In June we visited fantastic Georgia and its equally lovely capital, Tbilisi. We walked a lot during our two full days in the city. Actually we have a tendency to travel without a map, often resulting in awe-inspiring moments, quaint streets, and things that we unavoidably miss out on. But hey, you win some and you lose some.
While the best way to enjoy the city is by getting lost and found again by foot, we decided to make a list of the places we saw and share it with you. We are not including the Old City in the list because it’s just too obviously. Lovely, but obvious nonetheless. What surprised me about this city is that even though it is so old (and it looks old), much of it is very new.
Here you go, our list of things that one should – no, ought – see in Tbilisi.
Tbilisi: Top Nine Places to Visit
1. Narikala Fortress
Silently watching over the ancient city and the Kura River is the Narikala Fortress. The oldest parts of the fortress date back to the 4th century but it was continuously expanded. Standing on the top of a steep hill – between the Botanical Garden and the Sulfur Baths – the views are fantastic. There is not so much left of the fortress itself, but a church was built here in 1996–1997. It replaces an old church from the 13th century (that was destroyed by a far).
The best way to reach the fortress is by cable car. The cable car leaves from Rike Park and it offers stunning views of Old Tbilisi and the Mtkvari River. More courageous people can walk, but we do not recommend it, especially not in summer.
2. Funicular & Mtatsminda
There is the cable car and then there is the funicular. Opened in March 1905, the 500 meters long line treats its passengers to stunning views over the city. The line consists of three stops, with the last one being on Mt. Mtatsminda. The ride costs 2 GEL.
The station building at Chonquadze street is quite picturesque and we also enjoyed the walk to the station from Rustaveli avenue. It did, however, require quite a bit of climbing!
On Mtatsminda Mountain one can get an adrenaline rush or two in the amusement park. It is also a nice place for a Sunday stroll. The restaurant also seemed very interesting.
3. Freedom Square
At the end of Rustaveli avenue you find Freedom Square. Built in the early 19th century in a neo-classical style, this seems to be the place where all the exciting things happen. In 1907 Josef Stalin was involved in a bloody bank robbery at the State Bank on this very square. The Bolsheviks managed to get away with the equivalent of 4 million US dollars in today’s money. Remember to watch out for pickpockets!
The square has been the site for massive demonstrations and celebrations, as well as a revolution.
The former Bank of Georgia Head office is located on the square, and so is the Tbilisi City Hall. In Soviet times, the site was first known as Beria Square. The name was later changed and it was dedicated to Lenin. A huge statue of Lenin was erected here in 1956. After Georgian independence, the statue was removed and replaced by a golden statue of St. George. The statue was designed by sculptor Zurab Tsereteli, the very same guy who masterminded the statue of Peter the Great in Moscow.
4. The National Botanical Garden of Georgia
Botanical Gardens are often an oasis from the hustle and bustle of big cities. The National Botanical Garden of Georgia prides itself with waterfalls, bamboos, bridges, and a history that spans more than three centuries. The park has an area of 161 hectares so be prepared to spend a few hours here!
5. Churches & Religious Monuments
As we mentioned in our post about Mtskheta, religion has always played an important role in Georgia. It is no different in Tbilisi. We are not religious and we usually avoid entering churches. However, in the Georgian capital they are an integral part of the picturesque landscape. If you visit the city, you will surely not miss the Metekhi Church or the Sioni Church in the old town.
Tbilisi also prides itself with the third-tallest Eastern Orthodox cathedral in the world. The Holy Trinity Cathedral, or Sameba, is located in the historic neighborhood of Avlabari.
6. The Bridges
Considering the age of the city, its bridges are surprisingly new. The oldest one of them all, the Metekhi Bridge, is from the 1950s. The first wooden bridge on the same spot dates back to 1821.
The Bridge of Peace is slightly more modern an affair. Opened in 2010, the bridge crosses the Kura River, connecting Old Tbilisi with the new district.
Believe it or not, but there is also a bridge of love. Named after Georgian romanticism poet Nikoloz Baratashvili, bronze figures of couples in love decorate the bridge.
7. Rustaveli Avenue
I love people watching and the best place to engage in this activity in Tbilisi is the Rustaveli Avenue. The avenue is approximately 1.5 km long and a large number of governmental, public, cultural, and business buildings surround it on all sides. Even though the street has a posh air to it, one stumbles into small quirks, such as funny statues, along the way. While walking on this lush and beautiful street, it was difficult to imagine that it was here that a demonstration led to bloodshed on April 9, 1989. The April 9 Tragedy resulted in 20 deaths and hundreds of injuries.
8. The Sulfur Baths
We never entered the Sulfur Baths in Tbilisi. We had no time for bathing! However, we did take a moment to admire the architecture and enjoy a walk in the parks on our way to the Old Town. The baths have cast their spell on many a visitor, including Alexander Pushkin. If we ever return to Tbilisi, we should pay one of them a visit.
9. Mother of Georgia Statue
In 1958 Tbilisi celebrated its 1500th anniversary. (Wow, imagine being that old!). To commemorate this, the city erected a huge statue on top of Sololaki Hill. Kartlis Deda, or the Mother of Georgia, stands 20 meters tall and she wears a traditional Georgian dress. With a bowl of wine in one hand and a sword in the other, she symbolizes the national character. Friends are welcomed with delicious wine and inviting smiles, enemies will be greeted with a sword.
Tbilisi: And The One That Got Away
Almost 100 years old, the biggest zoo in Georgia is located in the Vere River valley. Jesper really likes visiting zoos, but this time we had no time to go there. Maybe next time we will pay it a visit? On 14 June 2015 a flood helped many of the animals escape. The funniest story we heard during our trip was about the penguin that swam all the way to the Azerbaijani border. Seems like we’re not the only ones thinking that traveling is catchy!
This post belongs to our series about Georgia. For even more inspiration, click on the links below. And if you like it, please comment and share. Cheers!
- Mtskheta, the ancient capital of Georgia >>
- The caves and fortresses of Vardzia >>
- Kazbegi >>
- And here are the top reasons to visit Georgia >>