Away from the established tourist trails, visitors to Tbilisi can discover the charms of the Georgian capital via alternative paths carved by Silk Road traders, merchants and architectural renegades. A city that begs to be explored on foot, it’s the perfect setting for a treasure hunt that will unearth the most elaborate gates, the grandest balconies and the most beautiful painted entrances. Leafy cafes and restaurants nestled in typical Tbilisi courtyards come alive in the Mediterranean-like summer months, while stunning old mansions house budget boutique hotels that exude Art Nouveau charm.
1. Revel in the quirky architecture of Tbilisi
Tbilisi has worn many hats over the centuries: Arab emirate, Persian vassal, Russian governorate. The city’s vernacular—low masonry buildings with fluted balconies, passageways, and interior courtyards—reflects this synthesis of cultures, as well as the Tbilisians’ open approach to their architecture. Charming ramshackle houses can be found in the winding lanes behind the old city walls.
When it was an outpost on the Silk Road, the trade winds carried both European and Eastern influences to Tbilisi, giving the city its meidani market, caravanserais and, later, public baths in the Persian style. The result is a motley but somewhat harmonious tapestry of art nouveau and neo-Moorish influences, woven with threads from all over the world.
2. Discover medieval monuments
An anchor of Tbilisi since the 5th century, the Kala, or castle district, is dominated by the Narikala Fortress, one of the few structures to survive Seljuk, Ottoman and Mongol incursions. Follow the path around the stone sentry before diving into the National Botanical Garden to admire the watchtowers that cling to the hillside.
Dizzying stone stairs, funded by the city’s artisan guilds, lead to the 6th-century Anchiskhati Basilica, Tbilisi’s oldest surviving church, and Ateshgah, the 5th-century Zoroastrian fire temple that marked once the northern border of the Persian Empire. Today he is sequestered inside a private residence – a resolute knock on the door is required to enter.