Abandoned buildings in Tbilisi

There are many upsides to being married to an arty stylish Frenchman – he is a great cook, he takes me to wonderful restaurants, he is ruthless and graceful in his wardrobe support advice (his words ‘ I tell you what not to wear not what to wear’), and he is a perfect husband on many fronts. But one unexpected upside to being married to a frenchman is that I get to spend time in abandoned buildings and deserted alleys (which occasionally, well often, stink of pee). But over the years I too have developed a deep love and appreciation of brutalist architecture and street art, so I now look forward to these excursions to slums and derelict buildings. So, here we are in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. I have been before, and there is a standard list of tourist sites – freedom square, Rustaveli Ave, the Tsminda Sameba (main monastery), the mother of Georgia on the hill….., and we don’t plan to see any of them. To be honest, we are totally monasteried out after Armenia, and I have seen all of the sites before. Instead we are going to tour around the suburbs looking for groovy abandoned buildings. But we start with a visit to my favourite building in Tbilisi – the Stamba Hotel…..

The blissful delights of the Hotel Stamba

The wonderful folks behind the Rooms Hotel in Tbilisi – the first really cool hotel here – have opened Stamba Hotel in the building next door. It is fantastic. Our room was bigger than a flat we once lived in with 4 metre high ceilings. The renovation has been wonderfully sensitive to the building. More info here. Sadly the glass bottomed rooftop pool was out of action, but I loved the huge copper bath in our room and the Miele coffee machine. It was absolutely the nicest hotel room I have stayed in for a very long time, and surprisingly good value for money for the quality.

Rustaveli and surrounds

We dragged ourselves out of our lovely hotel room and went for a wander. Sadly the excellent abandoned cable car station at Matsaminda was boarded up so we couldn’t get in. But we took some photos from the outside, and also went to Tseretelis’ apple of love (go inside and there are lots of carvings of people having sex). We also tried to visit the MOMA Tbilisi, but it was closed for easter

Fabrica and surrounds

After lunch of Kubdari (bread stuffed with meat) and Lobiana (bread stuffed with red beans) we wandered over to Fabrica – another building lovingly restored by the owners of Stamba. It hosts a co-working space, some cool shops (the Flying Painter in particular), a hostel and a few bars – and the inside of the building is beautiful. More importantly, it has wonderful graffiti and some friendly cats. My favourite part of the was the concrete mosaic on the front of the building.

Bridge of Peace

We wandered down to the Peace bridge – opened about 14 years ago, designed and constructed in Italy and shipped to Tbilisi in 200 trucks. It is a lovely pedestrian bridge which links the old town to the spectacular Performing Arts centre in Rike Park.

We had walked our 20,000 steps do took a Bolt back to the hotel and had dinner in the cool but loud hotel restaurant (I am too old for trendy loud restaurants these days)

Brutalist apartment block with bridges

After an excellent nights sleep in the hugest bed, we headed out to the suburbs to see the excellent apartment buildings linked with high bridges. Many of the original apartment balconies having been bordered up. We entered from the bottom but didn’t have the right change to take the elevator – no bother, you can find some stairs that lead up the grassy area behind the building and then up the stairs of neighbouring building to get to the high bridges. These buildings are still lived in, so we were respectful to the occupants, but had a fun hour taking photos.

Abandoned University Library

Close by to the apartment building is an abandoned University Library with excellent concrete baffles (hard to see in the photos) and some lovely murals. It is also right next to the Maglivi pedestrian bridge which allows students to swiftly cross one of the many gullies that weave through Tbilisi (where the road route around would take 20-30 minutes).

Abandoned Archaeological Museum

Thankfully there were a few Bolts (Georgian ubers) in Sabartalo near the library, so we managed to get a ride up to the abandoned Archeological museum which had a wonderful frontage, and excellent door and a very friendly dog. It is built like a bunker, and we did find a crawl hole which would have given us access to the back bunker, but neither of us were that keen to give it a go.

Bank of `Georgia

My favourite building of the day was the Bank of Georgia – designed with two main entry points – one at the river level and one high above on a main street. Getting between the two to take photos from different angles did necessitate some off road strolling and navigating a pack of wild dogs – but the building was spectacular. The bottom end was a slightly challenging place to pick up a Bolt so we did end up hanging out for about 20 minutes watching the traffic drive insanely fast along the river highway (Georgian drivers are not famous for their speed restraint)

Georgian expo

Next stop the Georgian Expo – a series of pavillions that hosted the expo, and some lovely mosaics, scupltures and parkland. There wasn’t much to see but it was very quite and peaceful. We exited the expo into the gritty underbelly of the commercial area of Tbilisi with lots of tyre shops and car repair outfits. There was a highly recommended restaurant a few minutes walk away, so we headed for lunch. Oddly we were the only guests together with one man who left soon after we arrived. And there were seats for about 400 and at least 30 staff. It was 1.30 on Easter Saturday so perhaps everyone was at home eating family lunch. We had a grill for two people (which we shared with the two friendly cats), incredible walnut and tomato salad and an outstanding kachapuri. We still had some energy left so went back to Fabrica and had another wander around and then went to the Dry stone market to inspect the tat (which didn’t really merit much inspection)

After another nap (and a visit to the worlds smallest hotel gym), we went to the feted Barbarastan for dinner. It was very expensive (london prices) and of variable quality. To be fair the waiter did try to warn me off the aubergine starter by saying some people didn’t like the smoky flavour – i like smoke though, so ordered it, and was surprised the dish had basically no flavour at all – it was like eating balls of heavy glue. The roast chicken was a better choice – delicious with an excellent demi glace. There was live music, which was deafening to us oldies, so the accordion man and the slightly off pitch violinist had us out the door by 9pm, for another early night.

That was it – a short but very sweet revisit for me to Tbilisi, and hubby’s first visit to Georgia. I think he is close to having visited 100 countries now, but being less obsessive than his wife, he isn’t really counting.

Tbilisi, 16 April, 2023

Additional information

This blog was super helpful on Tbilisi street art with up to date google map, and her husband writes an equally good blog on architecture. Both were invaluable. For more generic tourist advice, this blogger was long winded but helpful

It was easy to get around with bolt and very cheap. I had an esim on my phone which cost $5 for 1 gb with airalo. A local sim would have been a little cheaper, but we didn’t need much data for a weekend, so an esim was faster.

Absorbing Armenia

I visited Armenia and Georgia in 2011, and I loved it – the modernist architecture, the nature, the food and the monasteries. I didn’t spend as much time in Armenia as I would have liked, so am back with hubby* in tow to do a longer easter tour, and we will pop by Tbilisi while we are here. Getting to Yerevan was a little convoluted with no direct flights from London (there are bizarrely few direct flights to Armenia given the size and wealth of the Armenian diaspora). We had booked with Air France but a month before departure they changed the flights by 24 hours in the wrong direction. So we ended up flying Austrian to Vienna, then Whiz to Yerevan, and home from Tbilisi via Istanbul

Urban Hiking around Yerevan

Yerevan airport was incredibly efficient, we landed, it was a 30m walk to immigration. Hubby and I were first in the building and by the time we got to the booths, all 12 booths were manned. Super fast (so unlike what we are used to at Heathrow!). We grabbed a sim card each (8 euros for 10 gig or 11 euros for unlimited for a month) and then got a cab to the Grand Hotel Yerevan – apparently the fanciest place in town. We were hungry as the food offerings en route had not been great, and Armenians are great at keeping restaurants open until midnight so we went for 9.30pm dinner (conveniently my actual preferred dinner time of 6.30pm on my body clock’s UK time zone). The Khinkali (fat meaty dumplings) with aubergines, cheese and cutlets were delicious. We tried to burn some of them off by heading up to the cascade and walking up all 500 steps. By that time it was 11.30pm local time and I had an excellent long sleep.

After a work out in the hotel’s gym (probably the only gym I am likely to see in Armenia) – hubby and I went looking for coffee. We ventured to Afrolab for apparently the best coffee in Yerevan – hmmmf, it was ok coffee in a lovely venue, with surprisingly smug and terrible service. As far as I can tell this is definitely hubby’s spiritual home – he is famous for his resting grumpy face, and pretty much every customer service person or waiter we met had a similar grumpy face. (I did make it a mission to try and get people to smile at me :-)). After an ok coffee embarked on the walking tour of Yerevan from the Bradt guide.

Modern art in Yerevan

First up a wee art foray into the modern art museum (which is confusingly located in the basement of a very squalid apartment block), and the Armenian art curators are clearly very Dali inspired. We also popped into the lovely building which houses the Eduard Isabekyan Gallery – which had some lovely pieces. Then the blue mosque – the last working mosque apparently in Armenia – built and funded by the Iranians.

Parks and more sculptures and empty fountains

We then wandered up Italy Street admiring the empty fountains and the sculptures. and then through Republic square and down to the green belt to see the amazing Russian cinema building and the Cathedral to Gregor the Illuminator. We couldnt quite figured out why every fountain and man-made lake was empty – perhaps a money saving gesture given the war and energy prices?. We wandered through the Vernissage admiring the tourist tat and then very much enjoyed the architecture at Revolution Square metro.

Soviet Cinema

This was a very lovely building – a duo plex cinema with two big screens designed in the middle and the seats curving up…

Gregor the illuminator

An incredibly modern church – so nice, it even had seats in it, and you were banned from lighting candles

Revolution Metro station

Lunch and another cool metro stations

By then it was 1.30pm and I was ready to start eating for the day, so we had some Lemajun (turkish pizza), excellent manti (dumplings baked with garlic sauce), salad and tan (yogurt buttermilk drink).

Fortified we headed to see another excellent metro station at Yeritasardakan and then round the corner to see a wonderful modernist office building. We then returned to the Cascade for daylight views and a chilled out coffee.

Return to the cascade

Genocide Memorial

We ended the day at the Armenian Genocide Memorial which remembers the 1.5million Armenians murdered by the Turks in 1915. And while we were there, we did visit the extraordinary sports complex with excellent curvy roofs and lovely lined stairs.

A wee nap we headed to Lavash – apparently one of the better restaurants in Yerevan and over indulged in salad, veal, pork, walnut paste, sorrel, strained yogurt, and buttermilk. delicious!

Heading south on a monastery tour to Goris

After a good nights sleep, it was Easter Sunday and we were headed south. We picked up a rental car which we are returning in Georgia. Amusingly we thought this meant that we would drop off at the Sixt in Tblisi. Um, nope. Armenian entrepreneurialism means they don’t want us to drop the car off to the Georgian franchise (and pay them the fee), instead they are sending someone to come get the car from us in Tbilisi at our hotel – very convenient.

Khor Viraps Monastery

Our first stop was Khor Viraps, very busy on this Easter Sunday and with stunning views over Mt Ararat – the spiritual mountain for Armenians, but it is sadly within the borders of Turkey.

Norovanks Monastery

We stopped for lunch in Arenia. We found a restaurant on google, which we had to persuade ourselves was an actual restaurant as it was deserted. Turns out it was pretty delicious – pork shashlik, salad, lavash and cheese :-). However, like most restaurants in Armenia, you know everything is very very fresh. Every time we order, we wait for 30-60 minutes for the food to arrive, but it is good when it arrives.

We then headed up to the equally busy Norovanks Monastery which had stunning views of the red cliffs behind. We were amused to see someone dressed as a Picachu…., and couldn’t figure out the logic.


Further south is Armenia’s answer to stonehenge. It took us a while to find it (just off the main route near Sisian in the Syunik province), and it was a little underwhelming when we got there – but the sky was lovely. Noone knows why the stones are actually there, but some of them have holes in them, which has led to speculation that they were for observing the stars. It was a nice diversion from the pot holed road on the route south.

Goris – the concrete town

We arrived in Goris late in the day. We are very close to the contested border with Artksakh/Nagorno Karabakh (and sadly 7 people were killed in a shout out between the Armenian and Azeri armies the day we departed the region). Our hotel had a contingent of EU observers and the town had quite a few Russian soldiers (who are theoretically managing the border. Goris was a very odd town, with strange concrete and stone buildings laid out in an orderly grid. We wandered around and it felt quite deserted apart from a few bonkers men hooning up and down the main street in their battered Ladas. (note to potential drivers in Armenia – everyone here drives like a loon and overtakes on blind corners). We had dinner in the ‘luxury’ boutique hotel we were staying in (the Mirhav), and waited an extra long 60 minutes for anything to arrive (including the sliced cold cheese appetizer we ordered).

Tatev Monastery, Satan’s bridge and the Grand Hermitage

I hadn’t overplanned for this trip and hadn’t realised that the world famous (guiness record holder for longest) cable car to Tatev was closed on Monday, and yup it was Monday. As it turns out that was a blessing, as it was an easy drive up to the famous Tatev Monastery and we had the entire place to ourselves. We strolled around and took lots of photos, and then we went and had an excellent Armenian coffee at the local coffee.

After that we went down to Satan’s bridge (a natural rock bridge over a gorge) which was a little underwhelming. Better was the very easy 1km hike to the ‘Grand Hermitage’ Tatev which was originally home to 500 monks and is now home to a bearded hermit. It was an amusing stroll, enlivened by watching a couple of nutty people zipline high above our heads. We then had a typical Armenian lunch in Halzidor, where we were the only guests (this is quite normal). We had to wait for an hour but it was delicious – staple fare of sheeps cheese, salad, grilled aubergine, and pork shashlik.

Khndzoresk Cave Village

The rain started up while we were at lunch but we decided to drive to the famous cave village and risk getting wet. It was interesting but not overwhelming. We headed back to Goris, hubby had a nap and I went for a soggy run up to the top of Goris hill, much to the amusement of all the school kids I jogged by. Dinner on our second night in Goris was better – we went to Takarik – still slow, but decent grilled pork chops and spinach.

Khachkars at Noratus

It was time to depart Goris and head back North. After breakfast, we backtracked to Vayk and then headed over the Selim pass (visiting an old freezing caravanserai en route). We were hungry around noon and couldn’t find a good restaurant, so we stopped at the supermarket and had an excellent lamajun (thin armenian pizza with beef and spices) and buttermilk. We then visited the lovely Noratus near lake Sevan. The cemetery is famous as it has over 900 Khachkars (distinctive gravestones all facing in the same direction)…. and they were stunning in the afternoon light. The babuskhas in the cemetery were enthusiastically offering us socks and guiding services but fortunately we moved faster than them.

Haravank, Sevan Monastery and the writers retreat

Further up the lake we visited the Haravank monastery and the Sevan monastery, as well as the very excellent Writers retreat which is cantilevered out of the hill just under the Sevan monastery. Windy and freezing but quite lovely.

After a long days driving on pot holes and dodging mad overtakers, we made it to Dilijan. I had booked us the best hotel in Dilijan – the Best Western Plus, and was excited to use the gym. Hmmm. Both treadmills were out of order. Both cycles had broken pedals. And none of the three elliptical machines worked (and I also couldn’t figure out the chinese characters on them). Oh well, weights perhaps – nope that didn’t work either as the heaviest weight was a 10kg dumbell. I figure the universe is telling me to have the day off. The day, however, was redeemed by a visit to Kchuch restaurant for a good claypot dinner and lots of veg.

Hagartsin, Goshavank and Lake Parz in Dilijan National Park

We were up at a reasonable hour, hubby had breakfast, I had three coffees and we headed out for some more monasteries and hiking. Hagartsin Monastery was deserted apart from a very devout priest who appeared to be doing a service for himself (quite long prayers and a lot of gesticulating). It was moody and delightful

We then headed up to Gosh to see the Goshavank Monastery, which was also quite nice. We then headed out to hike up to Gosh lake but the trail was muddy and slippery and we were not really appropriately attired so we turned back.

we also headed to Parz lake expecting some solitude and it turned out to be a very small lake with a huge number of tourists.

Oh well, a less active day than anticipated, we went to Kchuch again for lunch (a restaurant in Armenia that has food on the table in 20 minutes is not to be sneezed at), and then had a lazy afternoon watching movies before going back to Kchuch for dinner. It was like a normal persons day on holiday – quite relaxing

Haghpat, Sanahin and the Copper town of Alaveira

After two nights in Dilijan we headed slightly north to the Debed Gorge – definitely the nicest piece of nature we saw in Armenia. As it was on the main highway to Georgia, the roads were also mostly good and without the customary potholes (we have observed about 10% of the cars in Armenia seem to be without their front or rear bumpers – clearly unnecessary).

We headed up to Sanahin Monastery through a the village and it was a lovely moody sight. Sanahin (and Haghpat) were the first two Unesco sites in Armenia. We couldn’t find a restaurant for lunch, so we grabbed a lamajun from the hot dog place (it is the perfect lunch – £2.50 for two people for two lamajun’s each (beef flat bread) and a buttermilk) and admired the Soviet architecture

Then we headed up to Haghpat which was equally lovely though in a more remote setting.