Why you should visit Georgia’s buzzy capital city for a budget break

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For as little as €10 a meal, you can eat like royalty in Tbilisi.

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Georgia’s capital Tbilisi is a beguiling blend of European, eastern, medieval and Soviet culture. 

The city offers up a cocktail of different characters from the faded elegance of the Chugureti neighbourhood to the late-medieval jumble of the old town and the monumental Soviet Mother of Georgia sculpture on the hillside.  

With cheap, abundant food and low-cost activities, Tbilisi is the perfect destination for a budget break. 

Here’s what to do, where to eat and how to get around the city. 

What to do in Tbilisi on a budget

One of the most wallet-friendly things you can do in Tbilisi is simply wander around, getting lost in its mosaic of cultures. 

The UNESCO-designated Old Tbilisi is a tangle of brick houses with pastel-painted, wooden carved balconies threaded through with lanes that zigzag horizontally and vertically. 

For some low-cost relaxation, book a session at one of the Persian-style spas in the Abanotubani area. Characterised by their series of brick domes, they are fed by natural sulphurous waters. 

Starting from €50, you can rent a palatial room with prettily tiled walls and a domed roof on an hourly basis. In complete privacy, you (or a small group) can circulate between the marble-clad hot and cold tubs and sauna, with the use of a private changing area and bathroom too. 

For another roughly €7, a therapist will give you a merciless skin-peeling scrub. 

Nearby, you’ll find the underground Meidan bazaar, Abkhazi Street crammed with souvenir shops and Jan Shardeni and Bambis Rigi streets now overrun with gentrified bars. Along with the crooked, much-photographed Gabriadze Theatre and Clock Tower, these are the most touristy areas.  

Where are the best places to go in Tbilisi?

Instead, stop by Sioni Cathedral in its square below street level. Make sure you dress appropriately (women should cover their heads) and peek inside for a quiet moment watching the faithful pray and chant.   

Cross the river in the Metekhi neighbourhood crammed onto – and at some points teetering over – a rocky outcrop above the water. Here, there are still many unrestored and dilapidated buildings which gives a glimpse of what much of Old Tbilisi looked like before its controversial 2009 restoration. 

Nearby, you can take a cable car for a couple of euros up to the irregular twisting walls of the ancient Narikala fortress. A short walk takes you beneath the mighty aluminium figure of Kartlis Deda in traditional Georgian dress holding a sword. This Mother of Georgia sculpture was erected in 1958 and measures 20 metres tall. 

If you want to wander a quieter area of Tbilisi, you can find crumbling splendour in the streets and 19th-century architecture on the eastern side of the river.

The Chugureti neighbourhood is full of pocket-sized vintage boutiques, antique shops, hidden bars and intimate clubs (millennials look no further than Meoba Bar where revellers choose 90s hits from a jukebox). 

Stop by Fabrika, an ex-Soviet factory transformed into a hip cultural hub, bar and hostel and walk the length of Davit Aghmashenebeli Avenue for independent cafès and a series of lavish theatres. 

Hit the markets for cheap souvenirs from Tbilisi

A number of flea markets sprawl through the streets of Tbilisi. The easiest to visit if you’re staying in the centre is Dry Bridge market, which stretches across the Saarbrucken Bridge and through 9 March Park and surrounding streets. 

Taking place every morning, some sellers display their wares on permanent shelving while others just set up tables or throw a cloth on the ground. You can spend hours here perusing the disarray of flowery crockery, dusty chandeliers, giant daggers and woven rugs. 

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This is also the place to pick up a unique and cheap souvenir like a Soviet medal, a pair of handmade enamel earrings, socks decorated with traditional Georgian foods or a Papakha fur hat. 

Low-cost food options in Tbilisi

For as little as €10 a meal, you can eat like royalty in Tbilisi. Georgia has plenty of belt-busting classics. For khinkali – fat, dumpling-like parcels filled with spiced minced meat – head to Cafe Daphna or Asi Khinkali. With around five of these at roughly 50 cents a pop, you’ll be loosening your belt. 

Khachapuri come in different regional varieties but all involve a fluffy bread with melted cheese either stuffed inside or swimming in a pool of butter on top. Try them at Retro or popular chain Sakhachapure No.1.

For an affordable evening meal, eat classics like spicy bean stew lobio and creamy garlicky chicken shkmeruli at restaurants Elene Dariani or Salobie Bia. 

How to get around Tbilisi

Tbilisi is a walkable city with many landmarks and attractions located close to each other. 

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But if your feet are getting tired, for around €3 for a 20-minute journey, you can use the ride-sharing service Bolt. Via the app, you can request a car anywhere in the city and it will usually arrive within minutes. 

You can also use Bolt to get to the airport. The journey is around 30 GEL (€9) from most locations in the city centre which is much cheaper than hotel transfer services.

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