Where west meets the start of central Asia, the Georgian capital of Tbilisi is a city full of diversity and culture, thanks to its history and its neighbours.
Georgia: the basic facts
Language: Georgian, Russian
Climate: Given its geographical location, the Greater Caucasus Mountain Range helps to moderate the country’s climate, by shielding against the cold wind from the north. The Lesser Caucasus Mountains do the same, but this time protecting against the dry hot air from the south. Average temperatures range from 19° to 22°C in summer, to a frosty 1.5° to 3°C in winter.
Currency: The Georgian Lari is the country’s currency, and the abbreviation’s GEL.
Visa entry: As long as you have a valid passport, you shouldn’t have any problems entering Georgia. The country has a liberal visa system, offering visa waivers to citizens of 94 countries for short-term stays. For more information, visit the Georgia tourist board to see if you require a visa before travelling.
Tbilisi – why visit?
King Vakhtang Gorgsali founded Tbilisi in the 4th century on the site of mineral water springs. It later developed into the main city of the Caucasus, and would become one of the most important points on the infamous Silk Road.
What’s more, the city was a place of great inspiration for many artists and writers, such as Alexander Dumas, Tchaikovsky and Fitzroy MacLean.
A melting pot of cultures and religions, Tbilisi is home to Armenian and Catholic churches, as well as synagogues and mosques. Without a doubt, the capital offers some of the best things to do in the country, and you’re sure to be impressed by its architecture and rich cultural history.
The cultural sights to see in Tbilisi
If you like your vacations with a good dose of culture, you’ll really enjoy a break in this Georgian city.
The Old Town
Begin by discovering the sights of Tbilisi Old Town. Get lost in the many winding roads and alleys of the original settlement of the city. There are plenty churches in the Old Town, and of different denominations too.
Take for instance Sioni Cathedral, the home of the Georgian Orthodox church, and Metekhi Church that stands above the river on a cliff-top. Walking through the Old Town, take note of the quaint wooden houses with open carved balconies, as you make your way up the hill to Narikala Fortress.
The fortress designed to protect the capital was built in the 4th century. It consists of 2 walled sections on a steep hill between the sulphur baths and the Botanical Gardens of Tbilisi.
Needless to say, the view from the fortress are something special, as you’re overlooking the Old Town below.
Tbilisi Sioni Cathedral
Keeping in line with a medieval Georgian tradition of naming churches after places in the Holy Land, this cathedral takes its name after Mount Zion at Jerusalem. First built in the 6 and 7th centuries, it’s still standing despite having been destroyed by foreign invaders over the years.
The interior’s a fitting example of Georgian classic architecture with an inscribed cross design, and simple facades with few decorations.
For a city built on mineral water springs, it’s only fitting that it’s one of the must-see, and must-try, activities in Tbilisi.
It’s an experience for those less inhibited as you will more than likely get a good scrubbing, plus a massage after. However, it’s easily one of the most relaxing ways to enjoy Tbilisi.
Botanical Gardens of Tbilisi
There are over 128 hectares, and more than 4,900 species of flora to admire at the Botanical Gardens of Tbilisi. It was established in 1845 and is located at the foothills of the Narikala Fortress.
Between 1896 and 1904, the garden was expanded westward. Today, it’s considered one of the top sights in Tbilisi, especially on a beautiful sunny day!
A funicular ride to Mtatsminda Pantheon and park
After a brief closure in 2000, the funicular was re-opened in 2012 after a comprehensive reconstruction project.
A ride on this Tbilisi icon is a must, especially to see the necropolis of Mtatsminda Pantheon — the burial site of Georgia’s most prolific writers and artists. The ride to the top to Panoramic Park provides top and unspoiled views of the city.
Museum of Georgia
To get the lowdown on the entire history of Georgia under one roof, you can do no wrong with a visit to the Museum of Georgia. As well as being home to a collection of natural and human history, you also get to see animal remains that date back 40 million years ago!
Don’t miss out on seeing the Archaeological Treasury, that showcases pre-Christian gold and silver burial stone works from the 3rd millennium BC. If this hasn’t yet whet your appetite to visit, maybe the next attractions will do the trick.
One of the capital’s most elegant streets, Rustaveli Avenue’s where you’ll find the city’s theatres and the Georgian National Opera.
Named after the Georgian poet, Shota Rustaveli, it stretches 1,500m in length, and is filled with Renaissance and neo-classical buildings such as the former Parliament building of Georgia, and the Georgian Academy of Sciences.
Museum of Fine Arts
Boasting around 140,000 pieces in its collection, the Museum of Fine Arts is the place to get educated on Georgian, Oriental, Russian and European art. Of all the collections at the museum, it’ll come as little surprise that the Georgian art collection’s the largest in the building.
Marvel at the Georgian enamel, jewellery and textiles, and discover for yourself just why the museum’s so popular with visitors to Tbilisi.
To get a real sense of Georgia’s political past, you might enjoy a visit to Freedom Square. Known as Erivan during the days of Imperial Russia, and Lenin Square under the Soviet Union, it’s been the place for many mass political demonstrations.
In fact, it was in Freedom Square, that they held the demonstration for Georgia’s independence from Russia. The name ‘Freedom Square’ came during the foundation of the First Republic of Georgia in 1918 after the fall of the Russian Empire.
Keeping in line with the theme of freedom, you’ll easily spot the befitting Freedom Monument in the square.
Standing at 35m high, the granite and gold monument of St George slaying a dragon was designed by Georgian sculptor, Zurab Tsereteli.