Tbilisi, Possibly The Coolest City In The World
Do believe the hype - Tbilisi is cool AF.
When it comes to Tbilisi it’s safe to say the secret’s out. The capital of Georgia has been charming worldwide travellers with its alternative arts scene, world-class clubs and unforgettable cuisine for a while now - and it’s undoubtedly becoming one of the trendiest cities in Europe.
It’s a city of two halves; the Old Town is cluttered with antique stores selling Soviet-era war medals while younger, trendier areas are known for their lively bars filled with locals toasting firewater with strangers. The city feels familiar yet alien all at once, and it’s hard not be overcome by the welcoming Georgian lifestyle.
Georgia's art scene, fashion and nightlife are behind the influx of traffic. If you’ve been to Berlin then you’ll recognise Tbilisi. They have distinctive similarities but Tbilisi feels effortless. Maybe the city manifests what Berlin was… once upon a time?
Like Berlin, raving is central to younger Georgians’ identity with techno music being the soundtrack to those seeking social liberty and cultural freedom. The underground club Bassiani is a concrete Mecca for techno; the main dance floor is a disused swimming pool and at weekends it’s flooded with smokey, Chacha fuelled clubbers dancing to promising Georgian DJs. Bassiani has sparked the question - could Tbilisi be the new Berlin?
With the rapid increase in tourism, we recommend jumping on Georgia now. Flights may be a little higher than you would like BUT it’s seriously worth it. Tbilisi is everything you need in a city break: be it a romantic getaway or a wild weekend with your pals. This rough-cut Caucasus gem will leave you wanting to pack your bags and relocate… if only we could speak the language!
Need help planning a to-do list? Here’s our list of the essentials things to do in our new favourite city.
What to do?
Georgians have been producing excellent wine for over 8,000 years and have become paramount to their identity. 8000 Vintages own the city’s largest selection of wines and offer tasting session with a superb sommelier. Be enriched with the history of Georgian wine whilst enjoying a very, very generous tasting. Be prepped to pack a few bottles in your suitcase; it’s the perfect token to take home and share with friends.
A cooking class is a great opportunity to be submerged with the locals’ culture and traditions. Georgina Flavours host cooking classes in a charming house just outside the city. Classes are set in a beautiful kitchen overlooking the private garden farming the fresh ingredients used in the dishes. We opted to bake the popular khachapuri; a breaded boat filled with gooey local cheese, slathered in butter and topped with egg yolk - the result is delicious. As well as spicy khinkali dumplings and salads dressed with walnuts, pomegranate and coriander. Yummmm.
Board the cable cars straight up to Narikala Fortress, which looms over the city and guarded by the mother of Georgia, Kartlis Deda. In one hand, she holds a cup of wine for friends and a sword for her enemies in the other. Take your time strolling down the cobbled streets into the bohemian old town crowded with stylish cafes and antique stores.
Rooms hotel offer private walking tours giving a locals’ insight of “the city of wooden balconies”. Our guide Alexandre basically has a key to the oldest homes in the city so you can sneak inside to study the painted hallways of Venetian scenes from Italy, crumbling balconies and winding iron staircases.
At the edge of Old Town, you’ll find the dome-shaped bathhouses bubbling with natural sulphuric waters. We opted for newly-renovated Chreli Abano Spa’s with large private rooms. It’s the perfect cure to wash away the red-eye flight via Istanbul. We paid a few extra Lari for a traditional scrub - be prepared to be SCRUBBED! It’s a little painful but we felt reborn afterwards.
What’s a city break if you haven’t gone treasure hunting in the local flea market? Antique collectors set up shop at Dry Bridge, from Soviet-era war medals to vintage tableware. We were on the prowl for an old Georgian film poster since we spotted a few hanging in our hotel room. They’ve become a popular collectable piece as Georgian films were banned during the rule of the soviet union.
Eat, Sleep, Rave, Repeat.
If partying is your thing, Tbilisi is the place for it. Raving is a huge part of the locals’ routine with weekends spent raving not brunching. We tried it and barely survived. Crawling out of Bassiani at 7 am was a low point, but the hours of dancing to the world’s best techno DJs left us yearning for another Chacha fuelled night in Tbilisi.
Where to eat & drink?
If like us, plan activities around breakfast, lunch and dinner then you’re in luck because Tbilisi is littered with buzzing cafes, late-night restaurants and vibrant wine bars. We’ve compiled a hit-list when playing in Tbilisi.
Georgina for Black Lion and the locals’ favourite hangout. An unmarked building in the bohemian Sololaki is the perfect spot to feast on traditional Georgia cuisine before a wild night in Bassiani.
Day or night, Lolita is the place to be. The new concept restaurant and bar and nightclub is a popular joint to wet your appetite with a delicious western style menu.
A vintage Georgian apartment gone wild. The speak-easy cafe it’s cluttered with kitsch decor and the affordable menu will keep you returning on the regs.
Follow the hipsters toward the graffiti-plastered walls of the factory’s inner courtyard and take your pick. Come dusk, the inner courtyard becomes the popular watering hole for locals and international backpackers seeking a great vibe to socialise.
A contemporary American and Asian cafe founded by an international team of chefs from New York, London and Moscow who created a special menu from locally sourced healthy ingredients and It’s famous for it’s light and delicious desserts.
Get Out The City
Budget some time to visit the snow-capped Caucasus mountains which mark the border between Georgia and Russia. It’s home to stunning hiking trails, historical churches and adventurous activities like paragliding or heli-sking (if you’re travelling in the winter).
Day tours from Tbilisi are possible but we highly recommend booking a few nights at Rooms in Kazbegi. We promise you’ll appreciate the chance to recover from our beloved Tbilisi. The hotel’s dramatic setting embodies a Bond villain’s lair, the reflective glass front perfectly frames Mount Kavbegi’s reflection. The interior is filled with huge worn leather sofas and rustic Parisian rugs which is the perfect setting for your evenings to drink wine and play chess in front of the open fire. It was dreamy.
The concierge at Rooms hotel organised a guided hike to visit waterfalls and ancient churches. It’s really worth the workout because the view from the top of Dariali gorge is incredible and if you’re lucky - you’ll be followed by wild horses roaming the hills.
Where to stay?
An urban hostel rehabilitated from Soviet sewing factory to a multi-functional space for studios, artisans shops and funky bars. Fabrika has rooms to suit any budget with loft-style apartments to the cosy dorm rooms. The hostel is set in the historical neighbourhood Solaki and has become a hotspot for independently-minded individuals, both locals and travellers.
A design hotel that instantly feels like home; Rooms is an industrial-chic property set inside a former publishing house. Plus the breakfast is a glorious feast to nurse any hangover.
For the big spenders, splash your cash on the award-winning hotel, Stamba. The dramatic contrast between brutalism structure and the soft interior design make it Instagram-ready. Stamba has got all the details just right.
By Rosie Needham