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The first thing that families who plan to travel to the country of Georgia will want to clear up is that, yes, indeed, it is a country, not just a southern U.S. state. Situated between Turkey and Russia on the eastern shore of the Black Sea, Georgia offers visitors a mix of Asian and European influences. Combine this rich culture and long history with incredible natural scenery, and travelers to Georgia find it is well worth a trip to experience its bounty. This Georgia travel guide serves as a brief introduction to spark an interest for future vacations.
Traveling to a remote hidden gem like Georgia is full of excitement and intrigue, but figuring out how to structure the trip so that it is still kid-friendly adds to the challenge of vacation planning for families. This is when using a family-focused travel planner with on-the-ground partners is invaluable, and it is exactly what Ciao Bambino offers its clients.
Most travelers coming from North America or Europe will arrive and depart from Tbilisi (pronounced tuh-blee-see), so it works well as a base for at least a few nights. It’s also home to more than one-third of the Georgian population. For those who dislike jumping from city to city, packing and repacking, know that several interesting day trips are possible from Tbilisi. When visiting Georgia, some families stay put in the city for four to seven days and combine it with a week elsewhere in the region, like Armenia or Turkey.
The ideal way to conquer jet lag and get your bearings in Tbilisi is by wandering the winding streets of the Old Town. Admire the traditional architecture of the homes, duck into a few of the many restaurants to sample Georgian cuisine, and stop at any of the historical museums and churches that capture your interest. It’s a bustling city, certainly, but it doesn’t require minute-by-minute itineraries the way a trip to London or Paris might, and that freedom is a big part of the joy of visiting.
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Kids love browsing the Dry Bridge Market, where they can hunt for souvenirs and investigate secondhand memorabilia from the Soviet era for sale. Teens in particular enjoy flipping through the vinyl record collections. This market dates back to the difficult days of perestroika, when many Georgians needed to sell their personal wares to make ends meet after the country’s independence from the Soviet Union. Some vendors have complicated, painful memories associated with the items they are selling. Prices are inflated for tourists; it is best just to accept that instead of arguing, though a bit of haggling is okay.
Another highlight for kids in Tbilisi is a funicular ride to Mtatsminda Park, an amusement park. While Disney it is not, prices are extremely reasonable and it works well for a couple of hours of lighthearted entertainment. Even if rides aren’t your family’s cup of tea, the views of the city below from this spot are unmatched.
For those using Tbilisi as a base from which to venture elsewhere in Georgia, consider Gori, which is the birthplace of Stalin and the location of a medieval fortress. Another popular day trip is Kakheti, a well-known wine region. If you plan to spend a good portion of the trip immersing yourself in the wineries of Georgia, you will want more than just a day in this region, but it makes for a great excursion for those with a casual interest. Both Gori and Kakheti are about a 90-minute to 2-hour drive outside Tbilisi.
How to fill the rest of a one- or two-week trip to Georgia depends largely on your interests, as the country offers an amazing amount of variety in a compact location. (For perspective, it is roughly the size of West Virginia.) If visiting in the winter months, consider skiing in the Caucasus mountain resorts. Or for wine and food aficionados, more time exploring Georgia’s wineries in Kakheti might be in order. It’s also possible to carve out time for beach relaxation along the Black Sea or hiking in the more rural areas of the country.
To avoid road fatigue, we suggest choosing no more than one or two other locations to visit before returning to Tbilisi for a flight back home.
One favorite route for families is to head west from Tbilisi toward the Black Sea and spend two or three nights in the seaside town of Batumi. It’s a resort town, and more modern than Tbilisi, with a coastal vibe that comes from its location. Families love the aquarium here, as well as spending a day walking or biking Batumi Boulevard, a 7-mile seaside promenade with parks, a lighthouse and cafes. Teens will love the funky sculptures and murals perfect for selfies. With more time, there are many day trip options from Batumi as well, from Roman fortifications to national parks perfect for hiking.
From Batumi, head to Vardzia’s cave monastery. Dug into a cliffside, these man-made caves have been inhabited since the Bronze Age; visitors explore via tunnels and stairs. Families with mobility concerns or toddlers may want to skip this, but for school-age kids, it is fascinating and well worth the effort. It is still an active monastery and a popular pilgrimage site, with monks selling their crafts and worshipping in the sanctuary. Visitors are asked to maintain silence in certain parts and cover their shoulders and knees. Try to plan a morning visit to avoid the crowds that come for the day from Tbilisi.
En route back to Tbilisi, stop in Borjomi for lunch or dinner. This is the spot to sample Georgia’s famed mineral water, the country’s largest export. Take a bucket to fill with water from the spring.
The average Western palate has probably missed out on Georgia’s incredible cuisine and wine, and that’s all the more reason to prioritize this when planning a trip here.
While winery hopping might not rank high on your kids’ wish lists, even they will be fascinated by the ancient process still used at many Georgian vineyards. At harvest time, you can watch grapes being pressed with stones in ancient clay pots — or get involved yourself — essentially the same way it was done when Georgians first began making wine back in 6000 B.C., well before the French or Italians were. (Go ahead, Google where wine originated.) It remains one of the largest exports and a key part of the country’s agriculture-based economy.
Most of the top wineries are found in the Kakheti region, mentioned above. Some are housed on working farms or in historic buildings like castles and fortresses, making a visit more interesting for children. It’s popular to combine a tasting with horseback riding through the vineyards. For families that decide to spend a few nights in the region, several resort-style hotels have been developed at top wineries. Sampling while you watch your kids enjoy an outdoor hotel pool may be the best pairing of all.
The culinary delights don’t end with wine. Georgia’s national dish, khachapuri, is a decadent boat-shaped rustic bread full of melty, oozy cheese and topped with an egg that cooks in the hot cheese. Khinkali, a savory soup dumpling, is another common dish that children enjoy trying. The best part? It’s totally acceptable and encouraged to eat both of these with your hands! A great way to get kids excited about trying Georgian food is to book a cooking class so they can learn to make khachapuri, khinkali and other dishes themselves.
It’s also quite fun to attend a traditional supra, a lengthy multi-course feast that’s full of lively toasts, wine, incredible food and traditional music. A supra will last hours, so it may be best to arrange a babysitter for younger children.
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Premier 5-star luxury hotels have not made their way to Georgia … yet. However, most cities and towns frequented by tourists have several Western brands and chains to choose from (Marriott, Sheraton, etc.), and visitors will find these properties comfortable and clean. Many offer expected amenities like swimming pools and spacious lobbies. For those who want something more authentic, expect a stay at a local property to offer basic rooms and fewer creature comforts.
The tradeoff is that accommodations in Georgia are extremely affordable — families appreciate that this line item doesn’t require such a large portion of their travel budget as it does elsewhere in the world.
Driving in Tbilisi is not recommended for most visitors, as traffic and parking are both very difficult. Fortunately, many of the main sites in the city are walkable. For longer journeys, Bolt is Georgia’s equivalent to Uber or Lyft, and taxis are readily available.
To get to other regions within the country, it is better to arrange a private transfer instead of relying on public transportation (which consists mainly of minibuses called marshrutkas that rarely run on time) or self-driving. Our advisors can arrange these transfers with professional, reliable drivers as part of Ciao Bambino’s full planning services.
Some driving routes to various destinations are along modern highways, but others involve bumpy dirt roads. Always assume an anticipated drive time will take longer than expected, and prepare for limited services along the route. Pack plenty of snacks and water.
Georgia is Eurasia’s unpolished gem, with its unique character and ancient history set amid a diverse and gorgeous landscape unlike anywhere else on earth. Families who blaze the trail to this up-and-coming destination are richly and deliciously rewarded.
Editor’s Note: Special thanks to Naomi and Stan Orkin, whose insight into their family’s recent trip to Georgia was invaluable in writing this article.
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This is a challenging time for our clients given the uncertainty around the spread of coronavirus, particularly for those with near-term travel plans in impacted areas. We’re working with our suppliers on being flexible with their booking conditions, and enabling families to postpone travel to a later date without a penalty, when possible. Likewise, given the unpredictability around destinations that may be impacted in the future, we’re helping clients planning new trips and understand ways that they can protect themselves until the situation improves. We are ready to help our clients work through questions and concerns.