Arriving in Tbilisi Friday afternoon, I was so excited for the coming weekend! I had visited this little gem twice but only for business. Now it was finally time to for us to get acquainted on a more personal level… and what a weekend we had!
Tbilisi has so much to offer and is full of hidden treasures. The Georgian hospitality, the picturesque streets, the food, the wine, well the list can be long but I will stop at 7… Have a look below at my 7 reasons for falling in love with Tbilisi! Maybe you have more? If so please I would love to hear about them!
1. The Georgian Hospitality
I was greeted at the airport by a bald man called Gaggi. My guide and, as it turned out, the man that would teach me all about the history of Georgia, show me the most beautiful corners and secrets of this city, engage me in interesting discussions and give me a glimpse into the life of locals.
“Just so you know I do not consider you as a client but as a guest” was his opening phrase. After my days with him, I understood what he meant. Gaggi was the most amazing guide, making everything to make my stay as perfect as it could be, customized our days together fully to my interests and stayed with me much longer than planned. Thanks to Gaggi, my days in Tbilisi became much more than an ordinary city weekend and for sure, he was a huge contributing factor to our love story!
But it was not only Gaggi that showed the best hospitality. So did most of the Georgian people I met. Friendly, smiling and service minded, making you feel like their guest wherever you went!
2. The Streets, the Yards & the Doors
I know, I am a bit obsessed with these picturesque streets but I just can not get enough of them. And the streets of Tbilisi were something special…!
We started our day by strolling down the Rustaveli Avenue, the main street of Old Tbilisi, passing by the beautiful National Georgian Opera Theater, the Parliament House, the local street markets filled with carpets, hand crafts and the traditional “churchkela” that looks a bit like sausages but is confections made out of concentrated grape juice and walnuts.
We mixed our own home made lemonade a la Georgian style in a cellar that was previous a subway station, a place we would never have found without Gaggi.
But it was when we entered the 19th century part of Old Tbilisi, the quarters beyond the Freedom Square, called the Sololaki District, that I got spellbound. These streets are lined by beautiful Georgian architectural houses and buildings, influenced by Near Eastern and Art Nouveau design with the prettiest iconic balconies and entryways. If I would not have had Gaggi, I would have strolled down these streets, admiring and enjoying these romantic hoods but then I would have missed all the hidden treasures behind the walls.
We stepped into the yards. One belonging to the richest man of that time with an exhibition of both paintings and part of his home, one occupied by the cutest hipster café, another with fresh water from the mountains. Still the prettiest was the yards of today’s people, filled by flowers and signs of their daily life.
We entered the buildings and found amazingly decorated staircases in typical colorful Tbilisi style. Gaggi even got us invited to one of the most famous baking lady in Tbilisi. She opened the door to her small apartment with a warm smile and open arms. Just wished we had come a bit later when the cakes were ready for tasting!
3. The Baths
In the outskirts of Old Tbilisi you will find the baths, another phenomenon that Tbilisi is known for. Unfortunately, I did not have time to try them out this time but if they are as beautiful on the inside as on the outside, it is a must during my next visit.
Entering this area is a bit like stepping out of the city and into the nature. We walked along the river and in the end, we found a small water fall and some highly-appreciated shadow!
4. The Contrasts & Contemporary Tbilisi
Tbilisi has many faces and is a city full of contrasts. We left the old part behind to explore the new and more modern part, the German quarters. What can be a better way to change scenery than by crossing the new landmark built in 2010 – the Bridge of Peace. Even though controversial, it has almost a magnetic effect. Its contemporary steel and glass design, the view and its 1208 LED light installation, attracts people day and night.
The German part of Tbilisi offers a very different experience versus Old Tbilisi. Here the avenues are wider, the architecture has clear influences from Germany and France and this is where I found my street art sweet spot!
Fabrika, once a soviet sewing factory, now an urban hot spot for locals and travelers looking for a creative and artsy oasis. We had a healthy lunch, got some well-deserved rest after a long day and left full of inspiration. Loved the cool design in the lobby and the colorful street art in this hood.
5. The Food & Wine
Around the corner of Fabrika, one of the highlights of the day was waiting for us. Wine tasting. Georgia is in terms of wine a bit like Eastern Europe’s Italy. A paradise for wine lovers. Having tasted Georgian wine in Moscow, I must admit that I was not impressed as I am not a fan of sweet or semi sweet wine. Luckily I learnt that that Georgia also has more dry options and some bottles made it to my wine shelf at home!
When in Georgia you need to try out the famous and delicious Georgian food. I started my first days in Georgia by only eating khachapuri (cheese bread), khinkali (big dumplings), various Pkhali (vegetable mixes/pures) and delicious Georgian salads. As Gaggi said, Georgia is not a country good for diets, it is a country full of temptations, all for you to enjoy life!
One of my favorite Georgian restaurants was Keto & Kote. A relatively newly opened restaurant, located in an old beautiful house in the picturesque hoods of Vera, yet with a contemporary design and with delicious dishes from the West part of Georgia.
6. The Scenery & View
Exhausted after a long day we arrived at the terrace of the Radisson Hotel, a perfect spot to enjoy a glass of wine or two while taking in the view and scenery of Tbilisi. The river, the architecture, the mountains as well as the new glass sky scraper – the Biltmore Hotel – as the neighbor.
However, for the perfect view, a ride up the mountains with the funicular is a must. I did not do it this time but have done it twice before and can ensure that the view up there is stunning, especially from the balcony of the top restaurant!
7. The Hip & Cool Places
Heaven for hipster lovers. Yet another description of this city.
First out was my hotel, the Rooms Hotel, located in the shabby chic Vera neighborhood. A hip little boutique gem mixing industrial chic elements with strong New York vibes. Read all about my experience in this hotel in my blog post “Hotel Review: The Rooms Hotel Tbilisi”.
If you want to hang out with the cool artsy Tbilisi crowd, you do not have to go far. Across the street from the Rooms Hotel, is one of the newest addition to Tbilisi’s nightlife – Lolita. Loved everything about this place; the atmosphere and vibe, the drinks, the unpretentious food and the design. A perfect spot to start or end the evening!
Georgian food indeed is amazing but after a couple of days on this diet or maybe non diet, it might be good with a change. I ended my Tbilisi visit in the Culinarium Kasheria. A small modern place with healthy and experimental food and extremely nice waiters.
Tbilisi has made it to many of the “hot and upcoming travel destination” lists lately and it is easy to understand why. If this picturesque and romantic yet hip and cool city is not on your list, you better add it there before all tourists conquers this Eastern European gem!
When it comes to myself, I am sure I will soon be back to explore Tbilisi and Georgia even more…!