Tbilisi, with its ideal location on the banks of the Mtkvari River, is not only the capital of Georgia, but is also a city steeped in history. With visa restrictions for GCC residents being lifted this year there has never been a better time to visit this wonderful city.
Tbilisi was once described as "The fabulous land" by the great poet Alexander Pushkin but today it is Georgia’s largest city and a must-see destination for travelers thanks to its vibrant local culture and abundance of landmarks.
Legend has it that Tbilisi was founded by King Vakhtang I Gorgasali of Georgia while hunting in the area. Since it’s very early days, the city has been destroyed more than 29 times at the hands of invaders eager to benefit from its economic and strategic advantages. Each time, Tbilisi was rebuilt - an important factor that has contributed to the city’s longstanding and rich cultural history.
Thanks to Tbilisi’s unique history, there’s a variety of sights on offer. Visitors can get lost in the diversity of the Art Deco buildings and Soviet churches in Old Town. One can always take a walk around, explore the vibrant heart of the city and get accustomed to the traditions of the Georgian people.
Old Town: With its brick-build homes that feature wooden balconies and narrow, winding streets, Old Town is a great place to explore and take in the interesting architecture. Parts of Old Town have been renovated, but there are still plenty of areas that feel almost untouched, which makes for picturesque sightseeing opportunities.
For a glimpse of the famous sulfur baths, visit the Abanotubani area in the northern edge of Old Town. After a revitalising bath, head towards Chardeni in the North East to experience the nightlife and restaurants of this area.
Freedom Square: With its tourist information center and unique pedestrian walkway, Freedom Square forms the heart of Tbilisi. It features plenty of hotels and offices as well as an interesting golden statue of Saint George that is located in the middle of the square.
Narikala Fortress: For excellent panoramic views of Tbilisi, make your way to the top of Narikala Fortress. There is also a tourist trail winding around the fortress that offers breathtaking views all the way up. The fortress dates back to the 4th century and was expanded over the years by the various occupants.
The years, and a couple of earthquakes, have taken their toll on the fortress, but it is worth the trip for the views and to see St. Nicolas church in its lower court. For anyone who finds the steps too daunting, there is the option to use a cable car to get to the top. Near the fortress in the Tsavkisis-Tskali Gorge is also where the national botanic garden of Georgia is located.
Metekhi Cathedral: No visit to Tbilisi would be complete without checking out Metekhi Cathedral. It is strategically perched on a rocky area above the Metekhi Bridge and has been restored many times since its construction in the 13th century. Next to the church is a bronze statue of the city founder, King Vakhtang Gorgasali, on horseback which dates back to the 1960s.
There are plenty of establishments in Tbilisi where visitors can enjoy the delectable local cuisine of Georgia. Don’t expect individual courses either as most meals are feasts of hot and cold dishes for people to share.
For snacks, try out the lobiani, which is bean stuffed bread or khachapuri, which is cheese bread. Delicious Turkish cuisine is available from the halal restaurants in the city and most of the big stores also sell clearly marked halal meat. Traditional shops selling fresh fruit can also be found everywhere.
To view the museums, opera houses and art galleries of Tbilisi, a stroll along Rustaveli Avenue should not be missed. Souvenir hunters will appreciate Dry Bridge, the flea market that takes place along the river banks every Saturday.
For handmade accessories and other souvenirs, Meidan Bazaar usually offers a nice selection as well. Tbilisi is a city of contrasts where the old and new seamlessly mixes to provide visitors with an experience unlike any other.
For more information make sure you read our Tbilisi Destination Guide.
Georgia now allows visitors from GCC nations to enter the country for 90-day visits without visas. Just make sure you have your passport with you for any additional security checks. When you get to Tbilisi and decide to go exploring on foot always be cautious and aware of the traffic.
Pedestrian crossings are a rare sight and traffic can be chaotic. Old Town offers some respite from the sheer volume of vehicle traffic, but everywhere else extra caution is required to cross roads.