I bet most of you don't know or have never heard about the country of Georgia (not to be confused with one of the states in the US), let alone its capital city - Tbilisi. Caucasus remains a rare destination for visitors from the west, except those more adventurous. However, if you do decide to visit the region, you will be surprised by its beauty and history.
Tbilisi (formerly Tiflis) is probably the main gateway to this relatively small yet so diverse area of land situated between the Black and Caspian Sea. The country was founded in the fourth century BC by king Farnavaz the first. The remains of the fortress Narikala and defensive walls from the fourth century still overlook the city from the steep cliff on the banks of Kura river. Nowadays, Tbilisi is the metropolis of the region and has a population of more than 1.5 million inhabitants.
How to get to Tbilisi
It's easy to get to Tbilisi, there are many airlines that fly directly to the city's main airport. You can also get here from Armenia, by an overnight train or a minibus called marshrutka. The journey by marshrutka costs very little and takes around 5 hours from Yerevan. Don't try to get to Georgia from Russia by land, the tensions are still present in the areas near the Russian border.
Tbilisi airport is very modern and there's a newly built tram station just outside the terminal that takes passengers to the city for 0.50 GEL (0.25 EUR/0.30 USD). However, it doesn't run very frequently. Other option is the public bus for 0.40 GEL or, if you arrive at night, as I did, a taxi for around 30 GEL (15 EUR, 20 USD). Timetables here: http://www.airport.ge/
There is something different and surprising about the airport in Tbilisi. Security staff are actually nice to you (!) and while passing through the passport control desks (which takes seconds) I was given a bottle of Georgian wine as a gift! That was a surprise, I never got any gift from the airport staff, neither before or after visiting Tbilisi.
You can read more about my first impressions in Georgia in the post "Georgian Welcome".
What to see in Tbilisi
Tbilisi is a mix of everything, new, old, soviet style, luxury and rubble. Full of contrasts. The city center looks like a never ending, one huge construction site. After the times of trouble and conflict, it slowly rises from the ashes and regains its lost grandeur. The city may seem chaotic and a bit messy, especially when you are trying to cross the street. Sidewalks are still under construction and sometimes it's really difficult to find a pedestrian crossings. It can be dangerous, especially when you get stuck in between a busy road and the wall of the cliff surrounding the old town. Maybe for some Tbilisi would be too chaotic, but for me it was one of the most charming places I have been to and I would love to go back there some day.
Tbilisi Old Town
Tbilisi Old Town is simply beautiful. It's perfectly located on the Kura river, surrounded with vertical cliff walls that provide an excellent view over the whole city. The architecture is very colorful, the wooden houses with distinctive balconies stick out from the edges of the cliffs. At night, like in Batumi, Tbilisi Old Town comes to life and shines with colorful lights, every balcony is illuminated, together with Narikala Fortress, churches and other buildings.
Freedom square, when I visited it last year, was being carefully renovated. The nice thing is that the ruins of the ancient city of Tiflis were left intact and the footpaths were laid around, so you can admire them while walking through the main square.
Don't miss traditional shops selling food and great variety of fresh fruit. The restaurants in the narrow, cozy streets are relatively cheap, you have to try khachapuri, the traditional Georgian meal made of bread and local cheese. Georgian cuisine is delicious, full of flavor and aromatic spices.
Fourth century Narikala Fortress
Narikala Fortress and its defensive walls, built on top of the hill, fit perfectly the city's location creating an astonishing skyline, especially while illuminated at night. The fortress dates back to the forth century, however it was later extended, until the seventeenth century. It's quite easy to climb up the Old Town's steep narrow streets to the top of the fortress. You will see unbelievably beautiful views over Tbilisi and the Kura river valley. If you don't feel like climbing, there is a newly constructed cable car that will take you to the top for 1 GEL (0.50 EUR/0.70 USD).
Holy Trinity Cathedral - Sameba
Beautiful Holy Trinity Cathedral - in the heart of Tbilisi was completed in 2004. Commonly known as Sameba (trinity in Georgian) is the main orthodox church in the city. Architecturally, it's similar to other temples in the region but much bigger, stunningly symmetrical and well worth a visit, especially at night.
It stands within the area of the oldest Armenian cemetery where the Holy Mother of God church once was before it was destroyed during the Soviet Era. A controversy arose while construction of Sameba as the cemetery was turned into a park and some claim that there still are remains of graves on the site.
Turkish Sulfur Baths
The tradition of sulfur baths has existed in the region since antiquity. Located right in the old town, Sulfur Baths are easy to find thanks to the building with distinctive domes. Unfortunately, I didn't have a chance to take a bath there. It's like an ancient spa, there are also massages and sauna on offer. If you decide to use it, just bear in mind that water full of sulfur smells... I found more info on this blog: http://georgiaphiles.wordpress.com/2012/10/04/taking-the-waters-the-sulfur-baths-of-tbilisi/
Next time I'm in Tbilisi I will try it.
Bridge of Peace and modern architecture
Georgia is a paradise for travelers and photographers. Such diversity packed in such a small area is quite uncommon. To be honest, I don't like cities too much but Tbilisi and Batumi are full of various architectural surprises, and also ideal for night photography. Every new building is strange, weird, original and stunning.
Bridge of Peace on the Kura river is a great example of this. At night, it's illuminated with thousands micro lights that bring it to life.
Right beside the bridge, you can enjoy beautiful dancing fountains in the newly constructed park. You also surely won't miss the glittering TV tower, new theater building which resembles two enormous pipes (!) and the public service hall which looks like a bunch of mushrooms squeezed together.
If you liked this article, you can also download it via the GPSmyCity app - you will be able to gain access to the guide, which will direct you to all the attractions described above, even if you're offline. Download it here.
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