Narikala Fortress, one of the oldest structures in Tbilisi, is a city icon and a must-see. This quick guide to Narikala covers everything you need to plan your visit.
Whether you’re lolling in the sulfur baths, wandering the streets of Sololaki or eating dinner in Avlabari, life in Tbilisi plays out in the shadow of Narikala Fortress.
Since the 4th century, every trade deal struck, prayer uttered and chai order hollered on the streets of Old Tiflis has had Narikala as its backdrop.
The fortress has gone through many iterations (and name changes) over the years. In the Tbilisi of today – a city known for its distinctive and quirky architecture – Narikala is still the most enduring, evocative feature of the skyline.
Once Tbilisi’s first military defence, today Narikala is little more than a vantage point for panoramic city views. Aside from walking the fortress walls, other things to do on Narikala Hill include visiting the Mother of Georgia statue (another Tbilisi icon) and walking through the Tbilisi Botanical Garden. This can all be done as part of the Narikala Tourist Trail, a marked 1.5km walking path along the top of the ridge.
This quick guide to visiting Narikala runs through everything you need to plan a visit, including opening hours, costs, the best time to visit for photography, food options, and other activities nearby.
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A very brief history of Narikala Fortress
Narikala Fortress, the ‘Little Fortress’, sits on a rocky outcrop in the Tabori Range, high over Old Tbilisi and the Mtkvari river. Tbilisi Botanical Garden lies behind the fortress, while the heart of the Old Town and the domed roofs of the Abanotubani sulfur baths roll out at the foot of the castle.
The structure began life in the 4th century as a Persian citadel. Arabs, Umayyads, Mongols, Ottomans and Georgians added to the architecture over subsequent years, with the most robust walls constructed in the 16th and 17th centuries.
In 1827, a munitions explosion (or was it an earthquake?) destroyed the inner part of the fortification, leaving only the external walls standing.
Narikala is divided into two sections, a lower and an upper fortification. Ad-hoc restorations to the lower part have seen some walls partially rebuilt and a few parapets re-sculpted in the image of the old castle’s imprint.
In the 12th century, an Orthodox church was added to the castle grounds. This, plus a few administrative buildings, are the only in-tact structures – the rest of the fortress is crumbling ruins.
Narikala Fortress opening hours & entrance fee
Narikala Fortress is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There are security guards on the premises at all times, and at night, the fortress is lit up.
Entry to Narikala is free.
Tips for visiting Narikala Fortress
Best time to visit
Early morning and late afternoon are the best times to visit Narikala. Avoid visiting in the middle of the day – this is the favoured time for groups, and it does get extremely hot and exposed, especially in summer.
Nighttime at Narikala is another kind of magic. This is a great place to watch the sun go down and the twinkling city lights come on.
What to wear & what to bring with you
- Sensible shoes – visiting Narikala involves lots of stairs and walking over a fair bit of uneven terrain. Wear your most comfortable shoes, especially if you plan to walk up or down the hill (recommended – more info in the next section).
- Drinking water – there are spring water fountains inside the Botanical Gardens.
- Hat & sunscreen – the entire hill is quite exposed so be sure to bring sun protection gear with you, especially in summer.
- Long pants & lightweight scarf – if you plan on going inside the church, wear something that covers your knees/shoulders and bring a scarf to cover your hair (women only). If you forget, there are communal scarves available at the door.
Safety & accessibility
- Parts of Narikala Fortress are accessible, but overall the mix of rough terrain and stairs makes the area unsuitable for wheelchair users. If you’re unsteady on your feet, I recommend sticking to the lower part of the fortress and utilising the cablecar to reach the top of the hill.
- There are lots of precarious drop offs, high ledges and steep stairs – and very few safety rails. Take extra care if you’re travelling with kids.
How to get to Narikala Fortress
You can reach Narikala Fortress from the centre of Tbilisi either by foot or using the cablecar. For the best of both worlds, I highly recommend taking the cablecar up then walking back down into the Old Town.
The cablecar connects Narikala with a lower station in Rike Park, on the opposite side of the river. It runs from 10am until 10pm daily (until midnight on Saturdays). The fare is 2 GEL, and you can use your MetroMoney card (the same rechargeable card you use on the bus and metro).
The ride lasts less than 2 minutes and is quite scenic.
Walking to Narikala
To make the most of the views, I suggest walking at least one-way. It takes around 20 minutes to reach the fortress from the Old Town. The path is quite steep in parts, but it’s fully paved and easy to follow.
There are two routes up to the fortress: the first is via Orbiri Street from Abanotubani. It starts with a steep staircase that gives you a great vantage over the domed bathhouses and an up-close view of the mosque’s minaret.
The second, even more picturesque route is via the Betlemi Street Stairs. From Lado Asatiani Street, follow Betlemi Rise all the way to the church, pausing on the terrace for a view.
The path continues through a patch of forest all the way to the foot of Mother of Georgia and the Kartlis Deda Viewpoint. The path branches out in several directions towards the top – they all end up in the same place.
From there, the entrance to Narikala is another 500 metres east via paved pathway. To reach the main entrance, take the stairs down after the cablecar station.
What to expect from your visit
Don’t go to Narikala expecting to see a well-preserved castle – all that’s left of the original fortress is scrappy ruins. The main thing you come here for is sweeping city views, and you can find plenty of vantage points all over the castle grounds.
Narikala is divided into two parts, upper and lower. The upper part of the fortress is closed off and best viewed from the west side, along the pathway that leads to the Mother of Georgia statue.
The lower part of the castle is accessed via a tower. Before you go inside the grounds, walk along Data Gulua’s Rise (the street directly in front of the main entrance) to view the towers – some have ornamental brickwork that can only be seen from the outside.
Inside, you’ll find various ruins, battlements, and portions of rebuilt wall. The section immediately on the left as you enter is particularly nice – you can climb up and walk all the way along to stand above the main entrance. The tops of the towers have a nice scalloped profile when viewed from above.
The most-photographed spot at Narikala Fortress is a built-in staircase that towers 10 metres high (ish) on one of the main walls. You can find it on the far-right of the complex, behind the church.
You’ll also see low-lying stone foundations from various buildings dotted around. The only new structure, the spectacularly named St. Nicholas the Wonderworker Church, sits in the centre of the green. It was restored in the late 1990s and replaces an original 12th century church that was destroyed by fire.
Inside, vivid wall frescoes and illuminated icons are quite impressive. At the back of the church, you’ll find wooden boxes stacked with more icons sorted into alphabetical order.
St. Nicholas’s is a small church, but it’s quite pretty and definitely worth sticking your head inside to see. The doors are unlocked between 11am and 6pm. To enter, you’ll need to be wearing appropriate dress (covered knees and shoulders; a long skirt and headscarf for women). There’s no photography allowed inside.
On the other side of the church, you can wander around the entire perimeter of the fortress via marked paths and less obvious trails that lead up a rocky hill.
At the back of the fortress, there are a couple of stone watch towers embedded in the hillside. I completely missed these the first time I visited Narikala because they’re a bit hidden.
To get a view of the towers, walk to the back of the grounds directly opposite the main entrance and peer over the edge. The green valley below is part of the Botanical Gardens.
Other things to see & do near Narikala Fortress
Kartlis Deda (Mother of Georgia)
Kartlis Deda, Mother of Georgia, is located 500 metres west of Narikala Fortress along the ridge. You can easily walk between the two spots via the road.
This monumental statue was erected in 1958 to mark the city’s 1500th birthday. First made of wood and later remodelled in aluminium, she towers 20 metres high over Sololaki, brandishing a bowl of wine in one hand (to greet those who come as friends) and a sword in the other (to meet enemies, naturally).
Standing beneath the statue, either on the small viewing platform attached to her feet or on the road behind her, you can gaze up for a different perspective.
Tbilisi Botanical Garden
The Botanical Garden sits in the valley behind Narikala Fortress. Like Batumi Botanical Garden and the gardens in Zugdidi, it catalogues species of endemic and exotic trees arranged in different zones. You’ll also find ornamental gardens, medicinal plant gardens, greenhouses, and an orangery.
The main attraction inside the park is the waterfall, a huge cascade framed by a white bridge the crosses over the top. You can also find nice city views and vignettes of the fortress framed by flowers from the elevated pathways that crisscross the gardens.
In the upper part of the garden, the more challenging uphill trails are a favourite spot for hiking in Tbilisi.
There are two entrances to the Botanical Garden: The first is near the Mother of Georgia statue and leads to a sharp flight of stairs. The second is around to the right immediately as you exit Narikala Fortress through the main gate. Both have ticket offices.
The Botanical Garden is open daily from 9am until 6.30pm. Entrance costs 4 GEL.
Abanotubani sulfur baths & Leghvtakhevi Waterfall
Abanotubani, Tbilisi’s sulfur bath district, is located directly at the foot of the fortress. As you walk between Mother of Georgia and Narikala, you can peer down at the craggy cliffs and the boardwalk that leads to a second, smaller urban waterfall called Leghvtakhevi.
The river that runs through the gorge feeds the sulfur baths.
Betlemi Stairs & Tbilisi Old Town
After you’re finished with Narikala Fortress, Mother of Georgia and the Botanical Gardens, consider walking through Abanotubani all the way back to Freedom Square. This route is ideal for taking in many of the highlights of Tbilisi Old Town.
First, descend via the Betlemi Street Stairs, a stone staircase constructed in 1850 using funds donated by Tbilisi’s craft unions, Tiflis Amkari. Gallery 27, one of the city’s best souvenir shops and the famous ‘Kaleidoscope House’ are located nearby.
Other highlights of this area include Ateshgah, a 5th century Zoroastrian temple, the partially refurbished Lado Gudiashvili Square and Sololaki, Tbilisi’s oldest district.
Where to eat near Narikala Fortress
It can be a struggle to find a restaurant in Old Tbilisi that isn’t overpriced or overly touristy. There are only a couple of eateries I recommend in the area: For breakfast, Chaduna in Sololaki has a breakfast/brunch menu and excellent coffee. It opens early at 10am.
For lunch or dinner, try Culinarium Khasheria in Abanotubani (contemporary Georgian), Shemomechama in the Old Town (for amazing khinkali) or for a treat Sofiko, modern Georgian food with spectacular views from the balcony.
More suggestions can be found in my complete list of Tbilisi restaurants.
Where to go for the best views of Narikala Fortress
Narikala is one of the best places in Tbilisi for city views – but for a view of the fortress itself, you should head to one of the other hills.
Mtatsminda (the highest mountain in Tbilisi – the one with the TV Tower and amusement park on top) doesn’t really offer a view of Narikala. The best outlook is from the smaller hill above Abanotubani, where you’ll find the Tabor Monastery of the Transfiguration. If you don’t want to walk all the way to the monastery, you can get a great photo from the lower levels of the hill that remain undeveloped.
This is by far my favourite viewpoint in Tbilisi.
Tbilisi city tours that include Narikala Fortress
If you’re short on time or you’d rather visit Narikala Fortress with a guide, these Tbilisi city tours include a visit to Narikala as part of the itinerary.
More Tbilisi travel resources
- Awesome things to do in Tbilisi – the complete list
- Where to eat in Tbilisi
- The best day trips from Tbilisi
- Georgia travel guide – plan your trip to Georgia
Here are some of the websites and services I use when I’m planning a trip to Georgia and the Caucasus. Remember to check out my full list of travel resources for more tips.
– Find affordable flights to Tbilisi, Batumi or Kutaisi on Kiwi.com, a booking site that mixes and matches airlines to find the best route (there’s a money back guarantee if you miss a connection).
– Use iVisa to check if you need a tourist visa for Georgia and apply for an expedited visa online.
– Pre-book a private transfer from Tbilisi Airport to your hotel or from Kutaisi Airport to Tbilisi with my preferred partners at Friendly.ge.
– Get a great deal on a rental car in Georgia by using MyRentACar to find a local agent.
– Buy your tickets for the Tbilisi to Baku or Yerevan sleeper train online in advance through my partners at Geotrend (get a discount when you use the code in this post).
– Find the best Georgia hotel deals on Booking.com, book a Georgia hostel, or find a unique Airbnb.
– Find the best city tours and day excursions in Georgia.
– Compare mobile providers and pick up a local Georgian sim card.
– Order a copy of the new Lonely Planet Caucasus guidebook (published July 2020).