Last April, on my first solo travel (how time flies!), I met seasoned travelers who crossed to Armenia from Georgia. They all have one common thing to say about Tbilisi, it is a very beautiful city.
Indeed. As the largest city in Georgia and being the country’s capital, Tbilisi’s charm is very distinct. It lies on the banks of Kura River surrounded by hills and mountains and with a population of roughly 1.5 million. It is very calm and peaceful on early mornings, busy during the day, and very enchanting at night time.
I wish that we had more time to spend in Georgia’s capital. I felt like our stay there was hurried and short-lived, although, not missing the Tbilisi free walking tour is a great blessing. After the long travel from Batumi and the search for our apartment (thanks to Lasha for being so patient), we literally just dumped our bags, had a quick change and groggily left the apartment to find the group tour in the Freedom Square Park just across the street (where there is also a Tourist Information Center).
Before I tell you about the walking tour, let me introduce you to our Airbnb apartment, Alicat home.
We have had a few bookings cancelled until we finally settled to book Alicat home. The interior is amazing, the location is great – just in front of Freedom Square, and it is fully furnished (with must-haves iron, hair dryer, kitchen stuff, etc.) except for one, A/C. Luckily, the period of our stay wasn’t too hot so we just opened the windows. It was dusty at times though so if you will ever stay in the same apartment, just make sure to request for a thorough dusting of the place before you check in.
Now, let’s get on with the tour. Silently praying that we can still catch the group, we searched the park for tour guides and we found Tamar. You could see right away that she is very enthusiastic and proud of her city which is admirable among Georgian youth. Along with Ali, an Omani blogger, Tamar brought us to the lovely streets and famous spots of the Old Town.
A quick snap before we start.
Picture a scene where you cross narrow cobble-stone streets, surrounded by old houses covered with green vines that seem to find support from the brick structures. The wooden balconies and unique flights of stairs of these houses are just wonderfully preserved over time. This, for me, is classic beauty, the heart and soul of the city.
Tamar mentioned that some of the houses are being renovated. They were still pretty but I marveled more at the ancient feel of the untouched and slightly renovated ones.
This is the unique clock tower next to Marionette Theatre built by Rezo Gabriadze in 2010. Every hour, an angel comes out with a small hammer to ring the bell and we witnessed that. With adults comprising a majority of the crowd, it just proves that puppets are not just for children. There is also a small puppet theatre inside the tower and twice a day at noon, and at 7pm, you can see a show – “The Circle of Life”. This can be one of your must-see attractions when you visit Tbilisi.
I like how the tour made us stop, admire, take snaps, walk and repeat. I guess that it is the most fitting if not the best way to view the city.
On our way to the last stop, we also passed by interesting sights.
The Bridge of Peace is actually a pedestrian bridge opened to the public in 2010. It connects the district of Tbilisi Old town with Rike Park over the river of Mtkvari. From here, the Narikala Fortress, cable car and Mother Georgia can be seen from a distance.
On top of a hill, Kartvlis Deda, meaning “Mother of a Georgian“, monument holds a sword on her right hand and a glass of wine on her left. This is the Georgian way of saying that they welcome friends with wine and enemies with a sword. It’s a very amusing metaphor.
If you want to buy souvenirs and you only have very limited time, the Meidan Bazaar is the best place to go. This underground-tunnel shop underneath the Meidan Square has interesting pieces.
The prices are reasonable too (I bought a magnet and key chain here) but if you love to wander around and have enough time to spend for shopping, there are still other shops around the area that have cheaper items.
Visit the Dry Bridge Flea Market as well (which, sadly, we missed) for antiques, paintings, soviet time relics and more.
In the Abanotubani neighborhood, the sulfur baths are a prominent landmark.
“The sulfur baths are intimately connected with Tbilisi. It is said that the hot springs are why the city was built here. High in sulfurs and other minerals, with a constant temperature of 38C to 40C, the waters have long been used as a therapeutic aid for a range of ailments including skin conditions and arthritis. Alexander Pushkin was just one of many famous people to have taken the waters, and he certainly enjoyed the experience: ‘I have never encountered anything more luxurious than this Tbilisi bath’, he wrote.”
The tour lasted for nearly three hours with Tamar constantly feeding us with useful tips on which souvenir shops to go, restaurants to try, which street to cross, the best ice cream in town, how to ride the cable car, which time it is best to go to the Funicular, and more.
After the tour, we explored the skies by riding the cable car from Rike Park towards Narikala Fortress. The queue to the tickets can be long so just be prepared. While waiting, we were able to access the “Tbilisi loves you” free Wifi. Great! It is a very catchy and sweet name for a public Wifi, don’t you think? Well, this is my reply:
Their own version of Mushroom Soup. It almost tastes like my beloved Batchoy (an Ilonggo specialty).
Oh, and while at the restaurant, don’t forget to look up!
What about an ice cream stop? Luca Polare ice cream is another must-try in the city.
On our second night in Tbilisi and our last night in Georgia, we had a taste of an overpriced taxi fare from Freedom Square to Mt. Mtatsminda where the famous Funicular train and amusement park are. We would have walked going to the station but it was getting late so we opted to take the taxi ride. Don’t get me wrong, Georgians are very hospitable and friendly people, even the taxi driver was chatty, but I guess the tourist halo among us reflected a different price tag. Just be careful when taking a taxi in the city. Walk as much as you can or if you’ll ever need a taxi, make sure to have the meter on. He charged us 40 GEL, we only gave him 30 GEL / 46 Dhs. so we’re even.
The dinner in the Funicular Restaurant Complex was our grandest and celebratory dinner for a very fun trip that was about to end. Mind you, it is very cold being on top so make sure that you are clothed enough.
We took the Funicular train ride (steep but comfortable) back down and just walked from the end station to our apartment. Thanks to random strangers for showing us where to go. See? They are very nice.
For a very constricted time, I believe that we explored the most of Tbilisi. If you have visited the city recently, please share your experience in the comment section below. I would love to know about your story too.
There are cities that you won’t even notice but there are ones that will please altogether, your sight, your palate, and your heart. Tbilisi is definitely the latter.
Thank you and we love you Tbilisi!