One nice Thursday afternoon in winter 2016 I went to one of the new coffee shops to check out their winter menu. You might not understand the peculiarity of the situation, but Tbilisi still was a city that mostly drinks Turkish coffee (which I also like), had instant coffee listed in the menus of quite an amount of restaurants and didn’t care what was beyond cappuccino and latte.
And here we had a winter menu of a coffee shop.
Being rather a black coffee person, I was still curious to taste those new Russian-style raf and Australian-style flat white, that have never been an issue in Tbilisi. Sipping a cherry-and-tarragon raf, so creamy and smooth that it served me as a whole breakfast, I heard the lady at the table nearby talking about the lack of places to drink coffee here. She came to Tbilisi from Switzerland for a short break and couldn’t find a morning coffee.
Mornings are another issue I was addressing in my breakfast post. In short – they start here around 10 or 11 with a cigarette and black coffee. If we talk about the villages, then people stand up earlier of course, but still a “European” breakfast is not a always a part of routine.
Nightlife is also a question for some people who have read things about Tbilisi as a party place for everyone. It is definitely one of the best cities to have fun in the region, but taste really matters!
So many expectations, so many delusions… Nevertheless, people come to Georgia and Tbilisi and want to get the maximum from it. I’ve been writing about 2-3 day trips to Tbilisi and around many times for many media. Now, again. After a long prelude, now it’s time to give you a brief overview of my favorite places, those I can really recommend.
You can get direct flights to Tbilisi from: Aktau (Scat), Astana and Almaty (Air Astana), Amsterdam (Georgian Airways), Athens (Aegean), Baku (Georgian Airways, Qatar Airways), Dubai (flydubai), Hurghada (Air Cairo), Istanbul (Turkish Airlines, Pegasus, Atlasglobal), Kyiv (UAI, YanAir), Minsk (Belavia), Moscow (Georgian Airways, Aeroflot, S7), Munich (Lufthansa), Riga (AirBaltic), Saint Petersburg (Georgian Airways, Ural Airlines), Sharjah (Air Arabia), Sharm El Sheikh (Air Cairo), Tehran (ATA Airlines), Tel Aviv (Georgian Airways, El Al), Ürümqi (China Southern), Vienna (Georgian Airways), Warsaw (LOT), Yekaterinburg (Ural Airlines), Yerevan (Georgian Airways).
Most of the transit flights to Tbilisi have a stop in Istanbul, Doha or Kyiv.
So you have bought your ticket and look for the place to stay? In Tbilisi there are several new hostels and hotels, which are good, comfortable and well-located.
From the ones I checked recently I especially liked Emberton (has both hotel and hostel rooms) and Fabrika (mostly hostel rooms; creative space and bars in the yard are its added value). For living like in a family, but with highest level of comfort, book The Family Hotel. If you prefer to spend even more money on comfort and beautiful ambience, I recommend Museum Hotel Tbilisi, Shota Rustaveli, Vinotel and The Terrace. Those boutique hotels are gorgeous, and the location of each one allows you to see the most of the city without taking a cab. Plus, Vinotel has a fantastic collection of high class wines.
If you stay anywhere else and want to have breakfast outside of hotel, I either advise you to read this list of breakfast places in Tbilisi or just check one of the following ones:
Third wave and classic coffee, healthy sandwiches and desserts: PinPon Cafe
After breakfast go for a walk. If you are not sure what to do with all this public transport and money, and want to know more about mentality of people here, check out this article too. You will need one day for the basic sightseeing – Rustaveli Avenue and its courtyards and Old Tbilisi (Abanotubani a.k.a. sulfur baths district, Narikala fortress and Bridge of Peace are included). You can walk there at least 2 or three hours.
One of the coolest experiences would be to go up to Narikala with a cable car (2.5 lari /1 USD per ride), walk there and go down to the Botanical garden on the zipline (30 lari/12 USD per ride). From the Botanical Garden it’s very easy to go down to Abanotubani and waterfall Leghvtakhevi.
And then come back to the basics. Georgia is a country where you should eat, eat and eat. So here is my list of place to have lunch:
- Sofia Melnikova Fantastic Douqan (I love their khinkali with mushrooms and cheese, no matter what people say).
- Ezo (tucked in a courtyard in Sololaki, this restaurant serves the best seasonal products from small Georgian farms, using recipes from families living in the yard).
- Eno (a cousin of Ezo with the focus on wines and grilled food)
- Leila (lovely vegetarian café in front of the oldest church in Tbilisi).
- Sakhachapure #1 (all kinds of amazing Georgian traditional pastry with cheese; salads, soups and desserts are also in the menu).
- Shavi Lomi (beautiful garden, fantastic rare Georgian dishes that can be shared, moderate prices).
But Tbilisi won’t be Tbilisi, if you won’t walk in Sololaki district and its beautiful facades dating back to the XIX century, won’t find Bethlemi street and tiny panoramic spot near the same-name church. Tbilisi experience is not full without taking a funicular up to Mtatsaminda mount – this is one of the best viewpoints!
The areas around Lisi Lake and Turtle Lake (Kus Tba) are very good for walking, but Lisi is quite far if you want to take the public transport. Though, I always call the taxi Maxim (+995 322 606060) or use their app, and it appears to be quite cheap. Many people also use Taxify app.
Kus Tba is connected to Vake Park by a cable car (operating hours: 8 AM – 10 PM), so it might be a nice experience too, if the station employees won’t make you squeeze inside with 10 other people.
The left bank of river Mtkvari has started developing in a cool way. Aghmashenebeli avenue is one of my favorite places, especially its freshly renovated pedestrian part, which is mouthing into the Dry Bridge, a place where you can buy all kinds of stuff from old dusty chandeliers to pioneers’ stars, from plates of The Doors to naïve contemporary paintings.
And then it’s slowly comes to the dinner time, and here I go again with my favorite restaurants:
- Kala (located in quite a touristic area, it is still frequented by the Georgians; I like their khachapuri and pizzas)
- Old Vake (well-prepared Georgian food, a cozy restaurant in the residential area of Tbilisi)
- Tabla (in the evening, around 8 PM, there is usually dance and singing program there)
- Keto and Kote (maybe the most expensive restaurant from the whole list, but I love its décor, hidden location and their really short menu, where everything is prepared simply well. Though, the waiters are not always quick…)
- Barbarestan (almost legendary place, you will need to book the table in advance. Their menu is based on the old cookbook of the Georgian noble lady Barbare Jorjadze. You won’t find anything trivial there!)
- Tashre (spicy hearty Megrelian cuisine! Love it).
- Kakhelebi (for this experience you’ll have to get the cab and book a table, but the food is worth it. As my friend said, if they serve you a simple radish, it will be the best radish in Georgia)
Though many travelers are getting tired or way to full with the local food, because it’s delicious and heavy, if you consume it in big volumes (or even “worse”: if you are unstoppably treated by the locals). That’s why it is my duty to recommend you at least three non-Georgian restaurants:
- Ronny’s Pizza (I love the place, because it is founded by an American who moved to Georgia with his family and started here from zero. The full story is actually here).
- Burgio (another restaurant established by the expats; a tiny burger place worth squeezing in!)
- Tuk Tuk (tiny restaurant with mixed Asian cuisine)
Staying in Tbilisi and getting stuck in the hotel in the evening is almost a crime. Though, I won’t promise you to find a good club with pop-dance music playing there. Pop-dance is rather for the weird dark shisha-bars. The real Tbilisi is listening to techno. Or techno. Or soft techno and minimal sometimes. Also you can find several acoustic concerts in the small bars or pubs. Here are my favorite spots to listen to music, meet people or drink alone, if you prefer.
- Black Dog Bar (number one for meeting people; various sorts of craft beer, plenty of other alcoholic drinks, playing dice for free shots and good affordable food to accompany them)
- Bauhaus (a little bar in Dedaena park)
- Drunk Owl (my number two for meeting people and having a big choice for longs and shots)
- Tbilisi Hilltop (best view, fair choice of drinks; sometimes they invite local DJs to play live)
- DiveXFabrika (coolest location, lots of live music events; but is more expensive than its older brother Dive)
- Movement theatre (jazz jam sessions twice a week, several theatre performances a week plus the other music and art-related events sometimes)
- Backstage 76 (this place lets local musicians express themselves freely. You can bump into a little concert there almost every day)
- PAM Club (more expensive than all the bars in my list, but if you feel like live music American style… that’s the option!)
- eZo festival (almost every weekend in summer and early fall there is a series of concerts, yoga classes and little handmade market at the top of Mtatsminda mount).
After you got warmed-up, it’s time to go clubbing. I strongly advise you to check “Nearby events” on facebook, but in those three clubs there will be always something cool to dance to:
- Café Gallery (located in the very center of Tbilisi, this club is not big and always full of people. During the day it offers good international food, and in the nights it’s the territory of freedom)
- Khidi (several floors, good electronic music every weekend)
- Bassiani (the most famous club of Tbilisi, even featured in international media)
After the night in the bars or clubs many people prefer to deal with hangover immediately. Treatment in Georgian style is eating khinkali (hot dumplings with meat, mushroom, potato or cheese) or khashi (a broth based on cow tripe). However, you can choose any other soup. The 24/7 restaurants that will help you find a proper remedy are:
- Pasanauri (I prefer the one near Rustaveli, just in front of Café Gallery, but there is also one near the sulfur baths).
- Maspindzelo (this one is also located in the baths district, which is good, if you include a healing bath in your after party routine. You can find more information about the baths in this article).
- Khasheria (the fanciest place to eat hangover food).
Before you will pack your bag to fly back home, I will also point you at my article about local souvenirs that are applicable in real life (there is an English and Russian version), and recommend a couple of shops and bars with natural Georgian wines, in case you don’t want to buy the gods’ drink in the supermarket.
- Amber Bar (one of the outstanding places at new part of Aghmashenebeli avenue, where you have good selection from small producers, where house wine tastes really well and where food makes wine sound better).
- Wine Store&Barrels a.k.a. Wine Station (my friend Lazo is changing the name of his bar from time to time, but the wines are permanently good and affordable)
- Dadi Wine Bar & Shop (when the owners make the whole way to the winemakers to pick the wines by their own, it says something about the quality and approach, right? Bonus track: SAPERAVI CAKE)
- gVino (a beautiful little wine bar with great Georgian tapas and good wine selection; not very cheap)
- Old Cellar (a wine shop standing on the cellar which is supposed to be a part of old underground tunnel system. They tell funny stories and offer a huge variety of Georgian and even Armenian wines)
- Vinoground (a historical cellar, where you can taste, buy and drink a lot of wine from big and small producers)
- 8000 vintages (quite a modern shop in the residential area of Tbilisi; a lot of really good sorts)
And please, even though our drivers are really crazy, try to walk as much as you can. Tbilisi is a city you better explore on foot, be it a short tour around the Old Town and the Botanical Garden, strolling in Vera and Vake districts, going up to Mtatsminda, Lisi lake or Kus Tba. Tbilisi is about peaking into the old courtyards and entrances of houses that look like they are falling apart. It’s about embracing the ugly Soviet buildings, because you can’t help but embrace your past.
I will also share my experience of one/two day trips, in case you stay longer:
- Kakheti in two days
- The other side of Kakheti: David Gareji
- Several ideas for outdoor trips