If you’re thinking about going to Tbilisi, the first thing I have to tell you is “great choice, you’ll love it!” Georgia’s capital is impressive even for the experienced traveler and it is packed with things to do and see. What’s more remarkable is the scenery change happening over just a few kilometers, witnessing Tbilisi’s rich history and its current effort of modernization.
It is not easy to write about what to see and do in Tbilisi. So, I decided to simply present to you the places that I remember well from my trip in April 2018. Some of them spotted by our Tbilisi locals, some too obvious for Spotted by Locals, but still worth visiting!
Clock Tower in Old Town
Now, I know that writing a travel guide and recommending a city’s Old Town falls into triteness. Yeah, nobody ever thought about visiting a city’s old town right? However, Tbilisi is a bit of another story when it comes to the Old Town. I promise you won’t regret it if you keep reading!
So, Shavteli Street: write down this name as this is where you will find the most bizarre building ever. I’m talking about Tbilisi’s Clock Tower! It’s a rather short tower, that appears to be on the brink of falling down, and might trick you into thinking it’s a very old building. False! Believe it or not, this tower dates back to… 2011. It is the idea of Gabriadze, the famous puppeteer who also built the Gabriadze theater to its side, reusing old pieces from abandoned buildings. Every hour, the bell on the tower strikes and a little show goes on representing the circle of life.
A few minutes walking ahead, and you’ll find yourself on the ultra-modern Bridge of Peace. As I said, the change of scenery in Tbilisi is quite unexpected.
Bridge of Peace
Since I mentioned it, let’s talk to you about this interesting building in Tbilisi. The Bridge of Peace is a light suspended metal figure taking an elegant, curvy shape and it’s composed of a steel structure with a glass canopy top. This bridge connects the Old Town with the new district and passes over the Kura River. Designed by the Italian architect Michele de Lucchi, it was built in Italy and transported to Tbilisi with 200 trucks.
The even more impressive part is the LED lighting system designed by French light designer Philippe Martinaud. The main show starts just before sunset and ends just after sunrise, and consists of four different light patterns running every hour on the canopy. Enough? Not at all. There’s a motion-sensitive array of LEDs that lights up as soon as you walk on the bridge. And once you’re there, if look up you’ll see a Morse Code message rendering the period table running on the canopy.
This impressive piece of engineering and architecture opened in May 2010 and is now a famous landmark in Tbilisi. It did encounter some criticism though, mostly because of its very contemporary look.
If you, like me, are in love with open-air ancient ruins of castles and fortress, this is your spot. Narikala fortress is especially impressive because it’s quite well preserved, and easy to access from the city center. Yes, no need to organize transportation, just walk a few minutes up from the Sulfur Baths. Isn’t it great?
Built in the 4th century as a Persian citadel, it got its name from the Mongols. Throughout history, it was Arabs, Georgians, and Turks that ruled it and expanded it. Unfortunately, in 1827, a huge explosion wrecked the fortress and now only the walls remain. I really love this place as it provides a cross-section of Georgia’s multicultural past and rich history.
Once up there, the view over the city is truly stunning. The fortress is quite big and you can have a lot of fun climbing up all the walls to get the perfect panorama spot – be careful though, as there are no safety measures in place! I definitely recommend finishing your day here, in order to catch the sight of the sunset over the city. And spend some time chilling and imagining you’re time-traveling through all those centuries and events this fortress has withstood.
Botanical Garden Tbilisi
Another option for early-birds is to get to Narikala Fortress in the morning to see the sunrise. Then, you can walk up the hill and then spend a morning visiting the nearby botanical garden. Besides having an impressive collection of plants that counts more than 4,500 taxonomic groups, it’s a lovely place to walk and explore. It spreads over an area of 161 hectares and even includes a scenic waterfall!
The garden is situated at the foot of the Sololaki ridge and consists of a series of historic artificial terraces. Looking at the different structures, planting, and buildings you can see all the different phases of expansion under different rules. There are a lot of trees, many self-set ones, which makes for a very nice green area with lots of shadow in summer.
Another interesting sight in this garden, on top of the Sololaki hill, is the Mother of Georgia statue. Representing a woman in Georgian traditional dress, it’s a colossal statue, visible from far away. It symbolizes Georgian character: a cup of wine in one hand, for friends, and a sword in the other, for enemies.
Georgian is a very ancient language, with many unique features as it developed as nearly-isolated. Indeed, they even developed their own writing script that is peculiar to Georgian (and some other Kartvelian languages of Georgia) only. A dream for every language lover and linguistics geek! (Like me. Yeah, you got me.)
Georgians are especially proud of their language as it represents their culture. On April 14th, 1978 they protested against Soviet authorities that wanted to revoke its official status in favor of Russian. On that date, more than 100.000 citizens reunited to protest in a park that is now called Dedaena, meaning “Mother Language”.
At the present moment, Dedaena Park is decorated with a series of statues representing the 33 letters of the Georgian alphabet. Also, there’s a monument to the native language representing the protests of 1978. Every year on April 14th, celebrations take place to remember the protests from 1978, with events and exhibitions promoting Georgian.
Dry Bridge Flea Market
As I said, Tbilisi gathers plenty of interesting spots over a very little area. Indeed, on the other side of Dedaena Park and on the road leading to Saarbrucken Bridge, lies another gem. It’s Tbilisi’s Flea Market, that gives you the opportunity to peek into life under the URSS, similarly to what happens in other post-Soviet cities.
What’s cool about this market though is that it’s popular among locals and tourists alike, both for different reasons. Indeed, older generation Georgians come here looking for cheaper practical items, while tourists are on the hunt for Soviet memorabilia to bring home. I find it amusing to watch the two cultures meet and interact. If you come here, I really recommend you take your time to people-watch.
As for what you can find, well there’s anything, fake and true, Soviet and pre-Soviet, original gems and old junk. You’ll find plenty of practical items like old cutlery, knives, samovar, other tech stuff old telephones and radios, and plenty of coins. Actually, many booths are all about Soviet coins and most tourists come here for that. For history and numismatic lovers, it’s a real paradise!
Also, if you walk to the other side of the bridge, there’s another park with fences full of artwork. They are handmade by local people and while mostly produced for tourists, you can still find interesting pieces. If you’re not into souvenirs, taking a stroll through the park is cool as well. It’s so colorful and lively, I love hanging out in a green area where there are cool paintings and art to look at everywhere. Green spaces and art, I wish that was the norm in every city!
If you want to buy, know that it’s a very well-known and popular market. Don’t expect everything to be a rare item! Being a photography lover, I was checking out cameras and I found both cheap modern Kodak disposable cameras and rare medium-format folding cameras, peculiar to the URSS in the 60s. So my best advice for buying something is that you really know what you’re looking for. Also, remember haggling is the norm, but always respect sellers and their job.
This was the first place I visited upon arriving in Tbilisi and I could not have chosen a better start! Mtatsminda is a famous landscaped park that lies on the highest point of Tbilisi at 770mt. This means it offers the best view of the whole city – it truly is breathtaking!
Another cool feature is that you can get there by funicular. It’s a very steep ride, but a fun way to get up the mountain. Once on top, there are a lot of attractions and activities catered towards every kind of visitor. If you just want to chill, there are restaurants and bars, lots of green, shops, entertainment zones. And if you’re into more extreme activities, there are attractions like the famous Giant Wheel, 60 meters high, rollercoasters, and rafting options.
It’s literally impossible to get bored here! I recommend spending some hours here, either trying all the attractions or chilling under a tree with a book and some snacks.
At one point, every traveler needs a break. Your feet are sore, you need WiFi to text your family you’re still alive and would love a drink. Now, I’m not a huge fan of big chains especially when I travel, and I’m always on the hunt for some local, nice cafe. It’s always a wonderful way to meet locals, other travelers, read travel guides, taste local snacks, etc.
In Tbilisi, I found Prospero’s Books to be the perfect place. I got here on a rainy, cold afternoon to warm up and it has been hard to leave the place – so comfy! It’s a big place with plenty of space, free WiFi, and sockets at almost every table. They have a great selection of books about Georgian cuisine, wine and history, and some travel guides as well.
The vibe is really nice and you’ll meet lots of fellow travelers, and local people here all speak English and are often willing to meet tourists. I really recommend you come here for some travel inspiration, and especially if you travel solo it’s the perfect place to get to know some people in Tbilisi.
And where do the locals go?
Can’t wait to take that plane already, right? While you’re waiting, you can use our Tbilisi city guide to plan the perfect trip. We have a selection of cool, off-the-beaten-path spots recommended by local people, made for travelers like you!