Well, it would be a bit short term and quite spontaneous – but if I wouldn’t like to spend a weekend in Tbilisi? Sandra from Tracks and the City didn’t have to ask at all. Spontaneous travels? Always the best. So then – there we are, looking for the best Tbilisi sights and tips.
Weekend in Tbilisi – it’s worth it!
Not that Georgia has nothing else to offer – on the contrary! Georgia is something like the new in-destination for nature lovers, because it’s awesome for hiking, somehow exotic, because not yet on the all-inclusive tourist radar and blessed with incredible mountain landscapes. But Tbilisi as a city trip? Does Tbilisi have places of interest? In general, the capital of Georgia is still relatively unknown. Time to change that. And best of all: Tbilisi is attractive all year round. The direct flight from Berlin to Tbilisi airport takes 4 hours, but with luck it is quite relaxed – and you will arrive in a destination (still) spared by masses of tourists.
Things to do: 10 Top Sights for Tbilisi
#1 Explore the old town of Tbilisi
Put on some comfortable sneakers and head for the Old Town! The historic centre of Tbilisi is well-kept and preserved, and is home to many sights such as the clock tower of the Reno Gabriadze Theatre, the Sioni Cathedral or the old Caravanserai. Here you will also find the best examples of the typical old Tbilisi architecture: the romantic houses with their ornate wooden arcades and balconies are so beautiful that you would like to move in immediately!
#2 Cuddling St Bernards dogs up on the Mtatsinda
Tiflis is situated in a valley bottom along the Kura river, so it is a good idea to take a look at the city from one of the surrounding mountains. The Mtatsinda is also a popular destination for locals. You can go up (and also down) with the quite modern funicular. And at the top there’s the best view of the city, an amusement park with a Ferris wheel, a petting zoo and various restaurants in the stylish mountain station.
The petting zoo is probably a Georgian thing: The Georgians are very fond of animals and next to the petting zoo at the entrance between the candy floss stand and the fairground stalls there’s a booth where two huge St Bernards can be hugged for money. I usually don’t like any kind of animal attraction, but as these two were so relaxed with all fours up, being crawled, even Peta might have given its blessing. A nice gimmick at night (apart from the view) is the television tower, which changes its colour almost every minute.
#3 Crashing a Georgian wedding without being noticed
I’m not much into religion and church, but in the end I always end up in at least one. Church history is often an important part of most cultures. This is especially true in Georgia, with a very religious population and a long church tradition. Georgians have their own version of the Orthodox Church, their own patriarchs and their own customs. As is customary in Orthodox churches, there is no seating and masses can sometimes last half a day. But don’t worry, in churches it’s often like in a train station, sometimes you go out for a smoke, then you meet friends and in the middle of it all people get baptized or even married.
Attention: The dress code is very strict. For women, headscarves and in some churches even skirts are obligatory (mostly there are headscarves and wraparound skirts to put on). Photographing can be forbidden!
#4 Sneaking into abandoned and not so abandoned entrance halls
It’s unbelievable how many architectural highlights are hidden behind half-decayed facades. Some houses are inhabited and privately owned, but you can ring the bell and ask nicely to get in to see the entrance halls. At first sight, Georgians seem to be reserved towards strangers, but strangely enough they don’t have a problem when a group of tourists with their cameras pulled out walks through the backyard of their own house.
A hot tip for accommodation is the building at 18 G.Tabidze Street! There are rooms that can be rented, to be found on Airbnb! So if you want to spend the night in a historic building, voilà:
(And thanks to the lovely Chinese tourist, who I interviewed when leaving the apartment and who so eagerly searched for the original offer on Airbnb!)
#5 Trying all those Georgian specialties
…in combination with
#6 Test your own drinking strength with Georgian wine and spirits
The Georgians are real foodies: people love to eat and drink. And that is no wonder: Georgia is the first wine-growing region in the world (wine has been cultivated here since forever) and in Soviet times Georgia was always regarded as the Mecca of fine cuisine. The Georgian cuisine is so incredibly good that it cannot be summed up in this short paragraph: I’ll definitely will be writing a food guide here. And for vegetarians there’s good news: Georgian cuisine is not sooo meaty at all, Sandra from Tracks and the City did some research for her upcoming Veggie Food Guide.
#7 Admiring the Georgian alphabet while not understanding a single word
I wasn’t even aware that Georgian had its own alphabet! I thought at most of Cyrillic letters or their variations. But in fact, there is an alphabet of its own, which looks so beautiful with its many squiggles and curves. Somehow really flowery and a total feast for the eyes.
Also found the designers of Frequently Asked Questions, who simply made brooches out of the beautiful letters and words. And bags with sentences like “Where are you?” – had to have one of those!
#8 Counting street dogs and cats
You’ ll notice it right away: In Tbilisi there are lots of dogs and cats living in the streets. But before my heart could bleed, I was assured that all dogs were registered – and indeed: All dogs are very well groomed and look healthy. And not just that. Most of them are so friendly that you can hardly get rid of them once they have grown fond of you. They are never chased away or treated badly, as I experienced it in other countries. On the contrary, even in front of the Prime Minister’s office, dogs are allowed to lie around in front of the building. People just love dogs and cats here. Fascinating.
#9 The sulphur baths of Tbilisi: Rotten eggs and beautiful skin
The smell of sulphur may be unpleasant at first. It may remind you of rotten eggs, but this vanishes immediately after seeing the magnificent sulphur baths in Abanotubani like the Orbeliani bath. On the outside a thousand and one nights (so dreamy!), you will find individual bathrooms in private cabins inside – where you can make yourself comfortable alone or with partners/friends. There are also massages and despite all the luxury, a visit at the Orbeliani bath won’t break the bank.And once you have rented the bathroom, you have it all to yourself!
By the way, it is recommended to make a reservation on weekends, because the sulphur baths are also very popular among locals and are fully booked a lot of times!
#10 Visting a traditional Georgian bakery
Opposite the Tiflis History Museum, you will find a traditional Georgian bakery – and with a little luck you get to see the baker in action. The bakery is located opposite the History Museum. There’s no sign, just an open door – just go down the stairs to the basement where you’ll find the bakery.
Tips for your trip to Tbilisi
We would have missed out on most tips and background knowledge if Sandra and I hadn’t had our tour guide Irina, who led us through the old town of Tbilisi for almost a whole day. I definitely recommend getting a tour guide if you really want to learn more about the history of Tbilisi, which is really interesting. There aren’t many guide books on Tbilisi yet, and the signs at many sights are in Georgian language, so we were quite lucky to have Irina with us. If you’re interested in her services as a tour guide, please leave a comment below and I’ll get in touch with you. Irina offers tours in German and English.
Sleeping in style: The best Boutique Hotels in Tbilisi
In the past years, really great boutique hotels have opened in Tbilisi! One of them is the Museum Hotel*, in the old town villa of the Orbeliani family (who, by the way, are also the inventors of the Orbeliani sweets, a rare delicacy from Tbilisi, more about this in the upcoming Tbilisi food guide! You might have to get used to the location on main street, but there are also rooms to the rear – and the individual and stylish interior as well as the excellent service make up for everything!
More accommodation in Tbilisi:
Fabrika Tbilisi* – Not only a place to be for hipster from all over the world, it’s also a great hostel! Private rooms are also available. Cheap and stylish.
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