Overlooked by the Narikala Fortress, the Old Town of Tbilisi (also known as Kala) is a magnificent labyrinth of narrow winding streets, balconied houses, leafy squares, tiny shops, cutesy coffee shops and fabulous restaurants.
Tbilisi, a one-time Silk Road capital, is Georgia’s capital city -a sprawling, chaotic city, home to 1.1 million people. Most visitors to this fascinating city will base themselves around the Old Town, and there is plenty to see and do here to keep you busy for days.
So, want to know the best things to see and do in and around the Old Town of Tbilisi, Georgia?
Metekhi Church of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary
The Metekhi Church of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary is on the left bank of the Mtkvari river, on a cliff plateau. It’s one of the oldest churches in the city, built during the 6th century and symbolically resembles the church built on the Virgin Mary’s tomb in Gethsemane garden in Jerusalem.
Rike Park is also located on the left bank of the river Kura (Mtkvari), just next to Europe Square, the square which proudly contains a part of the Berlin Wall.
Inside Rike Park, you’ll find the entrance to the Bridge of Peace and access to the cable car that takes visitors up to the Narikala fortress that overlooks the city. It’s a pleasant park, but like many cities worldwide, it did attract a few dodgy-looking characters after dark.
The Bridge of Peace
The Bridge of Peace, officially opened in May 2010, really stands out as it’s a very modern piece of architecture in the old part of town. Made with glass and steel, designed in a bow-shaped, it crosses the Mtkvari (Kura) river.
The Bridge of Peace was brought to Georgia from Italy in 200 unassembled components. The bridge is 156 metres long, with more than 10 000 LED bulbs that are switched on daily, 90 minutes before sunset.
Tbilisi Cable Car
A cable car takes you from Rike Park up to the Narikala fortress and the Mother of Georgia Statue. The cost is 2,5 GEL (less than a dollar). The queues for the cable car can be long but move along quite quickly.
The journey to the top is only 686 metres and takes only two minutes. If you go up by cable car, I recommend walking back down to see the waterfalls, botanical gardens and hammams.
Kartlis Deda Kartvlis Deda (Mother of Georgia) Statue
The Mother of Georgia statue is the city symbol of Tbilisi. The statue was erected on Sololaki Hill to celebrate the 1500th anniversary of Tbilisi in 1958.
The twenty-metre aluminium statue is of a woman in a Georgian national dress, symbolising the national character. She holds a bowl of wine in her left hand to welcome those who come as friends, and in her right hand is a sword for those who come to Georgia as enemies.
The Narikala fortress overlooks Old Tbilisi and the botanical gardens. The fortress walls are crumbling, but there are great views of the city from up there.
The fortress is lit up at night. Entrance is free and is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The 12th-century Orthodox Church on the fortress grounds is one of a few buildings intact. The rest of the interior was destroyed during an earthquake or explosion in 1827.
National Botanical Garden of Georgia
The National Botanical Garden of Georgia, formerly known as the Tbilisi Botanical Garden, is just a short walk from the Narikaka Fortress.
Covering an area of 161 hectares, the garden is located within the Tsavkisis-Tskali Gorge. As well as many plants and trees, there’s also a waterfall. It’s a lovely place to wander and sit and ponder when Tbilisi gets too much for you. It costs just 4 GEL ( less than $1.50) to enter.
As you walk down from the Narikala Fortress, you will come to Leghvtakhevi Waterfall. Yes, there’s a waterfall right in the middle of the Old Town, and you don’t have to pay anything to see this one.
Leghvtakhevi comes from the Georgian word “Leghvi”, meaning fig. There used to be many fig trees here.
The “Abanotubani” is the name given to the bath district in the Old Town of Tbilisi. The whole street (Abanos Kucha) of public bathhouses uses the sulfur waters from the many hot springs in this area.
The name Tbilisi means ‘warm place’, and according to legend, when the falcon of King Vakhtang Gorgasali fell into one of the hot springs, the king then decided to build the city here.
Many bathhouses look like traditional Persian-style baths, except the water here is naturally hot, not manually heated.
One of the most famous and also more costly baths to visit is the fancy-looking Chreli Abano Spa. The bathhouse looks like a mosque from the outside.
Rezo Gabriadze Marionette Theatre
Next to the marionette theatre in Tbilisi’s old town is a very unique clock tower. An angel appears with a small hammer to ring the bell every hour on the hour.
The 6th-century Anchiskhati Cathedral is located at Ioane Shavteli Street in upper Kala and is the oldest church building in Tbilisi.
Another beautiful church in upper Kala is the Sioni Cathedral on Sioni Street. It’s named after Mount Zion in Jerusalem.
Tamada means toastmaster in Georgian and is an essential figure in Georgian culture.
Each feast, no matter its size, has a toastmaker or ‘tamada’ who introduces each toast, of which there are many.
For more information on the role of the tamada – have a look at this article by food fun travel.
Shardeni Street is a very pretty small walking street in Tbilisi that runs between Vakhtang Gorgasali Square and Sioni Street. Here you will find many art galleries and bars, and restaurants.
Median Bazaar is located underneath Meidan Square, right in the heart of old town. Everything from wine to tea, from postcards to Georgian jams, and sauces are all made in Georgia can be found here and are reasonably priced.
I’m not usually a fan of souvenir markets, but this one was very relaxed with no aggressive sellers.
Open daily 10:00 – 22:00
Take A Walking Tour
If your time is short in Tbilisi, but you want to see all the major highlights of Tbilisi Old Town, then take a look at this walking tour. It’s a good half-day tour involving lots of walking but worth doing.
Explore The Different Neighbourhoods
Tbilisi is a charming city that truly gets under your skin. Once you’ve seen the old town highlights, continue wandering the streets and exploring new neighbourhoods.
Admire gorgeous architecture and balconies, and find a cute coffee shop.
Recommended Restaurants in Old Tbilisi
Georgian food and wine are good, very good. I enjoyed great food at these two restaurants when I was there.
Organique Jasper Bar – is known for its steaks, which are different to European steaks as Georgian cows live on the hills! Not a massive fan of steak, so I had the delicious trout instead.
Balcony No 12 on Shardeni Street – I had a fabulous lunch of local Georgian dishes here on the terrace.
Recommended Day Trips From Old Town Tbilisi
I stayed in Tbilisi for five nights and took a couple of day trips which I want to share with you.
My favourite day trip from my whole time in Georgia was this one-day trip with tour to David Gareja Monastery and Rainbow Mountain.
The tour takes you through stunning countryside and includes:
- Off-road driving.
- A short hike in the Rainbow Mountains.
- A visit to a cave monastery where a monk has lived for 18 years and then to the David Gardena monastery complex, which lies on the Azerbaijani border. (Due to tensions between the Georgian and Azerbaijani, a large part of the complex is currently closed to visitors.)
- And a delicious late lunch with wine tasting at the Vineria Kakheti in Georgia’s famous wine region.
Another fun day trip, even though the weather was awful that day, was this one to Mtskheta, Jvari, Gori and Uplistsikhe.
Uplistsikhe is another cave city, not as impressive as Vardzia but easier to get to.
The Stalin museum in Gori was interesting. It was built during Soviet times and is a biography of Stalin’s life where he is celebrated as a great hero. However, since 2010 there is now a room that talks about his atrocities.
Within the museum grounds lies the tiny house where Stalin was born.
The Jvari Monastery is located near the ancient capital of Georgia, Mtskheta, on the top of a hill. It’s a beautiful setting, but it was freezing and windy when I visited. Inside the church, despite the noise of the wind, you could hear the loud chanting of prayers.
Mtskheta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was the capital of the early Kingdom of Iberia (today’s Eastern Georgia and has been inhabited since before 1,000 BC. It’s just 20 kilometres outside Tbilisi, at the point where the Mtkvari and Aragvi rivers meet.
Lunch is included on this tour in a local home in Gori with copious amounts of wine on offer – well, this is Georgia!
Other Popular Day Tours From Tbilisi
Other popular day trips from Tbilisi included a day trip to the Kakheti wine region and Kazbegi. I didn’t do either of these tours as I decided to spend a few nights in both of these regions, more information on that coming soon!
Top Tips For Visiting Tbilisi
Wear comfy non-slip shoes; some of those hills around the old town are steep.
If you are planning to venture further than the old town but don’t want to use public transport, consider downloading the Bolt app. Bolt taxis are very affordable in Georgia.
If you are in Georgia for a while, consider getting a SIM card. All you need is your passport, and you can access fast, reliable internet in minutes.
Whether you are a budget or luxury traveller, you’ll find that Tbilisi, and the whole of Georgia, is a very budget-friendly destination. Accommodation, transportation, food, and tourist attractions are all relatively inexpensive.
Is Old Town Tbilisi Safe To Visit?
As a solo female traveller, I felt very safe in Tbilisi, although I admit I felt a little uncomfortable walking through Rike Park after dark. But as in any major city, crime does happen, so use the same precautions as at home. If you’re concerned, check out the Safe Tbilisi group on Facebook.
Best Time To Visit Old TownTbilisi
The best time to visit Tbilisi is in May/June, and September. Then you can avoid the scorching summers and freezing winters.
Where To Stay In Old Town Tbilisi
How To Get To Tbilisi
Tbilisi International Airport is located 17 kilometres outside Tbilisi.
Private airport transfers from Tbilisi Airport to Tbilisi are available from $10 per person.
Or take City bus number 337 from Tbilisi Airport to Freedom Square in the city centre, which is just a short stroll from the old town. At just 1 GEL per person, it’s the cheapest option to the old city.
Budget airline WizzAir flys into Kutaisi airport. If you don’t fancy spending a few nights in Kutaisi, you can book a private airport transfer from Kutaisi Airport to Tbilisi or take the Georgian Bus.
Coming from Kutaisi by bus, you will be dropped off at Didube Bus Terminal. From the bus station, take a taxi (fewer communication problems if you use Bolt) or take a metro. The metro nearest to Tbilisi Old Town is Avlabari Metro Station.
For other posts on Georgia, check these.
Have I missed anything? Please let me know if there’s anything else I should add to this list.
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