Let’s start with the surprising fact – Tbilisi is a great city. It is just incredibly under rated. A liveable city. A safe city. A vibrant city. A sleeping giant crying to be found. I expected nothing much from it, I expected an eastern grey textbook dull drab dreary ex-communist Stalinist patchwork of Soviet style blocks, roads with too many statues and concrete boulevards and a complete lack of atmosphere. At the time, I also felt we would use Tblisi merely as a transit city while touring the Caucases. In the end we spent a total of 13 days here over a 6 week period, coming and going as we chose. Tblisi was brilliant, simple as that. We used it as our base, we even stored our bags here at the Why Not Hostel while we headed to Armenia, Nagorno Karabakh and Azerbaijan and back and we found time to chill out, get some online work done and see all the sights.
I haven’t written enough about Georgia yet, other than my time touring Sighnaghi and top sights in Batumi, so it’s about time I wrote about Tbilisi. A truly great city. Here is a quick top ten, before I forget what I even did there…
I don’t normally like or understand the word funicular, but it’s basically a cable car type device that normally takes you from a lower point to a higher point. Tbilisi is a great city to view from a height so take the Funicular up to the top for the views.
2. Freedom Square/Tavisuplebis Moedani
Freedom Squares dominate proceedings in ex-USSR states. This rather cumbersome title Tavisuplebis Moedani doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue but it’s a main point of meeting near a junction on the edge fo the Old Town with bars, cafes and restaurants aplenty nearby. I recommend visiting it at night and by day.
3. Peace Bridge
The country where Stalin was born has had its fair share of war, so it’s fitting that one of the coolest bridges in the city is called Peace Bridge. I loved crossing the river in Tbilisi (the Mtkvari River) and just generally wandering around. We were there in 2013 and there weren’t many tourists around.
4. Tsimba Sameda Cathedral (Holy Trinity Cathedral)
The brand new Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi is so pristine and clean, you can see it so clearly from a height. A gorgeous building both inside and outside. Christian Orthodox seems to dominate here in Georgia and the city of Tbilisi is certainly very holy.
5. Nariqala Fortress
There are numerous vantage points over the city and one of them is to enter the famous Nariqala Fortress itself. We did all the walking trails in and around the fortress, day and night. It was a Persian Citadel as long ago as the fourth century. The Church of St. Nicholas inside is also worth a look.
6. Old Town (Qala)
Who can come to a city as large and prominent as Tbilisi and neglect the place where the sprawl all began – the Old Town! While Tbilisi’s Old Town is not on the same par as Old Towns in Hungary, Poland or Estonia for example, it does have some charms about it. Little Georgian restaurants serve up top notch khachapuri and wine and Kote Abkhazi is the main street. A slight irony hits home here with the name, given that the nearby country of Abkhazia remains unrecognised.
7. Parliament Building
In Romania’s Bucharest I went inside and toured the parliament building. Here is Tbilisi, we just admired from the outside. It is on the main thoroughfare Rustavelis Gamziri, which was very close to our hostel, Why Not Hostel?
8. Rustaveli Theatre
As with all capital cities (and just large cities) in the ex-Soviet Union states, I always seem to check out the main theatre. Of course, when it was the USSR these were known as State Theatres, now of course the Rustaveli Theatre is the National Theatre of Georgia.
I love a random wee dander through such markets, picking up cheap snacks, souvenirs and all sorts of melarkey. What I especially liked was the open air / dry bridge market with its art, but also the market area in Rustaveli near the national football stadium. The wee cafes and bars just off that market were very cheap for food and drink.
10.National Football Stadium (Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena)
As a Glentoran FC fan, there was an extra meaning to my visit to the national football stadium here in Georgia. Of course, from the 186 countries that I have visited so far, I always try to visit a football stadium of some description. The National Stadium in Tbilisi reminded me of two things – Linfield FC being knocked out of the European Cup in 1993 by Dinamo Tbilisi only to be reinstated as Tbilisi cheated! And also of Northern Ireland beating Georgia 4-1 in our only meeting to date, back in 2008, a match I was at. Plus the country also had the famous Georgi Kinkladze!
It has been a whopping 7 years since I was in Georgia and I still have more unwritten posts about it. As the Coronavirus outbreak spreads, it mens no more travelling for now. But a part of me on reading my Georgia Lonely Planet book now desires a return to Georgia, mostly to visit Abkhazia which I missed first time around, as well as South Ossetia. Here are some more photos from my time backpacking in Tbilisi, Georgia.
Here are some videos I made in Tbilisi, Georgia: