Over the past decade, Tbilisi—Georgia’s capital city—has transformed from an ambitious locale for the offbeat traveler to one of the most desired destinations to visit in Eastern Europe. The Caucasus capital has a burgeoning fashion scene, emboldened by the electric rise of Tbilisi local Demna Gvasalia at Balenciaga, a rich culinary history (Georgian wine and traditional khachapuri savory treats are sought out for a reason), and an architectural landscape merging 4thcentury fortresses with Soviet Era Brutalist remnants. Add two new ultra-luxe boutique design hotels, and it’s easy to understand why the city is fast becoming a global must-visit.
Tbilisi has a truly unique cultural heritage, a rare mix of East and West, and a sense of post-Soviet rebellion that is rich in creative output. But getting there takes some thought. There are direct flights from Western Europe, but US flights generally stop in Istanbul or the Middle East, making the journey somewhat time-intensive. So plan accordingly.
Transportation from the airport + getting around
Tbilisi International Airport is about 30 minutes from the city’s downtown; flights often get in at odd times (arriving at 4 am is not unusual); luckily cabs are readily available for around 30-50 GEL each way.
Tbilisi is largely walkable, and there is also accessible public transportation (purchase a metro card starting at 2 GEL, each ride is .5 GEL) and easy-to-catch cabs (negotiate before entering, Georgian cars aren’t metered).
Eat + Drink
Khachapuri is Georgia’s famous cheese pie, you’ll find it everywhere and it becomes quickly addictive.
Georgia also has a rich wine culture—in fact, the country produced the earliest wine in the world some 8,000 years ago—, and the most prominent region, Kakheti, is just a short trip from the capital. Many families—and the chic Rooms Hotel—make their own wines using traditional egg-shaped clay jars.
Stamba—Staying at the newly opened 5-star Stamba hotel is like stepping into your own personal Wes Anderson film. The Temur Ugulava-developed property, which features expansive suites with golden freestanding bathtubs and matching, futuristic Blade Runner style showers, is housed in a former Soviet printing factory. A completely stylized vintage casino in the basement hosts local high rollers 24 hours a day, a chocolatier and coffee roaster prepare morning delicacies on site, and a pastel pink oval bar, lit by hundreds of hanging crystals, serves old world-meets-modern Tbilisi cocktails amongst a growing jungle.
Rooms Hotel—The hyper-industrial older brother to the brand-new Stamba, Rooms has a masculine, warmly classic aesthetic influenced by 1930’s New York modernist design and filled with vintage Georgian pieces. A greenhouse courtyard offers bespoke cocktails while a book-filled lounge boasts a walk-in fireplace. The Kitchen arguably serves the most indulgent breakfast in town.
Lolita—Lolita has the feel of an overgrown, slightly dressed-up beerhall. The food is indulgent (think pumpkin and potato croquettes served with cheese dip and spinach spätzle topped with smoked sulguni) and the atmosphere is welcoming. Sit outside in the garden and take in the open kitchen for the freshest experience.
Sofia Melnikova’s Fantastic Douqan—This restaurant is hidden in a garden in the Museum of Literature. Once you find it, you can enjoy some of the best khinkali (Georgian meat dumplings) in town—Sofia’s makes a special mountain version.
Keto and Kote—A favorite among locals for traditional Georgian fair, this vine-covered oasis is named after a popular Georgian comic opera of the same name. The restaurant is housed in a beautiful unmarked courtyard in a home in Old Town. Here, you will find khachapuri, badrijani nigvzit (an eggplant walnut dish), handmade khinkali, and other specialties.
Bars + Clubs
DRAMA— A tiny, blue-lit private dance bar housed in the beautifully dilapidated 20thcentury home of Meliq Azariantsi. A regular for the city’s art and fashion set.
Bassiani—Bassiani is the Berghain of Eastern Europe, or arguably the next new destination for top quality techno. The club is housed in a former Soviet swimming pool, and the openness, cult addiction, and dark, unrestrained nature of the Brutalist space is raw and forcefully charged.
Café Gallery—a local bohemian favorite for live techno sets and quality daytime drinks and food.
CHAOS CONCEPT STORE—Nestled in between Rooms and Stamba, the luxury concept shop Chaos carries a mix of local design staples (check out co-owner and RTW designer Gola Damian’s graphic t-shirts) and high-end London standouts (here you’ll find an excellent JW Anderson buy, for instance). A skate ramp on one side of the raw, expansive industrial showroom keeps youth appeal.
Wasted Concept Shop—Only in Tbilisi could a group of six high school students open up their own vintage shop, complete with plywood borrowed from the streets, contemporary art sourced from friends and family, and a street-ready vintage selection scoured from flea markets outside the city, entirely on their own. Come for classic bombers and fluorescent fishnets—quintessential Eastern European clubwear in the ethos of Vetements.
Dry Bridge Flea Market—The ideal place to seek out rare Soviet era household goods. Think vintage glassware, early typewriters, and antique silver jewelry.
Things to do
Explore Old Town – Tbilisi’s Old Town district is a region caught in time. Made up of narrow winding roads, small shops selling traditional fruits, vegetables, cheeses and nuts, and overlooked by the 4thcentury constructed Narikala Fortress, Old Town is the perfect place to lose hours amongst the disintegrating wooden facades and vine-covered cafes.
Visit a traditional spa – The Abanotubani district in Old Town is famous for its dome-shaped sulphur spas. Many are open 24 hours, so you can dip in after dinner or mid-way through a night out for a soak in the baths or a custom massage. Chreli Abano and Lisi Bath are favorites.
Ride the Cable Car— Arguably the best way to see the city, the Cable Car ascends from Rike Park to the Narikala Fortress. On the way, you’ll pass the Mother of Georgia statue (an aluminum woman constructed in Brutalist Soviet style in 1958, with a glass of wine in one hand and a sword in the other), the botanical gardens (the former royal gardens, also worth a visit), and finally, the Fortress.
Stop by 7 Kaspi Street—This near-hidden structure housed Josef Stalin and his cohorts around the turn of the 20thcentury. The privately-run museum still holds the underground chamber and illegal German printing press Stalin used, as well as a host of his group’s memorabilia. The owner is known to reject non-Communist supporters from the premises—a visit is an experience.