Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, is an incredibly captivating city. When I first left the metro station at Freedom Square (also known as Liberty Square) I felt like I was in one of those big, modern European cities like Prague, Vienna, or Brussels.
A few blocks away I found myself in the old part of town which has a totally different vibe with its cobblestone streets and small back alleys.
A little further, on the other side of the river, I marveled at one of the tallest Orthodox cathedrals in the world. Just an hour away on foot and I was in the mountain overlooking the city.
All of these are just some of the free things to do in Tbilisi!
1. Be pious at Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi
As of 2022, this is the ninth tallest Orthodox cathedral in the world (the others being in Russia and Romania and the tallest being Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg).
Locals usually refer to it as “Sameba“, meaning “Trinity” in Georgian. The Cathedral was first conceived in 1989, surprisingly to me, as it was before the fall of the socialist regime. Because of the turbulent times, construction only started in 1995. and went on for 9 years until it was finally completed and consecrated in 2004.
Since it’s so beautiful and costs absolutely nothing it takes the first spot in the list of free things to do in Tbilisi!
It is within walking distance of the city center (~20 minutes from Meidan Square) and the closest Metro Station is Avlabari (9 minutes on foot).
This is not to be mistaken with the UNESCO Heritage site of Mtskheta, where the famous Jvari Monastery is located.
2. Feel Georgian history at Metekhi Church
It’s one of the oldest churches in Tbilisi and assumes a prominent place in the city – right across the river from Meidan Square. With its commanding presence, the statue of King Vakhtang Gorgasali is usually the first thing people see on the other side, but right behind it is this exquisite church.
You will see many churches in Georgia. This one isn’t particularly different from the outside but its history is what makes it fascinating.
Erected most likely in the 5th century by King Gorgasali, the church was then destroyed by the Mongols in 1235, rebuilt again in 1280, turned into gunpowder storage in 1658, and was then used by the Ottomans and the Persians, before the great Georgian king Erekle II retaking it again in 1748. From 1819 onwards it acted as a prison church as it was surrounded by a jail.
It was almost destroyed in 1937 on the orders of Lavrenti Beria, but saved by the unyielding opposition of local citizens.
The church was also an office for the NKVD secret police, a storage for art pieces, a theatre, and finally became a church again in 1988. Oh, what a story!
You can easily reach the church on foot. Three minutes from Meidan Square, 20 from Liberty Square, and 8 minutes from the nearest Metro Station – Avlabari.
3. Do a short hike to Narikala Fortress
Overlooking the city from the south is Narikala Fortress. First built in the 4th century, it was then destroyed and rebuilt multiple times throughout Tbilisi’s tumultuous history. It’s actually quite small.
Ha! The name “Narin Kala” was given to it by the Mongols and means precisely that: “Small Fortress“.
Very close to it stands one of Tbilisi’s main sights – Kartlis Deda – Mother of all Georgians. It’s a massive statue of a woman wearing the Georgian national dress, holding wine in one hand to greet the friends and a sword in the other to ‘greet’ the enemies.
It was erected there in 1958, for the 1500 anniversary of Georgia, but the current statue is a new one, from 1997.
You can easily get to both using the cable car from Rike Park. It costs 2.5GEL/0.9EUR. The ride is pleasant, but quite quick and the dirty windows do not present good picture opportunities.
Since you’re reading free things to do in Tbilisi – hike there.
From the Old Town, there are stairs all the way up to Kartlis Deda – 15 minutes. From Meidan Square the hike to Narikala is around 10 minutes.
4. Leisurely stroll to Vake Park and Turtle Lake
If you like to walk, then this short hike is just for you. Starting at the Ilia Chavchavadze Street entrance of Vake Park (the closest subway is Delisi on the green Saburtalo line, but it’s 25 minutes away, so you might want to take one of the 5+ buses that pass by the boulevard).
There you can marvel at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the Memorial to the Great Patriotic War (that was the official name for WW2 in the USSR and is still used in most post-Soviet countries).
From there, it’s a 20-minute uphill walk to the open-air Ethnographic Museum. It’s only 3GEL/1EUR – not free, but so cheap. There you’ll see traditional homes from different regions of Georgia – Imereti, Atsana, Kakheti, Shida Kartli, Akhaltsikhe, etc.
From the Ethnographic Museum, it’s another 20-minute hike to Turtle Lake. It’s a beautiful lake, although I didn’t see any turtles. There you can either get a coffee from one of the restaurants near the lake or just walk around it (~20 minutes).
Go a little up the hill from the main area around the lake to enjoy breathtaking views of the Saburtalo part of the city.
In total this is less than a two-hour walk, so you can extend it by walking to Mtatsminda Peak.
5. Conquer Mtatsminda Peak
You can totally combine it with your visit to Turtle Lake. From the restaurant area around the lake, take the trail going to the Svan Tower (~15 minutes), then continue up to the high flat area with amazing views above (another ~10 minutes).
From there the trail goes down, crosses the small river, then up again, and then follows the other plateau for about an hour. In total, the distance between Turtle Lake and Mtatsminda Peak is about 1.5 hours.
You’ll be greeted by the massive Ferris wheel at the park and 10 minutes later the huge Tbilisi TV Broadcasting Tower. The whole area around is an amusement park with many attractions, cafes, and small food stands.
At the end of the train is the final station of the funicular (7GEL/2.5EUR, I don’t think it’s worth it) which can get you down if you’re too tired. On the side is a viewing platform with unmatched views of all of Tbilisi.
Getting down can be a bit hard on the knees, but it’s not too long. In about 25 minutes following the stairs, you will get down to the Mtatsminda neighborhood.
Halfway you can stop at the Pantheon where famous Georgians (and not only) are buried.
From the Mtatsminda neighborhood, the closest subways are Rustaveli (20 mins) or Liberty Square (17 minutes).
You can totally do the hike the other way around if you so desire. It’s one of the best free things to do in Tbilisi for sure!
6. Go back in time at the Flea Market
Also known as the Dry Bridge Market, this is the place to go in Tbilisi if you like antiques and odd little things like coins, medals, toys, old cameras, and photos, etc. You don’t really have to spend any money – it’s a nice place to visit even if you don’t intend to shop.
Beware though – if the weather is bad, the merchants probably won’t bother coming. I went there on a rainy day and there were only a handful. Otherwise, it’s open every day, 10-17.
The market is situated between 9 March Park and Dedaena Park, which are perfect to have a coffee on a bench. The closest subway is Liberty Square (14 mins on foot).
7. Check out the photography at Baratashvili Bridge
This bridge is well outshined by the nearby Bridge of Peace which is totally worth a visit on its own as it’s an architectural masterpiece. Spanning across the Kura River, it totally dominates the area and is clearly visible when night falls with its 1200 LED lights.
Baratashvili Bridge, also known as the Bridge of Love, doesn’t catch the eye as much, but when I went there (October 2022) only wanting to cross to the other side, there was a fascinating photography exhibition with stories from around the world, so instead of 2 minutes, it took me more than 2 hours to check all of them out.
I suppose after this one they may put up another one. Go, find out and let me know.
8. Watch the mini-theater at the Clock Tower
This adequately named “Leaning Tower of Tbilisi” looks like it’s at least 200 years old and about to fall down any second, but is actually a modern building! The building it’s attached to is a puppet theater built by Rezo Gabriadze over 30 years using materials from old or destroyed buildings in the Old Town. The Clock Tower itself is only 12 years old (in 2023).
Every hour, a window on the balcony opens and an angel strikes the chiming bell. Underneath you can watch a mini theater – in quick succession, you see love arising between a boy and a girl, their marriage, childbirth, and a funeral. The circle of life.
It’s one of the most popular mini-events to watch in Tbilisi – it’s always packed around noon!
The clock tower is within walking distance from Liberty Square (7 mins) and Meidan Bazaar (10 mins).
9. Dive into the madness at Dezerter Bazaar
It’s not just one place, but a collection of smaller markets around the Central Railway Station. There are just so many stands and vendors, that you’ll be overwhelmed quite quickly.
They sell everything from electronics to spices and from fruits to clothes. My favorite part of it is the pedestrian bridge over the rail lines, where the shops take up so much space that you might even feel a bit claustrophobic. It’s precisely the kind of chaos I crave.
Why the name though? The bazaar first started as a place where soldiers (ostensibly deserters) would drop off their weapons during the 1921 Soviet-Georgian War.
Subway stations Station Square 1 and 2 both stop under the Bazaar. It’s open every day, starting at sunrise.
10. Feel small at the Chronicle of Georgia
This place is simply amazing! It’s not actually finished, but you wouldn’t be able to tell as it’s so awe-inspiring and dwarfs you by its presence. The enormous pillars that make up the monument feature kings, queens, and national heroes, while the lower portion shows stories from the Bible.
Apparently, it’s not a well-known attraction, and not that many people visit, so you won’t have the usual swarms of people. And the views are, once again, exhilarating!
You can get there by bus 360 from behind the Central Railway or walk from Guramishvili subway station (40 minutes).
Check out my trip to nearby Armenia and this post about free things to do in Yerevan!