Top 10 Things to do in the Georgian Capital Tbilisi
Tbilisi is an interesting, ancient, beautiful and well-maintained city. And even though most of its attractions are located in a small valley between several mountains, we recommend you give this city at least a couple of days. Rest assured, you will not be disappointed – Tbilisi is a way of life and people’s hospitality, it consists of individual moments and tastes. Here, we present you with 10 things to do in Tbilisi, which will make you fall in love with it.
1. Observe the City from One of the Mountains
At day time, the capital of Georgia, situated on mountains and their valleys on both sides of the River Mtkvari, reveals a colourful variety of historical architecture and symbols of the modern world. Here you’ll see traces of Asian, Eastern and Western cultures. During the last few centuries, the city has changed – now it has many postmodern buildings, as well as a cable-lift. Furthermore, the city is engaged in intensive construction efforts and the restauration of old buildings. Observing Tbilisi from one of the surrounding mountains is worthwhile even at night, when nightlights illuminate the ruins of the Narikala Palace, the “Mother of a Georgian” sculpture, the parliament building that resembles the White House, and the TV tower in the Mtatsminda Park, which has the Vilnius Square at its foot.
2. Bathe in Sulphur Baths
Make sure to go down to Tbilisi’s historical neighbourhood Abanotubani, which has the city’s oldest buildings, and exudes multiculturalism. While here, it’s worth spending at least an hour in the Muslim-style sulphur baths. They’ve been here for a very long time, and are now integral to the culture of Tbilisi. These baths, which are roughly 700 years old, use sulphur-rich, 37 to 60 degree water from natural streams. A private room with hot and cold water pools, a sauna, several showers and a relaxation room for six to eight people costs around 20-30 EUR per hour. For 4 EUR more you can also get a massage or body scrub.
3. Eat Khinkali and Shashlik
The Georgian cuisine is the locals’ pride. Who hasn’t heard of the Georgian shashlik and watermelons, or the cheese pie khachapuri. Given that all the ingredients are fresh and natural, it’s no surprise that Georgian dishes is one of the main goals of many travellers coming to this country. In Tbilisi, food can be had in both restaurants and little cafés. Even fancy restaurants here serve khachapuri for no more than 4 EUR. In most places, khinkali are roughly 20-30 cents per piece, never going above 40 cents even in the most expensive of restaurants. Most medium-sized (and larger) traditional restaurants in Tbilisi organise free evening programmes that involve Georgian songs and dancing. Booking tables in advance is not necessary. In Tbilisi, every catering establishment that’s larger than a café is called a restaurant.
4. Wander Round the Old Town
In the old neighbourhoods of Tbilisi, time is standing still: it seems as if most buildings here are fighting the merciless passage of time for survival, and losing it. Take a leisurely stroll round the narrow streets of the Old Town, explore the remaining authentic neighbourhoods and buildings with etched wooden balconies – that way you’ll get to experience the city’s true spirit. Sitting down in a vine-covered square or courtyard of an Orthodox church, one can cosily observe life passing by. Don’t be afraid to stray from the beaten path, wander round the courtyards, and peeking through open windows and gates into the everyday routines of local folk.
5. Ask a Local about War, Refugees, Saakashvili or Life in General
Tbilisi is home to people of more than 100 nationalities. Roughly 80 percent of the population is Georgian, with Armenians and Azerbaijanis comprising the two largest foreign communities. Living in smaller groups are Russians, Abkhazians, Osteons, Ukrainians, Greeks, Jews, Estonians, Germans, Kurds, and some others. Living together for a long time has taught the locals frankness and sincere communication. For this reason, the people of Tbilisi are always ready to talk about almost any topic with their guests. Sometimes, it may seem that emotion is overflowing, but don’t be afraid if someone in Tbilisi laughs when content, or gets really angry and upset – no one will attack you physically. In any case, after a sincere conversation you’ll have made a new friend, and the luckiest will be honoured with the title “brother”.
6. Swim in the Waterfall of the Botanical Garden
Georgia’s National Botanical Garden, previously known as Tbilisi’s Botanical Garden, is located in the very centre of the city, at the southern base of neighbourhood Sololaki’s mountain range. The garden is refreshing at any time of year – here, you can have a pleasant walk among trees that came here from Europe, America, Asia and Africa. Currently, the garden takes up 128 ha of land, and is made even more charming by the Tsavkisistkali River with three picturesque bridges hanging over it. Located under one of these is a refreshing waterfall – one of the garden’s main attractions. At the bottom of the waterfall is a small and shallow body of water, where people like to swim on hot summer days. During other seasons, you can sit down on the water-polished rocks by the waterfall and just observe the dance of the falling water for some time. The main entrance to the garden is located right by another of Tbilisi’s attractions – the Narikala Fortress.
7. Go to a Market
The best place to look for presents is the city market, filled with spices, vegetables and fruit. Tbilisi has several big markets where local vendors sell vegetables, fruit, cheese, clothing, household appliances and other things. We recommend you buy your spices at a market, as you probably won’t find such variety anywhere else, and because here you can taste (and learn a thing or two about) them. For this reason, going to the market is like taking a tour. Here you’ll see people selling live birds, and all kinds of fruit and vegetables. The stalls are lined with massive rows of different cheeses and other agricultural produce, with the sellers offering a taste. Markets also sell home-made wines and the stronger drink called chacha. The wines can also be tasted before buying. Sometimes it’s nice to just chat with the vendors. Haggling is commonplace in Georgian markets, and you should always check your change as some sellers like to cheat.
8. Learn a Few Toasts
Supra – that’s how Georgians call socialising at the table. However, it’s not all about the table, food and drink – the main attributes of supra – but also good tamada (the toastmaster) and plenty of toasting. Truth be told, if the toastmaster is not very eloquent, the event can feel a little long and slightly boring, as there are 10-15 main toasts that have to be told every time people take a seat at the table. Toasts to peace, country, God and the Orthodox spiritual leader Ilia II of Georgia, women, mothers, parents, children, the deceased, love, friendship, loyalty, self-sacrifice, the supra, the hosts, the other supras… People say there are 33 main and 333 toasts in general. No one has officially counted them, though. Toasts are passed down by word of mouth, and constantly infused with the thoughts and wisdom of those who tell them. Back home, you’re sure to impress your guests by telling at least a few true Georgian toasts.
9. Light a Candle in One of the Many Orthodox Churches
Regardless of your beliefs, or lack thereof, visit at least one of the city’s many Orthodox churches. Light a candle and just stay a little while. The Apostolic Church of Georgia is one of the oldest Christian churches in the world. It was founded in the 1st century AD by St. Andrew, with the official adoption of Christianity to follow in the first half of the 4th century. That’s why most of Tbilisi’s Orthodox churches are really old. The interior of these churches is transfused with thousands of different prayers. The gigantic Sameba Cathedral, which contains as many as 12 churches, was built only a decade ago. Now it’s the country’s main temple and the symbol of Tbilisi. We also recommend you visit the Metekhi Church, which has connections with several Georgian rulers. The church opens up to a beautiful panorama of Tbilisi’s Old Town. There’s also the Sioni Cathedral, built in the 6th century AD, which was destroyed and rebuilt many times since.
10. Buy a Piece of Jewellery or Knick-Knack on the “Dry Bridge”
The Dry Bridge over to the Madatov Island was built in 1851 – in the past, it used to be a real island that belonged to General Madatov. River Mtkvari used to be located on one side, and a shallow channel on the other. Since the Soviet times, when the channel was buried, the bridge became known as the Dry Bridge. Today, the island is one large park, taken up by a flea market. Here you’ll find scores of people selling souvenirs and antiques. At the market, you can buy authentic ancient objects (even though many of them are mere replicas), such as a smoothbore musket. Here you can find anything you could possibly want: paintings, pottery, scarves, felt boots, jewellery, silver, crockery, stuffed animals, etc. Everything is home-made, and adapted to each and every taste, as well as budget. From professional wares to those made by students and amateurs. Moreover, in this gigantic market you can find Soviet utensils, paintings, and so on. There’s also a fairly large book market nearby.