Updated post in 2020 from 23 things to do in Tbilisi
Tbilisi is my hometown, where I spent most of my life and currently live. Georgia’s capital is getting more attention both from the media and travelers, who seek a wild nature, unique culture, ancient architecture mixed with modern buildings, and distinctive cuisine. And even though it is a relatively small city, there are plenty of things to do in Tbilisi.
Tbilisi’s narrow lanes mirror its complicated history of a Persian or Russian rule. The impact of each invasion is still present today, and you can see it while wandering around the old neighborhoods like Sololaki or Plekhanov. Here’s a really cool guide of the architecture of Georgia through centuries to pique your interest.
Looking for where to stay in Tbilisi? Check out my guide to best neighborhoods, hotels, hostels, and Airbnb’s in town
However, I always say that to feel Georgian spirit and understand its heritage, one should at least go to other regions of the country.
Local’s Guide to Top Things to Do in Tbilisi
Start exploration of Tbilisi from the Rustaveli Avenue
The center of the city, Rustaveli Avenue, is a 1.5 km long road housing the most significant buildings of the town. Named after Shota Rustaveli, a medieval poet and one of the significant contributors to Georgian literature, the Avenue utterly tells the splendor of capital.
Marvel at the most beautiful turquoise house
This house is my all-time favorite house in Tbilisi, with its almost tragic history. Tucked behind the souvenir stairs of Rustaveli Avenue, the house is a hidden gem of the 19th century Tbilisi. The house perfectly shows the traditional Georgian architecture with its lace-like wooden curved balcony. During the Soviet times, the government wanted to expand that-time Golovan Prospect, and demolish all the houses and buildings getting in the way. Fortunately, the owners had a strong relationship with Stalin, who stopped wrecking the building.
Admire the Moorish-style Opera House
One of the free things to do in Tbilisi is to praise the facade of the gorgeous opera house. The history of the National Opera House and Ballet Theater spans for more than 165 years when the country became part of the Russian Empire at the end of the 18th century. It is one of the oldest of such institutions in eastern Europe. Back then, it was called Tiflis Imperial Opera and resided at today’s Freedom Square.
The building was designed and constructed by an Italian architect Giovani Scudueri in 1851. Sources say that it was one of the most beautiful Opera Houses in Europe and even in Imperial Russia. Unfortunately, in 1874 a fire destroyed the building, and not many pictures remain to see how it looked.
An architect of Baltic German origin, Victor Johann Gottlieb Schroter, assembled the current opera house in 1896. Even though both inside and outside are of Oriental style, the foyers, layout, and the main hall are typically European.
If interested to learn more about the Tbilisi Opera House, they have tours on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.
Learn more about Georgia in its museums
Tbilisi’s museum scene is quite diverse and tells the story from prehistoric to the present day. There are a couple of essential museums to visit. The Museum of Georgia displays a unique collection of human and natural history, with animal remnants dating back 40 million years. Make sure to visit Soviet Occupation Hall and Archeological Treasury.
The Soviet Occupation represents 70 years of Soviet rule from 1921 until 1991. It is also devoted to the national-liberation movement of Georgia and the victims of the regime.
Archeological Treasury is my favorite room of the museum presenting three periods of the development of Georgian goldwork starting from the 3rd century to the 4th century BC. Trust me, you’ll be amazed at how gorgeous and beautiful jewelry they made back then.
Art lovers should visit the National Gallery to see the masterpieces of Georgian fine art of the early 20th century, including paintings of Niko Pirosmani, David Kakabadze, and Lado Gudiashvili.
And if you are interested in the history of Tbilisi, pay a visit to Tbilisi History Museum located near the Sioni Cathedral. The museum showcases more than 50,000 items reflecting the capital’s history, starting from the ancient to the present day.
Visit the epicenter of Georgian history
One of the places to visit in Tbilisi is Freedom Square, also known as Liberty Square. In its 200-year history, the area has undergone several name changes. Neoclassical style square was called Pashkevich-Erivanskaya, Beria, and Lenin Square.
In the past two decades, the square has been the epicenter of various demonstrations and celebrations. Today, St. George’s partly golden statue adorns the center dedicated to the freedom and independence of the Georgian nation. Created by Zurab Tsereteli, a Georgian sculptor, the statue is 35 meters high, where the actual statue is 5.6 meters tall.
Travels of a Bookpacker gives you many reasons why you should fall in love with Tbilisi
See the remains of Tbilisi’s old walls
Tbilisi used to be a walled town, and when it became part of the Russian Empire in the late 18th century, it started to expand outside of its walls, right at today’s Freedom Square. So one of the places to visit in Tbilisi is the remains of its old wall at Pushkin Street that go all the way to Baratashvili street. The walls have several layers – evidence of Tbilisi being repeatedly destroyed and rebuilt.
Stroll down the lanes of Old Tbilisi
The historical part of Tbilisi starts from Kote Abkhazi street and continues to Abanotubani. Translated as “bath district”, the area features some of the most important roads to wander through and admire the typical Georgian courtyards with wooden carved balconies. Walkthrough Betlemi, Gomi, and Botanikuri streets.
Admire the “Kaleidoscope House”
Betlemi street is home to one of the most beautiful stained glass houses locals call a Kaleidoscope House. This one of the most famous photo-spot should be on the list of free things to do in Tbilisi. The building is partly residential, party commercial with Gallery 27 shop showcasing the handmade items of Georgian artists.
The best time for photoshoots is the Golden Hour. At this time warm hues of the sun perfectly illuminate the stained glass creating vibrant shadows and reflections.
Want to know other beautiful Insta-spots in town? Check out my detailed guide to more than 35 Secret Insta locations
Take a picture with Frida Kahlo
Once you pass the Kaleidoscope House, find hotel Check Point Tbilisi; another popular photo spot with its gorgeous street art of Frida Kahlo. Expect a couple of people in the queue to take a picture with Frida.
Betlemi, Gomi or Botanikuri streets utterly show the city’s former beauty. Walk-in small lanes and have a glimpse of Tbilisi’s house architecture.
Climb Narikala Fortress
Overlooking the historic area, Narikala Fortress is one of the most iconic places to visit in Tbilisi. The fortress dates back to the 4th century when it initially was a seat of Persian rulers. Enjoy panoramic views of Rike Park, Metekhi Church, and domed bathhouses.
The best way to get to Narikala is to take a cable car and then climb down steep cobblestone streets back to Gorgasali (Meidan) Square.
Admire the Mother of Georgia statue
Right next to Narikala Fortress, you’ll notice a massive figure of a woman with a cup and a sword in her hands. That’s Mother of Georgia – a symbol of Georgian hospitality and strength. The bowl is for those who come as friends to Georgia, offering a glass of wine. The sword, in her other hand, is to defend against enemies.
Visit churches, synagogue and mosque
The oldest surviving church in Tbilisi, Anchiskhati Basilica of Saint Mary, dates back to the 6th century. It was rebuilt several times during the 15th-17th centuries due to ongoing wars between Georgia, Turks, and Persians. In the 1870s the dome was added to the church resulting in a drastic change of the building. During the Soviet era, all of the religious events were prohibited in all of the museums and Anchiskhati served as a museum of handicrafts, and later as an art studio. It reverted to religious use only in 1991, after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
This red-brick mosque is a worship place for both Sunni and Shia Muslims, making it one of the only mosques in the world. Constructed in the 1700s by the Ottoman Empire, the mosque has been destroyed and rebuilt three times over the past three centuries.
Georgia’s 10% of the population is Muslim, and until 1951 Tbilisi had two mosques where Sunni and Shia Muslims prayed separately, like elsewhere in the world. Jumah Mosque was for Sunni Muslims, while the latter prayed in Blue Mosque. In 1951, the Communist government destroyed the Blue Mosque to make space for a bridge. And as the Shia community didn’t have a place to go, the Jumah Mosque opened its doors for them.
Tbilisi hides three Synagogues in its backstreets. The Great Synagogue, at Kote Abkhazi street, is the biggest one built by Jews from Akahaltsikhe town who migrated to Tbilisi in the 19th century. Build with bricks, the Synagogue has two floors measuring 24.5 meters in height and includes two prayer halls. The main gate has a Star of David, while the whole building is in eclectic style.
Take a bath at one of the bathhouses of Abanotubani
One of the must-do things to do in Tbilisi is to visit a bathhouse. No trip to Tbilisi is complete without it. It’s believed that sulfur baths are beneficial for your skin and general well-being of the body.
Try either Orbeliani Colorful bathhouse that many mistakes it for a mosque, Gulo’s Abano, or Queen’s Sulfur Bath at Abano II Dead End. I would advise reserving a room for mornings, as I have heard that the water needs at least three hours to self-filter itself.
The price for a two-person room starts from 40 GEL. The advised time you can spend here is one hour. Also, order a masseuse for an additional 10 GEL to scrub all those dead skin from your body.
Historically speaking, Abanotubani is the area that gave a name to the capital. According to the legend, King Vakhtang Gorgasali discovered the hot springs while hunting and decided to establish a city in this marvelous and unique place. Word’ tbili’ in Georgian means’ warm.’
Head towards the waterfall
Passed Abanotubani, there is a ravine called Lagvtakhevi, leading to a small waterfall. With the unique scenery, it’s a great place to sit on a bench and explore the remains of old Tbilisi.
Cross the Bridge of Peace and relax at Rike Park
Often cold as ‘Always Ultra’ by locals, due to its resemblance to a maxi pad, the glass bridge is an excellent example of capital’s modern architectural marvels. The bridge connects Erekle II street to Rike Park, where you can sit down for a while, enjoy a small break after all the walks you did, and marvel at the scenery of old and new architecture that makes Tbilisi so charming.
Designed by Italian architect Michele De Lucchi, this pedestrian glass and steel bridge brought up a lot of controversy among many locals, saying that it’s outside of the box and not suitable for the skyline of Tbilisi’s historic district.
Come here at night after the sunset to see it beautifully illuminated via thousands of white LED lights.
See the part of Berlin Wall at Europe Square
Even though part of the Berlin Wall is very well located and visible to everyone, it remains a bit of a hidden gem among other free things to do in Tbilisi. I assume that’s because the wall is not quite attractive and pleasing to an eye; therefore, not many people pay attention.
Enjoy a stunning view of the old town from Queen Darejani Palace
For a different angle and perspective of Tbilisi’s Old Town dominated by Mount Mtatsminda and the TV Tower, head to Queen Darejani Palace at Urbnisi Street.
Look at the puppet show at Tower Clock
A relatively new edition to Tbilisi’s landmarks, the leaning clock tower is a masterpiece of Rezo Gabriadze, famous Georgian theater, filmmaker, playwright, painter, and sculptor.
Every hour an angel comes out with a small hammer to ring the bell. At noon and 7 pm, you can watch a puppet show – “The Circle of Life.” You will notice beautiful tiles adorning the tower. Rezo himself designed hundreds of them.
Visit the tallest church in Georgia
Sameba, or Holy Trinity Cathedral in English, is the main cathedral of the Georgian Orthodox Church visible from almost every corner of the town. With a total height of 87.1 meters from the ground to the top of the golden cross, the cathedral is the third-tallest Eastern Orthodox church in the world. It also is one of the largest in the world by total area.
It took almost ten years to construct Sameba and features the mixture of Georgian traditional church architecture with undertones of Byzantine style.
Shop for Memorabilia at Dry Bridge Flea Market
Dry Bridge Flea Market features vintage junk, including old Soviet medals, second-hand cameras, porcelain china, old vinyl, paintings, furniture, various decor items, utensils, and even Stallone movies on VHS cassettes. It’s a heaven for vintage lovers. You can find anything here! And even if you are not looking for anything to buy, it still is a marvelous experience.
Wander Through ‘New Tiflis’
After exploring the Dry Bridge Market, walk towards the ‘New Tiflis,’ a somewhat recently renovated D. Aghmashenebeli Avenue to its former face. Admire the facade details of Art Nouveau buildings.
Enjoy an evening at the trendiest spot in Tbilisi
Fabrika Tbilisi, a former sewing factory turned into a multi-functional space, is a go-to destination to meet friends, mingle, or just enjoy a glass of beer in a vibrant environment. The complex incorporates a hostel, co-working space, shops, and cafes. When the weather gets warm in Tbilisi, Fabrika’s courtyard becomes the most popular spot to hang out, especially on Friday evenings and the weekend.
Enjoy panoramic views from the Mtatsminda Park
Mount Mtatsminda is home to Mtatsminda Park and a TV Tower that dominates Tbilisi skyline. Here you can find water slides, carousels, a roller-coaster, and a big Ferris Wheel. The best way to get to the park is via the funicular, a historical ropeway at Chonkadze street. You will need to purchase a special Mtatsminda Park card that is valid for the funicular and the attractions within the park.
Additionally, you can hike up to the park or take a bus 124 from Rustaveli metro station. If you are up for an adventure, I would suggest taking the funicular one way and strolling down to the Mtatsminda neighborhood. It’s a fantastic walk.
Eat lots of local food
Well, it’s obvious! But with the wide variety on the menu, you might be puzzled about what to order. So here are the staples of Georgian cuisine: Khinkali (meat dumplings), Phali (spinach with walnuts), Mtsvadi (BBQ meat), and Khachapuri (pizza-like cheese pie). However, there is much more!
Here’s my guide to the best restaurants in Tbilisi for Georgian Cuisine
Try Georgian Wine
Similar to sulfur baths, no visit to Georgia is complete without trying local wine. Georgia is the oldest winemaking country in the world, recently breaking the GUINNESS World Records. We have been making the beverage for at least 8,000 years with our own method in egg-shaped clay jars – qvevri. The traditional winemaking method includes qvevri buried underground to store and naturally ferment the beverage. UNESCO even added the technique to its Intangible Cultural Heritage List.
Take a day trip to Mtskheta
Located only 40 minutes from Tbilisi, Mtskheta is a former capital of Georgia and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The town itself is small, and the main landmarks to see here is the fabulous 11th-century Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, the masterpiece of medieval Georgian architecture. Once here, make sure to visit Jvari Monastery, sitting on top of a hill overlooking Mtskheta and the confluence Georgia’s two main rivers.
Other cool things to do in Tbilisi
Hunt down the street art
Okay, Tbilisi is not big in street art, but we are slowly getting there. More and more local street artists emerge to beatify residential houses, abandoned buildings, underground passages, and parks, to name a few. Most of the art carries a social, political, spiritual, and environmental message scattered across the town.
Walkthrough the greenery at Botanical Garden
Wandering through nature at Botanical Garden Tbilisi is a great way to get away from the crowds yet still be in the center of the capital. The garden features a variety of roses, lilacs, conifers, along with the Japanese garden, bamboos, beautiful waterfall, fountains, and bridges. The garden is lovely in spring when flowers start to bloom.
Peek into the Writer’s House
The former mansion of David Sarajishvili, a founder of Georgian brandy, philanthropist, and a Doctor of philosophy and chemistry, was built in 1905.
Constructed by a German architect Carl Zaar, the palace is an excellent example of Art Nouveau architecture and flawlessly combines local and European styles. The terrace has ceramic tiles of Villeroy & Boch Company, specifically custom-made for Sarajishvili.
Have a look at a Hogwarts-like building
One of the oldest school buildings in Tbilisi used to be a German boarding school for girls. Today it is a Public School N6.
The neo-gothic Style building had a chapel on the second floor and served the traditions of the Lutheran Church. The door of the chapel remains intact and still portrays crosses. Since its existence, the school has changed its name and function many times. For example, during both World Wars, it served as a hospital.
Explore the remains of Soviet-era
Tbilisi is among those Eastern European countries that still preserve the right amount of Soviet memorabilia and architecture in its streets. Pinpointing them is not a challenge; you just need to know a little bit about how to identify them. One of the good examples is today’s Biltmore Hotel building, Parliament of Georgia, Philarmonic, and Merani shopping center, to name just a few.
In addition to typical brutalist architecture, Tbilisi has a fair share of Soviet mosaics and bass relief decorations found in the metro and facades of many buildings.
Visit Georgian “Stonehenge.”
Because of its location far away from the city center, tourists or locals rarely visit the Chronicles of Georgia. A monument with panoramic views over Tbilisi has a 30-meter tall pillar depicting kings, heroes, and queens of Georgia. The bottom part portrays biblical scenes and the life of Christ.
Spend a day at Turtle or Lisi Lakes
I must say Tbilisi lacks an excellent recreational area. Yes, there are small or medium-sized parks, you can relax at, but it’s not enough for us. And when summer heat exhausts us, we flee to Turtle or Lisi lakes for evening breeze and escaping the city’s hustle.
Visit Stalin’s Secret Publishing House
Yes, Stalin was Georgian, and I am not proud of it. In his youngster age, when he was part of a revolutionary group, he and his team members built an underground publishing house in a well, 17 meters below the ground. You can visit it to see everything with your own eyes.
Prepare for the trip
To ease your travel planning, check out all the posts about Georgia travel. Additionally, here are some of the websites and services I use when preparing for my next adventure anywhere in the world.
– Book affordable flights on Kiwi.com, a platform that shows the best routes and flight deals to your destination. There’s a money-back guarantee if you miss the flight!
– Check iVisa to see if you need a tourist visa to visit Georgia, how to apply online if applicable, or where’s the nearest embassy or consulate
– Find budget-friendly deals on all sorts of accommodation types on Booking and Agoda, or find a cool apartment on Airbnb and get $34 off on your first stay (my invite expires in 30 days after you sign up! )
– Pre-book a private car transfer from Tbilisi Airport to your hotel
– Buy the most flexible and budget-friendly travel insurance, SafetyWing, to cover all sorts of health problems on the road
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