Get to know Tbilisi
By Kati Taylor
Tbilisi enjoys its worldly reputation as Georgia’s indulgent capital. With Georgian cuisine a national institution, and a virtual guarantee to be wined and dined by the welcoming residents, the city certainly lives up to its translation, ‘warm place’. It’s also rising in popularity with travellers, and rightly so. Read on as we unpack the eternal charms of this Caucasus gem.
Take it easy
Land of food, wine and bubbling hot springs, Tbilisi cannot and will not be rushed. It’s a perfect place to wander, stopping in cafes and wine bars as you go, and watch the world go by. The botanical gardens are worth a stroll and, of course, no trip would be complete without a visit to the famous sulphur baths. These waters, widely believed to have healing properties, are also rumoured to be the prime reason settlers chose Tbilisi in the first place. If you want to experience them for yourself, there are five public bathhouses clustered in the Abanotubani district.
In keeping with this relaxed pace of life, Tbilisi residents love to round off their evenings with a glass of local wine. With such a dizzying array of choice on offer, your best bet is to organise a wine tasting. For a great experience, head to Vino Underground; an organic winebar which showcases the best of local produce.
Step back in time
Having been founded in the 4th century, Tbilisi has a long and illustrious history which it wears as a badge of honour. The labyrinthine streets of the city’s Old Town are dotted with colourful, ramshackle houses, their balconies wound with grapevines and their doors wide open onto the courtyards beyond. It’s a wonderful place to lose yourself for a few hours, admiring the architecture and meeting street traders, who gather there daily to sell fresh fruit and vegetables from the surrounding countryside.
For a view of the city’s more ancient past, visitors need only look upwards. Perched on a hill above the city, joined to the main streets by cable car or footpath, is the Narikala Fortress. At 1700 years old, this formidable structure was expanded by the Arabs in the 7th century and by David the Builder - Georgia’s most celebrated monarch - in the 11th. Its now ruined ramparts offer fantastic views over the city and just a short walk along the hill ridge takes you to the iconic Mother of Georgia statue, a must-see for any visitor.
Despite its recent turbulent history, or perhaps even because of it, Tbilisi boasts a vibrant and engaging art scene. While there’s no shortage of galleries (well worth visiting if you have the time), there’s one district in particular that’s become a local artist hotspot. The Dry Bridge Flea Market; home to a dizzying array of Soviet memorabilia, musical instruments, ceremonial weapons and pretty much anything else you can imagine. Open 10am to 5pm every day, it’s a unique and wonderful place to while away an hour or two. It’s also become a gallery for local artists; the fences of the market’s neighbouring park now awash with colourful paintings and icons. For music lovers, Tbilisi has a wonderful selection of cafes and bars where you can watch local performers. Amqari and The Movement Theatre are both good options, offering a mix of traditional Georgian music and popular jazz.
Eat like a local
With its cobbled streets shaded by sprawling grapevines and delicious, inviting aromas following you pretty much everywhere you go, it’s no wonder that Tbilisi is considered one of the best cities for foodie travellers. There’s no shortage of quaint cafes and charming restaurants, all serving up traditional Georgian cuisine. Don’t miss adjaruli khachapuri (a bread boat filled with melted cheese and topped with a soft fried egg), khinkali (traditional dumplings in meat or mushroom variety) and lobio (refried beans in a chili and cilantro sauce). The Old Town is generally considered the best district for sampling Georgian food; Kafe Leila is a great lunchtime spot while Abajuri’s balcony and wine terrace is the perfect place to while away the evening. If you’re looking for some post-dinner entertainment, Cafe Kala is a musical hotbed which attracts jazz lovers from all over the city.
Are you ready to wander Tbilisi’s cobbled streets for yourself? Our local experts are happy to help you plan your dream trip. For more information, visit our destination pages or click here to send an enquiry. If you would like general advice or to chat about your travel plans, you can give us a call in office on +44 (0)117 325 7898.