My Tbilisi Top 10

Of the six weeks that I spent in Georgia, almost three full weeks were in the capital city, Tbilisi. It was partly for practical reasons - Tbilisi is right in the center of the country, and is a hub for transit to different regions. But I also chose to spend a fair amount of time there because I enjoy the city, liked my hostel, and had made friends there!

Upon hearing how long I'd been there, lots of travelers asked me what my favorite things were to do in Tbilisi, and I'm afraid I probably disappointed them with my answers because, well, I'm really bad at visiting museums and tourist attractions. They're not really my thing. But I still found loads to keep me busy in the city. Hopefully this list will prove more helpful to future Tbilisi travelers than my "um, walk around and sit in cafes?" responses did.

Doing some cafe sitting at pretty Accent Cafe near my hostel


1. Ride the Funicular and get donuts at the Funicular bakery.

For a few lari, you can hop the funicular up to Mtatsminda Park, on a hilltop overlooking the entire city. Go before dusk and grab an outdoor table (they'll bring you blankets if it's cold!) at either the restaurant or the bakery and watch the sun go down over Tbilisi. Don't leave without trying a piping-hot cream-filled donut from the pastry shop, their specialty since Soviet times!


2. Walk up to Narikala Fortress at dusk.

Sure, you can take the cable car to the top, but the walk is a great way to work up an appetite for dinner later! Go before dark so you have time to climb all over the crumbling walls and turrets (very little is off-limits here), and then find a spot along the wall for picture taking during the Golden Hour. There's also usually a nice breeze up here on summer evenings! 





3. A photo walk through Vake and Vera.

Vake, a university and ex-pat neighborhood, and Vera, it's slightly shabbier cousin, make for a great afternoon of wandering and picture snapping. Get a taxi to Javakhashvili University and make your way into Vake on one side of Chavchavadze street, then cross over by Vake Park and zig zag your way back down through side streets lined with beer gardens, cafes and shops. You can catch the metro at Rustaveli, or, if your feet are up for it, keep walking all the way back to Old Town.


Book sellers
Peeking through gates.

Freedom Square (Tavisuplebis Moedani)


4. See what Georgian life looked like 100 years ago at the Ethnographic Museum.

This museum isn't highly visited, except during the summer festival, but it should be! It requires a taxi ride (or a hike up from Vake Park), but there are excellent English guides who give you tours of traditional houses from different regions of Georgia, teaching you history, geography, and culture along the way.  


5. Get lost in the winding streets of Old Town. 

By far my most frequent activity in Tbilisi! Get off the main tourist drag and find some cobblestone streets to wander. There are beautiful fading buildings, crumbling walls, stray cats galore, old men in cute hats, and lots and lots of hills (which means this qualifies as both exercising and sightseeing!). I walked the same streets dozens of times and still found new side roads to explore or new details that I'd missed.

Old Town and Narikala Fortress, seen from across the bridge






6. Brave the bazaar by Station Square One. 

Hop on the metro to Sadguris Moedani (Station Square One) for a truly local shopping experience. Vendors spread out in every direction selling anything you could possibly need - fruits and vegetables, nuts and spices, churchkela, homemade wine and chacha, second-hand clothing, school supplies, padlocks... basically, if you can't find it here, it probably doesn't exist in Georgia. It's also a great place to interact with Georgians, but many of them don't speak much English so it helps to either know Russian or to learn a few words of Georgian before you go. Gamarjobat! (Hello!) Ra ghirs? (How much?) Erti, ori, sami, otkhi, khuti (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) Saidan khart? (Where are you from?) Madloba. (Thank you.) The older ladies especially love hearing foreigners speak a few words of Georgian and might even give you a better deal!    



7. Hang out with the Georgians at the Irish pubs. 

Okay, I know going to an Irish pub doesn't seem like a very "local" experience, but trust me. There's a street near Rustaveli lined with bars of various nations - English pubs, Irish pubs, Dutch pubs, American pubs. They make only the slightest attempt to be authentic (the American bar, Buffalo Bill, had zero American-made beers available, but did have some cowboy stuff on the walls). And they are not, as you might fear, filled with expats dreaming of home, but rather with Georgians out for a good time! Many of them offer live music after 8 or 9 pm, often a mix of Georgian traditional music and covers of American pop and rock. And if you really want to party like a local, order a giant platter of meat for a midnight snack before you head home. I wouldn't spend every night on this street, but it was one of my most fun evenings out in Tbilisi!



8. Experience a Georgian Bath House.

Like Turkish hamams, the Georgians have a similar tradition of public bathing houses. In fact, the name Tbilisi means something like "warm water" and was a reference to the old bath houses, some of which still stand today in Old Town. The experience and expense varies widely, depending on the bath you choose - some are elegant spas with Western-style treatments. some have private rooms for couples, and some are shared public spaces. I went to Abano No. 5, a public bath, and opted for the "pilling and massage"... which amounted to a hot shower, having several layers of skin scrubbed off me by a busty lady in her bra and underwear, and getting a rough 10-minute rub down while covered in soap suds and laying naked on a marble slab. It was all over with in about 30 minutes, for less than $25. Not exactly relaxing, but a very interesting cultural experience. And my skin was so soft! 

9. Wine shop hopping on Kote Abkhazi.

If you don't have time to hit up wine country, this is the next best thing. Kote Abkhazi and the pedestrian streets that branch off of it are lined with shops full of Georgian wines for you to taste and take home. Many of the shop employees are very knowledgeable and can help you find what you're looking for, especially if you're nice to them (while we were in one shop, an older lady came in and said, in Russian "Give me wine! a white!" - he gave it to her, she drank it like a shot, and left. We stuck around and asked questions and got to taste at least 5 wines.) Once you get tired of tasting, find a bar like the hipster-filled Moulin Eleqtrique to sit and enjoy a glass of the house wine and soak up the atmosphere.

10. Try all the traditional Georgian foods. 

If you can, find a dining partner or two because Georgian meals work best when shared!

Actually not a very traditional meal, but a delicious one at Organique Josper

Lobio, khachapuri, summer salad

Khachapuri Acharuil

Pork shashlik and the ubiquitous summer salad

Lobiani - bread filled with beans

Khinkali - dumplings stuffed with meat, potatoes or cheese

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  1. I love your blog! have a nice weekend:)

    www.theprintedsea.blogspot.com

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    1. Thanks so much for reading! - Mary

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