Walking Tour Tbilisi New & Old
- Start Rustaveli metro station
- End Narikala Fortress
- Length 3.5km; three hours
This walk takes you along Tbilisi’s main avenue and into the narrow lanes of the Old Town, then up to Narikala Fortress with its great panoramas.
Start at the monument to Shota Rustaveli outside Rustaveli metro station. Pass the Stalinist Academy of Sciences at Rustaveli 52, with an informal souvenir market outside, then walk along Rustaveli to imbibe the busy atmosphere of Tbilisi’s main artery. The street is strung with handsome and important buildings such as the Moorish-style Opera & Ballet Theatre, built in 1896; the baroque-cum-rococo 1901 Rustaveli Theatre; the Parliament building; and the Museum of Georgia.
Rustaveli ends at wide Tavisuplebis moedani with its landmark St George and Dragon monument.
Head to the left down Pushkin, skirting the old city walls. At the bottom turn right into traffic-free Shavteli to Tbilisi's quirkiest building, the Gabriadze Theatre's rakishly crooked Clock Tower. Continue to the city's oldest and one of its prettiest churches, the Anchiskhati Basilica. Cafe Leila across the street here is one of Tbilisi's most charming cafes and a perfect drinks stop. Continue south then turn left on to the most emblematic of Tbilisi's new structures, the elegant Peace Bridge over the Mtkvari River, taking in the views of the also recently built Presidential Palace and Tsminda Sameba Cathedral up on the east side of the river.
Enjoy the flowers of Rike Park before crossing back over the Peace Bridge and wandering down cafe-lined Erekle II to the revered Sioni Cathedral, home of the sacred cross of St Nino. Continue to busy Meidan square where you turn right up to the recently renovated Armenian Cathedral of St George. It's five minutes more up to Narikala Fortress – a steepish ending to your walk but well worth it for the views when you get there!
Old Town კალა
Tbilisi grew up below the walls of the Narikala Fortress, which stands on the Sololaki ridge above the west side of the Mtkvari. The buildings along the twisting lanes of the Old Town (Kala) have been renovated at a fairly fast lick over the past decade, but behind the pretty facades and off the main streets you'll still find picturesque dilapidation aplenty, with half-overgrown courtyards surrounded by carved wooden balconies – indeed some whole houses – leaning at rakish angles. Many buildings here date from soon after the Persian sacking of 1795, and still have the Eurasian character of earlier times.
The main thoroughfare of the Old Town is Kote Abkhazi, still widely known by its former name Leselidze, which winds down from Tavisuplebis moedani (Freedom Sq) to the busy square Meidan. Heading back north from Meidan, parallel to the river, is a string of narrow, traffic-free streets that formed the heaving commercial hub of the Old Town in medieval times – Sioni, Erekle II and Shavteli.
St Nino & the Conversion Of Georgia
While some of the legends that have grown up around St Nino are ridiculously far-fetched, there is no doubt that Nino is the historical figure to whom the 4th-century Christian conversion of Iveria (eastern Georgia) can be attributed. She is believed to have hailed from Cappadocia in Turkey and a widespread version has it that she was the daughter of a Roman general, raised in Jerusalem under the eye of an uncle who was the Christian Patriarch of Jerusalem, and that at the age of 14 she experienced a vision of the Virgin telling her that her destiny was to convert the Iverians to Christianity. Coming to Iveria in the 320s, Nino gained a royal convert at Mtskheta when her prayers were deemed to have saved Queen Nana of Iveria from serious illness. Then King Mirian was struck blind while hunting, only for his sight to be miraculously restored after he prayed to the Christian God – leading to mass baptism in the Aragvi River for the folk of Mtskheta. Mirian made Christianity Iveria’s official religion in about 327. The vine-branch cross that the Virgin is believed to have given Nino (and which Nino later bound with her own hair) is kept at Sioni Cathedral in Tbilisi. She remains Georgia’s most venerated saint, and is buried at Bodbe Convent in Kakheti.
Avlabari is the dramatically located slice of Tbilisi above the cliffs on the east bank of the Mtkvari, across the Metekhi Bridge from the Old Town. At least twice foreign invaders (the roaming Central Asian conqueror Jalaledin in 1226, and the Persians in 1522) used the bridge for forcible conversion of Georgians to Islam (those who resisted were tossed into the river).
Tbilisi’s main artery, Rustavelis gamziri, is named after the national bard, Shota Rustaveli, and runs 1.5km north from Tavisuplebis moedani (Freedom Sq) to Rustavelis moedani. Laid out by the Russians in the 19th century, it’s strung with elegant and important buildings. It’s also a fast traffic route, dangerous to cross except by four pedestrian underpasses.
Mtatsminda is the hill topped by the 210m-high TV mast looming over central Tbilisi from the west. There's an amusement park up here, Mtatsminda Park, but more exciting (for adults, anyway) is the spectacular ride up on the recently reconstructed funicular, as well as the views from the top. The restaurant building at the top of the funicular has a couple of great places to eat or drink. To ride the funicular you need a 2 GEL plastic card, sold at the ticket office, on which you then add credit for your rides.
Walking trails lead across to Narikala Fortress (2.5km) and down past the national pantheon back to near the bottom of the funicular (1km).