Where: Tbilisi, capital of Georgia
When: June 2018
Why: We visited Tbilisi on our Caucus tour. On this trip we visited Sofia in Bulgaria (it was our stepping stone to the region), Baku in Azerbaijan, Tbilisi and Borjomi in Georgia, we then went to Armenia for a few days, before ending our trip in Batumi and Kutaisi in western Georgia.
You know how sometimes there’s something that everybody raves! about and you just don’t get it? That’s how I feel about Tbilisi and, to a lesser extent, Georgia. People rave about Tbilisi. I’ve seen people say it’s one of the best cities they’ve ever visited and I just don’t understand why.
If I could chose one word to describe Tbilisi it would be dilapidated. So many of the buildings were falling to pieces, with crumbling concrete and bare wires sticking out; the infrastructure was terrible (the Metro didn’t even have name signs on its stations); roads were pot-holed; traffic was king, pedestrians an afterthought. Much of the city seemed to be unloved and neglected.
I know Georgia is a developing nation and that you can’t judge it in the same way as EU countries, but we didn’t find Armenia to be like this, and as far as I’m aware they are in a similar economic situation. Also, some of the problems seemed to be a lack of logic (no signs at stations) rather than something that would be caused by lack of money. It just all felt really uncared for. So many little problems could be fixed so easily (like just print an A4 piece of paper with the platform numbers on it and stick it to the doors on Tbilisi train station, so people know what platform numbers they are – rather than have it written in teeny, tiny writing on a half-removed sticker).
However, to be fair to Tbilisi, it does have some really cool historical sights, in some areas you can tell that money is being invested and we did visit in peak summer, whilst I was four months pregnant. It was the hottest day on record while we were there (41 degrees Celsius) and that made the trip more of a struggle. Perhaps if we had visited in spring or autumn, when it was less hot and polluted, and I had been able to indulge in Georgian wine, we might have liked it a lot more. Looking at pictures of the city, and thinking about the city tour we did, and thinking about the city with hindsight, I do wonder if we were a little harsh. But then I think about the unloved treasures, the traffic and the crumbling concrete …
Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe all the raving other people do about Tbilisi and Georgia raised my expectations too much. I really wanted to like it – but in the end was so glad to leave.
Sleeper train from Baku to Tbilisi
We travelled by sleeper train from Baku in Azerbaijan to Tbilisi.
Jeff booked this train online, in advance, in English, at ticket.ady.az. We had a private cabin for two and this cost us 58 Manat each (£26/€29). You can only book tickets ten days in advance. The Man at Seat 61The Man at Seat 61 has up to date information on how to book.
We had to collect our tickets at the central station in Baku before we travelled. This was at the ticket office, downstairs, in the main train station. We collected a waiting number from the ticket machine, then at the window simply handed our booking confirmation and passports over so that we could collect our actual tickets.
Baku station is a big behemoth of a station (that might be a tautology). Upstairs it has a lovely waiting area with free wifi, seating areas with tables and plugs and restaurants etc. It was a lovely place to just hang out. The only strange thing about it was the high level of soldiers. Apparently, you can get in trouble for taking photos. I took a photo discreetly on my phone – I wanted to show how nice the station was – but then I saw people watching me. One man saw me then went to talk to a soldier and I wondered if I was going to get into trouble. It might have been nothing, but sitting at home in pretty liberal Spain, I can appreciate that this level of scrutiny and paranoia is not normal.
There are some shops at Baku Central Station, though if you are looking for a supermarket the best bet is to head to 28 May Mall, which is in the same square as the station, and there is a posh supermarket in the basement. There is also a wonderful food court here, on the top floor, if you are looking for somewhere to eat whilst waiting for a train.
Anyhoo – our train left at 21.50 and we were able to board about thirty minutes before departure.
Our cabin was okay. We had two bench seats that we rolled mattresses out on so that they could become beds. There were no curtains on the window, so we couldn’t be completely private and it meant I got woken up by bright sunlight at 5 a.m. (I didn’t mind as it was actually a stunning sun-rise).
Our coach had a toilet that was basic but okay, though it didn’t have toilet paper. We had a brusk coach steward lady; very old-school Soviet.
We arrived at the border at about 6 a.m. the next morning. Crossing the border took a long time – maybe two and a half hours in total. Both northern Azerbaijan and the Georgian border area looked very run down, with crumbling concrete tenements and stray dogs snuffling around the stations. It wasn’t a great introduction to a country which I had high hopes for.
Tbilisi train station
Our train finally arrived at Tbilisi station around 10.30 a.m.. We got off the train onto a crumbling concrete platform and my heart sank. The concrete was falling away (we had to be really careful jumping off the train), there were metal rods sticking out. It was dangerous and dirty and a really horrible introduction to this new city. There were few signs at the station and no lifts.
Tbilisi station has a shopping centre in it, though mostly electronic and white-goods stores rather than useful traveller stores, such as supermarkets or drug-stores. They did have an ATM and a money-exchange shop so that we could get Georgian currency though. There was also a nice cafe area upstairs which had plugs and wifi, which we later used when we left Tbilisi for Armenia. This and the toilets shut at 21.00 though, when our train departed at 22.00. After that, the only toilets available were a couple of floors down in the shopping centre.
From what I’ve read, they are planning to build a new main Tbilisi station, which will be on the edge of town; so in the mean time they are not maintaining this station. Either way, for current travellers, arriving here is not a very nice experience and not a good introduction to the city.
Incidentally, if you are looking for supplies close to Tbilisi station and have a little time, there is a Carrefour not too far from the station, on the other side of the tracks. There are kebab and pizza sellers outside the station and some more small stores and bakeries over by Station Square 2 underground station.
To get from Tbilisi International Airport to the city centre you catch bus 37. This costs 0.50 GEL (10p). This service runs 24 hourrs a day and apparently it takes 40 minutes to an hour to get to the city centre. There’s also a train, but this appears to only go twice a day.
I’ve never been to an underground system before that doesn’t have the names of the stations on the wall. Tbilisi metro didn’t, which made it a little hard to know where we were. Tbilisi Metro also smelled of sulphur and had cracked concrete and bare wires sticking out of the walls – a common theme we found with Georgian infrastructure. Also, the escalators went at about a million miles an hour and the stations were deep! Sometimes I wanted to have a sit down on the escalator steps so I could relax while riding them, as the journey down to the deep, deep platforms took so long.
Tbilisi metro has two lines. They connect at Station Square. The main line for the touristy area is The First Line (the red one). Trains run from 6 a.m. to about midnight. We caught the first subway at about 6 a.m. so that we could catch the early train to Bojormi.
To travel on the subway we bought Metromoney Cards, which cost 2 Lari (about 55p/65c) for the card and then 50 tatri per journey (14p/16c). We bought them from the ticket lady at Station Square Station. We could have returned the cards and gotten the 2 Lari back at the end of our trip.
The Tbilisi Transport Company has a nice website with a route planner, all in English. This includes information about metro trains and buses.
Cable Car (Rike Ropeway) and Funicular
A cable car runs from Rike Park up to Narikala Fortress. You have to have a Metromoney card to ride this and a single ride costs 2.50 Lari (70p/80c). There is a machine by the cable car station in Rike Park so that you can add credit to your card. The cable car takes about three minutes to get to the top. It’s a fun ride, going up and over the houses and the river.
There is another cable car called the Turtle Lake Ropeway. This is in the west of the city and runs from Vake Park to Turtle Lake. A ride on this cable car only costs 1 Lari (30p/35c).
Finally, a funicular runs from opposite Vilnius Square up to Mtatsminda Amusement Park. Mtatsminda Amusement Park is where the TV tower and ferris wheel that you can see up on the hill above the city are. park.ge.
At the top of the funicular is the funicular complex which has shops and restaurants. It looks like there are fabulous views from here, overlooking the city. According to In Your Pocket’s Tbilisi Guide, you have to buy a rechargeable card (2 lari), which you can also use for entrance to Mtatsminda Park, and a single ride costs 2 Lari.
Most of the central sites are within walking distance. In the old town a few streets were pedestrianised, had wide pavements and were well sign-posted.
However, the car is king in Tbilisi (traffic really was a problem for us) and there was a distinct lack of cross-walks. Instead we had to find underpasses to get across the busy streets, and these were often few and far-between. Rustavelli Avenue, Nicoloz Baratashvill Street and Nicoloz Baratashvill Rise were particularly bad for this.
What we did on our holiday
Walking tour of Tbilisi
On our first day in Tbilisi we went for a walk to explore some of the major sights in the city.
We were staying in a hotel close to Avlabari Metro Station, which is up on a hill behind Rike Park. To get to Rike Park first we tried to walk down a main road (Nicoloz Baratashvill Rise) but we ended up on the wrong side of the road and in Tbilisi there are very few, if any, crosswalks – so when the pavement petered out half way down the hill and there was no way to cross the busy traffic, we had to hike all the way back to Avlabari just to find an underpass so we could cross.
Starting again, from Avlabari we made our way down to Metekhi Bridge, which is a bridge over the Kura River, located next to many of the key tourist sites. This is a key spot in the city and is very dramatic: the river almost passes through a gorge here and on one side is Metekhi Church, with a dramatic statue of King Vakhtang Gorgasali 1 on his horse, towering above the river (he built the church and fort here, which is why he is commemorated). On the other side of the river lies the old town, with Narikala Fortress high-up overhead.
Metekhi Bridge is also known as the Bridge of 100,000 Martyrs, as this is the location where two sets of foreign invaders tried to force the Georgians to convert to Islam (they were killed if they refused). The first to do this was Jalaledin, a central Asian leader who took Tbilisi in 1226. It is said that he had 100,000 Christians killed. These Christians are known as the 100,000 martyrs and they are celebrated as saints every 13 November. Three hundred years later, the Persians did the same thing in the same place.
From Metekhi Brridge we crossed the river to Meidan, a square in the old town that feels like the heart of this part of the city. This was a bustling area of restaurants and people and they have one of those I heart Tbilisi signs. Meidan is where the main bazaar used to be held.
From The Meidan we dived into the tangle of tiny, cafe filled lanes that run alongside the river. We’d barely been walking for forty minutes, but in the heat I was struggling, so we stopped for a drink and a cool down in one of the spray-cooled cafes.
We then followed the Lonely Planet city-walk tour, going through the old town along Sionis qucha and Erekle II qucha. These two streets are probably the tourist heart of Tbilisi, full of interesting restaurants, bars, galleries and food sellers.
In the Old Town we passed the Tbilisi History Museum, Sioni Cathedral, Anchiskhati Basilica and the puppet theatre clock tower.
Tbilisi History Museum is located in an old caravanserai. It has exhibits from Tbilisi’s history and art exhibitions and craft workshops and showrooms. I would have liked to have gone back to visit the museum but I never got round to it, sadly. Tickets currently cost 5GEL per adult (£1.50/€1.70). museum.ge.
Sioni Cathedral is the home of St Nino’s cross, a cross constructed of vine branches, bound with the saints’ hair. A replica of this sits in this thirteenth century cathedral, which was built by David the Builder on the site of a much older destroyed church.
Anchiskhati Basilica is the oldest church in Tbilisi, dating from the sixth century, though much of it now dates from more recent years. It is named after the icon of Ancha, which used to be housed here.
Although both of these churches are very important historically, unfortunately we didn’t go in as both churches were closed, then sadly we didn’t have time to go in later on. Oh well, we’ll have to go back.
Close to Anchiskhati Basilica is the clock tower of the puppet theatre. This was my favourite thing in Tbilisi and definitely worth seeing. The owner/puppet-master of the puppet theatre built a fun and interesting, fairy tale-like clock tower next to his theatre. It’s a wonderful piece of kooky art. It has the smallest clock in Tbilisi embedded in it.
The clock bing-bongs on the hour and an angel pops out from the top to bong the bell. We waited to watch this on our first trip and then we returned later on, on our Tbilisi tour, and we got to see the even more elaborate twelve noon bing-bong show, when puppets are revealed in a circle-of-life story (it’s actually kind of a sad story, though very pretty).
The cafe next to the clock tower also contains art work from puppet master Rezo Gabriadze, and I highly recommend popping in here to have a coffee and to see some more of his wonderful work.
After this, I’m ashamed to say, we watched a bit of human drama play out with a couple having a very passionate argument on the balcony of the hotel next door. I don’t know what he had done but there was glass smashing and everything.
From Erekle II qucha we walked to Baratashvillis qucha, a busy traffic street that runs alongside the old city walls, from the river up to Freedom Square. The city walls are fascinating and I think there are excavations underneath Baratashvillis qucha. However, much like a lot of Tbilisi, the car was king in this area and the traffic and pollution were a little overwhelming. We also had to find underpasses to get under the streets and unfortunately we chose the wrong one and then had to back up on ourselves. We often got lost in these modern, underground labyrinths, not knowing which exit we should head for.
Pushkinis (Pushkin’s) Park and Tavisuplebis moedani (a.k.a. Freedom Square) feel like the heart of the city, certainly there are a lot of important buildings around this square and there was a lot of development taking place in this area. On the one side of the square is the old town; leading off from the northern side is Rustavelis gamziri (Rustavelli Avenue), probably the most important street in the city; in the middle of Tavisuplebis moedani is the wonderful, golden George and the dragon sculpture.
Looking at the map we hadn’t walked that far, but the heat, the pollution and the noise were getting to us so we headed to Tavisuplevis Moedani/ Liberty Square metro station, to go back to our air-conditioned hotel for a rest.
On the Sunday, J went on the tour to Kazbegi, a wonderful church up in the Caucus mountains, close to the Chechnya border. Kazbegi is probably the most famous place in Georgia, the one that you see on all of the tourist posters. I would have loved to have joined him, but we felt that for pregnant me it would probably just be too much. It was a long tour with a lot of driving on uneven roads, with hiking. We just felt it was safer for me and the baby to rest in Tbilisi.
J pre-booked his tour, the Embracing Georgia Tour, with Envoy Tours (connected to Envoy Hostel), though a lot of companies run similar itineraries. J’s tour was slightly more expensive than some of the others (135 GEL / £38 / €43) but this tour included the 4WD-jeep transfer from Stepantsminda to Gergeti Trinity Church, which normally costs about 70GEL.
The tour took him along the Georgian Military highway, which runs from Tbilisi up to the Chechnyan border. They stopped first at Zhinvali (a reservoir where they took pictures) and then they stopped at a pretty castle at Ananuri. J says the castle was cool because you could climb all over it and there were some cool walkways.
After the castle they went on to the Russia – Georgian Friendship Monument which is an interesting semi-circle monument covered in a mural showing the history of the two countries. It is located up in the mountains, and J said the views from the monument were wonderful.
Lunch was in Stepantminda, served by lovely grandmas, who J says were really nice. Lunch was khinkali (Georgian dumplings), which they got a chance to make. There were vegeatrian ones for Jeff.
After lunch they had the option to either hike or take a jeep/van up to the famous Gergeti Trinity Church. J said the church was sweet, but the focus of this part of the visit was the surrounding stupendous mountain views. He said most people spent their time in the open fields taking photos of the steep peaks of Mount Kazbegi.
Then it was a straight drive back to Tbilisi. The tour took about 11 hours. J met the bus at 9 and he was back by 7p.m.
Rustavelis, Galleria Mall, Peace Bridge and Rika Park
So while J was off exploring the Caucus mountains, I decided to have a further explore of the city and to visit some of the places we had missed before. Even though it was a Sunday, most of the sights and shops were open. Like Yerevan, Monday seems to be the day that everything is closed.
I decided to take the metro to Rustavelis metro station and then to walk back to our hotel from there, stopping off to see things on the way.
Most of my visit focused on Rustaveli Avenue, which seems to be the most important road in Tbilisi. Rustaveli starts at Freedom Square and has many important buildings along it.
I started off by going to have a look at a really cool, but unloved building that was just off the main street. I haven’t been able to find out anything about this place, but there was a wonderful glass tower with a double helix staircase running up it. It was a beautiful building- but was all empty and covered in graffiti. It’s hidden behind the Georgian National Academy of Science, so I guess it is science related. I just wish I could find out what it is. What makes me sad is this double helix building was so unique, but also unloved and uncared for. Hopefully someone will find a way to preserve, protect and use this space.
Rustavelis is a grand boulevard and towards this end (the area around Rustaveli Metro station) there were many shops and coffee shops, so I had a nice time popping in and out of these.
In the middle section there was the parliament building, the stripy National Opera and Theatre, Kashveti Church, an art-deco cinema and the National Museum of Georgia (which I returned to later on our trip. See below for more information).
I then went to cool down and shop in the cool Galleria Tbilisi shopping centre. This five-floored mall contains a cinema, theatre, food court and loads of high-street shops. It is above Liberty Square Metro Station. It was air-conditioned; a wonderful respite from the forty-degree heat outside. J and I visited here two or three times for food, shopping and supermarkets, as it was a relaxing space to be in, especially when it was oppressively hot outside. galleria.ge.
After shopping my little socks off I headed back into the old town to find lunch. Luckily, England was playing a world cup match so I found a nice-cafe to while the afternoon away in, eating and watching the football. (Which we won 6-1! Go Southgate!)
I then made my way over the modern, pedestrianised Peace Bridge which connects the old town to Rike Park. There were some children filming a strange traditional song in the middle of the bridge (I think the backdrop is the most famous place in Georgia), and the police were stopping pedestrians so they could film this. It was interesting to see.
Rike Park is a lovely riverside park. It contains shady areas, fountains, cafes/restaurants, an empty exhibition centre, the cable car station to go up to Narikala Fortress and some fantastic modern art (look out for the metal birdhouse tree). Rike Park is a nice place to hang-out and is right in the centre of the city. Apparently they have dancing fountains here in the evening.
Coach Tour of Tbilisi and Mtskheta
We mostly wanted to do a coach tour to Mtskheta, but it only cost 10 GEL more to do a full day tour of both Mtskheta and Tbilisi, so we decided this would be an easy way for pregnant me to see more of the city in an air-conditioned way. Also, I like to have a guide to a city as they provide so much more information and context, which I felt I wanted and needed here.
There’s many companies that run these hop-on/hop-off city tours. We chose Hop On Hop Off City Tour as they were good value and they had wifi and water on their bus.
To be honest, a lot of the morning tour took us back to places we had already seen. I swear we drove up Rustaveli Avenue ten times. We visited the old town area again, the area around Metekhi Bridge and the Meidan again, Rike Park, the puppet theatre (for the long mid-day bing bong show, so that was good) and Baratashvillis qucha.
However, we did get to see some additional sights and our guide did point out things we hadn’t noticed before, such as some of the statues around the puppet theatre. New things we saw on this tour included the Mardjanishvili area of the city, which seemed to be quite a cosmopolitan and funky district, like the east end of London. If I was to return to Tbilisi I might look to stay in this area as it seemed to be up and coming, with lots of nice bars and restaurants.
We also visited Sameba Cathedral/ Holy Trinity Cathedral, which is the cathedral that dominates Tbilisi, sitting up on a hill overlooking all of the city. This new cathedral is one of the largest religious buildings in the world and is the main cathedral of the Georgian Orthodox Church. It was completed in 2004. The interior was vast, with light, soaring columns, and contained many icons. The grounds were large and pretty, with great views over the city and there was a nice cafe by the entrance-way that sold local pastries and famous lemonade.
The day we did this tour was a scorcher (40 degrees Celsius) and so we struggled every time we got off the coach and waited for the guide to take us to see things. The guide was great and really informative (she kept calling us ‘my guests’), but we were struggling – especially me.
In the afternoon the tour took us to Mtskheta and Jvari, which was what we really wanted to see. These are UNESCO listed historical monuments, famous for their medieval architecture and their importance as early Christian sites. They are located about 20km from Tbilisi.
Jvari Monastery is a sixth-century monastery located on a hill, overlooking Mtskheta. According to legend, Jvari is the location where King Mirian erected a wooden cross on the site of a pagan temple, soon after being converted to Christianity by St Nino. The cross apparently performed miracles. In 545, a small church was built over the remains of the cross, and then a bigger church was built over this between 590 and 605. You can find out more about the history of the church at Wikipedia.
The monastery is located in a stupendous spot, overlooking Mtskheta and the merging of the Kura and Aragvi rivers. We spent about forty minutes at the site. The church is very old and I thought it was very pretty. Also, there were some really cool baby donkeys in the car-park and in the fields near-by. I loved our driver as he got water for them and made sure they were being looked after.
After Jvari Monastery we headed down into Mtskheta. Mtskheta is one of the oldest cities in Georgia and was the capital of the Kingdom of Iberia from 3rd century BC to 5th century AD. It was a site of Christian activity and was where Christianity was declared the state-religion in 337. Today, it is the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church – so still very important.
Our bus dropped us off at a car park on the edge of town and then we made out way up through the tourist stall lined streets up to Svetitskhoveli Cathedral.
Svetitskhoveli Cathedral is the second largest church in Georgia. It is an impressive Orthodox style church, set off in its own grounds. The church was completed in 1097, though the site has been used for Christian worship since the 4th century. The cathedral is said to be the location of Christ’s mantle (tunic): a seamless piece of clothing that he apparently wore soon before being crucified (the Cathedral of Trier also claims to have this).
Sveti means pillar, and there is a strange myth associated with the cathedral. Apparently, a large cedar tree grew from the grave of a girl called Sidonia, who had been buried at the site after dying after touching Christ’s mantle. St Nino made seven pillars from this cedar tree and the seventh magically rose up of its own accord, after St Nino prayed to it.
As with most religious buildings in the Caucus the interior had very impressive frescoes and icons. These felt very old. wikipedia.org/…/Svetitskhoveli_Cathedral.
After visiting the cathedral we had fun being tourists and buying souvenirs, ice creams and interesting local snacks.
You can get a train or a mashruka from Tbilisi to Mtskheta. However the train station is located a long way out of the town, on the other side of the river. Also, you would need to get a taxi if you wanted to visit Jvari. That’s why, for us, the tour was the best option.
Our tour with Hop On Hop Off City Tour cost us 55 Lari (£15/€17). We departed about 10 a.m. and got back to Tbilisi about 5 p.m., so we felt we really got value for money with these guys. We paid for our tour on the bus. hoponhopoff.ge.
Rike Ropeway and Narikala Fortress
We had an extra day in Tbilisi in between our trip to Borjomi and our night train to Armenia. We decided to use this time to get the cable car from Rike Park up to Narikala Fortress.
You have to have a Metromoney card to ride Rike Ropeway and a single ride costs 2.50 Lari (70p/80c). There is a machine by the cable car station in Rike Park so that you can add credit to your card or buy a card.
The cable car takes about three minutes to get to the top. It’s a fun, fast ride, going up and over the houses and the river. This is a really interesting, old part of the city and it’s fascinating to see from above.
At the top you can walk along the ridge to the Mother Georgia statue (Kartlis Deda) that stands over-looking the Tbilisi skyline. The 20m tall statue has a sword in one hand and a cup of wine in the other. Also here are Shahtakhtoi Fortress and the home of the richest man in Georgia, which looks like a secret James Bond lair.
Narikala Fortress dates back to the 4th century though most of it was built in the 8th century. It used to be a Persian citadel. It has huge walls that you can roam all over, apparently.
We walked up to the viewing platform overlooking the fortress, but we couldn’t see where to get in (the entrance is at the lower end of the fortress) and we were so hot and tired that we gave up, I’m afraid. If we come back to Tbilisi, visiting the fortress is number one on my list of things to do as it looks really impressive. A lot of it was destroyed in a huge explosion in 1827, but the walls are still pretty complete. Admission is free.
Down below Narikala Fortress, hidden away in a rocky valley, are the Botanical Gardens. These look like a shady place for a pretty stroll, away from the traffic and pollution of the city. Entrance 2 Lari (about 40p/50c). www.nbgg.ge.
There was a zip wire that ran from next to the upper cable car station to the Botanical Gardens, when we were there. I haven’t been able to find a website for Zip Line Narikala, but I have seen some comments which suggests it costs 30 GEL (£8.20/€9.50) and runs for 270 meters.
Georgian National Museum
For me, the best thing I visited in Tbilisi was the Georgian National Museum (a.k.a. The Simon Janashia Museum of Georgia). I have a particular interest in ancient history and Georgia has some fabulous ancient antiquities.
The Georgian National Museum is located on Rusavelis. It’s a nice sized museum that you could spend a couple of hours exploring. Situated across four floors, the museum houses antiquities from across Georgian history.
I was particularly interested in seeing The Treasury, which contains gold treasures dating from 3,000 BC to 400 AD. This includes some fabulous relics from the Vani Treasures; astonishingly intricate goldsmith work from the Colchis, makers of the golden fleece in Jason and the Argonauts. My favourite piece was a fabulous, little gold pig, which can be seen on one of the Georgian coins.
The museum also contained 1.7 million year old skulls, Eurasian ape teeth, many religious items, cultural items from Georgia and an exhibition about Georgia under the Soviets. Sadly, photography was not allowed in the museum so I can’t show you these treasures.
Where we stayed
Log Inn Boutique Hotel
So some of the reasons I wouldn’t recommend the Log Inn Boutique are not their fault and some of the reasons might have been temporary problems; but I wouldn’t recommend staying here.
The Log Inn Boutique is located in the Avalbari area of the city, which is on top of the hill, up above Rike Park and the main tourist sites. The Log Inn Boutique has a very convenient location, about five minutes from Avalbari Station, but this is a very run-down, decrepit area of the city and I wouldn’t stay here again. The streets around the hotel had collapsing houses and streets full of holes. There were some quite dodgy people hanging around (we saw two random guys go to try the gates of the hotel after they saw us leave, which was a bit strange) and we didn’t feel secure. The hotel had a locked gate with intercom, but I was still worried that someone could jump the fence.
I was worried about this as our balcony door didn’t lock – and we were on the first floor, at the front of the hotel.
When we checked in, I was happy with the room. It was basic, but were only paying £24 per night for it and it had air-con, a TV and a private bathroom. The room was nowhere near as nice as the pictures on the internet (it definitely wasn’t boutique), but for the price we were paying, it was fine.
On the second day, I went down for breakfast in the basement and ended up slipping over in a huge pool of water that had collected at the bottom of the stairs. Normally, I would have just giggled but as I was pregnant I was a little worried about the baby. Apparently the cleaning ladies had been trying to clean this up, but there were no signs and no one warned me of the spill (I’d passed the reception guy on the way down there). Falling left me feeling really vulnerable.
I think what had happened was that they had had a problem with their boiler, because after this there was no water – so I couldn’t brush my teeth or have a shower and there was lots of drilling and banging. For the next two days, if we wanted to have a shower we had to ask them to turn the hot water on.
I felt very vulnerable at Log Inn. I was pregnant, hot, bothered, felt scruffy and scared. We had to put a chair under our doorknob at night as the balcony door didn’t lock, and we didn’t want to venture out after dark as the area made us nervous. The family who ran the hotel were perfectly nice, but we still didn’t feel comfortable here.
I think if I returned to Tbilisi I would up my accommodation budget to stay in a mainstream hotel; somewhere where I can feel more comfortable.
We booked the Log Inn Boutique Hotel through booking,com and it cost us 260 GEL (£71/€82) for three nights bed and breakfast, in a standard double room.
Hotel Tbilisi Central by Mgzavrebi
We had one night in Tbilisi between our Borjomi trip and our train to Armenia. To keep things simple, we booked to stay at Hotel Tbilisi Central which is located in a tower above Tbilisi Station.
We didn’t have high-expectations for this transit hotel and we weren’t disappointed. It wasn’t bad, it was just very basic and not that comfy. But it was relatively clean, the shower was hot, there was a TV, it was centrally located for the trains and they let us leave our bags there the next day which really helped. Check out also wasn’t till 12 noon, and it was nice for us to have that extra time to relax. Our room overlooked the central atrium of the shopping centre. It wasn’t great, but then we weren’t expecting much so that was okay. It only cost us 68 Lari (£20/€22) and we booked it through booking.com.
Where we ate and drank
The first place we visited in Tbilisi was Khinkali House in Avelbari, a restaurant close to our hotel. This Soviet style eating house served traditional Georgian dishes and was a great introduction to Georgian cuisine.
The restaurant was pretty dark (the curtains were drawn in the daytime) and had large, circular booth style tables. I found it a little oppressive and I felt very foreign here, though our waiter was lovely and helpful and even spoke some English (he asked us if we could take him home with us).
The restaurant served Georgian classics, such as khinkali (dumplings), khachapuri (cheese bread) and aubergine/egg-plants with walnuts. They also had lots of interesting soups. Being pregnant, I was a little nervous about eating anything with cheese or ground meat in, so my meal was a little limited, but J tried all of the above. (Georgian food is great for vegetarians).
Khinkali House was cheap and unpretentious and if we returned to Georgia I’d go back here to sample and experiment with Georgian food.
Cafe Leila is a Persian style cafe/tea-house, located in the old town close to the puppet theatre. They serve good vegetarian options, cakes and tea. Their decor is fabulous – with so many interesting things to look at. The service wasn’t great when we were there (I felt really sorry for the one waitress who seemed to be doing all of the work), but the food was good, with huge portions. I had a yummy soup and salad.
There’s lots of cool restaurants on Erekle II Street and most of them are pretty similar, serving standard Georgian fare. However, I just wanted to mention Bloom as they served this amazing dish with potatoes and mushrooms that was absolutely delicious. They were also very friendly and slightly better than some of the other options. They had a nice terrace where we watched the World Cup.
If you’re down by the puppet theatre and you need a drink (or even if you don’t) then I highly recommend that you pop in to Gabriadze, the cafe linked to the puppet theatre. This cafe/bar contains art-works from Rezo Gabriadze, the puppet master of the puppet theatre, who built the famous clock outside. Much of the work is intricate and embedded into tables etc. It’s really fascinating and pretty, and this is a really interesting cafe. I only went in to use their toilet (thanks guys), but I wish I could have stayed longer here.
There’s a good food court at the top of Galleria Tbilisi which has international fast food options, traditional Georgian cuisine options and coffees and ice-creams. There is a large balcony, overlooking Rustavelli and the interior is air-conditioned. We hung out here while waiting for our train to Armenia.
The Telegraph newspaper has a cultural guide to the city.
Please note, some, if not much of this information may not be correct, or may be out of date. All these articles show is how we found these places when we visited and what we personally thought of each place. Where possible I will include links to site which will contain more up-to-date info. All of this is our own work and any opinion expressed is that of the author only.
All photos copyright of J Clemo-Halpenny, unless otherwise stated. If you would like to copy or reproduce any of these images, please email me to ask permission