Tbilisi is located at the confluence of Europe and Asia in the Caucasus region. The diverse melting pot of cultural influences left by successive conquerors has created a glorious fusion of architectures, religions and cuisines. When you visit Georgia, you should make the city your starting point – whether you spend a weekend in Tbilisi or a month, there’s an amazing array of attractions and activities to occupy you and we’ve outlined the best things to see in Tbilisi here.
The Republic of Georgia’s capital and largest city has been an important centre on the trading routes between east and west for centuries. It has been Tbilisi’s location on the Silk Road that made her a popular conquest and she’s been ruled by Persians, Mongols, the Byzantine Empire and Russians to name but a few. It’s these many different cultural influences that make the city one of the best places to visit in Georgia.
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Weekend in Tbilisi Itinerary
If you have just a weekend in Tbilisi – then we’d recommend sticking to the Old Town (and very close to it). Either take a walking tour of the city (We recommend the Free Walking Tour ) or grab a map from your hotel and check off the main places to visit. There are many more details about the main Tbilisi attractions further down in this article.
Why not make your Tbilisi weekend extra special and take a private walking AND wine tasting tour in Tbilisi – you’ll get the expert advice of local guides and see the places that the tourists don’t go to > we recommend these guys
Tbilisi in 1 Day – an Itinerary for Georgia’s Capital
We suggest you start by walking across the Peace Bridge to Rike Park, from there catch the Aerial Cable Car to Narikala Fortress. Marvel at Mother Georgia, explore the fortress and then walk down the Narikala Tourist Trail. Check out the Botanical Garden if that’s your thing, otherwise, wend your way down to Fig Gorge, and then the Abanotubani area where you’ll find the public baths. Bookmark them for a visit later today, especially if you’re visiting Tbilisi in winter.
Stop off at Restorani Alani for lunch and a craft beer brewed here to keep you going. Check our our article on best beer snacks to figure out what you should eat with your beer in Georgia. Then head across the River Mtkvari again and take a look at the statue of King Gorgasali on his horse and the Metekhi Church. If Churches are your thing, take the 15-minute walk up to Sameba Cathedral. The good news now is that your route is downhill. You might want to stop for a glass of wine en-route, but head to the Sulphur Baths in Abanotubani, and relax with a hot bath and a massage for a fraction of the cost back home.
Head to Racha in the old town for a good hearty Georgian feast for a few GEL, before catching some sleep for another busy day.
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Tbilisi in 2 Days – an Itinerary
If you have a second day, then you can see more of the top things to do in Tbilisi. After breakfast, you’ll want to head to Freedom Square, quickly now you’re on a mission today. Go straight to Freedom Square, your route will probably take you past the Gabriadze Puppet Theatre Clock Tower but don’t stop now, the better shows are at 12 noon and 7 pm. You can catch it on the way back. Tbilisi has lots of street art – so be sure to find a statue or two to snap en route.
At Freedom Square check out the statue of Saint George slaying the dragon and imagine the previous statue of Stalin, who was born about an hour away in Gori. If your energy isn’t waning, walk on the further 15 minutes to the bottom station of the funicular and head up to Mtatsminda Park for some more views of the city before heading back down to the old town.
Don’t forget to get back to the Tbilisi clock tower for a 12 noon or 7 pm show (it only lasts a few minutes). This is one of the most fun free things to see in Tbilisi. Then you’ll have time to pop into the Café Gabriadze next door for a snack or beverage.
Now you’re right by Tbilisi’s oldest church, the Anchiskhati Basilica – pop in and marvel at the ancient frescoes. And now head to Vino Underground. Treat yourself to a wine tasting, a cheese board and a chill-out.
For a great selection of Georgian food – you can try ALL the items we mention in our ultimate guide to Georgian Food head to Samikitno. There are two locations in town, the one close to Freedom Square will be quieter. than the busy Meidani Square location.
Tbilisi Main Attractions and Background
Now you have your itinerary – read all about the main attractions in Tbilisi and why you should visit them, we’ve laid out where to go in Tbilisi and all the major Tbilisi sightseeing attractions.
Top Things to Do in Tbilisi
Visit Old Town Tbilisi
Although the atmospheric Old Town in Tbilisi has been sacked and restored 29 times, it’s still a glorious labyrinth of winding alleys and narrow cobbled streets. There are wooden structures, balconies galore, some gentrified, others crumbling and ramshackle.
Built into the hillside, you’d be wise to take the cable car to the top and walk back down. Be careful in the wet, the streets are very slippery! Many streets are not accessible to cars, so you’ll be on foot for most of your travels. We highly recommend the free walking tour of Tbilisi, which will give you a great overview of the history and the best places in Tbilisi to see. If you’d like a private walking our at a time of your convenience – then check out this recommendation.
Explore the Architecture of Tbilisi
One of the best ways to see the many different cultural influences on Tbilisi is simply to walk around the Old Town. Walk through a variety of streets to see how the city has changed over the centuries. Be sure to look up – the balconied second stories are glorious, crumbling and extremely photogenic.
The Falcon & Pheasant Fountain – See Where Tbilisi Was Founded
The fountain depicting the legendary founding of Tbilisi can be found in the Abanotubani area of the Old Town. Here you’ll see the falcon and the pheasant in the hot water spring. You can walk further up Fig Gorge to see intricately carved balcony screens on houses overhanging the gorge. There’s more about the history of Tbilisi and the legend of her founding in our history section.
Take a Dip in a Sulphur Hot Spring in Tbilisi
This is one of the most unique activities in Tbilisi. The Abanotubani area of the old town is where the public bathhouses are located. You’ll spot them from the glorious brick dome-shaped structures. There are 5 bath houses to visit now in an area where more than 60 were located. If you’re game for naked bathing, then head to a shared public bath, or take a private room for up to 5 people if you want a little more privacy. You can also add a massage, scrub and sauna.
Walk by the Tbilisi Orbeliani baths – the gorgeous façade of blue tiles on this 17th-century building both looks like it belongs and is out of place at the same time. If they’ve reopened after their renovations and you can bathe here then you’ll be in good company – Puskin and Dumas were also visitors.
Visit Tbilisi’s oldest church – the Anchiskhati Basilica
The oldest church in Tbilisi is, from the outside, one of the most unassuming. It’s built of large stone blocks and easy to miss. It was built by Dachi, son of the founder of Georgia, King Gorgasali in the 6th century. The frescoes inside are well worth a visit. The Ancha icon after which the church takes its name is displayed at the Art Museum of Georgia. This is a working church and you should cover your legs, shoulders and women should cover their hair.
Metekhi Church of Assumption
Following the formation of Tbilisi in the 5th century by King Gorgasali a church was built overlooking the Mtkvari River. The Mongols destroyed it in 1235 and the current Georgian Orthodox Metekhi Church of the Assumption was built between 1278 and 1284. It’s been damaged and repaired several times. Under Soviet rule, the church was used as a barracks but has been a working church since 1988. A statue of King Gorgasali atop a giant horse was erected in 1967.
Sameba Cathedral – The Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi
More commonly known as Sameba, or Sameba Tadzari, this Eastern Orthodox Cathedral wasn’t completed until 2004 and was financed by private citizens. It’s located on Elia Hill, up from Rike Park on the left bank of the River Mtkvari. The cathedral can house 15,000 people and stands 87 metres high.
Walk Tbilisi’s Peace Bridge on the River Mktkvari
Opened in 2010, the Peace Bridge is Tbilisi’s newest bridge. It’s for pedestrians only and constructed of glass and steel. Although it’s constructed in the format of a bow it’s often called the “Always Ultra” as some believe it resembles a sanitary pad (!). It’s spectacular when lit at night.
Explore Rike Park, Tbilisi
Rike Park is on the bank of the River Mtkvari River (the opposite side to the Old Town of Tbilisi) and is directly below the Presidential Palace. There are gardens and play areas here plus dancing musical fountains, a giant piano and two glorious tubular metallic concert and exhibition halls.
There’s an interesting sculpture in Rike Park and it’s here that you catch Tbilisi’s aerial cable car to Narikala Fortress. This is one of the best ways to get to Narikala Fortress.
Take the Aerial Cable Car over Old Town Tbilisi
There’s no better way to get an orientation of the town by taking a trip in the Aerial Cable Car. This connects Rike Park on the left bank of the River Mtkvari with the Narikala Fortress towering above the old town. Tickets are just 2 GEL (around 0.9 euros). If you have a metro card for Tbilisi you can pay with that and skip the line, which is for ticket purchases. A single metro card can be used for multiple people. Depending on the season the cable opens around 11 am and runs until midnight. Each car takes up to 8 people.
As you go up in the cable car be sure to look out across the river to the newer areas of the city. Beyond Rike Park, you’ll see the Georgian Presidential Palace and spot the Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi. The Metekhi Church on the bank of the river is also worth a visit if you have extra time in the city.
Visit Karlis Deda (Mother Georgia) for an incredible view of Tbilisi
Mother Georgia can be seen from all around the city. The statue was built in 1958 to celebrate the 1500th anniversary of Tbilisi and she symbolises the Georgian National Character. The statue shows a woman in Georgian National Dress. She carries a sword in her right hand for those who come as enemies and a bowl of wine (Georgian of course) for those who come as friends. The statue is 20 metres high and constructed of aluminium.
Explore Tbilisi’s Narikala Fortress
If you’ve taken the aerial cable car to reach the Narikala Fortress then you’ll be welcomed with an incredible panoramic view of the city of Tbilisi. Of all the places to visit in Tbilisi, this will help with understanding the city, as you’ll have it all laid out below you. If you’ve walked, then you’ll get the same glorious view, but maybe concentrating a little more on your breathing!
Entrance to Narikala fortress is free, but there is little here to explore. It’s possible to scramble on the walls and walk the defences, there are no handrails and a long drop though. Narikala Fortress was built in the 4th century and takes its name either from the Persian or the Mongols, depending on which version of history you read, the name means “little fortress”. The damage to the fortress was inflicted by an earthquake in 1827, although the church at the top was built during the 12th century and recently renovated.
Narikala Tourist Trail to Old Town Tbilisi
There’s a well paved 1500 metre tourist trail that follows the hillside back down to the Old Town. You can walk up to Narikala Fortress from Old Town Tbilisi, but we recommend taking the cable up, and walking down. The trail takes you past the entrance to the Church of St Nicholas. As you face this entrance portal, there’s a small path that takes you around the outside of the fortifications (although this may be partly under scaffolding) and past the Botanical Gardens.
Tbilisi Botanical Gardens
The National Botanical Gardens of Tbilisi are to be found at the Narikala Fortress. They’re not visible from the old town as they are situated between the hills behind the fortress. These gardens were founded in 1625 but only became the Botanical gardens in 1845. There are two waterfalls within the gardens and the area covers some 400 acres. There is an entrance fee of 2 GEL.
Find Tbilisi’s Fig Gorge (Leghvtakhevi)
You can reach Fig Gorge or Leghvtakhev by following the Narikala Tourist Trail down to the Abanotubani area of the Old Town. It’s a narrow path that follows the stream to a small waterfall. If it’s a hot day this is where you’ll find a little respite from Tbilisi’s heat.
Gabriadze Puppet Theatre Clock Tower, Tbilisi
This fairytale structure houses a small puppet theatre and is the brainchild of the Georgian theatre and film director, Rezo Levanovich Gabriadze. On the hour an angel exits the tower and strikes the bell with a small hammer.
A small puppet show, lasting a few minutes, occurs at 12 noon and 7 pm, when “The Circle of Life” is displayed for those that care to watch. The Tbilisi clock tower wasn’t built until 2010 and displays tiles that were designed by Gabriadze. It’s next to the Café Gabriadze – which is equally idiosyncratic and a great place to people watch.
Understand the History of Georgia in the Museum of Georgia in Tbilisi
The Museum of Georgia houses a stunning display of gold jewellery, some dating from the 5th century BC that appears to reinforce the legend of Jason and the Golden Fleece. More recent history is also on display with a detailed overview of Soviet Rule in the region and footage of the 2008 war in Abkhazia, which saw the bombing of Tbilisi.
Walk around Tbilisi’s Freedom Square
It’s not a square as such, more a huge roundabout for traffic where six roads meet. At the edge of the Old Town is Tbilisi’s Freedom Square (the metro station Liberty Square is here). Freedom Square was known as Lenin Square until Soviet Rule and contained a statue of Lenin which was torn down in 1991 at the breakup of the Soviet Union. After independence and the Rose Revolution (see history) the golden status of Saint George slaying the dragon was mounted on the Freedom Monument in the centre of the square.
Freedom Square was the location of a failed assassination attempt in 2005 on the then US president George W Bush and the Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili
Tbilisi Funicular and Mtatsminda Park
Just 15 minutes walk from Freedom square is the lower station of the Tbilisi funicular. The funicular has been open since 1905 (on and off), you can get off half way and visit the Mamdaviti Church. This is where you’ll see the best views in Tbilisi. There’s also a fun park here with a Ferris wheel and restaurants where you can watch the city as you have lunch. The funicular fare is 2 GEL. (0.80 euros)
Dry Bridge Market Tbilisi
If you’re looking for souvenirs of the Soviet Era in Tbilisi, then head to the Dry Bridge Market close to Dedaena Park. Here, locals who lived under Soviet Rule sell treasures and trash. There’s more on display at weekends, but you can pick up books, Lenin memorabilia, retro items and portraits of Soviet dictator Stalin (who was born in nearby Gori)
Tbilisi Wine Tasting – Explore Georgian Wine
Georgia is the birthplace of wine. It’s been made here for 8,000 years. Georgia is not only famous for wine and while there are many places in the country that you can wine taste, Tbilisi makes it very easy. Walk into any wine store and you’ll be able to taste wines. There may be a small charge in some locations. Or why not take a private wine tasting and walking tour around Tbilisi? it’s surprisingly affordable! The wines that you’ll taste here will range from wine you can buy in 5-litre jugs to expensive bottles. Taste a variety and stock up – it’s not the easiest wine to source out of the country. The Georgian’s know they’re onto a good thing and hang onto it!
Try wine tasting at Wine Underground in the Old Town – we tasted 6 different wines, then bought a bottle (one that we tasted) and sat in the adjacent lane with a cheese plate enjoying both and watching the world go by.
You might want to also keep a little room for chacha or the flavoured vodka that you’ll find throughout the region. Chacha is high octane stuff. It’s a distilled spirit made from leftover mash in wine production. We had some good stuff but my teeth enamel is still suffering from some of the not so good!
Where to Eat in Tbilisi
You’ll want to load up on Georgian food while you’re here with all the cultural influence you can bet that there’s been a huge influence on food as well. Try Georgian dumplings (khinkali), Georgian bread (Khachapuri) – oh heck, try anything on a Georgian menu. Our ultimate guide to Georgian Food explains everything you need to eat.
Best places to eat in Tbilisi
You can’t fail to enjoy both the food and the experience if you head to Racha – deep in the old town of Tbilisi. This is one of the cheapest good restaurants in Tbilisi. Order at the till and pay with your order, which will be calculated on an old wooden abacus. Sit at long wooden tables – share with locals and tourists alike – and enjoy. This is hearty Georgian food, you won’t come away hungry. Check out what other people think about Racha Tbilisi.
You can also get a great flavour of Georgian Food by heading to Samikitmo – there are several locations in Tbilisi – we visited the Freedom Square Location – which was much quieter than the one on Meidani Square.
Where to Stay in Tbilisi Georgia
Best place to stay in Tbilisi
There are lots of places to stay in the old town. As Tbilisi is becoming more popular as a tourist destination we recommend that you book ahead of time.
We recommend the Envoy Hostel. – Dorms are spacious and air-conditioned and come with lockers. Take a padlock. Breakfast is a good selection. Some double rooms are available. You can book or check prices here.
For fabulous views of the city and a little more luxury why not check out the Radisson Blu
Where is Tbilisi Georgia?
The City of Tbilisi was founded on the banks of the river Mtkvari. The old town of Tbilisi is located on the right bank of the river. Tbilisi is in Eastern Georgia. Georgia is bordered by Russia, Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan.
How to Get to Tbilisi
Flights to Tbilisi
It’s easy to get to Tbilisi. There are 40 international flights a day arriving at the main airport, Tbilisi International (TBS), which is a mere 17 kilometres from Tbilisi. A second airport, Natakhtari Airfield, services flights from Georgian locations Kutaisi, Batumi, Mestia and Mtskheta.
Tbilisi Airport to Tbilisi Bus
Both airports are connected to the capital by regular bus services. Public buses from Tbilisi International Airport to Tbilisi run every 15-30 minutes to the city. The journey takes 50 minutes and costs 0.50 GEL. You will need exact change. There is an ATM in the airport that dispenses 5 GEL notes. The Tbilisi airport bus numbers are 36 & 37 and they depart from near the arrival area.
Tbilisi Airport to Tbilisi Taxi
A taxi from the airport costs between 20 and 30 GEL. Tbilisi airport taxis run on standard rates which are noted on a taxi rank board as you exit the airport.
Tbilisi Airport to Tbilisi Train Station
Two trains a day leave Tbilisi airport and run to the main train station. Trains run at 0845 and 1805. They leave from Tbilisi train station to go to the airport at 0755 and 1720. The journey time is 30 minutes and fares are 0.50 GEL.
Trains to Tbilisi
The domestic train network links Tbilis with Batumi, Gori, Kutaisi, Porti, Zugdid and Marneuti. There is a single train every other day from Yerevan, Armenia to Tbilisi. This is an overnight sleeper. An overnight train runs each day from Baku, Azerbaijan.
Buses to Tbilisi
There are regular buses from Greece (Athens and Thessaoniki), Armenia and daily buses from Turkey.
Weather in Tbilisi
Tbilisi experiences very warm summers and moderately cold winters. July is the hottest month, with an average temperature of 24.9°C. You’ll find the most rain during the month of May and up to 25 days of snow each year. January is the coldest and driest month.
History of Tbilisi
Tbilisi’s history is pretty turbulent. While recent archaeological finds date human settlement in the area to the 4th century BC, popular Georgian history ascribes the founding of the city of Tbilisi to King Vakhtang I Gorgasali of Iberia, the area known as Kartli in present eastern Georgia. The king was hunting with his falcon, says the legend, in the forested area that is now Tbilisi. The falcon caught a pheasant, however, in the process both birds fell into a hot spring and died. King Gorgasali decided to build the city of Tbilisi here.
The name Tbilisi comes from the old Georgian word, “Tpili”, which means warm and thus “Tbili” or “Tbilisi” (warm location) was the name bestowed on the city. The numerous sulphuric hot springs in the Abanotubani area of the Old Town as a must see in Georgia. It’s this area that also houses a fountain which details the legend of the founding of the city.
Tbilisi occupies a strategic position in the centre of the Caucasus between Europe and Asia and was ruled at varies times by a series of peoples including the Romans, Persians, the Mongols, Arabs, the Byzantine Empire, the Turks and the Russians. It’s a credit to the continuing cosmopolitan nature of the city that these cultures fused together, to create modern-day Tbilisi.
In more recent times Tbilisi and Georgia were annexed by the Russian Empire in 1801 and became known as Tiflis. Georgia had a brief period of independence from 1918 to 1921 until the Red Army invaded and the country remained until the Soviets until 1991
Tbilisi Old Town was, however, a major tourist destination for Soviet and foreign visitors and so was maintained and in parts reconstructed during the 1970’s and 80’s.
Following the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, Georgia attained independence once more. Eduard Shevardnadze, who had been the de facto leader of Soviet Georgia, remained in power until 2003. Demonstrations against falsified elections in 2003 led to his retirement and the beginning of democracy in Georgia. These demonstrations were known as the Rose Revolution – so named because of the storming of a session of Parliament by demonstrators carrying red roses.
Evidence of Tbilisi’s past is present in the distinctive architecture of the city – Medieval buildings crowd next to art nouveau, Stalinist properties reflect the Soviet period and modernist creations fuse or ruin both depending on your point of view.
Tbilisi today is safe, clean and an increasingly popular destination for tourism. It’s a fabulous place to visit for a weekend or even longer. Georgia allows many nationalities to remain in the country for up to 365 days! So why not head on over now and enjoy a fabulous weekend in Tbilisi?
If you’re considering a longer itinerary in the region consider – looking at both Georgia and Armenia with these suggested highlights of the Caucasus.
- We visited Tbilisi with Madventure on our overlanding adventure – our route went from Istanbul in Turkey to Kathmandu in Nepal.