Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi, is one of the most ancient and fascinating cities in Eastern Europe. Famous throughout Europe for its hospitality, Tbilisi is a hip and picturesque city offering fascinating architectural contrasts. Buildings from hundreds of years ago share spaces with modern crystal constructions for a fascinating ambiance. It’s a gem to be discovered and there are so many things to do in Tbilisi!
Although not a traditionally popular destination, Tbilisi has so much to offer the culture-loving traveller. There’s an eclectic mix, where centuries of history combine with a contemporary feel, giving Georgia’s capital a unique edge. Georgia is one of the oldest wine regions in the world, and Georgians love pairing their delicious wine with great food. Our guest author Linda Voltaire shares her top 12 things to see in Tbilisi, including some major attractions as well as some of her favorite hidden gems!
1. The Bridge of Peace in Tbilisi – walk from the future into nature
The newest parts of Tbilisi look like something straight out of a futuristic dream, and they are a wonderful place to start feeling the city. Walking over the Bridge of Peace should be on top of your list of what to do in Tbilisi. A gorgeous 2010 construction honoring Georgia’s commitment towards transparency. The bridge was designed to resemble a marine animal, and it lights up at night due to bright, beautiful LEDs.
Once you’re across, head to the Botanical Garden in Tbilisi, a 161-hectare green area that power walkers cannot miss. This luscious and jungle-like garden was created nearly four centuries ago, perhaps in the 1620s. Once a royal garden, it now hosts over 3,500 plants, plus several waterfalls and bridges to connect with nature in the middle of the city.
2. The Narikala Fortress – bask in history overlooking the city
Built in the 4th century, Narikala Fortress is a testament to the hundreds of years of Tbilisi history – and it’s also a great walk for visitors. Up in a hill overlooking the city, it was built for protection when Tbilisi was first founded. Further rulers expanded it to turn it into one of the greatest treasures of the many invasions to Georgia and the country’s tumultuous history.
To experience the fortress fully, take the Narikala Tourist route, a beautiful trail that starts at the Botanical Gardens and ends up by the Mother Georgia statue. It’s the perfect little hike!
3. Relax at the Sulphur Baths in Tbilisi
On the other side of Narikala, perhaps the most iconic Tbilisi landmark awaits: the sulphur baths. Located in the Abanotubani, just outside the Old City, the baths were built by ancient kings to take advantage of the natural hot sulphur springs. Tbilisi means “warm place,” and it was so named because the entire city was built around these hot waters.
The actual baths are old brick buildings in varying colors, usually with big domes. They retain influences from Arab occupations, with beautiful mosaics in lovely houses. The buildings are very aesthetically pleasing, but people visit from miles away to take advantage of all the health benefits of the baths. Not only are they relaxing, but they’re wonderful for skin problems! A must among places to visit in Tbilisi.
4. Get lost in the picturesque Old Town of Tbilisi
As a country in the crossroads between Europe and Asia, Georgia has a long history of occupations and cultural exchange. Impressively, however, a lot of architecture relics from the Old Town of Tbilisi remain today, and they’re unmissable gems for any visitor. Ancient buildings with beautiful balconies wave at visitors, reminding them of the grandeur of this beautiful city.
Looking down, you’ll find boutiques and artisans, sharing the art of thousands of years of carpet-making. The Tbilisi architecture through the ages takes the lead here, from Middle Ages constructions to Art Nouveau. Enter the wide-open doors and magical, hidden gardens await, for some of the most romantic places in town. When visiting with a local guide, you might end up surprised at the “hidden” local businesses – I ended up in a bakery inside a home!
5. Get to know the shabby chic neighbourhood of Vera in Tbilisi
Part of the traditional side of Tbilisi, Vera is one of the oldest neighborhoods in town. You won’t find much information on Vera on regular Tbilisi guides and Tbilisi attractions, but it’s one of the most beloved areas by local artists. There’s a romantic and shabby chic vibe here, with hip eateries and a fun, artistic crowd.
Vera is where you can find my favourite hotel in Tbilisi. The Rooms is a boutique hotel in the old town, it was once a publishing house, and retains so much of the writer’s charm, with lots of books. Even if I’m not staying here, I always make it a point to visit, for brunch at their restaurant or for a fancy cocktail at their hip New York style bar. Across the street you’ll find another favourite of mine. Lolita, also part of The Rooms, serves delicious Georgian food with a twist. The perfect spot to start off the evening with some creative cocktails and a great atmosphere.
6. Take the funicular in Tbilisi – see Georgia from above
Tbilisi is a mountainside city, the jewel of the Trialeti mountain range. One of the most unforgettable sights in the Georgian capital is seeing it from above! The city hosts a funicular up the mountain, which allows visitors to take the most incredible photographs of the many contrasts below. I was mesmerized at seeing the mixture of architecture through the ages, from this Tbilisi aerial tramway, with the privilege of an eagle’s eyes.
You can be up there, next to the Narikala fortress, after riding in the cable car for just a couple of minutes. The 360° panorama of Tbilisi from up here is unmatchable, and it’s very easily accessible by simply using the local metro card. If you’re feeling romantic, catch a sunset here and dine at the restaurant up above!
7. Enjoy the artistic vibe in Tbilisi
Tbilisi hasn’t yet turned into the touristic hub I know it has the potential of being. While it’s a shame that not many people have seen this beautiful mountainous gem, it also means there’s a sensation of an unspoiled wonder. This is most noticeable in the hippest areas of town, where young, bohemian locals meet up for food and drinks, like there’s nobody else in the world but them. There’s a lively atmosphere that’s very invigorating – especially with all the lovely places to visit!
There are loads of stylish spots in Tbilisi where you can try delicious food while also connecting with the local artsy vibe. Fabrika, a former Soviet sewing factory at the German neighbourhood, is one of my favourite places in town! Not only is it a pretty good restaurant, it’s also an artist’s dream. A cultural hangout, it’s full of amazing murals and has a lovely backyard that’s perfect to bask in the fun ambiance.
8. Try the Georgian wine in Tbilisi
While Western European countries like Italy and France might take all the credit for winemaking, Eastern Europe has its own Georgian wine. Historians calculate that it may be the oldest wine region on Earth! Georgians have been crafting delicious wine for thousands of years. Its consumption is key to everyday life and customs in Georgia, deeply ingrained in local culture. Just about every restaurant you visit will have a decent selection of local wines, and Georgians are very proud of their winemaking heritage.
Georgians have their own varieties from red and white grapes they’ve cultivated for thousands of years, very distinct from those from the west. Sweet, semi-sweet, or dry; there are options for every palate! Wine Gallery, near Fabrika, offers an incredible tasting experience for those who want to really delve into local winemaking flavours and the culture around them. Or you may like to join this walking tour with wine tasting in Tbilisi.
9. Spend a lazy afternoon at the Radisson Blu Iveria Terrace
Terraces and rooftops are among my weaknesses – but can you blame me? From them, you get to see a bright city from above, with all its wonders, while you’re sipping on a glass of wine or a delicious cocktail. My favourite such place in Tbilisi is the Radisson Blue Iveria Terrace, one of the hotel’s restaurants.
As it’s an outdoor place and Tbilisi can get chilly in winter, it’s a seasonal spot that only opens in the hotter months. Thanks to its luxurious feel, this is the perfect place to chill after a long day of walking and trekking around beautiful Tbilisi. Have a drink or two while overlooking the Mtkvari River and the mountains around the city!
10. Where to find the best food and restaurants in Tbilisi
I’ve said it before and I’ll never tire of repeating it: Georgia food is an experience. The country’s love for food and wine makes it comparable to Italy, only with that unique worldview of Eurasia. The restaurants in Tbilisi offer unique flavours and you won’t regret expanding your palate to the Georgian cuisine, from the most traditional plates to new deconstructions and reinventions.
Thanks to its location as the connecting point between Europe and Asia, Georgian cuisine is very varied, as it has its roots in cultural exchange. Lots of meat are the staple of the Tbilisi gastronomy, with added vegetables here and there. Some of my favourite Georgian dishes include khachapuri (cheese bread), pkhali (purees with added vegetables) and khinkali (the local version of big dumplings).
Here are two of my favourite eateries, besides Lolita, Fabrika and Arthouse Tbilisi mentioned above and below:
● Keto & Kote, once a Vera home, has been renovated to become one of the most exciting restaurants in Tbilisi, specializing in cuisine from the Samegrelo region, in West Georgia.
● Culinarium Khasheria should become a favourite of the most conscientious foodies: it specializes on Georgian food with organic seasonal ingredients, turning up experimental flavours.
11. Finish a Perfect Night at Art House Tbilisi
Georgians are very committed to being at the cutting edge of contemporary times, and that means the after dark offer is constantly growing. My favourite of these places is Art House Tbilisi – the first club house in the city!
An extension of the Georgian Museum of Fine Arts, it’s a beautiful and luxurious hangout for those who love the finer things in life. It hosts three restaurants, a cafe bar, and a fitness club. You can pick between a fancy Georgian meal at Kharcho, European fine dining at Brasserie Buvette or New York-style bar and lounge Publica.
12. Visit Mtskheta near Tbilisi and surround yourself with history
Georgia has a long history that includes Mongol invasions, being part of the Ottoman Empire, Russia and then the USSR for most of the 20th century. An old nation with a proud history, there are so many gems here. Tbilisi is a cultural hub of eclecticism, but it’s only a fraction of the vast offer of Georgia.
A 30-minute drive away from Tbilisi stands Mtskheta, a UNESCO Heritage Site and one of the oldest cities in the country. It’s also one of the most culturally significant places for Georgians, as one of the centers of the Georgian Orthodox Church, even considered a Holy City. The Mtskheta landmarks like the 11th century Svetitskhoveli Cathedral and the 6th century Jvari Church are some of the most beautiful and best preserved examples of medieval architecture in the Caucasus.
Check out this day tour of Mtskheta and other highlights near Tbilisi
Where to stay – Boutique hotels in Tbilisi
In terms of hotels, I have two favourites. Very different but both great!
First out is the boutique hotel The Rooms, which almost has become my second home in Tbilisi. It is located in my favourite neighbourhood, Vera, a walkable distance from all landmarks. I love the design here. Hipster heaven meets New Yorker style and you can stay here all night long as it is also home to a great restaurant and one of the best bars in Tbilisi.
The second option is Radisson Blu. So different but also a great hotel. A more traditional luxury hotel but at one of the best locations in Tbilisi with a gorgeous view over the river and the city. The rooms are very spacious and modern. I love the floor to ceiling windows and their roof top spa is a true Tbilisi oasis!
How To Get To Tbilisi
Still an unexploited gem, it is mostly Eastern European airlines that offer direct flights to Tbilisi. Cities like Warsaw, Istanbul, Riga, Saint Petersburg and Moscow have several daily direct flights to Tbilisi. Good news is that Georgian Airlines now have direct flights from London and highly ranked airlines like Qatar Airlines just opened flights to Georgia’s gorgeous capital.
Once at the airport, you can reach Tbilisi by taking the bus, train or taxi. Buses #37 and #137 will take you to city centre, There’s also a train from the airport to the city’s main railway station, but it only passes a couple of times a day. However, I usually take a taxi as it only takes 20 to 30 minutes and is very cheap if you compare to Western European countries!
So what are you waiting for? Get ready to fall in love with this Caucasus gem and put it on your travel list before everyone else does!
Author Bio: Travel with a Silver Lining is a luxury travel blog home to boutique & design hotel reviews, foodies guides for hip eateries and trendy restaurants as well as photo & travel guides with a focus on the road less travelled. Linda Voltaire, the founder, is a 42 years old Swedish travel lover. She has just moved back home after a four years adventure in Moscow, working as a marketer and strategist and is now focusing full time on her travel blog!
Photo credits: Photos by Linda Voltaire, except Bridge of Peace by Archikl on Pixabay (cc) and Radisson Blu