Tbilisi

by Ucman Scher
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Tbilisi at a glance

Solo Gay Trip Guide to Tbilisi – the Capital of Georgia

Tbilisi is the capital and the largest city in Georgia. It is a fascinating city with a beautiful mix of Soviet-era buildings, some Turkish influence over the centuries, some Iranian/Persian sway and a lot of Christianity mixed with the drive to be European. It is a city of fascination and I loved the time I spent here. Tbilisi has so much to offer in terms of history, culture, food and the people are so nice and sweet as well. It makes for a perfect city break.

Check out my country guide for Georgia to get answers to most of your travel questions.

panorama of Tbilisi

panorama of Tbilisi


Getting to Tbilisi

Tbilisi has an international airport, Tbilisi International Airport (TBS). It is some 16 km from the city centre. TBS is a modern and quite comfortable airport with good wifi and it was easy to get a SIM card from the airport itself but like most airports, sim cards were pricier than in the city. There were also ATM machines and currency exchange (albeit with same price problem).

To get to the city centre you can take bus 37 or 137 and get off at Freedom Square or Rustavelli Avenue or the main train station Vagzal. Make sure you have exact change otherwise the driver won’t take you. I downloaded the taxi app because when I landed it was quite dark and I didn’t want to wait for the bus.

You can also take the train or bus to Tbilisi. There are multiple trains and buses from Iran, Russian, Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan. I arrived the first time by car after my road trip from Kutaisi and the traffic was pretty tame all the way to the city centre.

The view of Narikala fortress

The view of Narikala fortress

Getting Around in Tbilisi

There is a 2 line metro system operational in Tbilisi and it is quite simple to use. (Map here).The cost of a ride is 0.5 GEL and it doesn’t make a difference where you go or how many time you transfer. The instructions are confusing though and despite searching, I couldn’t find an app for it. Luckily most of the places in the city centre can be explored on foot. Even if you have to go across the river, there is plenty to keep you entertained. I mostly walked everywhere in combination with taxi. The taxi apps that work well in Tbilisi are Taxify, Uber and Maxim. Maxim is the local Georgian taxi app and works in other cities too like Kutaisi.

A van in the old town of Tbilisi

A van in the old town of Tbilisi

I also took the cable car from Rike Park to head to Mother Georgia statue and Narikala Fortress. It was a great ride and one way cost only 1 GEL. I used my metro card for this ride. I saw some buses in operation around but didn’t bother trying to figure out the routes and timetables because of the language issue.

Food in Tbilisi

Tbilisi has a lot to offer in terms of food. I swear one day the world will discover the beauty of Georgian Cusine and it will be at its rightful place next to Japanese and Thai cuisines. There are a lot of restaurants and cafes, bars and rooftop lounges in this city and the food is cheap and amazing in most places. Freedom Square has some interesting restaurants and cafes around. In the evening the street next to the Puppet Museum (Rezo Gabriadze Marionette Theater) gets converted into a food street with outdoor seating with a very lively atmosphere. It is called Ioane Shavteli Street.

Ioane Shavteli Street

Happy after some great food at Ioane Shavteli Street

I also found an amazing bakery that doesn’t exist on Google Maps. It is located next to the Tamada statue (Toastmaster statue) on Sioni Street behind Sophika Chiaureli Garden. You won’t regret their bread!

A Georgian Bakery, Tbilisi

The Bakey in old city

Georgian food is the most popular cuisine from all the former Soviet republics. The variety of food is crazy and there’s food to match everyone’s taste.

Khinkali

My two ultimate favourites are Khinkali and Khachapuri and both offer a huge variety in the offering. Khinkali are steamed or fried dumplings which are filled with either meat or cheese or potatoes and broth, they are absolutely delicious.

Khachapuri is over baked thick bread which is either stuffed with different items or it comes in the shape of a boat filled with melting cheese and eggs. (I am drooling honestly).

Borscht is the cold beetroot soup which is quite delicious as well and while it isn’t strictly Georgian cuisine, it is widely available.

Badrijani is another must-try; it is made up of fried aubergine slices stuffed with crushed walnut sauce and pomegranates, foodgasmic!

Badrijani

Another weird thing I liked was the garlic milk chicken which is exactly what the name says but, despite its weird mix of ingredients, it was absolutely delicious.

Georgia is blessed with great weather and fruits here are absolutely delicious especially Fresh watermelons and melons as well as cherries. I found locals set up small stalls on main roads to sell these items. A single watermelon weighed in around 5-6 kg and lasted me almost 3-4 days and I am a hog for fruit.

Georgia is the oldest wine producer in the world with some great wines to its name. Wineries are aplenty and arranging visits is quite easy. Another must-try here. Every restaurant has a good selection of wine, don’t be shy. Spirits are also quite cheap and available at most shops.

Where to Stay in Tbilisi

The best place to stay in Tbilisi is the Old Town. It is beautiful, charming and under threat and if you book a place with some old character it will be an amazing help for the locals. Another great area to stay in near the Rustaveli Metro station. This is the ‘Gay Area’ with most bars and clubs located around here. It is also quite close to the city centre.

I booked myself a cosy studio apartment in an old building with beautiful wooden balconies. It had the most beautiful courtyard as well.

An Old Courtyard in Tbilisi old toen

An Old Courtyard in Tbilisi old town

Best Time to Visit Tbilisi

Winters and summers, both are pretty extreme in Tbilisi so I’d recommend spring and autumns. I visited towards the end of summer in the last days of August and the weather was perfect during this time. It was also late summer and slightly off-season so there weren’t many tourists around which was perfect.

How Many Days for Tbilisi

I’d suggest 3-4 days for Tbilisi, beyond that it would be an overkill to be honest and the reason I say that is because I felt really sad at a lot of things in Tbilisi and the primary one was how the old town is being killed to make space for ugly tourist accommodations. You can easily see most things in a day and don’t forget a day trip to Mtskheta or Uplitsikhe as well from here.

Gergian parliament old building

Gergian parliament old building

Gay Tbilisi

Georgia is trying to be part of the EU and increasingly becoming liberal and open towards LGBTQ people. This doesn’t mean it is entirely safe and most locals live closeted lives because it is still a conservative society. (i mean hello, they are proud of being the second nation in the world to accept Christianity as their religions and if you haven’t seen the flag of Georgia, it is a house party of St George’s cross).

That’s how I felt in Tbilisi

Compared to the rest of Caucuses and even the rest of Georgia, Tbilisi is very liberal and progressive. It has multiple gay bars, clubs and a lot of LGBTQ friendly hotels. The area around the Rustaveli Metro is the gay area. It is unofficial but this is where you will find most of the LGBTQ community residing.

In terms of bars and clubs, there are only 2 official LGBTQ bars in Tbilisi; Success and Obscure. Success bar is located in the gay area whereas Obscure is located next to Botanical gardens. Both are quite lively places but small. The only official gay club here is called Bassiani. It isn’t exactly a full-time gay club but they host a monthly Saturday night ‘Haroom’ party for gay people. You will need to book in advance and give the organisers access to your Facebook (no passwords, they just want to know if you’re gay to keep the weirdos and homophobes out). During my stay, it didn’t happen but I have heard good reviews of the night.

A cafe in Tbilisi

Isn’t it cute!

In terms of apps, Tbilisi was a weird experience. Most guys (understandably) didn’t have their faces on profiles and there were also a lot of fake profiles on Grindr. The things I found weird was how hard it was to meet someone. Most guys were very cagey and didn’t want to meet outside at all. one invited me to the Success bar where we had a drink. I eventually found Alex, a fellow Russian solo traveller and we explored the city together but Georgians were weirdly missing from my trip. I just met 2 guys and those were brief encounters, pretty weird stuff!

Free Walking Tour

I cannot emphasize how amazing the Free Walking Tour of Tbilisi was. The guide was a young girl with a permanent smile and lots of jokes up her sleeve and she wasn’t scared to use them. I enjoyed the tour half of the time because of her genuine, warm smile. I highly recommend this tour. You can check details and book it on the Free Walking Tours Tbilisi website. It started in front of the Tourist information centre in Freedom Square and during high season it runs twice a day and lasts 2.5 to 3 hours. Highly recommended!

Sophika Chiaureli Garden

The central statue in Sophika Chiaureli Garden

How to Explore Tbilisi

I kept my first day for the free walking tour followed by exploring the old town of Tbilisi including the Sio Cathedral and Jvaris Mama church ending the day at the food street and the puppet museum. The second day, I visited the baths, the bath neighbourhood, Narikalla fortress and mother Georgia statue. On the third day, I went to see the Holy Trinity Church and its surrounding area and kept the rest of the day for spa and a massage followed by a chilled evening in the old town and Rustaveli neighbourhood.

Top Things To Do In Tbilisi

Freedom Square

It was my first day and I headed to the Freedom Square to get some breakfast and then to join the free walking tour. I arrived in the town which looks quite different in the daylight. It has a statue of St George slaying the dragon.

Freedom Square Tbilisi

Freedom Square Tbilisi during the day

There are some restaurants, shops, some boutiques, stores and cafes. It has everything. It is also very important in the history of the country. It is the site of rose revolution and the this is where Georgia’s independence was declared as well from Russia.

Freedom Square Tbilisi at night

Freedom Square Tbilisi at night

Another important thing about the Freedom square; it hosts the Tourist Information Centre if you need any help from them. They weren’t the friendliest people but I got what I needed.

Old Town of Tbilisi

The Old Town of Tbilisi is my favourite part of the entire trip. It is quite a big area with many winding streets, olf courtyards, beautiful buildings with coloured glass and woodwork, art galleries, cafes or just rustic, nostalgic buildings. It is also the most threatened area due to increasing tourism. I saw multiple beautiful buildings being knocked down to make ugly modern buildings with many flats as tourist accommodations. It was really heart wrenching and sad to see. I really wish it gets stopped because the traditional houses are incredibly beautiful and unique. I would also mention my favourite building in the entire Old Town; Gallery 27. It gave me some serious inspiration for my future house.

I walked around many parts of the old town and the only way to really enjoy is to get lost without maps, it was just so amazing how easy it was to explore new streets. I saw a lot of ‘sausages’ hanging outside a lot of shops. I was a bit surprised but then I found out those were actually sweets in a lot of flavours. It just added to the colours of the old town. My favourite flavour was pomegranate.

The food street is also located here which gets incredibly busy in the evenings. Right next to that is the Clock Tower and Puppet Museum. Some of the best things to see and od in Old Town are below.

Clock Tower & Rezo Gabriadze Marionette Theater

The puppet museum was closed during my visit but that’s no reason for despair. Every evening at 7pm there is a puppet play for everyone to see in the Clock tower. It was super adorable and standing there with lots of excited tourists reminded me how much I missed puppets since I grew up. The clock tower is an especially fascinating piece of art itself. It is leaning and has been built from stones and materials from different old buildings. It also rings every hour and there are puppet figures at 12 and 7pm that come out with the music. Absolute must do in Tbilisi!

Clock Tower of Tbilisi

Clock Tower of Tbilisi

Jvaris Mama Church

This beautiful church stands on the site of a 5th-century church. it is an orthodox Christian church and the main highlight are the beautiful, recently restored frescoes. I would have totally missed it if it weren’t for our guide.

I came back later to take a deeper look but more importantly to sit in the peace and quiet of the courtyard of this gorgeous church. It was unimaginable there was a bustling city happening right outside the door. A gorgeous spot to enjoy some tea with the warm bread from the bakery listening to the water from the fountain.

Sioni Cathedral

This is the second most important church in Tbilisi after the Holy Trinity Church. Unfortunately, it was closed due to refurbishments but I saw some pictures of the interior and it seems well worth a visit.

Sioni Cathedral, Tbilisi

Sioni Cathedral, Tbilisi

Tamada Statue

Tamada or the toastmaster statue is at the end of Sioni street next to Sophiko Chiaureli Garden. Being a toastmaster is a sign of importance in Georgian society. the toastmaster conducts the meetings and parties and usually, you need a stomach of steel to drink so much. Drinking in parties is a proper ritual in Georgia. If you are looking for new opportunities for a career with lots of booze, all you gotta do is learn Georgia and move down here. 😉

Tamada Statue

Tamada Statue

Meidan Bazar & ”I Love Tbilisi” Sign

The riverside of Tbilisi is equally gorgeous and my first introduction to the city was in Meidan Bazar which is a small market. There are a lot of small kiosks and shops. It is absolutely buzzing with life in the evenings.

The best part of this area is the ‘I Love Tbilisi’ sign. These are usually very corny tourist signs but for some reason, it is cute in Tbilisi, perhaps because I saw a lot of Georgians fascinated by it and most of them were visibly not city folk.

I love tbilisi Sign

I Love Tbilisi

The area behind is sort of a like an open-air museum, a homage to the history of Georgia as the first wine producer some 8000 years ago. It is called Tbilisi Antique Archeological Museum.

Royal Baths/Sulfur baths

If you come to Tbilisi and do not visit a bathhouse, you haven’t visited Tbilisi at all. The walk from Meidan to the baths is short. There is a beautiful garden right outside the beautiful domes named after the Azeri leader ‘ Heyder Aliyev Garden‘.

Heyder Aliyev Gardens, Tbilisi

Heyder Aliyev Gardens, Tbilisi

Now you’d be forgiven for thinking there is a single bathhouse here but there are tons from the very affordable to very luxurious ones. I managed to book myself a massage at Chreli Abano which is the best bathhouse. It is pricey but absolutely worth the price tag.

Luckily phones aren’t allowed inside so it was just about relaxation for me. another important thing is the message!  While in most other cultures massage is a long ritual, the massage ritual here comes from the Turkish side which is much more brutal (ly amazing) and short. You won’t be able to handle more than 10-15 minutes. In Turkey, it is quite strong, not so much here though. Also, a lot of these bathhouses sell a body scrub as massage. Just go with the ride and enjoy the sulfur-rich waters and you will come out all amazing and fresh.

Phresh after an amazing session

Tbilisi Waterfall

The entire baths area is quite eclectic with multiple domes, some ruins from the ancient Royal baths and the best part os the small sulfur waterfall at the end of it. I had no idea it was present, another great tip by the guide. There is a heavy chain right next to the waterfall and if you can make it ring three times, it brings good luck (or something along those lines, I can’t quite remember). It is much bigger than it looks in the photos and very beautifully lit in the evenings.

Tbilisi Waterfall

Tbilisi Waterfall

The way to the waterfall is through a narrow ‘Love Bridge’ full of padlocks to recreate the love bridge of  Paris. Some of the locks there did make me chuckle because it felt like the couples wanted to assure themselves of their love more than others. Quite fun though!

The bridge of love, tbilisi

The Bridge of Love, Tbilisi

You can also visit the Botanical Gardens of Tbilisi at the back of the waterfall. Another great spot for some serenity and peace.

Baths Neighbourhood

I stood in front of the baths and the first thing I noticed was the many domes around me and then the beautiful balconies on top along with the minaret of a mosque.

Compared to the other side of Old Town, these houses were well kept. This is the baths neighbourhood and it is located on some elevation from the ground. The stairs up were not too bad considering I was too busy looking at the gorgeous houses around. The whole place is what I hope the old Town of Tbilisi looks like in the future. I did come back here with my pal Alex and took a ton of photos, This is the most instagrammable district of Tbilisi!!!

Mosque

The central mosque is a small but interesting building. it is small and nothing special from outside but how could you have a mosque so close to Iran that looks drab inside? It is definitely worth a visit. You will need to cover your head and dress modestly though.

Mosque of Tbilisi

Tbilisi Mosque

Narikala Fortress & Mother Georgia

The baths neighbourhood eventually lead us to the Narikala fortress which is located high atop Tbilisi. It is a bit of a hike which you can avoid if you like and go up using the Ariel Tramway from Rike Park but I preferred this because I went through the Baths neighbourhood.

Mother Georgia

Mother Georgia

Note: Make sure you’re wearing sturdy shoes with good grip because it isn’t a very friendly climb for everyone.

There is a small church inside the fortress and weirdly there mustn’t much information about the history but it is safe to assume it was built by king xyz who thought it was at a good strategic position to guide the city etc etc.

The best part, however, is the view. The walls are quite fragile so be careful, I almost tripped. When I finally found the spot, it was getting late and the sun was about to go down. with Tbilisi under my feet, I sat there to enjoy the end of a gorgeous day. These are the best moments for any traveller when your feet are tired, you’re dusty after a long day of exploring but your heart is content and quiet, singing to itself.

The lights came up and Tbilisi started shining like a jewel with the mother Georgia on my left-hand side with her subdued sword. I realised how hungry I was and headed back to the town.

I came back a second time during the day to appreciate the view in daylights and this time I used the Ariel tramway which was another great experience. It offers a great 360-degree view and luckily I was the only one in the car to enjoy it. Another interesting thing here is the glass floor of the cable cars, I wonder why no one else thought of it before. The second view proved that Tbilisi is equally beautiful, be it day or night. The mother Georgia statue seemed taller in daylight as well. This was my third one after seeing one in Kyiv and Yerevan before this. You absolutely cannot miss this even if it is just for the view.

Nikoloz Baratashvili Bridge

It was the last day of my visit and I decided to spend it around the river, exploring the bridges, the Holy Trinity church and the riverfront.

I left Bridge of peace behind and walked further towards the mushrooms building leading me to the Nikoloz Baratashvili Bridge. It is nothing fancy compared to its neighbour but it reminded me a bit of Charles bridge in Prague with statues on both side. I walked through it and headed to the other side of the Mtkvari river to see the star of Georgia; the Holy Trinity Church. The neighbourhood I went through was in tatters with some houses almost at the verge of collapse. I was a bit surprised to see this so close to the presidential palace.

Holy Trinity Church

It was a bit of a walk from the bridge to the cathedral and with heightened security because it is close to the presidential palace. It is also called Sameba Cathedral and it is quite a recent addition to Tbilisi skyline, only since 2002.

Holy trinity Cathedral Entrance, Tbilisi

Holy Trinity Cathedral Entrance, Tbilisi

It has a beautiful, grand entrance with a beautiful staircase. The cathedral seemed to be growing taller as I climbed the steps. It is very grand and I can only think of the Alexander Nevsky Orthodox Cathedral of Sofia that matches the grandeur of this beast. There are nice gardens and a small pool before the actual building.

The interior is somewhat simpler. There is a massive Jesus painting in the central nave of the cathedral. It is 101 metres high.

Holy trinity Cathedral interior, Tbilisi

Holy Trinity Cathedral interior, Tbilisi

Do not miss out on the gorgeous Triptych on display, it is a special type of icon with three panels. This is the most beautiful one I saw during my visit to Georgia.

Triptych Holy trinity Cathedral, Tbilisi

Triptych Holy Trinity Cathedral, Tbilisi

It took me an hour to explore around and enjoy the building before heading back down to the riverfront. I had a massage booked in the sulfur baths for my last evening followed by some chilling in Rike Park.

Metekhi Bridge & The Statue of King Vakhtang Gorgasali

I walked all the way to the Metekho bridge to cross to the baths and while crossing the bridge, for a brief period, the sky went a bit red. The cable cars overhead and the statue of King Vakhtang along with the Narikala Fortress, the scene was just perfect. Tbilisi has been immensely blessed with beauty and who better to credit that our King Vakhtang; the founder of Tbilisi. With the chapel in the background, looking towards the old town, I wonder if he’d be able to recognise the city he once founded.

Rike Park & Bridge of Peace

The first point was the bridge of peace which I had come to visit with the tour. It is the hopeful sign for Georgia of a modern, European future, away from its mighty neighbour. After all that has happened, it is quite clear the direction the younger generation wants to take.

The bridge is pedestrians only and leads to Rike Park. It is also very beautifully lit in the evenings. I crossed into Rike park and headed for the area near the dancing fountains.

Rike concert Hall

Rike Concert Hall, Rike Park

Rike Park is one of the latest additions to Tbilisi. From a birds-eye view, it is supposed to look like Georgia. It is the best place to come and chill in the evenings when the park is nicely lit and there are the dancing fountains which make things more beautiful. It is also a place where most of the younger generation comes to chill. I finished my day here and after quite a bit of walking, it felt like the most amazing place to chill. With local music being played by street artists, the sun setting and some pomegranate juice in my hands, I was happy to say goodbye to another beautiful day and to the gorgeous Tbilisi next morning.

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