After having visited the city several times and now attempting to live here, I've decided to compile a list of my favorite elements that make up the Georgian capital. While I could go on about my least favorite thing (taxis and traffic), I'm feeling in a particularly happy mood at the moment and prefer focusing on the positive. Granted, There are still some places, like Turtle Lake and the surfer baths, that I have not yet seen and therefore will not be on the list. Likewise, I have also excluded things like museums and the old town because I wanted to focus on things much more specific to Tbilisi (although they are worth checking out here, many cities have museums and old towns). And finally, remember that this is entirely based on my strange, arbitrary preferences so it may greatly differ from that of others who have been here. Anyway, here goes!
In Memorium: Why Not Hostel
Before I start the list, I have to give a shout out to this amazing hostel that is unfortunately no longer in operation. Thankfully I was not only able to visit, but ended up working at this place of wonders. To this day, I have never seen a hostel provide such an amazing breakfast for its guests, and the whole atmosphere really felt like a giant family. It was the center of my first three Tbilisi visits and one of the main reasons why I kept coming back. Hopefully one day it will reopen, and if so, it will definitely be placed on my list here.
Read more about the magical place that once was here:
11. Wine Gallery
Georgia is famously known for its wine, and although Tbilisi is not in the country's wine region Khakheti, there are still a few really good shops for homemade wine. My personal favorite is called Wine Gallery. It is located underground on a secluded street, thus adding to the overall atmosphere, which opens up into a vast cellar with many large distilling containers, each containing a different variation of the beverage. Even though I am by no means a wine aficionado (seeing as most of the wine I previously had before Georgia came from a box), I can sufficiently claim that all the wines I tried from here were absolutely delicious.
10. Dry Bridge
Ok, so this one is often mentioned in tour guides, and for that I apologize. Nonetheless, this is still an area that is definitely worth checking out especially on the weekends. It is the largest (as far as I know) open air market in the city and is run by locals from the community. Every person/booth has its own unique collection of things, therefore you'll find everything from souvenirs to household appliances to film reels of which there are surprisingly many. Even certain items geared to tourists, like traditional hats and drinking horns are still pretty awesome.
However, what stood out most to me was the art. There's a ton of artwork out on display and for sale, most of which is really good quality. Usually people will be selling different paintings of which they made over the years which usually happen to be related to Tbilisi or Georgia in some way. Occasionally you will even see some of the people working on a new piece as they sell their older ones. Even if you're perpetually dead broke and can't afford to buy anything (like me) it's still absolutely worth it to wander around and check out what is available and on display.
9. Botanical Garden
So I like nature. I feel like those of us that live in cities absolutely need more of it. Therefore, I was incredibly happy to encounter Tbilisi's large botanical garden. It is vast, open, and situated in a valley behind the Narikala fortress. In the summer, it is so lush, green, and secluded from the urban environment that you can actually forget for a moment that you're still in a city. For me, this is the perfect place to take a break from noise, commotion and people while enjoying the peace and quiet of nature by yourself.
Prior to arriving, I had no idea of this, but as it turns out, Tbilisi has a very vibrant and prevalent nightlife. It never really feels like the city shuts down, as even on weekday nights, people can be seen out and about, although in the weekends its definitely more noticeable. There is a little something for just about everyone, ranging from night clubs to pubs to live music to chill jazz spots, and apparently even a karaoke rave bar (see story). Some of the more famous places are the clubs Bassiani, Cafe Gallery, and Mtkvarze, which have been said to resemble places in Berlin. I haven't spent much time in them since techno music, cover charges and DJs aren't really my thing.
However, I have found some really awesome spots that definitely fit the ramifications of my odd tastes. These include an outdoor bar called Bauhaus, a Polish bar called Warszawa, and the fabled karaoke-rave Riffer Bar. Bauhaus, in my opinion, is the place to be in the summer since its outside, next to a fountain and has live music very frequently. It's a rare occurrence to have something anywhere that is simultaneously suitable for chilling with friends and partying like a raging fool, but this does it just right. Plus it's only 2 lari for a beer (80 cents), so there's that too. Warszawa was a place I liked largely because I had many Polish friends in the city who often frequented the place. It wasn't big or in-your-face in but it had a particular vibe to it that always made things fun. Chill, dance around, enjoy the cheap vodka, it's all good there.
As for Riffer Bar, please read this story:
7. Hike to TV Tower
Although this doesn't compare to the amazing hikes in Svaneti and around Kazbegi, it is the best one available in close proximity. No bus or transport is required, just keep walking upwards in the direction of the tower and eventually you'll leave the urban surrounding and continue through trees and grass on a hilly dirt path. It's a great mini-excursion to escape the noise of city life and once you've reached the top, you'll be able to see the entire city down below. And if you're lucky, you may even meet a particularly awesome dog (who I call Fred) who happens to frequent the area.
6. The Food
Although some claim (rightfully so) that the home-cooked food in the country villages in even better, all the local places in Tbilisi are unbelievably good. To me, Georgian is a wonder of the modern world that stands alongside the Sistine Chapel. You can quite comprehend its glory until you've directly experienced it and with Tbilisi being the capital, there are an abundance of good places. A personal recommendation of mine is called Pasanauri which is located right off of Rustaveli Street. Everything inside is made of wood and rarely do you ever see tourists entering. My advice is to walk in there and order anything Georgian. It doesn't matter if it's Pkhali (spinach, walnut, pomegranate, and spices), Khinkhali (dumplings), Shashlik (kebabs), Hachapuri (a wonder of delicious caloric magnitude) or anything else. It'll blow your mind and change everything you thought you knew about food.
5. Narikala Fortress (preferably at night)
Overlooking the city near the Mother Georgia statue is this ancient fortress called Narikala. Construction began in the 4th century for the city's defense and now is free and open to the public during the day, thus allowing you to walk through and climb up on the walls. And while this is all really exciting, the place becomes truly amazing at night. If you go then, you'll have the fortress all to yourself (that is unless you go with others) and down below will be an incredible view of Tbilisi shining below. You'll be away from the noise and commotion but will still feel the night's energy resonating above.
Keep in mind though, the fortress doors are closed at night, making it very difficult to get inside at this time. If you're feeling particularly adventerous and don't see any police, you can try your luck and climb in. But I, not having quite the bravery rested outside the place on a ledge overlooking everything. The view was incredible and I could have stayed for hours had it not been for the cold winds of early March. Still, this was a memory that shall stand out from my times in Tbilisi and is absolutely something worth doing.
I like dogs. They're always happy to see you and are able to cheer you up no matter what has been going on. When I mention stray dogs, however, most people with think of a more negative connotation. That's because most of the stray dogs in other cities around the world are neglected and treated poorly, and therefore act more resentful to mankind. But in Tbilisi, however, this is not the case. Here the street dogs are part of the community. People feed them and the city even makes sure the dogs get their shots and are taken care of (side note: if a street dog has a tag on its ear, it has been given its shots and is deemed to be healthy).
Over my several visits to the city, I have had numerous interactions with street dogs and without fail, they have always brightened up my day. One in particular, who I called Fred, followed me along on a hike up to the TV tower and later kept me company as I sat on a bench. Therefore, the dogs in Tbilisi rightfully deserve this spot on my list. In no other city have they been so nice, calm and social. If you're there and happen to see one (a very likely scenario), smile and pet it. Both you and the dog will be happy.
Read my story about Fred the Friendly Dog here
3. Mountain 13 Hostel
After Why Not closed down, I had no idea where to stay once I returned to Tbilisi. I even wondered if the good times were over, now that my previous home in the city was no more. But thankfully my worrying was all for naught because one of my friends, a tall Irish guy named Peter, recommended another hostel called Mountain 13. As he said, it was located on a hill in the highest part of the city, far enough to escape the noise of the center but close enough that all points of interest can be reached within a 10-15 minute walk. All that sounded good to me, so I decided to take his advice and make a booking.
Then, around noon on the 27th of February, 2018, a very tired, jet lagged me walked through the doors for the first time and right away, I knew I had made the right choice. The whole place was large and spacious with a cozy living room that had within it many large couches. Alongside that, there was a large kitchen with free tea and coffee (to which I have helped myself to frequently) and each of the beds in the bedroom came with it's own locker and mini curtain to block out the light and the potential stares of creepy guests. Needless to say, the facilities were great.
However, all of that is minuscule compared to the staff and the atmosphere. In the two short weeks I have been here since the time of this posting, I have quickly becomes friends with the people who work here and even got to hang out with the owners (Saba and Dodoma). The whole place feels like a giant house and everyone operates like a family. The vibe is generally calm and relaxed but by no means anti-social. It's a place where I always feel comfortable and know that there will always to someone to hang out with. So, personal shout outs to Saba, Dodoma, Gosha, Sasha, Sofia and Nastasia for helping make this place awesome!
2. Graffiti/Street Art
I've lived in New York and seen many major European cities, and I can sufficiently say that Tbilisi towers over all of them when it comes to street art and graffiti. Everywhere you go in the city, from underground walk ways to random alleyways to residential neighborhoods to construction sites, you'll find something painted on the walls. Occasionally even things like trash collectors will be decorated in paint. But of course it's not just the abundance of graffiti that makes Tbilisi special, it is also the quality and creativity.
What makes this so unique, among other things, is the level of thought and effort put into every graffiti image you'll see. Unlike other cities, none of what's here strikes me as mindless vandalism, but instead as a planned, creative piece of artwork. And this can range all the way from complex elaborate murals, to trippy psychedelic imagery, to quickly made sketches of lambs and khinkhali (Georgian dumplings). Some are thought provoking, others humorous, and few are just amazing to look at. Since it can be found nearly everywhere, seeking out Tbilisi's street art can make for an adventure in and of itself.
View all photos here:
This choice was easy. The hospitality I've come across in Georgia is second to none. This holds true both in the countryside and Tbilisi as well. Nearly every time I've come across as confused or lost in a certain situation, someone has always stepped in to help. Having grown up in the West, the most common reaction to when someone needs help is unfortunately to ignore what's going on and keep walking with your head down, therefore seeing the exact opposite in Georgia made me feel welcomed into the society.
Nearly every time I've met someone, they've been eager to show me their favorite parts of the city and occasionally invite me for food and/or coffee. Also, most of the people I speak to want to know who I am and what I think about the country and city. It's done in a way that, to me, really feels genuine. There is never a sense of hurry or urgency, nor does seem like superficial small talk. When I'm in conversation, I can tell I have the other person's full attention and never sense that they're just waiting for the chance to interject their point.
Case in point. Just before the start of my current stay, I was in contact with two of my friends from the city (Nutsa and David). I mentioned when I was set to arrive with the idea of potentially meeting up later that day if they happened to be free. Instead, however, they decided to go a step further and surprised my with a visit/pick up at the airport and immediately took me out for lunch and coffee, seeing as I was terribly hungry and sleep deprived from the previous 15 hours of travel. So again, thanks to the both of you as well as everyone else who has help me feel welcome here.