Why You Should Visit Tbilisi in Winter: 12 Great Reasons
Tbilisi is the ultimate winter city break destination. This characterful and historical city is full of unique things to do, cosy cafes and bars to retreat to when you get too cold, fascinating cultural differences, and of course the best comfort food.
After spending five weeks here over Christmas, we knew that we had to let you guys in on how amazing this city is. Find our top reasons for exploring Tbilisi in winter in this guide.
Why You Should Visit Tbilisi in Winter: 12 Great Reasons
You Can Celebrate Christmas Twice!
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: what? Georgia is an Orthodox Christian country which means that Christmas is not celebrated on 25th December, like in the west. Orthodox Christmas is celebrated on 7th January in Georgia, so you can celebrate on both days.
Makle sure to get hold of some gozinaki (caramelised nut brittle) and churchkela (nuts coated in thickened grape juice) over Christmas.
You Can Also Celebrate New Year Twice!
New Year on 31st December seems to be a bigger deal than Christmas in Georgia, and Georgia really loves its fireworks. In Tbilisi, you’ll hear fireworks being let off each evening running up to the end of the year, and then 31st December is really where everyone goes to town with all the fireworks!
We have never experienced anything like it. Make sure you are somewhere with a good view over the city from a window, and just settle in with a drink for a good hour or two. The lightshow is constant.
There isn’t an organised display, this is purely the people of Tbilisi setting their own fireworks, which makes it all the more impressive.
Orthodox New Year (or Epiphany) is a much smaller affair celebrated again with fireworks on 14th January (so the evening of 13th Jan).
Warm Up with a Traditional Sulphur Baths Experience
Hot mineral springs run under Tbilisi, and this is actually what inspired the name for the city: Tbilisi literally means ‘warm place’ in Georgian. People have been bathing in the hot mineral rich waters for centuries as it is believed to have medicinal properties.
There are plenty of options of bathhouses in Abanotubani district of Tbilisi, from the extravagant to the very much rough and ready. BUT (and this is a big but) do not go into this expecting a relaxing spa-like experience, because that is absolutely not what you will have. The water is naturally very very hot, hovering around 40°C, so it takes some getting used to. And if you get yourself a kisi scrub, it is brutal, but in a good way!
Genuinely, it is an amazing experience, and the perfect way to warm up after exploring the city in the cold. I will definitely be going to another thermal bath when we return to Tbilisi! Watch this space for a full blog post on what to expect at a Tbilisi sulphur bath.
Walk with the Alilo Christmas Parade
Every Orthodox Christmas Day (7th January), there is a parade of people that walks along the whole of Rustaveli Avenue through the centre of Tbilisi. People wave Georgian flags and wear traditional Georgian dress. Each year there is a different theme. The 2023 theme was ‘caravan’ which was to do with the role of Tbilisi and Georgia on the ancient Silk Road. This meant that there were floats in the shape of huge elephants and camels.
This is such a wholesome and patriotic event to witness.
Georgian Cuisine is the Ultimate Comfort Food
Take a break from exploring the city by hopping into one of the many amazing restaurants. In Tbilisi in winter when it’s cold outside, there is absolutely nothing better than comforting, carb heavy Georgian food. Lobio (spiced baked beans) with a khachapuri (cheesy bread), or maybe get a plateful of steaming herby mushroom khinkali (soupy dumplings).
Take a Break from the Cold with a Glass of Georgian Wine or Chacha
Georgians know how to make the tastiest wines, so hop into a cosy bar to give them a try! My favourites are Tsinandali, Tsolikauri and Pirosmani (all whites), but if red is more your thing, try Saperavi which is probably Georgia’s most well-known wine. If you prefer spirits, or are just looking for a quick shot of warmth, get yourself a chacha. This is a local liquor that burns as it travels down your throat and into your stomach, instantly warming you up!
Georgia has many interesting and unique drinks. Find out about them all in this blog post.
Learn About Georgia in Tbilisi’s Many Museums
Tbilisi has loads of museums, and good ones at that! Our favourites are the Wine Museum, the Georgian Museum of Fine Arts, and the Georgian National Museum. As well as these more official museums, I would recommend a stop at the Tea Museum at Bitadze Tea Shop. This has a very small selection of tea memorabilia, but the guys running the place will tell you all about the history of tea in Georgia as well as give you a tea tasting. Who knew Georgia was tea making country?!
Feel Festive at the Christmas Markets
Since Christmas is a couple of weeks after 25th December, the markets start in late December and continue into the beginning of January. There are usually different markets all across the city. You’ll find stalls selling handmade Christmas gifts and mulled wine along Rustaveli Avenue, near the metro station. Fabrika usually opens its courtyard for a weekend to be turned into a Christmas market. And Antoneli Street becomes a Christmas market street with stalls and decorations as a semi-permanent fixture for a couple of weeks.
Buy Yourself a Traditional Chichilaki
A chichilaki is a beautiful wooden Georgian Christmas tree. A piece of (usually) hazelnut wood has small layers of wood shaved into spirals. Presidential buildings when we visited in winter 2023 were decorated with the biggest chichilaki we saw, while we bought a mini one off a street vendor to bring a bit of festive spirit to our apartment.
It’s Prime Persimmon Season
Even though all the leaves are falling off the trees, the bright orange persimmons remain (which really shocked us!). Georgian persimmon are juicy, sweet and full of flavour. Buy yourself a bagful, but make sure they are soft. Leave them on the side in your accommodation until they are almost squishy – this means that they will be perfect! If you eat them a bit too early, they have an astringent quality which isn’t the best.
A Freshly Baked Lobiani Makes the Perfect Hand Warmer
Georgian bakeries sell a myriad of soft and chewy savoury goods. The absolute ultimate is the lobiani – spiced beans stuffed in a baked bread. Perfect for breakfast, lunch, dinner or even a hefty snack, this is essentially a full meal in itself. We basically lived off these while we visited Georgia.
Tbilisi Doesn’t Wake Up Until 11am
This means that there is no reason to get up early and rush to get things done! Most museums, bakeries, shops etc. won’t get going until late morning, so heading out early is only any good if you want to get some quiet street photography shots. So hibernate in your warm cosy bed for longer without feeling guilty. You’re getting in tune with the true way of Tbilisi life!
Have you experienced Tbilisi in winter? Or maybe you’re adding it to your list?
I’d love to hear your thoughts, recommendations and questions.
Thanks for reading!