Defiant of expectation and classification, but rich with history and hospitality, the Georgian capital city of Tbilisi calls out to travelers as a burgeoning cultural nexus. A few hours’ drive from the Caucasus Mountains, as well as both the Black and Caspian Seas, Tbilisi’s position at the crux of Europe and Asia once played an important role in the Silk Road. Today, the city—and Georgian National Tourism Administration—invites visitors to indulge in culinary delights, design hotels, thoughtful museums and soothing sulphur baths. All of these experiences are quantifiably superb, but it’s the more intangible sensations—the way the afternoon light looks during a long walk or the feeling of riding the funicular to Mtatsminda Park‘s Ferris Wheel—that distance the city from so many others.
During our time in Tbilisi, we dedicated seven days to attractions big and small—from outdoor experiences like the National Botanical Garden of Georgia and the folk architecture-oriented Giorgi Chitaia Open Air Museum of Ethnography to nightlife adventures that included one of Europe’s most famous clubs, Bassiani. The city itself warrants a stay this long, if not longer. But to visit Georgia and not step outside of Tbilisi is a disservice to any traveler, too. Thus, seven-day travel excursions—much like the one organized by Georgian Experience—balance the vibrant urban center and the greater nation consisting of post-Soviet ghost towns, stunning natural formations, mesmeric cave systems and, of course, vineyards and wineries producing in a historic method. Our selections below merely scratch Tbilisi’s surface and our most important recommendation altogether must be to take the city by foot whenever possible.
Look any direction in Tbilisi’s Old Town and be prepared for diverse charm. The neighborhood sits beneath the ancient Narikala Fortress. It’s populated with cobble stone streets, some of which slope upward into the mountain on which the fortress rests. Running along the Mtkvari River, Old Town includes beautiful hotels, statues and sculptures, hidden courtyards and gardens, as well as narrow, winding alleys. The edges of Old Town blend into others worth exploring, but at its center are the brick domes of Abanotubani, or a section of sulphur bath houses that must seen to be believed. It’s picturesque and inspiring.
Sharing an owner with both the Rooms and Stamba hotels, Fabrika isn’t just the region’s largest hostel; it’s nothing short of a cultural center. On-site visitors will find several restaurants, cafes, stores, a large public courtyard with events, co-working spaces and even artist studios. Unsurprisingly, the destination embraces locals as well as tourists. It’s a great place to sleep, but also to celebrate the wealth of Tbilisi’s offerings.
Up a flight of stairs beyond an unmarked door, DRAMA Bar takes speakeasy attributes and bookends them with an outdoor bar, several private nooks and a small but raucous dance floor. It opens late and stays open even later (until 3AM). The vibe shifts from room to room, with everything underscored by the fact the venue really is a lavish apartment. DRAMA is also in walking distance from Tbilisi’s LGBTQ+ bar, Success.
An open-air market that covers more than 2,000 square meters, Dezerter Bazaar sells items that locals need, including various seasonal fruits and vegetables. It’s one of the largest in the city and its authenticity is an undeniable allure. Beyond produce, visitors can purchase lots of churchkhela, Georgia’s traditional grape must and hazelnut candy, which comes in the shape of a candle and is both sweet and inherently dense.
Georgian National Museum
An institution of innumerable treasures, the Georgian National Museum plays host to the Georgian Archaeological Treasury. Within, an entire nation’s history comes to life through ancient artifacts, Medieval treasures and a study on Caucasus biodiversity. One exhibition hall, referred to as the Museum of Soviet Occupation, offers insight on another fascinating chapter in the nation’s history.
The Leaning Clock Tower
What appears at first to be a toppling clock tower is in fact the eccentric vision of Georgian puppeteer Rezo Gabriadze. Each hour marks the appearance of several automatons who cycle through an animated, multi-level performance. The clock tower is also a signpost for the Gabriadze Theater, which features thoughtful puppet-based programming for audiences of all ages.
Georgian cuisine continues to grow in acclaim—everywhere. And Tbilisi has no shortage of phenomenal restaurants. Metis, however, is Franco-Georgian. And while it lands every single delicacy with perfection—from dumpling-like khinkalis to the various and utterly indulgent cheesy khachapuris—it’s the prime location and rooftop seating that make it a must-stop spot. They’ve also got an expansive roster of Georgian wines, beers and local mineral waters. In contrast, ღVino Underground is definitely the city’s best wine bar and, as the name implies, is located in a cozy cellar.
Hero image by David Graver