Like every capital city, Tbilisi is overflowing with souvenir shops, most of them peddling the same range of mass-produced knickknacks. Aside from edible souvenirs (chacha, honey, tea and wine), kitsch soviet memorabilia and big-ticket items like antique Caucasian carpets and kilims, there are a few typical handicrafts that tourists tend to seek out as Tbilisi take-homes – these being blue tablecloths, enamelware and felt.
There are three questions I always ask before I buy a souvenir when I’m travelling: Was it made in the country?; Was it made by hand?; and Was it traded for a fair price? Here are four retail spots in Tbilisi that stand out from the crowd and stock gifts and souvenirs that fit my criteria. At the end of this post you’ll find a map to help you locate each address.
1 The yard outside Fabrika is a one-stop shop if you’re looking for quirky gifts handmade by young and independent Georgian artists and designers. Black Dog Shop stocks a great range of prints, notebooks and stationary; Ceramic Studio 1300 has beautiful hand-painted tablewear; Funduki carries cute accessories like colourful Georgian slippers knitted from local wool; and The Flying Painter stocks garments and accessories designed in collaboration with local artists. All these stores double as workshops, so you can see objects being crafted right before your eyes – and have a friendly chat with the person who’s designing and making them.
8 Egnate Ninoshvili St (close to Marjanashvili metro station)
2 Gallery 27 and Sayat-Nova, two of the city’s most popular souvenir shops, are located together on the ground floor of the Tbilisi History Museum. Both boast an excellent if not predictable range of Georgian souvenirs, including felted outerwear, enamel jewellery and lurji supra, Georgia’s famous blue tablecloths. It’s a good place to start if you’re not exactly sure what you’re looking for. Be aware that shopkeepers in Gallery 27 might not be able to answer all your questions about certain items.
Tbilisi History Museum
8 Sioni St (close to Sioni Cathedral in Old Tbilisi)
3 The Georgian Heritage Craft Association was established to safeguard the country’s applied arts, including lurji supra. The Association’s flagship store, Ethno Design, is a real treasure trove of specialty crafts sourced from different regions. It’s also a platform for homeworkers and small co-ops to sell their wares in Tbilisi, and many collections are accompanied by information cards that tell you a little bit about the artist. I’m not a fan of felt, but the felted wall hangings here are stunning! Ethno Design also stocks blue tablecloths, but the shopkeeper informed me these particular ones aren’t made in Georgia.
The shop has no website, but they do have a Facebook page.
Cnr of Giorgi Akhvlediani & Nikoladze Sts (close to Rustaveli metro station)
4Professor Tinatin Kldiashvili is the Dean of the Design Faculty at Tbilisi State Academy of Arts. Along with her colleague Ketevan Kavtaradze, she has embarked on an ambitious project to recreate lurji supra tablecloths using the old techniques of wax-resist and block printing. Many of the contemporary blue tablecloths stocked at gift stores in Tbilisi were made in her laboratory (and are distinguished by the hand-printed fabric tag that carries her name and email address).
Professor Kldiashvili’s own gallery/shop stocks a small range of tablecloths alongside paintings and wearable art made by her students and colleagues at the Academy. These are the same tablecloths you’ll find in Gallery 27, but they are notably cheaper if you buy them direct. Ketevan Kavtaradze often sits behind the register here and will happily tell you all about the project.
The gallery/shop doesn’t appear to have a name, and I haven’t been able to find any information about it online.
Tinatin Kldiashvili gallery/shop
River-end of Jan Shardini St (just around the corner from Gallery 27 and close to the Meidani market)