Planning a trip to the Caucasus? Here are my top things to do in Tbilisi Georgia — including popular tourist spots, unusual activities, and local secrets.
Tbilisi is a city close to my heart. It’s the kind of place that draws you in, reveals itself slowly… Then gets right under your skin. If I’m completely honest, I’ve been more than a bit obsessed with Tbilisi ever since we spent a month there on our Caucasus trip. Tbilisi is both charming and eccentric; dripping with history and tradition and bubbling with creative energy. Don’t get me wrong, it does have its flaws—but for me, Tbilisi is a city beyond compare.
Travelling to the Caucasus? Check out my epic Georgia Armenia Azerbaijan itinerary planner.
What was it about Tbilisi that made me fall head over heals? The people played no small part—and then there’s the food. There are countless museums, parks, cathedrals and fortresses all vying for tourists’ attention in Tbilisi—but you won’t find any of those on this list. Instead, I want to show you some of the cool, weird, unusual and off-beat things to see, do and experience in Georgia’s capital city that you’d be hard pressed finding elsewhere.
Here are a few of my favourite things to do in Tbilisi that will make your time in Georgia’s capital city memorable.
Sip coffee inside an old Soviet sewing factory
There’s something you should know about Tbilisi: It’s oozing with cool. In a former life, Fabrika was a sewing factory—now it’s a multipurpose creative space and perhaps the best example of ‘industrial chic’ I’ve ever seen. The ground floor is a like a giant, light-filled lounge room, complete with a cafe/restaurant, mismatched sofas, and dozens of brightly coloured Caucasian rugs. If you’re looking for a nice spot to relax and drink coffee, get some work done or just experience Tbilisi’s creative side, I can’t recommend Fabrika highly enough.
Go clubbing in a football stadium basement
If you’re into electronic music, you would have heard of Bassiani. Located in an abandoned underground swimming pool—in the depths of the 1931-built Dynamo Stadium—it’s a techno club and a Tbilisi institution. In the winter months (it’s simply too hot down there in summer, so the club shuts down), local and international DJs perform for thronging crowds of sweaty party goers. Bassiani is dark, clouded with cigarette smoke, and irresistibly grungy. Things kick off in the wee hours (2 or 3am is peak time, according to our Airbnb hosts). Check out this post for more club recommendations in Tbilisi.
Comb through KGB memorabilia and Soviet kitsch at the Dry Bridge Market
The Dry Bridge Market (so called because the bridge it’s staged on no longer runs over a river, but over landfill instead) is a huge open-air bazaar held in the area around Dedaena Park. Quirky vendors convene here daily to pedal boundless quantities of antiques, vintage paraphernalia and Soviet kitsch, including war medals, propaganda posters, KGB ID books, gas masks, USSR maps, and Soviet-issue film cameras. There are more vendors here on Saturdays and Sundays, so try to visit on the weekend to see the best range.
Overdose on khinkali
We met many people on our travels (mainly Polish and Ukrainian) who had come to Georgia just for the food. I can totally symphathise. Georgian cuisine is notoriously decadent, heavy on carbs and cheese—but it can also be surprisingly fresh and flavoursome. Your first meal in Tbilisi simply must feature a heaving platter of khinkali. One of Georgia’s national dishes, khinkali are slightly chewy, doughy dumplings filled with minced meat and herbs, or potato and cheese. There’s a special etiquette for eating khinkali, so you’d do well to read up before you try them (find my tips here). But don’t worry, a khinkali faux pas isn’t the end of the world. It’s all part of the fun!
The only thing that beats mastering the art of khinkali-eating is having someone show you how to make them, too. We had the honour when our Airbnb hosts in Tbilisi invited us over for a Sunday afternoon khinkali-making session.
Invite yourself inside some of Tbilisi’s most beautiful historic homes
Unfortunately, Georgia doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to caring for its historic buildings. Some of Tbilisi’s most beautiful historic homes and apartment buildings have been left to crumble—but others are still occupied and cared for by their current residents. What I love about Tbilisi is that it’s totally acceptable to ring the buzzer on an apartment block and hope that someone will let you inside the building atrium, where you can find some incredible floor tiles, hand-painted murals and stained glass.
Judging by the photos on Instagram, visiting Tbilisi’s old houses is becoming more and more popular. A huge number of walking tours have popped up to cater to the market, shining a light on some of the city’s architectural gems.
Try some 1980s Soviet women’s wear on for size
Remember that awesome restored factory I told you about? Fabrika is also home to a bunch of cool boutiques, cafes and restaurants out the back in the Fabrika Courtyard. The Flying Painter atelier is one such shop—and they have some very interesting items on offer. When Fabrika was restored, the owners inherited a small collection of original women’s wear that was sewn in the factory during its heyday. Now it’s on the racks at Flying Painter, alongside contemporary garments by local designers. Puffy sleeves, shoulder pads and neon gingham all feature heavily in the 80s designs.
Get a feel for the Caucasus mountains without ever leaving the city
Home to countless tribes and ethnic groups, the Caucasus mountain region is the second-richest linguistic landscape on Earth (after Papua New Guinea). Nineteenth-century Georgian ethnographer Giorgi Chitaia dedicated his life to studying and documenting the area’s tribes. His life’s work is showcased at Tbilisi’s Open Air Museum of Ethnography, an immersive, living museum that features traditional lodgings from 14 ethnographic groups, relocated to the city from around the country and lovingly restored.
It’s the perfect place to learn about Georgian folk art (including carpet weaving) and viticulture through exhibitions and interactive displays. If this doesn’t get you pumped for the rest of your travels around Georgia, I don’t know what will. Combine your trip to the Museum with a quick visit to Turtle Lake (accessible by cable car from Vake Park) and a meal at Racha House, one of my favourite restaurants in Tbilisi.
Transport your taste buds back to 19th century Georgia at Barbarestan
Never one to shy away from its history, Tbilisi has lots of retro-themed restaurants and taverns. They mostly hark back on humble Soviet days (either on purpose, or maybe by accident). Tipped as a place to partake in ‘gastronomic travel’, Barbarestan is a bit different. The restaurant menu is based on a recipe book called Complete Cooking, which was published in 1914 by Barbare Eristavi-Jorjadze, a duchess, poet, feminist, and chef. It thus features some classic Georgian dishes that blend European and Asian ingredients the old-fashioned way.
Barbarestan is considered one of the city’s better up-market eateries (it ranked number one on TripAdvisor at the time of our visit)—and for good reason. The chef here, Levan Kobiashvili, is often referred to as one of the country’s best; the dining room is homely but lavishly decorated in period style; and the food and wine are both fantastic. I really enjoyed the churchkhela cake, which features all the flavours of the famously ugly snack food (I’ll get to that in a moment), but in delicious dessert form.
Indulge in the ultimate Georgian snack—’Georgian Snickers’
Sold everywhere throughout the city, churchkhela are probably Georgia’s most misunderstood culinary item. Once you get over the fact that they look a bit like candle wax, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the taste and texture. Just like a real Snickers, ‘Georgian Snickers’ are calorie-dense, bite-sized, and dangerously moreish. A churchkhela consists of a string of nuts (usually hazelnuts or walnuts) dipped in a sugary roux made from grape juice.If you’re intrigued by this strange snack, here’s exactly how they are made.
Be warned: Not all churchkhela are created equal. I really enjoyed the fresh, soft variety sold in small batches by women with fold-up tables. (I assume they come in to Tbilisi from the countryside, because the churchkhela we sampled outside the city always seemed to taste better.) It’s customary to pull out the string first before you start eating. I only know that because a grandma once yelled at us for eating a churchkhela with the string still in.
See some incredible feats of concrete
Tbilisi is an excellent city to explore on foot—which is why so many of my favourite things to do revolve around walking. Fans of concrete, Brutalism and Soviet-era architecture will find a lot to love about the city—including impressive mosaics and bas reliefs, whacky civic buildings and ‘Commieblocks’, and concrete monuments such as The Chronicle of Georgia. If you’re serious about your concrete, there’s a special walking tour for that. If you’re on an independent hunt, the city’s metro stations are a good place to start.
Essential reading: 8 of Tbilisi’s best walking tours compared.
Visit Stalin’s underground printing press
There’s a strong Stalin presence in Tbilisi for obvious reasons (Stalin was born in the nearby town of Gori, where today you can visit a museum devoted to his life). I don’t want to dwell too much on Tbilisi’s Soviet past—but history fans will be interested in visiting one of the more intriguing vestiges of this period, Stalin’s underground printing press. Once used to run off propaganda, the reconstructed press is located in the backyard of the Printing House Museum on Kaspi Street. Here’s a look inside.
Eat shotis puri fresh out of the tone
Made from wholewheat flour and shaped like a tiny, delicious canoe, shotis puri bread is yet another example of Georgian cooking par excellence. Every neighbourhood has its own shotis bakery—often located in a basement—with a traditional tone oven. Batons of sticky bread dough are slapped onto the slides of the clay oven and come out with a crispy, crunchy bottom. It makes a perfect on-the-go snack when you’re pounding the pavement in Tbilisi.
Learn to love laundry days
One enduring memory I’ll always have from Georgia is of a line of stranger’s underwear flapping lazily in the breeze against a backdrop of brilliant blue sky. Every time we went out for a walk in Tbilisi (or any other Georgian city for that matter), I would have to stop for a snap of some incredibly photogenic laundry display. You’ll learn to recognise and love laundry days (i.e. every day)—especially when blue sky peeps through after a few days of cloud and the whole city hangs their clothes out to dry.
Ride the bus or metro and experience the kindness of strangers
There are little things that go on on public transport in Georgia. In Australia, we might call them ‘random acts of kindness’. In Tbilisi, these sometimes grand but often unnoticed gestures seem to be part of the everyday social fabric. I mean, where else in the world would you happily hand your wallet or handbag over to a complete stranger? I’m the first to admit that I wore rose-tinted glasses the entire time I was in Tbilisi, but I can’t help it—people’s kindness really touched me and made me feel welcome in a foreign city. I experienced a whole lot of kindness when riding the bus and metro, which is one of the reasons I wholeheartedly recommend getting around Tbilisi (and the rest of the country) using public transport. It’s a truly local experience.
Shop for sulguni and pomegranates at the Dezerter Bazaar
I love me a good local market. Tbilisi’s Dezerter Bazaar might not be the prettiest fresh food market I’ve ever seen, but it’s brimming with grit and character. Just like the Dry Bridge Market, the Dezerter Bazaar is huge. An infinite number of stallholders selling everything from sulguni (Georgian cheese) to pickles and fresh pomegranates crowd the area around Tsinamdzgvrishvili Street. A morning at the Dezerter Bazaar will give you a taste of Tbilisi’s food culture—and some hints as to what fresh ingredients you should look out for when ordering from restaurant menus.
Marvel at Tbilisi’s ultra-modern civic architecture
Juxtaposed with the aging grace of its historic homes and Old City, Tbilisi’s modern architecture errs on the extravagant side. There’s no mis-identifying Tbilisi’s skyline—the modern landmarks that characterise it are one-of-a-kind. There’s the mushroom-roofed Public Services Hall, the Bridge of Peace, and the unfortunately still-unused Music Theatre and Exhibition Hall, a giant pair of steel tubes. To admire Tbilisi’s civic architecture is also to get a lesson in modern politics. Many of the more outlandish and ostentatious buildings were dreamed up by Georgia’s former and current leaders, and always seem to have a story (perhaps even a scandal) behind them. Brilliant views of the city (such as the one in my first photo) can be found at the top of Narikala Fortress.
Sleep inside a matchmaker’s mansion
Tbilisi is steeped in history and legend—but you may not have heard the story of the city’s local matchmaker. As the tale goes, some time in the 19th century the daughter of Georgia’s noble Orbeliani family played cupid from her family home, collecting love notes and secret messages from people across the city and making sure they reached their intended recipients. The Orbeliani mansion (on what is now called Vakhtang Orbeliani Street) was recently converted into a boutique hotel. Tastefully decorated in the ‘old Tbilisi style’ and with a very cool story behind it, it’s a great place to base your stay.
Get scrubbed down at the Abanotubani sulfur baths
When Tbilisi was established in the fifth century, the city was erected on top of a network of natural hot springs (according to some sources, the name ‘Tbilisi’ means ‘warmth’). Abanotubani district provides some clues to the geothermal playground beneath Tbilisi’s surface—here, you can visit a small waterfall right in the heart of the city, and see beautiful Georgian-style balconied houses clinging dramatically to a rocky gorge.
Abanotubani is also the location of Tbilisi’s famous domed bathhouses. Each one taps the precious sulfur water to offer a range of treatments that are excellent for one’s skin (I can attest to the benefits). If you’re up for a truly local experience, try visiting the communal public baths for a soak and a steam. Some are open 24 hours. Alternatively, most bathhouses offer private rooms where you can bathe solo (or with a friend) and receive an exfoliating scrub down from a local masseuse.
Toast to one of the world’s oldest viticulture traditions
In Georgia, wine is both sacred stuff and serious business. Tbilisi’s Kartlis Deda (Mother of a Georgian) monument depicts a woman brandishing a sword in one hand (to meet her enemies) and a bowl of wine in the other (to greet her guests). It’s rumoured that tourists arriving at Tbilisi airport immigration were once given a bottle of wine upon entering the country. Although I’m yet to meet anyone who actually received their bottle, point is, wine is intertwined with Georgian culture and symbolic of the country’s world-renowned hospitality.
Georgian wine is bloody delicious, too. Amber whites and semi-sweet reds made from versatile seperavi grapes are the country’s signature drop—but there are literally hundreds if not thousands of varieties to try. To add to that, most families make their own wine from home-grown grapes according to age-old techniques. Any time you stay at a guesthouse or Airbnb, you’ll be compelled to sample the household drop. Make sure you allocate ample time to frequent Tbilisi’s many wine bars, where you can soak up Georgian wine culture one glass at a time.
Go searching for LAMB
Tbilisi has its fair share of street art. Perhaps the city’s best-known street artist, LAMB has a style that is instantly recognisable and uniquely Georgian (khinkali feature heavily in his graff). You’ll notice LAMB’s work all over Tbilisi and as far afield as Batumi, including some rather comical and often subversive pieces. The evolution of street art in Tbilisi (which eventually led to the city’s first street art festival in 2016) is an interesting window onto the city’s creative scene and subculture more broadly. Check out this interview with Mishiko Sulakauri (AKA LAMB) to learn more—and make sure you keep an eye for his works, especially when you’re travelling through Tbilisi’s metro underpasses.
Is Tbilisi on your list? What are your favourite things to do in Georgia’s capital city?
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