The most beautiful city of the defunct Soviet Union and the most cosmopolitan capital in the Caucasus region, Tbilisi is a refreshing change from a typical European heritage city. Numerous lace decorated wooden houses together with neoclassical, art nouveau and ultramodern buildings cohabit on both banks of the River Mtkvari. It’s inhabitants are authentic and warm, willing to show you a fantastic cultural life, with both traditional and modern coffee houses, bars, shops and restaurants. If you are visiting Tbilisi for the first time this guide is for you!
What is Tbilisi Like
Tbilisi is located in south east Georgia, near the border with Armenia and Azerbaijan. The city is limited by surrounding mountains with some of them being the extension of the Caucasus range. They block further expansions resulting in a distinctive longitudinal shape. In the middle of it the River Mtkvari divides the city between into east and west. The city center and the old town lie on the east, while some remarkable neighborhoods are in the western bank. While the Old Town has a medieval irregular shape, most streets in the modern center are orthogonal and wide.
What to See in Tbilisi
Tbilisi is dotted with spectacular architecture from different historical periods. Main highlights include the Narikala Fortress built in the 4th century with spectacular views over the city, and the Old Town with cobbled medieval streets and wooden houses with lace style decorated balconies. Apart from that, the area has several interesting churches, a mosque and a synagogue: Sioni Cathedral Church, Anchickhati Basilica, Jumah Mosque and the Great Synagogue. A walk through the pedestrian Erekle Street is a delightful experience with Rezo Gabriadze’s Puppet Theater being its highlight. Just north of the Old Town Freedom Square and The Rustaveli Avenue are two hotspots surrounded by most of the monumental architecture. The City Hall, the National Opera, Museum and Parliament are some impressive examples. Next to the river, the newly built Public Service Hall is a bizarre example of ultra-modern architecture that cannot be missed. A couple of minutes away The bridge of Peace and the Rike Park complete the must see list of modern architecture. On top of the hill and overlooking the Park the Sameba Cathedral is the largest of them all, and offers outstanding views. On the same side of Mtkvari the David Aghmashenebeli Avenue is a great example of the city’s Art Nouveau heritage. A little bit outside of the city center the National Bank of Georgia is an outstanding example of brutalist architecture.
In recent years the capital of Georgia has lived a boom in the number and classes of accommodation. Most hotels are affordable prices and the variety of hotel categories is quite satisfactory. Apart from that, the offer of apartments for rent has grown considerably. The most authentic neighborhood in the city is definitely the Old Town, but it is also one of the most touristic areas. Some of the old houses are rebuilt to host guesthouses and boutique hotels, there is a number of not rebuilt ones which are popular among backpackers. The central area north of the Liberty Square and on both sides of the Rustaveli Avenue has excellent options too, but more pricey. Another great option to stay is on the right bank of the river between the river and the Central Train Station. The Avlabari neighborhood offers some excellent views and is not far from the center either.
Tbilisi is a pretty walkable city in spite of having such a particular shape and hilly terrain. Most of the highlights and beautiful neighborhoods are located next to each other, on a flat expanse of land near the river. Nevertheless pedestrians should be warned of Tbilisi’s crazy traffic and using the few existing underpasses is highly recommendable. Biking is another option, but not the safest one for the same reason. The public transport is rather chaotic except for the Metro system which is efficient and clean. It is hard to understand how buses work so taking a taxi is not a bad idea. Remember to bargain for the price before entering, there are no taximeters and they might overcharge you if you don’t do it. Taxi drivers don’t speak much English, but they do communicate well in Russian. The other fantastic way to enjoy the city is by cable car. The public transport ticket is valid for the cable car too.
Outstanding architecture and landscape, delicious food, amazing thermal baths and a vibrant cultural life are just some of the few great features of this remarkable city. A conservative mentality and the influence of the Georgian Orthodox Church are quite present, in spite of which, a young generation has managed to create a somehow alternative cultural scene. It is the Caucasus avant-garde city, the only place with an independent and lively art scene and home to the only gay bar in the region. For some reason tourists still haven’t discovered it, so you’d better hurry and enjoy this beauty by yourself. Additionally, Tbilisi is a great starting point to visit several destinations located just couple of hours away.
Tbilisi Travel Guide
- Stay in Avlabari neighborhood, across the river from the Old Town. Happy Frog recommends Bright Two room Apartment
- The Old Town and Narikala Fortress;
- Metekhi neighborhood and area near Marjanishvili metro station;
- Avlabari Neighborhood;
- The National Bank.
- Have coffee or lunch in PurPur Café.
- On foot, by taxi (prearranging the price) and metro.
- Go on an excursion to the old capital Mtskheta or check out the best day trips from Tbilisi.
DO NOT MISS:
- Walk down the Rustaveli Avenue to the Liberty Square;
- Discover the hidden churches, mosque and a synagogue in the Old Town;
- Indulge yourself in Abanotubani baths;
- Shop in the flea market on the Dry Bridge;
- Discover the city’s socialist and Art Nouveau heritage.