Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, is a frequent mainstay in the “best city breaks on earth” lists. Yes it’s cheap, yes it’s in a beautiful mountainous country and yes the nation is home to one of the world’s favourite alcoholic drinks – wine. But Tbilisi is much much more than the tour guides make out.
Tbilisi hasn’t just released the shackles of the Soviet Union – it’s twirled those shackles around its head and thrown them into the abyss. Not only does Tbilisi retain it’s beautiful and unique Georgian identity, but it’s now being coined the “New Berlin”.
This corner of the Caucuses is far from quiet – Tbilisi is fiercely proud of its independence and individuality. While flourishing in a post-Soviet era, Tbilisi has picked up thousands of digital nomads and young creativities along the way.
It’s now a city destination for more than nice wine and pretty mountains, it’s an epicentre of techno music, street art and speciality coffee – rivalling the most popular western European capitals.
Join us as we scratch far below the surface and highlight the best things to do in Tbilisi…
13 Best Things To Do In Tbilisi
#1. Dance the night (and morning) away
If you like your electronic music there is a strong chance you are well frequented with the name Berghain. The Berlin nightclub is voted the best on earth and Bassiani, in Tbilisi, isn’t far behind. Not only does it draw the similar colossal names from the world of techno music, but it carries the same mystique, operating in a former Olympic swimming pool under the national stadium.
It’s a liberal paradise in a historically Orthadox country – a safe haven for many and a place which has a strict door policy. The liberality of the venue is protected, as in Berlin, by its no photo policy, and ravers dance way past sunrise and far into the next day.
It’s a raving institution and, if you’re lucky enough to get in, you’ll be part of very special community, which is growing in Tbilisi by the day. It certainly isn’t the only venue specialising in electronic music either – there are many nightclubs dotted around the city, which are garnering attention across the music industry.
Take part in the city’s electronic music revolution and dance the night away.
#2. A slice of mountain life in the city
Georgia is a country shaped by its mountainous landscape and Tbilisi shares elements of its natural lumps and bumps, all be them minor in comparison to the rest of the nation.
You don’t have to wander far in the city to note landmarks on mountain tops, which naturally draw a tourist’s curiosity. And they’re far from out of reach – the city has a network of cable cars and funiculars, which take you to the various summits.
The most famous, in the city centre, carts tourists above its Old Town to the city’s mountain top fortress, but there are other, less famous, climbs which are certainly worth an explore.
A funicular, to the rear of the Vera neighbourhood, climbs up to Mount Mtatsminda, which has a historic theme park on its peak, which dates back to the 1930s.
Meanwhile, far from the well-trodden tourist path, in the Vake area, you’ll find a rickety cable car, which will ferry you up to the local mountain top favourite – Turtle Lake. You can speed up the journey back down the mountain with a zip line trip in the summer months.
#3. Bath houses
We’ve already touched upon Georgia’s beautiful natural assets and its spa towns and sulphur baths are world renowned. You don’t have to go to the mountains or even leave the capital to get a taste of the action – the city has a bath-house district, right next to the Old Town.
The city gets very chilly winters, so what better way to warm up than a dunk in one of the city’s many sulphur spas and why not have a massage to accompany it. The most striking is the city’s Orbeliani Bathouse, complete with stunning mosaics on its exterior. You may pay a premium here, but it’s worth it.
#4. Sunset at the fortress
Among the many imposing structures sitting on the hill tops above Tbilisi is the city’s 4th century fortress. You can’t miss it when walking around the city’s Old Town and city centre.
It’s quite a stomp up a steep hill to get to the hill’s peak and the fortress, but you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views across the whole city. Unlike many cities, there isn’t entrance fee here, or rules, you can wander around the historic site to your heart’s content.
It’s a fantastic place to explore, but our top tip is to make the journey in time for sunset. Although the sun sets behind the fortress, the sunset rays light up the city and create a myriad of colours.
Don’t worry if you can’t muster up the strength for the walk, there is a cable car which can take you to the top from the city’s Rike Park.
#5. Sample local cuisine
Diving head first into local cuisine is an absolute must, no matter where the destination. However, Georgia has particularly unique and seriously flavourful dishes, which unlike Italian or Chinese food, isn’t spread far and wide across the world.
It makes sampling local dishes all the more exciting and there are a couple which are an absolute must.
Khinkali – this is a Georgian staple. The boiled, dumpling style, parcels are filled with meat or cheese and cooked in either a broth or in an array of sauces. Don’t fall into the tourist trap of eating them with a knife and fork, they’re to be eaten by hand.
Another firm Georgian favourite is the gluttonous khachapuri – a baked bread dish, hollowed out in the centre and filled with cheese and egg.
It’s often a dish shared between friends and definitely worth a taste. There are many other beautiful Georgian dishes, soups and stews in particular, but one of our top tips is much smaller, called adjika.
The deep red spicy, red pepper, paste is a beautiful accompaniment to many Georgian dishes. It’s intensely flavourful and a delicious partner to meat in particular.
Every country has its local tipple and in Georgia it’s called chacha. Now listen, we’re slightly anxious even mentioning the word, it’s seriously strong stuff. One thing you can’t avoid while in Georgia is the local’s incredibly warm hospitality and often what comes with that is a shot of the ultra-strong local brandy brew, called chacha.
It’s often served after dinner, as a toast to newcomers and quite frankly it’s complete rocket fuel. It’s a right of passage in Tbilisi, but we did warn you that it’s likely to blow your head off and leave you feeling a little delicate the next day, particularly if you really get into the swing of things.
#7. Street art
There are many reasons why Tbilisi has been coined the “new Berlin” by many travel sites – the techno and electronic music scene is one obvious similarity, as is the explosion of liberality since the country shook off the shackles of the Soviet Union.
Another is the vast array of colour on the city’s walls.
The city has quickly become one of the most painted city destinations in the northern hemisphere.
There are many stunning murals dotted around the city, thanks to a number of big local street art projects and famous graffiti artists from across the world are now flocking to the city.
You can’t go very far in Tbilisi without spotting a piece of artwork and colour on the walls – no where is that more apparent than the unique Fabrika development.
A former industrial site, which is painted head to toe in street art, now houses a large hostel, many cafes, restaurants, bars, a barber shop, a paint supply shop, artist studios and many other independent businesses and coworking spaces.
Wander the streets of Tbilisi and soak up the stunning array of artwork on the city’s walls.
Georgia is said to be the birth place of wine and the tipple is a very big deal in Tbilisi. Despite its rich history in wine growing, Georgian wine often doesn’t have the same mass reach as some other wine producers in countries such as France or Italy.
That said, some of the world’s tastiest wines can be found in this beautiful country and there is an endless amount of fully stocked wine bars all over the Georgian capital.
Sampling some of the city’s vino delights is an absolute must in Tbilisi, particularly the country’s speciality wine, which has a unusual orange colour – incredibly tasty.
If you like your wine then a visit to a beautiful wine bar called 8,000 vintages has to be on your tick list.
They have multiple venues around the city and it’s exactly what it says on the tin – 8,000 different wines for you to work through.
#9. Dezerter Market
We always like visiting local markets wherever we visit, but Tbilisi’s is particularly special. Dezerter is a chaotic melting pot, with sights and smells coming from every angle.
From live animals and beautiful local street food dishes, to an enormous vintage clothes warehouse, spices and everything in between.
It really is a bustling market in every sense. Wander the narrow passages, alleyways and large warehouses and find yourself some tasty food or a bargain.
#10. Antiques hunting
Tbilisi is a wonderfully eclectic place, where meetings of worlds often collide in beautiful harmony – both in design, fashion, cultures and many other areas. Nowhere is that more apparent than at the Saarbrucken Bridge flea market.
Among professional antiques collectors you’ll also find gaggles of local people selling all sorts of weird and wonderful items from the back of cars and suitcases by the side of the road, alongside artists selling their wares.
You can find former Soviet era passports, alongside gas masks, animal horns, beautiful artwork and all manner of other oddities, antiques and collectables.
It’s a wonderful place to walk around and try and grab a bargain.
#11. Café, restaurant and bar hopping in Vera
The traditional restaurants, serving up the hearty Georgian cuisine, are absolutely delicious. However, there is far more to Tbilisi’s food and drink scene than the historic favourites.
The city has a booming food and drink scene, with stunning independent cafes, bars and restaurants popping up on a daily basis.
No where is that more apparent than the hipster Vera area, situated in the shadow of the Mtatsminda Mountain.
The area has a whiff of Shoreditch in London or Nørrebro in Copenhagen – with a vast array of cool coffee roasteries, craft beer and natural wine bars, alongside fashion boutiques, coworking spaces and art clad walls.
Some of the tastiest new wave eateries and bars can be found in this part of the city.
Tbilisi is a city surrounded by mountains and naturally that creates wonderful hiking territory, right on the city’s doorstep.
Much of the city, on the western bank of Mtkvari River, is sandwiched up against mountains and hillsides, with easily accessible routes leading from built up areas to the hill and mountain tops.
From here you have beautiful views across the whole city, but you can also venture further and explore hundreds of kilometres of hilltop hiking trails, which technically lead all the way to the country’s southern border.
Although the city is densely built up and busy with people and traffic, it’s very easy to find some peace, quiet and natural beauty.
So get out exploring into the hills above the city and get a stomp on.
Although Tbilisi has shaken off its Soviet era image in many ways, there is one very distinct reminder around the city. The city is awash with Soviet era architecture and mosaics, and in huge numbers.
The density of bizarre concrete architecture is higher than many places on earth and it makes fascinating viewing for fans of design and Brutalism.
There are buildings of all shapes and sizes dotted around the city, along with abandoned funicular stations, swimming pools, industrial buildings and many other large sites, which were left after the Russians hastily retreated.
Along with the empty relics, there are also beautiful and innovative new uses for some of the enormous concrete structures, with new hotels, nightclubs, bars and restaurants.
Tbilisi is a city which will surprise you at every corner. Just as you think you’ve got a grasp on Georgian capital it will throw up a wonderful surprise. It’s a complete melting pot of cultures, religions, architecture, designs, liberality and creativity.
It’s one of the most exciting cities on the planet, which has a very unique history and identity, but it’s constantly evolving as the city, more than admirably, finds its feet in the new post-Soviet era.
Although it has picture perfect, postcard’esque areas, it’s far more than a cute historic town – it’s a thriving, lively and youthful city destination, which throngs with life.
We absolutely love Tbilisi and hope you do too.