A traveler's diary through Tbilisi, the capitol city of the Republic of Georgia - what to see, do, and eat in Tbilisi's Old Town Area and Freedom Square. This is part one of three guides to the Old Town area of Tbilisi.
I planned on sharing these posts from our trip before Tbilisi's deadly floods this last weekend. Please visit the IOCC's donation page, and select "International Disaster Relief" to give to the International Orthodox Christian Charities Disaster Fund, or give to the Georgia Red Cross to help. Tbilisi, and the people of Georgia, have been in my prayers since hearing of the floods.
My husband and I had the trip of a lifetime recently- we first visited Krakow, Poland and then headed east to Tbilisi in the Republic of Georgia, for his brother's wedding. I won't lie- I was hesitant to the idea of traveling to a country I knew nothing about and seemed so far. What I didn't realize was how much I would fall in love with the country of Georgia!
Traveling to Tbilisi from Krakow was, in a word, interesting.
The Tbilisi airport in itself is a bit of a marvel- most flights into Tbilisi come in at the very, very early morning- our flight landed just after 3:30 am. Despite being what most people would consider the middle of the night, the airport was buzzing full of activity and people who had far, far more caffeine than we had on our trek from Krakow through Frankfurt and Istanbul.
The first thing you see when leaving the terminal is a greeting in tile proudly proclaiming "Tbilisi Loves You"- which is just one of the many times you'll see the iconic phrase welcoming tourists all over the city. This is also the name for Tbilisi's quite strong free wifi that is piped through much of the city- and a slogan they are pushing hard in a bid for increased tourism.
After we passed the long lines for customs, whose staffers seemed less awake than our plane full of sleepy travelers, we were greeted with a buzzing, cheery and fully alert crowded terminal- which is one of the weirdest sights I've ever run into. In all of the times I've been to otherwise busy airports very early or late at night, everything is eerily silent and shuttered- something I assume happens here during normal operating hours.
While most everyone in our group opted to stay at the Raddison Blu, which is a lovely hotel close to the church my brother in law and sister in law were married in, we wanted something with a little more local flavor- and opted for an Airbnb just off the very modern and glittering Freedom Square. Our Airbnb host, Bacco, even picked us up from the airport and provided us with a local cell phone. Bacco was amazingly sweet loading our luggage and giving us a quick tour around the city at 4am- which we mostly nodded through in a zombie-like stupor.
The next morning, we did some brief touring around Freedom square on our way to meet up with our group to enjoy a traditional Supra at our friend's home in Khashuri - a town just past the conflict zone of South Ossetia on the way west to Batumi.
You can read more about Georgian Supras (and see some of the photos from this day trip) here. As we headed back, we opted for an early night in since we were still mostly jetlagged- and then woke up the next day ready for our first day touring the city.
One of the first things we noticed was the lack of breakfast options on the cozy street we were staying. Like other European cities, breakfast isn't a huge thing in Tbilisi. There were some American fast food options (there was a Dunkin Doughnuts literally a stone's throw from our flat)- but we wanted something a bit more local. We opted for one of the many quirky details I loved in Tbilisi- a car-based espresso bar!
We saw these everywhere- they were so cute, and the coffee was great. They have espresso machines just riding in the back of the car! We also grabbed some khachapuri from a small shop whose tables were adorned with gorgeous lilac flowers. There are numerous small shops as you stroll through old town selling fresh baked bread and khachapuri.
We took a leisurely stroll down to the dry bridge, an area down by the river opposite old town Tbilisi where numerous antique and artisan vendors set up an open air flea market. Our friends who lived in the city assured us that although it was raining, there would be a few booths still open- but as the rain picked up a little more, it seemed all the shops were completely shuttered for the day.
We were a bit sad, since my husband is a huge antique freak- but we enjoyed checking out the fresh flower shops that set up throughout old town along the way.
We then decided to walk over towards the Sioni Cathedral to meet up with some friends, after first stopping by the Georgian National Museum to see the Communist Occupation Exhibit (photographs were sadly not allowed- the space is very moving and somber, and it is fantastic to experience without the urge to snap photographs- but so many of the stories we read are sadly missing in America.) Georgia is a very strong, very proud nation who has endured so much- and it was hard to keep it together as I wiped away tears watching a video that was taken on a truck or car driving through Tbilisi on the day of their independence. Seeing the pride and joy in the faces of Georgians proudly hoisting flags and cheering in the streets gave me goosebumps. I can only imagine the electricity of that day!
As we met up with our friends, we opted for a sampling lunch. We ordered up lots of Khachapuri (cheese bread, topped with an egg), Khinkali (dumplings that look like purses- carefully eaten to avoid spilling the soup inside- and Georgians do not eat the tops of the dumplings), calf shins, and dolmades- as well as some of the cafe's house-made Sapaveri wine.
We then strolled the idyllic streets on our way to Sioni- which I am going to dedicate an entire post to, because it was so beautiful.
Where to Stay:
AirBnb-- We loved staying with Baco- here is the listing for the apartment we stayed at (and would stay at again in an instant!!):
Cozy Apartment Near Freedom Square in Tbilisi
Apartment in Tbilisi, Georgia. The apartment is located on the third floor of the historic building, close to the subway/metro station "Freedom Square". The vintage paintings on the walls of the entrance hall of the building gives an authentic and pleasant atmosphere. The ... View all listings in Tbilisi
Use this link to sign up for Airbnb!
What to See:
-Georgian National Museum, Treasury and Soviet Occupation Exhibit; Shota Rustaveli Ave, about $2-$3 per person. Cameras not allowed, and bags must be checked with a security guard. Plan plenty of time to view exhibit, as placards are displayed in English, Russian, Georgian and a few other languages- though we did not really enjoy the top floor of the Soviet Occupation Exhibit, which mostly showed documents and papers without English translation.
-Dry Bridge Flea Market, weather permitting
-Old Town Tbilisi's cobblestone streets and small shops
Where to Eat:
-Numerous Car-Based Espresso Shops
-Friends House; Old Tbilisi, st. Erekle II, 19. Doubles as a karakoe bar at night, but we loved the outdoor patio seating. House sapaveri, khachapuri, khinkali, dolmades, calf shins all recommended.