Back in March 2013, Derick and I traveled to Georgia. A country in the Caucasus region that was formerly part of the Soviet Union. This country is located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, surrounded by the Black Sea on the west, Russia on the north, Turkey and Armenia on the south, and to the southeast by Azerbaijan.
Tbilisi is the capital and the largest city of Georgia. The city is a mixture of old and new. Although Tbilisi is on its way to modernization, still the city was able to preserve their historical treasures. Their diverse architecture and the old town’s maze-like cobblestone streets are famous tourist attractions.
Certainly there are many things to do and see in Tbilisi. Unfortunately we only had two days to explore this charming and beautiful city. So we just chose some interesting sites to visit that we can accommodate during our stay. Thankfully Exotour Travel arranged everything for us so that we can make the most of our trip to Georgia.
You’ll never know what you will see and discover until you go out and about. So let me give you a tour of Tbilisi. Below are 16 things to see and enjoy while in Tbilisi.
(1) Metekhi Church of Assumption and Monument of King Vakhtang Gorgasali
Standing on the top of the cliff, overlooking the Mtkvari River is the Metekhi Church and King Vakhtang I Gorsali’s equestrian statue. King Vakhtang I Gorgasali erected the church and the fort to serve as his residence back in the 12th century. Therefore the name Metekhi literally means “the area around the palace”.
(2) Kartlis Deda – Mother of Georgia Statue
Located at the top of Sololaki Hill, the monument was built in 1958 during the celebration of Tbilisi’s 1500th anniversary. The Mother of Georgia monument symbolizes the Georgian national character in which on her left hand she holds a bowl of wine to greet those who come as friends, and in her right hand is a sword for those who come as enemies.
(3) Narikala Fortress
Overlooking the city and Kura (Mtkvari) River, stood an ancient formidable fortress. The fortress was named Shuris-tsikhe (“Invidious Fort”) when it was established in the 4th century. During the 7th century the fort was expanded by the Umayyads. The expansion continues during the rule of King David the Builder in 1089-1125. When the Mongols came they renamed the fortress “Narin Qala” (“Little Fortress”). It’s where the name Narikala came from. Although parts of the fortress were damaged by an earthquake and demolished in 1827 still majority of it was preserved and restored.
(4) Bridge of Peace
The Bridge of Peace is one of Tbilisi’s iconic landmark in the modern times. It stretches over Mtkvari River providing a unique view of Metekhi Church, Narikala Fortress and statue of city’s founder Vakhtang Gorgasali on one side, and Baratashvili Bridge and Presidential Office on the other.
Because of its form, the bridge was nicknamed the “Always Ultra” bridge for its resemblance to a ladies’ maxi-pad napkin. Hahaha.
(5) Shops at Rustavelli Avenue
The zero degree temperature didn’t stop us from exploring the treasures of Rustaveli. We started walking from the M. Kostava street heading towards the Freedom Square. It was quite a long walk, however there’s no better way to see the sights here other than walking. The avenue houses various of shops, cafes, restaurants, bookstores and duty free fashion boutiques. There were many souvenir art pieces (paintings and handmade crafts) sold along the street.
What I love about Rustaveli Avenue are the remarkable buildings you will see along the way. Some of the beautiful buildings you will see here would include the Rustaveli Cinema, Youth Palace and former Parliament Building of Georgia, Tbilisi Opera House and the Rustaveli Theater.
(6) Turtle Lake
Passing by a wooded area in the northern slope of Mtatsminda Mountain, we arrived at a beautiful lake. The lake is named Turtle Lake because of the abundance of turtle inhabitants. There are restaurants beside the lake that displays amazing views of the lake and at the same time serves delightful Georgian treats.
(7) Open Air Ethnographical Museum
The museum occupies 52 hectares of land and is arranged in eleven zones, displaying around 70 buildings and more than 8,000 items. The exhibition features the traditional darbazi-type and fiat-roofed stone houses from eastern Georgia, openwork wooden houses with gable roofs of straw or boards from western Georgia, watchtowers from the mountainous provinces of Khevsureti, Pshavi, and Svaneti, Megrelian and Imeretian wattle maize storages,Kakhetian wineries (marani), and Kartlian water mills as well as a collection of traditional household articles such as distaffs, knitting-frames, chums, clothes, carpets, pottery and furniture. There are also an early Christian “Sioni” basilica from Tianeti and a 6th-7th century familial burial vault with sarcophagus. [Source]
These traditional Georgian houses still exist. You will normally find them in the rural areas of Georgia. At first, I can’t imagine how people survive in such kind of shelter during the winter season. However, knowing their ways of surviving the freezing temperature, I was amazed.
(8) Sameba – Holy Trinity Cathedral
The cathedral consists of nine chapels (the chapels of the Archangels, John the Baptist, Saint Nino, Saint George, Saint Nicholas, the Twelve Apostles, and All Saints); five of them are situated in a large, underground compartment.
The Sameba complex, the construction of which is already completed, consists of the main cathedral church, a free-standing bell-tower, the residence of the Patriarch, a monastery, a clerical seminary and theological academy, several workshops, places for rest, etc.
(9) Wander around and get lost in Tbilisi old town
Old town Tbilisi is a small place. I wouldn’t get scared even if I get lost here. A bit of excitement and adventure makes every travel a memorable one and worth it. So explore and get lost!
(10) Sulfur Spring Bath
Tbilisi is rich with natural hot springs. According to the legend, the name Tbilisi is connected with it. ‘Tbili’ means warm in Georgian. One day when King Vakhtang went hunting, he happened to shoot a pheasant. The pheasant fell wounded into a nearby spring, surprisingly the pheasant bounded and apparently healed. From there King Vakhtang deemed the life-giving water a good location for his new city. He founded Tbilisi near these hot sulfur springs and named it after them.
These sulfur spring baths are open to everyone who wants to experience a relaxing and healing bath. I didn’t try it actually. I’m not comfortable taking a bath in such kind of environment. But I might consider it the next time I’ll be back in Tbilisi.
(11) Cable car ride
Riding the cable car is one of the best way to enjoy a bird’s eye view of the city. The short cable car ride gives you a glimpse of the Old Town. It also gives a convenient access to the Narikala Fortress and Mother of Georgia monument without killing yourself climbing through the top.
(12) Visit the Treasury of Art Museum
If you’re a museum fan, then Tbilisi’s treasury and art museum is worth a visit. The museum houses a number fine art pieces, artifacts, antiquities and historical treasures. Sorry I don’t have photos to show since taking pictures inside the museum isn’t allowed.
(13) Georgian National Opera Theater
Formerly known as the Tiflis Imperial Theater, this opera house is situated on Rustaveli Avenue in Tbilisi, Georgia. Founded in 1851, the Georgian National Opera Theater is the main opera house of Georgia and is one of the oldest of such establishments in eastern Europe.
The opera house is one of the centers of cultural life in Tbilisi and was once home to Zacharia Paliashvili, the Georgian national composer whose name the institution has carried since 1937. The Opera and Ballet Theater also houses the State Ballet of Georgia under the leadership of internationally renowned Georgian ballerina Nina Ananiashvili. In recent years it has hosted opera stars such as Montserrat Caballé and José Carreras, while also serving as a traditional venue for national celebrations and presidential inaugurations.
(14) Stay in a local owned hotel and enjoy authentic Georgian hospitality
Tbilisi has lots of accommodations to choose from. Branded hotels like Marriott, Holiday Inn, Radisson etc. can also be found in the city. However we decided to stay in a local-family owned hotel to experience authentic Georgian hospitality.
We stayed in Garden View Hotel which is ideally located near to everything. It is an old building converted into hotel. The hotel is full of character both inside and outside. The facade showcased old Georgian charms with big windows and balconies. Our room was big and elegantly decorated with modern amenities.
One of the highlights of our stay was the warm hospitality we experienced during breakfast. The breakfast attendant named Rita was very accommodating. She was like a mother feeding her children the best way she can. Imagine every morning she brought all the food to our table and even cooked extra goodies for us. Everything she prepared was very delicious. Despite her inability to speak English it didn’t stop her to make us feel loved and welcome.
(15) Sample Georgian Food
Kachapuri is a traditional Georgian dish. It is a bread filled with cheese. It looks like pizza but it’s not. I would still prefer pizza honestly. It doesn’t taste bad. However the cheese that was being used for this particular kachapuri was too intense which made me gulp a liter of cola to wash the tangy taste and saltiness. Perhaps my palate is used to subtle tasting cheese like cheddar, hahaha. At least I got to try it.
Khinkali is a Georgian dumpling. This dish is a bell-shaped meat dumpling filled with minced pork, lamb, beef and spices. Compared to Chinese dumplings, Khinkali has a thick dough that holds the broth when the minced meat is being cooked. According to the locals, this particular dish should be eaten by holding the doughy twisted end and then sucking the juice before consuming the dumplings.
(16) Watch out for Street Performers
It’s not only fine pieces of arts you will find in Tbilisi, but also some great and talented Georgians if I may say. Under the pedestrian tunnel, Derick and I found ourselves dancing and enjoying every bit of music we heard from these buskers. They performed like a pro and I strongly believed that they deserved a dollar and a big round of applause.
Before I forget did I mention that this city offers free WiFi Internet access to everyone? Yes, that’s one of the things I love about Tbilisi. They make sure their visitors will have a great experience. You can conveniently upload your photos and let the world knows what you’re up to. Simply connect to TbilisiLovesYou and keep those photos coming. The city lived by their words as their slogan goes “Tbilisi Loves You!” Truly Tbilisi loves you!
There’s no doubt Tbilisi has something for everyone. Derick and I had a wonderful time exploring this beautiful city. Hopefully this article will inspire you to visit Georgia one day.