A Cheapskate’s Cheatsheet to Tbilisi, Georgia – NY Times
02 April, 2015
A Cheapskate’s Cheatsheet to Tbilisi, Georgia – NY Times
Seth Kugel wrote about his travel to Georgia for New York Times.
“It seems that everyone loves the country of Georgia. You can barely mention it without people piping up to say how startlingly beautiful the Caucasus mountain villages are, or raving about meats grilled over grapevines, the generous use of walnuts and pomegranates, or internationally beloved acharuli khachapuri, fresh baked cheesebread with a raw egg on top. But what they may leave out is how cheap it is —
especially true since the lari has lost 20 percent of its value since last summer.
Most trips to Georgia start in Tbilisi, the capital city of a million or so that for American travelers is both reassuringly familiar and genuinely exotic. The streets could be European, but what’s that gorgeous alphabet the signs are written in? The national religion is Christian, but women cover their heads in churches with no pews. Georgians love bread and cheese but sometimes crack a raw egg over it.

You could spend money in Tbilisi, but you’d have to go out of your way. Alas, the one thing I would have paid for, I couldn’t: the overcast, drizzly weather I encountered in late February. For 7 lari ($3.21 at 2.18 lari to the dollar), though, I was able to switch to powdery snow — by hopping a bus up into the mountains. (For more on getaways from the capital, see last week’s column on the eastern region of Kakheti.)

Here are some tips on getting the most out of the already frugal traveler-friendly city.


You could pay $200 and change at the Courtyard by Marriott looking out on Freedom Square and its gilded statue of St. George atop a pillar. But in the eight-plus years since the statue went up (which was, in turn, 15 years after a statue of Lenin was torn down) affordable guesthouses have opened across Tbilisi, including ones right near the square. I stayed in Tina’s House, tucked away on a nearby residential street, for 70 lari a night including breakfast. The Muradashvili family has lived there for decades; it’s full of portraits painted by Tina’s nephew, and clocks collected by her husband, Zviad. The beds at the Marriott are better, but the guesthouse is also close to the metro and a 10-minute walk to the old city.

Getting Around

A Georgian friend of mine in New York told me in advance that taxis in Tbilisi are “stupid cheap.” I actually ended up walking almost everywhere, and took the metro (half a lari) when I didn’t. But the few times I did use taxis they were indeed stupid cheap: Getting anywhere around the city center will run you 7 lari max at most. Even a run from the airport to the central part of the city is only 25 lari. Since I was arriving after midnight, I accepted Tina’s offer to send her husband to collect me for 30 lari; when I cleared customs I found him holding up a piece of paper with my name — a first for me.

Eating and Drinking

Somewhere in this city, I’m sure there are expensive restaurants. But at most restaurants serving the sort of hearty, meaty (but also vegetarian-friendly) Georgian cuisine you’re looking for, order freely. Twenty lari will get you a feast, as at the popular chain Shemoikhede Genatsvale, where I had tasty pork ribs in a slightly spicy adjika sauce for 14 lari. At Machakhela, which looks like a fast-food spot, baked-to-order acharuli bread filled with an eggplant stew goes for 5 lari; at its table-service branches — sometimes listed with the name Samikitno — traditional wine fermented in clay pots called kvevri starts at one lari per generous pour. I even went upscale one night when a friend of a friend invited me to a place called Azarphesha, and after two bottles of wine and a spread that included a delicious Georgian-style mushroom and herb polenta, whole trout, moutabal (an eggplant purée) with pomegranate seeds, and wine for about 60 lari a person.

Museums, Music and Shopping

The National Museum is an amazing enough deal for 5 lari — the highlight is the Archaeological Treasury, with its exquisitely crafted pre-Christian gold. But also included in that cost is the Museum of Soviet Occupation, which offers an emotionally jarring and indispensable history lesson: Less than three years after independence, Georgia was occupied by the Bolsheviks in 1921, and remained part of the Soviet Union until 1991. The museum leaves no question about how many Georgians feel about Russia, even today: A map showing the disputed territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which Georgians consider under the control of Russia reads “OCCUPATION CONTINUES.”


The smaller Museum of the History of Tbilisi (3 lari) is a bit mustier, but has an interesting collection of old musical instruments, life-size mock-up of an old city block, and obsolete household items, which are always entertaining. A highlight is an old Underwood typewriter with Georgian keys that looks as if it should be used to type up ancient magic spells.

The Georgian tradition of polyphonic singing is deservedly inscribed on Unesco’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list, and unlike its traditional wine (whose methods are also inscribed), you can experience it for free, either in restaurants or Tbilisi’s several ancient churches. I attended a service at the Anchiskhati Church, where a choir of four men stood in a tight circle, facing one another and singing in deep concentration.

I’m not much of a shopper, but who doesn’t enjoy a good flea market, especially when so many items are from the Soviet era. That’s what you’ll find at the Dry Bridge, an old town bazaar, where I even found the perfect gift — for myself: Russian-made versions of albums by the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Louis Armstrong and others to bulk up my nascent vinyl collection for between 5 and 15 lari each.


It may be missing the après-ski bells and whistles of resorts in the Alps, but the wide-open runs at Gudauri, about 75 miles from Tbilisi, are extensive, easy to get to, well cared for and, at least on a weekday, without lines. The views are every bit as spectacular as well. Or so I hear — during my visit, heavy snow created near white-out conditions.
But it sure was cheap. The marshrutka (or minibus) to and from Tbilisi cost 7 lari each way, equipment rental was 25 lari and a lift ticket was 30. I subsisted on snacks, including my first taste of churchkhela, stringed nuts dipped in a sort of thickened grape juice. The total cost of my day was about 75 lari, or about $35, less than one-quarter the cost of a lift ticket alone at Vail,” New York Times informs.

Related Story:

High in the Mountains and Monasteries of Georgia - The New York Times
Other Stories
Four seasons are not enough! - Well known campaign takes new turn
The online campaign #spendyoursummeringeorgia was extended to four seasons. And it will keep growing, as Keta Goletiani, one of the founders explains.
On the stairways to heaven
It is not very easy to access the Katskhi pillar in the western Imereti region. But it’s worth your time as “CNN travel” states after they hit the road.
Beshumi to Ushguli: Four days in paradise
Georgian Photographer Giorgi Shermazanashvili made a trip from Beshumi to Ushguli. His pictures capture the great beauty of Georgia's west.
First snow arrives in Kazbegi (Watch video)
It is end of August and the first snow has already arrived in Kazbegi.
Easy summer destinations for Tbilisi travellers
Summer is the busiest period in terms of tourism. Here are 4 places a foreign visitor should see in Georgia, Tbilisi to experience city’s modern and traditional mix.
Sakartvelo TOP-1 – Why is Georgia number 1 for the Belarusian photographer?
Georgia among Georgians is called Sakartvelo. This is the name how the Belarusian tourist calls this country.
American diplomat about Georgia: “Every single city has left me wanting more”
Kristen Crocker, American Diplomat has recently visited Georgia.
Forbes: “Georgia (The Country) Is On Everyone’s Mind”
Forbes, an American business magazine, has recently published an article about Georgia.
Amazon Jungle in Georgia - Kolkheti National Park
Kolkheti National Park is located in the western part of Georgia and intends to protect the wetland nature of Kolkheti.
Abudelauri Colorful Lakes – Magical Place to See In Georgia
A Magical, mysterious place, home of the Khevsuretian Gods, with a view of spectacular Chiukhi Mountain,
Koruldi Lakes in Svaneti – Heaven On Earth
Koruldi Lakes is one of the most magical places in Georgia.
Svaneti – the most untouched place by the outside world
French photographer Julien Pebrel traveled to Georgia last summer.
5 must-see lesser-known places in Kakheti
Kakheti is located in the eastern part of Georgia.
Euronews: "Batumi as a center of youth culture"
Euronews has recently published an article about Batumi, a seaside town in Georgia.
Russian tourist in Batumi explains why Russians should not come to Georgia
It has been more than a week since demonstrations have started in Tbilisi and are held daily.
How "Spend Your Summer in Georgia" campaign started?
The group includes around 207 000 members of Facebook and it has been only couple of days since the campaign was launched.
Why Georgia? – Photographer Eddy Li speaks about his experience
As the number of tourists coming to Georgia rises, so does the number of international photographers.
Visit Gudamakari surrounded by the Greater Caucasus Mountains
Gudamakari is a historical area in northeastern Georgia surrounded by Mtiuleti, Khevi, Khevsureti and Pshavi (slopes of the Greater Caucasus Mountains).
Georgia among Eid Al Fitr destinations
Where to mark Eid Al Firt? This is the question many of the residents of the Arabian countries will ask themselves as soon as Ramadan is over.
Visit Turtle Lake via the renovated cable car
If you are in Tbilisi and looking for a quiet place surrounded by the greenery, Georgian Journal will show you a perfect option.
5 places to visit for entertainment in Tbilisi
Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia offers a lot of options to those visitors who love to go out, have fun and enjoy the active part of the city.
4 reasons why Georgia should be your next destination by Ftnnews
Ftnnews, a website about traveling has recently published an article about why Georgia should be travelers’ next destination.
Georgia and Ukraine have nothing in common when it comes to traveling
Kyiv Post has recently devoted an article to Georgia.
Former Swiss Ambassador to Georgia Lukas Beglinger settles down in Ujarma
Lukas Beglinger, a former ambassador of Switzerland to Georgia has left the homeland to live in Georgia.
The New York Times about Lelo Burti, Georgian folk game
The New York Times has recently dedicated an article to the Georgian folk game Lelo Burti.
GEL Exchange Rate