What to see and do in and around Tbilisi

An ancient city with a colorful palette of attractions

Photo: Colourbox
To get a bird’s-eye view of Tbilisi, tourists can take the aerial tramway from the left bank of the Mtkvari River to the Narikala Fortress.

Cynthia Elyce Rubin
Travel Editor
The Norwegian American

Tbilisi, Georgia’s ancient capital spreads out on both banks of the Mtkvari River and is surrounded on three sides by mountains. With its complex history, the city is well known as a melting pot of cultures, a diverse metropolis with a colorful palette of attractions.

Archaeological studies of the region indicate human settlement in the area as early as the 4th millennium B.C. According to legend, Tbilisi was founded in mid-5th century, when King Vakhtang I Gorgasali was out hunting in the woods with a falcon. The falcon caught or injured a pheasant during the hunt, after which both birds fell into a nearby hot spring and died from burns. The hot springs made such a strong impression on King Vakhtang that he decided to cut down the forest and build a city. The name Tbilisi derives from the Old Georgian word “tbili,” meaning warm.

Photo: Colourbox
Tbilisi’s Bridge of Peace, built in 2010, is a beautiful example of the city’s modern architecture. Constructed in steel and glass and with numerous LEDs, it is a pedestrian bridge over the Kura River.

Because of its location on the crossroads between Europe and Asia and its proximity to the lucrative Silk Road, throughout history, Tbilisi was a point of contention among various global powers. To this day the city’s location ensures its position as an important transit route for energy and trade projects.

Tbilisi’s history is reflected in its architecture, which is a mix of medieval, neoclassical, Beaux-Arts, Art Nouveau, Stalinist, and sleek modernist structures.

The city has been home to people of multiple cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds, though it is predominantly Eastern Orthodox Christian.

As a multiethnic city, Tbilisi is home to more than 100 ethnic groups. About 89% of the population consists of ethnic Georgians, with significant populations of other ethnic groups, including Armenians, Russians, and Azerbaijanis. Tbilisi is also home to other ethnic groups that include Ossetians, Abkhazians, Ukrainians, Greeks, Jews, Assyrians, Yazidis, among others.

Photo: Colourbox
The Dezerter Bazaar in Tbilisi is the oldest market in the capital. Its central location and rich historic background makes it one of the city’s most important landmarks.

More than 95% of the residents of Tbilisi practice some form of Christianity, with the Georgian Orthodox Church most prominent.

The official language of Georgia is Georgian, a Kartvelian language, written in Mkhedruli script. Other common languages spoken are English, Russian, and Azerbaijani. The country’s literacy rate is 99.56%, and many Georgians are voracious readers. UNESCO designated Tbilisi the World Book Capital for 2021.

The climate in Tbilisi mostly ranges from 68° to 90° Fahrenheit in the summer and 30° to 45° Fahrenheit in the winter. It is a popular destination all four seasons of the year.

Today, Tbilisi is on the global travel map. With Georgia hosting more than 9 million international visitors in 2019, the capital has seen major investments in the hospitality industry. It is the leading tourist destination in the region, with its multitude of museums, galleries, cultural attractions, festivals, and historical landmarks. Tbilisi is famous for its exceptional Georgian wines and traditional regional cuisine, along with a wide range of international restaurants. The city is also known for its lively nightlife scene, with an array of cafés, bars, and nightclubs.

Photo: Colourbox
Ananuri Fortress is a castle complex on the Aragvi River in Dusheti Municipality, about 45 miles outside of Tbilisi, well worth a day’s excursion.

To learn more about Georgia, visit the Georgia Travel website at georgia.travel.

Also see: Tbilisi’s Norwegian greats, An interview with the Norwegian ambassador to Georgia, and Khachapuri, Georgia’s national dish in the April 2023 issue of The Norwegian American.

This article originally appeared in the April 2023 issue of The Norwegian American.

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Cynthia Elyce Rubin

Cynthia Elyce Rubin, PhD., is a visual culture specialist, travel writer, and author of articles and books on decorative arts, folk art, and postcard history. She collects postcards, ephemera, and early photography. See www.cynthiaelycerubin.com.