Tbilisi Like A Local
Updated: Sep 24, 2020
Tbilisi is by far the most-visited place in Georgia, and for good reason. The city is full of quaint buildings, charming alleyways, grandiose boulevards, and spectacular mountain views. As is the case with cities such as Paris, Prague, New York City, and Singapore, certain areas of the city see more than their fair share of visitors. This, of course, means that not only are visitors in the most popular areas of Tbilisi having to battle crowds, but this also means that many of the traditional businesses that make up the social fabric of the city are replaced by dime-a-dozen souvenir shops.
For those wanting a more authentic experience in Tbilisi, we’ve created a list of ways to enhance your time in Tbilisi while distancing yourself from the masses of other travelers.
The sleek, modern design of the Tbilisi Galleria draws in thousands of people off of the bustling Rustaveli Avenue in central Tbilisi. It also doesn’t help that the 6-storey mall is located right off of the city’s main square--Liberty Square--and the homonymous metro station which serves the oldest and most well-known parts of the city--the districts of Old Tbilisi and Mtatsminda. The Tbilisi Galleria has many well-known Western brands, such as H&M and Levi along with fast food chains such as KFC and McDonalds. Other shopping malls like Citi Mall Gldani, Tbilisi Mall, and East Point are also filled with popular brands found throughout Europe and offer their guests the experience associated with busy parking lots, fast food outlets, and well-manicured storefronts.
One of the best places in Tbilisi to experience what shopping used to be like before the introduction of the modern shopping mall is at the massive market complex that surrounds Station Square. Giorgi Tsabadze and Abastumani Streets are lined with storefronts and street vendors. The shopping center “Pasaji” (Passage), is a large indoor marketplace which has everything you could possibly need, from medical scrubs to kitchen appliances. The most impressive feature of this area is the labyrinthian underground market which runs from Abastumani Street, under the Station Square vagzali, and down to Niko Pirosmani street. You’ll need a GPS to help you find your way out!
Navtlughi Market, which runs down Mevele Street at Samgori m/s is a large farmers’ market where you can find any animal part you can think of along with fruits and vegetables grown in the villages that surround the city. The market is a far cry from the refined and sleek nature of Tbilisi’s new shopping centers, making this a uniquely Georgian experience.
Finally on our list is Lilo Mall, located on the Kakheti Highway on the border between Tbilisi and Kvemo Kartli. This large indoor marketplace has everything that a modern mall would have, and is even organized by category!
Parks and Recreation
Riq’e/Rike and Vake Parks are the most visited parks in Tbilisi by foreigners. Riq’e Park is full of funky modern architecture and statues and has exceptional views of Mtatsminda, however, in the summer months when tourism is in full-swing, it can feel more like a carnival than a park, with salespeople and vendors trying to lure potential customers. Vake park, with its broad pathways and ample playspace for children is a popular park for locals who live in Vake.
The Tbilisi Hippodrome is located directly north of Vake Park in the city’s Saburtalo district. The park used to be an old Soviet racecourse, but has since fallen into disuse. The former racetrack is now a 1-km gravel loop. The large central space in the middle of the former track is perfect for group sports. Additionally, the ridge that is on the park’s southern boundary offers spectacular views of both Vake and Saburtalo.
Lisi Lake is located on a plateau overlooking Saburtalo. The park itself has a wide array of paved pathways complete with bike lanes along with a small beach, children’s play equipment, and plenty of scenic views of the lake and surrounding mountainside.
The Mtkvari River is an underutilized asset of Tbilisi, but this doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a nice stroll along the river. In fact, one of the best ways to escape the crowd is to promenade along the river. The right bank (western side) is more easily accessible, but has a shorter path. On this side of the river, you can walk from the Dry Bridge down to the Aragveli Bridge in the city’s Ortachala neighborhood. Along the left bank (eastern side) you can walk from Riq’e Park in Avlabari to Didube. Along the way, you’ll get to see the Justice Hall and Mtatsminda district, get a new glimpse at Heroes’ Square, and get to see the skyline of Saburtalo.
Tbilisi has a huge amount of historical buildings and tons of enchanting streets, but most travelers to Tbilisi visit the same neighborhoods and streets. Old Tbilisi is full of spellbinding streets. Instead of sticking to Kote Apkhazeti Street--the main thoroughfare through this district-- take a walk down Lado Asatiani Street, which runs from Sololaki directly to the heart of Old Tbilisi. The streets of the Lower and Upper Betlehemi (Bethlehem) neighborhood twist and turn below Narikala Fortress and are framed by the city’s famed painted balconied buildings.
Sitting dramatically over the heart of Tbilisi, Narikala Fortress is one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks. This castle is well worth a visit, but it falls victim to its own popularity. During the travel season, the castle is filled with people attempting to get the perfect selfie. If you’d like to walk through the ruins of a medieval castle without the crowds or having to leave Tbilisi, take a Tbilisi public bus (your MetroMoney card works the same for buses as it does the metro), from Liberty Square to the village of Kojori, which is located in the mountains overlooking Tbilisi.
The bus ride alone is well worth a trip, and you’ll get a totally new perspective of this amazing city! The ruins of Kojori Fortress (also known as Azeula Fortress) are less impressive than Narikala, but the views are straight out of a fairytale. The steep ridges of Kvemo Kartli’s mountains form a multi-layered picture while the forested valley immediately below the ruins is complete with a secluded medieval church. In the background, the plains of southern Kvemo Kartli expand all of the way to Azerbaijan, and onward to the Caspain Sea.
Overlooking much of Tbilisi is ქართლის დედა Kartlis Deda “Mother Georgia,” which is one of many Soviet statues dedicated to countries’ motherlands, holds a sword in one hand, ready to defend her beloved Georgia, and a bowl of grapes in the other, inviting her guests. The views from Kartlis Deda are breathtaking, and the best way to reach her is from the pathways that lead from Sololaki, but there’s a lesser-known statue to who could be considered the ultimate matriarch of Georgia--St. Nino. The Monument to St Nino is on a small hill overlooking Dighomi in northern Tbilisi. Getting there requires a bit of a walk through the Dighomi Cemetery, but the monument itself is a powerful memorial to a powerful woman who single-handedly changed the fate of Georgia.
Tbilisi is full of surprises around every corner, so don't be afraid to get off of the beaten path to explore this eclectic and amazing city!