Sightseeing in Tbilisi is an extraordinary opportunity to explore the city’s historically diverse architectural influences. Because of its unique position on the trade route between Europe and the Middle East, you can get a feel for how each culture and time period left its imprint on the style of architecture. Additionally, because of renovation, rebuilding, and changing political leaders, at times you will see these variations of influence within the same building.
Whether you’re a lover of architecture and the fine arts, a history buff, a wine aficionado or simple love to shop, shop, shop, Tbilisi has something to offer every visitor to its rich city.
There are two main architectural styles in Tbilisi; one encompasses the very old, the other embraces more recent architectural developments.
The older neighborhoods of the city—such as Metekhi, perched on a cliff towering over the Mtkvari River, and Avlabari, also along the Mtkvari—are traditionally Georgian, at times with a Middle Eastern flavor.
The relatively recently developed areas, such as the Vera district and Rustaveli Avenue, showcase more Neoclassical structures, reflecting the later influence of European and Russian travelers.
Shopping the street markets in Tbilisi
Many visitors visit because of the many opportunities for shopping. Jewelry especially, is a booming industry. But perhaps the most exciting opportunities for shopping are in the many street markets in Tbilisi. The Merkado Street Market, conveniently located near the Akhmetali Metro Station on Mosulishvili Street, is a visually stunning collection of booths and stands from which you can purchase meat, dairy, nuts, fruit, vegetables, and Georgian spices.
Sulphur baths in the Abanotubani district
If you’re not into shopping, a suggested place to begin your Tbilisi sightseeing tour would be in the Abanotubani district, famous for its old bathhouses built on the site of sulphur springs emerging from the earth. On the south side of the Metekhi Bridge, Tbilisi’s Sulphur (also spelled Sulfur) Baths, as they are called, are simple to spot for their small ground level domes.
Travelers new to the experience of Tbilisi sulphur baths should be aware that if you choose to have a massage with sulphur bath after the massage may find that the price of the bath has doubled. So it may be best to pay for your massage and bath ahead of time.
Costs are as follows: between 15-80 GEL for a private bath; between 5-20 GEL for an hour’s massage.
Be prepared for the smell of sulphur; in spite of the odor, visitors clamor to the baths to experience their relaxing and therapeutic quality and to enjoy Old Tbilisi’s remarkable charm and deep history. It has been recorded that the Russian Romantic writer Alexander Pushkin and the Russian novelist Tolstoy were both visitors to the Georgian sulphur baths.
Above the Sulphur Baths, towers the Narikala Fortress; this gives the visitor a true feel for Tbilisi’s ancient roots.
Uniting religions in Old Tbilisi
Old Tbilisi is fascinating for how a number of religions co-exist in one district. Not far from the Sulphur Baths, Armenian Gregorian churches sit amiably with Georgian Orthodox churches and Turkish mosques. Sightseers are encouraged to amble down the cobbled Leselidze to see the Jewish Synagogue; traipse down another small street to see the colorful Roman Catholic Church.
The area is also infused with a sense of community in its homes. Walk the narrow streets and see colorful and ornately-carve wooden balconies whispering warm greetings, with structural 19th century facades preserved to their original state.
District of Metekhi
Here one can visit the Metekhi Church; the 4th century Narikala Fortress; the Anchiskhati Basilica dating to the 6th century and is considered to be the oldest church in Tbilisi; and the Old Synagogue, as well as a number of art galleries and treasured collections of the State and Art museums.
In the markets and galleries of Metekhi, you’ll be able to view examples of metal work, for which the area is known. Whether you are a lover of art, architecture or sculpture, this is the area you will not want to miss.
Sitting majestically on an elevated cliff overlooking the Mtkavari River, the Metekhi Church, dating from the late 13th century, is an interesting example of blended Georgian architecture. The church has been rebuilt and restored multiple times, including the addition of a brick dome in the 1750s. In the 1970s, the church became the State Youth Center, and as a consequence, interior elements were removed leaving a somewhat stark interior. What is not stark however, is the stonework, especially the area around the entrance door, which suggests a Celtic influence.
No longer home to the State Youth Center, it is a church once again, and considered with the Samemba Cathedral, to be one of the most historically significant churches in Tbilisi.
Apart from the architectural interest of the Metekhi Church, the view alone is extraordinary. The church looks straight out towards the Narikala Fortress and stands regally guarded by the immense equestrian statue of Vakhtang Gorgasali, Tbilisi’s founder.
At night, the view of the city lights on the far side of the Mtkvari River is stunning and alone should secure the church prime real estate on your Tbilisi sightseeing list.
This ancient fortress was built in the fourth century, possibly by the Persians, as a means for keeping the Georgians at bay. Climbing its ancient walls gives visitors a phenomenal 360 view of Tbilisi and its surrounding countryside. Towering over the city and overlooking the river, it was also once home to the Mongols, with its elevated position above the city making it a strategic location for battles. The fortress was rebuilt in the 17th century.
The view of the Narikala in the daytime is lovely; the view during the nighttime is breathtaking.
Both the Metekhi Church and the Narikala Fortress make for a wonderful sightseeing experience if one especially is interested in a less hurried environment as a getaway from the hustle and bustle of Tbilisi.
Tbilisi Opera and Ballet Theatre
Rustaveli Avenue is home to the Tbilisi Opera and Ballet Theatre—both a beautifully constructed building and an important national symbol of freedom for Georgia. The lavish and ornate Moorish interior and intricately painted ceiling are a perfect backdrop to the tiered balconies and red drapes, and the theatre houses an impressive eight hundred people.
Parliament of Georgia
The Parliament is an impressive, columned brick structure; also located on Rustaveli Avenue, it was built during the Soviet occupation and designed by Russian architects. It is home to the Parliament of Georgia, the country’s supreme legislature.
The National Gallery
For art lovers, the National Gallery, one of the eleven museums and galleries of the Georgian National Museum system, is a not-to-missed opportunity to view 20th century masterpieces of Georgian Fine Art. The National Gallery has been recently renovated and houses the work of such artists as the late 19th/early 20th century Primitivism painter Niko Pirosmani and the early 20th century avant-guard painter, David Kakbadze.
Rose Revolution Square
At the west end of Rustaveli Avenue is Rose Revolution Square. Located in the Vera district, the square was built in 1983 and given the name Republic Square. After the Rose Revolution in 2005, it received its new name, Rose Revolution Square.
Bridge of Peace
The Bridge of Peace is especially fascinating because it has been constructed in a style completely its own, distinct from the surrounding architectural styles. Designed by Italian architect Michelle de Lucchi, this steel and glass masterpiece seems to bounce lazily over the river in a low, liquid arch, looking more like a wave itself than a bridge. The best time to see the Bridge of Peace is in the evenings, when thousands of LEDs illuminate the river with an interactive, dancing display of light.
Built between the 5th and 7th centuries, Sioni Cathedral is regarded as the famous of Tbilisi churches. This historic landmark is a Georgian Orthodox Church, notable not only because of its architectural interest but because of its colorful and multicultural past—it was destroyed and rebuilt or renovated many times throughout its history under a number of rulers, and its eclectic style, which is primarily done in the Russian Neoclassical style, reflects this history. You can find this beautiful structure along the Mtkvari River in the Sioni Street district, a historical section of downtown Tbilisi.
Tbilisi Wine Cellars
Georgia is home to an unusually high number of grape varieties, and their wine production is renowned throughout Europe. You have many options when it comes to finding a great location to sample the fine wines Tbilisi has to offer and to bring samples home with you. Among wine cellars are the Kindzmarauli Cellar Wine Shop on Chavcahvadze Street and the Tbilisi Wine Shop in the historic Avlabari neighborhood.
If you are a wine lover, there are also many wine tours, some all-inclusive, that you may want to investigate.