What to see in Tbilisi, Batumi, and other Georgian cities?

Georgia is best known for its Caucasus mountains. Yet its cities are not lacking in curiosity. Here’s what you can see!

I went there in July 2021.

A three-week trip to Georgia in summer 2021

We organized a three-week trip to Georgia in the summer of 2021. Following this, I wrote three articles:

  1. One about our impressions of a trip the Greater Caucasus Mountains which are undoubtedly the first reason to visit this beautiful country.
  2. The other is on Georgia’s cities which are far from uninteresting. It’s this article!
  3. Finally, to read last I explain how we prepared for our trip and give you some practical advice.

Cities with different personalities

Georgia is best known for its Caucasus mountains. Yet its cities are not lacking in curiosity. If only because the country has undergone major changes over the past 3 decades. A former Soviet republic, it experienced war with its former occupier.

Today the country is in full evolution with contradictory forces between modernism and conservatism. We’ve found that it’s more in the cities than in the mountains that you can feel the pulse of the country. Visiting a few cities is therefore an essential part of any trip to Georgia.

Our first discovery was Tbilisi. We had no idea that the capital would be so dynamic.

Then we passed through Telavi on our way to Tuchetia. This is the only town we found uninteresting, even though it is favorably presented in the tourist guides.

On our way to Borjomi, a charming spa town, we stopped off in Gori to visit its amazing Stalin Museum.

Between Borjomi and Svanetia, we stopped off in Kutaisi, the country’s third-largest city. A very pleasant stopover.

Finally, our discovery of the country ended with the surprising seaside town of Batumi.

Georgia cities

What to see in Tbilisi

The bustling, energetic capital

Georgia’s capital is a metropolis of around 1.5 million inhabitants. It’s located in a major valley in the east of the country. We spent two very pleasant days there on our arrival.

It’s a messy city, with a mix of old, even dilapidated, and modern buildings, with European, Soviet and Middle Eastern influences. It’s hectic, with wide avenues crowded with cars, but also peaceful, with neighborhoods that slumber like mountain villages.

If we were to twin Tbilisi, we’d suggest Beirut. The same eclecticism and energy.

We decided to stay at the Hotel Communal in the Solaki district. It has the charm of an old house. Less than a 10 minutes walk from the town center (Place de la Liberté), you’ll feel like you’re in the countryside! It’s a great choice for a reasonable price.

Tbilisi is easily accessible on foot. We discovered it in two days, strolling along at a leisurely pace.

Tbilisi map

First day in Tbilisi

We wake up to pouring rain, whereas the day before the captain had predicted a temperature of 34°C and blazing sunshine! We’re off to buy an umbrella, which turns out to be useless, as the rain soon stops and the sun returns without excessive heat on this first day.

We start our stroll in Liberty Square, with its central statue of St. George, patron saint of Georgia, slaying a dragon. We then take the majestic Shota Rustaveli Avenue, lined with tall buildings including the National Museum, the Parliament, and the Roustaveli Theatre. It’s meant to be prestigious. But the traffic is too heavy for a pleasant stroll.

We also head for the Basilica of Antchiskhti, located in a district of narrow streets and small houses. Further on, we discover Sioni Cathedral, until 2004 was the seat of the Patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church. It’s an opportunity to recall that this country was one of the first in the world to be Christianized. Religion still plays an important role, albeit with a conservative bias.

In this district, you’ll find a wide choice of restaurants. We head to the Jasper café for our first-day lunch. On the way, we take a look at the clock tower, one of Tbilisi’s great attractions, but of little interest.

We then cross the Kura River on the modern Peace Bridge, designed by Italian architect Michel de Lucci in 2010. The architecture leaves no one indifferent, and like the Beaubourg Museum in Paris, you either love it or hate it. I’m in the first camp! Numerous hawkers offer boat trips on the river, but we didn’t see the point. All the more so as a veritable urban freeway runs alongside it.

On the other side lies Rike Park. The Tbilisi Exhibition Hall is a building made up of two enormous pipes. Modern Georgian architecture is bold… for better or worse!

We continue our walk to the church of Metekhi. It stands at the end of a cliff that plunges to the Kura. A little further on, superb traditional houses with wooden terraces cling to the edge of the precipice. It’s one of the most spectacular views of Tbilisi to be found on any tourist brochure.

The Abanotubani district, on the other side of the Koura, is the logical continuation of our tour. It’s certainly one of the city’s most picturesque, with its thermal baths and old mansions that climb up a maze of alleyways and stairways.

We hesitate to try the baths, but the heat dissuades us. In fact, the Capital’s inhabitants tend to go there in winter. The range is extensive, with individual and collective baths of varying degrees of luxury. The mosaic wall of the Orbeliani baths is a masterpiece to behold.

We then climb up to the ruins of the Persian fortress of Narikala. Destroyed by the Mongol invasions, not much remains, but the panoramic view over the whole city is fantastic.

You won’t want to miss a huge 20 m aluminum statue: the Mother of Georgia (Kartlis Deda). It depicts a woman both welcoming friends from Tbilisi with a glass of wine, and armed with a sword to fight her enemies! A fine metaphor, illustrating the past of this land of milk and honey, often invaded by its powerful neighbors.

To round off this very active day, we return to the Hotel Communal via a lovely panoramic trail. On the way, we notice a huge, rather ugly building: a former minister had it built as a private residence with funds whose origin is not very clear… Georgia’s recent history remains complicated…

Second day in Tbilisi

We wake up to a big blue sky, heralding a day well above 30°. So we decide to opt for a more leisurely stroll than the day before.

We start by getting to know the Solaki district, where our hotel is located. Situated at the bottom of a steep-sided valley, it has retained a very country feel with a lot of charm. Here you’ll find old bourgeois houses, some renovated, others almost in ruins. A few ultra-luxurious buildings overlook the city.

Then we take a funicular to Mtatsminda Park, which can be spotted from everywhere thanks to its huge TV tower at the top. On a lovely wooded hillside, children can enjoy a wide range of fairground attractions. Although a little outdated, it’s well-maintained. The park’s main attraction is its wide views over the city. We better understand why Tbilisi is a conurbation of 1.5 million inhabitants that extends far beyond the tourist center.

After taking the funicular back down, we continued to the Dry Bridge flea market, set in a pretty park along the Koura. The atmosphere is very local and well worth the detour. Right next door, you’ll see the stunning town hall with its petal-shaped architecture.

Then we head back to Rike Park, but this time to take the cable car up to Narikala Fortress to visit the botanical park. The route offers lovely aerial views of the city.

The botanical park, which is very large with steep paths, is renowned for its 4,500 plant species, which recreate ecosystems from several regions of the world, including the Mediterranean basin, the Himalayas, and South America. The Tsavkisi River runs through it, with an astonishing 40-metre-high waterfall that you wouldn’t expect to find in a built-up area. The perfect setting for wedding photos! The walk is pleasant, but we are left wanting more, as there is very little explanation of the flora.

With the heat of the day, we decide to stop our stroll through the city for a drink in a shady café in the Abanotubani district.

Finally, we end the day with a gourmet dinner in the garden of Café Littera, in Solaki, under a magnificent cedar tree. Georgian cuisine revisited by chef Tekuna Gachechiladze is excellent and recommended by Gault & Millau.

Around Tbilisi: Mtskheta

If you’re in Tbilisi, a trip to Mtsekha is a must. It is the oldest Georgian city. It was here that King Mirian III was baptized in 337. His kingdom became the second in the world, after Armenia, to convert to Christianity. Today, it’s a pretty little residential town less than half an hour’s drive from the new capital.

Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, built in the 10th century, is magnificent. It’s one of Georgia’s most important, with a history steeped in legend. One of the pillars is said to have healing powers and gave the cathedral its name: “Life-giving pillar” or “Svétitskhovéli”.

While we were there, we were lucky enough to attend a wedding. The Orthodox ceremony is much more ritualized than its Catholic counterpart.

We had lunch in a Turkish restaurant on the banks of the Koura. The setting is enchanting and the food is delicious.

We also visited the Djvari monastery, some fifteen kilometers from Mtskheta. From there, we had a magnificent view of the village and the Koura.

Tbilisi: an “in” place for millennials

Whether at the beginning or end of your stay, you won’t regret your visit to this capital, which is very popular with millennials. Many “digital workers” settle here for a while and enjoy its nightlife and techno scene. Gays are trying to come out of the closet, but face a very conservative society.

Tbilisi is at the heart of a fast-changing country that is seeking closer ties with the European Union but is still very much tied to its Soviet past and Orthodox traditions.

Two days to visit Tbilisi’s main attractions. However, to appreciate the city, visit its museums, and discover more restaurants, we would have had to stay longer. But because of the heat, we advise you to avoid the middle of summer.

What to see in Batumi

The stunning seaside town of the “novoritchis

If there’s one city that surprised us, it’s Batumi! Unknown to Westerners, it is now one of the most popular seaside resorts in the former Eastern Bloc countries. Especially the newly rich.

A hot, humid climate

Its subtropical climate will surprise you: hot and humid. The vegetation is lush, with the Little Caucasus mountains in the background. With its often cloudy skies, it feels more like the West Indies than the Côte d’Azur. You absolutely must visit the magnificent botanical garden. It’s just outside town. At 110 hectares, it’s one of the largest in the world.

When you arrive, you’ll inevitably pass through some rather ugly suburbs with a mixture of Soviet low-rise and dilapidated buildings. Don’t pay any attention to them, as you’ll see much more interesting neighborhoods further on.

An old city resembling Havana

We began our tour in the old town. The buildings, many of which have been renovated, feature attractive architecture with wide balconies that give them a slightly colonial feel. You can wander around as you please. There’s an air of Havana about it.

The harmonious European Plaza is the center of the old town. The façade of the National Bank of Georgia, with its astronomical clock, is a sight to behold. At the center of the European Plaza stands the statue of Medea, who helped Jason steal the mythical Golden Fleece. There are several cafés where you can relax.

The Piazza, considered a showcase for the old town, didn’t win us over. Its style, reminiscent of Venice’s Piazza San Marco, is hardly artificial.

In Batumi, you’ll also find a “Tcha Tcha” tower with dispensers pouring out the famous Georgian alcohol!

Batumi boulevard and beach

Batoumi’s main attraction is its boulevard, which runs for 7 km along the coast. On one side, you’ll find an immense, well-frequented pebble beach, surrounded by superb gardens, and on the other, a succession of buildings and architectural curiosities.

It’s best to start the walk to the north. We start with the “Ali et Nino” monument, inspired by a novel by Kurban Saïd, which tells the tragic story of a Muslim man and a Christian woman. The two statues light up at night, coming together as one. During the day, they go their separate ways.

Right next door is the seaport with its interesting Soviet-style building.

Further on, we discoverthe Alphabet Tower and the Meridien Hotel, two oddly designed buildings that have become iconic in Batumi. The Alphabet Tower represents a strand of DNA with the 33 letters of the Georgian alphabet.

During our walk, we observed decrepit but fascinating Soviet buildings standing alongside new gigantic towers marketed by Orbi, leaving us to wonder how the homeowners’ association meetings would unfold! We also saw an astonishing restaurant built upside down and a replica of the Colosseum!

The Hilton and Sheraton hotels feature interesting architecture. From the top of the Sheraton, there’s a panoramic bar with a wide view of the city.

A beautiful garden with palm trees stretches between the boulevard and the beach.

If you have time, check out Lake Ardagni with its dancing fountains.

There are some excellent restaurants in Batoumi. For lunch, we recommend Café Fanfan.

Batumi beach

You can’t leave town without spending some time on the immense pebble beach. With the often gray skies, it feels like being at the North Sea in Belgium.

What strucked us in Batumi, as elsewhere in Georgia, was the presence of many tourists from Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. We saw women strolling around in their hijab or niqab, astonished by a verdant, mountainous world far removed from their desert surroundings.

It’s a lively place and a pleasure to walk around. Piers and fairground entertainment add to the atmosphere.

Batumi: a city to visit without preconceived ideas

We enjoyed the friendly atmosphere of this seaside town as the final stop on our Georgian tour. We also enjoyed going to an unknown place for which we had no preconceived ideas.

However, opinions are very divided. Some, like us, really enjoyed this amazing city. Others were put off by its lack of harmony.

What to see in Georgia’s other major cities?

Gori: Stalin’s birthplace

Gori was the birthplace of Stalin. As a young man, one portrait shows him as a handsome man who wanted to be a poet! Unfortunately, he turned out badly, and history will remember him above all as a bloodthirsty dictator. A museum in Gori is dedicated to him.

Stalin’s birthplace and his private carriage are the museum’s two showpieces. Otherwise, the huge building features propaganda paintings and photos, giving a truncated image of the figure. We had to go into a small hidden room to hear about the gulags and the millions of victims they claimed.

This “glorification” of Stalin disturbed us a little. But we need to put ourselves in the Georgian context. Stalin is the country’s great man and one of the victors of the Second World War. In its day, the Republic of Georgia was favored as a vacation destination for the Soviet nomenklatura.

It was an instructive stop that we don’t regret.

Young Stalin
Propaganda portrait of Stalin

Borjomi: The spa town

Borjomi is famous in the former Eastern Bloc for its sparkling mineral water. It has quite a strong taste, but you soon get used to it. It is excellent for aiding the digestion of “khachapuri”, the famous patties filled with cheese or meat!

Borjomi is a small spa town tucked away at the bottom of a wooded valley in the Lesser Caucasus. Georgian families come here for their vacations. We loved the friendly atmosphere.

Borjomi began life as an aristocratic holiday resort, under the impetus of the Romanov imperial family. Under the Soviet Union, the palaces were transformed into sanatoriums for the nomenklatura. Today, it’s a sleepy little tourist town.

The spa park features outdated fairground attractions and an antediluvian cable car.

After a two-kilometer walk through a gorge, you’ll come to the hot-water pools, where you and your family can relax.

For dinner, we found a little restaurant that doesn’t look like much: the Tourist café. The decor is kitsch, but warm, and takes you back to a time when the Soviet Union still existed. The owner is an old gentleman who will cook you a hearty meal for just a few euros. When you ask him for a glass of ‘tcha-tcha,’ a type of pomace brandy, his face will light up!

TheBorjomi National Park surrounds the town, where you can enjoy several days of hiking. Although the peaks are not as high as in the Greater Caucasus, you can expect some significant vertical drops. We took a lovely drive to the Bakuriani ski resort.

Kutaïssi: A charming provincial town

For us, Kutaïssi was a simple stopover between Borjomi and the mountains of Svaneti. It is Georgia’s third-largest city. In Soviet times, it was a major industrial hub. Most didn’t survive due to a lack of competitiveness. As a result, some of its inhabitants, as elsewhere in the country, have emigrated abroad to find work.

We had an excellent evening. There are some very good restaurants here. We recommend the Palati. Make sure you make a reservation, as it fills up quickly.

The Bagrati Cathedral, built in the 11th century, is a must-see. We enjoyed strolling through the old town around a square and the pedestrian White Bridge. We loved the antediluvian cable car leading to an equally old-fashioned amusement park!

On your way out, don’t miss the old parliament with its amazing snail-shaped architecture!

It’s a good starting point for visiting the Imeriti region, which we weren’t able to do for lack of time.

Our conclusion on Georgian cities

Of course, the mountains are Georgia’s main tourist attraction. As for the towns, to paraphrase the Michelin guide, they are “well worth a visit”.

As long as you’re curious, you can discover a lot. So don’t ignore them on your trip!

However, you can also expect to see many ruined buildings in Georgia. In particular, poorly maintained Soviet-era low-income housing. What’s more, Georgia regularly suffers earthquakes that leave their mark on homes. They remain inhabited, however, because although Georgia has enjoyed good economic development, it remains a poor country.

Practical tips for your trip to Tblisi and other Georgian cities

I explain how we organized our trip to Georgia, with all my practical advice, in the following article:

How to prepare for your trip to Georgia?

practical tips for your trip to Georgia

კარგი მოგზაურობა!

Bon voyage!



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