The capital city’s small old town and broad modern avenues are a pleasant place to spend a couple of days getting acquainted with Georgian food and culture.
Old Town Walk
We followed the Lonely Planet old town Tbilisi walk. We did the Shota Rustveli Ave. section of the walk (see below) on a different day. You can easily do all the sights in one longish day but we chose to break it up in two half days. In summer the days heat up quickly and it’s nice to get out of the sun by early afternoon.
We started the walk at the old wall and ended at Freedom Square where the St George and the Dragon Monument separates the old town from the new. The contrast between the old town and the modern boulevard is quite remarkable. Walking up Kote Abkhazis Qucha from old town you hit Freedom Square leaving the quaint crumbly narrow lanes behind and enter a world of stately polished buildings and broad avenues.
The sights of old town make for a pleasant meander through the city. It’s a blend of cleaned up Disney feeling sections and crumbly old buildings. One of the new Disney type structures is the crazy Clock Tower built in 2010 as part of the theater renovations. Interestingly it’s on the same square as Tbilisi’s oldest church, the Anchiskhati Basilica, a beautiful 6th century structure. Inside remnants of frescoes decorate the wall along with lots of icons. Brick columns top painted capitals and 4 wide-eyed icons grace a wonderful stone altar. Unfortunately no photos are allowed inside.
The modern Bridge of Peace takes you across the river through the well-tended Rike Park to the cable car that whisks you up to the top of the hill across the river where you’ll find Kartlis Deda and the Narikala Fortress. The trip up is worth it for the views alone. The Kartlis Deda, the Soviet style Mother of Georgia statue, is difficult to see up close but there is a viewing platform nearby that gives you a better vantage. The fortress is a ruin wall and mildly interesting.
On your way down or before you head up Metekhi Church is worth a quick up close view. While the interior is plain and no photos are allowed the exterior has some lovely old stones and remnants of stone carvings, especially the portico and the back side.
If you want to avoid the ticket line to the cable car get the Metromoney card ahead of time. There is a machine in front the Rike Park entrance to the cable car to add money to a card but if you don’t already have the card you will have to stand in the cash line. You can get a card in advance at metro station ticket offices. The card costs 2 GEL, which can be used for multiple people, plus the fare. The cable car fare is 2.5 GEL per person one-way. On a Monday morning both the cash line and the line to the cable car went quickly.
Shota Rustaveli Avenue
The wide avenue of upscale hotels, restaurants and public buildings is great for a tree-shaded stroll. Just don’t try to jay walk. Cars speed along this road without interference as there are no left turns allowed or crosswalks – only underpasses for pedestrians. We actually saw a couple get a ticket for jay walking on a slow Sunday morning. Keep an eye out for the small bronze statues that line the sidewalk.
In mid-July of 2022 the National Gallery had exhibits on 3 Georgian artists: Dimitri Khakhutashvili (1927-2009) – a temporary exhibit with an extensive showing of his work in honor of what would have been his 95th birthday, Zura Apkazi (1968- ) – a temporary exhibit called “Noises of Stones” – large canvases combined with other materials of an abstract environmental nature and a permanent collection of Niko Pirosmani (1852-1918) – Georgia’s most well-known artist – modern paintings depicting the social conditions of the times. The museum’s upper gallery is naturally lit with a large skylight overhead illuminating the well-spaced paintings.
Georgian National Museum
Exhibits includes an extensive collection of Stone Age Georgia including early man, animals and rocks; the Treasury, a collection of gold and silver jewelry and other trinkets dating back as far as the 3rd millennium BC; artifacts from the Bronze Age and an in depth exhibit of the history of the Soviet occupation of Georgia. The Treasury collection is particularly impressive for the age of and skill demonstrated in the finely crafted pieces. I also thought the Soviet Occupation exhibit maintained an easy to follow running narrative.
Mtskheti, Outskirts of Tbilisi
On the outskirts of Tbilisi, Mtskheti has two impressive religious sights. Note that Mtskheti is an easy stop if you are traveling by car between Tbilisi and Gori.
The 11th century gem is worth a stop. The large structure is a beautiful blend of old stone carvings, faded frescoes, marble floors, leaning columns and soft lighting. Walking around the towering space you can feel the centuries.
Located on a hilltop overlooking Mtskheti and the river confluence the 6th century church boasts a stunning setting. We arrived on a hazy summer afternoon which was not the best time for a visit. The simple structure is well-proportioned with a plain interior.