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Tbilisi is the capital and the largest city of Georgia, lying on the banks of the Kura River with a population of roughly 1.5 million inhabitants. Tbilisi is known for its distinctive architecture, which reflects the city's storied past and comprises an eclectic mix of Medieval, Neoclassical, Art Nouveau, Stalinist and Modernist structures.
Present-day Tbilisi is one of the safest cities in Europe and frequently ranks among the most popular emerging destinations thanks to Georgia's growing tourism industry.
Tbilisi lies in the centre of eastern Georgia, in the foothills of the Trialeti mountain range. According to Georgian legends, it was founded in the 5th century by King Vakhtang Gorgasali who, while hunting, shot a pheasant which fell into a warm spring and was either boiled or healed. Either way, the king was inspired to found a city on the site, and the name of the city derives from the Georgian word tbili meaning "warm".
Although the city has been destroyed and rebuilt some 29 times, the layout of the Old Town is largely intact with narrow alleys and big crooked houses built around courtyards.
Tbilisi International Airport (TBS) is 17km southeast of the city centre. A new, modern terminal was inaugurated in 2007. There are ATMs, multiple SIM card vendors, a CIP lounge, and free Wi-Fi (Silknet) in the airport. George W. Bush Avenue leads from the airport to downtown Tbilisi.
Domestic trains run between Tbilisi and Batumi, Gori, Kutaisi, Marneuli, Poti, and Zugdidi. International trains run regularly between Tbilisi and Baku and between Tbilisi and Yerevan. A new rail connection with Turkey may be completed in 2017.
An overnight sleeper train runs from Yerevan to Tbilisi on even days of the year with prices starting at AMD8400 (c. USD20) (Nov 2014). In the winter, it departs at 21:30. Tickets can be bought at the Yerevan train station, cash only.
The overnight train from Baku to Tbilisi leaves daily at 20:30 and arrives to Tbilisi at 09:45. The train are equipped with everything and their comfort levels (SV, KP, PL - for 2, 4, and more people respectively) are changing with price, starting from AZN20 (USD19) one way.
Luks Karadeniz operates a daily bus from Turkey, costing TRY70.Bus services from Russia have been suspended.
Regular buses or marshrutkas run between Tbilisi and Batumi or Kazbegi as well as Azerbaijan and locations in Armenia.
Neo-Turs bus company offers bus transfers Tbilsi - Thessaloniki - Athens and back, starting from Didube bus station.
Tbilisi is located inland and does not have ferry connections. You may be able to catch a ferry from Ukraine to Batumi, eight hours away.
Main transport inside and outside Tbilisi city is bus and minibus - marshrutka.
All signs inside the metro are in Georgian and English. Station names are announced in both English and Georgian as well. There are a few system maps in carriages, usually located above one of the carriage doors. It will be hard to find English speakers riding the Metro; Russian, however, is widely spoken. Take a bilingual map with you if you are not proficient with the local alphabet/pronunciation.
A trip with the metro and bus system in Tbilisi costs GEL0.50, but you will have to buy a Metromani card (GEL2) at the counter. You can load the card with any amount you like, and use it for travel on buses, the metro, and the new yellow marshrutkas. Marshrutkas vary in price from GEL0.40-0.80.
At the Samgori station, near the east end of line 1 (red), one can change for bus 37 to the airport. The bus actually goes all the way to the city centre, but roads can become congested, so changing may be a quicker option.
City buses are yellow, and come in various sizes. The bus number and a description of the route are usually listed on signs in the bus windows, but only in Georgian. The city recently installed electronic arrival boards, with reasonably accurate estimated arrival times, at bus stops on major roads. The signs are in English and Georgian, and display the bus number, minutes to arrival, and destination.
Board through any door you like, usually the double doors in the middle are easiest. A journey costs GEL0.50, and exact change is required if you don't have a touch card (which can be purchased at metro stations). If you have a Metromani card, touch it on the top of the card machines and make sure you wait for a paper ticket to be issued. Hold onto the ticket you receive on the bus; you will need to present it to the yellow-shirted ticket checkers.
Marshrutkas are vans which service the side streets of the city; they are independently owned. Like buses, the route is posted in the front window (often only in Georgian), but marshrutkas use a different route numbering system, and the route descriptions may be more general than the buses (e.g. "Vake" rather than a specific street in the Vake area). Fare is (on average) 0.80 GEL; shout "gacheret" when you want to get off, and hand the driver your fare on the way out. In the new yellow Ford Transit vans you can pay also with the electronic card you need for the metro.
Taxis in Tbilisi are typically privately owned vehicles, and don't run on a meter. If you're going anywhere other than the nearest metro station, major hotels, or tourist destinations, or if you don't speak Georgian or Russian, it's likely that your driver will stop multiple times and ask pedestrians for directions. Even then, he may not know how to get to your destination. If the driver has difficulty finding your destination, he will charge you for his trouble. ALWAYS negotiate a price beforehand, and insist on paying before departing. A trip anywhere in the city should never cost more than 15 lari, unless you're going to the airport. Getting a receipt is also really difficult if not impossible!
What to see
G. Chitaia Ethnographical Open-Air Museum, Tortoise’s pond lane. Daily, except Monday, 10:00-18:00. 70 houses and thrift buildings characteristic for the various parts of Georgia. 8000 household devices and samples of craft are exposed in the museum.
Numismatic Museum, G. Leonidze str.N3/5 (Building of the National Bank of Georgia). Coins dating back to the IV century BC, Kolkhian Tetries, antique coins, Arabian Dirham, coins of then Georgian kings Lasha-Girgi, Rusudan, Demetre I, Giorgi III, also the Turkish coins , Persian Abaz, Austrian and Polish Thalers.
Museum of Art, L. Gudiashvilistreet 1. Daily, except Monday 11:00-16:00.
Simon Janashia Museum, Rustaveli avenue 3,. Daily, except Monday, 11:00-16:00. This museum houses hundreds of thousands of Georgian and Caucasian artefacts of archaeology and ethnography. A permanent exposition chronologically follows the development of Georgia’s material culture from the Bronze Age to the early 20th century. The most valuable exhibits include Homo Ergaster fossils discovered at Dmanisi; the Akhalgori hoard of the 5th century BC which contains unique examples of jewellery, blending Achaemenid and local inspirations; a collection of approximately 80,000 coins, chiefly of Georgian minting; medieval icons and goldsmith pieces brought here from various archaeological sites in Georgia; a lapidary which includes one of the world’s richest collection of Urartian inscriptions, etc.
Puppet Museum, Shavteli N 17a. Tu-Su 11:00-17:00.
Galaktion Tabidze Museum, Marjanishvili N 4. Daily except Su&Mo 11:00-17:00. The museum of the eminent Georgian poet, Galaktion Tabidze.
Art Centres & Galleries
Tiflis Avenue is an art centre and a gallery that represents a variety of Georgian artists working in different media. The gallery is located in an old town, on King Erekle II Street, where exhibitions of art are held regularly. Tiflis Avenue also runs an online art store with the largest selection of contemporary Georgian art.
Sulfur Baths. The bath district is called Abanotubani and is on the south side of the Metekhi bridge. It is easy to spot with its small domes on ground level. There are several small baths offering different levels of comfort. The baths are relatively small, and you may have to wait for a pool to become available. English service is not guaranteed. Massages are available; however, they are more like a washing, but well worth it for the experience. You should bring your own towel and beach sandals (available for a small fee). Some travelers have suggested the Royal Baths is a much better alternative to Sulfur Baths (they are next to each other). Sulfur baths tends to double the price at the end of the massage and bath in spite of your original agreed price.
Also in other districts you can find sulphur baths. For example in the Kiev-ulica, A bit south east of metro station Marjanishvili, around the corner of hostel Green Stairs, there is an old, characteristic bath.
Turtle Lake (Kus Tba), (Take a taxi or walk up from Saburtalo). This lake is located in the hilly outskirts of Tbilisi. A popular weekend getaway for families, the lake offers pedal-boat rentals as well as swimming (deckchairs optional) for reasonable prices (swimming entry, without deckchair, is about 3 Lari). Allright for a hot summer day, and offering views of both the mountains and the city below. Snackbars, restaurants and fruit cocktail shakers are available overlooking the lake. It's about an hour's pleasant walk from the Saburtalo district along country roads, passing the Ethnographical Museum, or a ten-to-fifteen minute (5-10 lari) cab ride from the center. While the lake itself isn't particularly nice, the views from the hike up to the lake makes it a worthwhile excursion.
Lake Lisi(Lisis Tba). Much further out than Turtle Lake (a cab will set you back about 10-15 lari each way), Lake Lisi is much larger and more remote, with long, winding mountain walks surrounding the lake. Unlike Turtle Lake, the entire Lake Lisi is opened up for swimmers. Be warned - there aren't always taxis waiting to take you back...
Climb up to the Narikala Fortress. The crumbling ruins of this once-great fortress, standing alongside the Upper Betelmi Churches and the stunning Botanical gardens, offer panoramic views of the city below. But be warned - it's quite a steep climb - and while the lack of bureaucracy and guard-rails can be liberating for some, you may want to pay extra care to watch your step. Now, the best way to visit is by aerial tramway, a exciting experience with stunning views of the city, only for 1 Lari. And you can enjoy the way down walking to the mosque and the baths. The usual metro card can be used.
Botanical garden. National botanic garden of Georgia, lying in the Tsavkisis-Tskali Gorge near Narikala Fortres, has not only collection of plants, but is also a lovely park with with scenic waterfall which is great for a dip on a hot summers' day, although you need to avoid the guards.
Khinkhali - Georgian dumpling filled with either meat, potatoes, mushrooms, etc. Do not eat the doughy pinched part (it's seen as very rude and cheap), but do use it to hold up the khinkali whilst you eat from the bottom (and be sure to catch all the gravy from the meat khinkali). The pinched part is also used to keep count of how many khinkhali are eaten by each person.
Pkhali - Vegetable paste topped with pomegranate seeds
Kachapuri - Georgian circular bread often filled with cheese.
Mtsvadi - grilled skewered meat.
Kababi - chopped and seasoned meat which is grilled on a skewer. Often served wrapped in a thin flat bread in Georgia.