Since both of our flights were to and from Tbilisi, I got the chance to review the train and bus services between Tbilisi and Batumi. My initial assumption was that the train service would be way inferior and the bus service would be much better but it did not work out that way…
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Georgian Railway Train from Tbilisi to Batumi
I booked my tickets directly on the Georgian Railway website, which is a little cryptic and would not accept my Citi card for payment but my Chase Sapphire Reserve transaction eventually went through.
However, I never got a booking confirmation via email or during the payment process. I called the Georgian Railway helpline a few days later and a friendly operator found the booking for me without any issues. Only our passports and reference code would be needed to board the train.
We arrived at the train station early in order to remedy any issues should there be more documents required to board but luckily there were none. Nevertheless, boarding the train would be impossible at first, as right in our assigned train section was a large group of children being sent off to Batumi by their parents. The way this works in Georgia is 50 adults and kids pushing and shoving into a train carriage, taking no prisoners.
Eventually, all the parents left, and we had the chance to find our pre-assigned seats. That proved elusive, though, as they were already taken by other passengers and luggage was all over the walkways (there is no real luggage storage area onboard).
After some time, the train attendant helped us find seats that were somewhat close to each other. The train runs at a speed of about 65 mph rather continuously, through lots of scenic landscapes; there’s many canyons, tunnels and picturesque creeks.
The train tracks are a century old but have been upgraded.
The train itself looked great; it looked like a brand new type of train that is being used in Europe for commuter rides.
It was meticulously clean and the WiFi initially worked at 10 Mbit (though it would later slow to a trickle as there were no more cell towers for a signal).
While the train was full and most passengers seemed in a party mood on this Monday morning, I just enjoyed the train ride, which took 5 hours from Tbilisi to Batumi. The brand new equipment and WiFi contributed to this, as well as the perfect AC that kept temperatures at 70 degrees despite the roasting 100 degrees outside.
Metro Georgia Bus between Batumi and Tbilisi
Metro Georgia is a Turkish venture that is the dominant bus operator in Georgia now. The company runs several daily services between the cities of Batumi and Tbilisi, matching the price for the train exactly. From my experience of taking buses in Turkey, I felt nothing could go wrong.
Batumi Bus Station is brand new and while in a less desirable neighborhood, it is an oasis of calm, unlike most other bus stations in this world. Boarding was easy; my electronic ticket receipt was enough for us to board the bus.
The bus looked like a rolling electronics shop, with tons of displays all over. However, the entertainment system had no reception (likely because we were not in Turkey) and there were no movies.
The USB chargers did not work either and the WiFi only worked for a few select passengers (it never worked for my MacBook or iPhone).
I liked that the driver was responsible and drove according to posted speed limits (not as normal as you may think) but we made 5-10 stops in almost all the villages on our drive. This can be really annoying as it added up to an hour’s delay. There was no reason given or announcement plus no driver change was performed. My deduction was that there was extra income being generated by taking passengers who run on the driver’s payroll.
The bus ride took 7 hours from Batumi to Tbilisi on mostly rather sorry roads all over Georgia.