At first glance, Tbilisi can be overwhelming. The contrasting architectural styles, the congested and chaotic city streets and an alphabet that is more beautiful than decipherable can all boggle the mind. It is a complex city with an ancient history and a recently regained independence. The Georgian capital city dates to the 5th century AD, although there had been settlements on the land as early as the 4th century BC. Tbilisi is where Europe meets Asia and was on the historic route of the Silk Road. It has long been an important cultural and political center of the Caucasus. Our Tbilisi Self-Guided Walking Tour is an introduction to the sights of the city – old and new. (Map and tips below.)
Tbilisi Self-Guided Walking Tour
Start your Tbilisi Self-Guided Walking Tour by hiking up or taking the Cable Car to the…
The ancient Narikala Fortress dominates the steep hill rising above the Old Town. Built in the 4th century, the fortress was expanded and damaged many times throughout history, leaving little more than the impressive wall standing today. The church at the fortress, St. Nicholas, was built in the late 1990s on the site of a 13th century church that burnt to the ground.
The Narikala Fortress is free to enter and explore (at your own risk; use common sense). The views from the fortress are phenomenal (which is exactly why the fortress was built where it was!) and we particularly enjoyed sunset from the fortress walls.
From the Narikala Fortress, walk west past the Cable Car Station to the…
Mother of Georgia Statue
The aluminum Mother of Georgia Statue (Kartlis Deda) stands 65-feet-tall on the Sololaki Ridge watching over her beloved country. She both welcomes and defends her land: wine in one hand for friends and a sword in the other for enemies. The statue was erected in 1958 to celebrate the city’s 1500th birthday.
On the road that leads from the fortress to the statue, we encountered some inventive purchase opportunities: a cafe operating from the back of van, homemade “only pay if you like it” chacha liquor and a pay-to-play spin-and-win homemade wheel of fun.
Retrace your steps to the Cable Car Station. Behind the station, find the stairs that lead down to the entrance to the…
National Botanical Garden of Georgia
Founded in 1625 as the Fortress Gardens and converted into an official botanical garden in 1845, the National Botanical Garden of Georgia is located in the Tsavkisis-Tskali Gorge on the southern side of the Sololaki Ridge. The gardens cover 400 acres of land and feature 4,500 species of plants, several footpaths and a 130-foot-long waterfall. The western end of the park backs up to the pool of an ultra-modern private residence, which belongs to Bidzina Ivanishvili, Georgia’s former Prime Minister (2012-2013) and the country’s richest citizen.
Fee: 2 Lari (80 cents USD).
Leave the National Botanical Garden at the eastern entrance on Botanikuri Street. Walk past the Tbilisi Mosque – which dates to 1895 and is a place where both Shia and Sunni Muslims pray together – and follow the road as it curves north. At the end of the street, turn right (east) and walk to the garden (Haydar Aliyev). Turn right (south) and walk into…
Abanotubani District – The Bathhouses
According to legend, in the 5th century, King Vakhtang Gorgasali was so taken by the sulphur spring water in what is now the Abanotubani district that he declared the land the new capital. He called the new city Tbilisi, which means ‘warm.’ Whether or not that is true, the history of bathhouses in Tbilisi stretches back over 2000 years, as people have long been attracted to the hot, healing water – and evidence proves Roman baths were present in the 1st century AD. The pungent-smelling sulphur water is naturally heated by the earth (75-105 degrees Fahrenheit), which is pooled and piped through the bathhouses. At one time, there were more than 60 bathhouses in the area. Today, there are five functional baths and their distinctive brick domes in the Abanotubani district can’t be missed.
Tip: Follow the stream south (away from the river) into the gorge past the restaurants. At the end, you’ll find a waterfall.
From the bathhouses, walk north (toward the river) to Vakhtang Gorgasali Street. Turn left (west) and walk to the Metekhi Bridge. Turn right (northeast) and cross the bridge. After crossing the bridge, if the gates on your right to the lower chapel are open, take a detour down to the riverside and take a peek inside. Past the gate, stay to the right (east) on Metekhi Rise – and then turn right (south), followed by another immediate right (west) into the parking lot of the…
Metekhi Church of Assumption and King Gorgasali Statue
In the 5th century, after King Vakhtang Gorgasali declared Tbilisi the new capital, a church and palace were built on the cliff overlooking the Mtkvari River. Destroyed in 1235 by the Mongols, a new Georgian Orthodox church, the Metekhi Church of Assumption, was built between 1278 and 1284. Although the church was damaged and expanded, used as barracks and as a theater, and was set to be destroyed, it survived – and has been functioning again as a church since 1988.
The enormous equestrian statue of King Vakhtang Gorgasali was erected in 1967 on the cliff where the king first settled the city. He is looking over the river toward the hot springs.
Leave the Metekhi Church via the parking lot and turn right (south) onto Metekhi Rise. Follow the road as it sharply turns left (east) and walk to Metekhi Street. Turn left (north) and follow the street to the large roundabout (look to your left for the underground pedestrian walkway and cross to the north). Continue walking north on Lado Meskhishvili Street to Samreklo Street. Turn right (northeast) to the entrance of the…
Located on Elia Hill on the left bank of the river is the grandiose Sameba Cathedral. Many say the church is a symbol of the renewed Georgian spirit that has flourished since regaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Standing at 330-feet-tall and able to accommodate 15,000 people, the cathedral – also called the Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi – ranks worldwide as the third tallest Eastern Orthodox cathedral and one of the largest religious buildings (by total area). The cathedral complex includes the Patriarch residence, a monastery, a school of theology and nine chapels, five of which are underground. The cathedral was built between 1995 and 2004, however, it was intended to be built several years earlier to commemorate 2,000 years of Christianity and 1,500 years of independence of the Georgian Orthodox church.
As impressive as the church is from afar, it is even more so up close. However, we were a little surprised to find that neither the grounds, nor the interior, are yet complete.
Leave the Sameba Cathedral and walk southwest on Samreklo Street. Continue walking on the street (the name changes to Malkhaz Abdushelishvili Street) to the…
Housing the Presidential Administration of Georgia, the Presidential Palace eloquently sits high on a cliff on the left bank of the river. The president of Georgia is the highest government position in the country, a position which was incorporated in 1991 after Georgia declared independence from the Soviet Union. The building, originally used for the military, was redesigned in 2009. Although visiting is off limits, you can peek through the side gate for an up-close view.
From the north gate of the Presidential Palace, walk north on Elene Akhvelediani Rise and take the stairs down to N Baratashvili Garden. At the major street, take the underground pedestrian walkway to the west side of the street and continue walking south past the tubular structures to the terrace. Enjoy the view, then take the stairs that lead down to…
Rike Park sits on the bank on the Mtkvari River below the Presidential Palace. The spacious park has several gardens, walking paths and play areas. The distinctive features, however, are the dancing musical fountains, a cable car to Narikala Fortress, an enormous piano and two tubular concert halls (which, during our visit, had yet to be completed).
Leave Rike Park via the…
The contemporary pedestrian bridge, which is made of steel and glass and is illuminated at night by 30,000 LED lights, is a symbol of Georgia’s path to a brighter future. The 490-foot-long Peace Bridge opened in 2010, to rave reviews and criticism. Some think the modern structure looks out of place in the heart of the Old Town and the unique shape have earned it interesting nicknames, like Sushi Bridge and Always Ultra (referring to the maxi-pad shape). Regardless, a walk across the bridge provides stunning views of Tbilisi’s Old Town.
After crossing the bridge, continue walking west to Erekle II Street. Turn right (north) and walk along the street (which changes name to Shavteli Street after crossing Antimoz Ivereli Lane) to the…
Anchiskhati Basilica of St. Mary
The 6th century Anchiskhati Basilica of St. Mary is the oldest church in Tbilisi. Although the church was originally dedicated to the Virgin Mary, it was renamed in 1675 when the church received an icon (icon of Ancha), which is now on display at the Art Museum of Georgia.
From the Anchiskhati Basilica of St. Mary, walk north on Shavteli Street, zigzagging left to the…
Theater Clock Tower
The unusual Clock Tower next to the puppet theater on Shavteli Street was built in 2010. Although it is new, it resembles many of the buildings in the Old Town that lean at various angles and are propped up by support beams. On the hour, an angel emerges from the tower and strikes a bell – and at noon and 7pm, a short (and overrated) show called, ‘The Circle of Life,’ is played.
From the Clock Tower, continue walking north on Shavteli Street to N. Baratashvili Street. Turn left (west) and walk, following the road as it turns south (and changes name to Pushkin Street) and walk into…
Freedom Square – really a large traffic roundabout connecting six streets– is a hub of activity in the center of the city. Under Soviet rule, it was called Lenin Square. A statue of Lenin that stood in the center was torn down in 1991 and was replaced by the Liberty (or Freedom) Monument in 2006, which is topped by a golden St. George slaying the dragon. The square is often used for celebrations and demonstrations – and is the site of an assassination attempt on President G.W. Bush. Notable buildings on the square include the Tbilisi City Hall, the former Bank of Georgia and the Marriot International.
From Freedom Square, walk northwest on…
A main thoroughfare through Tbilisi, Rustaveli Avenue runs northwest from Freedom Square. The tree-lined street is home to many of Tbilisi’s cultural buildings, such as the Georgian National Opera, the Rustaveli Theater and the National Museum.
At #8 Rustaveli is the…
The grand Parliament Building at #8 Rustaveli was built between 1938 and 1953. It was used by the Georgian Parliament until 2012, when the parliament moved into a new building in Kutaisi, a town 125 miles from Tbilisi. The move has been surrounded in controversy and there has been a bid to move the parliament back to this building.
Across the street from Parliament is…
The Kashveti Church of St. George
Located catty corner from the Parliament Building on Rustaveli Avenue is the Kashveti Church of St. George. The church was built between 1904 and 1910 on the site of a previous church that dated to 1753. The church obtained the unusual name – Kashveti can be translated to mean ‘stone birth’ – from a 6th century legend. According to the tale, a monk was accused of impregnating a woman. He denied it and proclaimed all would know he was telling the truth when the woman gave birth to a stone…which she did.
From the Kashveti Church of St. George, continue walking northwest on Rustaveli Street to Besik Street. Turn left (west), following the road as it curves to the south (and changes name to Mtatsminda Street), to Daniel Chonqadze Street. Turn left (south) to the…
The mountainside railway first opened in 1905. The Funicular was built in an effort to expand Tbilisi onto the mountain plateau (which failed due to lack of water supply). While the lower station building on Chonqadze Street has remained unchanged, following an accident in 2000, the funicular underwent complete renovation (reopening in 2012). There is a stop halfway on the 1/3-mile-long track and a trail that leads to the Mamadaviti Church. At the Upper Funicular Station is a new restaurant complex (housing five restaurants), a viewpoint and an entertaining, throwback theme park.
Fee: One-way ride – 2 Lari (80 cents USD). A rechargeable Funicular card must be purchased (2 Lari, non-refundable) and money loaded on to it. One card can be used for a group. The card is also used for rides and games at the theme park. For two people, the card and round trip ride costs 10 Lari ($4.15 USD)
After completing your round-trip ride, exit the Lower Funicular Station and turn right (south). Walk south on Daniel Chonqadze Street into the Sololaki neighborhood. At Mikheil Lermontoi Street, turn left (east) and make your way into the Old Town and wander through…
Although there are many sights to see in Tbilisi, Georgia, there is no better way to get a feel for the city than to wander the streets of the Old Town neighborhoods. A walk through the twisting lanes – some cobblestone, some paved, some dirt; none level or without cracks – reveals a side of Tbilisi that some tourists miss. Mangy cats, laundry on lines, nearly falling down structures and the scent of fresh baked bread all linger in the streets of the neighborhoods.
Tbilisi Self-Guided Walking Tour Map
Tbilisi Self-Guided Walking Tour Tips:
- Street signs are few and far between – and most likely not in the Latin alphabet. We have provided a link to Google Maps for each sight, but you will need to be connected to the internet to access them while on the walk. Otherwise, consider using Google Offline Maps…or at the very least take screen shots of the route prior to setting out on the Tbilisi Self-Guided Walking Tour.
- Free maps, in English, are available at the Tbilisi Tourism Information Centers (there is one on Pushkin Square, which is on the north side of Freedom Square).
- Wear practical walking shoes! The streets of Tbilisi are not designed for most fashionable footwear.
- If visiting any of the churches, women should bring a scarf to be used to cover their head piror to entering.
- Does a Tbilisi Self-Guided Walking Tour seem a bit too much? Consider booking a private tour of Tbilisi with guide and driver.
We Want To Know: Have you visited Tbilisi, Georgia? What would you add to our Tbilisi Self-Guided Walking Tour? Tell us in the comments below!
Our Top Tips For Your Trip To Tbilisi, Georgia
Where To Stay
During our visit to Tbilisi, we stayed in this awesome Airbnb Apartment. (Not already a member of Airbnb? Use this link to create an account and save money on your first stay!) However, for those who prefer staying in traditional accommodations, there are many Tbilisi hotels to choose from in – or close to – the city center. Check out these top-rated hotels (based on guest reviews!) for your upcoming trip:
Or These Hostels:
Things to do around Tbilisi
Tbilisi is an ideal base for exploring other cities in Georgia and the surrounding region. During our stay, we were so fascinated with the city that we didn’t end up wandering too far from the center. However, these tours interested us and we look forward to seeing more of the country on our next visit (because we already know there will be a ‘next visit’!).
- 1-Day Wine Tour in Kakheti Region
- Full Day Private Tour in Kazbegi Ananuri Gergeti
- Tbilisi Market and Food Tour
Before You Go
- Don’t forget to pack a pair of lightweight and comfortable walking shoes. I (Sarah) have traveled with these shoes by Columbia and Skechers. Kris prefers wearing these shoes by Merrell and Sanuk.
- We’re certain you’ll be snapping tons of photos during your trip. Rather than relying on your mobile phone to capture the sights, upgrade to an actual camera for higher quality photos. We travel with a Canon Rebel (which takes amazing photos, but can be a bit clunky) and a Canon PowerShot ELPH (which takes beautiful pictures, is slim and lightweight – and the new models are wifi enabled so you can share your trip pics to social media in real time!).
- It’s easy to get turned around or lost in any new city! Be sure to have a good city map and/or guidebook prior to arriving.
- We think travel insurance is essential! If you haven’t already obtained travel insurance for your trip, travel protected with World Nomads.
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