Recently I had the unique experience of visiting Georgia, the small former Soviet nation. Having previously been to 31 other countries around the world I can now say without a doubt that Georgia is an absolute must-see.
Located at the junction point between Europe and Asia, Georgia is situated right between Russia and Turkey, with the Black Sea bordering it to the West. It has a population of 3.7 million and is quickly becoming one of the hottest travel destinations in the world. In fact, last year it welcomed 2.7 million tourists.
I had an absolute blast there and so decided to put together a short post. My top 8 reasons to visit it (in no particular order):
1. Friendly People
Of all the countries I’ve visited, Georgia easily has some of the most genuinely friendly people I have ever come across. In fact, when we were there, everyone in my family was absolutely blown away by this.
Just walking down the street we were often invited by complete strangers to taste wine for free (or to see newborn rabbits). We really got a sense that locals were proud of their country (despite its potential flaws) and sincerely wanted to show us the best of it.
After talking to our tour guide, one of my theories for why there is such a culture of hospitality is the country’s location. Specifically, being right between Europe and Asia, as well as alongside the path of the Silk Road, there was always a lot of mixing of people and nationalities. Hence, I believe that this history of multi-ethnic contact may be a driving factor for why people are so friendly there today.
2. There’s A Lot More to See Than You Think
One of the most popular questions I got from people when they heard I was going to Georgia (apart from where is it) is what even is there to do there.
Despite being roughly the size of West Virginia, and having a population of only 3.7 million, there’s actually a ton to do in the country. We were there for an action-packed week and a half, and did not run out of places to see. If anything, there’s a lot of stuff we missed that we’d love to come back for.
Just a few highlights:
- Bathing in sulphur baths
- Old churches from as far back as the 6th century
- Various architectural gems hidden throughout Tbilisi
- The gorgeous mountain-side town of Stepantsminda in Kazbegi
- Great food and wine (more on that later)
3. Beautiful Scenery
Another thing that stood out in the country is just how beautiful the scenery is. For the most part, it has been untouched so the natural views are absolutely gorgeous.
4. Its Unique History
Today’s Georgia presents a unique mix that can best be described as post-Soviet relics and fast development.
In Tbilisi (Georgia’s capital city) you’ll quickly notice modern glass structures scattered throughout the city right next to historic buildings. While some may find this jarring, personally I thought it presented an incredibly unique cityscape unlike any other.
For example, there’s Tbilisi’s Bridge of Peace — a glass bridge with 1,208 LEDs that light up to beam the periodic table of elements to space every hour at night using Morse Code. There’s also all-glass police stations “for transparency” and to symbolize the country’s fight against corruption.
Pair that with relics from the Soviet era, such as Lada cars, and you get a unique combination.
5. Delicious Food
Another highlight of the trip by far was the food. Delicious and made with super fresh local ingredients!
A few famous dishes:
- Khinkali: large dumplings filled primarily with minced meat that you eat with your hands (similar to Chinese soup dumplings but significantly larger)
- Khachapuri: cheese-filled bread that comes in various forms (with different kinds of cheese, in varying shapes, and sometimes with other ingredients like a runny egg yolk)
- Pkhali: a paste-type appetizer that comes in a variety of flavors (spinach, cabbage, eggplant, beets, and others)
- Churchkhela: an elongated sweet made out of grapes
Keep in mind that while for the most part the same menu items will appear throughout the country, many regions will also have their own specialties.
In 2004, then-Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili started a radical campaign of police reforms that began with firing and replacing the entire police force (30,000 officers). What followed was a massive initiative to fight corruption and crime.
When we spoke with locals, most of them had mixed feelings about the reforms. Nevertheless, they all spoke proudly about how safe the country is today.
As our tour guide joked:
If you were to stay out late at night the worst thing that would happen to you is a local may drag you with them to drink all night.
A Gallup poll echoed this sentiment, as it found that 93% of men and 90% of women in Georgia felt completely safe walking home at night alone. Based on our experience and numerous stories that we heard from locals (including one about leaving a parked car unlocked with the keys still in the ignition) most of Georgia is completely safe to visit.
While not typically associated with wine, Georgia actually has a long history of wine production. In fact, the country even has its own signature process that has been recognized by Unesco as an “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.”
The process consists of filling large uniquely-shaped clay vessels (called Qvevri) with wine and burying them in the ground. It’s an incredibly labor intensive process but the Georgians take their wine quite seriously. In fact, locals assured us that a Georgian could easily drink up to 5 liters of wine in a night and 50–60 liters per month (“120 liters in the cold winter months”).
8. It’s Cheap and Accessible!
If the above 7 reasons haven’t convinced you yet, another added bonus of visiting Georgia is that it’s incredibly cheap!
For example, one massive lunch that we had (which included appetizers, a bunch of shared main courses, wine, and coffee) came out to $46 for 6 people (roughly $7.70 per person).
Let me also point out that the country has actively been encouraging tourism, so citizens of the US, Canada, Mexico, all EU countries, Russia, and many other countries don’t need visas to visit Georgia for up to 365 days.
So there you have it. Those are my top 8 reasons to visit Georgia.
Have you been to Georgia and think there’s something I missed? Planning a trip there soon? Or just inspired after reading my post? Comment below.
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