Forget the mass-produced knickknacks! This guide to independent Tbilisi gift shops shows you where to find the best handmade, authentic and traditional Tbilisi souvenirs.
Like most capital cities these days, Tbilisi is overflowing with souvenir shops—most of them peddling the same range of naff, mass-produced knickknacks. Similarly, most Tbilisi souvenir guides point tourists to the same few stores and markets, notably the Meidani Bazaar and the Dry Bridge Market.
Visiting the Meidani Bazaar was a great experience; but the souvenirs on offer were a little too commercial for my taste. While I loved rummaging through the treasures on offer at the Dry Bridge Market, I found it a bit overwhelming. So, when I couldn’t quite find what I was looking for at either location, I did some research to find the best alternative places to find Tbilisi souvenirs. First, I had to figure out what I was looking for!
What should you buy in Georgia? Traditional Tbilisi souvenirs
Edible souvenirs—wine, chacha, honey, churchkhela and tea—are all hugely popular take-homes from Georgia. Kitsch Soviet memorabilia also makes for a popular souvenir. The Dry Bridge Market is without a doubt the best place to find this sort of merchandise—stallholders peddle everything from Russian-made film cameras to KGB ID books (these are both items I actually purchased).
Many tourists seek out big-ticket items in Georgia, like antique Caucasian carpets and kilims. If you can afford it (and you have the luggage space), a rug makes for a wonderful souvenir. You can find many shops located on Kote Apkhazi Street and Erekle II Street in Tbilisi’s Old Town—Caucasian Carpets is probably the best-known and most reputable dealer. If, like me, you’re on a budget, you can also find rugs at the Dry Bridge Market—although they often aren’t in good condition.
Tbilisi is nothing if not a creative city, and there are dozens of contemporary artists and craftspeople who have opened their own gift shops and galleries in the city. Each one offers a range of handmade and totally bespoke souvenirs. Traditional Georgian crafts include enamelware, felted textiles and lurji supra (the famous blue and white wood-block printed tablecloths). Many young Georgian artists and designers draw inspiration from the country’s artistic heritage when working with clay, leather, wool, batik on silk, and other novel materials and techniques.
Where to buy handmade & authentic Tbilisi souvenirs
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?’ Having travelled for several years now—most of the time with carry-on only—I just don’t see the point in wasting my money and luggage space on cheap, mass-produced or imported souvenirs. To me, the best souvenirs come with a history and a connection to the place I’m buying them from.
Here are 11 of my favourite independent gift shops in Tbilisi that stand out from the crowd.
1. Gallery 27
N3 Betlemi St | Open 11am-8pm daily
Run by local creative and patron of the arts Nino Kvavilashvili, Gallery 27 is Tbilisi’s premier gift boutique. Nino uses the space to curate and showcase works from almost 100 different local artists. In her own words, “We try to put together the works of all artists who create with passion—works of artistic value.”
At Gallery 27 you can find shibori silk scarves, lurji supra blue tablecloths made the old-school way, patchwork, wall hangings, knitted items, paintings, and much more. Located in an iconic house with colourful stained glass windows, Gallery 27 doubles as Nino’s own studio.
2. Fabrika courtyard shops
8 Egnate Ninoshvili St | Opening hours vary; most from midday until late
The yard behind Fabrika Hostel is a one-stop shop for quirky gifts handmade by young and independent Georgian artists and designers. Black Dog Shop stocks a great range of replica Soviet propaganda and film prints, notebooks and stationary. (If you’ve been to Rooms Hotel Kazbegi and noticed the Soviet posters on the walls, Black Dog Shop are the ones who printed them!).
Ceramic Studio 1300 is owned by two ceramicist friends who make super fine hand-painted tableware. Funduki specialises in Scandi-style furniture and homewares. They also stock some cute souvenirs, including colourful Georgian slippers knitted from local wool. The Flying Painter is a fashion boutique that stocks garments and accessories from local designers. Their own range is sewn on site. Flying Painter also has a small rack of original 1980s women’s wear that was salvaged from the Fabrika factory during renovations. All these shops double as workspaces—anyone is welcome to drop in and have a friendly chat with the artist as they work.
Did you know that you can stay the night at Fabrika? Read my review of the boutique hostel.
Cnr of Giorgi Akhvlediani & Nikoladze Sts | Open 11am-9pm daily
The Georgian Heritage Crafts Association was set up to safeguard the country’s applied arts, including lurji supra. The Association’s flagship store, EthnoDesign, 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. Many collections are accompanied by information cards that tell you a little bit about the artist. All the products here are top-notch in terms of both design and quality. Proceeds go directly to the makers, and when you purchase a souvenir, you’re also supporting the Association’s work to elevate Georgian crafts on the world stage. I’m not a big fan of felt generally, but the felted wall hangings from Tusheti are absolutely stunning.
27/15 Kote Abkhazi St | Open 10am-10pm daily
If you fancy something an edible Tbilisi souvenir, Khurjini is an atmospheric little shop with a great range of local food products to choose from. Everything is natural and locally sourced. Choose from spices, local wine and cha cha, churchkhela, jams, honey, compote, preserved fruits, cheeses and teas. Grab some blue fenugreek—an obscure spice that’s endemic to Georgian cooking—so you can recreate some of your favourite dishes back home!
5. Boutiques inside the Tbilisi History Museum
Ground floor, 8 Sioni St | Opening hours vary
There are a number of gift boutiques located on the ground floor of the Tbilisi History Museum. The stand out among them is Sayat-Nova Souvenirs (open 10am-6pm; closed Mondays), which sells a nice range of felted outerwear, enamel jewellery and lurji supra. They also stock Ararat brandy.
Form (open 11am-8pm daily) is devoted to promoting Georgian artists, designers and authors. This swank but sparse fashion atelier offers a thoughtful collection of contemporary women’s wear, jewellery and leather goods—including some excellent brightly coloured leather brogues.
You can visit the shops without purchasing a museum ticket—just mention it to the staff at the front desk on the right upon entering.
6. 17 Kvadrati
8 Chanturia St | Open 12pm-11pm daily
Tucked away in the courtyard near Sofia Melnikovas restaurant, behind the Museum of Georgian Literature, 17 Kvadrati leads the new generation of Tbilisi souvenirs shops. Leather bags and clutches are crafted on-site by the owner/artist, who was inspired to open his own space after he returned to Tbilisi from abroad and noticed the lack of locally produced souvenirs. The name 17 Kvadrai (’17 squared’) is taken from the tiny room the store started out in. As the space has expanded, so has its offerings—now you can also shop a range of leather shoes, soft kids toys, ceramics, clothes and jewellery from other young, local designers.
7. Caucasus Decoroom
3-5 Jan Shardini St | Open 11am-9pm daily
Another catchall for traditional Georgian products, Caucasus Decoroom is one of the better souvenir shops on the crowded and popular Sharini Street. As well as enamel jewellery, carpets and an array of homewares (including gorgeous lurji-supra inspired porcelain tablewear), you can find a selection of local wine, lurji supra cloths, Pirosmani prints, and handmade, natural beauty products.
8. Tinatin Kldiashvili gallery & shop
End of Jan Shardeni St (close to the Meidan Bazaar)
UPDATE (July 2018): Unfortunately, this shop is now closed. Head to Caucasus Decoroom or Gallery 27 to purchase lurji supra.
Professor Tinatin Kldiashvili is the Dean of the Design Faculty at Tbilisi State Academy of Arts. Along with her colleague Ketevan Kavtaradze, she embarked on an ambitious project a few years ago 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 – although not all cloths have a tag sewn on).
Professor Kldiashvili’s own pop-up 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.
9. Estia Handmade Arts
60 Tsinamdzgvrishvili St | Open 11.30am-8.30pm daily
I really love the range of Georgian ceramics at Estia Handmade Art, especially the blue and white tea sets with concentric motifs inspired by lurji supra designs (see the cup above on the right). As well as teapots and saucers, you can find hand-painted beer steins and small souvenirs, such as ceramic magnets. The space is also used to host art classes and workshops.
19 Dimitri Bakradze St | Open 12pm-7pm (closed Sundays)
Don’t miss Illustrator—especially if you have a little person in your life. The artists and educators behind Illustrator regularly host art workshops for local kids—the designs they come up with are then adopted for use on Illustrator products. Children’s clothing, books, bags and paper goods (postcards, notebooks, prints) all bare super-sweet designs by some of Tbilisi’s youngest artists! For big kids, there are printed tote bags and tea towels, as well as a small collection of bespoke wooden products.
44-46 Mikheili Tsinamdzghvrishvili St | Open 1pm-7pm Saturday-Monday
A new addition to the Tbilisi arts scene (it just opened up in June 2018!), Urbanare is a very cool concept space. Two friends and colleagues—both trained anthropologists—are behind the project, which aims to offer visitors an immersive Tbilisi experience. Set in a converted apartment, Urbanare is a place where you can come and chat about the city’s history, browse a library and archive of local tomes, attend an exhibition or creative event, or even host your own. There is a small gift shop where you can buy products handmade by local artists. I especially love the coasters and papergoods inspired by Soviet mosaic designs.
BONUS: Blue Tabla
Ran out of time to pick up a Tbilisi souvenir? Or maybe you’re yet to visit, but you still want to own a little piece of Georgia. Newly launched in September 2018, Blue Tabla is the first online store to offer lurji supra blue tablecloths online with worldwide shipping. Better still, they are currently offering free international shipping on purchases over 100 USD! The tablecloths are made in Georgia according to authentic designs, and owner Nino assures me they will be adding more products to the range soon.
Over to you! Have you been to Tbilisi and picked up a special souvenir? What did you buy, and where did you find it? Leave your recommendations for other great gift shops in Tbilisi in the comments!
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