The best part about exploring Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi: getting lost in Tbilisi. Everywhere you look, there is always something interesting to see in that charming, ancient little city. I went there armed with maps, travel apps, and guidebooks, but as soon as I stepped on those hill-y, cobbled streets, I knew that the best thing to do was to throw caution to the wind and let my curiosity lead the way. I thought I was going there to see stuff, but as it turned out, I just went there to get lost.
I’m no travel guide, and I am obviously not from Georgia, but I believe I’ve spent enough time getting lost and finding things in Tbilisi to have a clear idea of what tourists would want – no, NEED – to see. Two days to explore the city would be great, but it is possible to squeeze all of the most important sites in just one day. It’ll be a tight fit, yes, but it’s possible. My suggestion: prioritize these sites so you could tick them off your to-do list. Go for the big guns first so you could be flexible about the rest of your schedule.
I’ve chosen and ranked these sites based on two factors:
1.) sheer awesomeness, and
2.) cultural and historical significance.
These are the destinations that, I think, you absolutely need to see. Miss any one of these and your visit in Tbilisi would be incomplete. Fortunately, these sites are within walking distance of each other – assuming that you are a person of a reasonable level of fitness and physical endurance. Otherwise, you could always take a cab. If you start in the morning around 10am, you should be able to cover this list in one day, with enough time for a leisurely lunch.
5.) Mtatsminda Park
I was a little hesitant about putting this in the list because, well, it’s a theme park, and to have a theme park in a country as awesome by default as Georgia just seems absurd to me. Like, did they really have to, even? But the reason this needs to be on your to-do list is because it offers the best view of the entire city of Tbilisi. I promise you, that view will take your breath away. To get there, you will need to ride a funicular at the foot of the mountain – that by itself is a real treat.
4.) Bridge Of Peace
In the context of Tbilisi’s rich history, the space-age design of the Bridge of Peace could seem a little misplaced, but you absolutely need to see it because it is just so gosh darn beautiful. Crossing the mighty Mtkvari river, it connects Old Tbilisi to the newer districts of the city and takes you to Rike Park where you can ride a cable car up to the Narikala Fortress.
3.) Sameba Cathedral
Also known as the Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi, Sameba one of the largest religious buildings in the world in terms of area. It’s a baby compared to the ancient churches that you will find across Georgia (it was completed in 2004), but it does not fall short in the shock and awe department. That entire complex looks like heaven on Earth!
2.) Achiskhati Basilica
I discovered Achiskhati Basilica largely by accident. It was never part of my itinerary. I was just walking along Old Tbilisi looking for the Bridge of Peace when lo and behold this small, rather humble structure came into view. And then I went inside and promptly had a bit an out of body experience. Towards the end of my stay in Georgia, I learned that Achiskhati Basilica is the oldest surviving church in Tbilisi. Built in the 6th century, this humble building is the grand daddy of the city’s churches, albeit also being one of its smallest. Perhaps this explains why the place seems to be imbued with such palpable spiritual energy. It is the beating heart of the city.
1.) Narikala Fortress
The Narikala Fortress was the first site I visited when I arrived in Tbilisi, and the last site I visited before I left. To me, this site represents the spirit of the city: ancient and battle-weary but still standing, with eyes fixed firmly on the future. Narikala Fortress offers the view of Tbilisi that you often see in postcards, in addition to being a few minutes walk away from other tourist destinations like the statue of Mother Georgia, the Abanotubani Sulfur Baths and the Botanical Garden. I have to warn you though; the Narikala Fortress is situated on a hill that you will need to traverse on foot, and it is mostly in ruins. You will find yourself doing some legit hiking and even a bit of rock climbing, but trust me – it is worth every effort. Just make sure you don’t fall off a fortress wall and into the ravine, because that’ll be a real drag.
Runner ups: Sioni Church, Metekhi Church, Georgian National Museum, Tbilisi Natural History Museum