My husband arranged for us to go to Tbilisi for our wedding anniversary over 4 nights, it is a 3.5-hour flight from Dubai, with no time difference to factor in and visa on arrival making it a very accessible destination for a city break.
We stayed at the 4*star Courtyard by Marriott centrally located on Freedom Square and within walking distance of the Old City and many of Tbilisi’s attractions including the Georgian National Museum, Rustaveli Theatre and the State Opera House.
Our first experience of Tbilisi was a rookie error – the taxi ride from the airport to the hotel, we didn’t check for a meter (there isn’t one!) or agree the price before we set off! Ah! In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t expensive, but it was nearly three times what we should have paid! Lesson learnt!
On the first morning we utilized the ‘hop on, hop off’ sightseeing bus to give us a sense of where we were, the layout of the City and the places and areas we would walk back to and explore in more detail.
The open top bus tour took us to the iconic old town and surrounding wall, Meidan Square, the Sulphur Bath District, Mtkvari River, Metekhi Wall, the Dry Bridge, the Flea Market, Rike Park, Peace Bridge, Freedom Square, Rustaveli Avenue, Heroes Square, Agmashenebeli Avenue and everywhere in between! Being able to see the City in this way, really gave a visual sense of its history; the old blended with the new, the Soviet period married with the Persian and modern day.
Once we had our sense of direction, we spent time over the next few days meandering through Tbilisi and its Old Town. Each narrow street had something different to see, either gravity defying angles of older buildings which are in a state of disrepair, but somehow still occupied as homes and businesses or an upscale new building housing a restaurant and an art gallery.
We explored most of Tbilisi itself on foot, visiting the Metekhi Church, the Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi with its gold dome visible from most vantage points in the City, Rikhe Park with its unique sculptures, took the cable car over the river and up to Narikala Citadel; the walk back down affording the iconic multi colored roof top views of the Old Town and the Botanical Gardens. Mtatsminda Park is the highest point of the City, originally founded by the Soviet government in the 1930’s it has a range of rides and attractions, including a giant Ferris wheel and an air of dilapidation about it. The highlight here is the Funicular Restaurant with its authentic Georgian cuisine, its large terrace and the views across the City, I thoroughly recommend a long leisurely lunch here! The Funicular itself is worth the experience.
The Sulphur bathhouses are a huge part of the Georgian way of life, renowned for their health benefits, so when in Tbilisi it would be worth the experience or so we thought! Let’s just say, don’t expect high standards or any level of luxury and do your research as to which baths are the ‘higher end’! The difference between the pictures and description on the internet and the actual reality can be huge, our experience was short lived, but an experience nonetheless!
No trip to Tbilisi would be complete without sampling its wine and food, both of which are plentiful, tasty and cheap! There are wine shops almost on every corner of Tbilisi with many wine bars to sample Georgian wines, there is also a growing trend for Chacha bars in the City and across the country. Chacha is the national spirit made from leftover grape skins and pips, it is known as firewater and tastes just like it too!! Worth a try, but don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Georgian food is quite heavy, dominated by meat, cheese and bread. The must try dish is Khachapuri, literally cheese bread, which is the national dish. It is very tasty and accompanies a glass or two of red wine very well!
Overall, Tbilisi is well worth a visit and we will certainly be back to explore more of Georgia itself.