Tbilisi is one of those cities that just kept growing on me. I stopped through for the first time back in March, fresh off the Black Sea Ferry and on my way to Armenia to volunteer. The weather was cool and windy and I didn’t feel up to exploring much. The next time around, in mid-April, I had three days before I flew out to Rome. I did one day trip outside of the city and otherwise spent a lot of time just sort of wandering around. When I came back to Tbilisi for the third – yes, third – time a month later, I had a full week there and really started to focus on some serious sightseeing.
So with a total of 12 days under my belt in Tbilisi, what did I love the most?
1. Rustaveli Avenue
This is the heart of Tbilisi – the Champs Elysee, Las Ramblas, the Magnificent Mile. I can’t even tell you how many times I walked up and down Rustaveli and it never got old. I loved the shaded stretches lined with trees, the view of the towering Monument of Freedom and Victory as I approached Freedom Square, and the rows and rows of shops and cafes.
Rustaveli also provided a nice place for an early morning run, although I certainly got a few strange looks!
2. The bells at the Trinity Cathedral
Oddly enough, while I am not religious, I tend to visit a lot of churches and other religious sites when I travel – likely because they often tend to be some of the most significant historical and cultural sites. The Trinity Cathedral in Tbilisi really isn’t either. It is the largest cathedral in Georgia (actually, the largest in the Southern Caucasus), but it is pretty new – just finished in 2004. You could say it is a newborn in a land of Methuselahs.
I stopped by the Cathedral on a whim and due to something happening inside, I wasn’t even able to enter. But as I left, the bells of the nearby bell tower began to ring. Within seconds, I was completely mesmerized by what was possibly the most beautiful melody of bells I have ever heard from a church bell tower. And every time I thought they were almost done, they just kept going. It was like the two bell-ringers were putting on a concert, not just dutifully ringing the bells – watching them high in the tower, they seemed to do their jobs with passion and I could feel that in how the bells rang. I was sad when it ended.
3. Day trips.
Tbilisi is a great place to base yourself for day trips around the country. The easiest was Mtskheta, the former capital of Georgia. A short (and cheap!) marshrutka ride from Tbilisi’s Didube bus station took me there, where I visited the main cathedral before hiring a taxi to take me up to the Jvari Church overlooking the town. He threw in stops at a convent and another church as well.
Another day I took a marshrutka to the town of Gori, where I hired a taxi (again, reasonably priced) to take me to the cave city of Uplistsikhe.
Finally, I teamed up with two girls from my hostel to hire a taxi to take us all the way to Davit Gareja, a two-hour drive, to see the cave monastery there. And while I visited the Italian-like city of Sighnaghi from Telavi, it can also be done as a day trip from Tbilisi.
4. The Old Town.
I generally love “old town” areas of cities and Tbilisi’s is no exception. While much of it seemed to be under construction or renovation during my visits (likely part of the Georgian government’s attempt at a facelift to help boost tourism), I was still able to wander aimlessly through side streets past centuries-old churches and cute buildings featuring decorative balconies. The view down over the Old Town was also great, whether from Narikala Fortress or the Metekhi Church across the river.
5. Prospero’s Book Store
I have often sought out bookstores that carry English titles during this trip – not usually looking for a book to read, but usually looking for a place that might carry maps or other local info in English. Prospero’s is by far the best I have found. They not only had a great selection of maps for Tbilisi and elsewhere in the country, but I picked up a guidebook for Armenia and an English-Armenian dictionary for my stint there. If I had some extra room in my backpack I also could’ve grabbed the Hunger Games trilogy in hardcover.
The other thing I loved about Prospero’s was the adjoining café featuring free wi-fi and some pretty good chocolate milkshakes. When wi-fi wasn’t available at one of the hostels I stayed at, I spent many hours working at Prospero’s – and with a location on Rustaveli Avenue, but back from the street, it was perfect.
Have you been to Tbilisi? What did you like the most?