Following the dull city that is Baku, Azerbaijan, I was super excited to visit its neighbouring country – Georgia! Just 45 minutes after departing the modern airport of Baku we touched down in Tbilisi. I flew on Buta Airways and lucked out when the entire plane was full despite the seat next to me! We were also provided a sandwich and drink – a far cry from the low-cost carriers operating in the UK. In addition, we departed on time and even landed ahead of schedule, what a wonderful experience.
The plan landed at 11:30pm and whisked straight through Georgia immigration and welcomed in by a friendly border officer. Of course, my Azerbaijan stamp was questioned, but not as much as my Kosovo stamp and the wifi named ‘Tbilisi Loves You’ was the warm welcome that greeted me. Because I travel hand luggage only, I was one of the first one out into arrivals and I brought a tourist sim card from one of the 2 sim card stores that were both open despite the few flights landing at the late time and ordered a Bolt to take me to my hostel. There was no traffic at this time of day, so made it to my hostel from the airport in 20 minutes, after waiting 5 minutes or so for my Bolt to arrive. I checked in and was in my dorm bed less than an hour after landing into Tbilisi – a lovely welcome and smooth entry into my 61st country!
I based myself in Tbilisi, from where I did 2-day trips and spent my final day exploring the city. If I were to visit again, I would spend a few days in Kazbegi to go hiking, of course Batumi in the summer and maybe spend a day or too in sleepy Sighnaghi.
What to do in Tbilisi
A someone who is usually not a fan of capital cities, Tbilisi blew me away. It is a nice size city to explore, the metro system consists of 2 lines, so is super to navigate, the city is clean and the locals (of all generations) are very welcoming. I of course did a walking tour of the old town, organised by Tbilisi Free Walking Tour, who have a super excellent website providing a lot of tips for the capital and recommendations. Here is a list of things to see and do whilst in Tbilisi:
After waking up at 8am, I spent the first few hours of my day strolling around a relatively empty old town.
I wandered down the unassuming steps of Caravanserai Bakery to have some warm pastries for my breakfast. You can see the old ovens behind the counter. Located opposite the bakery is the Tbilisi History Museum and offers a range of exhibitions including thousands of artefacts from throughout Georgias history. Another delight was wandering into one of MANY churches scattered around the old town. I popped into Sioni Cathedral in the early morning and was pleasantly surprised by the sunlight passing through the windows proving the most delightful view: (do note, some churches require head coverings whilst others do not allow any photography – so be sure to read the signage at the entrance before entering)
Leaning Tower – only recently built, in 2010, the tower is built neat to the marionette theatre and if you arrive at noon and 7pm, you will be able to watch the ‘circle of life’ being performed by small puppets that appear at the top of the tower. If you go close up you will be able to appreciate the hand painted tiles and the tiny clock that has been built within the clock.
Spending time in a bath house is a popular pastime for locals are visitors to the city alike. The capital city was chosen due to the hot springs which run underneath it, and the name Tbilisi means warm place! There are a fair few bath houses dotted around the city, with a group located just outside the old town.
There was also a nice looking synagogue located within the old town, which looked open, however after reading a few Google reviews, they do not allow non-Jewish people / tourists in – which seems a bit of a shame.
Narikala Fortress & Mother of Georgia Statue
You can reach the top of the city by using the Tbilisi Funicular (cable car). If you hold the Tbilisi metro card, you can just top this up with cash or credit card at the payment desk at the entrance to the cable car. I went here in time for sunset, which I would also recommend doing to!
Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi
Only opened in 2004, what it lacks in detailed interior, it makes up for in size! It is one of the largest religious buildings in the world and the grounds surrounding the Cathedral are beautiful. It is lit up very well at night – so worth visiting both during the day and evening.
A great place to take photos is when you enter there are some unassuming steps along the entrance wall which lead you up to a beautiful photo point. The best part was that I had the viewpoint all to myself.
Where to eat / drink in Tbilisi
If you like to try out new cuisine and enjoy wine as much as I do – you will be very happy in Tbilisi. You have to try local wine, cha cha, khinkali and Khachapuri when in Georgia.
The list of restaurants to visit is endless, but here are some of my favourite and those also recommended:
Nino Meris Wine Selection, Karalashvili wine cellar & DADI wine bar and shop are all great wine options! The staff are super knowledgeable to find the best wine for you to enjoy.
Ice Crime – enroute to the train station, I stopped for a cup of tasty ice cream. There was a great range of flavours, and the lazy who served me was super friendly
Vakhtanguri’s Chebureki, Melograno, Kilkes Khinkali, Otsy and cafe Daphna are all pretty good restaurants to add to your list.
Day Trips from Tbilisi
Kakheti Region – Signagi, Bodbe, Wine Tasting
Booked this day trip via Budget Friendly Tours (& I recommend this group). I was very lucky to be the only person booked on this group tour, so had a driver and guide all to myself! I am sure other companies would just cancel if they had just 1 person signed up.
After my guide providing me an informative brief on the country of Georgia we made our way to the first stop – Kakhetian Traditional Winemaking Factory, where I was able to see how the wine was made and also try 5 wines, which were all absolutely delicious, even trying the red wine Starlin preferred.
Enroute to the next stop we stopped over a bakery to try some freshly baked bread, fresh from the tandoor and try a range of cheese (they take bread and cheese seriously in Georgia). Also tried some Churchkhela, which is a delight!
Mountain Region – Jinvali, Ananuri, Gudauri, Kazbegi
Probabaly one of my favourite travel days for the entire 2022. A full day tour covering the mountainous region close by to Tbilisi. We visited 2 monasteries as well as a lake just outside the city, the autumnal colours made the views even more spectacular.
Gergeti Trinity Church was the highlight of this day trip – and we even witnessed an engagement take place (the view was amazing). The church is located just outside the small town of Kazbegi, which is a beautiful small town – a great option for hikers (it is 20 mins form the Russian border). I recommend having a wine or hot chocolate at Rooms Hotel Kazbegi whilst watching the sunset – a great way to end the most perfect of days!
My Experience of Tbilisi, Georgia
I smiled writing this post, as it brings back fond memories of one of my favourite countries I have visited. A beautiful capital city and country that has made a positive mark since the Soviet collapse in 1991, the most welcoming and friendly locals, delicious and fun cuisine and of course copious amounts of wine available everywhere.
Visiting in November 2022 meant that circa 80k Russians were residing in Georgia that had fled to avoid conscription and to carry on with ‘normal’ life as much as possible. Whilst many other European countries have closed their doors to Russians, Georgia has let them in – despite currently being 20% occupied by Russia!! This really goes to show how welcoming and nice the Georgians are. This sudden movement of people is certainly not without its consequences. Increased rent (if any places are available), hostility from the new Russians, increased traffic, inflation etc. the list goes on. However, many locals go by the stance that ‘not all Russians are Putin’ and if this is the case of the Russian, they are more than welcome to enter bars, restaurants, hostels etc (with some venues requiring them to sign a form before they can enter).
Spending a week in Georgia would have been a much better option instead of the short time that I passed through Georgia. I was genuinely sad to leave this beautiful country behind, but I made my way to the train station to get my first ever overnight train to me next country – Armenia!