Tbilisi is the capital city of Georgia, a country in Eastern Europe bordered by Russia to the East and North, Azerbaijan and Armenia to the South and Turkey to the West. It is also known by its previous name Tiflis. Dominated by Orthodox Christianity, it boasts in beautiful and historic Orthodox churches and medieval style architecture.
Getting around is convenient by walking, taxi is cheap, and you can reach most parts of the city by Metro. It’s a laid-back European city, not as vibrant or busy like Paris but has its own charm. Communication will never be a problem; many can speak and understand English. Local Georgian people are always happy and willing to help.
Taxi – A metered taxi from the airport to the city should cost you 14 Lari. Take note that the amount should be visible on the meter, otherwise don’t take this taxi. Do not negotiate with cab drivers outside the airport.
Metro – It’s a subway train that could take you to other parts of the city.
Currency – Currency is Georgian Lari (GEL). Several money exchange shops are open 24 hours near the old streets.
The Old Town is lying at the foot of the hill overlooked by an ancient fortress, Narikala. Walking around on its narrow streets, you’ll notice a lot of houses built in earlier centuries/decades. Some are well maintained, and some are crooked but are still standing. Most have balconies and everywhere you’ll find architectures of different influences since Georgia is surrounded by various territories. Many of the best restaurants and cafes in the city are located in this area. There are plenty of shops too selling anything from religious items, souvenirs, and local wine.
This centuries-old fortress is dominating the skyline of Old Town. The fortress suffered significant damage during an earthquake in 1827, but some of the old parts of the wall are still standing. St. Nicholas Church, which was standing in this fortress, was destroyed as well but was restored recently in 1996. The fastest way to reach the top is via cable car. You can also opt to do a short climb from the foot of the hill. The view from the top is fantastic and gives you a birds-eye view of Tbilisi. I spent a lot of time here taking pictures. It’s best to climb the hills just before the sun sets; you’ll have a fantastic view of the city at night.
The Bridge of Peace
This contemporary designed bridge is standing in between Old Tbilisi and the new district along the Nera river. The Bridge of Peace gives a nice contrast to the old architectures of the city. At night the bridge is shining and shimmering, lit by thousands of LED fixtures scattered all over it.
Gudauri is north of Tbilisi and can be reached by bus or private tour in 2.5 hours. There’s only one road leading to this place, which is an old military road used to transport supplies back and forth to Russia. A ski-pass for a full day costs 30 GEL while the rental of board and gears could cost up to 50 GEL. The cheapest ski pass and the rental I had so far from anywhere in the world! If you’re not into skiing or snowboarding, you can still use the ski pass to ride the cable cars to reach the top of the mountains. The views are breathtaking.
Best Restaurant in Tbilisi & Georgian Food
Georgian cuisine is unique, a blend of styles and flavours influenced by its European and Middle Eastern neighbours and the country’s position along trade routes between Europe and Asia. Each region of Georgia has developed its own cuisine, with the western part of the country taking more Turkish influences while the east draws more from its Iranian neighbours.
No matter which regional cuisine you’re eating, they are all unified by one thing – fresh, natural ingredients and large quantities of healthy vegetables, including beans, eggplants, cabbage, beets and tomatoes. All combined with fresh herbs and seasonings like parsley, fennel, ramson, mint, basil and loads more depending on the season.
Where to Eat in Tbilisi, Georgia
Taking its name from the elaborate, long-handled silver ladle used in the past by noblemen to sip wine, Azarphesha puts a creative flair into traditional Georgian cuisine and pairs it with another house speciality – natural wines, all of which can be perfectly paired with every dish.
When we first walked in through the door of the restaurant, we were welcomed warmly by one of the owners, John, and invited to join him tasting wines with a friend and a new local producer. Originally from the United States, John has now lived in Tbilisi for over 20 years, lured here by the taste of the food, the wine, the warmth and hospitality of the people, and his other great passion, the music. Somewhere along the line, he met and became good friends with Luarsab, a Tbilisi local with a big smile. Luarsab’s stories will draw you deep in the tales of Georgian food, wine, and tradition, including his impressive collection of silver Azarpeshas (traditional wine ladles) which are proudly displayed along the wall, giving the restaurant its name.
Our meal started with Wild Leeks, which grow under the snow throughout winter, boiled and prepared with wild garlic, with fermented Jonjoli flowers found only in Georgia. This course was paired with a glass of Atenuri wine, a sparkling white wine, made from Chinuri and Goruli Mtsvane grapes.
The second course was filled with fresh Georgian vegetables like bell peppers and carrots, smoked for a lively and warming taste, seasoned and flavoured with mint, vinegar, sunflower seeds and olive oil, paired with Tiibani, an amber wine from the east of the country. The extra pressing of the grapes will break the fruit skin to release a fuller flavour and the rich amber colour.
What followed was hearty pan-fried glazed chicken thighs with pomegranate and a sauce I still can’t work out how to describe, alongside an assortment of wild mushrooms cooked with onions and various herbs and spices. Three perfectly browned meatballs arrived on a mound of green, vegetable puree scattered with fresh cut parsley. The freshness and purity of the food is what really makes an impression, every piece of meat is accompanied by several types of locally-grown vegetable, with herbs and spices. Georgian cuisine has by far turned out to be one of the best I have ever tasted!
Day 1: Arrive at the Aiport
Most flights arrive at night in Tbilisi. Don’t exchange all your money at the airport, take note of the taxi fare mentioned above.
Day 2: Walk around the Old City
Start your day with breakfast walking from the old Tbilisi near the banks of Kura river. Cross the Bridge of Peace to the Rike Park and climb the hills. This will give you a view of the park, Old Tbilisi, and Narikala Fortress. Check out the narrow alleys leading to some churches and find your way to Metekhi Church and the Equestrian Statue of King Vakhtang Gorgasali. From here you can descend the hill, and walk around Old Tbilisi.
Try Khinkali for your lunch. It looks like a huge Xiao Long Bao, made with pork and beef with and spices. Use your hand to eat this, suck all those tasty soup and enjoy the soft dough wrapped around that delicious meat.
Visit the Sioni Cathedral, one the oldest and main cathedrals in City of Tbilisi. Walking straight further passing the cathedral you will reach Freedom Square. Important buildings such as the City Hall and Bank of Georgia are in the square. At the center is the Liberty Monument depicting St. George slaying the dragon.
Head back to the Gondola Lift Station in Rike Park. Buy your tickets and take your cable car ride climbing to Narikala Fortress. Enjoy the night at one of the bars along the Old City or get a bottle of a Georgian wine and have a pleasant night at your hotel/hostel.
Day 3: Visit the Mountains and Skiing trip at Gudauri.
Take a metro and alight at Didube Station. Exit to your left leading to the market and the bus station. Make sure you have the name of Gudauri in Georgian letters on a piece of paper so you can ask the locals around. The signs in the minibus (van) are written in Georgian. It departs every one hour starting at 9 am and costs 7 GEL one way. The bus leaves once it’s full. The journey will take 2.5 hours and If you don’t have a hotel reservation, ask the driver to drop you off near the gondola.
Buy your ski pass and rent your gears if you want to ski or snowboard. There are plenty of shops around, and prices are cheap. You can also try paragliding if you’re into more adventure.
Stay overnight in Gudauri.
Catch the sunrise from the mountain and enjoy your breakfast. You still have half day to enjoy the slopes and snow. You can do other activities like snowmobile and sledding. Before checking out, you can ask the reception in your hotel/hostel to book the shuttle going back to Tbilisi; they will pick you up in front of your accommodation.
You will reach Tbilisi in the afternoon; you still have time to visit the beautiful Holy Trinity Cathedral. It is the main cathedral of the Georgian Orthodox Church in the city.
End your day to relax at the Sulphur Baths in Old Town. These old sulfur baths are essential in the city’s history as well.
Day 5: Checkout and get the flight back home or to your next destination.
Check your e-visa requirements here.
About the Writer
Jaypee Licudan is a Filipino Expat based in Singapore. He’s a traveler and writer for Two Monkeys Travel Group – Community Travel Blog and has been to over 30 countries across 4 continents. His major long-term goal is to go back to the Philippines for a long time travel to discover the hidden gems of his home country. Follow his personal blog: The Rustic Nomad