Caucasus Georgia

Arriving in Tbilisi: My Essential Airport & Transportation Guide

Up-to-date information about getting to the city from Tbilisi Airport, buying a sim card at the airport, airport hotels, and other essentials. Georgia travel guide.

My Tbilisi Airport guide includes the most up-to-date information about getting to Tbilisi from the airport, buying a sim card at the airport, airport hotels, and other essential info.

Most people who travel to the Caucasus start and finish their itinerary in Georgia. While most budget flights land in Kutaisi, other airlines including Emirates, Qatar, Turkish Airlines, Lufthansa and KLM fly into Tbilisi, the capital city.

I’ve flown in and out of Tbilisi Airport a couple of times now. I always find myself madly searching for information about something airport-related the night before. Since there isn’t a whole lot of information online about how to get to Tbilisi Airport from the city – or about what to expect when you land in Tbilisi – I thought I would put together this post to bring it all together.

My Tbilisi Airport guide is designed to help anyone flying into or departing from Tbilisi. In it, I cover all the basics, including transportation to and from the airport, buying a sim card at the airport, withdrawing cash, storing luggage – and more.

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Tbilisi Airport: The basics

Tbilisi Airport, officially Shota Rustaveli Tbilisi International Airport, is the main airport in Tbilisi, Georgia. It’s located 17 km southeast of the city centre. As you’ll see, it’s easy to get to and from the airport using public transport.

There is one terminal that takes care of both international and domestic flights. Twin arrival and departure halls are located side by side in two separate buildings.

Tbilisi Airport is small and very easy to navigate. It’s also pretty basic in terms of amenities. There isn’t much in the way of food or drink, and there are very few shops. It’s not a bad airport by any means – but it’s not the kind of airport you want to be hanging out in for any longer than is absolutely necessary, either.

View of mountains and a city from an airplane window with the wing of the plane in the foreground.
View of Tbilisi city and the Caucasus mountains from above.

Arriving in Tbilisi: Before you leave the airport

Here’s what to expect if your flight is landing at Tbilisi Airport.

Obtaining a Visitor’s Visa for Georgia

First things first – if you’re arriving at Tbilisi Airport on an international flight, you’ll need to check if you need a Visitor’s Visa to enter Georgia.

Most nationalities do not require a visa for Georgia. Some are eligible for a visa on arrival, and others must apply for a visa in advance. The most reliable place to get information about visas is on Georgia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.

You can check if you need a visa, and apply for a visa online, through my partners at iVisa.

Withdrawing local currency (lari) at Tbilisi Airport

Once you land in Tbilisi, pass immigration and collect your bags, your first priority will probably be getting your hands on some local currency – Georgian lari or GEL. If you plan on taking the bus into the city, you’ll need tetri, Georgian coins, to pay for your ticket.

Most ATMs in Georgia accept foreign cards. I have never come across an ATM that doesn’t. The two ATMs I always use are TBC Bank (light blue colour) and Bank of Georgia (orange colour with a lion logo). There are half a dozen ATMs located in the airport arrivals hall, including machines for both these banks.

Like most ATMs in Tbilisi, airport ATMs give you the option of withdrawing either GEL or US dollars. Some charge a small withdrawal fee in addition to any tariffs your bank or credit card company might issue. TBC Bank, for example, has a 2 GEL fee for withdrawals.

Exchanging money at the airport

There are half a dozen currency exchange desks in the Tbilisi Airport arrivals hall, immediately as you exit customs. Exchange rates quoted at the airport aren’t as good as those offered in the city, so I only recommend exchanging cash if you absolutely have to.

In general, you can usually get a better rate for Euro than USD when changing money in Georgia.

Buying a sim card at Tbilisi Airport

Georgian sim cards are incredibly affordable and provide excellent coverage, even in mountainous areas. I always recommend picking one up so you can make use of taxi apps and navigate Tbilisi’s public transport system using Google Maps.

Several providers are represented in the Tbilisi Airport arrivals hall – including the two most popular brands used by tourists and expats, Beeline and Magti. I always choose Magti when I’m in Georgia because it’s so user-friendly.

As you enter the arrivals hall, there is a red Magti desk immediately to the right. It’s open 24 hours a day. (If you find it closed, it’s because staff are changing shift. When I asked, staff reassured me the desk is never left unattended for more than 20 minutes at a time.)

Ignore the packages advertised on the laminated card on the desk – these aren’t good value. If you only need internet access and not calls, the most cost-effective option is to buy a data package. The smallest you can get is 1 GB for 5 GEL. I usually buy 20 GB for 30 GEL (valid for 30 days). The sim card itself costs an additional 3 GEL.

Present your passport, choose a package, and staff will set the sim card up for you. You can pay either in cash (local currency) or using a credit/debit card. If you need more data later, you can install the Magti app and easily top-up using a credit card.

Some companies at the airport try to draw tourists in with signs saying ‘Free sim card’. I tend to ignore these because the data packages aren’t as good a value as Magti.

Tourist information at Tbilisi Airport

There are two information counters in the arrivals hall – one for airport information, and another for general tourist information. If it’s closed or busy, I recommend visiting the tourist info desk in Pushkin Park in the city centre instead.

Hiring a car at Tbilisi Airport

Avis, Budget, Hertz and other big-name companies all have desks at Tbilisi Airport. Find them on the left as you exit customs.

A word to the wise: Driving in Georgia (especially in Tbilisi) is not for the feint of heart! Getting around the city by bus/metro and using marshrutky and trains for the rest of the country is easy. To see what I mean, check out my Georgia Armenia Azerbaijan itinerary, which relies 100% on public transport.

Tbilisi bus 37, a blue and black coach, waiting to pick up passengers.
Tbilisi bus 37 is the most cost-effective way to travel between the city and the airport.

Getting from Tbilisi Airport to the city centre

There are a couple of different options for getting to Tbilisi city centre from Tbilisi Airport. When travelling to and from the airport, we normally opt for public bus. It’s reliable and affordable, and it eliminates the opportunity for taxi drivers to take advantage (unfortunately, it happens). If you have a late or early flight, or if you’re travelling with kids or a lot of luggage, you might prefer a more convenient pre-organised transfer.

There is also a train from the airport to Station Square, but since it only runs twice a day, I won’t even bother covering it here.

Tbilisi Bus 37

Public bus number 37 runs between Tbilisi Airport and Station Square via the city centre 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. At just 50 tetri per person, it’s by far the easiest and cheapest way to travel.

Buses depart every 30 minutes from the front of the airport departures hall. As you exit arrivals, turn right and walk about 200m to the far end of the next building. You’ll see a board with times lit up, and hopefully a blue and black bus idling. There’s only one bus that services the airport, so you can’t go wrong.

These buses are modern, air conditioned, and have plenty of floor space for luggage. They do fill up when multiple flights land at once, but I’ve always been able to get a seat.

Rule of thumb when using buses in Tbilisi is to board first and worry about tickets later. You can board through any of the doors, front, middle or back. Whatever you do, don’t try to buy a ticket from the driver!

An attendant dressed in a green vest rides on every bus. They can help you out with tickets. No change is given, so make sure you have the correct amount in tetri coins before you board. The small grey box dispenses single tickets. Just pop your coin/s in and tear off the paper receipt. In case you need to transfer to another bus or metro later, the ticket is valid for 90 minutes. You can buy multiple tickets at once.

If you’re staying in Tbilisi, I recommend picking up a MetroMoney card to use on the bus and metro. These can be topped up using the orange and white Bank of Georgia machines at all metro stations and most bus stands.

Bus 37 is a local bus that makes a few dozen stops between the city and the airport. Because of this, the journey to the centre takes approximately one hour. If you’re headed to Tbilisi city centre, jump off at Pushkin Park (Liberty Square). If you need to connect to a train (more in the next section), you can ride the bus all the way to the last stop, Station Square.

Private airport transfer

TaxiOnn is a great service for organising private transfers before you land. They charge a flat price of 25 GEL to the city centre.

When you book and pay online, you enter your flight details so that your driver can meet you as you exit customs (they will be holding a name card). They will wait for you free of charge if your flight is delayed.

Alternatively, you can book a private transfer for 18 Euro for a group of up to 3 people through Friendly Georgia.

A row of white taxis waiting outside Tbilisi Airport.
Tbilisi Airport’s ‘Toyota Taxis’ waiting outside the arrivals hall.

‘Toyota Taxi’

Tbilisi Airport has a curious taxi system whereby a fleet of white Toyotas have taken the place of regular cabs. ‘Toyota Taxis’ are regulated by the airport – to an extent.

A Toyota Taxi can take you to any address in the city or suburbs of Tbilisi in 20 to 30 minutes. They run 24 hours a day from the front of the arrivals hall.

Despite this being a regulated service, prices aren’t pre-set (they were once, but drivers objected). Thus you must negotiate the fare with the driver before you set off. According to tourist information inside the airport, you should pay between 30 to 50 GEL for a Toyota Taxi.

Unfortunately, airport taxi drivers in Tbilisi have a reputation for being aggressive and deceptive (nothing new, right?). Online forums are awash with horror stories from travellers quoted as much as 150 GEL for a taxi. Some people manage to negotiate the price down only to be refused the correct change when they arrive at their hotel.

If your flight gets in early or late, taxi drivers will no doubt try to take advantage of you. If you are going to take a Toyota Taxi, make sure you have small bills on you and be firm with your price limit.

Personally, I would never make use of this service in its current state.

Regular taxi booked through Bolt

A much better option is to book your own taxi using an app such as Taxify or Bolt. In Georgia, Bolt is my preferred taxi app by a long shot.

Unless you already have Bolt installed on your phone, you’ll need to buy a local sim card to activate the app and validate your phone number. Cars are theoretically available 24/7, even at the airport, and I’ve never had to wait more than 10 minutes for my ride to be accepted.

The set up at Tbilisi Airport is casual and it’s rarely very busy, so you can easily rendezvous with your driver in front of the departures hall. Once your ride has been confirmed, Bolt will tell you the make of the car and registration number to look out for.

Expect to pay between 20 and 25 GEL for a Bolt from the airport (see screenshots for example fares going to Pushkin Park (centre of Tbilisi) and Station Square).

Getting from Tbilisi Airport to other places in Georgia

If your plan is to leave Tbilisi immediately and go somewhere else in Georgia, you have a couple of different options depending on your final destination.

It’s possible to pre-book private transfers to some popular destinations, including Batumi and Gudauri Ski Resort. Direct car transfers to other places in Georgia from Tbilisi Airport can be booked through GoTrip.

Bus 37 passes by Isani Metro Station on its way into the city centre, so if you’re headed to Sighnaghi, Telavi or anywhere else in eastern Georgia’s Kakheti region, you could jump off the bus at Isani and find onward transportation from there. Refer to my comprehensive guide to travelling to Kakheti from Tbilisi for more details.

If you’re trying to connect to a marshrutka that leaves from Ortachala (for example, if your plan is to go to Yerevan or Baku by van), I recommend getting off bus 37 at Isani and taking a taxi over the river to Ortachala.

If you’re trying to get from Tbilisi Airport to northern or western Georgia, you’ll most likely need to transit through Tbilisi Central Station (the main railway station) or Didube bus station. Bus 37 terminates at Station Square, adjacent to the railway station, so again this is the best option.

Hotels near Tbilisi Airport

Tbilisi doesn’t have the same chain airport hotels like you see in most other capital cities.

There are only a few low-key hotels in close proximity. Marcos Hotel and Hotel Lilo are both a few minute’s drive away and offer a free airport transfer. Marcos has better reviews and good prices (from 25 US for a double room), so it would be my top choice.

Most hotels and some Tbilisi hostels offer an airport transfer service. This costs extra, of course – around 40 GEL, depending on the hotel. If your flight arrives very late or very early and you want to go straight to your accommodation, the better option is to stay at a hotel in the centre and book your airport transfer through them.

Storing luggage in Tbilisi

If you have an early or late flight and some time to kill in the city, you might need to store your luggage. There is a baggage room at the airport, but I can’t really imagine a scenario where this would come in handy! Instead, I recommend storing bags at Smart Case in Tbilisi city centre.

Smart Case operates a set of left luggage lockers in an archway close to the Liberty Square Metro Station and the stop for bus 37 to/from the airport. It operates 24/7, and prices start from just 5 GEL for 4 hours. It’s all self-managed and easy to use – you can find detailed instructions here.

Speaking of luggage – there is a baggage wrapping service inside the Tbilisi Airport departures hall. It costs 15 GEL.

Airplanes waiting on the runway at Tbilisi Airport.
A Georgian Airways plane on the runway at Tbilisi Airport.

Getting back to Tbilisi Airport from the city

If you’re flying out of Tbilisi Airport, you have the same transport options as outlined above. Below you’ll find detailed information for getting to Tbilisi Airport from the centre.

Tbilisi Bus 37

Travelling in the opposite direction, public bus 37 stops outside the Liberty Square Metro Station, right in front of the H&M. The bus runs 24/7 and departs every 30 minutes. There is no departures board at this stop, but you can use Google Maps to check the schedule or download the Tbilisi Public Transport App for up-to-date route info. I’ve always found the bus to be reliable, even late at night and early in the morning.

Remember that it can take up to an hour to get to the airport from the city, so make sure you leave plenty of time to make your flight.

Private airport transfer

A private transfer back to the airport booked through TaxiOnn costs between 18 and 22 GEL depending on your pick up address.

Taxi

I’ve caught a regular taxi to Tbilisi Airport a couple of times. I don’t recommend hailing a taxi off the street, though – best to organise this through your hotel so they can give you an idea of the price and perhaps call on one of their regular drivers. A taxi to Tbilisi Airport should cost between 20 and 40 GEL.

Alternatively, you can use Bolt to book your own taxi. Expect to pay between 20 and 25 GEL depending on the time of day and your pick up location. Bolt cars are available 24/7, so this is a safe bet if you have an early or late flight.

People dragging suitcases walk through an airport terminal building.
Inside the departures hall at Tbilisi Airport.

Departing from Tbilisi: What to expect from the airport

Tbilisi Airport departures hall is slightly bigger than arrivals but still fairly basic in terms of food options and activities for killing time.

The airport website recommends arriving at the airport at least 3 hours before your flight. In my experience, check in desks tend to open 3 hours ahead of the scheduled departure time.

Here’s what to expect from Tbilisi Airport if you’re flying out of Tbilisi.

Eating & drinking at the airport

As I mentioned, the food options at Tbilisi Airport are pretty limited. There is one pub in the arrivals hall and a cafe inside departures before passport control. After you pass immigration and go upstairs, you’ll find a Dunkin Donuts, an expensive sports bar-style restaurant, and a wine bar. And that’s about it.

Decent coffee can be found at the Illy cafe stand. For anything more than that, I highly recommend eating before you get to the airport. Pasanauri and Samikitno, both open 24/7, have branches near the number 37 bus stop at Liberty Square.

Killing time at Tbilisi Airport

Aside from a couple of gift stores, a small bookshop and a single cafe, there’s not much else inside the Tbilisi terminal before you pass customs. There is, however, plenty of seating and free WiFi.

There is ample seating and plenty of power sockets near the departure gates as well. There’s also a large duty free shop and a couple more souvenir shops upstairs.

There is just one airport lounge, a Prime Class, on the upper floor of the departures hall.

Sleeping at Tbilisi Airport

Lucky for me, I’ve never had occasion to sleep at Tbilisi Airport; but it is permitted to spend the night in the departures hall. I’m told the most comfortable place to hunker down is on the Astroturf underneath one of the two escalators.


Have a question about Tbilisi Airport? Leave me a comment below and I’ll do my best to answer.

4 Comments Add New Comment

  1. Fatima says:

    Just wanted to say, I truly love your site. Clean, informative and clear! 🙂 Well done. Its not overwhelming, and yet gets you to view more and more.

  2. Barbara Fisher says:

    I have a (very basic) question about phones. Do you bring one without a Sim card in it that you purchased especially for travel? Or do you bring your own regular phone and remove the Sim card once you arrive and then buy a Georgian card to put in it?

    Barbara

    1. Emily Lush says:

      Hi Barbara,

      Good question! Personally, I just travel with my regular phone that I use at home. It has a dual sim card slot which is really handy. I know some people prefer to travel with a ‘back up’ phone just in case it gets lost or stolen.

      You can put a Georgian sim card (or any international sim card) into any phone, as long as it’s unlocked. I bought a dozen different sims when I was recently in the Balkans and just switched them as I went.

      If you’re unsure about switching over the sim card or setting up the new sim, staff at the purchase point will happily do both for you.

      I hope this helps!

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