As you enter Tbilisi from the west, the utterly captivating capital of Georgia, you will pass a statue of King David the Builder (David Aghamashenebeli) who reigned from 1089 until his death in 1125. He looks poised and gallant on his horse from his elevated perch on the motorway, beyond which the old Soviet style buildings give way to a more picturesque setting.
The statue is an important symbol of prosperity and strength as David – who incidentally gave his name to Kutsai airport (officially David Aghmashenebeli Airport) – successfully kept away unwanted visitors and heralded in the Georgian Golden Age.
It’s a great spot for him to witness the renewal of this beautiful, peaceful and inclusive city as tourism nudges in another Golden Age casting a spotlight on the Tbilisi’s gorgeous terrain. From any perspective this city is abundant with monuments, lush verdant hills, curvy river with sheer cliffs and attractive homes defined by their ornately carved wooden balconies.
Rooms Hotel is the hippiest joint in the city. Owned by a flamboyant casino owner you can expect artworks, unusual decor, moody lighting and some extravagant flourishes. Read the full review of Rooms Hotel.
TIP: For an even hippier experience at budget prices check out Fabrika hostel which was fashioned out of a former sewing factory. You can share hostel-style rooms from as low as £10 per person or upgrade for a little more. But the partying here goes on well into the night so you may not get much sleep. Read the full review of Fabrika Hostel.
Must check out the Old Town (Altstadt)
The old cobbled streets of the Old Town twist and turn churning out ramshackled yet colourful buildings alongside renovated brick-built homes with their iconic balconies. These are interwoven with classical Russian and Art Nouveau architecture and the visual effect is pleasing.
Freedom Square, looking grand with it’s neo-classical buildings, is where the statue of Lenin was symbolically torn down in 1991 to mark the end of Soviet Rule. Look up to see glinting St George statue in gold at the top of a tall column that rises up from the roundabout. The city’s main street Rustaveli Avenue leads off from here. It has the Parliament, the Opera and Ballet Theatre and the National Museum along its stretch.
Unusually decorated in Asian and Persian style Cafe Leila has a lovely location next to the clock tower and is a great place to have lunch – especially for vegetarians. Eat in or out, this pescetarian restaurant offers vegetarian versions of Kharcho which is traditionally a beef soup but made here with mushrooms and blackberry sauce, served with mchadi (corn bread) on the side. Of course staples such as Khachapuri, a Georgian cheese bread is done particularly well. Also try the soko ketze sulgunit (mushroom on a clay plate with Sulguni cheese) too. The homemade lemonade is particularly refreshing.
Must visit the National Museum
The National Museum on Rustaveli Avenue has a magnificent display ancient objects and an array of splendid gold jewellery from pre-Christian times that would not look out of place at Tiffany’s. On the first floor is a ghoulish collection of skulls tagged Homo Neanderthals, some dating back 70,0000 years.
Must detour to Uplistsikhe Rock Town
It will take around 90 minutes to drive to the rock town of Uplistsikhe aka “the lord’s forest”. But it is certainly worth the detour to visit this simply incredible town of rocks and caves. They were inhabited between the 6th century BC and 1st century AD by 20,000 people at its peak. It’s located by the Mtkvari River, and from the top you get an eyeful of the Mtkvari valley. You’ll need sturdy shoes to navigates its ups and down and twisty rock formations but you’ll easily spot the cellar, pre-Christian Kartli temples that paid homage to the sun goddess, the conference hall and even the tiny underground prisons topped with grills. People would literally be able to walk over them.