Tbilisi Sulphur Baths: Brutal Yet Therapeutic
A quick trip to Tbilisi sulphur baths is a unique and authentic experience. The smell, the temperature, the roughness of the scrub down; it’s not something you will forget in a hurry. And while it may not be the most relaxing experience, it was definitely a highlight of our Tbilisi trip. Find everything we wished we had known before we visited the Tbilisi sulphur baths in this guide.
Bathing in the thermal waters is a quintessential Georgian experience, and I really wanted to give it a go (Chris not so much, but he came along anyway). From the outside, it seems a bit dodgy, maybe because it’s underground and hidden? A little nervous as to what was in store, we booked ourselves in and just went with the flow… and I can report that it is not dodgy. It is however, also not a luxurious spa-type experience. It was brutal from the start to the end of the hour, but I would do it all over again if I were to get the chance!
This is one of our favourite things to do in Tbilisi in winter. Find out more about winter in Tbilisi here.
This guide will give you a good idea of what a Tbilisi sulphur bath experience is all about, what to expect and top tips to get the most out of your visit.
Tbilisi Sulphur Baths: Brutal Yet Therapeutic
History of the Baths
Legend says that King Vakhtang Gorgasali founded the city of Tbilisi when discovering the natural thermal springs of this area, Tbilisi literally meaning ‘warm place’.
The capital city of Georgia at this time was Mtskheta (about a thirty minute drive north of Tbilisi), but was relocated to Tbilisi after its founding and establishment in around the 5th century AD.
Believed to have healing properties, bathing in the thermal, sulphur-rich waters became popular for locals and visitors alike: Tbilisi’s position on the Silk Road made the baths more accessible.
While several baths are still functioning, the tradition maybe isn’t as prominent as previously. Still, the baths are frequented by locals and tourists alike seeking the healing properties or to learn/experience this ancient Georgian tradition.
Which bathhouse is best?
I can only recommend one as we only experienced the baths at Gulo’s Thermal Spa. We were recommended this through the Tbilisi free walking tour, and I can say it was definitely good advice.
100 GEL got us an hour in a private room with mosaic decoration, a hot pool, and a cold pool. I paid an extra 10 GEL for a kisi scrub (more on that later).
The bathhouse was clean and well-organised, and the staff were really friendly and helpful.
How to book your appointment
We just turned up to the bathhouse and booked our slot a few days in advance. Some places will take bookings over Facebook etc. Otherwise, you can call ahead and book. Or ask your Tbilisi accommodation host to do this for you.
We visited in December, so the prime time while people want to warm up from the cold, and we had no problems booking. When we arrived on the day, the slot before us was empty, so we were able to start earlier. My point is, even if you only have the one day and you really want to try it out but haven’t booked yet, turn up and ask the question: chances are, there will be something free for you.
How much does it cost?
For a private room, expect to pay 70 – 120 GEL. We went for quite a large room that had a hot and cold pool which came to 100 GEL. Some rooms also have saunas and the cost will be on the higher end of this scale.
For a public bath, the cost should be less than 10 GEL each.
For a kisi scrub, which I would fully recommend, it costs an extra 10-20 GEL.
Do you have to go in the nude?
This is the bit that got me! Was it going to be expected that everyone stripped down to go in the baths?! If you book your own private room, you can wear whatever you want. Go naked or wear your swimmers: whichever makes you more comfortable. There will be no one else there (unless you book a traditional kisi scrub – more on that later) and you can even lock the door from the inside if you are concerned.
I haven’t tried the public baths, but I understand that it is expected that you go full on starkers with a bunch of strangers here in sex-segregated baths.
What is in the private room?
It completely depends on the room that you book. However, most will have an area for you to change and leave your things, an area to shower or use the toilet and then an area with the hot pool and somewhere to sit/lay down. We had a room with a hot pool and a cold pool (which I would highly recommend as a bit of respite from the searingly hot water). Some more expensive rooms have sauna facilities too.
What to bring with you
The rooms are really steamy and the water is almost sceriously hot, hovering around 40°C. So if you only take one thing to the baths, I would make it a bottle of water. Apart from this, we brought swimmers, a towel, and a bag for our wet stuff. I made sure I had a hair band to tie my hair up so that it didn’t get in the sulphury water too.
There are showers there, so if you wanted to shower, bring your shower gel, shampoo etc. or just go back to your accommodation to shower (bear in mind that showering at the baths will eat into your booked hour). For a small fee, you can hire a towel, slippers etc. Make sure you ask about this before going into the room.
What extras are worth paying for?
Some bathhouses offer a massage or a kisi scrub. My understanding is that the traditional thing to do is get a kisi scrub. It is definitely an experience in itself and only costs an extra 10 GEL (about £3). Do not sign up for this thinking that you are going to get a spa treatment. It is rough and shocking, but your skin will feel soft and smooth by the end of the ten minutes. Find my kisi scrub experience at the end of this post.
Things to bear in mind
- It gets bloody hot in the pools. Like really hot. Around 40°C hot. I was honestly shocked when I first dipped my toe in. Bring some water with you because you could easily become dehydrated.
- The floors will be slippery. Watch your step and maybe use the slippers.
- You may experience light-headedness. I can’t say that I have ever really had that feeling except after going from the hot pool to cold pool, and then trying to stand up. Steady on.
My experience at the sulphur bath with a kisi scrub
We arrived about 15 minutes early and were let straight into our room. We weren’t given any instruction, just shown to our room, the door shut and that was that. This was when the clock on our one hour slot started, not on the hour as we had booked. I requested a kisi scrub before we went into the room.
Inside our room was a small cloakroom with a bench and pegs to hang our clothes up. We left our clothes there, and went in in our swimmers. I took a few photos of the rooms before we jumped in. We did not lock the door, as the merkise (the person doing the kisi scrub), would need to come in at some point.
We took our water bottle down to the pools (which I would recommend you do too), and then I tested the water of the pool with my foot. It was so so hot, to the extent where I thought there was some kind of mistake. How were we meant to bathe in this water?! I stepped one foot in, let it acclimatise a bit and then stepped the other foot in. I held on to the side of the pool and very gingerly lowered myself towards the water. After about five minutes or gradually lowering my body millimetre by millimetre into the searing hot water, I finally had the water level above my shoulders. Bloody hell, this was intense.
After a couple of minutes, my body decided that was enough. I stood up and made my way into the cold pool. The contrast between the scalding hot and freezing cold was a major shock, and so again, I had to use the same method of gently lowering myself in.
Just as I made it in to the cold pool, a woman walked in, saying ‘gamarjoba!’ (hello). The merkise had arrived to do my kisi scrub. I stood up to get out of the pool and suddenly went really lightheaded; these extreme temperatures had messed with my head! I sat on the stone bench. She dunked a big bucket into the hot pool and threw the water at me. What?! Then she dunked the bucket into the cold pool and threw it at me. This was not how I was expecting it to go!
‘Take off your top and lay on your front’ she ordered. Erm, ok? She took an abrasive exfoliating mitt, slapped me all over and then vigorously scrubbed at my body from neck to toes. She stopped for a few seconds before throwing a bucket of the searing hot water over me again. ‘Turn over’. Slapping and scrubbing was repeated on the front, followed by another bucket of water chucked at me.
Next, she grabs what looks like a pillowcase, dunks it in a soapy bucket and rubs it all over my body before (yes, you guessed it) chucking two hot buckets of water, followed by a bucket of cold water at me. And that was the end. After less than ten minutes; the merkise picked up her stuff and just walked out.
I sat there a bit confused and shocked at the bizarre and brutal experience. But I had baby-soft skin, so you know, swings and roundabouts. I got myself back together and went and dunked myself in the hot pool again. By this point, my skin had become used to the extreme temperatures swings, and I was able to get into the pool much easier. Spending no more than five minutes in either pool, we were switching between them. Scalding, freezing, scalding, freezing.
And as we started to get used to it and actually enjoy it, there was a knock on our door by someone telling us we had ten minutes left. We got out the pool, didn’t use the showers because we were going straight back to our apartment, got changed, and went and paid for at reception by card.
So what was my verdict on the Tbilisi sulphur bath with kisi scrub? In the moment, it seemed bizarre, but looking back on it makes me want to try it out again! I did feel really good after, the pools were beautiful and the staff were professional. I would highly recommend it as an authentic and definitely memorable Tbilisi experience.
Have you been to a Tbilisi sulphur bath? Or are you planning on giving it a go?
I’d love to hear your thoughts, recommendations and questions.
Thanks for reading!