Can't live without travels! Wherever she goes she always looks for alternative spots or street art. A huge fan of Central Europe and off the beaten path places and a living proof that you can balance full time job and extensive travel!

Bitter-sweet Old Tbilisi

(Last Updated On: 18/05/2018)

I was dreading my return to Tbilisi. The time I spent there in autumn 2011 was one of the best and most memorable of my travel adventures and I was simply afraid to face Georgia after all these years, I didn’t want to ruin perfect Tbilisi picture that was still so vivid in my mind. I was well aware a lot has change since then, most of all low cost airline started flying to Georgia bringing lots of tourists there. But while I was expecting to see too many lousy Polish people hoping to experience the incredible Georgian hospitality for free (sadly that’s often the case with travels to Georgia) I wasn’t fully prepared to see how Old Tbilisi is now…

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view over Old and new Tbilisi

Problem with tourism in Tbilisi

First of all: I don’t have anything against tourism, if done wisely. Of course I’d personally prefer if some places stayed hidden gems, not discovered by many, so I could enjoy its authentic vibe. But that’s just my wishful thinking that has nothing to do with how the current world works. I perfectly understand that tourism can bring a lot of money that is especially needed in developing countries, such as Georgia. It can do a great change to the local community and its people when used properly. Unfortunately what I’ve seen in Tbilisi was just a complete opposition and for most of the time I felt that the city is just wasting its enormous potential.

views from Old Tbilisi

one of the houses in Old Tbilisi

Old Tbilisi – where the time has stopped

I remember Tbilisi as a charming city with a strong feeling of authenticity. It was especially present in Old Tbilisi – part of the capital that dates back to the 5th century yet was badly destroyed in 1795 during the Persian invasion. Most of buildings now represent eclectic architecture of 19th and early 20th century, some of the most beautiful houses I’ve ever seen can be found there. It feels like the time has stopped there: the laundry is hanging high above, kids are playing on the streets, every corner has a small shop with just about everything one might need, small craftsman shops are thrown around here and there. It’s a wonderful place to aimlessly wander around and to blissfully get lost – that’s actually one of my favorite things to do in Tbilisi!

houses in Old Tbilisi

one of the beautiful houses in Old Tbilisi

Old Tbilisi

Old Tbilisi is falling apart…

While I loved Old Tbilisi and it was my favorite part of the city both in 2011 and now, it broke my heart to see what’s happening with this district and how much it has changed in these 3.5 years. The place is falling apart, literally. There are so many houses that are haunting with empty windows and closed doors, so many ruins it is just unbearable to look at this wasted opportunities. Even the beautiful, renovated houses right in front of Narikala fortress while having fancy facades were ruined inside and I could easily walk in to see the enormity of destruction there. However one of the most touching spots was the church, probably pretty old one. It looks perfectly fine from the outside, even if a little bit neglected. The doors were ajar so I wanted to peek inside. To my great surprise the place was a ruin, without a roof or any equipment but with grass growing high and bricks strewn around… Wandering around twisting narrow lanes of Old Tbilisi really reminded me of my visit to Gyumri, still bearing scars from the tragic earthquake 26 years ago. The problem is Tbilisi didn’t experience such a natural disaster.

scenes from Old Tbilisi

ruined church

one of the streets in Old Tbilisi

Old Tbilisi tourist trap

Kote Afkhazi street – the main street leading from the Freedom Square to the footsteps of Narikala fortress – has become a tourist fest too. Even if the pavement is crumbling and big holes where houses used to stand strike really bad most of the visitors can find all they need there. Souvenir shops, numerous stands with churchkhelas, overpriced wine places, fancy restaurants, bars attracting customers with names like KGB… It looks like yet another tourist trap, something that attract foreign visitors and can be found in most of the cities. On top of that there’s a red double-decker tourist bus so well known from all over the world, trying to push its way through this cobbled street. It just simply didn’t fit there and was the best sign for me of how Tbilisi is losing its unique identity to become yet another tourist destination.

touristy Tbilisi

Modern face of Tbilisi

Across the river Kura a modern part of the city is located, connected with Old Tbilisi by the Peace Bridge. This structure itself shows how the city doesn’t really have a clue how to reinvent itself in a new way. But what’s behind it is even worse. Rike Park might be popular among locals and the green space itself is fine. It’s just full of weird constructions like massive tubes that ruin the whole area. The modern glass and steal presidential palace overlook the place, as an opposite to the old fortress, giving the clear sign of the direction the modern Georgia has taken. On top of that there’s a ropeway connecting Rike Park with Narikala. It was built really fast – when I was in Tbilisi in October 2011 there were no signs of the constructions but it was already opened 6 months later! Sure, it makes getting to the top much easier (but the walk up there isn’t that hard anyway) but at the same time it fits there like a glove…

modern Tbilisi

Tbilisi ropeway

Visit Tbilisi before it’s too late

I really loved my time back in Tbilisi and still found my places, secret yards and shortcuts around. It felt like I left 2 weeks ago. But at the same time the city was so different and I had so many bitter observations about it. I just couldn’t bear how much money is spent on unnecessary modern version of the city while its true gem and the biggest potential – Old Tbilisi – is slowly falling apart and disappearing. The uniqueness and authenticity of the place can be soon gone and Tbilisi will become yet another tourist destination that can offer only pretty facades but nothing behind them. It’s good to invest money from tourism and to improve living conditions of local people and to create a better offer for visitors, but it just needs to be done smartly. I really, truly hope the local authorities will soon realize what their biggest asset is and will save Old Tbilisi before it’s too late…

view of Old Tbilisi

one of the destroyed houses in Old Tbilisi

street in Old Tbilisi

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By the way, I’m not the only one who had similar observation about the capital of Georgia. You can read about that issue also at Yomadic and Kołem się Toczy (in Polish though).

ruins of Old Tbilisi

Have you been to Tbilisi? Did you have a similar impressions to mine? Have you observe this issue in other places?

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If you think of visiting Georgia or just want to read more about the country take a look what else I wrote about it:

If you’re looking for articles about any place in particular this map with posts might be useful for you. Or just take a look at the “destinations” page.

old tbilisi pin (1)       old tbilisi pin (2)

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21 Kwi '15

There are 57 Comments.

  1. Ibazela
    09:19 21/04/2015

    Kami, I’m at work so I can’t read the whole post, but looking at the pictures I wish I was there with you!

  2. Karol Werner
    09:28 21/04/2015

    Aż dziwne, że nie ma na Twoich fotach ani jednego kota. Tyle ile tam, to nigdzie wiecej ich nie widzialem :D

    • kami
      08:10 10/05/2015

      Eee, nie bylo ich jakos mega duzo, musiało Ci się wybitnie jakos trafic!

  3. Joanna/places2visit.pl
    10:01 21/04/2015

    Gruzja – cały czas czeka na odpowiedni czas do zobaczenia :)

    • kami
      08:10 10/05/2015

      Jedz jak najszybciej, zanim do konca straci swoj urok!

  4. zof
    10:03 21/04/2015

    I totally second everything you wrote. I visit Tbilisi regularly and my thoughts are the same most of the time.

  5. Jakub
    11:05 21/04/2015


  6. Agnieszka /Zależna w podróży
    12:58 21/04/2015

    Super wpis! Oczywiście masz pełną rację! Stare Tbilisi łamie serce. Jest absolutnie przepiękne, ale nie można na nie patrzeć, jak na ciekawostkę dla Zachodu – “patrzcie, jak tu jest pięknie i biednie”. I prawda, że te koszmarki architektury najnowszej nie mają sensu. Ale cóż… to jest cecha chyba większości poZSRRowych krajów. Władze chcą pokazywać na przykładach reprezentacyjnych budynków, a nie przez podniesienie poziomu życia przeciętnego Kowalskiego.

    • kami
      08:13 10/05/2015

      No i wlasnie to jest smutne. Zamiast stawiac kolejne nic nie znaczące budynki odremontowalibu te stare, bo w nich jest sila Tbilisi!

  7. Justyna | One-Penny-Trip.com
    15:49 21/04/2015

    Hidden gems – everyone wants places to remain as they are, but at the same time everyone want to travel and discover them. So difficult to find a golden mean, isn’t it? :)

    • kami
      08:15 10/05/2015

      Of course ;) but in this case if Tbilisi is developing so fast in the tourism field they should just invest money where it is needed instead of building just another random modern thing…

  8. Koralina
    17:28 21/04/2015

    No to jest nas więcej z takimi samymi odczuciami (http://tropimyprzygody.pl/2015/02/27/piekne-brzydkie-tbilisi/) :) Dobrze wiedzieć, że to nie tylko na mnie takie wrażenie zrobiło, bo do tej pory zewsząd słyszałam tylko zachwyty, więc się dziwiłam, że wszystkich zachwyca, a mnie nie. A jednak nie jestem odosobniona :)

    • kami
      08:16 10/05/2015

      A czytalam ten Wasz wpis! I teraz pamietalam, ze ktos podobnie pisal ale za nic nie moglam sobie przypomniec kto ;) mnie mimo wszystko ta stara czesc zachwyca, ale jednoczesnie jest tak strasznie smutna…

  9. Tourystyka
    17:55 21/04/2015

    Świetna podróż i rewelacyjne zdjęcia! Tak jest – Gruzja jeszcze na mnie czeka :)

    • kami
      08:17 10/05/2015

      Dzięki! Jedz jak najszybciej, zanim za bardzo sie ta Gruzja zmieni!

  10. Liana Petrosyan
    18:04 21/04/2015

    Nice post! thanks! so sad to know that ppl in the region do not realize they need to preserve the old towns…where you can travel in time…

  11. Magda
    19:13 21/04/2015

    Niesamowite dysproporcje. Kocham te starocie, choc ich mieszkancy pewnie woleliby ciut lepsze warunki.

    • kami
      09:04 10/05/2015

      W malo jakim miescie az tak bardzo dysroporcje widac jak w Tbilisi, a i z czasem robi sie coraz gorzej i gorzej niestety…

  12. Gertjan AC Rasschaert
    18:18 21/04/2015

    I like it more the way it is now, than when they would restore it too much so it becomes fake/over the top. Kinda loved the fucked up combination between the decay of the old town and the ugly modern spacy architecture across the river. But at the same time it feels pathetic: “look what we are capable of, we’re a pretty modern country” But move away one block from Rustaveli av. in any direction and you’ll come across decay of what used to be sublime architectural gems.

  13. Mariusz Stachowiak
    08:14 22/04/2015

    wszystko się zmienia, zmieniają to turyści. Takie życie, taki postęp zmasowanej turystki. Jednak nikt nie będzie siedzieć w domu :)

  14. Jarek Szczygielski
    08:17 22/04/2015

    Są miasta, które są “zrujnowane” ale mimo wszystko mają swój urok ;)

  15. Marcin Wesołowski
    08:35 22/04/2015

    Jedno z moich ukochanych miast!

  16. Ewa Wilczyńska-Saj
    08:48 22/04/2015

    Osobiście przekonam się dopiero we wrześniu, ale już niemal odliczam dni! ;))

  17. Aleksandra Świstow
    09:23 22/04/2015

    Taka kolej rzeczy… Pewnie zanim ja do Tbilisi dojadę (a że spadam z Europy znowu na kilka lat to się trochę odwlecze), będzie zupełnie innym miejscem niż to, w które pokochałaś.

  18. Łukasz Kocewiak
    16:10 22/04/2015

    Tbilisi rządzi Bania (numer) 5, czy byliście?

  19. Frank
    10:22 23/04/2015

    Interesting post on a place I honestly know nothing about. As a North American (Canadian) what I love about Europe is the history and the old towns – so I’m surprised they would disregard older buildings for new, modern stuff. You’re right, who wants to see modern steel pipes or ski lifts ruining the landscape?
    Frank (bbqboy)

    • kami
      09:08 10/05/2015

      I think it comes with Georgia being a developing country, they just want to show off how modern they are but they do things completely wrong…

  20. Hannah
    22:17 23/04/2015

    Wow I have a hard time looking at you photos and imagining one of those massive red tourism busses pushing through the streets! Part of what I love so much about Europe is the old-timey vibe of so many cities… that kind of ruins it.

    • kami
      09:09 10/05/2015

      Believe me, it’s a terrible view, it really broke my heart to see the bus there…

  21. Tim
    22:36 23/04/2015

    That is quite the contrast between the old and new cities and your photos capture the deterioration of the old in all its disappointing shades. It could be so beautiful so I completely understand your heartbreak at seeing the decay over such a short amount of time. Hopefully it will get rectified.

    • kami
      09:11 10/05/2015

      I truly hope the money will be invested in the restoration of the old town but at the same time I’mI’m afraid it’d take time for local authorities to understand the real value Tbilisi has…

  22. antonette - we12travel
    10:46 25/04/2015

    To be honest, I’d rather have a place waste its touristic potential than over-doing it. Iceland is being ruined by tourism nowadays (and yes, I’ll be one of them, I booked before my Icelandic friend told me about the current state the country is in) and it’s the locals who are suffering … so I’m sure that if you say Tblisi does have great potential, I’m sure that it will be discovered sooner or later as the next eastern European destination to visit with a low cost carrier … unfortunately …

    • kami
      09:13 10/05/2015

      There’s already Wizzair flying to Georgia (not to Tbilisi though…) so things will get only worse and worse there, I’m afraid… Btw, yyou’d love it there, hiking in the Caucasus is amazing!
      What happens with Iceland? I was there 3 years ago and it was still fine…

  23. Jenny - ikreis.net
    00:06 26/04/2015

    Thanks for sharing. I’m heading to Yerevan tomorrow and I’ll visit Tbilisi in about a week.

    I’d never realized that there are so many tourist in Tbilisi already. Georgia is still unknown in Holland, even though the Dutch seen to go everywhere…

    • kami
      19:49 26/04/2015

      Yerevan is pretty amazing, I just cannot leave it ;) I’m here for the third time now and it just doesn’t get boring! I’m sure you’ll enjoy it as well! How long are you gonna stay here?

      Tbiisi is still cool, just not as great as it used to be!

  24. Jenna
    05:03 27/04/2015

    It’s always so frustrating to see places you love get turned into tourist traps or fall apart. Glad you were able to still find some good spots though. Tbilsi looks like a great city–hope they can start preserving it so it doesn’t all fall apart completely!

    • kami
      09:14 10/05/2015

      It is a great city, one of the most beautiful I’ve ever been to so I truly hope it still can be saved!

  25. Sammi Wanderlustin'
    19:42 28/04/2015

    It’s always hard seeing places change like that when they’ve been undiscovered, it’s a shame that the old things are being neglected! I definitely want to visit Georgia some day, so we’ll see, I hope there are still things worth seeing when I make it there. It’s so much better when things are preserved & taken care of.

    • kami
      09:15 10/05/2015

      You should definitely plan a trip there as soon as possible, before it’s too late!

  26. Monika
    21:32 30/07/2015

    Ah it´s heart-breaking to read these lines even if I´ve never been there. In fact, I´m getting ready for my trip to the Caucasus in two weeks and I´m a bit concerned now. I had no idea tourism has progressed so much but I hope I will be able to see a bit of authentic Georgia. Though I´m aware of the fact that it´s us – visitors who are responsible for these changes. Hopefully Georgia will find the right way to benefit from tourism without losing its identity.

    • kami
      22:27 03/08/2015

      It’s not THAT bad so there’s nothing to worry about! I more meant that the city has changed, a lot, and it’s not as it used to be but it still has its moments! It’s still a long way for Georgia to become a major touristic hotspot (I’m afraid this will happen eventually) and I truly hope they will transform wisely

  27. minas
    22:20 23/03/2016

    OH! Now I see that you have been in Georgia. May I ask you if you like Georgia or Armenia more? It’s really interesting to know :P

  28. minas
    22:39 23/03/2016

    Hey again for the third time… So I read your post about Tbilisi now and I might disagree on some points with you… You mentioned that Tbilisi didn’t have any natural disasters in the past… There was actually an earthquake in like 2001 and it destroyed buildings in the Sololaki area, so those buildings that you mentioned in the post might have been destroyed because of the earthquakes… Second, I don’t know if I understood it right, but you didn’t like the cable cars in Tbilisi from the park(I think it’s called Rike to Narikala fortress? But in my opnion I think they go well with the older town architecture and it makes the city looks better… And back to the buildings which you mentioned… I hope that and I think it is already the case that those buildings will get renovated in the nearest future… And now at last about the new architecture style in the city, that I kind of agree with you, not every building is really necessary or goes well with the rest of the architecture like the new Theatre and so the new hotels… In my opinion Georgia would be so much cooler if they just left maybe everything alone from now on (atleast for a while) and just renovate the buildings and houses in the Old Town parts of the city and get ready for inflow of tourists… Btw have you been to Svaneti and Tusheti?

    • kami
      11:31 13/04/2016

      I’ve been twice to Tbilisi, in 2011 and then 2015 and I don’t remember that many destroyed or empty buildings from my first visit so I’m not sure the earthquake was the reason. And yes, I didn’t really like the cable car (again I’m comparing what I’ve seen during these two visits) but of course we might have different opinions and that’s fine! :) I really hope Old Tbilisi will get renovated soon as it’s a real gem and one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen! I haven’t been to both Svaneti and Tusheti yet but really would love to!

  29. Tatiana
    15:38 27/07/2016

    What a sad view…I can’t believe my eyes – the city is falling apart. I guess it’s the matter of city/country budget and priorities. Just can’t understand why the city government doesn’t pay attention to the one of the most important aspects of tourism / first sight impression of the capital etc.

    • kami
      14:29 04/08/2016

      It is about priorities I’m afraid and while they should focus on restoring the old legacy they invest in the new buildings. So sad…

  30. Prince
    13:13 31/10/2016

    your post was really helpfull for my tbilisi trip

  31. DinoMerlino
    23:07 31/12/2016

    Good evening. Happy New Year, I really like your pictures of Sarajevo.

  32. Agness of Fit Travelling
    22:28 21/02/2017

    Tbilisi has some unique type of beauty and thus, it is on my bucket list. I think your post was very inspirational and helpful, Kami!

    • kami
      22:54 21/02/2017

      Thanks. You definitely should go there, Tbilisi is amazing!

  1. Pingback: Old Tiflis and Modern Tbilisi – A Study in Contrast | concrete and kitsch

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