Tbilisi - Complete itinerary of the highlights of Georgia’s vibrant capital in the South Caucasus
Key information at a glance
|Daily budget:||120 GEL/person/day (ca. 30EUR/day) - for a regular holiday, not backpacking nor luxury|
|How long to stay:||min. 3 days, ideally 5, but we stayed a week and were not bored!|
|Best time to travel:||April to October, with least precipitation in Sep and Oct|
|Top sights:||The Old Town, The old Fortress, Soviet Architecture and the excellent Wine Bars|
|How to get there:||Frequent flights to Tbilisi, both from Europe and the Arabian Peninsula, make it a great destinations for short weekend trips as well as for several-week itineraries exploring the beautiful country of Georgia|
Explore the Old Town (Kala)
Stretching up the hill at the foot of the Narikala fortress is the beautiful Old Town of Tbilisi, or Kala, as the district is called. Just roaming the narrow streets is an adventure in itself, as the styles of the pastel coloured, brick-build houses range from European influences to Art Nouveau. Some of them feature a so called Ezo, a courtyard that often hides a small café or exhibition. The stark contrast between recently renovated buildings and the ones that seem to defy physics - in particular when looking at the balconies - makes every walk quite an experience.
Take the cable car to the Narikala fortress
The cable car that has its valley station in the Rike Park on the north-eastern side of the Mtkvari river, takes you up to the remnants of the Narikala fortress, which offers a great view over the city. While you can easily walk up to the fortress (less than 10 minutes from the Meidan Bazar), the cable car offers a nice view and is quite affordable at 2.5 GEL one-way.
The walkways at the ruins of the fortress offer several good views on Tbilisi and many of its places of interest: the Tabor Monastery of Transformation sitting on top of another hill in the South-East, the Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi, known as Sameba, as well as the buildings that cling to the cliffs on the Norther-Eastern shore of the Mtkvari river.
Do some Urban Exploring to travel in time
If you are into Urban Exploring and remnants of the Soviet Era, Tbilisi is an amazing town to visit. There are countless abandoned buildings that let the glory - or the lunacy - of their times still shine through. Some of them are left to themselves, some are locked, and others are still in use.
You definitely shouldn’t miss Hotel London, which was being restored when we visited (July 2021), the Apollo Cinema, and the old Lower Cable Car station of Mtatsminda in Rustaveli Avenue, which was closed after a deadly accident on June 1st, 1990.
Witness Soviet Brutalism Architecture on the Nutsubidze Plato
Just as prominent as the European influences and the Art Nouveau, the Soviet Era that lasted until April 1991 left a clear mark on many parts of the city. We found the Nutsubidze Plato apartment complexes, built during Soviet rule in the 70s, a fascinating place to visit. They are the perfect example of Brutalist Architecture, as they reduce the building to nothing but its sole purpose: housing.
What leaves you even more speechless is the fact that despite their external appearance, the towers are still inhabited to this day. This is most shockingly shown when arriving at Plato I, at the eastern border of Tbilisi: the so called Nutsibidze Skybridge connects 3 of the towers. A thin, brittle piece of concrete placed on a corroding metal grid, hanging several dozen meters above the ground. Although Laura told me that the views are amazing, I didn’t put a single foot on that bridge.
We highly recommend having a look at Alex Schoelcher’s website, who impressively captured life in the concrete towers.
Visit the eerie train cars of Gotsiridze station
If the towers on the Nutsubidze Plato mesmerised you, you will feel like a kid in a candy store visiting Gotsiridze station. When you arrive at the station, leave it towards south-west and climb up the stairs right next to the station. This brittle, concrete bridge itself already reminds of Nutsubidze, but when you turn to the left, a vast graveyard of slowly deteriorating Soviet train cars unfolds right below you. From the bridge you have a great view on them, but the real experience is exploring them hands on. To do so, go back down the stairs you came up and then just enter the depot from under the bridge.
We were not sure whether it's actually allowed to visit the train cars, but when we approached, we were invited in by a man who looked like a guard. Seeing the train cars from the inside is like a time machine, taking you back to the long era of socialism. Be careful though, some of the compartments are inhabited and you should respect the tenants' privacy. Be careful and considerate when wandering around. That being said, we found all the people who we met there to be very friendly and welcoming.
Climb to the Chronicles of Georgia
On top of a hill, next to the Tbilisi Sea, is a gigantic monument of 16 pillars, each of them being 30-35m heigh. It was built in 1985 by Georgian sculptor Zurab Tserteli and depicts the 3000 year old history of the country. It is hard to capture the sheer size of the monument and the work that likely went into creating it. The displays on the pillars depict different scenes of Georgian history and were renovated in 2021, to blaze in their original glory.
While the site is doubtlessly remarkable to look at, it is quite a bit outside of Tbilisi. We took the bus from the old town, which will take you about 1 hour to get there. In our opinion, it is not exactly a must visit in Tbilisi, but if you are around and about, you should definitely stop there to marvel at the gigantic pillars.
Tbilisi is a heaven for food lovers like us. The Georgian cuisine is sublime, with fresh ingredients and a large variety of dishes. Here are our favourite restaurants, cafes and bars:
- Grafika: Beautiful little restaurant with excellent food. Has regular live-music events!
- Chaduna: One of our favourite bar/ restaurants in the Old Town. Good for a little dish, a glass of wine or something sweet.
- Chef Saradjeff: A little, hidden restaurant at the banks of the river. But don’t be fooled, they have excellent food.
- Sormoni: A big restaurant a little further out in the Vazha district. Not every waiter necessarily speaks English, but you get the most authentic Georgian cuisine!
- Terracotta: This is hands down one of the best restaurants you could possibly find in all of Georgia (let Tata and Anna know we sent you).
Cafes ERTI KAVA Coffee Room: We managed to be greeted by name within one week in Tbilisi. Their coffee is that good. Lui Coffee: Great place to get some work done and great coffee. * Artisan: Great place for brunch, a bit outside of the city centre.
Tbilisi offers a wide array of accomodations, both regarding budget and the kind of place you are looking for. We stayed in a lovely renovated loft with full kitchen, but there are many hostel and boutique hotels as well!
If you are looking into spending a weekend in Tbilisi, you can definitely manage to get a good idea of the city’s great vibe and manage to stop at all the must sees!
For a short 3-day trip we don’t recommend to get a SIM-Card, as it will cost you some time at the airport and likely not pay off. To get to the city, make sure to withdraw some GEL at the ATM and jump on Bus 37 that will take you right into the Old Town. You might as well haul a taxi, but without Mobile Data you will have to negotiate with the driver (expect to pay around 20 GEL - about 6€) - this will save you 40min compared to the bus.
Day 1: Roam the old town
The first day in Tbilisi is all about the old town and the Narikala fortress towering over it. Take the cable car up to the fortress to get a first impression of Tbilisi and how beautiful it is situated within the mountains. When you have seen enough, take the path south towards the botanical garden. We recommend going in and spending some time in this unexpected paradise in the center of Tbilisi - don’t forget the waterfall!
When you leave the botanical garden to head back to the old town, make sure to walk down Botanikuri St. (you can hardly go any other way, though). You will have a great view between the rows of houses on the Holy Trinity Cathedral. As you walk down, you will pass the Central Mosque as well as the ancient Sulfur Baths. Definitely go into the mosque! The baths are for another day, if you need a break from your concentrated sight-seeing ;)
Turn left at the river until you reach the Meidan Bazar. Under the large plaza is a smorgasbord of souvenirs, wine and other goods to explore. This is the time to fill your bags with presents for your loved ones. Follow the main road until you reach Ierusalimi St. and turn left - it will take you right into the Old Town.
In my opinion, you can spend days on end in the Kala district. Make use of whatever time is left of your day to take a break in a cafè (I highly recommend going to Chaduna, either for a coffee or for dinner), explore the narrow streets and peek into the courtyards. A great place to have dinner is Grafika (be sure to make a reservation). End your first day in Tbilisi with one of the best Cocktails in town in the Soda Bar (I am pining for it at the very though of it).
Day 2: Explore the remnants of old times
This day is all about Urbex - Urban exploring - so buckle up for some walking, climbing and astonishment! Start off by taking public transport to Gotsiridze station and explore the old Soviet trains. Make sure to not get completely lost (regarding your time), so you can still get to see all the other amazing places. Next, head back to the Apollo Cinema. From the outside it is hard to tell that its prime time is long over, but a glimpse inside will definitely reveal this fact. From the cinema you continue to Hotel London. When we were in Tbilisi it was being renovated, so it might have lost some of its abandoned allure.
We recommend ending the day with some authentic Georgian cuisine at Sormoni.
Day 3: Marvel at the Brutalisk Architecture from Soviet times
You can’t leave Tbilisi without getting an impression of the Soviet Influence that lasted the greater part of the 20th century. The best place to do so are the towers on the Nutsubize Plato. We recommend getting a taxi to Block IV and walk all the way to Block I from there (be sure to take the high road, Shalva Nutsubidze). If you dare to walk on the Skybridge in Block I on your last day in Tbilisi, is up to you :)
There are many other beautiful areas to explore in the city, just go where you feel like. But there is one thing you do need to make sure - have dinner hat Terracotta (and don’t forget to make a reservation). When you are there, please let Tata and Anna know that we sent you!
When arriving at Tbilisi Airport, we recommend getting a SIM-Card, unless your carrier offers you a better package that covers the roaming fees. Even if it is just five days, it will make your life much easier, since you can use services like Yondex (to haul a Taxi) or Bird (to get around with E-Scooters). For the purpose of a 5-day trip, a Beeline Pre-Paid package with 1.5GB for 10GEL will definitely do the trick.
When you have a long weekend with 5 days to spend in Georgia, you can just combine the 3-day itinerary with two additional day trips!
Day 4: Spend a beautiful day in the wine area
Not far from Tbilisi is the most famous wine region in Georgia: Kakheti. You basically have two options: book a taxi to get there and back or book a complete tour from Tbilisi. Personally, we would recommend to do the former, because it allows you to visit few, family-run wineries and spend there as much time as you like. We can highly recommend two of them, where we had two of the best evenings of our entire trip through Georgia: Simony Zaoty in Gurjaani and the Ibero Winery in Kakhipari. Both families were unimaginably hospitable and made sure that we will never forget these nights. But please be warned of the eldest of the Natroshvili family (Ibero Winery) - he is notorious for helping you to your drinks!
Needless to say, we strongly recommend not to drive yourself, you will miss out on a lot of fun :)
Day 5: Relax and enjoy in the Vake district
Use this day to stroll through the Vake district, it is a great place to empty your pockets for some souvenirs from Georgia. Both the long east-west streets through the district and the park with the same name (Vake) are well worth a visit.
If you still have energy left on your last day in Georgia, make sure to climb up to the Open Air Museum of Ethnography, and, even a little further, to the Svan tower on top of the hill. It will round up your trip to one of the most beautiful countries with a close look on its culture and heritage.