There Are Plenty of Awesome Things to Do in Tbilisi, Georgia!
Do you want to explore a hidden secret that is basically out of the bag? Head for Tbilisi, the vibrant capital city of Georgia. This is a country (and city) that we have had on our bucket list for some time now. Unfortunately, we still haven’t had the chance to visit.
Luckily, Eric’s good friend Minna stayed in Tbilisi for eight weeks while travelling through the region and absolutely loved the city. So, to help fellow travellers (and to give us some great tips, too!) Minna was nice enough to share her knowledge of many great places to visit, things to see, eat, and do!
Whether you are visiting Tbilisi for the spa baths, shopping, architecture or you’re looking for a romantic getaway, here’s Minna’s guide on exploring Tbilisi in any season. Take it away, Minna!
Things to Consider When Planning A Visit to Tbilisi
I had dreamed about visiting Georgia for the longest time and finally got the chance last year during a year-long backpacking trip that I embarked on with my boyfriend/trusty travel buddy Ray. We initially planned to work as volunteers in a local school in Tbilisi but life had other plans and that idea ended up falling through.
So, we discovered ourselves in the Georgian capital with no obligations and two months to spare which meant that we really had a lot of time to explore and get to know the city. Spoiler alert – we ended up completely falling in love with the place and it is still to this day one of our favourite cities in the world.
I truly think that it’s a wonderful city to visit and so – just to get you started – here are a number of things you should know about when planning a trip to Tbilisi.
Best Time to Visit Tbilisi
Tbilisi is phenomenal all year round but the very best time to visit would probably be the end of spring or early autumn. We were there in March and April and while March was still quite overcast and required jackets and hats, April treated us to warm sun and gentle breeze.
The city has so many great parks and outdoor cafes so my firm recommendation would be to visit when the weather allows you to enjoy them to the fullest.
If you are also planning to visit Georgia’s stunning mountain regions before or after Tbilisi, you have to take snow into consideration. Keep in mind that many mountain roads and passes may be closed during winter.
Depending on how fast the snow melts that year they might only open in late spring. So if you want to be sure that you can take the maximum out of Georgia, planning your trip for September is probably the safest bet.
Getting To/Around Tbilisi
Tbilisi International Airport is located relatively close to the city centre – it is only a 20-minute car ride to Liberty Square. If you want to save money on taxi fare, then by far the cheapest alternative is bus #37 which runs 24/7 and takes you straight from the airport to the centre. A one-way ticket costs only 0.50 GEL which converts to about 0.16 euros (welcome to Georgia!).
If you are arriving by train from a nearby city, you will most probably find yourself in Tbilisi Central Railway Station. For the fastest connection to the centre, simply hop on the metro from Station Square, located right in front of the train station.
The most popular form of transportation in Georgia and its neighbouring countries is the marshrutka – a small bus that often resembles a private minivan more than a public transportation vehicle but is nevertheless quite convenient and loved by the locals.
Everything about marshrutkas is chaotic – the schedules, the prices and also their start and finish points. So if you are arriving in Tbilisi by marshrutka, it is almost impossible to predict where exactly you will be dropped off.
There are at least three different bigger bus stations and some other smaller ones, but don’t worry – they are all connected to the city centre by public transport. Simply look out for big red “M”-s which designate metro stations, or ask locals for pointers.
Tbilisi is located on the banks of the Kura River (also known as Mtkvari) which divides the city into two and provides a useful point of orientation. While it’s quite easy to discover the city on foot, you might find yourself in a situation where you want to wander a bit further from the centre or get from point A to point B faster and need to use public transportation.
I must admit, it is not the most reliable and straight-forward system in the world but if you are willing to embrace the mild chaos, you will get used to it in no time. Public buses and city marshrutkas run frequently but the metro is probably the fastest and most trustworthy option.
Plus, if you come from a city that doesn’t have the subway (like me!), chances are you’ll be impressed by the depth of the metro in Tbilisi. You can try to plan a route at the official transit website for Tbilisi!
Where to Stay in Tbilisi
Our stay in Tbilisi was divided between two accommodations – the first month we spent in Hotel Central on Rustaveli Avenue, the second in a shared Airbnb in Marjanishvili.
Hotel Central with its old wooden floors and family-like staff became like a true home to us. For that reason alone, I would recommend that place in a heartbeat. The location of the hotel is also great – it is tucked away in a quiet courtyard right off one of the main streets of Tbilisi – Rustaveli Avenue. The Old Town is a 20-minute walk or a short bus ride away.
Airbnbs in Tbilisi are cheap and many. The one we chose was located in the Marjanishvili region in New Town. You can find many shops, restaurants, and parks in this area and a metro station connects you to all other points of interest in the city.
When choosing accommodation in Tbilisi you can’t go wrong with anything that is in or near the Old Town or along Rustaveli Avenue.
For those wanting to check out another few options: The Biltmore Hotel is a stunning building and luxury choice right on the river while Communal Hotel Sololaki is a beautiful boutique option right in Dzveli (Old) Tbilisi!
Things to Do in Tbilisi, Georgia
You might be surprised to find out that there are a number of things to see, do, and eat in the capital city. So, here is a rundown of what we did, places we visited, and other attractions we suggest you check out!
Wander the Charming Streets of Old Town
Tbilisi’s Old Town (Dzveli Tbilisi) is one of a kind – here crooked streets lead you to sublime examples of old Georgian architecture, tucked-away courtyards where children run around with dogs while their mothers hang laundry, ages-old little churches, and of course many cafes and restaurants.
When trying to figure out Old Town on a map, it is roughly the area located between the Kura river, Liberty Square and Botanical Gardens. It is not an Old Town made to look especially clean and pretty for tourists, it is a place where, in many parts, everyday life for locals still continues to flow as it has for centuries.
Don’t be shy to peek into gardens and alleyways, otherwise you might miss the most curious part of Georgian architecture – the balconies. While they might look extremely unstable in some cases, they are often beautifully decorated and what’s even better, they hold an enormous practical (and social) value to the locals.
Namely, balconies in Georgia have always been the main place for get-togethers and socializing, since one balcony is often shared between many families. Take your time when walking around Old Town or try to visit more than once. I guarantee you’ll find some sort of new charming surprise (in the form of a house, street or cafe) every time!
>> If you want to learn more about the city and its historic sights, tour Tbilisi’s Old Town with a knowledgeable guide!
Buy a Souvenir from the Underground Meidan Bazaar
Your wander in the Old Town will probably eventually lead you to the Metekhi Bridge area. Don’t cross it before you have at least walked through the underground market-tunnel called Meidan Bazaar.
This dark underpass is the perfect place to bargain with friendly local vendors and take home a piece of Georgia, be it in the form of a bottle of the local schnapps, a traditional hat or something entirely different.
From the Bazaar it’s an easy walk to the Royal Baths, which – with its surrounding houses – is one of the most photographed spots in Tbilisi.
Location: South end of the Metekhi bridge
Watch a Puppet Show in a Crooked Clock Tower
Sounds odd, I know. But thanks to famous Georgian artist Rezo Gabriadze, this is a legitimate thing you can witness in Tbilisi. All you have to do to see it is to make your way to this very crooked clock tower in Old Town and make sure you’re on time.
While a little angel with a hammer pops out of the tower every hour to smash the bell with her hammer, the full marionette show only happens twice a day – once at noon and once at 7 pm. So if possible, time your walk in the Old Town so that you can enjoy the show. It’s truly a strange yet special thing to see.
Address: 13 Ioane Shavteli St, Tbilisi
Climb Up to the Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi
Georgians are quite a religious nation and their faith is undoubtedly a big part of their culture. If you want to learn more about this important aspect when in Tbilisi, head up to the spectacular Holy Trinity Cathedral which is the main cathedral of the Georgian Orthodox Church.
The cathedral is relatively new (construction only finished in 2004), so after encountering many ancient little churches and monasteries all around Georgia, it was interesting for us to see a place of worship that reflects the newer side of the religion.
The Holy Trinity Cathedral is located on the opposite side of the river from the Old Town and is about a 20-minute walk uphill from Rike Park. On your way up you’ll get the chance to see life on the more residential side streets of Tbilisi and once at your destination, you can have a rest on one of the benches in the beautiful park that surrounds the cathedral.
The cathedral is open for visitors but – as with most places of worship – some requirements for dressing are in place. So even if you’re hiking up on a hot summer day, try to have a scarf or a sweater in your bag.
If possible, I would recommend you go up to the Holy Trinity Cathedral in the evening, about an hour before sunset. That way you have enough time to visit the cathedral itself and afterwards you can enjoy a magnificent view over the city while the sky turns pink because the place also doubles as a fantastic sunset spot.
Location: Cross the Nikoloz Baratashvili Bridge and keep heading east
Try Georgian Snickers Near the Bridge of Peace
The Bridge of Peace is a spectacular glass and steel bridge that was built over the Kura river as recently as 2010. It offers a sharp contrast to some of the city’s other, older bridges with its modern design and nightly light shows. Since it’s only meant for pedestrians, you can take your time and enjoy the beautiful views on either side of the river.
If you need a break to regain some energy after strolling around in the Old Town, buy a Georgian Snickers from a stall next to the Bridge of Peace and go enjoy it in Rike Park which is conveniently located exactly at the opposite end of the bridge.
What is a Georgian Snickers you ask? Let me enlighten you. A Georgian Snickers, the real name of which is churchkhela, is a local candy which by its texture and calorie count is relatively similar to the classical Snickers chocolate bar. The difference lies in the taste and the preparation method.
To make a churchkhela, nuts are threaded onto a string, dipped in thickened fruit juice and then left to dry until the juice hardens around the nuts, making it into a gooey easy-to-eat snack. The most classical version is made with hazelnuts and grape juice, though you can find many different versions all over the country.
When hiking in the mountains, you can often see locals pulling out churchkhelas from their backpacks. They say it’s the most nutritious snack around and as a bonus, very easy to carry around.
Pamper Yourself in the Sulphur Baths
Georgia has many natural hot springs (fun fact: the ones that run under Tbilisi gave the city its current name) and locals believe firmly in the healing powers of the sulphur water that comes out of them. They figured out a long time ago that the mineral water is good for drinking as well as bathing in.
When in Tbilisi, definitely taste the local mineral water called Borjomi. The version they sell in stores is made more “user friendly” – meaning they added some more gas and toned down the saltiness. I for one am a huge fan of it!
Even if you’re not too keen on drinking this strange water, I do recommend you go and take a bath in it, because it’s an experience you can’t get in many other places. There are many bathhouses in central Tbilisi, the most famous one goes by the name of Royal Baths and is unmistakable thanks to its little domes that pop up from the ground like mushrooms.
Ray and I opted for an alternative and headed to nearby Orbeliani (Chreli Abano) Baths and didn’t regret our choice. We got a private room where we could soak in the bath for an hour and Ray (who tends to be tougher than me) also got an intense body scrub from a sturdy Georgian man. We left feeling slightly dizzy from all the heat but happy and with extremely soft skin.
One hour in a private room with a bath and a shower costs 50 GEL (around 16€) but you can also add different treatments like massages or scrubs to your experience. Since it’s a popular activity, it’s best to book online beforehand.
Address: 31 Abano St, Tbilisi
Stroll the Popular Rustaveli Avenue
The wide Rustaveli Avenue, named after the famous Georgian poet Shota Rustaveli, is one of the busiest streets in Tbilisi. Life is always happening there – people bustling in and out of the many shops, cafes and restaurants, street musicians singing their hearts out, and occasionally some demonstrations happening in front of the Georgian Parliament building.
The avenue starts from Liberty Square right next to the Old Town and is home to the big Galleria shopping mall, the Georgian National Museum as well as the National Opera and Ballet Theatre. The opera building is an architectural masterpiece on its own but it is also well worth it to book tickets to go see a show there.
You can easily cross the avenue without paying any attention to the busy traffic. This is thanks to the many underground tunnels that connect the two sides of the street.
Tucked away in them are many little shops selling everything from newspapers to shoes. The locals say that these tunnels are, and I quote, “the best thing that happened to the city in the Soviet times” because they do make commuting a lot easier and faster.
If you fancy a quiet place to rest your feet and have a coffee, make sure you pay a visit to the Prospero’s bookshop cafe, hiding in a tiny courtyard just off of Rustaveli. It’s an ideal place for a calm break, especially when the weather allows you to sit outside.
Address for Prospero’s Books: 34 Shota Rustaveli Ave, Tbilisi 0108
Ride the Funicular up to Mtatsminda Amusement Park
There is no better place to enjoy a beautiful view of the whole Tbilisi than the viewing platform high up in Mtatsminda Park. Thankfully you don’t have to walk all the way up to 700 meters (you can if you want!) because a comfortable funicular will take you there.
After a fun ride, you’ll discover yourself on top of the hill where you’ll find a restaurant, the Tbilisi TV tower and surprisingly enough an amusement park. Let out your inner child and take a ride on a roller coaster or get an even higher look over the city from the ferris wheel.
The park is also really nice to just walk through. If you decide to go back down on foot, don’t forget to stop halfway and visit the Mtatsminda Pantheon – a little chapel and a graveyard where many famous Georgians are buried.
Take a Cable Car to Narikala Fortress and Mother Georgia
Visiting sights on top of hills has really been made very comfortable, easy and fun in Tbilisi. If you want to explore the Narikala Fortress, you again have the choice to take a cable car right from Rike Park, instead of spending time and energy on walking.
The Aerial Tramway takes you over the river and the roofs of Old Town, providing stunning views in each direction. Once up, visit the ancient fortress and say hi to the imposing statue of Mother Georgia, located nearby.
While you can find similar statues in many ex-Soviet cities, Kartlis Deda (Georgian for Mother Georgia), with a bowl of wine in her hand, has always been the most sympathetic to me.
Location: Up on the hill above the Old Town (hard to miss)
Visit the Botanical Gardens
The National Botanical Garden of Georgia, located right under the Narikala fortress, is a luscious green oasis in the middle of the city, making it the perfect place for an afternoon stroll.
Marvel at the many species of flowers and trees, walk through the bamboo “forest” and – depending on how energetic you’re feeling – either take part in rock climbing or simply have a rest in the shadow and watch others do it.
As a bonus, the Tbilisi Botanical Garden has its own waterfall! And it’s not just a sad little stream, it’s actually impressive. Entrance is 4 GEL (roughly 1.3 euros) and I can assure you – you’ll get your money’s worth!
Address: 12 Bambis Rigi St
Look for Hidden Treasures at the Dry Bridge Market
One of the more curious activities you should undertake when in Tbilisi, is visiting the Dry Bridge Market – a huge outdoor flea market that unfolds every day on the Old Town side of the bridge.
Local vendors set up their stalls or lay down blankets and showcase just about everything you could imagine, from paintings to old army jackets and from furniture to vinyls.
The whole market has a bit of a Soviet-era vibe, and no wonder – Georgia was part of the USSR for almost 70 years and people accumulated a lot of stuff during that time.
If you’re from an ex-Soviet country like me, you’ll get the joy of recognizing a lot of things you thought you had completely forgotten about, for example some specific toys or those red and white dotted flour jars.
But even if you know nothing about the Soviet Union, it is still fascinating to wander around the market and dig through the endless piles of stuff. Just be prepared – thanks to the friendly vendors you might end up buying something completely useless, like a broken old radio with Stalin’s face on it.
Location: South end of Saarbrucken Bridge in the park
Discover Newer Tbilisi in the Marjanishvili Neighbourhood
The Marjanishvili area is located on the other side of the Kura river than all the places mentioned above. The most direct way to get there is to cross the Marjanishvili (Galaktioni) bridge or to take the metro. We lived in this neighbourhood for the second half of our stay and grew to really like it because it’s somewhat different from the rest of Tbilisi.
I refer to it as “New Town” which is ironic because the beautiful houses you see paving the streets are mostly from the 19th century when this part was a German settlement. The German influence is recognizable – walking there feels like walking in Vienna. Enjoy a meal in one of the many restaurants or have a break in the Roses Park.
When in Marjanishvili, definitely visit Fabrika – an old Soviet sewing factory that has been converted into a creative area. You’ll recognize Fabrika by the impressive graffiti covering its walls.
Inside you’ll find a hostel, a cool bar and a cozy courtyard with little designer shops and street food places. It is a gathering place for the creative young minds of Tbilisi and definitely worth a visit.
Address: Fabrika – 8 Egnate Ninoshvili St
Indulge in the Very Delicious Georgian Cuisine
There are few other countries in the world where I’ve eaten better than I did in Georgia. I ab-so-lu-te-ly love Georgian cuisine. And there is no better place to enjoy it than in the nation’s capital where you’ll find restaurants in every price range.
Try the piping hot meat or cheese-filled dumplings called khinkali, the boat-shaped pie-like khachapuri, the dolmas, the shashlik, the basic puri (bread)… I could go on and on but to make it short I just recommend you try as many dishes as possible during your trip.
Ray and I were even lucky enough to learn how to make khinkali by hand in a small restaurant in the mountains. To witness the love and craftsmanship that goes into food preparation in Georgia was truly wonderful.
To eat well in Tbilisi, head to one of the three central locations of Pasanauri. It’s very affordable, has a cozy atmosphere and of course delicious food. For a fancier meal, try Sakhli n11 near Liberty Square, for a casual lunch, head to near-by Ezo.
Address: Sakhli 11 – 11 Galaktion Tabidze St, Tbilisi 0105
Ezo – 16 Geronti Kikodze St, Tbilisi 0105
Enjoy Tbilisi in the Dark
When the sun sets, the fun is only about to begin in Tbilisi. Bars fill up with trendy locals meeting up with friends, jazz musicians tune their guitars and bartenders stock the fridges. Georgia is famous for its wines, so why not start your night by sampling a few?
My personal favourites are the ones from the Alaverdi region. If you happen to step into a bar that is mostly frequented by locals, chances are they’ll make you drink chacha – the traditional clear brandy. I dare you to try to refuse, from my own experience I know it’s almost impossible. Chacha is strong (40-65%) so proceed with (some) caution.
There are great bars all over the city. A few of my favourites are:
- Lolita near the Rustaveli metro stop with great outdoor seating area (7 Tamar Chovelidze St)
- Bar/art gallery HOME with great panoramic views over the city (13 Betlemi St)
- Jazz Cafe Singer is located in the Old Town (8 Sioni St)
In the latter, there is sublime live jazz almost every night which you can listen to sitting inside or outside. Let me tell you, there is nothing like enjoying some jazz in the warm Tbilisi night while sipping on your wine.
>> If you want to experience the city after dark, explore Tbilisi at night with a local-led walking tour!
To all my techno lovers out there – Tbilisi has an incredible alternative scene and it is home to one of the best techno clubs in the world! Bassiani, situated under a stadium, has been called many times “the closest thing to Berghain after Berghain”, referencing the legendary nightclub in Berlin.
Having never been to Berghain, I can’t compare, but what I can tell you is that Bassiani will not be a disappointment. World-famous DJs play tunes until the early hours of the morning, so go, get lost in the music and enjoy the unique vibe. Keep in mind that locals head to clubs quite late and the dress code is very casual.
Address for Bassiani: 2 Akaki Tsereteli Ave
And there you have it – some of the best things to do in Tbilisi, Georgia! Of course, there are more things to check out – but this is a great post full of knowledge to get you started and maybe spark your interest! (A huge that you to Minna for her insight and sharing her experience in Tbilisi – now we really want to go!)
As always, Happy Tbilisi Waddlin’,
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