Sitting in a green valley in the shadows of the Narikala fortress and a maze of cobbled old streets, faded Art Deco and brutalist Soviet buildings, Georgia’s capital of Tbilisi is one of the most striking cities in Europe. These cobbled streets are lined with Eastern Orthodox churches, museums and art nouveau buildings, which sit alongside cool homegrown Georgian restaurants and trendy wine bars highlighting local wineries.
Georgia’s history is long and varied, which is seen in its streets where Georgian Orthodox, Armenian Gregorian and Roman Catholic churches sit beside synagogues, mosques and Zoroastrian temples, a testament to the Georgian people’s tolerance for one another. While rich in history, a new wave of creatives is bringing the city to life with candle-lit bars and cool boutique shops. Disused factories are now trendy wine bars and former Soviet offices now house the city’s coolest boutique hotels. At just a four-hour flight from Dubai and with a direct flight connecting major Gulf cities, a long weekend in Tbilisi is always a good idea.
Where to stay in Tbilisi
Set in a former publishing house in the cultural neighbourhood of Vera, Rooms Hotel is one of the city’s best hotels. The property is a mix of Georgian traditional design and modernism and guests enter the property through a striking black wood-panelled entrance flanked by greenery with gold signage. Inside is all industrial chic – soaring ceilings, leather furnishings, wooden floorboards – a theme that carries through to the 125 rooms and suites. Suites on the top floor have private terraces overlooking the Tbilisi skyline.
Doubles from about AED470; roomshotels.com
Stamba Hotel is the embodiment of the new Tbilisi – a trendy boutique hotel also housed in a former Soviet publishing house. Exposed brickwork, high ceilings and soaring warehouse-style picture windows create a fascinating marriage of old and new, which is also typical of the rooms and suites. Some rooms have bookshelves, others gold and black bathtubs, on the terrace, and there’s lots of exposed brick, stone and natural wood. Other highlights include a glass-bottomed pool, wellness area with gym and hairdresser, pastel-pink bar and art deco cafe with vintage booths and Soviet-ear pendant baths.
Doubles from about AED700; stambahotel.com
Biltmore Hotel Tbilisi
As the highest hotel in the Caucasus region, The Biltmore literally sits above the rest – located in a towering glass skyscraper and bringing a more modern, business-like hotel experience. The hotel offers all the comforts wanted from a traveller – warming plush carpets and chandeliers, spacious guest rooms with city and river views, a host of f&b outlets and a sauna. There are six restaurants serving everything from Japanese to traditional Georgian, though it’s easy to explore the city’s culinary theme with the hotel just a stroll away from the river and surrounded by plenty of cafes and restaurants.
Doubles from about AED590; millenniumhotels.com
Best restaurants in Tbilisi
Charming and cosy Rigi Gastrodouqan is a spot favoured by in-the-know Georgians – a warming and wood-panelled dining room serving comforting and homely Georgian dishes like khachapuri (cheese-filled bread) and Georgian salad. A charming riverside location in one of the city’s oldest squares completed the experience.
Barbarestan is a real treat for visitors looking to sample super traditional Georgian cuisine, with the family-owned restaurant serving up recipes based on chef Barbare Jorjadze’s original cookbook of 19th-century Georgian classics. Interiors make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time, or down a rabbit hole, all vintage crockery and lace tablecloths and a wine list serves finds from across the country. This inimitable, unique vibe and dishes like black sturgeon with white sauce (best paired with Qvevri, a traditional Georgian wine) have earned Barbarestan a spot on one of the World’s 50 Best Discovery lists.
Another restaurant to have been featured on the World’s 50 Best Discovery list is the beautiful, fairytale-esque Café Littera, occupying a charming garden behind a 120-year-old writer’s house in the old town. Chef Tekuna Gachechiladze helms the romantic eatery and focuses on modernising traditional Georgian flavours with international touches, plus there’s a fabulous menu of Bydonamic Georgian wine. Sit under the towering pine trees as you dine on dishes like dolma with wild greens and yoghurt foam and shrimp kharcho with polenta.
Join the city’s well-heeled young crowd by heading to Shushabandi, one of the most en-vogue restaurants in Tbilisi located in the Plekhanovi neighbourhood. Guests come for the lively ambience, photogenic decor – exposed brickwork, white panelling and towering greenery – and fabulous food – highlights being veal and burrata salad and mussels. Throw in some of its renowned cocktails and you’ll be sure to stay for one of its sultry jazz nights.
Best bars in Tbilisi
Wine Factory N1
A visit to the sprawling wine project that is the Wine Factory is a must for oenophiles visiting Tbilisi. The unique complex housed in a grand historic building is home to a host of wine bars, alongside dining and shopping experiences, and there’s both cosy indoor and alfresco seating for whatever the weather.
Rooms Hotel Tbilisi Lounge Bar
As one would expect of one of the city’s coolest boutique hotels, Rooms Hotel is also home to one of the best bars in Tbilisi – its trendy Lounge Bar. Open to both residents and external guests, the bar served fantastic craft cocktails and gourmet bar snacks in a setting straight out of the Seventies (all brown, neutral tones offset with work by Georgian artists). Pop by for coffee in the day for a more relaxed, business-like vibe or a nightcap for a stylish, sociable atmosphere.
For relaxed drinks in an unpretentious and lively setting, few places beat Fabrika Tbilisi – one of the city’s most happening hostels housed in a former Soviet sewing factory. Enter the graffitied façade for ice-cold beer and modern cocktails in a quirky industrial-style setting. facebook.com/FabrikaTbilisi
Best things to do in Tbilisi
Georgian National Museum
The Georgian National Museum is Georgia’s cultural flagship, comprising 12 museums including the National Gallery, four house museums and two scientific research centres. Spend a day, or a few days getting lost in its exhibition halls where everything from ancient human remains discovered in Eurasia to gold jewellery, medieval embroidery and works from Georgian and European artists are on show. museum.ge
Tbilisi Open Air Museum of Ethnography
The Giorgi Chitaia Open Air Museum of Ethnography is an open-air museum in the forested outskirts of the city, housing traditional Georgian buildings, artefacts and a wide range of crafts. museum.ge
Zurab Tsereteli MoMa Tbilisi
As famous Georgian sculptor and artist Zurab Tsereteli’s private museum, the Zurab Tsereteli MoMa Tbilisi showcases some of his greatest works, along with other temporary exhibits in a clean minimalist setting. tbilisimoma.ge
Opposite the historic grandeur of the Rustaveli Theatre is the Fotografia Gallery – Georgia’s first limited edition print photography gallery. In a stylish and spacious setting, visitors can view work from both local and international photographers, with pop-up exhibitions throughout the year.
Where to shop in Tbilisi
One of the best things to do in Tbilisi for retail lovers is to visit Communal Craft, a boutique showcasing different Georgian products from regions across the country, such as handwoven baskets, home décor, gifts, plants and artwork from Georgian artisans and designers. There’s also a small garden café with a trendy brunch menu. Wine lovers should stop at 8000 Vintages, where wines from all across Georgia are available to taste and buy.