Tbilisi, the awesome capital of Georgia and one of my favorite cities, is getting more and more popular with each year. I’ve been visiting Tbilisi frequently for the past 8 years – the number of tourists increased, a lot and Tbilisi tourism is developing rapidly.
And I do get it, the city is amazing, with so much to offer that everyone should find something interesting. If you are planning to visit Georgia I put together a small Tbilisi guide with numerous Tbilisi travel tips that will hopefully make your trip smoother.
Where is Tbilisi Georgia?
First things first – Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, is located in the Caucasus region. The country has borders with Turkey, Russia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia and it used to be part of the Soviet Union. The local time is GMT +3 in the summer and GMT +4 in winter.
When is the best time to visit Tbilisi, Georgia?
I’ve been to Tbilisi in all seasons and my favorite time is either spring or autumn. Summers can be insanely hot there, the city is also full of tourists so you might wait a bit in line for a cable car or for a table at the restaurant. On the other hand, winters can be unpredictable. If you plan a trip to Tbilisi aim for either spring or autumn.
Money in Tbilisi
The local currency in Georgia is lari (GEL). At the time of writing this article (March 2019), 1 GEL was approximately $0,38 and €0,33.
I assume Georgian lari isn’t readily available all over the world, but you don’t need to worry about it. There are numerous ATMs all over Tbilisi so you can get your money without problems. Just be careful as some ATMs charge the commission – i.e., ProCredit Bank on Liberty Square.
If you want to exchange money the easiest will be US dollars, Euro or Russian rubles. There are numerous exchange points all over the city (I know by heart at least 3 at Kote Afkhazi street – the main road in Old Tbilisi that connects Liberty Square with Metekhi Bridge), and you will easily spot them. The rates are more or less similar to all of them, the majority of these points also don’t take the commission.
You can also pay by card with most of the cafes, restaurants, shops and other places.
How to get to Tbilisi
There are numerous way how to get to Tbilisi: plane, train, bus, marshrutka – you name it.
If you arrive from abroad, you will most likely fly to Georgia, either to Tbilisi or Kutaisi airport.
To get from Tbilisi airport to the city center, you need to take bus no 37. It runs 24/7 from the airport to the central train station via Avlabari metro station, Liberty Square and Rustaveli. The ticket costs 0,50 lari (~ $0,20 / €0,17) and can be bought onboard – you need to place the travel card on top of the grey ticket machine and collect the printed ticket (if you don’t have it you can ask fellow passengers to do it for you and give them money, it’s also possible to throw the coins to the machine directly).
You can check the schedule of the buses here.
Alternatively, if you already have the internet data or if the airport wifi works well, you might take Yandex Taxi – a local version of Uber, popular in many post-USSR countries.
Everything works just like with Uber, you only need to download the app before the trip, and you’re free to go. The big advantage of Yandex Taxi is that you can pay by cash, whereas in Uber it’s not always possible. From the Liberty Square, the Yandex Taxi should cost just under 20 lari.
If you arrive in Georgia with low-cost airlines, you will most likely land at Kutaisi International Airport. That’s actually how I most often reach Georgia, and there are no issues with getting to Tbilisi from there.
A company called Georgian Bus operates Kutaisi airport – Tbilisi route, with the departure time suitable for flight arrivals. They wait for all the passengers and depart when everyone is on the bus, usually within an hour after the plane arrives. They also have enough sits for everyone.
You can buy the ticket online or get it after arriving at Kutaisi (that’s what I always do) – Georgian Bus stand is directly in front of the exit from the arrivals zone. One way ticket costs 20 lari, but if you buy a return (you need to tell them when exactly you are going back), it’s 36 lari.
The journey from Kutaisi airport to Tbilisi takes around 4 hours, in Tbilisi buses arrive and depart from Liberty Square.
When looking for cheap flights I always use SkyScanner – I especially like their options “anytime” and “anywhere”. Click here to look for the flights to Georgia.
If you come from Yerevan, Armenia or Baku, Azerbaijan most likely you will arrive by train. The station is well connected with central Tbilisi by metro, it’s two stops away from Rustaveli and three from Liberty Square.
You might also arrive by bus/marshrutka (uncomfortable minibus, the most popular form of local transport in former USSR countries) to Tbilisi, in that case, it depends on the destination where you will arrive from. Marshrutkas from Kutaisi, Batumi and other destinations in Western Georgia arrive to Didube – you can take the metro from there to the center.
Comfortable vans from Yerevan arrive at Avlabari – it’s very close to the center and with the good metro connection. Marshrutkas from Yerevan (not really recommended) or buses from Turkey come to Ortachala bus station – it’s more tricky to get to the center from there, buses no 50 or 71 go directly to Liberty Square.
How to get around Tbilisi
You will walk to many places in Tbilisi, especially in and around the Old Town. But the good thing is Tbilisi has an efficient and easy to navigate the public transport system.
There are two metro lines, numerous buses, and cable cars that you can use, one ride costs 0,50 lari (although if you change between mode of transportation within a certain time you are not charged for another ticket, I haven’t figured out yet how long it is).
You can get a public transport card in the metro station (I got my ages ago, it was and still is 2 lari), charge it how much you want and use it for how many people you want. If there are three of you, you don’t need to get three separate cards. Instead, each of you can use the same card to get the ticket.
You can check beforehand which buses you will need at the website of Tbilisi public transport company – it’s easy to navigate.
Once at the bus stop screens are showing the nearest departure, with the destinations written in both Georgian and English. In the new blue buses, you will find the ticket machine in the middle door, in the old yellow ones you should enter through the front door.
With the public transport card, you can also use cable cars to Narikala fortress (2,50 lari one way) and to from Vake Park to Turtle Lake (1 lari/one way).
The funicular to Mtatsminda requires a separate card, it costs 2 lari and then the ticket is 3 lari/one way. The card can be bought and charged at the lower station of the funicular if more people are traveling together one card is enough for everyone.
Where to stay in Tbilisi
My number one Tbilisi accommodation is Hotel Flower. I stayed there during my last visit to Tbilisi, and I know I will be staying there again.
Everything about this hotel was great – the location, the staff, the large, spotless room and filling breakfast. But the absolute best thing about the place was the view, I don’t think I know a hotel in Tbilisi with a better view really.
The hotel is located on the 6th floor, and each room is facing the city – I got a view towards Mother Georgia, Narikala, Avlabari and beyond. There is also a terrace from where you can see the view in all the directions. Just stunning!
For my three nights stay, I paid 204 lari which I think is a very reasonable price for everything the hotel offers. It has the rating of 9.9/10 on Booking – you hardly see such a high rates there!
Click here to see current rates and book Hotel Flower
Other recommended places to stay in Tbilisi:
Click here to check all the accommodation options in Tbilisi.
What to do in Tbilisi
This list can be long really. First and foremost head to the Old Tbilisi and get lost in the maze of streets there. Visit some of the amazing old churches (did you know Georgia was among the first countries that took Christianity as the state religion?), including Sioni Cathedral.
Take the cable car (or walk) to Narikala Fortress and while you are there say hello to Mother Georgia. Go to the old baths. Hang out in the Rike Park and walk across the funky Bridge of Peace.
Walk down the Rustaveli Avenue to admire the splendid architecture. Go shopping at the Dry Bridge flea market and walk the Davit Aghmashenebeli Avenue.
And don’t even get me started with the Soviet architecture in Tbilisi! There are so many things to do in Tbilisi, really!
How many days should you stay in Tbilisi
I think the absolute minimum is 2 days in Tbilisi but the more, the better. I’ve already spent around 4 weeks here in total, and I still haven’t seen everything I wanted to. It’s one of these places that the more time you spend here, the more things to do you find.
Where to eat in Tbilisi
Let’s start with the most important fact here – Georgian food is hands down the best. As a vegetarian, there are so many options I can choose from that make Georgia food heaven for me.
I have one favorite place to eat in Tbilisi (that is currently going through renovation, unfortunately) and that’s Racha at Lermontov street. If a friend wouldn’t have taken me there the first time I don’t think I’d notice this place myself, or be brave enough to enter. But don’t get discouraged, Racha might not look fancy (although it improved a lot over the years) but it offers some of the best and cheap food.
If Racha is closed or busy another place I visit frequently is Samikitno. It’s a chain, they have numerous locations all over the city. However, I most often go to the one at Liberty Square. They are open 24/7 which is good when you arrive in the city early in the morning and are dying to get some Georgian food (which is often how I start my visits in Tbilisi). Their dishes are good, and the prices are affordable too (I never paid more than 20 lari there, including the service, and I always left full).
Other recommended restaurants:
Cafes in Tbilisi
You might not know or expect it but Tbilisi is kind of like a hipster capital of Eastern Europe. The number of cool places to visit here is outstanding and that also applies to the cafes. So many great places opened up here recently that again, a week wouldn’t be enough to visit them all. So if you are looking a good cafe in Tbilisi here are my top picks:
Where to go out in Tbilisi
To be honest, I’m not much of a party animal so I can’t personally recommend any place to go out in Tbilisi. Everyone keep raving about Bassiani – an iconic techno club located in the former Soviet pool in the basement of Dinamo stadium.
Knowing how Fabrika looks like in the daylight, I assume this might be an excellent place for a night out too!
Day trips from Tbilisi
Tbilisi can be a perfect base for day trips around. The most popular is Mtskheta, the holy city of Georgia located only 20 km away from Tbilisi. Other places you can easily visit as day trips from Tbilisi include David Gareja, Sighnagi, Gori, Uplistsikhe, Ananuri or Kazbegi (although the last one definitely deserves more than a day in my opinion).
Here you can check the details and current prices of day trips from Tbilisi:
Be careful when walking around
And I don’t even mean crazy local drivers. This might sound silly but be careful when wandering around Tbilisi. Dogs poop is a big problem here, some of the streets are so full of them you need almost to jump around. You don’t want to end up with one on your shoes…
Be brave to get lost
Old Tbilisi is an incredible maze of streets. Be brave, hide the map and wander aimlessly around. Don’t be afraid to get lost. You don’t even know how many amazing wonders you can find around. That’s actually how once I found probably the most colorful house in Tbilisi, still with “for rent” sign – today it’s one of the biggest attractions of the area.
One of the highlights of Tbilisi is beautiful yards. Be curious, step inside and see them too. They are beautiful and again might hide some wonders waiting for you to find them!
Tbilisi is all about the details. Tiles, sculptures, mosaics, paintings – you will see a wide variety of all of these in Tbilisi. Be observant and catch as many of these details as possible!
Remember that locals are living around. What might be one of the biggest Tbilisi attractions for you is just everyday reality and home for them. Georgian people are in general very hospitable, but they might get annoyed when more and more tourists are sneaking around their houses.
So remember to be respectful when exploring Old Tbilisi. And be friendly to locals, they deserve it.
You will notice a lot of people staring at you (that’s perfectly acceptable in Georgia). Don’t be intimidated and don’t turn your eyes away, smile and say hello (in Georgian, Russian, English…) – 90% of them will immediately warm up and you might end up with some interesting conversations.
Learn the language
Georgian language is very beautiful but it’s also one of the hardest languages to learn. It’s worth to know few useful sentences, though – it will help you tremendously. After all this trips to Georgia I know only these words:
- gamarjoba – hello
- didi madloba – thank you very much
- gaumarjos – cheers
- ara – no
I use gamarjoba and didi madloba a lot, and that changes everything! People really appreciate that you are making an effort, especially when their own language is so tricky.
You might confuse “gamarjoba” and “gaumarjos” sometimes – it used to happen to me a lot and resulted in a lot of laughter.
It’s useful to know a bit of Russian too. Georgia used to be part of the Soviet Union, and a lot of people speak excellent Russian. Knowing it might help you get around (I used it for example when I was trying to get out of the Chronicle of Georgia monument but didn’t know which side of the road the bus departs from or when I didn’t know if it’s OK if I go to the famous bridge between the blocks in Nutsubidze Plato) and most likely you end up in some small talk too. My Russian is rather weak in general but I’ve mastered a small-talk by now, and it is always nice to be able to chat with people.
In central Tbilisi you will easily get around with English only so you don’t need to worry if that’s your default language, you will be fine!
Don’t look down on local people
I wish I didn’t have to write this Tbilisi travel tip, but I’ve heard and seen so many unfair and simply rude comment towards locals that it’s worth mentioning. Don’t be an ass and don’t look down on local people.
Georgia and especially Tbilisi might be probably the fastest developing place I’ve seen (every time I visit Tbilisi I’m impressed how much it has changed), but there is still a lot to be done. Don’t look with contempt at people who beg (unfortunately there are many of them in Tbilisi), don’t make stupid and hurtful comments towards them. Don’t do disdainful remarks about living condition and infrastructure people have. You will shortly come back to your well-developed country that has everything you need so just leave your disrespectful thoughts to yourself.
Of course not everyone who travels to Tbilisi is like that, it’s a minority of visitors really, but still, surprisingly many tourists are guilty here. So please, don’t be one of them.
Is Tbilisi expensive?
No, I would say it’s a very affordable city. Prices of groceries, restaurants, and cafes are lower than in Poland (where I live). I never paid more than 20 GEL (including tip) for eating out in a fine place. Of course, you can spend more, like everywhere.
Some of the prices in Tbilisi:
- khachapuri from the bakery – 2,5 GEL
- Big bottle of water – around 1 GEL
- 1 liter of Coca-Cola – 2 GEL
- Coffee in the cafe – around 5 GEL
- Public transport ticket – 0,50 GEL
- Khinkali in the restaurant – around 0,50 – 0,80 GEL / piece
- 1 liter of cha-cha in the bazaar – 6 GEL
- 1 kg of sulguni cheese in the bazaar – 12 GEL
- Painkillers in the pharmacy – 4 GEL
Is Tbilisi safe?
I find Tbilisi to be a very safe city. Majority of my trips there were solo, I ventured into some bizarre places, and there was not a single situation when I felt something was wrong.
Georgia was the first really “eastern” country I visited, I remember how I was freaking out before this trip, but then I also remember how safe I found, a massive contrary to what the stereotypes about Western vs. Eastern Europe were back then. There is a significant number of police and security in public spaces, and that actually makes me feel somewhat comfortable.
Of course, petty crime happens here as it does everywhere else. A while ago I heard about a few incidents with pickpockets near Mother Georgia statue but that was before the cable car started operating and not many tourists really made it there. Now, this is a popular place, and it’s less likely something might happen there. As everywhere else – just use your common sense, don’t behave stupid and irresponsible and you will be fine.
Is it worth to visit Tbilisi?
Yes, yes and yes! This is the place where you can see how East meets West (kind of like in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina), it’s neither in Europe nor in Asia. Tbilisi is a unique blend of cultures, influences, religions. It’s the city like no other.
During my first trip to Georgia, I was supposed to stay in Tbilisi for 2 days and then continue my trip onwards to other places in the country. Well, I stayed 9 days (I had 11 days in Georgia in total, only went to Batumi for 2 days) and had a blast – that’s how much I enjoyed Tbilisi.
Since then I’ve been returning over and over again to the city, and it’s never enough for me. The more time I spend there, the more things to do are on my list (something like this happens to me with Kiev, Ukraine too). I don’t think I will ever be tired or done with Tbilisi, to be honest…
I know some people didn’t like the city and find it overrated and I can understand it too. Tbilisi gets a lot of the hype (I’m adding to it myself), and the expectations might be too big so don’t get overexcited before coming here. Just travel to Tbilisi, anticipate nothing and enjoy the city to the fullest!
If there is anything else you would like to know about Tbilisi or Georgia join my Facebook group about travelling in former USSR and feel free to ask there – it’s a great community of like-minded travelers who seem to know everything.
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