Destination Guide

Tbilisi, Georgia

Open Your Heart to Tbilisi

Tbilisi was founded in the 5th-century on the hot springs from which it gets its name. Tbilisi means “warm” in old Georgian, and legend has it that King Erekle was so impressed by the sulfur springs he decided to build a new city right away. 

In reality, Tbilisi was one of the most strategically placed cities in Eurasia as it was on the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Its role on the Silk Road always made it prone to foreign invaders. Persians to Mongols and, more recently, the Soviet Red Army have left their mark on the city in the form of monuments, stunning architecture, and, most importantly, the variety of flavors in the typical Georgian cuisine. 

As Georgia’s capital and largest city, Tbilisi has plenty of things to do. The city has a rich and exciting history to explore on foot and great places to reflect and relax, eat local food and taste Georgia’s vast range of wine, which transports you through 8000 years of wine history. Georgia has the world’s oldest and longest unbroken tradition of wine, making it the world’s most historic wine country, and there is no better city than Tbilisi to explore this tradition.

Where to eat and drink

Tbilisi is a beautiful food city with wonderfully chaotic markets, dumpling joints, and a plethora of wine bars. 

Gvino 6 Erekle II

The owners of dog-friendly hotel g.Vino own a fantastic wine and tapas bar right in the heart of the city’s tourist center. The décor is bohemian chic with a nod to Tbilisi’s daily Dry Bridge flea market. They offer flights of wine from all over Georgia, a vast portfolio of bottles, and delicious seasonal food to accompany the wine. It is best to get a table outside so you can play with the local street dogs that tend to hang around the place. 

Tamtaki 22 Dimitri Bagrdadze Street

Tamtaki is a modern concept restaurant conceptualized by chef Tamta Kikileighvili, previously the chef at Gvino Hotel, uniting Georgian flavors with European techniques in a street food format. They opened right at the beginning of the Covid pandemic, but it did not slow them down. They adapted to new regulations by offering more takeaway options. Ms. Kikileighvili pays the utmost attention to details to sourcing ingredients and presentation. The result is delicious food that is perfectly Instagramable.   

 Retro 10 Davit Gamrekeli Street

Khachapuri is one of Georgia’s national dishes. It is so essential to Georgian identity that there is a khachapuri index or Kh Index that measures inflation. Though there are regional versions of khachapuri, the most famous and photographed is Adjarian khachapuri, a bread boat filled with gooey cheese and topped with an egg and a pat of butter. While it may not be the healthiest dish, it is a must eat and there is no place better in Tbilisi than Retro. Retro’s original branch is in Batumi, Adjara, where the dish originates. There is a wood-fired oven, and the cooks are pumping out khachapuri and lobiani, a bean pie, all day long. It is definitely worth the taxi ride. 

Take in the sights

Dry Bridge Market 

Treasure hunters cannot miss the daily Dry Bridge Market, which isn’t actually on a bridge; it’s at the edge of the Vere Park. Come ready with tote bags, cash and willingness to haggle. Everything from plates to Soviet-era Bohemian crystal to incredible real silverware to Soviet replicas is represented. People bring their antiques every day and try to sell them to passersby. I always walk the entire perimeter of the market and try not to impulse buy. It’s worth paying for the extra suitcase for the number of treasures you’ll find for unbelievably low prices.

Rustaveli Street 

Walk down the Rustaveli Str, which gets its name from Georgia’s national poet, Shoka Rustaveli. It’s a great homage to turn of the century architecture and includes a range of buildings such as surprisingly airy and spacious Stalinist and lovely art nouveau. Visit the

National Georgian Museum It’s small but worth it for the 9000-year-old qvevri, and the remains of the oldest hominid fossils ever found outside of Africa. Of particular interest is the section of the museum dedicated to the Soviet occupation of Georgia and the many partisans and freedom fighters who gave their lives to achieve liberation for Georgia. 

 

Old Town 

Cross the river on the pedestrian Bridge of Peace, a gorgeous Italian-designed tribute to Georgia’s commitment to tolerance and peace, then take the cable car from Rike Park on the left bank across the river and up to the 6th century Narikala fortress. Have a lovely stroll down through Old Tbilisi and finish with a soak at the sulfur baths.

Travel through photographs

Kalidoscope house 

One of the best places to photograph in Old Tbilisi is in a little 19th-century house that is located on Betlemi Street. The staircase leading up to the very typical Tbilisi veranda has gorgeous multicolored stained glass windows that seem to glow as bright as Christmas lights when the sun hits them at sunset. It feels as if the unknown architect designed the veranda with sunset in mind. As the sun moves slowly down the horizon, different parts of the stairs and veranda are illuminated in dazzling rainbow colors. The old house has been preserved for over one hundred years. It is still a private residence, so please be respectful of the families who still live there.

The Chronicle of Georgia

The Chronicle of Georgia is a late Soviet area monument that chronicles the history of Georgia with monumental pillars and reliefs made depicting the kings, queens, and heroes of Georgia as well as the grapevine cross of Georgia’s most beloved saint, St. Nino, and the life of Christ. It is atop a hill overlooking Turtle Lake. Although it is outside of the city center, taking photos at the golden hour is an absolute must. 

Get connected

Tbilisi has chaotic energy; there is the patina of old age combined with a pulse of modernism. This energy is thrilling, but it can be unsustainable for the human body. There is no place better to rejuvenate yourself than the sulfur baths that Tbilisi was built upon. Rent a private room at the Orbeliani Bath House and book a scrub. The waters are near boiling hot, so it is important to stay hydrated, but entering a room under a beehive-shaped dome is nothing short of a homecoming, a gift from Mother Earth. Let the warm water wash away all your tension, and let the person scrubs your body lift away everything dead. It is like a baptism. You come out fresh and new, all tension and dead skin scrubbed away.

 

Meet the journalist:

Sarah May Grunwald is based in Rome and runs the wine and food company Taste Georgia. Her work is published by Fodors, Thrillist, SevenFifty and more.