Photo by Anastasia Makarova (All rights reserved)

Tbilisi

Tbilisi is the capital city of Georgia, lying in the valley of the Kura river. Of all the post-Soviet capitals, Tbilisi is the one that has kept most of its unique flair, with charming wooden houses, churches in every direction you look, and forested hills gently embracing it. 

Introduction

Birdseye over Tbilisi's old town
Photo by Anastasia Makarova (All rights reserved)

Tbilisi is a nice city to explore for a couple of days, and very welcoming towards tourists. There's two cable cars connecting the centre to the surrounding hills, and it's possible to do dayhikes around the city. 

On the west side of the river, you will find the touristic center, and the city's old town. Many of the buildings are in very poor conditions, literally on the brink of falling apart. There's a lot of wood used in the constructions, and in backyards you will often spot labyrinths of staircases and balconies. Futher north you'll find Rustaveli, often considered the city's main avenue.

From the western side, you can cross the river on the newly constructed Bridge of Peace, leading to Rike Park, where you also can cath a cable car up to Narikala Fortress and the Botanical Garden. Further north is a slightly more modern part of the center, with Russian imperal architecture, and well-kept buildings.

Legend

The city was founded in the 5th century, and according to legend, Georgian king Vakhtang Gorgasali was hunting in the area when he shot a pheasant. The bird fell straight into a hot spring, and his dinner was already boiled by the time he had located it. To return the favour, he decided to found the countrys capital at the site. The word tibili means warm in Georgian, and the name of the city is a reference to the hot springs.

Safety

The city is generally safe for tourists, but take care when crossing streets, as zebra crossings are not always observed by drivers.

Climate

Tbilisi has a humid continental climate with warm to hot summers and cold winters. During July-August many people escape to the mountains and seaside, to get away from the heat.

Transportation

Sunset over Tbilisi highway with city in background
Sunset over a central highway with prominent landmark Bitmore Hotel visible in the background.
Photo by Anastasia Makarova (All rights reserved)

Tbilisi has an international airport, train connections to Armenia and Azerbaijan, and buses and marshrutkas to Russia and Turkey.

You can get around the city by metro, buses and marshrutkas (minibuses). Taxis are also cheap, and a trip within the city should normally not cost more than 5 GEL. 

Buses

International buses

Buses and marshrutkas to Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey depart from the Ortachala Bus Station. Buses to Russia depart from the Didube Station.

Domestic buses

Buses to Batumi and destinations in the southern part of Georgia depart from the Ortachala Bus Station, while west- and north-bound buses depart from the Didube Station.

Local buses

City buses are yellow. The bus number and a description of the route are usually listed on signs in the bus windows, but only in Georgian. The city recently installed electronic arrival boards, with reasonably accurate estimated arrival times, at bus stops on major roads. The signs alternate between English and Georgian and display the bus number, minutes to arrival and destination. Route information can be found on the official website.

A journey costs 0.50 GEL, and exact change is required if you don't have a touch card (which can be purchased at metro stations). Metromoney cards allow free transfers between metro and bus (90 min) and can be topped up at orange pay boxes around the city, in addition to metro stations. Hold on to the ticket you receive on the bus; you will need to present it to the yellow-shirted ticket checkers.

Marshrutkas are minibuses which service the side streets of the city; and are independently owned. Like buses, the route is posted in the front window (often only in Georgian), but marshrutkas use a different route numbering system. The fare is (on average) 0.80 GEL. Shout "Stop" or "Gaacheret" when you want to get off, and hand the driver your fare on the way out. In the new yellow Ford Transit vans you can also pay with the electronic metro card (If paying with a touch card, the fare for subsequent trips the same day is reduced to 0.65 GEL).

Airports

There are two airports: Tbilisi International Airport and Natakhtari Airfield for flights to Mestia.

Car

Taxis

Taxis around the centre shoud rarely cost more than 5 GEL. Most cars are unmetered, and in that case, the price should be negotiated before you get in. Unless you're going to a well known landmark, it's a good idea to bring your Tripfinger app to help out with directions, as the drivers rarely have GPS devices. 

Metro

The Tbilisi metro has two lines, and operates between 6AM and midnight. All signage inside is in Georgian and English, and while the stops are announced in both languages, it's worth paying attention, as it's often hard to see the station signs when the metro stops.

You have to buy a Metromoney card (2 GEL) and fill it with money to enter. Each ride costs 0.50 GEL, and the card is refundable if you keep the original purchase receipt. You can use a single card for several people, but only one traveller per card can enjoy the free transfer to the bus system.

Food and drinks

Food

There are plenty of restaurants around the city, some of them open around the clock. You'll also find side stalls selling cheap snacks.

Drinks

On Friday night locals go drinking and partying in the area at the north end of Rustaveli Avenue. You'll find plenty of affordable bars, restaurants and pubs. The party ends early, around 2 AM, so arrive early if you want to shake that ass.