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Tbilisi is easily one of the most interesting cities that I’ve ever been to. Tbilisi is both super cool and charming at the same time. It possesses a cool artsy vibe that parallels that of Berlin and clear remberants of the Soviet era, but it is also filled with cobblestone streets and bright colors in the Old Town.
The Basics of Visiting Tbilisi, Georgia
Language: Georgian is the official and primary language of Georgia. Not too hard to remember! Unless we’re talking about the actual language itself, which is extremely difficult to learn.
Currency: Georgian Lari ($1 USD = 3.12 GEL as of October 2021). 100 Tetri are equal to a single Lari.
Location: Georgia is located at the intersection of Europe and Asia, making it a melting pot of cultures. Georgia borders Russia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia.
Name: Locally, Georgia (the Republic of Georgia) is known as Sakartvelo. There is a movement to get the name formally changed, partially to avoid confusion with the state of Georgia in the US.
Visa: Traveling to Georgia is incredibly easy as they offer a super lenient visa policy. Passport holders from 98 different countries can enter Georgia visa-free for up to 365 days. Bonus, you are even allowed to work under this visa.
Best Time to Visit Georgia
The quick answer? Right now! Tourism has been on the rise in Georgia over the past few years, and I expect to see an even bigger spike in tourism as travel properly resumes in 2022.
However, what you’re probably actually wondering is what time of year is best to visit Georgia when planning your Georgia itinerary. From everything I’ve read, late spring and early fall are the best seasons to be in Georgia. You’ll get more mild temperatures during these seasons, which is great if you plan to head up to the mountains and hike. We visited in mid-September and it was perfect! We timed up our trip to align with the harvest season in Kakheti (Rtveli), which is a magical experience in itself for any wine lovers.
Summers in Georgia are also great, but you can except high temperatures in the cities, and the largest number of tourists. Temperatures in the cities like Tbilisi can be a bit unbearable, but summer is a good opportunity to escape to Georgia’s seaside.
Getting to Tbilisi, Georgia
Getting to Georgia is fairly easy from Europe, as there are a number of airlines that fly into Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi. Tbilisi has direct flights from a number of major cities across Europe and the Middle East. We flew Turkish Airlines direct from Istanbul, which is one of the most common layover options coming from the US. Unfortunately there are not currently any direct flights from the US to Georgia – maybe one day (fingers crossed)!
While most travelers fly directly into Tbilisi, you also have the option of flying into Kutaisi, located about 3.5 hours from Tbilisi by car or bus. Many of the low-cost European airlines like WizzAir operate flights into Kutaisi, so you can usually snag a cheap flight.
Getting to Tbilisi from the Airport
There are a number of options of getting from the Tbilisi International Airport to the Tbilisi city center. Since we arrived on the later side, with our flight landing after 9pm, we booked a private car through GoTrip. Our ride was just 35 GEL ($11.50), and our driver was waiting for us with a sign when we arrived. You will need to pay in cash, so make sure to take some money out of the ATM. Booking a car through GoTrip is a much better option than taking a taxi from the airport, where you are sure to get ripped off.
You can also take the bus from the airport if you are looking for a more budget-friendly option. The bus #37 operates every 15 minutes and takes just under an hour to get to the city center from the airport. The bus costs 0.5 Lari, or 50 Tetri ($0.20).
Getting Around Tbilisi
There are tons of different options for getting around Georgia depending on your itinerary and budget. Luckily, they are all rather affordable and super straight forward.
Tbilisi is super walkable, and you can see a lot of the major sites and restaurants/bars easily by foot. I recommend spending some time simply wandering and getting lost in the different nooks and crannies of the city. This is my favorite way to get to know a new city better. You never know what you are going to uncover along the way from point A to point B.
There are also tons of walking tours available that you can book as well!
Within the city of Tbilisi, I recommend using the Bolt app to get around. Bolt is the local version of Uber. It is both cheap and easy to use, with tons of cars available at any hour. You can expect to pay between 3-6 GEL to get to most locations in the city.
Tbilisi has a rather extensive metro and bus system that you can take advantage of when visiting the city. While Bolt is a budget friendly option as well, public transportation will always give you a more local experience. A single ride costs 50 Tetri ($0.20) and is super easy to use. There are various Metrocard options available for purchase, along with single ride tickets.
Best Things to do in Tbilisi
Visit the Dry Bridge Flea Market
The Dry Bridge Market is a daily market in Tbilisi where you can find antiques, paintings, maps, and more. Exploring the market was one of our favorite things to do in Tbilisi. We walked away with an old film camera, a few antique maps, and a painting of the city that currently hangs on the walls of our tiny Brooklyn apartment. Make sure to bargain though, as they are known to try to rip off unsuspecting tourists!
The market is open daily from 10am to 5pm, weather permitting.
The Clock Tower
Located just a 10 minute walk from the Dry Bridge Flea Market, you’ll find one of Tbilisi’s most popular spots: the clock tower. The tower is tucked along a small little road, but you can usually find a number of people there snapping photos.
Built in 2011, the clock tower is attached to the puppet theatre, and houses both the largest and smallest clock in Tbilisi. There are plenty of other small intricate details on the clock to check out.
Wander Old Tbilisi
Wandering and getting lost in the Old Tbilisi in one of the best things to do in the city. We felt that we discovered something new as we turned each corner, especially as we wandered away from the main tourist attractions.
I will admit that we didn’t get a chance to visit Narikala Fortress ourselves, but as one of the most popular things to do in Tbilisi, I couldn’t not include it! Narikala is considered a symbol of Tbilisi’s defense that dates back to the 4th century.
For just a couple of Lari you can take a cable car to the fortress. There is no need to book ahead, as you can simply use your Metro card to purchase the trip. The views from the fortress offer some of the best of the Old Town down below. Unfortunately, on the day that we were planning to visit it was raining quite a bit so we opted for a cozy bath house afternoon instead.
Fabrika is a former soviet sewing factory that has been converted into one of the best places to socialize in Tbilisi. The space offers a hostel, a number of casual restaurants, and plenty of space to drink, as well as a few boutiques.
This places oozes with ~cool vibes~, and is definitely a cool spot to hang with a mix of locals and tourists.
Visit an ancient Sulphur Bath
In Tbilisi, you’ll find almost a dozen ancient bath houses. The majority of these Persian-Ottoman style bath are located in the area of Abanotubani in the Old Town. These sulphur bath houses are a must-have experience when visiting Tbilisi. That said, not all bath houses are the same. They range from budget-friendly to luxury, public to private.
Booking an hour at one of the bath houses was one of our favorite experiences in Tbilisi. You typically book an hour or two in one of the private rooms. Prices range from $40-120 depending on the size of the room. Make sure that you book ahead! We tried to book same day and ended up with one of the more expensive rooms at Chreli Abano that fits up to 13 people, oops.
When you book your room, you’ll have time and privacy to enjoy the various hot and cold baths, the saunas, and steam rooms. You also have the option of booking a kisi, or scrub. The additional scrub typically costs 20 GEL and lasts about 15 minutes. A woman will enter the room and fully scrub down your body as you lay on a slab of marble. It is definitely an interesting experience, and will leave your skin feeling super smooth!
Visit the Chronicles of Georgia
Although slightly outside of the city center along the sea, the Chronicles of Georgia was one of my favorite things to do in Georgia. The monument consists of 16 pillars, each 30-35 meters each. As the name suggests, the monument chronicles the history of Georgia.
The easiest way to reach the Chronicles of Georgia is by a private Bolt car, the equivalent of Uber in Georgia. The average price is 20-40 GEL each way, and takes 20-25 minutes by car.
Enjoy Georgian Cuisine
Georgian cuisine is a reason enough to plan your next trip to Georgia. Below I’ve outlined some of the best places to eat in Georgia, but I also want to highlight a few dishes that you must try while in Tbilisi.
- Khinkali – if you only eat one thing in Georgia (if that is even possible), let is be khinkali. These are essentially Georgian soup dumplings that you eat with your hands. These doughy dumplings are filled with meat, potatoes, and/or cheese.
- Khachapuri – Easily the most popular Georgian dish outside of Georgian, eating Khachapuri is one of the best things to do in Tbilisi. One thing you’ll learn very quickly is that there are many different types of Khachapuri. The most popular are Adjarian khachapuri (filled with egg and cheese), Lobiani (filled with beans), Khabizgina (filled with potato).
- Lobio – a simple, yet super popular bean soup, traditionally served in a clay pot.
- Shkmeruli – a crispy chicken dish served in a creamy, garlicky sauce.
- Georgian Salad – at almost any restaurant you can expect to find a Georgian salad – a simple salad of cucumber, tomato, oil, and seasonings.
- Nigvziani Badrijani – easily one of my favorite things to eat in Georgia were these simple eggplant rolls. Fried eggplant strips rolled up and stuffed with a creamy walnut filling. Topped with fresh pomegranate, these roll ups are a must-try!
Where to Stay in Tbilisi
There first thing to figure out is which neighborhood you want to stay in when visiting Tbilisi. Vake is a popular option for first-time visitors. It is an upscale neighborhood with a number of luxury hotel options. Old Town is a good option if you’re looking to enjoy Tbilisi’s bustling nightlife. Avlabari is a popular spot to stay in for younger travelers, or those traveling on a budget.
We stayed at a penthouse airbnb in a more residential neighborhood. While it was a bit far walking from many of the popular things to do, Bolt made it super easy to get around.
- Penthouse Airbnb – we absolutely fell in love with our airbnb in Tbilisi. Although it wasn’t super central, private Bolt cars made it super easy to get around. The apartment was huge, with a large bedroom, living room, and spacious kitchen. There is also a large outdoor patio and a rooftop with 360 panoramic views of the entire city.
- Kita’s Apartment – our first night in Tbilisi we stayed at a super simple airbnb in the center of the city. The apartment was spacious and the host was super friendly. For just $36/night, this is a great budget option.
- Rooms Hotel Tbilisi – we stayed at another branch of Rooms Hotel in Kazbegi and fell in love with all of the intricate details of the hotel. I can only imagine that their Tbilisi hotel is just as amazing.
- Stamba Hotel – one of the top hotels in the whole country, Stamba Hotel is still quite reasonably priced.
- Fabrika Hostel – a great budget option for younger travelers looking to socialize.
Where to Eat in Tbilisi
Gosh, there are so many amazing places to eat in Tbilisi that I don’t even know where to start. I’ve outlined just a few of my absolute favorites below that I recommend not missing.
We attempted to dine at Salobie Bia our first night in Tbilisi, and were disappointed to find out that it was fully booked out. Luckily, we were able to snag a reservation for the final evening of our trip.
Natural wine restaurant with an incredible selection of wines and craft beers, as well as pizza by the slice. The full menu is super veggie forward, and pairs nicely with the many wines available. We stumbled upon this place on a Friday night and the energy was great!
Asi Khinkali is a go-to for some of the best khinkali in the city. Lucky for us, it was just a quick walk from our airbnb. We stopped by for lunch on our first rainy day and it was the perfect hearty meal.
If you’re looking for the famous Adjarian Khachapuri, this is your spot. This famous dish is shaped like a boat and filled with cheese, egg, and lots and lots of butter. Mix it all together and rip off pieces from the edge to dip into the boat’s center.
However, the khachapuri wasn’t the only thing to write home about. They had excellent khinkali, a delicious tomato and cucumber salad (pictured below), and delicious soup.
Admittedly we didn’t get to have a meal here during our time in Tbilisi as it was still closed, despite the city coming out of lockdown. However, I read too many amazing things about this restaurant to not include it on my list. Do a favor for me a check it out for dinner and report back please.
Where to Drink in Tbilisi
If it wasn’t clear from the many times I’ve mentioned in on this guide – drink the Georgian wine. However, there are also some cool cocktails to check out, which I’m shared below as well. Here are just a few of my favorites:
- Black Dog Bar
- mvino Underground
- Barbar’a Bar
- Wine Factory N1
- Poliphonia Tbilisi
How Much Does it Cost to Visit Tbilisi, Georgia
If you’re traveling on a budget, you’ll be happy to know that traveling to Georgia, and specifically Tbilisi, can be extremely affordable. Here is a breakdown of the type of costs to expect:
- Accomodation: $35–$200 USD/night (cheaper if you book a hostel)
- Average Meal: $5-$15 USD (including drinks)
- Glass of wine: $3-$5 USD
- Khinkali: $0.20 USD each
- Bolt Ride: $1-2 USD/ride
Tips for Visiting Tbilisi
Buy a SIM card
The international service in Tbilisi, and throughout Georgia, is quite spotty. Despite having a T-Mobile international plan, my cell service was minimal through most of the country. I recommend grabbing a SIM card from the airport when you arrive. Just make sure that your phone is unlocked.
I know I mentioned this above but I feel like I need to reiterate. Drink all of the amazing wine in Georgia. Georgia is home to some of the best winemakers in the world, and you have it all at your fingertips in Tbilisi.
Planning a trip to Georgia? Here are some other articles to check out: