Eternal Arrival
Georgia

Am I The Only Person Who Didn’t Like Tbilisi?

Not every place you travel to can be a home run, but even I was surprised by how much I ended up not enjoying Tbilisi.

I had heard such great things about the Georgian capital that I was almost certain it was going to be the highlight of my month traveling the Caucasus.

I sandwiched a week in Tbilisi in between Azerbaijan (which I wasn’t looking forward to but ended up loving) and Armenia and found it my least favorite city of the trip by a good margin. When I returned to Tbilisi for a few days after a week in Yerevan – my favorite city in the Caucasus – I tried to give it a second chance. Still no dice.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission if you purchase something through one of these links. Thank you for supporting the free content on this site! For more information on affiliate links and cookies, see my disclosure page for more details.

Let me pop in a quick disclaimer here. I try to keep things fairly positive, or at least neutral, on my blog, especially when I discuss traveling to off the beaten path places where tourism would do great things for the economy.

I live in Sofia, Bulgaria, and I’ve read articles that slam Sofia as a shitty place just because the sidewalks are busted or someone wasn’t able to find the city center (which is, quite frankly, kind of shocking).

I’ve heard people call it bleak and joyless, and it bothers me. I’m defensive of this city because I love it so much, and I know that for some people, reading this article about Tbilisi will stoke the same feelings. And that’s okay – you have every right to be annoyed by this post, or to love cities that I just didn’t like. My opinion is not the be all, end all.

I can partly chalk this up to a bad first impression. Our first taxi experience in Georgia involved our driver racing through the pouring rain at 140 km/hour, splitting the middle lane as if it were nothing more than a silly suggestion, to the point where we were squeezing headlong between trucks.

We got pulled over by the cops and exited the situation suspiciously quickly (I have a feeling a bribe changed hands). Then he refused to take us to our final destination, trying to kick us out of his car in the driving rain, all the way on the outskirts of Tbilisi.

We finally got him to summon us a new cab (who then also didn’t want to take us to our destination, for reasons I still don’t understand – it was a very normal and central location in the center of the city).

This wasn’t an isolated experience – basically every taxi ride that we didn’t organize in advance with Yandex was a huge pain in the ass.

Terrifying drivers aside, Tbilisi still didn’t grow on me. One thing I value highly in my cities is walkability, and Tbilisi just doesn’t have that in my opinion. The sidewalks seemingly switch from one side of the street to the other at complete random, making you cross the street at the mercy of its insane drivers.

There are countless places where there are just no crosswalks or street signs and suddenly, you need to Frogger your way across several lanes going in both directions, except unlike in Vietnam, it actually feels like drivers are out to hit you.

Either that, or there are underpasses where you need to go underground in order to cross the street safely, something that as a woman I feel uncomfortable doing at night (important side note though: on the whole I feel like Tbilisi is very safe for female travelers).

I’ll be the first to acknowledge that my mental state in Georgia was not fantastic. I was over-traveled and seriously missing Sofia.

But I was able to push away my exhaustion to fall in love with Azerbaijan, particularly Nakhchivan and Ganja – neither of which are particularly ‘easy’ places to travel, given that so few tourists pass through these parts.

And after Tbilisi, I found myself head over heels with Yerevan, finding it super livable and bookmarking it for a longer stay in the future. So why couldn’t I do the same for Tbilisi?

As I found myself editing my photos of Tbilisi today, I found myself feeling such an overwhelming sense of blah. Despite spending a total of 10 days in Tbilisi and giving it a solid chance, I just didn’t get it.

I found the food uninspiring and dull, as if Georgians were ethically opposed to including more than one color on a plate (which is weird because I’ve really enjoyed Georgian food in Turkey).

The khachapuri that everyone raved about was just bland and salty. My friend ordered a mushroom dish and quite literally got served just unseasoned mushroom caps.

The prices for food in Georgia were expensive compared to other places in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus. Georgian wine was fine, but it didn’t live up to the hype (I enjoyed wine in Armenia more).

Part of it, I think, is expectations. I had high expectations for Tbilisi and was strongly considering moving there at some point in the future, as Georgia has extremely permissive visa rules for Americans: a 365-day visa, in fact, meaning you can effectively move there without doing a single piece of paperwork. That appealed to me greatly, so it was extra disappointing when after visiting Tbilisi I realized I’d never be happy living there.

Meanwhile, having had low expectations for Azerbaijan, I was surprised by how much I ended up enjoying it. Most people only visit Baku and as a result, aren’t huge fans. I liked Baku but ended up loving the rest of Azerbaijan. Armenia also blew me away. I think Tbilisi suffered by being compared to its neighbors – had I only visited Tbilisi, perhaps I would have felt differently.

I have to give the city its credit: there are definitely some cool pockets of Tbilisi, and I can see why a lot of people enjoy the city — there are a lot of interesting things to do in Tbilisi, even if the city doesn’t rub everyone the right way.

There’s a thriving hipster scene centered around Fabrika, a combined hostel/workspace/creative hub. Shio Ramen has literally some of the best ramen I’ve eaten outside of Japan and New York. I would consider going back to Tbilisi for their bao buns alone.

I had a genuinely good day out at Turtle Lake and the Ethnographic Museum. 9 Mta has an excellent variety of craft beer and is located in a vibrant part of the city, and the city is clearly growing and changing quickly.

Things seem to be getting better for Georgians, or at least moving in the right direction. During my time in Tbilisi, young Georgians were protesting corruption and succeeded in ousting their Prime Minister mere weeks after Armenia’s more-publicized Velvet Revolution.

As a country that has seen war in the past decade (In the Russo-Georgian War in 2008, Tbilisi itself had Russian tanks roll up within 30 kilometers of the city limits) Georgia has done a great job recovering its image and promoting itself as a safe and desirable place for tourism in a way that other post-Soviet and post-Communist countries have not. That’s no small feat.

But I also feel like tourism may have come too quickly for Tbilisi, corrupting a city that wasn’t quite ready for the waves of tourists coming in on cheap flights. This is not meant to dissuade anyone from visiting and seeing for themselves — I think that every place deserves an opportunity to be experienced. As a travel blogger, I don’t take influence lightly, and I know that the words I say have an impact on how people perceive faraway places. To counter my opinion, I know that plenty of people number it among their favorite cities, and perhaps it was a confluence of bad luck, bad timing, and my own personal preferences in a city that left me so disappointed in Tbilisi.

I’m sure one day I’ll come back and give Tbilisi another chance – after all, there is so much more to Georgia than just one city. And I’m fully prepared that I’ll change my mind. I’ll just need some therapy to get over the driving first.

18 Comments

  • Reply
    LC
    July 7, 2018 at 6:12 am

    I REALLY like posts like these, mostly because they’re honest and travel blogging needs more honesty (a separate topic within itself!).

    I feel quite wary about those cities (and overall destinations) everyone raves about. I’ve also had my time in a place (often one I’ve longed to visit) tainted by shitty things that have happened such as gropey men, mean taxi drivers, verbal abuse from locals, or from eating bad, food poison inducing meals. A city does need to be exceptional to rise above a run of bad luck and it’s all based on personal preference, anyway. Regardless, it’s impossible to like every destination you’ve been to and it would also be VERY boring if you did.

    Keen to hear your thoughts about the city in a future return visit!

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      July 7, 2018 at 3:08 pm

      Thank you LC! I was a bit hesitant to write this but I figured there are so many posts out there praising Tbilisi throwing my opinion into the mix couldn’t hurt. I too have had that experience (Morocco very much comes to mind) and it’s always hard to navigate the line between wanting to share your story and not throw an entire destination under the bus. It’s true that cities truly need to be exceptional to overcome your personal feelings when you’re experiencing a run of bad luck (Rome comes to mind — loved it despite being in some of the worst depression I’ve ever had). Tbilisi just wasn’t that for me. But since I really do want to do some hiking in Georgia in the future and I know I’ll be returning to Yerevan, Tbilisi does seem inevitable and I’ll try to give it a fresh shot and write a new post with second impressions when I do 🙂

  • Reply
    kami
    July 7, 2018 at 7:36 pm

    As a big fan of Tbilsi I really enjoyed this post as I can see how right you are about many things. I was lucky to visit the city before the cheap flights started flying there and my second visit to Tbilisi was a huge slap in the face. I still love it but I also am very critical about it (I wrote about it once too). I still think if you visited Tbilisi only it would easily become one of your fave cities too. As for the taxi issues – they could have happened everywhere of course, you were just unlucky it was your first encounter with Georgia that shaped the opinion.

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      July 8, 2018 at 3:17 pm

      I just checked out your post about the changes in Tbilisi – I feel really similar about the city but don’t have the 2012 point of reference like you do. It’s hard because as travel bloggers we do want to bring tourism to places that deserve it and would benefit from it, but at the same time, too much too fast can be a disaster. Comparing Tbilisi to Yerevan or Baku I feel like Tbilisi has become too much of a tourist trap and now its locals are too reliant on tourism, which is a dangerous situation to be in (and also leads to problems for tourists with price gouging and constant hassling by taxi drivers, etc.). I feel more comfortable when tourism is an integral but integrated part of the economy, one part of many. And in Tbilisi it seems it switched over to tourism too fast. I hope that over time it integrates tourism more comfortably and this is just a small growing pain for a city that is clearly evolving and innovating. Maybe a few years to grow into itself will be good for it 🙂

  • Reply
    GEP
    December 16, 2018 at 9:12 pm

    Perhaps you did not like it because you were not sufficiently focussed on the outside. From the sound of it.

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      December 17, 2018 at 12:04 pm

      Focused on the outside of what? Outside of the city? The post is about Tbilisi rather than Georgia as a whole, as I have no room to write about Georgia having only seen the capital 🙂 I did, however, think I gave Tbilisi a fair chance with two different trips totalling 12 days.

  • Reply
    Vato Katchibaia
    January 18, 2019 at 7:08 pm

    Tastes differ. Some like the priest, and some like his daughter at least …
    There’s nothing in this world which is being liked by everybody without exception.
    Honesty is a good trait.
    Enjoy Yerevan!

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      January 18, 2019 at 7:36 pm

      Thank you Vato! I agree – honesty above all, and so long as you express yourself respectfully, that’s all that matters.

  • Reply
    Jake
    May 6, 2019 at 8:14 pm

    Having just spent a fair amount of time in Tblisi and around Georgia, we actually were just looking through various posts to see if anyone at all wrote anything similar to our feel for Tblisi. Bingo- you did! Pretty much agree with everything you wrote, right down the line.

    Yerevan- here now. I must admit that both of us have a strong similar feel that a good portion of people in this town seem quite pretentious and a bit too showy in nature, like they are trying too hard to be European (yuck). Unfortunately, we have not found either capital city to be overly friendly, in general. And we live in the so-called third world so are not judging from a supposedly more nice and socially civilized perspective. Factoring winters into the equation, I guess I’d take Minneapolis over Tblisi or Yerevan

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      May 6, 2019 at 10:35 pm

      Interesting – I loved Yerevan! I didn’t get the pretentious or showy vibe but everyone has their own taste. I had a great time in Yerevan but was comparing it to my lackluster time in Tbilisi – I suppose it’s all a matter of perspective. Though, my sister lives in Minneapolis and I don’t think I’d take her -40 winters for anything! 😛

  • Reply
    Houda
    June 6, 2019 at 4:19 pm

    I totally agree with you..my husband and i are so disappointed..people are so rude…you feel that georgian are angry out of the tourists without a reason..i hate places where you have always to bargain…i felt that they are so racist…they dared asking us our religion!its not acceptable..

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      June 11, 2019 at 1:24 pm

      I’m sorry to hear you felt discriminated against, Houda. I also hate always having to bargain and feeling like I’m getting cheated – I know it’s a cultural thing, but it always rubs me the wrong way. I had a much better experience when I booked things in advance for a set price like using Yandex or a guided tour etc. but trying to get a cab off the street, etc. was a nightmare.

  • Reply
    Donald
    July 27, 2019 at 8:07 pm

    Just returned from our first time to Georgia. We visited Tbilisi and Signagi. As a gay couple we made sure not to show any public displays of affection since we had heard beforehand how homophobic the country is. There were certainly things we loved about Tbilisi and Signagi (the food, the sulfur baths in Tbilisi, the mountains surrounding Signagi) but our overall impression upon leaving was sort of a shrug and a “glad we got to see it once, would never return”. I HATED that very few cab drivers knew where anything was and I had to constantly show them maps on my iPhone for them to know where things were. We had also heard how warm and friendly folks were in those towns, but we just didn’t feel it overall, and even found rudeness to be more the norm.

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      July 29, 2019 at 1:28 pm

      Hi Donald. Thanks so much for sharing your perspective as a gay couple – it’s great for future travelers to know. I share a lot of the same sentiments as you. I especially found hospitality overstated. I sent back food for the first time in my nearly 30 years of life because the khinkali was still frozen on the inside (major health risk). There were no apologies and I had to insist I wanted it off my bill. A mistake, yes, but I found it to be kind of symbolic of my time there.

      I’d give the rest of Georgia and Tbilisi another chance if I travel to the Caucasus again, which is likely because I have friends in Armenia, but Georgia isn’t high on my “to-return” list. Such a shame because I know so many people who absolutely adore it. Different strokes for different folks though! I live in Bulgaria and it’s certainly not for everyone, so I respect other people’s points of view and never try to discourage people from going. I just like to offer a counter-point because all I heard about Tbilisi before going was praise, praise, praise.

  • Reply
    Chris
    January 19, 2020 at 9:51 pm

    I arrived in Tbilisi this morning, had my first impressions, and…can’t say you’re wrong about much of what you’re saying. I like the city, it’s different and has a unique charm to it that even with some additional tourists, in my opinion, doesn’t take away. What you didn’t discuss, and I experienced massively today, is that so many people kept trying to get me to buy shit and enter their cafés and restaurants! One guy with some bird on his arm grabbed me and refused to let me go, I had to scream at him to get off me. I’ve also had some of the worst customer service in my life, and I really never complain about customer service in Europe as I know it’s usually bad. Just shocking experiences today honestly. Nice city, but these people, Jesus Christ. FYI American/Portuguese living in Prague and big fan of eastern Europe, hence being here. I will keep giving the city a chance, but today was rough!

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      January 20, 2020 at 12:21 pm

      That’s so obnoxious! I also had really bad customer service at one restaurant in Tbilisi. They served me khinkali that were still frozen in the middle and when I asked them to take it away and take it off my bill (the first time I have ever done that in literally 30 years of living and traveling!) my waitress seemed shocked. I live in Bulgaria so I’m pretty inured to bad service but Tbilisi really took the cake there – I was just too traumatized from the cars trying to kill me at every chance they got to remember to mention this, too 😛

  • Reply
    Riff&Char
    May 1, 2020 at 11:56 pm

    Hello! Glad we found this page. We went to Georgia last year for 12 days. Our routes were Tbilisi-Gori-Kutaisi-Batumi-Vardzia-Borjomi-Gudauri-Stepantsminda-Tbilisi.

    We just wanna say only 10% of the people we’ve met were friendly. It’s a gorgeous country indeed especially in Stepantsminda and Borjomi. The food was our biggest suffering and too salty. The hospitality was the worst, and in top of that, we got cheated by a cabbie on Yandex and luckily managed to get our refund back. The cabbie brought us around in loop and dropped us faaaaaar from our destination, this is in Tbilisi after we had returned our rented car. Prior to that, we were almost got cheated by a petrol station when we refueled our car. The fuel transaction notification price didn’t matched for what we pumped in for by over 100%! It was so lucky that we realized that and we turned our car around to rush back to that petrol station around 2 km away. We took a picture of the metre and threatened to call the police and they gave back our money in cash.

    Shortchanging is everywhere. Please beware.

    Once to Georgia is enough 🙂

    • Reply
      Allison Green
      May 3, 2020 at 12:14 pm

      Sorry to hear you had such a rough time! I was also quite disappointed by the food and the cab situation was worse than anywhere else I’d ever been (and I’ve traveled quite a bit in places with less-than-scrupulous taxi drivers…). Unfortunately, I didn’t make it out of Tbilisi to get to see the beauty of the country which I think would have redeemed the country as a whole a bit for me. In the meantime, I concur that I’m not racing back to Georgia anytime soon. That said… I have friends who love it and name it as one of their favorite countries!

    Leave a Reply