The name Tbilisi originated from the Georgian word tbili which means warm. Legend connected with the city’s beginning says that famed 5th century Georgian tsar Vakhtang Gorgasali was hunting near Mtatsminda in the present day neighborhood of Sololaki when he saw a pheasant. He sent his falcon to retrieve it, but both birds disappeared. When the birds were found boiled in a hot spring. Vakhtang ordered that a city be built on the site of the west bank of the Mtkvari River.
The silhouette of Tbilisi is immediately recognizable and unique. The monumental sculpture of Kartlis Deda, Mother of Georgia, stands above central Tbilisi. Across the canyon atop Mtatsminda, Holy Mountain, sits the brightly lit space needle style communications tower visible from anywhere in the city.
The charming narrow streets of Old Town (Chardin) are representative of the both city’s rich heritage and impressive nightlife. Cobblestone alleys and 19th century art nouveaux give way to modern highrises along the west bank of the river Mtkvari. The cliffs of Metekhi offer romantic views of the medieval fortress of Narikala. Up and coming neighborhoods such as Vera, Vake and Saburtalo boast world class shopping, fine dining and trendy cafes.
Houses cling to the terraced slopes and foothills surrounding the city. Residential developments are carved into steep mountain faces. Clusters of adjacent dwellings wind through gorges stretching up to ridge top highways connecting suburbs on either side.
Sights and Attractions in Tbilisi
A great way to begin exploring Tbilisi is to visit the many sights and features which distinguish the city.
Tbilisi is situated in a peculiar convergence of canyons, ravines and valleys so that panoramic views are accessible from all parts of the city. Two cable cars and a mountainside funicular take only minutes to reach the vantages of Narikala, Kus Tba (Turtle Lake), and Mtatsminda, respectively.
Peace Bridge crosses the Mtkvari to the fountains and paths of Rike Park which houses one of Tbilisi’s most impressive post-modern structures known as the Rike Park Concert Hall and Exhibition Center.
Across the river, the district known as Marjanishvili has recently undergone renovation, restoring Agmashenabeli Street to its original Baroque and Rococo splendor. The area is culturally diverse and offers a variety of eastern ethnic cuisine such as Turkish, Yemeni, Iranian and more.
Tbilisi is revered for its impressive orthodox churches which vary from picturesque chapelsto marvelous cathedrals such as Sioni and the golden domed Sameba. Nearby Jvari Monastery is a pilgrimage spot for Georgians and tourists.
The city has unseemly green areas both vast and convenient.
Lisi Lake is a favorite swimming spot which is perched on a plateau high above Saburtalo, yet accessible by car or public transport within minutes. This expansive respite features wooded areas, stark cliffs, hiking trails and peaks with city views.
Kus Tba lake and green zone is accessible via cable car from central Vake Park. This spot is popular for its lakeside walking and biking trail, nightlife and scenic vistas.
Narikala is an impressively restored medieval fortress standing high above Old Town Tbilisi. Excavations have revealed that the site was at one time a Zoroastrian temple structure. A favorite tourist attraction, Narikala Fortress can be accessed via cable car which begins across the river Mtkvari and traverses it, providing some of the best city views. One of Tbilisi’s most famous walking trails begins just right of the cable car exit. The trail hugs the mountain ridge as winding stairways cascade down into cedar strewn furloughs.
Adjacent to Narikala is the entrance to Tbilisi Botanical Gardens. This extensive floral menagerie isa lush display of biodiversity featuring both endemic and exotic species. The lavishly manicured gardens are endowed with waterfalls, streams and serene pools.
The sulfur baths of Abanotubani are the most well known in Tbilisi. The natural hot spring baths are replete with ornate Turkish mosaic tile. Abanotubani offers traditional Turkish and Georgian style massage.
Experience a mélange of eastern influence at the famed bazaar known as Sadguris Moedani Bazroba or Station Square Bazar. Everything from souvenirs to traditional and modern wares to electronics and furniture, meat and fish to spices and produce and most anything else can be found at realistically negotiable prices.
For family fun, visit the amusement park at the top of Mtatsminda. For summertime fun any time of year, visit one of the indoor water parks at Tbilisi Sea Reservoir.
Must See Cultural Attractions in Tbilisi
Advantour’s Tbilisi travel guide suggests the following hot spots:
The Georgian National Museum complex features a multi-themed network of museums showcasing paintings, sculpture, texts and notable artifacts of Georgia’s impressive history from antiquity to present.
The Open Air Museum of Ethnography is a collection of structures exhibiting various styles of folk architecture. Each structure houses unique treasures indicative of a different ethnic group of Georgia.
The Silk Museum presents Georgia’s many silken treasures as a chronicle of its location on the Silk Road.
The Tbilisi Concert Hall is a popular venue for traditional Georgian dance as well as the home of the Tbilisi Symphony.
Tbilisi has become known among tourists as an up and coming destination for nightlife and entertainment. In fact, the city is rumored to host two of the most exclusive dance clubs in Eastern Europe. Akhvlediani Street and Chardin area are notable for bars which cater to tourists, many of which feature live music.
Food in Tbilisi
Tbilisi offers the best of Georgian and international cuisine from 5 star dining to Georgian fast food.
Georgian delicacies such a Kinkhali dumplings, Kabab, Mtsvadi barbeque can be found in traditional Georgian restaurants across the city and are all highly recommended by anyone who’s tried them.
Delicious Georgian pastries such Katchapuri (cheese) and Lobiani (bean) are available in street kiosks everywhere in the city and are quite inexpensive.
Tbilisi is the place for Georgian style bread made in traditional clay furnaces. Called tones puri, the loaves are sold hot from the oven for mere pocket change.
Tbilisi also has a surprising selection of western fast food and pizza.
Tbilisi has its own version of shawarma which is somewhat different from the Turkish variety but tasty none the less. Sometimes referred to as donor, Georgian shawarma or saurma is an interesting interpretation of the famous Levantine snack and is usually made from pork or chicken.
Just about every national cuisine can be found in Tbilisi. European choices include Italian, French, German, Ukrainian, Russian and Balkan, most of which are found in Vake, Vera and central Tbilisi. The best Turkish restaurants can be found in the Marjanishvili district. Indian food is available all over the city and particularly near the medical university in Saburtalo.
As Georgian wine is a tourist attraction in and of itself, try one of Tbilisi’s many high end wine houses which offer a plethora of Georgian wine varieties and regional h’orderves, breads and cheeses. Tbilisi wine houses are an amazingly affordable and relaxed way to preview Georgian viticulture before heading off on an excursion to the wine country.
Getting around Tbilisi on your own is simple, even for the novice visitor. As Georgian culture dictates, guests are gifts from god and this is evident though when dealing with locals on any level. Most Tbilisi natives speak at least intermediate English. Asking for directions or for help negotiating taxi fare is easier than most would imagine. Further, Tbilisi is one of the safest cities in the world and offenses against tourists are virtually unheard of.
Transport in Tbilisi
Tbilisi has effective, convenient and affordable transportation infrastructure.
Tbilisi Metro subway system provides rapid transit to most parts of the metropolitan area from 6 am until 12 pm 7 days per week. The Metro hub is located at Station Square which is also the Georgian Railway station. Georgian Railways provides service to destinations across Georgia with express and overnight options.
Taxis in Tbilisi are abundant, inexpensive and easy to come by street side or by phone reservation. As most taxis operate privately, prices are negotiable and should be established from the beginning when hailed street side.
Marshrutkas are mini buses which travel designated routes but can be hailed like a taxi. Murshrutka service is available throughout Tbilisi with a domestic hub at Didube Station for travel outside the city.
The Tbilisi bus system is expansive and is by far the least expensive mode of transport.
Car rental is a convenient option in Tbilisi with several international franchises located across the city and at Tbilisi International airport.
Transfers to and from TBS are easy and convenient via taxi, bus or shuttle service reservations.