Five of the best things to do in Tbilisi, Georgia this winter

Famed for its hospitality, nightlife and food and wine, the Georgian capital abounds with enchanting experiences and activities this winter.

By Tbilisi City Hall
Published 7 Dec 2021, 16:00 GMT
New Year illuminations in downtown Tbilisi. Georgia celebrates the New Year twice — the traditional day ...

New Year illuminations in downtown Tbilisi. Georgia celebrates the New Year twice — the traditional day on 1 January and the Old New Year on 14 January (the Julian calendar). 

Photograph by Alamy

Tbilisi is a mosaic of cultures, histories and faiths; a city where Persian-style bathhouses, merchant’s mansions and medieval palaces stand beside imposing reclaimed Soviet-era factories and ultramodern architecture.

Winter brings a special spirit to the city, as powder-dusted peaks reveal themselves on the horizon — a reminder that the mighty Greater Caucasus range is never far away. Sheltered by cascading hills, Tbilisi itself enjoys moderate winter temperatures, making outdoor dining and urban hiking a possibility for much of the season.

An Orthodox nation, Georgia celebrates Christmas in January and rings in the New Year not once but twice. Even after the decorations come down and people have ceremoniously set fire to their chichilaki (a traditional Christmas tree made from shaved hazelnut wood that’s set ablaze in January to symbolise new beginnings), Tbilisi continues to bask in the festive afterglow all winter long.

Tbilisi Old Town: Jumah Mosque, Narikala Fortress and St. Nicholas Church.

Photograph by Alamy

1. Explore the streets of Old Tbilisi

Old Tbilisi is a rambling area that contains the city’s oldest districts on both sides of the Mtkvari River. Wearing the fourth-century Narikala Fortress as its stone crown, this area is a sequence of camera-ready purlieus, each with its own quirky charm. There’s the Old Meidan, once a hangout for Silk Road traders; the neatly gridded Sololaki neighbourhood, with its time-worn mansions; and Metekhi, famed for its cliff-hanging church. Frilled balconies and lively, shared courtyards abound, while the most handsome facades of all can be found on restored Gudiashvili Square, Atoneli Street and Agmashenebeli Avenue — the latter lined with classic 19th-century architecture. Drift towards Abanotubani, the sulphur bath district, where under vaulted roofs is an underground world of hot pools and steam rooms.

2. Savour Georgian cuisine

The Georgian table is abundant with comfort foods — soul-nourishing fare first dreamed up in kitchens in the Caucasus Mountains as fuel to help locals withstand winter’s hardships. As they made their way down to the city, highland dishes such as khinkali (doughy meat dumplings filled with a slurp-worthy broth) were given an urban spin and perfumed with fresh herbs. Regional specialities include lobio (a rich bean stew in a clay pot); shkmeruli (chicken in garlic sauce); and adjaruli khachapuri, the most decadent member of the ‘cheese bread’ family, loaded with molten butter and an egg yolk. Christmas delicacies such as satsivi, chicken or turkey with walnuts remain on the menu throughout the year.

Lobio is a traditional Georgian dish containing stewed beans and various herbs and spices. 

Photograph by Getty Images

3. Raise a toast to ancient wine-making traditions

Georgia’s history of winemaking goes back to at least 6000 BC, when clay amphoras called qvevris were first used to ferment grapes underground. You can draw a direct line between those neolithic trailblazers and the winemakers of today, who use the same techniques to produce skin-contact amber and red wines. This makes qvevri wine one of the oldest continuously practiced traditions of its kind. Tbilisi is full of trendy vinotecas, many of which dedicate their top shelves to natural and organic bottles from the wine regions of Kakheti, Kartli and Imereti. Ensconced in a snug underground cellar bar, start with the essentials: Saperavi, Rkatsiteli, Kisi and Tsolikouri. For those wishing to gain a deeper understanding of the culture of winemaking, a sommelier-guided tasting at 8,000 Vintages is highly recommended.

4. Immerse yourself in museums and galleries

Rustaveli Avenue is Tbilisi’s de facto cultural precinct. Start at the Georgian National Museum, where the same Colchian gold that tempted Jason and his Argonauts to cross the Black Sea shimmers under spotlights in the basement treasury. Don’t miss the Soviet Occupation Hall, which recalls Georgia’s oppression under the USSR. The National Gallery houses work by national painter, Niko Pirosmani, while MoMA Tbilisi is home to a set of large-scale sculptures by Zurab Tsereteli. Elsewhere in the city you’ll find a score of specialty museums to pique every interest: The State Silk Museum, Wine Museum, Folk Art Museum, and Open Air Museum of Ethnography — with traditional dwellings brought from the regions and carefully reassembled — are all enlightening.

The Georgian Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas on 7 January. 

Photograph by David Tabagari

5. Shop artisan crafts

Tbilisi has a heritage craft and contemporary design scene befitting an old Silk Road trading post. Pop-up Christmas markets on Rustaveli Avenue are a platform for traditional techniques including cloisonné enamel, a jewellery making method learned from Byzantine masters in the 12th century, felting and batik painting on silk. Ceramics, hand-knitted chita slippers and block-printed lurji supra, Georgia’s signature blue-and-white tablecloths, all make for timeless gifts. Meanwhile, many fashion designers draw inspiration from the arts and crafts of the country. At IERI Store, Tbilisi’s boutique of choice amongst the new crop, silver jewellery by Chubika conforms to mythical shapes, and tailored womenswear from Situationist is informed by the proportions of traditional Chokha costumes.

For more information, follow @travel.tbilisi

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