Writer Baia Dzagnidze was born and raised in Tbilisi, Georgia and, apart from four years studying in Prague, she has spent most of her life there. Even though she’s a local, it took her years to discover the perfect walking routes to the main landmarks and find the best places to hang out. Here's her guide to the Georgian capital.
The best way to see Tbilisi… is on foot. Tbilisi is a walkable city with famous landmarks located close to each other. I believe the best way to discover any city is by walking through its streets, main avenues, and hidden alleys. You find new places, notice interesting details, feel the vibe and have a glimpse at the local lifestyle.
When I’m up for a big night out… my friends and I usually start at open-air bars like Bauhaus or Dedaena when the weather is warm. Drinks are cheap and the music is good, making it one of the best places to pre-party. After a beer or two, we either stay or move to clubs like Bassiani, KHIDI or Mtkvarze to dance till dawn. Tbilisi nightlife is very diverse and you can find many places to suit your preference.
One must-do unique experience in Tbilisi… is to book a private room in one of the sulphur baths. This natural thermal water is around 40–50°C (104–122°F), making it extremely relaxing and therapeutic, especially on cold winter days. Try either Chreli Abano (also known as Orbeliani), Gulo’s or Queen's sulphur baths. The price starts from 40 GEL for a two-person room.
On a rainy day in Tbilisi… visit galleries or museums along Rustaveli Ave. Art lovers should go to the National Gallery and admire works of local artists such as Lado Gudiashvili, Niko Pirosmani, and David Kakabadze. The Georgian Museum of Fine Arts displays more than 3500 works by 80 local artists. Those who are interested in Soviet-era Georgia can visit the Soviet Occupation Hall in the Georgian National Museum. And once here, make sure you see mind-blowing works by the goldsmiths of ancient Georgia in the Archeological Treasury Hall.
On a sunny day… you’ll find me strolling down the streets of Tbilisi taking photos or making the most of the various green spaces. My favourite parks in Tbilisi are Vake Park and newly renovated Vaso Godziashvili’s Red Garden for walking my dog, Louie. On warmer days, my friends and I love spending time at Lisi Lake, either having picnics or taking relaxing strolls along the lake.
When I have friends in town… I take them to the main sights of the Old Town first, before exploring more local and hidden spots. We usually start from Pushkin Park at Freedom Square to see the remains of the old wall, then continue to Narikala Fortress via a cable car for spectacular views over Abanotubani and Rike Park. Afterwards, we walk down through narrow cobblestone streets to admire typical Georgian carved wooden balconies and courtyards.
When visitors want to have a cultural night out… I always suggest attending Welcome to Georgia – The Musical even if they are not big fans of melodic shows. It’s humorous and gives a great insight into Georgian customs, traditions, and hospitality. For a bit of a different experience, try Gabriadze’s Theatre, which uses puppetry to tackle subjects such as politics and history. Bear in mind that tickets are almost always sold out, so be quick in purchasing them online as soon as you set the dates for your visit.
For cheap eats… I love going to Mapshalia, a quirky semi-basement restaurant serving Megrelian cuisine at low prices. My go-to meal here is elarji, grits with local mozzarella-like cheese, topped with chicken stew in a walnut sauce called kharcho. If I crave our traditional meat dumplings (khinkali), my two favourite places are Zodiaqo and Klike’s Khinkali.
Must-do festivals in Tbilisi are… the annual New Wine Festival held in May, and the Art-Gene folk festival in July. The one-day wine festival features small and big entrepreneurs displaying wine made from the newest vintage season. There is no fee to enter or take part in tastings, and you can buy a festival-branded glass to keep as a souvenir. The seven-day Art-Gene festival, held at the Open-Air Museum of Ethnography, showcases the cultural side of the country with folk songs, dances, and handcrafted items brought from all over Georgia.
One thing I love about Tbilisi is… the juxtaposition of old and new and a perfect blend of Europe and Asia shown in culture, history, food and architecture.