Today yourtravelrecipes starts its world tour. Our first destination outside Europe is Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. See here below the recommendations from a very good friend of mine named Monica Maiolo, a professional interpreter and a big traveller, just like me. Find here below Monica’s tips for you.
“Have you ever wondered to visit Georgia? Well, I hadn’t… or, at least, it was not at the top of my bucket list. It was just by chance – and thanks to an Erasmus + project I took part in – that in summer last year I had the opportunity to visit the charming city of Tbilisi and to literally fall in love with it!
That’s why I have decided to write my article about the amazing capital city of Georgia.
Before starting your tour through the 5 must-see places in Tbilisi, take some minutes to go to the terrace of Metekhi St. Virgin Church, on the left side of the Mtkvari river. From here, on the top of Metekhi Cliff, just gaze at and enjoy the Old Town. Its narrow cobblestone streets, its carved wooden balconies, its churches, synagogues, its mosque, the domed roof of its sulfur baths and its mosaic facade, the impressive but reassuring Mother of Georgia and the Fortress overlooking it… I hope this wows you as much as it wowed me! Do you know those snow globes they sell as souvenirs? I think Tbilisi was created just to perfectly fit in one of them… 🙂
All joking aside, let’s start our tour:
1) Holy Trinity Cathedral. If you are still there, where I asked you to enjoy the view of Old Tbilisi, I would suggest you to reach the Holy Trinity Cathedral on foot. It’s quite a long way, but you will have the possibility to see Avlabari quarter, a very authentic part of the city; to walk along Hamlet Gonashvili Street and Konstantine Eristavi Street and to go through their market, where I suggest you to buy a Churchkhela to eat on the way. You may be wondering what they are. Well, they are traditional candle-shaped candies made of grape must, flour and nuts. They are extremely colourful and you will see them hanging in the markets and outside some shops in the Old Town, too. Trying them is an experience!
But let’s get back to the Holy Trinity Cathedral: built between 1995 and 2004, it belongs to the Georgian Orthodox Church and is the third tallest Eastern Orthodox cathedral in the world. It consists of nine chapels and has been constructed with a great vertical emphasis. What impressed me the most is its golden dome, which can be seen from almost any point in Tbilisi. The cathedral is part of a much bigger complex, including the residence of the Patriarch, a monastery and a museum. When I was there, on the open space surrounding the Holy Trinity Cathedral, I was almost blown away by the wind, but the view over the Old Town and the Mount Mtatsminda was just priceless.
2) Leghvtakhevi Waterfall. Could you imagine to see a waterfall right in the heart of a city? In Tbilisi it’s possible. Take a walk on the wooden walkways running along the sulfur baths on one side and the fascinating traditional houses – standing on the rock – on the opposite side. At the end of the walkways you will find this 22-meter-tall waterfall, part of the National Botanical Garden of Tbilisi. Your stroll will probably be accompanied by the melodies played by buskers sitting in the shadow of the cliff and, if you feel a bit hungry, by a creamy wine ice-cream. You know, wine is an integral part of Georgian culture.
3) Shavteli Street and the Clock Tower. Coming back from the waterfall, I suggest you to lose yourself in the maze of narrow streets of the Old Town and to head to Shavteli Street. On your way, you can check out the striking modern pedestrian steel and glass Bridge of Peace, designed by the Italian architect Michele De Lucchi and illuminated at night by thousands of LEDs. Then, you can enjoy a visit to the medieval Sioni Cathedral. Once you reach Shavteli Street, I’m sure you’ll love its atmosphere as much as I did. There, street artists expose their works and you can see people relaxing in the traditional cafés and restaurants. Don’t miss the Anchiskhati Basilica, the oldest church of Tbilisi, dating back to the 6th century. Now, get ready for what I loved most in Shavteli Street: the bizarre leaning Clock Tower. An emblematic structure of Tbilisi, it was built in 2010 during the renovation of the nearby puppet theatre, reusing old pieces of abandoned structures of the Old Town and buildings destroyed during an earthquake. I remember I was sitting on a bench in front of it, just to take a rest and cherish the moment, when a local old man started talking to me. He asked me where I was from and what I was doing in Tbilisi. In the end, he encouraged me to stay there some more minutes. Well, I didn’t know it, but on the hour, an angel comes out of a door of the Clock Tower and strikes the bell with a hammer. While below the clock, a screen opens and shows the circle of life. I would have missed it, if it wasn’t for him!
I really suggest you to go there in the golden hour, before the sun goes down: the atmosphere is pure magic.
4) Freedom Square and the Funicular. The square, located in the centre of Tbilisi, is characterised by the 35-metre-high Freedom Monument (better known as St. George Statue), made of granite and gold and dedicated to the freedom and indipendence of Georgia. The square was site of several historical events and mass demonstrations, such as the one for the Country’s indipendence and the Rose Revolution.
In the square you can see numerous majestic buildings, including Tbilisi City Hall in its Neo-Moorish style and the former Bank of Georgia. If you are a shopping lover, you can go up Shota Rustaveli Avenue. There, you will also have the chance to see some more remarkable buildings and museums: the Parliament of Georgia, the Georgian National Gallery, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Opera and Ballet Theatre, with its fascinating striped facade.
But what I encourage you to do now is to take the Funicular and ride up the Mtatsminda Mount (the one you could see from the Holy Trinity Cathedral, do you remember?). You just have to reach the lower station of the funicular: 20 minutes on foot (uphill) from Freedom Square. If you are tired and you don’t feel like walking anymore, I strongly recommend you to use the Yandex app, a low-cost alternative to taxis. Riding with the funicular is a great experience itsself. The funicular first stop is the Mtatsminda Pantheon, while the second and last one – on the top of the mount – is the Mtatsminda park. Even if you are not a lover of amusement parks, you can just cherish the breathtaking views from this 710 metre-high mount and relax in the sun, as I did :-).
5) Narikala Fortress and Kartlis Deda (Mother of Georgia). The ancient fortress overlooking Tbilisi was first established in the 4th century, then expanded in the 7th and 8th centuries, but most of the fortifications date back to the 16th and 17th centuries.
You have two possibilities to reach it: by cable car from Rike Park, on the other side of the river or on foot. I opted for the second option and I decided to start my “hike” in the late afternoon because I wanted to see the sunset from there. I reached it a bit late, but it was amazing anyway! Once there, you can just go on and head to Kartlis Deda, Mother of Georgia, the impressive 20-metre-high aluminium statue of a woman dressed in a Georgian traditional dress. Kartlis Deda holds a cup of wine in her left hand and a sword in her right hand, and it symbolises the Georgian national character. You can really go under the statue and feel yourself extremely tiny.
From this panoramic location, you can cherish the view over Tbilisi on one side and over the National Botanical Garden on the other side. The bravest also have the opportunity to fly over the Botanical Garden with a 275-meter-long and 30-meter-high zip-line. I strongly recommend you to go up to the fortress at night, as well. The view of the city with its nightlights will leave you breathless.
Here are my 5 must-see places in the amazing Tbilisi. Of course, there are many more I could mention, but what I really encourage you to do is to just lose yourselves in the ancient, narrow streets of the Old Town… explore… you will discover hidden treasures, see amazing architectural details, the colourful murals and maybe get to know some nice local people who will give you tips and offer you some home-made wine. Remember, you will never get totally lost because from many corners of the Old Town you will see Kartlis Deda popping out and looking over you.
I was lucky enough to stay in a rather bizarre Guesthouse in the Old Town with an extremely nice owner, Ernesto! He surely made my stay even better.