Wow Tbilisi... you have it all. From world class techno clubs to leafy botanical gardens, this is a city of many contrasts and one that should be on the top of your 'to visit' list. Traditional Georgian architecture and soviet tower blocks sprawl the hillsides, making way for all things new. The youths are fighting for progression, for a more liberal capital where openness and freedom are the norm, through a developing arts scene and growing club culture. It's an exciting time to be in Tbilisi, perhaps it's the new Berlin.
Located in the Caucasus in eastern Europe, Tbilisi is a melting pot of cultures with it's neighbours being Russia, Iran and Azerbaijan. It is a city of Christian heritage and religious traditions, and yet it's as modern as any other European capital with cafe culture and consumerism at the heart of it. With melt in your mouth cheese breads (khachapuri) being sold on every street corner and a pint of beer for as little as 40p, we can't think of anywhere better to spend a few days. If you are into food, nightlife, culture, parks, museums and the arts, then take a look at our recommendations of things to do in Tbilisi......
Have A Rummage At Dry Bridge Market
Normally markets are packed with new cheap merchandise that’s probably going to fall apart by the time you take it home, but that’s not the case at the dry bridge flea market. Every day locals neatly lay out their second hand knick-knacks on rickety tables, rugs on the ground and even on car bonnets, in the hope that a passer by is going to buy that random item they didn’t even know they were looking for. You can find all sorts of vintage things here from chandeliers to old music boxes, and soviet memorabilia to woodworkers tools. It’s not just what’s on sale that’s interesting here, most of the sellers are as old as the products they are flogging and it’s nice to see them going about their daily business, reading the newspaper and eating salami sandwiches as they sit by their stalls. There is a nice open section on the river bank to the west of the bridge which specialises in original artworks by local artists. The market can be found on dry bridge (and the streets around it) and is better on weekends. It’s free to visit and nothing is priced so haggle down.
Admire Modern Architecture At Peace Bridge
This sleek bridge is one of the most striking structures in Tbilisi, as it elegantly floats over the Mtkvari river. Pedestrians are invited to cross Peace Bridge by foot and experience the beautiful curving steel and glass structure, which appears to flow overhead like a wave from low to high, and low again. It was designed in 2010 by Italian architect Michele De Lucchi and adds to a growing number of modern buildings in the historic capital. The linear structure resembles a 3D perspective drawing and it’s perfect symmetry makes for a great photo. You can also get a great side view from the bridge to the south of it. The Bridge of Peace is free to experience and is open at all hours of the day, at nighttime it is illuminated.
Learn About History At The Museum Of Georgia
Set over 4 floors, this national history museum holds some of the finest examples of ancient Georgian jewellery in the country, dating as far back as 3rd millennium BC. You can expect to see exquisite works of medieval gold and silver, precious stones, coins and ornaments. The top floor of the museum is dedicated to explaining Georgia’s troubled history of Soviet rule and Russia’s persistent interference and invasion. One of our favourite exhibits though was on the evolution of mankind, demonstrating the differences in groups of hominin (early humans) from as far back as 1.7 million years ago. On display is the oldest skull in existence found in Eurasia, and 3D replicas of skulls showing the timeline of physical developments between the groups of people. The exhibition is really well put together and helpfully explains the differences and developments between the hominin, for example what type of food they would have been eating at the time, and how society might have been structured. Entry to the museum is a reasonable 5 gel (£1.50), and is open daily from 10am-6pm except on Mondays.
Escape To The Luscious Botanical Gardens
We can’t think of many city gardens as beautiful and unique as this one. Set on the foothills of the Sololaki mountain range, these botanical gardens boast an impressive view of the city below and the ancient Narikala Fortress that stands guard of it. It’s easy to spend a few hours there, wondering the winding roads and woodland paths, soaking up the fresh air and exploring the natural environment. The gardens are sectioned, taking the visitor on a journey of world plants through to high waterfalls. There are lots of places to relax and spend a few hours reading in, or if you are a keen walker then the gardens go back as far as 1km up the steep mountainside. Make sure you take some of the small paths through the woodlands for the most authentic experience, as the roads can sometimes have cars on them. This is the perfect place to bring a picnic, or just escape from the hustle and bustle of city life for a few hours. The gardens are open daily from 9am-6pm and is only 1 gel (30p) entrance fee.
Eat With The Locals In Racha’s Basement
If you are looking for an authentic Georgian dining experience then look no further than the unassuming Racha. Located only a block away from Freedom Square, this rough and ready basement eatery serves traditional Georgian cuisine at some of the cheapest prices in town. It looks as though nothing has changed here in the last 30 years; the carpets are worn, the decor is definitely no-thrills, and the staff couldn’t care less whether you were in there or not (actually once we got turned away because they were so ‘busy’). But that all adds to it’s charm. The stern faced waitresses almost make us want to laugh as we a trying to place our order, apparently you aren’t allowed to order only 2 dumplings! Some of the local favourite dishes include Khinkali which are spicy dumplings at 0.7 gel (20p) each (minimal of 5 can be ordered), mtsvadi which are shish kebabs (7 gel / £2.10), and badrijani nigvzit (aubergine with walnut salad) which we didn’t get to try. The highlight however was the Georgian staple khachapuri, the deliciously gooey cheese bread that melts in your mouth (7 gel / £2.10). We could eat that bread all day long! Racha is open 9am-10.30pm daily, and dishes start at 4 gel (£1.20). The menu has been translated into English so you shouldn’t have any problems ordering.
Relax In Contemporary Green-Space
At the foot of the Bridge of Peace lies Tbilisi’s most modern gardens, Rike Park. This newly built public space is the perfect hangout by the Mtkvari river, offering visitors relaxing places to nestle amongst well-pruned flower beds and willow trees. The gardens are architecturally landscaped and feature some very considered foliage, no blade of grass is out of place. The benches are made from blocks of cast concrete formed into white geometric shapes which really adds to the modernist feel, and two huge futuristic silver tubes sitting at the north end are yet-to-open buildings. Wonderers can enjoy the many water features that scatter the park along with a couple of open-air cafes and bars. This is a really nice to place to hang out on a sunny day, and if you’re lucky you may get to enjoy an outdoor concert in one of the entertainment areas. The park is free to enter and is open all times of day and night.
Munch On A Pipes Burger
Founded by graduates of Tbilisi’s culinary academy, Pipes is an industrial-style diner joint not to be missed. They specialise in burgers of course... big, fat, soft, juicy burgers, packed with flavour and melt-in-your-mouth meat. I would say that these are as good as some of London’s best burgers, but still not quite as tasty as our local favourite Stokey Bears (you just can’t beat that sweet bacon jam). We opted for a cheeseburger which was all the usuals... marinated onions, cheddar cheese, tomato, lettuce, bacon, gherkins and spicy homemade mayo, and of course a big beef pattie sandwiched in the middle, cooked medium rare. It is a really naughty treat but so delicious, and two days later Mark was planning his next trip. Each burger comes with fries, so even though the burgers seem a bit pricy, it pretty much works out the same as any other dinner we’d had in Tbilisi. A cheeseburger and fries costs 13.90 gel (£4.20) and then service is added. Pipes is open daily from 11am-11pm.
Take A Trip To The Museum of Modern Art
Zurab Tsereteli, one of Georgia’s most successful living artists and sculptors, set up a privately owned gallery in the heart of Tbilisi. The space is beautifully light and airy (as you can imagine for a modern art gallery), and the works are set over three spacious floors. Two of them are dedicated to displaying the life-long work of the artist himself, these are colourful paintings which he created of people in the lower classes, aiming to capture their unique character and mood over huge canvases. The painting are contrasted with oversized metal sculptures of figures, which Tsereteli seems to be most recognised for. On the ground floor, there is a temporary exhibition which presents works from either Georgian or international contemporary artists. Swiss artist Therese Weber was showing when we visited, her artworks constructed mostly from paper pulp in an abstract way. Overall the gallery is a bit of a one man show, but for entry as little as 2 gel (60p), it’s worth looking at some of the artworks of one of Georgia’s most famous artists.
Drink With The Cool Kids
Take a walk up Giorgi Akhvlediani St and you will soon find out where the hipsters hang out. Here you can find all kinds of trendy bar, converted old mans pubs, fancy barbers and of course Tbilisi’s first gay club, Success Bar. The area has got a really nice feel to it, a bit of an east London vibe and so we feel right at home having a pint in one of the pubs (you can take the brit out of England, but they will always end up in a pub!). It feels as though there is a scene developing here, in recent years nightlife has been booming due to the opening of Berlin-style clubs such as Bassiani, Khidi, Mtkvarze and Vitamin Cubes, and this area seems like the perfect place for a warm up drink. A pint of beer in this area costs around 3 gel (90p), about 1 gel (30p) more expensive than the cheapest drinking holes in Tbilisi. If you are into socialising with the locals then this is a much more interesting area to visit than the tourist bars in the centre of town.
Eat Khachapuri Until You Can Eat It No More
You can’t come to Tbilisi (or any of Georgia for that matter) without eating the delicious Khachapuri at least once a day, or maybe even twice. It is one of Georgia’s most popular national dishes and it’s easy to see why it’s loved by so many. Nearly every third shop sells the stuff, this naughty naughty tasty delight. For those of you who don’t know, Khachapuri is Georgian cheese bread, a bit like a round pizza with a gooey cheese centre. There are many different types of this bread, some with open tops, different types of cheese, and some even with egg, all originating from different parts of the country. This bread is so important to the Georgian economy that the price of making it has even been used to measure inflation. The ones sold on the street vary in quality, size, warmness, and of course taste but for about 1.5-3 gel (45p-90p) a piece you really can’t complain. If your budget allows, then it’s best to order one in a restaurant or tavern where you get served a plate full of the stuff, the dough is fresh, the cheese is plentiful and all you have to worry about is the crazy cheesy dreams at bedtime. If you are going to eat anything on your trip then let it be Khachapuri.
Explore Old Wooden Georgian Houses
The Open-Air Museum of Ethnography up on the woody hillsides of Tbilisi is a wonderful place to spend the afternoon. This museum displays a unique collection of traditional Georgian folk houses which have been carefully preserved from different regions of the country. The dwellings are scattered across 50 hectares of green-space and visitors are invited to walk freely around the site, exploring the architecture and reconstructed gardens. You can go inside some of the houses and several have been decked out with traditional craftwork such as wooden carved furniture, patterned rugs, cooking utensils and drawings, to give you a taste of old Georgian life. The views over the city are very impressive and the setting is a welcoming escape from the busy car-filled streets below. If you are walking here, then made sure you go through Vake Park (a soviet style monument/gardens) on your way up. Entry is a mere 3 gel (90p), and the museum is open 10am-6pm in summer time, every day except on Mondays.
Enjoy Panoramic Views At Rachasubani
This delightful Georgian restaurant sits on the green hillsides above the Open-Air Museum of Ethnography, offering panoramic views of the city and leafy landscape below. Diners can enjoy a relaxed lunch on woody terraces of the 150 year old building, assisted by helpful and friendly staff members. We were eating on the cheap so only had an imeretian khachapuri (cheese bread) at 8.5 gel (£2.55), and cucumber tomato and walnut salad at 7.9 gel (£2.37) to share, but if you have the budget to splash out then there are all sorts of delicious sounding meat dishes, cheese assortments, vege clay pots and bottles of wine starting at 16 gel (£4.80) each. This is honestly one of the most beautiful places we have dined at in Georgia and if you make the effort to visit then you won’t be disappointed by the views on a sunny day. This is the perfect stop off for lunch if you are visiting the Open-Air Museum of Ethnography nearby. Rachasubani is open 10am-11pm daily.
Say Hey To The Mother of Georgia
Standing 20 meters tall on top of Sololaki hill is Kartlis Deda, also know as Mother of Georgia. This aluminium monument represents the Georgian national figure watching over Tbilisi, with a bowl of wine in one hand to greet friends, and a sword in the other to protect from foes. The walk up Sololaki hill is a pleasant one, passing the impressive Narikala Fortress on the way and having spectacular views over the city below. If you don’t feel like walking (although it’s really not that far), you can get the cable car up to the Kartlis Deda viewpoint or take a taxi up the road. The Mother of Georgia monument is free to visit and is open at all times of day or night. To get the best picture though, you may want to be at city level!
Appreciate Soviet Classism At Vake Park
This enormous park is a great place to play some sport, go for a walk in the woodlands, or even just relax by the fountains. This is the biggest park in Tbilisi and is a fine example of Soviet Classism, just check out the grand oversized staircase and fountains that lead up to the People’s Monument. The view from the top of the hill looking the park is very impressive, the fountains and stone platforms make for a wonderfully symmetrical photo, with the river and city in the background. We spent almost an hour there, watching the water fall from the fountains in a bit of a trance, with the odd child running through trying not to get soaking wet. The park is free to enter at all times of day and night, and is a nice escape from bustling city life.
Lose Yourself To Techno
Tbilisi’s techno scene is booming right now, and underground basement club Bassiani has already made a name for itself as the Berghain of Georgia. People flock from all over Europe to visit this dance haven, and we have heard tales of the crowd losing themselves to beat-less tunes, kneeling on the dance floor with hands in the air. As with many of Berlin’s megaclubs, Georgia’s Bassiani is notoriously difficult to get into, and clubbers are put to the scrutiny of ‘the eyes’ behind the cctv on the door. There is no pattern to who gets in and who does not, if they think you will add value to the night then you are let in and if not then you will be taking your sorry self elsewhere. Other worthy techno clubs include Mtskheta (we had a fun night there), Khidi and Vitamin Cubes. Entry to Bassiani is between 20-40 gel / £6-12 (you can book in advance online) and drinks are expensive when you're in there, whereas entry was free to Mtskheta when we visited on a Friday night and a beer was 5 gel (£1.50). Things don’t get going until around 2am and the clubs open until about 11am the next morning, so remember to pace yourselves!
We hope you enjoy our suggestions of things to do in Tbilisi, just let us know if there is anything else we can help you with in the comments box below....
(So you can find it again later)