Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, is a blend of old and new. This quickly developing city is full of timeworn buildings showcasing traces of Ottoman, Persian, and Russian rule, while new, glass-covered structures pop up like mushrooms after a rainy day. From the historic old town — full of typical Georgian wooden-carved balconies, dome-shaped sulfur baths, and cobblestone lanes leading to traditional Georgian courtyards — to the modern new town, Tbilisi can surprise you at every corner. Use this travel guide to explore Tbilisi like a local.
Rustaveli Avenue is the main street of Tbilisi, featuring diverse architectural style buildings, cafes, museums, and shopping malls. Start the day at Rustaveli metro station and walk towards the Freedom Square, embracing the beauty of the most important buildings scattered along 1.5km-long street.
Just around 130 meters from the metro, walk up the souvenir-covered stairs and make your way to 52 Rustaveli Avenue. Here you’ll see one of the capital’s hidden gems: the historic “Lace House,” as locals call it. Constructed in 1897, this residential house is unique to Tbilisi and the whole of Georgia with its lace-like wooden carved balcony and ornaments. During Soviet rule, the government wanted to expand the avenue and demolish the building. Fortunately, the son-in-law of the owners, the Gabashvili family, was a private doctor of Joseph Stalin and managed to save the house.
The avenue is also home to a Moorish-style Opera House; the Rustaveli Theater, built in Rococo style; and several Soviet brutalist architectural jewels. Soviet-style standouts include the Biltmore Hotel; a former Post Office that now houses Wendy’s and Smart Supermarket; a former printing house-turned-shopping mall called Merani; and the Parliament of Georgia.
If you are curious to learn more about the country and its ancient and relatively recent history, culture, and art, pay a visit to the city’s three most significant museums. The Simon Janashia Museum of Georgia’s Soviet Occupation Hall showcases Georgia during the 70-year rule of the system. The museum’s Archeological Treasury exhibition displays brilliant examples of early Georgian goldsmiths, discovered during archaeological studies dating between 3rd century BC and 4th century AD.
The National Gallery features works from prominent Georgian artists of the 20th century, including the biggest collection of primitivist painter Niko Pirosmani, Lado Gudiashvili’s abstract and monumentalism pieces, and Elene Akhveliani’s colorful landscapes of Georgia and Tbilisi.
The Tbilisi History Museum offers visitors a glimpse of ancient Tbilisi, with old photos, 19th-and 20th-century furniture, clothes, china, and mock-ups of artisanal workshops that are not found in the city anymore.
The Freedom Square
The area around the Freedom Square (or Liberty Square) is where Tbilisi’s new town started to develop in the 19th century. The adjoining Sololaki neighborhood is full of art nouveau and bourgeois houses built during the 19th and 20th centuries. Some of these homes hide gorgeous hand-painted hallways with mosaic floors that tell the story of its owners. Unfortunately, the majority of such hallways were whitewashed during the time of the Soviet Union, but several still remain for you to explore.
The center of the Freedom Square features a 35-meter high pillar dedicated to the freedom and independence of the nation. On top of the monument, you’ll see a 5.6-meter gold-covered image of St. George, the protector saint of the country.
Abanotubani, or “the district of the baths” in English, was the very center of Tbilisi back in the day. The neighborhood has an abundance of sulfur hot spring waters, which provided the name to the capital. In Georgian, “tbili” means “warm,” therefore “Tbilisi” translates as a “place of warm waters.”
The area has a dozen dome-shaped sulfur bathhouses catering to tourists and locals. It’s a common belief that sulfur water is good for the skin and the general health of the body.
On top of the hill overlooking Abanotubani, you’ll find the 4th-century Narikala Fortress. Built by Persians, Narikala is the only citadel in Tbilisi and served as the seat for Persian rulers over the centuries. Today, it makes a popular tourist site with breathtaking views of the red roof-topped Old Town, Rike Park, the modern glass-covered Bridge of Peace, and Botanical Garden.
Abanotubani is also home to several religious buildings in one place, including the Juma Mosque, where Shia and Suni Muslims pray together; Orthodox and Gregorian (Armenian) churches; a Synagogue; and an old Zoroastrian temple—Ateshga on Gomi street.
For 360 degree panoramic views of Tbilisi, visit Mtatsminda Mountain and its amusement park by hiking up or taking a funicular. Once done with exploration, stop at Funicular cafe on the ground floor to try “Lagidze” Georgian lemonade with a Russian donut-like pastry called Ponchiki.
Indulge in local cuisine and wine
Georgian cuisine is very diverse, with each region having its own staple. However, there are several ones you must try when in Georgia.
Khinkali, meat dumplings, is a national meal. These dumplings are softer and juicier than their Asian relatives. The best places to try khinkali are Zodiaqo, Duqani, and Klike’s Khinkali restaurants.
Khachapuri, another primary Georgian dish, is a pizza-like cheese pie. Each region of Georgia has its own variety, but the most popular is simple imeruli. Travelers also love trying the boat-shaped version native to the Adjara region. Try Adjaruli khachapuri at Puri Guliani or Stamba Cafe.
Pkhali is a general name of different plants and vegetables seasoned with walnuts and spices. The most favorite version of pkhali is with eggplants and spinach.
Meat lovers will enjoy mtsvadi—chunks of pork or beef meat on a skewer grilled on vine branches. This gives the meat a unique and distinct taste. Pasanauri restaurant chain is one of the best places to try mtsvadi.
And don’t forget to pair your meals with local wine fermented in egg-shaped clay jars, or qvevri, that are buried underground. Georgian qvevri white wine is of amber color and tastes absolutely different than European wines.
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