The name means ‘warm’, referring to the hot springs which feed the city’s sulphur baths. Its strategic location at the crossroads of Asia and Europe has seen invasions by Mongols, Khazars, Turks and Arabs over the centuries. But these days peace reigns and Tbilisi is an extremely affordable and fascinating city break.
OUT AND ABOUT: Head for Old Tbilisi, which straddles the river Kura. Here, the streets are lined with fruit stalls, busy cafes and wine shops offering free tastings (beware the potent chacha, Georgia’s national spirit).
There’s noteworthy architecture all over the place: Byzantine churches rub shoulders with crumbling mansions, Art Nouveau designs sit alongside neo-classical buildings, all interspersed with grey, Soviet-era apartment blocks.
Most eye-catching of all are the balconied dwellings on the cliff tops above the Mtkvari river.
The Old Town is walkable, but it’s easy to get to more far-flung parts of it on the Hop-On, Hop-Off bus which has an English-speaking guide. The full excursion lasts for 5½ hours and costs £16.
NATURE LOVERS: Daredevils can enjoy a bird’s-eye view of the National Botanical Garden in the Tsavkisis-Tskali Gorge, on the edge of the Old Town, via a new 270-metre zip line suspended 30 metres above the ground.
CULTURE VULTURE: The Simon Janashia Museum of Georgia, on Tbilisi’s main avenue Shota Rustaveli, houses a striking collection of medieval icons, and jewellery from the 5th century BC.
The Silk Museum is one of the world’s oldest with an exceptional collection, and the Tbilisi History Museum, located in a restored caravanserai, represents the city’s role as a Silk Road trading outpost.
MAKE LIKE A LOCAL: Head for one of the five Sulphur Baths in Old Town Abanotubani. Prices from £4.50. You’ll know if you’re heading the right way because of the smell of sulphur and the sight of the dome-shaped bathhouse roofs.
The baths are said to banish ailments and were once enjoyed by Pushkin and Dumas.
FLYING HIGH: A cable car connects Rike Park on the Kura’s left bank with medieval Narikala Fortress, once a Persian citadel, which overlooks the city. Soak up the giddy views as you swoop over Tbilisi’s snaking streets to the top. Costs 32p one way.
LOVE TO SHOP: The centrally located underground Meidan Bazaar is a good place to pick up local produce. It’s stuffed with spices, jams, drinking horns, hand-crafted items and, of course, wine. After all, Georgia is one of the world’s oldest viticulture regions.
Plunge into the explosion of chaos that is the Dry Bridge Flea Market to rummage through piles of antique jewellery, Sovietera medals, old books and kitchenware. Be sure to haggle.
LUNCH STOP: The Funicular Restaurant Complex on Mtatsminda Plateau offers ‘classic Georgian dishes with a twist.’ Grab a window table and enjoy the far-reaching views. Or try the tranquil Book Corner Café on Ivane Tarkhnishvili Lane, which offers first class service and tasty fat cheese dumplings, a mainstay of local cuisine.
EVENING OUT: For dinner, head for Tsiskvili, a one-time water mill in Tbilisi’s Beliashvili Street where suited waiters sport bow ties, cummerbunds and white gloves. Specialities include barbecued sturgeon, meat served in clay pots with pickles and cornbread, and ice cream with chocolate powder. Diners are regaled with songs by musicians and traditional dancing displays.
Since 1934, the Tbilisi State Puppet Theatre has delighted young and old. Lifelike puppets dance, speak with articulating mouths and even shed tears. There are English subtitles for those who don’t speak the lingo.
LAY YOUR HAT: Industrial chic rules at Rooms Hotel Tbilisi, a former Soviet publishing house with overflowing bookshelves, iron bedsteads, weathered mirrors and vintage light fittings. From £175 (roomshotels.com/tbilisi).
The Lounge Bar prides itself on its hand-crafted cocktails, while The Garden Bar, a greenhouse brimming with foliage, is a relaxing spot to spend a summer’s evening.
Less style-driven, the mid range Mercure Tbilisi Old Town hotel is within comfortable walking distance of city sights including Metekhi Cathedral, Sulphur Baths and Meidan Square. The hotel’s rooftop Terrace Bar Sky7 has panoramic views. Rooms from £136 (accorhotels.com).
GETTING THERE: Air Astana (airastana.com) offers return flights to Astana from £495 and onwards between Astana and Tbilisi from £215 return. From October 1, Air Astana offers stopovers in Astana with transfers and hotel on B&B basis for 77p for the first night. Additional nights at standard rates.
I Love Meet And Greet provides airport valet parking; ilovemeetandgreet.co.uk.