Is it Wrong? The Ultimate Guide to Tbilisi: A City Break for Food, Wine, and Culture at an Unbelievable Price
My friend and I sat at a rustic-style restaurant in Tbilisi, Georgia, staring at the bill in disbelief. “Is it… wrong?” my friend asked, as we double-checked our currency calculations. To our amazement, the total was correct. Our meal, consisting of mouthwatering khachapuri (boat-shaped breads filled with cheese, butter, and a perfectly cooked egg), juicy chicken kebab, creamy lobio bean stew, flatbreads, dips, wine, and water, had only cost us £9 each. In any other city, this would be an area notorious for overcharging tourists.
We had chosen Tbilisi for our city break because prices have skyrocketed in other budget-friendly European cities like Budapest, Prague, and Dubrovnik. We sought a destination that would offer us delicious food, excellent wine, and rich culture at a fraction of the cost. With a combined budget of less than £100 per night, we were pleasantly surprised to find a comfortable twin room at the four-star Shota@Rustaveli Boutique Hotel, located just off Tbilisi’s main avenue, where renowned galleries and museums reside. And the best part? It cost us less than £80 per night. In comparison, a four-star hotel with a pool and spa in Budapest or Prague could easily set us back around £150 per night.
Georgia, the oldest wine-making country in the world, did not disappoint with its affordable and ubiquitous wine options. Supermarkets were stocked with bottles starting at approximately £3.80, while wine bars like 8,000 Vintages offered selections starting at around £4.50. Sarah Abbott, a reputable Master of Wine who frequently visits Georgia, exclaimed, “I always take an empty suitcase when I go to Georgia because you can buy the finest wines from sought-after small producers at about half the price compared to the UK.”
One of our most remarkable dining experiences was at Barbarestan, a restaurant run by the Kurasbediani family and their ten children. The restaurant’s origins trace back to when the patriarch, Zviadi Kurasbediani, stumbled upon a 19th-century cookbook of forgotten national recipes written by a Georgian princess at a flea market. The family has since dedicated themselves to reviving these lost dishes, one by one, and adding them to their menu. Our culinary adventure began with one of the sons presenting us the dog-eared cookbook in a box, setting the stage for an unforgettable meal. From Georgian fondue with aged cheese to succulent roast suckling pig, Barbarestan showcased traditional Georgian cuisine at its finest. Despite being the most expensive restaurant we tried, the main dishes were still reasonably priced, averaging around £17.
Tbilisi, a blend of 12th-century ruins, grand neoclassical palaces dotting tree-lined boulevards, and Islamic architecture in the sulphur bathhouse quarter, was a city of enchanting contrasts. It transported us to various European cities, evoking feelings of Paris, Vienna, and Istanbul. We ascended the cable car, which cost a mere 80p for a one-way trip, to Narikala Fortress, a 1,700-year-old marvel that rewarded us with breathtaking panoramic views.
While strolling through the city’s vibrant streets offered endless entertainment, there were also numerous affordable attractions to explore. A visit to the public baths, where we soaked in naturally hot sulfurous waters, cost just £3 per person – a stark contrast to the £25 price tag in Budapest. Although the bathhouses lacked luxurious amenities, we couldn’t complain when we could indulge in a rejuvenating massage for only £6. The National Botanical Garden of Georgia was another budget-friendly gem, with entry fees starting at approximately £1 – roughly a third of the price of Prague’s botanical garden. The lush gardens beckoned us with secret grottos, mesmerizing waterfalls, and a vast array of plant life from far-flung destinations such as the Himalayas and Japan.
Tbilisi was not only a captivating destination in itself but also surrounded by enchanting places perfect for day trips. Within two hours, we found ourselves in Kakheti, Georgia’s renowned wine region. We embarked on a delightful wine-tasting journey, hopping from one vineyard to another. For those seeking an immersive experience, local families offered bed and breakfast accommodations starting at an unbelievably low price range of £20-£25 per night, sometimes inclusive of dinner.
The one drawback of a city break in Tbilisi is the travel logistics. Return flights cost around £140, requiring a stopover in Istanbul that extends the travel time to over seven hours. However, Turkish Airlines presents a silver lining with their “Stopover in Istanbul” program, which grants connecting passengers a complimentary night’s stay at a hotel, allowing them to explore the fascinating city.
As I returned to the UK and promptly spent £9 on a simple salad, my mind drifted back to the Georgian feast of cheesy bread boats and succulent meat skewers. It is a rare occurrence to eat so well at such astonishingly low prices. Tbilisi proved to be a hidden gem, offering a city break packed with delectable cuisine, delightful wines, and captivating culture. You won’t find clickbait headlines exaggerating that claim – this is the real deal. So why wait? Start planning your budget-friendly adventure in Tbilisi, the city that will leave you astounded and craving for more.
Staying there: Shota@Rustaveli Boutique Hotel offers twin rooms starting at approximately £76 per night, excluding breakfast.
Getting there: Return flights from the UK to Tbilisi start at £151 with a layover in Istanbul. Turkish Airlines provides a stopover in Istanbul program, allowing passengers to enjoy a complimentary night’s stay at a hotel and explore the city.
Further information: For more details about visiting Georgia, visit visitgeorgia.ge.