.
Having grown up in Hungary, I’d experienced thermal baths quite a bit, but I had never been to a private thermal bath. In Georgia, most of the baths are private (public baths have men and women separate) and the water tends to be really hot (an I mean really, really hot). The most famous of the sulphur baths in Tbilisi are the Royal Baths, but we had heard that the Bakhmaro ones were cleaner and less crowded. This article has pretty much everything you need to know about the various baths, most of which are open until late night every day.
We paid 100 GEL (€35) for an hour with a private room including the sulphur bath, a cold water bath, a sauna, showers and relaxing room. It was definitely worth it.
When I was looking for reasons to visit Georgia, everyone told me about the food. I’d heard a lot of great things about Georgian cuisine and was very excited to try it. Much as I expected, Georgian food is pretty heavy and not exactly the sort of food I can eat every day. That being said, there are a lot of delicious and diverse dishes that are definitely worth trying.
Georgia being a Eurasian country, the cuisine is strongly influenced by both Europe and Asia. This cultural mix is best seen in the famous Georgian ‘Khinkali’, which are dumplings filled with meat and soup. reminiscent of far eastern cuisines.
My favourite dish was the traditional Khachapuri, a delicious cheese-filled bread that reminded me a bit of Manakish and is known as Georgia’s pizza. There is also the famed Adjarian Khachapuri, which is a crispy bread boat filled with cheese, butter and topped with a raw egg. I thought the raw egg was a little too much and prefer the traditional plain Khachapuri.
The best meal we had throughout our time in Georgia was at small underground restaurant called Racha Dukhan. The restaurant had the atmosphere of a smokey underground pub but the food was incredible and very cheap. For 4 people, we ended up spending only 35 GEL (€12), making it by far our cheapest meal in Georgia. The Khachapuri was the best we had and their Lobio (their signature version of the traditional Georgian bean dish) was amazing. The best meal there was the Abkhazura, a Georgian meat dish mixed with all sorts of spices and served with potatoes fried to perfection.
On the sweeter side of things, Georgia is famous for its ‘Churchkhela’; nuts glazed in natural fruit syrup, a.k.a. ‘Georgian Snickers’.
Georgian is also famous for its wine, a bottle of which we were greeted with at immigration when we landed in Tbilisi. We tried all sorts of different Georgian wines, my favourite of which was definitely the Saperavi.
This was my number one reason to visit Georgia. It is a country blessed by beautiful nature which is most impressive in the Caucuses Mountains. Wherever you go, you are sure to always have a stunning mountainous backdrop. In the summer, the green covered hills and mountains become reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands. In winter, the snow covered peaks look like those of the Pyrenees.
In the summer, you can enjoy the black sea coast around the city of Batumi and the mountains around Gudauri and Kazbegi are a sight for sore eyes all year round. One of my favourite views was from the Peace Monument (a.k.a. Russian-Georgian Friendship Monument), up in the mountains near Gudauri.
The mountains of Georgia are also doted by fresh rivers and lakes, many of which were completely frozen over when we visited in December.
The Georgian mountains make for great skiing, which we got to experience for a day in Gudauri. Only a 2 hour Marshrutka (public mini bus, leaves from Tbilisi’s Didube Station) drive away, the Gudauri ski resort is easily accessible from Tbilisi and the ride only costs 8 GEL (€2.75) each way.
The skiing is fantastic with over 10 lifts and 40km of pistes. The pistes were not at all crowded, the weather was perfect and the views were breathtaking. Best of all, skiing in Georgia is really cheap. A ski pass for a day costs just 30 GEL (€10) and renting full gear for a day (including skis, poles, boots, helmet, goggles, gloves, trousers and jacket) cost 25 (8€) GEL per person for the day.
You can find cheap rooms (about €20 for dorm and €50 for a private room) if you ask around, but they are definitely more expensive than in the capital.
One of the big reasons to visit Georgia is the country’s rich and preserved history. Georgia is home to some of the oldest Christian monasteries in the world. In addition to the Tbilisi’s rich heritage, there are also many historical sights within an hour’s drive of the capital.
One of the highlights for me was Jvari Monastery, which dates back to the 6th century and is a UNESCO heritage sight. The monastery sits on a hill overlooking the old Georgian capital of Mtskheta, where there is also an old church that you can visit.
Not too far off lays the city of Gori, birth place of Joseph Stalin. The Stalin Museum in Gori is definitely worth a visit; it is just next to Stalin’s birth house and also has his personal train cart that he rode to the Yalta Conference. Gori also has a nice fort that is worth exploring.
Not too far from Gori is the Uplistsikhe Cave Town where you can see the remenances of homes carved right into the caves hundreds of years ago.
There are tours you can take from Tbilisi that will show you Jvari Monastery, Mtskheta, Gori and Uplistsikhe all in one day for about 35-40 GEL (€12-14).
One of the best reasons to visit Georgia is that it is off the beaten path. It is a unique country with lots to offer, but it is not exactly the sort of country most people have on their lists. As a result, you often end up meeting all sorts of unique and interesting people when travelling there. I love travelling to unusual places and I think that Georgia is an original country that is a great option for those looking to venture beyond the typical tourist countries for the first time.
After all, what more do you want than good food, friendly people, fascinating monuments and stunning nature?
I hope this list of 7 reasons to visit Georgia has made you curious to check the country out. If you have any questions about Georgia, don’t hesitate to ask!