After couple of days in Borjomi it was time to visit capital of Georgia - Tbilisi. We chose the cheapest option to get there - train. There are also minibuses available, and they are much faster, but we decided to go for the cheapest option this time. We already had experience with minibuses (you can read about it HERE ), so train sounded more reliable. It was 160 km and costed 2 Gel (~0,65EUR) and it took more than 4 (!!!) hours to get there. So cheap and slow. But we really enjoyed the views.
Tbilisi is the city of diversity and contrasts. You might find old, abandoned buildings, poor looking yards, and just around the corner new, modern or just renovated buildings. You can see that there are a lot to do and develop in this city, but they are working on it.
Where to stay in Tbilisi
Tbilisi is much bigger than any other cities we visited on this trip, so it was very important for us to stay close to everything. We had only two days in the city and we wanted to see the maximum. We chose to stay in Old Tbilisi in Diwan Hostel close to Rustaveli Avenue. It was close enough for us, to go everywhere by foot. The prices for accomodations are slightly higher than in Kutaisi, but I would say you will still get a good place for much better price than anywhere in Europe.
Public Transportation in Tbilisi
Yellow city buses and marshrutkas provide many routes. The efficient Tbilisi metro operates from 6am to midnight, and the two lines reach most important parts of the city, meeting at Sadguris Moedani station. Most signs are in English too, but if you get confused locals are more than happy to help.
To use public transport you need to purchase metromoney cards, sold for 2 GEL at metro-station ticket offices. You can use them in metro, city buses and minibuses. Fares are 0.50 GEL per metro or bus ride and 0.80 GEL for minibus. The good thing is that more than one person can use the card at the same time. Me and my husband used the same card. To enter metro you swipe the card on the card reader, enter the station and pass the card to the other person, to enter. Further metro or bus rides within 1½ hours of tapping in are not charged.
Some hotels provides these cards and you can borrow them during your stay, so you wouldn't need to buy your own.
Where to eat in Tbilisi
This was a bit challenging for us. Although food in Georgia is DELICIOUS, it is much more confusing to find a good restaurant for good price in Tbilisi. Of course there are more fancy restaurants and also cheap food chains, but the feeling of real, authentic Georgian food is somehow lost. I guess we prefered just few, but very good value for the money, places in smaller towns than places to eat on every corner.
We tried Machakhela which is also a food chain. The food was good and price was decent, but I wasn't really impressed. We also tried Khinkali House (also there are more than one) and it was also pretty okay.
One place that really stood out was Mama Terra Veggie Corner which was much more cosy, authentic and nice place to be. They even make their own kombucha. It's not really a place for typical Georgian food, but you can find delicious vegetarian dishes here. The prices are a bit higher.
So my advice is to skip the chains and fancy places and try to find smaller, more local, family owned that serves delicious food. They are probably located off the touristy streets.
What to do In Tbilisi
There are a lot of things to do even in winter time. The weather was much warmer than in Kutaisi and Borjomi, where temperature was a little above zero. In Tbilisi it was +14 °C, so that meant that we can spend much more time outside.
We love to walk and most of the most famous Points of Interest are located close to the center. You should walk The Rustaveli Avenue to see small bronze statues along the street. Actually statues and monuments are all over the city, bigger and smaller and sometimes in hidden places.There is also a shopping mall Galleria Tbilisi located on this street, closer to Liberty Square.
Liberty Square of course is a symbol of the city and of the Georgian struggle for freedom and independence. In the centre of the square stands the Freedom Monument, a white column with a golden statue on top depicting St George, the patron saint of Georgia.
Another place to go and also to get one of the best views to the whole city is Mtatsminda Park. You can get there by foot or by using a Funicular. To use it you have to puchase electronic card for 2 Gel and then you can put money on it to use it on Funicular ride or any other activities in the park. Most of them accept payments only by this card (except toilets). Our hostel gave us the card itself so we wouldn't need to buy it. So we put some money on it and decided to try the Funicular. The ride costed 6 Gel to the Top (you can also go half way and pay 3 Gel) which is ridicilously high price (comparing to other prices in Georgia) for less than 10 min ride.
So I highly suggest, If you have time and you like to walk, use the trails to get up the hill. You can walk up the Mama Daviti Rise street and continue uphill via walking path. At the end of the street there is Mtatsminda Pantheon which is a necropolis where some of the most prominent writers, artists, scholars, and national heroes of Georgia are buried. The cemetery is decorated with beautiful statues.
Mtatsminda Park is a park on top of the hill so you can see beautiful city views. There are a lot of cafes and children's attractions, Unfortunately most of them were closed due to the winter time. There is Ferris wheel which is open and it costs 5 Gel to take a ride (using electronic cards money). The ride was okay, but as I don't really enjoy heights this wasn't a must for me.
Another place where you can see Tbilisi from above is Mother of Georgia monument on top of Sololaki Mountain. We climbed the stairs all the way up (they are located on Betkemi Rise street 41.689093, 44.804432).
On the way up you can stop by Betlemi Park and have a snack with a view.
There is a Cable Car available as well. It cost 7 Gel both ways. We didn't use it, but I heard you need metromoney card for that.
A little further there is Narikala Fortress and Botanical garden.
One thing that you might miss is Leghvtakhevi Waterfall which is pretty hidden. But if you reach the Love Bridge just keep going till you see the pathway that leads to the Waterfall.
If you decide that you really want to go for a SPA there are two most popular (and probably most expensive) baths Orbeliani Baths (The building itself is beautiful) and No 5 Sulphur Bathhouse.
Another Symbol of the city is Bridge Of Peace - pedestrian bridge, a steel and glass construction illuminated with numerous LEDs, over the Kura River. It was brought to Georgia from Italy in 200 unassembled components. Be avare that this is the place where most of tourism agents and other company representative are gathering and it can get very annoying when they try to sell you all kinds of excursions, boat rides, even restaurant visits and other activities. Our favorite answer to all of them was: "No, thank you! We did it yesterday!" :D
When you cross the Bridge Of Peace I highly recommend visiting Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi. There are two entrances but for better looks enter from Khivi Turn street. This was my favorite Point Of Interest in the whole city, because it just looks so majestic and beautiful from the outside and the small details and decorations inside are incredible. I am glad our friend Muhamed showed us this place.
Where to Buy Souvenirs in Tbilisi
There are many streets where they sell souvenirs and local sweets Churchkhela, but be avare that most of those places are overpriced. Even if you think the price is reasonable there is a big chance it can be lower. So one of the most popular tourist spots is Meidan Bazar. They have wide selection of everything but this is definitely one of the most expensive places where to get souvenirs. This is still a nice place to visit, but not the place where to buy something.
There is an underground tunnel/market close to Nikoloz Baratashvili St (41°41'46.9"N 44°48'10.9"E) where you can find all sorts of souvenirs for much lower prices. Of course this place is much more rustic, but the prices are lower.
For those who would love to bring home traditional Georgian Spices and foods, like Marigold powder (localy called saffran although it's nowhere near it :D ), Svaneti Salt (blend of sea salt, dried garlic, fenugreek, coriander, and red chile pepper and very typical flavour to many of Georgian dishes), some coffee or tea than the best deals you will find in local grocery stores. I recommend Carrefour as there are wide selection and mostly better prices.
When it comes to Churchkhelas and Tklapi (thin sour fruit lavash) they are more expensive here than in Kutaisi markets, but you can still find a good deal. We mostly bought them on streets where old ladies are selling them. They looked much more appealing than the ones in the stores for much higher price.
Churchkhelas shouldn't cost more than 1-2 Gel per one, spices up to 2 Gel, Magnets 2-5 Gel, handmade wool socks 10 - 15Gel. If something cost more try some bargaining. It is comon to try to lower the price. If it doesn't work go somewhere else.