I’m calling it now – at just three hours from Doha and with wine and natural beauty for days, Tbilisi, Georgia could well be the perfect Post- COVID vacation destination.
And with the country open to tourism and accepting fully vaccinated travelers (with documentation), there has never been a better time to go. Here’s my guide to getting there, getting in, where to stay and importantly how to get back!
Tbilisi is just three hours and five minutes flight time from Doha on Qatar Airways. At the time of writing flights were arriving at a challenging 1am so factor that into travel plans.
Flights start at QR2795 return from Doha and at the moment there is one flight a day.
Do I need to take a test before I travel to Georgia?
Not if you are fully vaccinated. Vaccinated travelers, travelling by air from any country, except India, may enter Georgia if they present the document confirming the full course (two doses) of any COVID-19 vaccination at the border checkpoints of Georgia.
Different restrictions apply to vaccinated travelers arriving from India. Such travelers are required to present proof of the negative result on a PCR test conducted in the last 72 hours before the visit to Georgia at the border.
Do I need a visa to travel to Georgia?
The short answer is that many nationalities do not need one. You can find more information here.
What documents do I need?
All of the documents. You will soon learn that traveling during COVID-19 is a new ballgame. Be sure to have all your documents printed and ready. At check in for your flight you could be asked for any or all of the following:
- Flight ticket
- Georgia pre-registration – you can submit it online here and approval almost instant. This must be filled out at least 48 hours before your flight
- Proof of having received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. Qatar-based travelers can find this here – do not take your vaccination card. They require this one.
- Travel insurance. Some people haven’t been asked for this but I was. Georgia has stated any traveler falling ill with COVID-19 will have to pay for their own treatment in-country. At less than QR100 it’s worth it for peace of mind. You can find a cost-effective one here.
- Check you have at least six months validity on your passport. This can be a little trap. I renewed mine early to avoid this.
Hamad International Airport – good to know
- E-gates are still in operation and you can use your passport now. Very simple
- Yes the yellow bear is still there!
- at the moment Gold and Platinum Qatar Airways Frequent Flyers can use the Al Mourjan Lounge as well as business and first class passengers
- Service in the lounge is a la carte
- All shops are open and in fact I found Qatar Duty Free has added some new outlets!
What’s it like onboard Qatar Airways?
I treated myself to a business class seat but I must say Qatar Airways seems to be leading the way in terms of hygiene. Masks were required and each passenger received a hygiene kit on boarding. There and back the planes were busy and from my end, service was faultless (and the food has improved!)
Georgia – getting in
Arrival in Georgia was smooth and very relaxed. They asked for my vaccination certificate along with my passport and I was through in record time!
I would suggest booking your transfer to your accommodation ahead of time because of the 1am arrival.
What’s the COVID-19 situation in Georgia?
- Face masks are now mandatory in public places outdoors and indoors. Violations may lead to a fine and I did see police officers enforcing this.
- Indoor restaurant facilities are open for operation with limited capacity.
- At the time of writing there was also an 11pm to 5pm curfew. Restaurants are now permitted to open on weekends with outdoor dining – call ahead to check what the venue is able to do.
Where should I stay?
I’m a chain hotel girl – I appreciate my comforts so it was a no-brainer for me to book the Tbilisi Marriott. Spacious rooms, central to the action COVID-19 rules enforced and breakfast included. But Tbilisi does have a range of accommodation from bed and breakfasts through to short stay apartments and ritzy hotels. My advice, stay either as close to the Old Town or city center as you can as most places you want to see and restaurants are in these areas.
the city itself is walkable but I did the super touristy thing and bought a ticket for the Red Bus – this allowed me to get my bearings in the city and pick what spots to go back to.
What and Where to Eat?
This, for me is key. And I ate well during my short and sharp trip. Again, there is something for all budgets – from the hole in the wall wine bars to the high end gastronomy. Food and hospitality is something very important to Georgians and they are justified in being proud of their culinary heritage. It’s not a stretch for me to declare that the food is exceptional.
From Georgian food you can expect warm, gooey comfort food like khachapuri (cheese-stuffed bread) finds balance with matsoni (yogurt). Herbs like tarragon, flat parsley, dill and coriander combine with walnuts and garlic for rich fillings and sauces. It’s all about comfort! You can see many cultural influences in their food – Turkish, Chinese and beyond. Do not leave the country without also trying kinkhali – twisted dumplings stuffed with meat or cheese served fried or steamed. Vegetarian and vegan travelers will find sustenance in their bountiful and farm fresh vegetables.
They are also renowned for their wine (they claim to have invented wine) I have to say, since my first visit 10 years ago, this is an area that has boomed. The wines I tried were more refined than a decade ago and a tourism industry has grown up around it.
Travelers from Qatar and the Middle East will find Georgia exceptionally good value in terms of food and wine.
My top foodie picks are:
- Barbarestan: Named one of the best restaurants in Europe, this quirky restaurant showcases traditional Georgian cuisine unearthed from legendary writer and chef Barbare Jorjadze’s original 19th century cookbook. Food here is not made for Instagram. It’s hearty and contains some interesting ingredients. Expect dock paired with a rich chocolate sauce or a saddle of rabbit. Interiors are quirky and service can be slow, but worth a visit for any foodie.
- Dry Bridge Restaurant: Just steps from the river and the center of the city, head here for traditional dishes like kinkali and deliciously cheesy kachapuri.
- 8000 Vintages: A wine shop and bar with two locations, this was the find of the trip. you can enjoy a tipple with friends or book in for a short wine tasting with four wines and a small tasting board. I did just this with friends and it was interactive and fun and we tasted some wines we might not usually try. I can also recommended their tasting boards which showcase local cheeses and meats and start from a vey pocket friendly QR35.
- Filini at the Raddisson Blu: For one of the best views in the city, book a table on the terrace at this Italian restaurant. They have a great local wine list and views across the river and the old town.
- Karalashvili’s Wine Cellar: Located in Old Town, this unique 600 year old cellar does wine tastings.
- Zodiaqo: Found this place close to my hotel (near the Opera House) and was blown away by the kinkahli and the reasonable prices. Service can be a bit slow.
- Parnas Cafe: Located in the Marriott hotel, this is set in a lovely courtyard and has a great selection of local food and wine. Surprisingly reasonable for a five star place and a great spot to rest your weary feet.
Getting out of the City
I only had time for one day trip and that was to Sighnaghi in the wine region. A picture perfect little town, it has cosy restaurants and tasting rooms as well as views across the valley. It’s around 2 hours from Tbilisi and best done with a driver or with a tour company. You must visit the Pheasant’s Tears Tasting Room in Sighnaghi for a sampler of some great wines from the region. All of their wines are fermented and aged in qvevri, a unique Georgian clay vessel used to ferment and store wine.
Getting back to Qatar
The inevitable return and what to do! Again, I can’t emphasize enough – print all of your documents and have them ready.
All travelers to Qatar regardless of age, including those previously vaccinated or infected, must do a pre-travel COVID-19 PCR test within 72 hours of arrival to Qatar at the country of origin in a medical center that their local Ministry of Health approved to perform COVID-19 PCR tests.
The PCR test result should be negative before you are allowed to board the airplane to Qatar or enter the state through the land border. You can find more information on this here.
If you are staying at a hotel or doing a tour, ask them to organize this. My hotel had a dedicated room where a local lab came to do daily tests. I had the results emailed to me within 24 hours. You can find the company they used here and the test was US$40.
At check-in at the airport in Tbilisi I was required to show:
- Qatar ID
- Exceptional Entry Permit. This was emailed ot my registered address within minutes of clearing immigration in Doha. You can find it here.
- Negative PCR test
- Vaccination Certificate
You will also be asked to fill out a Qatar Airways Passenger Consent Form and this Health Declaration. Both will be provided by the ground staff at check-in.
I would suggest getting to the airport at least two hours before your flight as they do a pre-check of these documents before you reach check in.
Arriving in Qatar – what next??
This process in all took me around 45 minutes but it depends on the number of flights arriving. Also please know I am fully vaccinated, traveling without kids or luggage so this is from my perspective. I do suggest for all arrivals getting the Al Maha service – it will make things smoother.
A couple of key points:
- Immediately on Arrival you will be required to show you have Ehteraz installed then directed through to arrivals.
- Your documents will be checked including the health assessment form mentioned above and your PCR test and these are stamped. Be prepared – your documents will be checked at least four times.
- Immigration took the most time, there is a special section for vaccinated travelers – the rest was pretty smooth.
- On exit just before the luggage area you will be asked again for your documents – test and EEP to be sure.
Georgia – my new favorite destination
What’s not to love about a country that is so close and has so much to offer? Importantly, the people are also kind and welcoming. You can’t ask for more than that! Tbilisi, Georgia could well be the perfect Post- COVID vacation destination.