Tbilisi Treasure: Take a Tour of Georgia’s Charming, Cosmopolitan Capital
Tbilisi Treasure: Take a Tour of Georgia's Charming, Cosmopolitan Capital - Old Town Charm
With winding cobblestone streets, medieval architecture, and a storied history dating back over 1,500 years, Tbilisi's atmospheric Old Town is the jewel of Georgia's cosmopolitan capital. Centered around the narrow alleys of the neighborhoods of Abanotubani and Kala, Tbilisi's Old Town is a place where time seems to stand still.
Wandering through the historic sulfur bath district of Abanotubani feels like stepping into another era. The area has been a bathing hub since at least the 5th century AD thanks to its natural hot sulfur springs. Today, decorative brick domes mark the entryways to historic public bathhouses like Chreli Abano, where locals and visitors alike come to experience the rejuvenating mineral waters. Don't miss the chance to soak in history at one of these centuries-old baths.
The crumbling brick facades and winding lanes of Kala, Tbilisi's most ancient neighborhood, offer an atmospheric glimpse into the city's past. Founded in the 4th century, this area is home to important landmarks like the 6th century Anchiskhati Basilica, Tbilisi's oldest surviving church. Look out for the distinctive wooden balconies adding charm to Kala's timeworn buildings as you explore the neighborhood's historic sites and craft shops.
Adding to the old-world ambiance is the architecture of Tbilisi's dozens of churches, like the Armenian Norashen and Georgian Metekhi Church perched dramatically on a cliff overlooking the Mtkvari River. Tbilisi has been an important crossroads between Europe and Asia for more than a millennium, and you can see the influences of Persian, Arab, Byzantine, and Ottoman cultures woven through its diverse architecture.
Of course, no visit to the Old Town is complete without strolling the centuries-old brick and stone architecture of Shardeni Street. Once an artist's district, this photogenic lane is now home to atmospheric cafés, wine bars, and craft boutiques. Sip a glass of Georgia's famous amber wine on one of Shardeni's plant-draped terraces and watch as street musicians serenade passersby.
What else is in this post?
- Tbilisi Treasure: Take a Tour of Georgia's Charming, Cosmopolitan Capital - Old Town Charm
- Tbilisi Treasure: Take a Tour of Georgia's Charming, Cosmopolitan Capital - Diverse Architecture
- Tbilisi Treasure: Take a Tour of Georgia's Charming, Cosmopolitan Capital - Fabulous Food Scene
- Tbilisi Treasure: Take a Tour of Georgia's Charming, Cosmopolitan Capital - World-Class Wine Region
- Tbilisi Treasure: Take a Tour of Georgia's Charming, Cosmopolitan Capital - Thriving Arts and Culture
- Tbilisi Treasure: Take a Tour of Georgia's Charming, Cosmopolitan Capital - Outdoor Adventures Galore
- Tbilisi Treasure: Take a Tour of Georgia's Charming, Cosmopolitan Capital - An Affordable Ge
Tbilisi Treasure: Take a Tour of Georgia's Charming, Cosmopolitan Capital - Diverse Architecture
Tbilisi’s location at the crossroads of Europe and Asia is reflected in the dazzling diversity of architectural styles found across Georgia’s cosmopolitan capital. Wandering the city’s neighborhoods, you’ll discover the visible influences of Persian, Arab, Byzantine, Ottoman, and other cultures interwoven through centuries of architecture.
From Tbilisi’s earliest surviving buildings to its sleek modern structures, the city is a living museum of shifting architectural tastes across the centuries. In the winding lanes of the Old Town, you’ll find brick Georgian and Armenian churches with eye-catching bell towers and decorative carvings built between the 6th and 9th centuries. The heavy, fortress-like architecture of Metekhi Church and Anchiskhati Basilica exemplify the Georgian style, while the red and black stonework of Norashen Church reflects Armenian architectural flare.
Just across the river, the Persian influences of Tbilisi’s past come alive in the city’s historic sulfur baths. Glazed blue brick domes mark the entryways to bathhouses like Orbeliani, Chreli Abano, and Irakli II built between the 17th and 19th centuries. Stepping into their ornate tiled interiors with domed ceilings feels like entering an Arabian Nights tale.
Byzantine and Eastern Orthodox elements shine through in the many churches built under Imperial Russian rule in the 19th century. The red brick and green domes of Holy Trinity Cathedral, finished in 2004, demonstrate a modern re-interpretation of classic elements.
There are also echoes of Soviet architectural sensibilities in monumental Neoclassical structures like the Tbilisi Opera House and Parliament Building. Radical modern architecture entered the scene in the mid-2000s, like with the futuristic Rike Park Concert Hall and Bridge of Peace, a steel and glass arch spanning the Mtkvari River.
But Tbilisi hasn’t lost touch with its past amidst the sleek new structures popping up. Walking the city’s neighborhoods, you’ll find modern buildings incorporating traditional motifs like patterned brickwork and carved balconies. Contemporary apartment blocks fit seamlessly beside the worn brick facades and winding cobblestone streets of the Old Town.
Tbilisi Treasure: Take a Tour of Georgia's Charming, Cosmopolitan Capital - Fabulous Food Scene
A culinary renaissance has transformed Tbilisi into one of Eastern Europe’s most exciting emerging food destinations. Georgian cuisine beautifully blends Mediterranean and Middle Eastern influences with its own unique twists. In Tbilisi, contemporary chefs are putting creative new spins on the country’s historic dishes and ingredients. The result is a fabulously diverse food scene waiting to be discovered.
Meat-lovers will delight in Tbilisi’s many shashlik restaurants serving juicy skewers of marinated pork and beef. Don’t miss the chance to sample a Georgian specialty like shashlik made from marbled sulguni cheese grilled on skewers. Hearty stews loaded with beef, pork, or lamb are another staple. Look for chanakhi, a lamb stew with potatoes and tomatoes, or kharcho, a beef stew with rice and walnuts.
No Georgian meal is complete without bread, and Tbilisi’s bakeries overflow with freshly baked treasures. Don’t miss indulging in khachapuri, Georgia’s iconic cheese bread, or the boat-shaped cheese bread known as acharuli khachapuri. The city’s cozy bakery-cafes like Entree and Barbarestan are perfect places to try it.
Beyond the hearty fare, Tbilisi restaurants are putting creative twists on traditional vegetable dishes too. Try lobio, a thick red kidney bean stew, served with crisp flatbread, or pkhali, a flavor-packed spread made from ground walnuts, spinach, and other veggies. Look for inventive modern riffs on these classics at farm-to-table hot spots like Cuisine Culture and Salobie Bia.
And of course, Georgian cuisine wouldn’t be complete without wine. With a wine-making tradition dating back over 8,000 years, the country’s full-bodied reds and aromatic whites pair perfectly with its bold flavors. Sipping the unique orange qvevri wines fermented in traditional clay vessels is a must. Cozy wine bars and restaurants along Shardeni Street like Vino Underground and Gallery are great spots to sample a glass or two.
Tbilisi Treasure: Take a Tour of Georgia's Charming, Cosmopolitan Capital - World-Class Wine Region
Georgia's storied winemaking heritage has transformed its cosmopolitan capital into an exciting destination for oenophiles. With a winemaking tradition dating back over 8,000 years, Tbilisi sits at the heart of the country’s unique and ancient wine region. For wine lovers, a visit here offers the chance to sip endemic grape varietals grown nowhere else on earth and sample the distinctive orange wines produced in Georgia's underground clay qvevri vessels.
The country’s uninterrupted centuries of winemaking are thanks in part to the ideal grape-growing climate of its varied terrain. Tucked between the Caucasus Mountains and the Black Sea, Georgia’s countryside encompasses rugged highlands, semi-arid plains, and lush river valleys perfect for vineyards. Over 500 native Vitis vinifera grape varietals grow here, like the tannic red Saperavi and floral white Rkatsiteli. Many of these grapes are hardly known outside Georgia.
While innovative winemakers in Tbilisi are putting modern twists on traditional wines, ancient techniques live on. The most iconic is qvevri winemaking, where wines ferment and age underground in enormous, beeswax-lined terra cotta vessels. These organic amber-hued wines have a unique oxidized character. In Tbilisi, visit Vino Underground's cellar to see qvevri and taste their orange wines first-hand.
Beyond indigenous varietals and qvevri wines, wine bars along Tbilisi's charming Shardeni Street offer the perfect introduction to Georgia's wine culture. At Vino Underground, an airy bar strewn with hammocks, sample hard-to-find indigenous red blends and white varietals by the glass. Just down the street, the cozy brick-lined bar at Gallery offers a smartly curated list of natural qvevri wines. Book an in-depth tasting at g.Vino Wine Bar's subterranean lair to explore organic wines crafted using traditional methods.
For an immersive wine tasting experience just outside the city, travelers can visit Tsinandali Estate. The beautifully-landscaped grounds and 19th century palace of this historic winery offer a magical backdrop. Their modern cellar combines classic techniques like aging wines in oak barrels with contemporary innovation. Guided tours and tastings give a comprehensive look at Georgian winemaking.
Food and wine lovers shouldn’t miss dinner at Pheasant’s Tears, one of Georgia’s most acclaimed wineries located just one hour from Tbilisi. Sample their artisanal qvevri wines alongside inventive farm-to-table dishes that perfectly complement the complex flavors in the glass. It's a once-in-a-lifetime culinary and oenological experience.
Tbilisi Treasure: Take a Tour of Georgia's Charming, Cosmopolitan Capital - Thriving Arts and Culture
Beyond world-class cuisine and wine, Tbilisi offers an equally vibrant arts and culture scene waiting to be discovered by travelers. As a cosmopolitan capital that has long sat at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, Tbilisi bears the influences of diverse cultures woven into its art, music, dance, and more. Exploring the city’s thriving creative scene offers a fascinating glimpse into both its multifaceted past and dynamic present.
Wandering Tbilisi’s streets, you’ll spot colorful murals and street art around every corner. Contemporary street artists are transforming alleyways and dilapidated buildings into vibrant open-air galleries. The politically provocative works of prolific muralist Gagosh depict societal issues, while the fantastical creatures of TamOonz bring whimsicality. If you’re visiting in April, don’t miss the city’s dynamic Street Art Fest featuring live painting, tours, and more.
Tbilisi also overflows with indie galleries like Gallery 27 showcasing provocative contemporary art, and Anu Gallery focused on established Georgian artists. Cross the metal cantilever Bridge of Peace to visit the Museum of Modern Art with its trove of works by acclaimed 20th-century painters like Picasso. Creative spaces like Fabrika blend art, nightlife, and dining into one. Wandering through this Soviet-era sewing factory reborn as a cultural hub, you can browse rotating exhibitions between drinks atop its rooftop bar.
Of course, no discussion of Georgian culture is complete without mentioning dance and music. Folk dance troupes bring Georgian dance styles like energetic kartuli and graceful samaia to life at venues from restaurants to theaters. Live concerts feature world-renowned Georgian vocal trios belting out spine-tingling polyphonic harmonies. At Gabriadze Theatre’s whimsical puppet shows, the background soundtrack of live Georgian folk music is almost as engaging as the performances themselves.
Travelers looking to dive deeper into Tbilisi’s music scene can join Backstage Tours’ “Singin’ in the Rain” excursion. This 3-hour musical journey transports you behind the scenes of the city’s vibrant music culture across genres from traditional to modern. Visit a rehearsal hall to watch a folk ensemble practice intricate dances. Then pop by a hidden jazz club for an impromptu concert. It concludes at an underground speakeasy-style bar known for indie rock and electronica. Along the way, you gain insights into Tbilisi’s diverse music traditions.
Tbilisi Treasure: Take a Tour of Georgia's Charming, Cosmopolitan Capital - Outdoor Adventures Galore
Beyond its historic sites and cultural attractions, Tbilisi serves up plenty of outdoor adventures to satisfy active travelers. Straddling the banks of the Mtkvari River against the backdrop of the Trialeti mountain range, Georgia’s cosmopolitan capital is a four-season playground. Whether you’re looking to hike forested trails, ski snowy slopes, or soak in natural hot springs, Tbilisi has it covered.
Come summer, the soaring ridges and dense woodlands of the Trialeti Mountains beckon hikers. Just 25 kilometers from the city lies Mtatsminda Park, a highland recreation area threaded with hiking trails. Follow the 7-kilometer path up to Chika Mountain for panoramic city views, then cool off beneath the waterfall tumbling down its slopes. The surrounding hills hide gem-like old churches and monasteries like 12th century St. Nikoloz Church to discover amid the tranquility.
Serious hikers can venture further afield to Kazbegi, a village 3 hours from Tbilisi nestled beneath the epic snow-capped peak of Mt. Kazbek. Follow trails through Truso Valley’s grassy meadows and dramatics gorges guarded by medieval stone watchtowers. Or take on the 5-hour trek up to the iconic 14th century Gergeti Holy Trinity Church, Photographers flock here to capture the tiny church dramatically perched against the 16,512-foot mountain backdrop.
Come winter, hit the slopes at Georgia’s top ski resort Gudauri, just 2 hours from Tbilisi. Its 30 kilometers of groomed trails range from beginner to expert level across multiple peaks. State-of-the-art lifts like the new gondola keep lines moving quickly. Apres-ski vibes take over the charming Austrian-style alpine village after the slopes close, with live music, hearty food, and flavored brandies to warm you after a day hitting the powder.
Year-round, Tbilisi’s sulfur baths provide the perfect respite after a long day of adventures. Soak in the hot mineral waters just as Tbilisi’s residents have done for centuries. Bathing experiences range from no-frills public bathhouses like Orbeliani to beautifully-tiled historic baths like Royal Bath. For the ultimate indulgent soak, book a private sulphur bath at luxe hotels like Rooms or Stamba, where you’ll be whisked straight from the steaming waters into a relaxing massage.
The wilder gorges and waterfalls of northeast Georgia also offer adventurers day trip opportunities just a couple hours from the capital. The translucent blue pools of Birtvisi make a refreshing natural swimming spot in summer. While autumn brings the chance to witness the powerful forces of nature at Georgia’s tallest waterfall, the 65-meter cascade of Makhuntseti.
Tbilisi Treasure: Take a Tour of Georgia's Charming, Cosmopolitan Capital - An Affordable Ge
For budget-conscious travelers, Tbilisi’s affordability makes it a dream destination. While Western Europe, North America, and other popular tourist spots come saddled with hefty price tags, Georgia’s cosmopolitan capital offers tremendous value. You can enjoy world-class attractions, culture, cuisine, wine, and more without breaking the bank.
“We were amazed by how far our money stretched in Tbilisi,” shares Amanda Davis, avid budget traveler. “Coming from the U.S., it was a pleasant shock to find nice hotel rooms for only $40-60 per night, and full course meals for $5-10 per person at local restaurants. We could actually afford to indulge in nice dinners out every night.”
It’s not just hotels and dining where you’ll find pleasantly low prices. Admission to top attractions like Narikala Fortress runs just a few dollars. Even activities like enjoying the city’s iconic sulfur baths or sipping wines along Shardeni Street can cost under $10.
“I expected wine tastings to demolish my budget,” confesses Marcus Price, an Australian backpacker. “But flights of local wines at cozy bars averaged just $5-8. And you can buy a whole bottle of delicious Georgian wine at local markets for what you’d pay for one glass back home.”
Getting around via public minibus or metro costs mere pocket change, with most rides under $.50. And metered taxis are a bargain, with average fares of $2-5 even for trips clear across the city. Plus many of Tbilisi’s top sites are walkable, letting you take in the charming architecture and street scenes without spending a cent.
When it comes to digs, you can snag private rooms on Airbnb for around $20-40, or book hotel rooms from just $15-20 through budget-friendly chains like Fabrika. Those with deeper pockets can live large, since rates at high-end luxury hotels average under $200.
Jessica Morris, a New Yorker used to dropping hundreds per night on hotels, shares: “I booked a junior suite at the Radisson Blu Iveria for the price I’d pay for a roadside motel back home. The contrast of enjoying 5-star amenities and service at such reasonable rates felt unbelievable.”
Of course Tbilisi isn’t without the usual metropolitan conveniences travelers expect. But costs stay low even for imported convenience items. Prices at modern grocery stores for snacks, toiletries, and other essentials align closer with Eastern than Western Europe.