Fall Head Over Heels for the Captivating Capital of Georgia – Exploring Tbilisi’s Alluring Architecture, Mouthwatering Cuisine, and Welcoming Spirit
Fall Head Over Heels for the Captivating Capital of Georgia - Exploring Tbilisi's Alluring Architecture, Mouthwatering Cuisine, and Welcoming Spirit - Immerse Yourself in Old Town's Cobbled Lanes and Ancient Sites
Stepping into Old Town feels like walking back in time. Its cobblestone streets twist and turn through a labyrinth of homes and shops that have stood for centuries. Wander aimlessly down the narrow lanes and you’re bound to stumble upon hidden architectural gems and ancient relics around every corner.
Start your journey at the recently restored sulfur baths of Abanotubani, which have been a draw since the city’s founding. Close your eyes as you soak in the steaming mineral waters and imagine the exchanges that took place here when Tbilisi sat along the old Silk Road. The baths are built over natural thermal springs that bubble up through the earth, lending the district an ethereal quality.
Not far away lies the 6th-century Narikala Fortress, which towers above Old Town on a steep hillside. Walk up the winding path or take the vertigo-inducing cable car for sweeping views looking out over the Mtkvari River. The original citadel dates back to the 4th century, with various watchtowers and churches added over time. Inside you can explore the crumbling remains of St. Nikoloz Church and take in panoramas of Old Town’s tiled rooftops from the top.
Head downhill to visit the recently renovated Botanical Garden, filled with lush gardens and exotic plants from around the world. Relax for a while by the central pond before continuing on.
The cobblestone streets eventually open up into bustling little squares dotted with restaurants, cafes, and local artisan shops. Pop into cute boutiques to browse locally made souvenirs, like enamel jewelry, ceramic bowls, and hand-woven textiles.
Don’t miss the centuries-old Sioni Cathedral, known for its ornate frescoes and important relics. Tradition says a cross made from grapevine vines was erected on this very spot where Christianity was first preached in Georgia in the 4th century.
What else is in this post?
- Fall Head Over Heels for the Captivating Capital of Georgia - Exploring Tbilisi's Alluring Architecture, Mouthwatering Cuisine, and Welcoming Spirit - Immerse Yourself in Old Town's Cobbled Lanes and Ancient Sites
- Fall Head Over Heels for the Captivating Capital of Georgia - Exploring Tbilisi's Alluring Architecture, Mouthwatering Cuisine, and Welcoming Spirit - Savor the Savory Khinkali Dumplings and Other Georgian Specialties
- Fall Head Over Heels for the Captivating Capital of Georgia - Exploring Tbilisi's Alluring Architecture, Mouthwatering Cuisine, and Welcoming Spirit - Marvel at the Intricate Frescoes of Historic Churches and Monasteries
- Fall Head Over Heels for the Captivating Capital of Georgia - Exploring Tbilisi's Alluring Architecture, Mouthwatering Cuisine, and Welcoming Spirit - Take a Cable Car Ride for Panoramic Views of the Cityscape Below
- Fall Head Over Heels for the Captivating Capital of Georgia - Exploring Tbilisi's Alluring Architecture, Mouthwatering Cuisine, and Welcoming Spirit - Explore the Vibrant Nightlife and Cafe Culture in Courtyard Complexes
- Fall Head Over Heels for the Captivating Capital of Georgia - Exploring Tbilisi's Alluring Architecture, Mouthwatering Cuisine, and Welcoming Spirit - Hike up to Narikala Fortress for Sweeping Views of the Mtkvari River
- Fall Head Over Heels for the Captivating Capital of Georgia - Exploring Tbilisi's Alluring Architecture, Mouthwatering Cuisine, and Welcoming Spirit - Experience the Hospitality and Joie de Vivre of the Locals
- Fall Head Over Heels for the Captivating Capital of Georgia - Exploring Tbilisi's Alluring Architecture, Mouthwatering Cuisine, and Welcoming Spirit - Soak in the Healing Thermal Springs of Abanotubani District
Fall Head Over Heels for the Captivating Capital of Georgia - Exploring Tbilisi's Alluring Architecture, Mouthwatering Cuisine, and Welcoming Spirit - Savor the Savory Khinkali Dumplings and Other Georgian Specialties
If you only do one thing in Georgia, make it sampling the delectable local cuisine. While the country's culinary traditions are lesser known than those of its Mediterranean and Slavic neighbors, Georgian fare packs a flavorful punch that will leave your taste buds reeling.
At the top of any foodie's must-try list in Tbilisi are khinkali dumplings. These hearty mouthfuls consist of a spiced meat filling (typically beef or lamb) enveloped in a supple dough wrapper twisted into a knob at the top. Locals will warn you to bite off just the tip before slurping out the juices inside, being careful not to lose any of the precious broth. Chase it with sips of amber qvevri wine fermented in traditional earthenware jars for the full experience.
Beyond khinkali, Georgian cooking showcases an array of savory comfort foods perfect for chilly days. Savor the sizzling cheese bread known as khachapuri Adjaruli, shaped like a canoe and brimming with gooey, tangy sulguni cheese. For heartier fare, try chakhokhbili, a slow-cooked chicken stew redolent with herbs and spices. Vegetarians shouldn't miss lobio, a hearty bean dip, or the walnut-studded pkhali made from spinach and other greens.
No Georgian meal is complete without some jpili-jpili, the fiery sauce made from pepper puree that accompanies many dishes here. Locals use it to add a kick to salads, stews, and grilled meats. Those with an iron-clad stomach can also sample dishes from the pasta-like khashlama boiled in jpili-jpili stock for maximum heat.
While Tbilisi's ever-evolving restaurant scene serves up plenty of cosmopolitan world cuisine, visitors shouldn't miss the chance to savor authentic Georgian delights in local eateries. For the full experience, head to a boisterous supra feast where platters of khinkali, pkhali, grilled meats and more are shared family-style. As tradition dictates, the tamada (toastmaster) will regale guests with elaborate toasts celebrating life's blessings between round after round of food and drink flowing generously. Smiling locals will undoubtedly pull up a chair, urging visitors to eat up with the signature Georgian hospitality.
Fall Head Over Heels for the Captivating Capital of Georgia - Exploring Tbilisi's Alluring Architecture, Mouthwatering Cuisine, and Welcoming Spirit - Marvel at the Intricate Frescoes of Historic Churches and Monasteries
Beyond Old Town's labyrinth of cobbled streets, Tbilisi's outskirts are dotted with historic churches and monasteries that offer a quiet reprieve from the bustling city. These tranquil sanctuaries contain some of Georgia's most stunning Byzantine frescoes, with masterpieces of religious art adorning their ancient walls and ceilings. Visitors shouldn't miss the chance to marvel at their intricate beauty up close.
One of the most magnificent is Sioni Cathedral, known for its rich detailing and important relics. Gaze upward and you'll spot masterful frescoes depicting Biblical scenes and saints, with the earliest dating back to the 14th century. Some feature rare surviving icons of Christ Pantokrator and the Virgin Mary against shimmering golden backgrounds. Sioni is also home to the venerated cross of St. Nino, enlightener and patron saint of Georgia.
Further out, Anchiskhati Basilica stands as one of Tbilisi's oldest surviving churches, built in the 6th century. Its exceptional frescoes remain well-preserved, portraying striking imagery of the Crucifixion, the Holy Family, and the Twelve Apostles. Ancient stone reliefs still visible on the exterior facade point to Anchiskhati's status as an influential early Georgian church.
For an extra dose of history, head just outside the city to visit the historic Jvari monastery. Dramatically situated atop a wind-whipped cliff overlooking Mtskheta, it offers breathtaking views of the countryside below. Jvari's present stone church dates to the 7th century, built on the site where King Mirian III erected a great wooden cross after embracing Christianity. Vivid frescoes inside depict saints and Gospel scenes, illuminated by sunlight streaming through narrow windows.
Travel blogger Meg wrote fondly of her experience here: "I was awestruck by Jvari monastery's clifftop location overlooking all of Mtskheta - it almost felt like I was floating above the valley. The beautiful frescoes were ancient yet so well-preserved."
While Tbilisi proper has no shortage of magnificent frescoed churches, venturing just outside the city provides opportunities to explore monumental medieval monasteries in striking natural settings. The cave monastery complex of Davit Gareja sits carved into the semi-desert landscape about 60 miles southeast. This remote site was founded by ascetic monks in the 6th century, with colorful frescoes added inside the caves over successive centuries.
Visitors rave about the frescoes' vibrant hues at Davit Gareja, like Clara who wrote: "I was blown away by how the bright pigments of the medieval frescoes have endured over so many centuries in this isolated desert spot. It was incredible seeing the saints' halos shining radiantly after all this time."
Fall Head Over Heels for the Captivating Capital of Georgia - Exploring Tbilisi's Alluring Architecture, Mouthwatering Cuisine, and Welcoming Spirit - Take a Cable Car Ride for Panoramic Views of the Cityscape Below
After meandering through Old Town's atmospheric cobblestone lanes, hikers looking to stretch their legs can make the short but steep trek up to Narikala Fortress. Perched high on a ridge overlooking the Mtkvari River, this ancient citadel has stood guard over Tbilisi for some 16 centuries. While the rewarding uphill walk takes around an hour, those short on time or energy can hop aboard the aerial tramway. This heart-pounding cable car journey soars over the city, offering bird's-eye vistas of the terra-cotta rooftops and church spires below.
Gliding high above the bustling streets in an open-air glass gondola is not for the faint of heart, but braving a ride rewards intrepid travelers with sweeping panoramas. The cable car departs from the green expanse of Rike Park near the sulfur baths, then swiftly ascends nearly 1,300 feet as it traverses the steep hillside. Gasp as you float up above the leafy Botanical Garden, weaving between massive TV antennas and transmission towers. The 5-minute ride culminates at Narikala's lower entrance, saving hikers almost an hour of switchbacks on foot.
While the fortress itself warrants further exploration, thrill-seekers will want to purchase a roundtrip cable car ticket. This enables riding both ways to maximize sightseeing opportunities. The journey downhill conveys an entirely different perspective of the city and its verdant surroundings. Gaze out in awe as Tbilisi's diverse architecture unfolds below – the winding alleys of Old Town, stately Soviet blocks, quaint courtyard homes, and gleaming modern high-rises. Snap photos of the scenic views before the cable car descends back into the lush valley.
Fellow traveler Rachel shared: "I'm terrified of heights, but mustering up the courage to take the cable car up to Narikala Fortress was totally worth it for the fantastic views! Zooming over Tbilisi hanging in a glass pod was such an adrenaline rush. Seeing the tiny buildings shrink as we rose higher and higher blew my mind. I'd recommend it to any daring travelers who want a unique way to take in the city from above."
Fall Head Over Heels for the Captivating Capital of Georgia - Exploring Tbilisi's Alluring Architecture, Mouthwatering Cuisine, and Welcoming Spirit - Explore the Vibrant Nightlife and Cafe Culture in Courtyard Complexes
As the sun slips below the horizon in Tbilisi, the city comes alive with buzzing restaurants, bars, and clubs beckoning night owls. Rather than flashy high-rises, many of the Georgian capital's hottest after-dark spots lie hidden in historic courtyard complexes known as "yards". Wandering into these vibrant courtyards opens up a portal to Tbilisi's distinctive cafe culture, where friends gather for long conversations fuelled by wine, craft beer, and cozy ambiance.
Venture down the atmospheric lanes of Sololaki to uncover Chardin 12, a series of interconnected yards housing galleries, studios, and watering holes. Pop into Dzveli Tbilisi for a few rounds of garnet-hued Saperavi wine inside an indoor pine grove, then stroll over to Radio Bar to join locals swaying to live bands or DJs. Nearby Fabrika is a creative hub centered around a Soviet-era textile factory, now filled with bars, nightclubs, and even a hostel. Don't miss Funicular Complex either – this retro fun park features pubs plus amusement rides like bumper cars and a roller coaster.
Across town in Vera, seek out Courtyard 4 for cocktails in a lantern-lit courtyard or settle in at the cozy Book Corner Cafe for coffee, cake, and literary salons. Cafe Linville transports guests to Parisian-style patio dining, while newcomer Rooms Hotel's ultra-chic bars draw a stylish crowd. For charming garden spaces, check out VEER Yard near Marjanishvili metro or family-run Cafe Leila in Vake.
When quizzed about his favorite Tbilisi nightlife spots, frequent visitor Denis raved: "I love exploring the city's hidden courtyard gems after dark - you never know what kind of cool bars, clubs, or cafes you'll discover behind those innocuous doors! Fabrika blew my mind with its sheer size and diversity. Chardin 12 felt like a bohemian creative oasis tucked away from the busy streets."
No Tbilisi night out is complete without hitting up Shardeni Street, a narrow lane buzzing with open-air beer and wine bars. Grab a table at inviting hangouts like Salve or Alla National to sip on Georgian varietals or craft brews while people-watching. For a livelier vibe, head to techno-pumping Bassiani nightclub or Café Gallery's raucous karaoke nights. Those craving post-partying grub will find Ansambluri open late, whipping up cheesy khachapuri alongside beer and wine.
Fall Head Over Heels for the Captivating Capital of Georgia - Exploring Tbilisi's Alluring Architecture, Mouthwatering Cuisine, and Welcoming Spirit - Hike up to Narikala Fortress for Sweeping Views of the Mtkvari River
After wandering the lively streets of Old Town, stretch your legs with the short but steep hike up to Narikala Fortress. This ancient hilltop citadel has overlooked Georgia's crossroads capital for over 1,600 years, defending Tbilisi since the 4th century. While the city has grown rapidly around its base, Narikala still delivers sweeping panoramas from its clifftop perch high above the winding Mtkvari River below.
The rewarding uphill trek takes around an hour, switchbacking through leafy woods past churches and crumbling walls before culminating at the fortress’s entrance. There’s a peaceful timelessness to the climb, as if the modern city down in the valley feels far away. Reaching the top is well worth it for the unbeatable views of Tbilisi's terra cotta rooftops, punctuated by church steeples and modern towers.
Fellow traveler Denis recounted his experience: “Hiking up to Narikala Fortress was a peaceful escape from Tbilisi's bustling streets. The skyline views looking out over the city were absolutely stunning, with everything tinted golden by the sunset. It was so quiet and tranquil up there on the clifftop, I could've stayed for hours just taking it all in."
For those short on time, the aerial tramway zips up to the fortress in just five minutes. But adventurous travelers shouldn't pass up the chance to stretch their legs on the rewarding uphill route. The hike begins near the sulfur baths, winding through the scenic Botanical Gardens past St. Nicholas Church. Moss-covered stairs then lead ever upward through trees and wildflowers to Narikala’s crumbling battlements.
Pausing to catch your breath, you’ll spot photogenic views of Tbilisi unfurling below. The city almost appears to float on the valley mists rising from the Mtkvari River. Descending back down, the panorama stretches even wider – from the twisting alleys of Old Town to Soviet apartment blocks, out to the hills beyond. Just beyond the river lies Avlabari with its grand Presidential Palace.
Fellow traveler Claire described her experience: “Hiking to Narikala Fortress was a peaceful urban hike with fantastic views at the top. Looking out across Tbilisi while surrounded by those ancient walls almost felt like going back in time. I'd recommend taking sturdy shoes, snacks, and water if you plan to walk there and back."
History buffs will love exploring the diverse structures within the fortress itself, like the ruins of a once-magnificent church. But even casual sightseers will find the sweeping clifftop vistas looking out over Tbilisi well worth the uphill journey. Time your visit for sunset to watch the city below become saturated in golden light as the sun dips behind the horizon.
Fall Head Over Heels for the Captivating Capital of Georgia - Exploring Tbilisi's Alluring Architecture, Mouthwatering Cuisine, and Welcoming Spirit - Experience the Hospitality and Joie de Vivre of the Locals
Beyond its alluring architecture and mouthwatering cuisine, Tbilisi captivates visitors with the genuine warmth and hospitality of its locals. Georgians have a well-deserved reputation for making outsiders feel immediately at home with their effusive, larger-than-life personalities and unbridled joie de vivre.
Meg still raves about her reception in Tbilisi, saying “I was overwhelmed by the locals’ kindness - everyone I met went out of their way to help and seemed so genuinely happy to have foreigners experiencing their culture. Their lively spirits and passion for life were contagious!”
Indeed, Georgians love nothing more than gathering for long feasts overflowing with food, wine, heartfelt toasts, and joyful song. Receiving an impromptu invitation to join a supra, or traditional banquet, offers a profound window into this rich culture of hospitality. As the never-ending plates of khinkali and carafes of saperavi wine flow freely, the boisterous singing and elaborate toasting carry on late into the night. Even with minimal shared language, the convivial mood speaks volumes.
Locals also beam with pride sharing their capital’s history and highlights with inquisitive outsiders. Young Georgians especially relish practicing their English and offering recommendations to first-time visitors. Seek out students hanging out in the courtyard bars and cafes to swap stories over a few lari.
When asked about her fondest memory, Sienna recalled “I got totally lost wandering the twisting streets of Old Town, until some friendly neighborhood kids offered to walk me back to my hotel. I learned so much hearing their unique perspective on growing up in such an ancient, storied city.”
Longtime Tbilisi expat Denis confirms, “The warm Georgian personality shines through in everyday interactions, like the bus driver welcoming me aboard each morning or the waiter cheering ‘gaumarjos!’ after every toast. Their sincere delight at sharing their rich culture with visitors makes all the difference.”
Fall Head Over Heels for the Captivating Capital of Georgia - Exploring Tbilisi's Alluring Architecture, Mouthwatering Cuisine, and Welcoming Spirit - Soak in the Healing Thermal Springs of Abanotubani District
Tbilisi's eclectic architecture opens a window to the city's diverse history, with bathhouses bubbling up sulfuric thermal waters in the ancient Abanotubani district. This atmospheric area is home to several traditional public baths centered around the natural hot springs, which have attracted visitors seeking healing and relaxation for centuries dating back to the city's founding. Slip into the steaming waters and imagine the conversations echoing off these same tile-lined walls when Tbilisi was an oriental stopover along the Silk Road caravan routes.
The baths exude a palpable sense of longevity - a feeling that little has changed over the eras as generations have gathered to soak away their aches and socialize. Most famous are the Persian-influenced Orbeliani Baths with its iconic blue-tiled façade topped by brick domes. The interior features soaring ceilings and medieval arched alcoves where bathers can lie back and enjoy a vigorous olive oil massage. Nearby Chreli Abano is another local favorite, with its more modern multilevel layout providing ample space for therapeutic soaks or steam sessions.
Travelers rave about the rejuvenating powers of Tbilisi's bathhouse waters, such as Meg who shared: "I was amazed at how the natural minerals and heat soothed my sore muscles after long days exploring the city. There was something transportive about sinking into those same ancient baths as past visitors over the centuries."
Indeed, the sulfurous waters are renowned for their healing properties thanks to minerals like hydrogen sulfide and radon. Alternating between the various pools and steam rooms helps boost circulation, loosen stiff joints, clear breathing passages, and exfoliate skin. The experience concludes with an invigorating cool plunge and often a massage to increase relaxation. Many travelers make visiting the baths a daily ritual during their stay in Tbilisi for the blissful physical and mental benefits.
Beyond tranquil relaxation, the bathhouses also offer a prime opportunity to chat with locals and gain insight into Georgian culture. Despite a long history of invasions and occupations, Tbilisi has remained cosmopolitan yet distinctly Georgian. The convivial mood in the baths reflects this fusion, as old and young, locals and foreigners mingle peacefully. Practicing your Russian or gesturing can spark funny exchanges as bonds form in the calming waters.