Getting Around – By Car
Car rental is by far the best way to explore Georgia independently, however traffic in Tbilisi may feel chaotic at times and you definitely have to be a confident and vigilant driver to navigate the busy streets of the capital and other cities in a hire car.
Even in Tbilisi the roads may be potholed, some of them do deep that they might even break your tire or entire car axle if you hit them fast. We generally found that deep potholes were marked by sticks and/or other items to make other drivers aware of the hazard. DO NOT DRIVE THROUGH! The streets, even the main roads, might also abruptly stop being tarmacked, or have stretches with holes. Even major streets in Georgia might only contain rubble on the surface, which may slow down your speed considerably.
Be Aware of Animals on the Roads
If you are driving be also aware of animals suddenly crossing the roads, even on motorways we have spotted dogs and cows. To our surprise we discovered that large groups of cows might congregate on bridge in particular and they will not move out of your way, even when you start a honking or drive towards them. This might be fun for the kids to watch but it maybe rather annoying for the driver of the car and can cause hazards and queues. When driving allow lots of time and be bot vigilant and patient.
Google Maps or Similar is Paramount
Google or similar map tools are the only way to find your way through Tbilisi, many of the street signs are insufficient or even at major junctions missing. Wider afield though be careful of the automatic directions and routes on Google and other map services. We found they did not always take the obvious routes between centres, so carefully checking the options available, was essential.
Petrol stations can be found in abundance throughout the Georgia, I would still suggest to fill up regularly and especially before driving to a very remote destination.
Some Areas are Off Limit
Our car hire company, Avis, told me upon hiring the car that there are some areas off limits, these are very remote and we did not venture near them. The agent told me that the restriction was due to very bad road surfaces that might damage a normal car and in some cases a 4 by 4 will struggle! Double check with your company what is possible and allowed. We had fun off the main roads but it may not be for every traveller.
Car Hire at Tbilisi Airport and Other Cities
A number of car hire companies offer car rentals to foreigners at Tbilisi Airport and some of the other cities and we found the prices to be a little less expensive than in Europe in most cases. International driving licenses are not required for European drivers, but all other countries should carry an international driving license. I would definitely advise to always take a fully comprehensive insurance with your car hire as accidents do happen!
Police Checks and Speeding
Police presence and checks are frequent but they generally refrain from interacting with foreigners. There are speed cameras throughout the country in abundance and there are fines. if you did drive too fast they have to be paid after dropping your car back to the car hire company and the system is fully automated! They have a system that check for any infringements you might have encountered during your time driving in Georgia. However you will quickly realize that no one obeys the speed limits, especially in rural areas.
On most roads overtaking is the norm. Expect to be stuck behind trucks on certain routes for kilometres on end, this is generally the case on busy mountain routes, like the route from Tbilisi to the Russian Border near Stepantsminda/Kazbegi. Also pay attention, especially at night, as some of the cars drive with only one light and the roads might not have any lines to guide you in darkness. Georgian drivers use their mobile phones frequently while driving, please keep this in mind!
Car Seats for Children
Car seats for children are not an obligation by law in Georgia, however most hire car companies will offer them at an additional fare and safety should always come first!
Should You Hire a Car in Georgia
If you keep these facts in mind, I can highly recommend hiring a car in Georgia, it provided us with the flexibility to get away from the tight schedules of tour groups and take your own time and pace. Driving your own car is an absolute necessity for travellers wanting to explore unusual routes and the best mean for reaching off the beaten track destinations on a family holiday.
Getting Around – Other Options
Train, Long Distance Bus and Mini Buses
If you are not a confident driver it is certainly possible to get around the country by other means. There are some train services from Tbilisi and other major centres, but expect them to be slow, if scenic. Likewise fast coaches connect the main centres and all the small areas are linked with small minibuses that stop all over. This is a viable and cheap way around but probably not so easy with little ones and only easy if travelling light and/or moving between the main cities.
Taxis are not expensive relative to other countries, so it is certainly possible to make a whole tour from centre to centre using private drivers. The taxi’s in all the main centres will even advertise the main sights as day trips but as mentioned in other posts the distances and times can be long so expect to travel for longer than you get at the other end in most cases. Keep in mind that the Georgian taxi drivers navigate the roads like maniacs, you might well feel like taking part in a formula 1 race!
Beware of the Costs
If using private taxis long distance beware the costs, always agree the route and destination before you get in and double check the price in advance, most taxi drivers are honest but rip offs have been known. Having said that it is certainly possible and may not cost massively more than hiring a car depending on your itinerary.
Have Fun in Georgia!
Hopefully my tips and advice will help you plan your independent family holiday to Georgia and you will enjoy exploring this interesting and diverse country just as much as we did. Please also read my tips on accommodation, food and other essentials here.
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Where we stayed during our travels in Georgia:
Borjomi – Lower Caucasus Mountains
Stepantsminda (Kazbegi) – High Caucasus Mountains