After my successful summits and trek in Nepal earlier this year, it was time for a different adventure. A friend of mine visited and recommended Georgia. I quickly fell in love with the photos from her trip and decided I should go here too. I really wanted to go backpacking again. My last backpacking trip was in Ladakh and Kashmir in India. Everything came into place for Georgia at the right time. I boarded the flight to the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi.
Tbilisi or Tiflis is the capital of Georgia. This was my first trip venturing outside the usual Middle-East and Asia proper. Georgia is located at the centre of the East and West. This is where Europe meets Asia. To its North, lies the Russian Federation, to the South Turkey and Armenia, Azerbaijan to the East and the Black Sea to the West. A lot of wars and battles were fought here and the country has seen so much history.
The Georgian culture is a fusion of the Asian and European. You can find a bit of Eastern Europe, Persia, Arabia and the Mediterranean. I was excited and wanted to see what Georgia had in store for an Indian. I broke the trip down into small bits and referred to the Lonely Planet for reference.
Traveling solo with a budget of just around 800$, was incredibly possible in Georgia. The Lonely Planet chapter on Georgia has a wealth of information which i referred to. The rest of my journey was all spontaneous decisions
Also read: A list of cheap places to go backpacking.
I arrived at the Shota Rustaveli Tbilisi International Airport from Dubai at around 4am on a Fly Dubai flight. I paid approximately $238 for a return flight from Dubai. What a steal! The immigration was a breeze through. A visa on your passport from the USA, UK or GCC gives you free entry into the country. It’s free! So you don’t pay a penny. You should visit the Georgia Visa Portal and see if you are eligible for a Visa On Arrival (VoA) or if you need apply for one online before flying in and its $20 if it’s an online visa.
Local SIM Card
I wanted to pickup up a cellphone SIM card so I lingered around the Airport arrivals for a bit after checking out. There are three cellular operators in Georgia that offer Prepaid SIM card services to tourists: Magti, Geocell and Beeline. There was a bit of a crowd at all the stands so I chose to buy the one with lesser people waiting. Magti and Geocell have better coverage overall in Georgia. You will get a free SIM card and then you can top it up with 20 GEL ($8.32), which will give you 4GB of data and 10 free minutes. But ask the agent there for the best offers they have depending on your need and the duration of your stay.
WiFi is pretty much available all throughout Georgia at hotels, hostels, cafes and at most public places even on the metro.
The locals in Georgia speak Georgian, a language that is loosely close to Aramaic, which is extinct now. In some parts of the country the people speak Russian since it was a part of the former Soviet Union. But most people at various commercial establishments speak a bit of English too. Since the Georgian language is totally unique and does not share any similarities with any languages in the world, its best to use a translation app or download the Google Translate app for android or iPhone to make conversations with the locals on-the-go. That’s what I did. But again, it’s not really that hard to communicate with the locals.
Tbilisi has a lot of options for all kinds of travelers. From hostels to swanky new hotels, to guesthouses and apartments. I used Airbnb, Hostelworld and booking.com to narrow down places to stay according to my budget.
The next morning, after waking up for breakfast. I packed my day pack with my camera and some essentials and walked to Marjanishvili Square. The hotel I was staying at was just around the corner and a short walk from the Square. This is where the local metro station is located. Marjanishvili is an upcoming urban locale. The busy square is usually bustling with commuters, tourists, locals and street vendors all day and the buildings are nicely lit up in the nights. The street vendors here sell fruits, vegetables, souvenirs, sweets, books, accessories and so on. There are lots of restaurants with a lot of different cuisines all around the square.
The Metro in Tbilisi I found was the cheapest mode of transport within the city. There are a lot of city buses too but it’s a bit confusing. For the metro, all one needs to do is to buy a Metro-money card from the nearest metro station for 2 GEL ($0.83) and load it with money from the counter itself or vending machines that one can be found everywhere in the country. A one-way journey to any station costs 0.5 GEL ($0.21). The trains keep coming every 3-5 minutes throughout the day at every station. It’s a no-nonsense convenient mode of transport for locals and tourists alike.
I got down to the underground station from Marjanishvili and boarded the metro to the next station, Rustaveli. Named after the Georgian poet extraordinaire, Shota Rustaveli. This is the cultural and main town centre of present day Tbilisi. The streets were filled with travelers, tourists and locals. They have some really good-looking buildings here too, built in classical European Neo-Gothic Moorish architecture.
You can find street musicians playing tunes on the way and have a coffee or a beer at one of the many roadside cafes. Since I wanted to explore the area, I thought of taking a self-guided walking tour from the Rustaveli Metro Station all the way to the Old City. A short walk of 3.5 km along the old buildings of Rustaveli up to the Narikala Fortress. I got into a cafe on the street, had a nice little lunch and enjoyed the pleasant weather outside for a bit. After the meal, I continued on the streets clicking pictures as I walked past some of the monuments and sights on the way.
A statue of the poet, Shota Rustaveli can be found at the park just beside the Metro station. There is a small souvenir market run by the locals just a little ahead of the metro station. You have a lot of little things to buy at the mini souvenir market and it’s better to spend some time and see what you would like to take home with you as a souvenir.
The Rustaveli Theatre and the Georgian Parliament buildings are next on the route, and then the Museum of Georgia. The avenue ends at a turning where the famous gold ornate landmark of St. George slaying a dragon is located. This is called the Freedom Square or Liberty Square. As along the city walls from here, you get into a small alley where you’ll find the famous crooked clock tower of Tbilisi. There’s a quaint little cafe here with beautiful interiors called Cafe Leila. I stopped here to sip on some virgin mojitos to quench my thirst and to take a short rest from all the walking.
The Bridge of Peace
It got dark and the sun had set by then. I walked to the Mtkvari River, where an impressive, iconic structure called The Bridge of Peace stands. You can cross over to Rike Park from here and capture the glowing lights of the city from the bridge and enjoy a 360˚ view of Tbilisi.
I continued to the park, where I witnessed a beautiful musical fountain show. The Georgian Presidential Palace sits on a hill above the park. I wanted to get back on the walking trail but stayed at the park to relax.
At the end of the park is a Ropeway station which will give you a ride to the famous Narikala Fortress. You Pay 1 GEL ($0.42) through the metro card at the counter for the two-way fare up and down. As you ascend up to the fortress you get breathtaking views of Tbilisi from the air and its night lights. Once you reach up, you are at the entrance of the Narikala Fortress and the entire city is laid out in front of you.
After enjoying the cool breeze at the top, I headed back down to the streets below and continued to walk back towards Marjanishvili. It was a long walk and I felt too tired to continue after a while. Half way through I decided to catch a taxi back to the hotel through an app called Taxify which works similar to Uber. It wasn’t expensive at all. The ride only cost me 4 GEL ($1.66). Back at Marjanishvili, I settled for a quick dinner at a local cafe near the square.
Tbilisi is a beautiful city. Lots of fascinating things to see and do, lots of history to learn. The people are ever friendly. A clash of cultures and where the East truly meets the West. After the day well spent in the city, I returned back to the hotel and started planning and preparing for the rest of my trip in Georgia.
You may also like: Georgia: The Country of Life
*This post contains affiliate links which means if you click on them and book through them I will receive a little something to keep this page running.