There is a lot to enjoy in the Georgian capital and it is all quite affordable for budget travelers.
Looking for things to do in Tbilisi? The capital city of Georgia is a bit of a hot commodity at the moment and it was listed as one of Vogue’s 10 Hottest Travel Destinations of 2017. Why is everyone so excited about flocking to this great city?
Vogue raves about the “Brooklyn-esque undertones” and the “young creative class.” There’s the hearty and delicious food, the beautiful architecture and the fascinating history. This city is located at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Western Asia and it has been influenced by the Arabs, Ottomans and Russians over the centuries.
(Is Georgia located in Asia or Europe? Some have described it as the “Balcony of Europe” and I really like that imagery, especially because of how many beautiful ornate balconies you will find in Tbilisi’s Old Town.)
Oh, and there’s also the 8,000 year winemaking tradition, which was given UNESCO World Heritage status in 2013. Don’t forget the stunning Caucasus Mountains in the north and the Black Sea in the west.
Yet, this country may not have been on your travel radar. I must admit, Lee and I really didn’t know much about it before we decided to come check it out. We have been blown away by how many fascinating things there is to explore just within the capital city itself.
So, I have put together a list of 25 things to do in Tbilisi, Georgia to show you just how much there is to see here.
Of course, this barely scratches the surface as there are more great restaurants, cafes, bars and beautiful buildings to explore here than I could include on this list. Also, this is just in Tbilisi – there are so many more places to visit when you venture out on day trips from the capital to different regions of Georgia (such as Mtskheta – a pretty town only 30 minutes away.)
The Global Goose Guide to Things To Do in Tbilisi, Georgia
Paliashvili Opera House
25 Rustaveli Ave
This elegant opera house has survived a lot over its 165 year history, including being burnt to the ground twice, shot at and razed. However, it is still standing and the rich tradition of performing art in Georgia that dates back centuries is being carried on. Although it was swallowed up by the Russian empire and then the Soviet Union, the tradition of performing art in Georgia is being revived and the reopening of the theatre was an incredibly important event for the country.
If you love ballet or opera, this is a chance to see a superb performance in a stunning, ornate, beautifully restored classic opera house at a ticket price that would be unheard of in most other European capitals. You can see the upcoming performances on the Tbilisi Opera and Ballet State Theatre website.
Dry Bridge Flea Market
Handmade jewelry. Vintage military medals. Ornate platters and silver spoons. Old vinyl records. Soviet gas masks. A taxidermy fox. You can find all sorts of strange treasures at the Tbilisi Dry Bridge Flea Market.
This market began as a place where members of the upper-middle class would sell their items for quick cash so that they could leave the country during the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
It’s very intriguing to walk around and see the many different items for sale. You’ll even find an art section of the market, where local artists set up their original canvases for sale. Take your time to peruse the odd assortment of items – you just might find a treasure to bring home with you.
Eat Khinkali Dumplings
Even if you came to Tbilisi and all you did was eat Khinkali, it would be worth the trip. These traditional Georgian dumplings are sooo delicious.
They are soft, doughy dumplings filled with beef, pork or lamb meat, with the dough twisted into a little nub at the top. The meat is cooked inside of the khinkali, so the dumpling becomes filled with the glorious meat juices.
Khinkali should be eaten with your hands. To eat them, hold them by the twisted nub and take a small bite along the side, then carefully slurp the juices out. You might want to let them cool slightly so that you don’t burn your mouth. Then, you can eat the rest of the dough and the warm meat. Don’t eat the top of the twisted nub, it should be left on your plate in order to determine how many khinkali you ate.
Khinkali are on the menu of almost every traditional Georgian restaurant in Tbilisi and everyone makes them slightly differently, so be sure to try a few different ones during your visit. There are also other variations with different fillings, including potato, cheese and mushrooms. Warning – you’re likely to get addicted.
The wine making tradition in Georgia dates back over 8,000 years. That’s kind of amazing when you wrap your head around it. That means the Georgians were producing wine when mammoths were still around, 5,000 years before Stonehenge was built.
The traditional method of making wine throughout history in Georgia is to use a huge clay vessel, fill it with crushed grapes and bury it in the ground to age. You can see one of these huge vessels, called qvevri, on display at the National Museum of Georgia.
There are many great little local wine cellars where you can learn about the history of Georgian wine making and enjoy a tasting of the regional varieties. Drinking wine is one of my favourite things to do in Tbilisi. There’s a lot of variety in Georgian wine, from the bold, berry-like, semi-sweets to the nutty, amber wines. Here are a few of the best places in Tbilisi to enjoy a wine tasting.
- 8,000 Vintages: The name of this wine tasting spot alludes to the epic winemaking tradition of Georgia. It has one of the best selections of local wines in Tbilisi, so you’ll be able to enjoy a lot of choice.
- Vinomania: The passionate owner of this wine shop, Shalva, loves to explain all of the complexities of Georgian wine to his customers as they sip and savour.
- G. Vino: This modern and stylish restaurant is cosy and glows with warm light, welcoming you in to taste their local wine and traditional Georgian cuisine. They feature some of the best Georgian qvevri wine producers, including Nika, Gotsta and Lagvinari.
Fabrika should absolutely be on your list when visiting Tbilisi. It is an old sewing factory that has now been transformed into Hipster Central. It has a couple of bars, a co-working space, a hostel, artisan shops, a cafe and a trendy courtyard that is perfect for people watching.
On the weekends, the party in the courtyard usually lasts until 2am. So, if you decide to stay in the hostel there you’ll want to either bring a good pair of earplugs or just stay up and socialise. The hostel doesn’t just offer dorm rooms, they also have private rooms and apartments with private bathrooms, kitchenettes and walk-out terraces.
There is always something cool happening at Fabrika, from start-up workshops to art exhibitions to movie screenings to rooftop yoga. It’s also a great place to meet the young and energetic mix of locals and expats that make up the creative, forward thinking Tbilisi “scene.”
The Tbilisi Funicular was constructed in 1900 by the Belgian engineer, Alphonse Roby. It was closed in 2000 after an accident and was completely refurbished, with a modern version opening in 2012. The funicular car slides on a track up the steep hillside, offering dramatic views of the hills around Tbilisi from the large glass windows.
The cars run every 10 minutes from the station between 9am and 4pm and you have to purchase a rechargeable card in order to ride. When you reach the funicular complex at the top of the hill, you will find a traditional Georgian restaurant, a bakery and an events room that is often used for conferences, weddings or parties. The views at the top are truly outstanding – it should absolutely be on your list of things to do in Tbilisi.
Tbilisi Puppet Theatre (Rezo Gabriadze Theatre)
While you are exploring the Old Town in Tbilisi, you might come across a strange, higgledy-piggeldy clock tower that looks like something out of a fairy tale. It leans this way and that, made from a mish-mash of multi-coloured bricks and painted tiles – with a gleaming golden clock-face and a small balcony above it. (If you happen to be there on the hour, you’ll hear the clock chime and see a mechanical surprise emerge from the doors.)
This whimsical clock tower is a creation of Rezo Gabriadze, who is an artist and puppeteer and is recognised as a Georgian national treasure. Next to it is his small puppet theatre, where he presents enchanting plays performed entirely by lovingly constructed marionettes. These aren’t just puppet plays for children, they are filled with depth and meaning and have been praised by international critics and audiences. Gabriadze has toured with his shows, performing in New York, London, Edinburgh, Washington D.C. and Moscow.
Take a look at the shows that are currently being performed at the puppet theatre and be sure to see one during your visit, it is a cultural experience you will never forget. The shows only take place during the winter season in Tbilisi, as the puppets travel the world on tour during the summer season. (A main perk of visiting Tbilisi in the winter.)
According to the legend of how Tbilisi was founded, King Vakhtang Gorgasali was on a hunting expedition in the area with a falcon in the 4th century AD. His hunting falcon caught a wild pheasant, but in the ensuing fight both birds fell into a nearby hot spring and were boiled alive. The King was so amazed with this natural phenomenon that he decided to build a city on the location. The name “Tbilisi” comes from the Old Georgian word “Tpili” which means “warm.”
These days, the hot springs that cooked the king’s falcon have now been turned into beautiful public bath houses. They have been there since the 13th century and many people have come from all over to enjoy the healing waters of Tbilisi – including Pushkin and Dumas. Apparently the sulphur has numerous health benefits, including helping to treat skin conditions such as acne and eczema. Also, soaking in the sulphur water is known to reduce swelling and joint pain.
You can rent a private bathing room within them and have your own steamy, tiled sanctuary for soaking and exfoliating your cares away. Yes, the natural sulphur water makes it smell like eggy farts, but when you get used to it you’ll have a very luxurious experience and you’ll feel like an ancient King as you languish and soak. You can order tea or water and even hire a masseuse to give you a rigorous massage and exfoliate your skin.
To learn more about the Thermal Baths, you can read this great blog post by Jet Setting Fools about their experience.
The Sameba Cathedral, also known as the Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi, towers over the city and can be seen by almost any point. You might assume that it is an old building, but it was constructed between 1995 and 2004, in the classic style. It’s opening marketed 2000 years of Christianity and 1500 years of the independence of the Georgian church.
During the golden hour just before sunset, the broad face of the cathedral is illuminated in glowing sunlight. Roughly 80% of Georgia is Orthodox Christian and this impressive cathedral shows just how important religion is here.
The architecture was inspired by traditional Orthodox Church designs and the head of the church wanted this religious structure to last forever, so the foundation is 30 meters deep. The construction took nearly a decade and it opened to the public in 2004. You can head below ground to find another underground church below the church.
The cathedral and the surrounding grounds are huge, so you’ll need at least a couple of hours to see everything here. Make sure that you wear long pants to cover your legs and if you are a woman you’ll also need to bring a shawl or a scarf to cover your hair and shoulders.
Here’s a great guide to the Sameba Cathedral from The Brave Dame with more info on how to get there and what to do.
Zurab Tsereteli Museum of Modern Art
This spacious and modern museum is dedicated to the work of Zurab Tsereteli, the famous Georgian sculptor and artist. On the first floor you can see his sketches, on the second floor you’ll see his big and colourful paintings and on the top floor you can learn about his life.
Zurab Tsereteli had a bit of a strange career and he is known for large scale, somewhat controversial sculptures. For example, he created a high sculpture of Christopher Columbus that was rejected by New York, Columbus, Boston and Miami before it was accepted by Arecibo, Puerto Rico. He also created an enormous sculpture of Peter the Great in Moscow that so many people hated that they wanted to blow it up.
Tsereteli was based in Moscow but was born in Georgia and his sculptures and paintings are bright, vibrant and larger than life. The museum is open from 10am until 6pm every day except for Monday and admission is free. You can find out more info on the MOMA Tbilisi website.
Prospero’s Books & Caliban’s Coffee is a popular hangout for bookworms and caffiene addicts in Tbilisi. Named after characters in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, it is home to a great collection of classic English language literature, as well as current bestsellers and fantastic local literature as well. I bought myself a copy of The Girl King, a very entertaining historical fiction based on the story of Queen Tamar in 12th Century Georgia.
The books here are a little pricey, but it’s one of the only places in Tbilisi you can find English language books and it has the best collection in the city, so you may decide to treat yourself if you are looking for something new to read. (In fact, they claim to have the best collection of books in the Caucasus.) Once you have purchased yourself a book, you can cosy up in the coffeehouse next door and sip a latte while you lose yourself between the pages.
Tbilisi Cable Car
The Tbilisi Cable Car is one of the best value for money experiences you can get in Tbilisi, and perhaps anywhere. For only 2.5 GEL (approximately $0.90) you can glide up the side of the mountain and get a panoramic view of Tbilisi and the surrounding hills stretching out all around you. It’s one of my favourite things to do in Tbilisi and it’s where I would take a friend if they were visiting me here.
Your journey begins in Rike Park, then you will soar up over the Mtkvari River over the Old Town. The cars all have large windows that provide you with views all around. When you get to the top you can see the Ancient Fortress of Narikala which dates back to the 4th century. You can also find a 300 year old Botanical Garden and the Kartlis Deda (otherwise known as the iconic “Mother of Georgia” sculpture.)
The only issue I have with the cable car is that the ride goes too quickly, I wish they would slow it down so that you would have more time to enjoy the view. However, with a price like that you could ride up and down as many times as you like.
The name of this church means “Stone Birth.” The story is that the original church on this site was constructed in the sixth century by Davit Gareja, who was one of the “Syrian fathers” who came back from the Middle East and started spreading Christianity in Georgia.
A nun accused him of making her pregnant and she replied that if she was lying, she would give birth to a stone. Sure enough, he was right. (That must have been uncomfortable!)
The 1910 building that exists on the site currently was designed by Leopold Bielfeld and it is a copy of the 11th century Samtavisi Church that is located approximately 60km away from Tbilisi.
One of the most fascinating details of the Kashveti Church is the frescos that were created by Georgian painter Lado Gudiashvili in the early 1900s. His painting of the Virgin Mary stands out due to the strange, large almond shaped eyes and the unusual colours.
Streets of Old Tbilisi
Take some time during your visit just to wander through the streets of Old Tbilisi. As you wind through this labyrinth of narrow streets you’ll find ramshackle brick and concrete homes with wooden balconies, covered in creeping vines.
Some streets have been restored with brightly painted facades so that they look like a Disneyland version of the Old City, but many other streets are left in their cracked and crumbling state. (Some of the buildings that have been left unstable due to past earthquakes are kept standing by steel reinforcements.)
Walking through this city really gives you the feeling of being between Europe and Asia. The architecture is mostly classical Russian, European and Art Nouveau, but the way the streets and alleyways are knotted closely together makes it feel like an Asian city.
Pay close attention to the textures of the historic wooden structures, the whimsical staircases and balconies, the stray cats that peer out from every corner and the way each building has its own unique character. Walking through the streets of Old Tbilisi is a photographer’s dream.
The Soviet Occupation Museum
This museum opened on Georgian Independence Day, May 26th, 2006. It features approximately 3,000 exhibits that tell the story of what living in Georgia was like during the seven decade period of Soviet Occupation.
You’ll find a lot of harrowing exhibits here that will send chills down your spine, such as the list more than 400 pages long of people who were executed. Other exhibits include personal files of people who were repressed, orders to shoot or exile, artifacts from Soviet-era prison cells and much more. At the opening of the museum in 2006, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said that Russia had committed “more than one atrocity” against the Georgian people and that “nobody should forget that.”
It was inspired by similar museums in Riga, Latvia and Tallinn, Estonia that depict the history of these post-Soviet states. The museum is open every day except Monday, from 11am until 4pm.
This impressive structure dominates the Tbilisi skyline and dates back to the 4th century, when it used to be a Persian citadel. The best way to view the temple is to reach it by cable car from Rike Park. Or, you can walk up the hill if you are feeling like a challenge.
The fortress is known as the “Heart and Soul” of Tbilisi and it is the most well known monument of antiquity in Tbilisi. It is a prime example of how an Arabian fortification would have been built. It was partially destroyed in an earthquake in 1827, and has not been completely destroyed but the surviving stone towers are still impressive to behold.
Not only is the fortress a fascinating attraction, it also offers amazing views from the top of the hill.
King Vakhtang I Gorgasali Statue
It’s hard to miss this iconic statue, as it is perched next to a beautiful church on a pretty hilltop next to a cliff that drops down into the river, facing downtown Tbilisi. It is an impressive statue, depicting King Vakhtang Gorgasali on horseback. He seems to be supervising the flow of traffic on the busy bridge below him.
He is facing towards the city of Tbilisi because he is the one who established Tbilisi as the capital. Remember the story up above about the king whose hunting falcon was cooked in a thermal pool? Yes, that was King Vakhtang Gorgasali.
You can see the statue from the bridge, so there is no need to go up to the church if you are short on time. However, if you do have the time the view from up there is lovely and you can get some stunning photos of the statue with Tbilisi in the background.
Located right next to the statue of King Vakhtang Gorgasali is the Metekhi Church. The first church in this location was probably constructed by the King when he made Tbilisi the capital in the 5th century. The church that currently exists here now was built by King Demetre Tavdadebuli between 1278 and 1289.
The perch is pretty impressive – looking over the Old Town and the river. It can be easily reached from downtown, so it’s certainly worth checking out while you walk around Tbilisi.
This church has a lot of significance in Georgian history. Queen Tamar prayed here before the Shamkori Battle in 1195. The building was damaged when it was attacked by Agha Makhmad Khan in 1795 and was restored in 1780-1800 by the will of Giorgi the XII. It is also thought that the cliff this church is perched was the site of the martyrdom of Tbilisi’s patron saint Habo in the 8th century. When the city was under Russian rule, it was used as a barracks.
If you are passionate about football (aka soccer), you’ll want to take the chance to watch Dinamo Tbilisi play a match at the Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena. It is the largest stadium in Georgia and Dinamo is the most successful football club in Georgia- having won the cup 13 times and the championship 16 times.
It will be a thrill to be amidst the shouting, chanting and blue-painted faces at a Dinamo match during your visit to Tbilisi. Also, the legendary techno club Bassiani is located underneath the stadium, in the old swimming pool.
Georgian National Museum
The Georgian National Museum has an impressive collection mapping the history of Georgia from the Bronze Age to the early 20th century, including artefacts, intricate jewellery and much more. There’s also a display of some of the oldest human remains that were discovered outside of Africa, as well as a section about life during the Soviet Occupation in Georgia.
The admission price is 5 GEL and there are guided tours of the museum available for up to 10 people at a time for 25 GEL. The museum is open from 10am to 6pm except on Mondays.
Mother of Georgia Monument
A striking figure designed by Georgian sculptor Elguja Amashukeli, The Mother of Georgia (aka Kartlis Deda) stands tall – holding a welcoming bowl of wine in one hand and a threatening sword in the other hand. In that way, she is prepared to greet anyone who enters the city – whether friend or enemy. She symbolizes the Georgian national character – the warm hospitality but also the love of freedom and the tendency to stand up for themselves if anyone infringes on their freedom.
The sculpture was built at the top of the hill in 1958 to celebrate the 1500th anniversary of Tbilisi. She is 20 metres tall and can be seen from many points throughout the city. You can see the sculpture close up by taking the cable car, or if you are feeling really adventurous there is a path that will take you up the hill.
Right underneath Meidan Square in the heart of the touristic centre of Tbilisi you will find the Meidan Bazaar. It is an underground tunnel at Gorgasali Square in the Kala District that is lined with shops, selling all sorts of souvenirs and local products including wine, spices, jea, jam and sauces. You’ll even find postcards, handcrafted socks and other special items. Shopping here should definitely be on your list of things to do in Tbilisi.
One of the most interesting aspects of this bazaar is the setting itself. This underground marketplace was an important trading point on the Great Silk Road throughout the history and merchants from all over Europe and Asia came to sell their goods. It is thought that this area of Tbilisi was one of the oldest business centres in the Caucasus Region and there is evidence that trading deals took place in Meidani in the 4th and 5th centuries.
I mentioned earlier that Georgia has an 8,000 year old winemaking tradition. They are pretty crazy about wine and they have even figured out how to make a type of candy from the byproducts.
You’ll see churchkhela hanging up in almost every local shop – they almost look like sausages or candlesticks. They are actually made from walnuts on string that are dipped in grape must, which is the skins, seeds and stems of the grapes that are extracted in the first step of winemaking.
This “must” has a high glucose content and it is very viscous, so it is poured over the walnuts until it creates an opaque coating. When it hardens it creates this chewy, sweet candy with crunchy walnuts in the middle – a great source of energy when you are walking around Tbilisi!
Begemot Coffee and Books
I discovered this cool little coffee shop a couple of weeks ago when I was hungover and looking for a place to curl up with a book, a cappuccino and some yummy food. I found all of that, and more. The friendly American owner, Grant, made me feel right at home and the sandwich was delicious – spicy Cuban pulled pork with pickles!
(Don’t tell anyone I told you this, but there just might be a secret speakeasy hiding beneath this cafe that hosts awesome pub quiz nights and serves up yummy retro cocktails. Ask Grant for more info or check out the Facebook page)
Popular with families, especially in the summer, Rike Park is a public recreation area on the left bank of the Mtkvari River. It was quite recently built and it is a large green space filled with bizarre futuristic buildings and interactive attractions like a giant chessboard and a huge white piano.
In the summer evenings the fountain comes to life with a coordinated colour and light show and this park is also where many major events in Tbilisi are hosted – such as the Tbilisoba Wine Festival. It’s easy to access from downtown via the pedestrian Bridge of Peace. The park is also where you will find the terminal for the Tbilisi Cable Car.