Updated: Sep 1, 2019
Owning a Pakistani Passport means we are desperately trying to look for destinations willing to give us visa free entry or visa on arrival! A lot of countries also tend to offer visas if one has a US/Canadian/UK visa. Thanks to the USA Visa, I got to travel a few countries and the latest one was Georgia! Not a lot of people have heard of it, and not your typical kind of a tourist destination, but now becoming popular amongst travellers. This tiny country borders with Turkey, Iran, Azerbajian, and Russia. Now, beware, they do give a tough time to Pakistanis during immigration whether you've got all your required documents or NOT! Some are even deported without a logical explanation! Luckily we got through our immigration after a waiting time of about 1 hour….only.
Georgia is a small country with landscapes varying from lakes, waterfalls, Caucasus mountain ranges, glaciers to lush green thick forests. Most of the people here follow the Orthodox Church so Georgia is a land dotted with churches all over, from the tiniest to the tallest one in Tbilisi. It is famous for the production of wine (which brings in a lot of tourists of course).
Now lets begin our adventure! As soon as we got out of the arrivals, we bought a cheap sim around 90 GEL/33 USD which gave us plenty of data to get us through out entire trip! The packages started from 35 GEL/ 12 USD so it is totally up to you and your usage. Also changed a bit of currency there. Next step was finding a taxi driver who doesn't rip us off. Make sure you use their Taxify App so you know the approximate values. But we paid 70 GEL/25 USD from the airport (pretty sure could've further negotiated the price!)
Where To Stay?
Luckily our hotel, Tiflis Palace was located in Old Tbilisi, where most of my itinerary revolved around. It is a great luxury hotel which doesn't cost you an arm and leg. From the hotel staff, rooms, interior, to the lavish breakfast, everything was absolutely perfect. My favourite part was the Tiflis Veranda Restaurant on the rooftop which provided panoramic views of the city’s historical buildings! Just look at these photos from there.
Since Tbilisi is a really small city, you can easily explore Old Tbilisi and nearby areas on foot. In some ways it reminded me so much of Europe! Those cobbled stoned pathways, pastel coloured houses, small cafes, colourful little streets, ornately carved out balconies but the best part was it wasn't too crowded with tourists (went in Januaury) NOR was it expensive!
Tblisi Siono Cathedral
Holy Trinity Cathedral
Things you can add:
National Botanical Gardens
For my first day I had planned on squeezing in almost all of the places beginning with Narikala Fortress. We woke up at 7 am and headed out by 8. It was the most peaceful hour of the day and best time for photos too! It is an ancient fortress, once a Persian Citadel, mostly in ruins now. It overlooks Tbilisi and the Kura River. If you are a huge fan of mesmerising city views, you need to make a visit! Since it is a long walk up the hill many people prefer to take the cable car up (5 GEL) from the Rike Park as well. However, I thought its a great way to enjoy the views and stop by from time to time for photos. Sadly most of the walls on the cliffs were in ruins due to an explosion of store Russian ammunition. On the bottom of the fortress walls is the newly restored St Nicholas Church. After taking all the photos my heart desired for, we made our way back to the bottom of the fortress where lies the famous Orbeliani Baths.
If you have read about Tbilisi, you'll know one of the things its famous for are Sulphur Baths. Yep, you heard it right, natural hot sulphur spring water right at your service! SO much so, that the word Tbilisi actually means Warm. Today the baths are still used by many locals as well as tourists in order to benefit from its healing properties or just for the sake of experiencing it. It is said to help in the treatment of eczema, arthritic pain and digestive problems. While you’ll get plenty of Sulphur Baths options in the Abanotubani neighbourhood (there are around 7 in total) this one, Orbeliani Baths, happens to be one of the well known ones. They all tend to offer public baths and private rooms depending on whatever you prefer, and prices vary according to that. It would approximately cost you between 60 GEL - 90 GEL (22 USD- 33 USD) This one was also my absolute favourite building in Old Tbilisi and is known for its intricately ornate, blue tiled facade. Doesn't it remind you of a mosque in Iran? Thats because it was built when Georgia WAS a part of Iran! Hence the Persian influence.
Since my next destination was a long walk from Tiflis Palace, we decided to get a taxi and it took us around 7 GEL/ 2.50 USD to get to the Holy Trinity Cathedral. This massive Georgian Orthodox cathedral, known as the Holy Trinity Cathedral or Sameba is known to be one of the largest religious buildings in the world, in terms of its total area! It was definitely one of the most massive buildings I had been to in Tbilisi, it took us around 5 minutes to get us to the entrance of the church!
My heart usually skips a beat when I tend to discover flea markets within a city. I cannot contain my excitement for discovering the coolest most interesting antiques, jewellery, ornaments, electronics and what not! Luckily I got to know about the Dry Bridge flea Market. You’ll find a range of items here from the 70’s onwards. Of course the key thing is to bargain for the right price since when dealing with antiques people tend to demand a higher price. You’ll also find plenty of local artists and craftsmen here selling paintings, wooden ornaments and handwoven scarves and socks.
Another famous cathedral was the, Tbilisi Siono Cathedral. Its architectural style reminds strict Catholic structures of a religious cult lacking any elements of decor. The only ornament of the cathedral is the high tower with the peaked dome towering over the central part of Sioni.
Since Georgia in some ways will remind you so much of Europe, it goes without saying you'll find plenty of colourful streets filled with cute cafes serving coffee and sheesha! One such street was Shardeni Street, a very popular one! It is a really good place to enjoy Tbilisi’s night life too as it is beautifully lit up during the dark hours and filled with people. Interesting fact was that in the ancient times this street was called Dark Row as it was entirely covered from the ceiling, but even back then it was the centre of all social and cultural activities and events.
One of my favourite things to do before visiting a city is looking up blogs and official tourism pages of the city on instagram. You tend to stumble upon so many things which usually aren't in your regular ‘Things to do’ lists! One of them was thin Kaleidoscope House located in Betlemi Street. It is basically famous for its brightly coloured stained glass windows which provide a great photo spot for tourists. Can you believe it this was actually built in the 19th century and still intact! And YES people still live here, so it’s advisable to keep your volume low while you’re there. There is also an art gallery located here. There aren't any signs guiding you to this house so your online maps will be your saviour!
Next up was the Clock Tower in Shavteli Street. This entire place seemed like a movie set to me! It is an extremely popular tourist spot created by the famous Georgian puppeteer Rezo Gabriadze. My favourite part is when at noon or 7 pm the clock tower comes to life as a window opens at the top and an angel strikes the bell. Below the clock, a screen opens and shows the circle of life: boy meets girl, marriage, childbirth and funeral. He himself designed this structure, as well as the building to its side, which houses the actual theatre. It took him over a timespan of THIRTY years to build the theatre, reusing old pieces from abandoned structures of the old town, and from buildings destroyed following a major earthquake!
Peace Bridge is one of the most contemporary structures i had come across in Tbilisi. It’s known as the Bridge of Peace in Tbilisi, built in 2010, by an Italian architect. It stands over the Kura River and connects the district of Old town, Tbilisi, with Rike Park. This is where you take the tram up towards the fortress of Narikala. The coolest part about this is when the top of the bridge shimmers at night thanks to the extensive LED light system designed by a French lighting Designer! How incredible.
My favourite thing to do at night was roam around the Freedom Square. This is a large area with plenty of shops, tour agencies and luxury hotels surrounding that monument. A very famous avenue Rustaveli also begins from here. You’ll also find a cozy mall on walking distance where you’ll find some great Gerogian brands and oh fast food!
The best thing about Tbilisi was I barely spent any money on the attractions or transportation, which can usually be a huge chunk of money. The only money spent was on food and the day trips. While you're there don't forget to try their local bakery items available at every nook and corner of the city for extremely cheap! The mouth watering Khachapuri, which is something like cheese filled bread or those candied walnuts.
Things to buy here:
Churchkhela: You'll see these everywhere on the streets and they're basically yummy georgian snack it’s made from nuts (walnuts or hazelnuts) that are strung together and dipped into a thick, sugary, candy-like mixtures.
Cha Cha (known as the purest form of Vodka!)
Lurji supra“ traditional blue block printed tablecloths of Georgia
Their colourful felted textiles and dolls/puppets available at the Flea Market
Air Tickets from Lahore: $600-$750 USD (Depending on the season)
Transportation: A metro card will cost around 2 GEL/ 0.74 USD. You can use one card for multiple people, so no need to buy several. You can also return your metro card once you’re done using it, and receive the 2 GEL back. Each ride will cost around 0.50 GEL/ 0.18 USD
Hotels: 55 GEL-290 GEL (20 USD- 105 USD) From 3 to 4 Star Hotels.
Water: 1.5 Litre bottle costs around 1 GEL
An average meal: 15 GEL- 20 GEL (5 USD to 7 USD)
Snacks: 1 GEL-5 GEL (0.37-1.85 USD)