I can’t even remember for how long a trip to Georgia was on my travel bucket list. Definitely way too long. This beautiful country welcomed us with great weather, breathtaking sights, delicious food and the most warm hearted people. Tbilisi is a city of many contrasts and countless hidden gems. It’s developing really fast and has come a long way since the Rose Revolution of 2003 ousted the post-Soviet Shevardnadze government. Prepare yourself for a refreshingly unpretentious travel experience.
1. Basic facts about Tbilisi
Tbilisi was founded in 458 (according to some sources it was 455) and ever since then took a strategic position controlling the merchant route called Silk Road. The city was formerly called Tiflis, when the country was still under the old Soviet Union authority. On the 9th of April 1991, after long years of regime, Georgia separated from the Soviet Union and started new chapter of its reach and complex history.
Considering country’s background, it is easy to see why a significant number of Georgian speakers are fluent in Russian as their second language. What is also interesting to know, is that many Georgians name their homeland not Georgia but Sakartvelo. The population of the whole country counts around 5 million while Tbilisi’s population is now over 1 million people. This beautiful city is a major cultural and educational hub with several institutions of higher education. It is also known as an industrial centre of the region that provides engineering services, produces textiles, leather goods, furniture, beer, wine and a range of foodstuffs.
Currency & payments
The official local currency is Georgian lari. There are plenty of banks and small money-exchange offices where you can exchange US dollars, Euros and the currencies of Georgia’s neighbouring countries. Tbilisi’s hotels, markets, restaurants and points of sales, in a great majority accept payments in cash or by debit and credit cards. Also, ATMs are widely available in many places in the city.
Transportation and wi-fi
When it comes to taxis, they almost never accept cards and I would also suggest you to download Taxify app. This is really convenient way of ordering transportation within the city limits. Taxi from the airport to the city center costs from 10 to 15 $ and 5 km ride through the city may cost you around 7 lari (2,5 $) when using Taxify. Drivers are friendly and candid, but be prepared they may not speak English.
To stay online during your visit in Tbilisi you can use “Tbilisi Loves You” which is a free Wi-Fi available in Tbilisi central areas. But I would recommend to purchase a local sim card already at the airport. The selling point is right at the exit from the arrivals terminal and the cost of 5GB is around 12 $.
2. When is the best time to plan your visit?
I can say with a great conviction that any time of the year is great to visit Tbilisi. What can influence your decision are your own preferences when it comes to seasonal weather conditions. Georgia’s capital enjoys pleasant weather throughout the year with all four seasons. We have visited Tbilisi in the middle of March and had nice sunny weather with around 15-20 C. But bear in mind that on that month you can also expect strong wind and rain. Spring is definitely a great time to plan your visit as it is warm with lots of sunny days. Summer months are quite hot and humid so reserved for amateurs of much warmer weather with temperatures exceeding 30 or even 40C. Autumns and winters are both reasonably mild and it rarely snows in Tbilisi.
You can also have a look at some cool events and festivals that take place in Tbilisi. This may be a good timing to plan your trip.
Events guide to Tbilisi
Orthodox New Year – takes place on January 14th. If you wish to experience how locals celebrate this holiday, then the first weeks of the year are a perfect time for your visit. Also, on January 7th you can witness Alilo, when people walk from Rose Revolution Square to the Holy Trinity Cathedral.
New Wine Festival – wonderful wine celebrations that take place in the first weeks of May, you will have a chance to try wines from late harvest, made either by traditional or European methods.
Independence Day – this national holiday takes place on May 26th. It commemorates adoption of the Act of Independence, which established the Democratic Republic of Georgia. On that day central roads are closed for cars and there is a military procession and speeches.
CinéDOC-Tbilisi – it’s a film festival that usually takes place in May and brings some of the most influential movies to the capital.
Tbilisi Open Air – music festival in the outskirts of Tbilisi that brings together local and international artists of rock and electronic music. Organized usually in June.
Art-Gene – in July the city hosts this traditional folk festival at the Ethnographic Museum of Tbilisi. You can enjoy beautiful local music and dances.
Tbilisi International Festival of Theatre – starts at the end of September and lasts through beginning of October. Includes many international and local theater companies, masterclasses, exhibitions, and workshops.
Tbilisi Jazz Festival – this famous music festival takes place in October and brings internationally acclaimed jazz artists to the city. It’s one of the most beloved local events.
Tbilisi Photo Festival – also takes place in October and exposes works of talented Asian, European, and the Middle Eastern photographers.
Christmas markets – on December you can join locals celebrating Christmas season and visiting christmas markets.
3. Tbilisi must see places
There are many things I love about Tbilisi but one of the highlights I appreciate the most is its unique architecture. It marks the way from antiquity through eighteenth century balconied homes and austere Soviet structures, right up to the ultra modern buildings. What I also love is that the old you see in the city is not overly polished, what gives you the feeling of genuineness. Many cities renovate to the point where buildings and entire districts lose any sense of authenticity. This did not happen to Tbilisi and you can still enjoy its charm of eastern and western influences combined in a one place. You may also want to read the list of 13 Most Instagrammable Places in Tbilisi.
Abanotubani is among my favorite spots in the city. This ancient district is known for its sulphuric baths that are believed to cure many health issues. The name actually combines two words. “Abano” in translation from Georgian means “bathhouse” and “ubani” is “district”. According to some legends this is the place where construction of the city has started. The baths are still working and are very popular among both, guests of the capital and natives.
Some of the baths have only common rooms, while others offer separate rooms with sauna and other amenities. We have booked private sulfur bath experience in Orbeliani Bathhouse and I highly recommend to put this on your agenda. This place runs a slick operation with English speaking staff, very pleasant interior and new facilities. The prices start from 50 lari (18$) for an hour in a private bath room, 70 lari (26$) for a private bathroom with additional rest room and 120 lari (44$) for a private bath room with your own sauna. You can also rent robes, flip flops and towels or bring your own if you prefer. We spend one of the mornings having sulfur baths and loved it so much that next time would definitely book it for longer than an hour.
Legvtakhevi area and waterfall
Legvtakhevi waterfall is beautiful at all seasons. Sometimes it get frozen during wintertime, and in summer you can escape there hot days as the temperature around is much cooler. The name of the place comes from the fig, as there were many fig trees around this area in the past. Legvtakhevi literally means “the gorge of figs”. It used to be a favorite place for women who were gathering there, washing their clothes and chatting. While walking toward the waterfall you will pass the “Bridge of Lovers”. This romantic bridge is full of padlocks with the names of couples and quotes in many languages.
There is not only Piza in Italy that has a leaning tower but Tbilisi has its own too. It’s a clock tower located right next to the famous puppet theatre. The puppeteer Rezo Gabriadze built the theatre himself over a timespan of thirty years, reusing old pieces from abandoned structures of the old town. The clock tower was added in 2011, after a four-year construction phase. It’s good to be there at the hour when a window opens at the small balcony at the top, and a mannequin of an angel strikes the bell. At this place you will also spot two important clocks of Tbilisi – the biggest and the smallest clock of the city. As the biggest one is obvious to spot, you can try to find the smallest one located on the tower.
The Bridge of Peace
Relatively newly constructed Bridge of Peace is definitely the attraction you must see in Tbilisi. It’s a pedestrian glass and steel bridge in a bow-shaped design, that sits over the Mtkvari (Kura) river. The bridge was officially opened in May 2010 and is 156 meters long . It has very interesting architecture and was brought to Georgia from Italy in 200 unassembled components. The whole construction has more than 10 000 LED bulbs built-in, that are switched on daily 90 minutes before the sunset. The idea of the Italian designer, Michele De Lucchi, was to broadcast the message which is “the anthem of life and piece among people and nations”.
Narikala Fortress & the Cable Car ride
There is no better place for a spectacular view of Old Tbilisi than from Narikala Fortress. To get there you can take a cable car from Rike Park, which is close to the Bridge of Peace. You pass over the river and then go right to the top of one of the old areas which gives a great view into all of the houses. Once you reach the top part of the fortress you will be truly amazed with spectacular panoramic city view.
A 19th century old wooden house on Betlemi Street is a real architectural jewel of Tbilisi. I was literally dazzled by all its colors and unique style as this place is a true gem. It is not known who built this house or who used to live there, but it is a fact that the owner had a sophisticated and modern taste. It’s the only house in Tbilisi decorated with colorful stained glass windows. Another remarkable feature of this building is its facade and balconies decorated with carvings and ornaments, as well the beautiful spiral staircase.
Tbilisi’s hidden courtyards and balconies
Old Tbilisi’s district with balconies, courtyards, beautiful staircases and richly decorated European style facades, will surely surprise you. These graceful buildings with cracked walls and decades of layers of paint fading and peeling, cannot be skipped while visiting the city. They are not easy to find and enter on your own as majority of these buildings are now inhabited and close to the wider public. What I strongly recommend is to book a guided tour with Tbilisi Free Walking Tours, that has an access to many secret places. They will walk you through the hidden beauty of Tbilisi.
For those who like to chase the remains of Soviet era, Tbilisi is a great destination as it is a home to fair amount of Soviet Modernist architecture. Most of the buildings have been abandoned or destroyed but some have been restored and re-purposed. Few examples that should get your attention: The Archeological Museum, Skybridge, The Bank of Georgia and The Ritual Palace. Interesting fact about the last one is that The Ritual Palace was built in 1984 as a wedding venue. Later it was sold to a private person and until nowadays is used as a private house.
Holy Trinity Cathedral
This place is also frequently called by its Georgian name which is Sameba. Tbilisi Holy Trinity Cathedral is the main religious building of the Georgian Orthodox Church. The construction of the church took almost 10 years and is considered to be the third highest Eastern Orthodox Cathedral in the world. The building itself is a combination of traditional styles of Georgian church architecture of different periods and even features some Byzantine connotations. Surrounded by gardens and walls is an impressive example of religious architecture. Definitely a must see in Tbilisi.
Fabrika is a former sewing factory transformed into a cool hip area with cafes, restaurants, shops and a hostel. This post industrial territory represents all what shabby and chic design defines. Plan a coffee or lunch there to enjoy vibes of this place. During warmer season it’s a pleasant location for outdoor drinks. We also did shopping in one of the shops in Fabrika as you can find there many small designers handcrafting their masterpieces, literally in the front of your eyes.
Dry Bridge Vintage Market
I loved that place and did really nice shopping there. You can easily spend hours walking around the market, as the choice of assortment for sale is really diverse. Prices may differ from very cheap to a bit exaggerated but you can aways haggle. If the weather is good the market is open daily from 10:00 am till 17:00 pm. At weekends there are usually more sellers with more products, but also much more visitors.
The Chronicle of Georgia
The Chronicle of Georgia is a 30 meters high statue made of columns and set on a hill. It describes Georgia’s history. The top part of the statue features the kings and queens of Georgia, the lower part portrays the life of a Christ. This place is not easy to reach as there is no public transportation around. The best option to get there will be taking a taxi. It looks really impressive from the distance but even more when you stand at the foot of the monument. The place is not very touristy and you can easily have it only to yourself.
Mtatsminda Park is another obligatory place to see in Tbilisi, mainly because of the spectacular view of the city that will truly amaze you. It is the highest park in Tbilisi. You can reach it by bus or car but the most fun way will be a funicular ride up to the top of the hill. The place was built in 1930 and nowadays you can find there, except the park and terrace view, also a restaurant, cafe and even a wedding house. There is also 210 meters tall TV tower located in this park that might be seen from almost all parts of the city.
4. Georgian food you must try
For me local food is always an expression of country’s culture and I cannot imagine any travel without trying local specialities. Georgians believe that guests are a gift from God so trust me, you cannot be treated with greater hospitality. Local cuisine is reach in ingredients, full of spices and surprises with unusual combinations. It perfectly uses all the western and eastern influences the country was experiencing over the centuries. It’s undoubtedly among the most delicious cuisines I have ever tried. A mix of flavors from Greece and the Mediterranean, as well as influences from Turkey and Persia will take you for a wonderful and tasty adventure. You can read also my other blog post with Best Restaurants in Tbilisi Recommended by Locals.
Khinkali (Georgian Dumplings) – Beautifully twisted knobs of dough, typically stuffed with meat and spices, then served boiled or steamed. The trick with khinkali is to eat them without making a mess or spilling the hot broth that is inside of the dumpling. Do not use cutlery! You need to grab the dumpling with your hand by the top handle and turn it upside down. Take small bites from the side and slurp some broth. It’s so good!
Lobio – My second favorite dish from the Georgian selection. The consistency and taste of lobio varies widely. It’s made of beans, containing coriander, walnuts, garlic and onion and can be served hot or cold. It’s most delicious accompanied by a round of mchadi, which is a Georgian corn bread.
Khachapuri – also spelled as Hachapuri is a traditional Georgian dish of cheese-filled bread served hot. It’s favorite throughout Georgia and involves putting the egg into the hot cheese to achieve a perfect taste.
Qababi (Kebabs) – Grilled minced meat perfectly spiced up and wrapped in a thin lavash-like bread. A must try for every meat lover.
Badrijani – This dish is also known as nigvziani badrijani. It’s made of fried eggplant stuffed with spiced walnut and garlic paste, often topped with pomegranate seeds.
Georgian cheese and yogurt – if there is one food that Georgians cannot live without, I would say it’s cheese. And I am not surprised. Cheese in Georgia will take you to the next level of tasteness. Try dambalkhcho, which is a traditional meal from Pshavi region. It gained the status of cultural heritage due to its method of preparation. It’s made from buttermilk cottage cheese that remains after churning butter. Than dried and kept in clay pots until the cottage cheese develops special kind of mold which makes it spicy. It takes few months to prepare it, but the result is worth all the waiting.
5. How to get to Tbilisi?
Flights connections with Tbilisi are developing from year to year and you can already find a variety of direct flights from many European cities. We flu with LOT Polish Airlines from Warsaw directly to Tbilisi and the flight took us around 3 hours 30 minutes. This connection is available daily.
6. Where to stay in Tbilisi
We had a great pleasure to stay in one of the best hotels in Tbilisi. Rooms Hotel is not only a chic place but also offers really high standard service. Our stay was nothing but perfect. The whole hotel has cool hip vibes mixed with vintage furniture. Our room was beautifully decorated and hotel service went above and beyond to make sure we had best possible experience. You can enjoy delicious and really diverse breakfast in the morning and they also serve nice lunch and dinner. In the evening this stylish place turns into a cool meeting spot with music played by a DJ. It’s located in the area with many other cool bars and restaurants, that you will be able to enjoy without the need of using any transportation.
* Please note that my stay in Tbilisi was a press trip/invitation from Tbilisi City Hall.
All recommendations and reviews are based on my personal opinion and experience.