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.

Places to Return to – Georgia

Georgia is stunning!  The Caucasus mountains, the black sea and some amazing orthodox architecture.  The people are friendly and relatively modern.  The food is amazing.  I can’t believe more people don’t come to Georgia.  I loved it and can’t wait to go back.  My recommendations for Georgia

Head to the Kazbeg and climb up to Tsminda Sameba

It is a thrilling, albeit rough, ride up the Georgian Military Highway, almost to the border with Russia to reach the Kazbeg, a sleepy mountain village in the shadow of Mt Kazbeg.  On the way, you pass the gorgeous Ananuri fortress, which is worth a visit.

Ananuri Fortress
Ananuri Fortress

Once in Kazbeg, you can climb up to the spectacular orthodox church – Tsminda Sameba at 2200m.  These Georgians take their religion pretty seriously, and none of the 80 year old villagers think anything of walking up 1000 metres to go to a service.  The Russians actually built a cable car up here in the 80s, and the locals promptly destroyed it – you can’t see any evidence that it was ever there.   Don’t expect any respite when you sweatily arrive at the church either.  Like most orthodox churches in this part of the world, there are no seats.  Only lazy people need to sit down to hear a sermon for two hours, good orthodox christians are happy to stand up.

Bustling metropolis of Kazbeg
Bustling metropolis of Kazbeg

The church is spectacular, but the setting more so.  If you have time, I would recommend staying a few days and getting some hiking in, and perhaps climb Mt Kazbeg (5047m)

Tsminda Sameba
Tsminda Sameba

Visit davit gareja

Davit Gareja is a collection of old cave monasteries right on the border with Azerbaijan.  So close to the border in fact, that I decided to go for a walk in Azerbaijan, as I hadn’t technically visited at this point.   Getting there is easy from Tbilisi, though we did run into a very NZ like traffic jam on the way there

Traffic jam en route to Davit Gareja
Traffic jam en route to Davit Gareja

6000 monks were killed here when the monastery was sacked by Shah Abbas in 1615.  The monasteries never fully recovered but there are still monks living there today.

Davit Gareja
Davit Gareja

Its easy hiking around the many caves, and worthwhile going the hiking to check out the frescos (although be on the look out for snakes)

Cave Frescos
Cave Frescos

wander around tblisi and eat a lot

Georgian food is good!  So good in fact, that whenever I travel to a former Soviet Republic I check to see if they have a Georgian restaurant and make a point of going to eat there.  My favourites are Khinkali (meat dumplings), Kachapuri (cheese bread) and Mastnis Supi (yogurt soup).  They sound heavy to eat, and they are, but Georgians are masters at spices and herbs, so the food is delicious!!!!

Old town architecture Tbilisi
Old town architecture Tbilisi

To counter the calorie intake from all the good food, I would suggest taking in the sites of Tbilisi to get your step count up.  I really enjoyed the new Tsminda Sameba in Tbilisi (yup same name as above, it means Holy Trinity), wandering round the old town to visit the little old orthodox churches, and enjoying the huge stalinist monstrosities in the new town.


The new Tsminda Sameba in Tbilisi
The new Tsminda Sameba in Tbilisi

Additional tips
  • I only had 5 days in Georgia and getting public transport was going to be slow!  So, I used a local agent to provide transport and an english speaking guide (a groovy young feminist called Tamuna).  It was about $150 per day just for me, and both the guide and the driver were fab.  They also entertained me with lots of local music.  I booked this through http://www.georgicatravel.ge.  If you were time pressured, you could do everything above in a long weekend.  If you had more time you could go to Svaneti and the black sea
  • I stayed at the Radisson on points.  It was fine.  Being cheap, I made sure I made a packed lunch and snacks to take with me from the very good breakfast buffet
  • Ladies don’t forget a headscarf or a hoody if you want to see the inside of the churches

Visited May 2011