What you need to know
Tbilisi commonly known by its former name Tiflis, and often mispronounced as Tiblisi, is the capital and the largest city of Georgia, lying on the banks of the Kura River with a population of roughly 1.5 million inhabitants. Founded in the 5th century by the monarch of Georgia’s ancient precursor the Kingdom of Iberia, Tbilisi has since served, with intermissions, as the capital of various Georgian kingdoms and republics. Under Russian rule, from 1801 to 1917 Tiflis was the seat of the Imperial Viceroy governing both sides of the entire Caucasus.
Located on the crossroads of Europe and Asia, Tbilisi’s proximity to lucrative east-west trade routes often made the city a point of contention between various rival empires throughout history and the city’s location to this day ensures its position as an important transit route for global energy and trade projects. Tbilisi’s varied history is reflected in its architecture, which is a mix of medieval, classical, Middle Eastern, Art Nouveau, Stalinist and Modernist structures.
Population: 1.173 million (2011)
Area: 280.3 mi²
The Georgian Lari is the currency of Georgia. The currency code for Lari is GEL. It is divided into 100 tetri. The name lari is an old Georgian word denoting a hoard, property, while tetri is an old Georgian monetary term (meaning ‘white’) used in ancient Colchis from the 6th century BC. Earlier Georgian currencies include the maneti and abazi.
Tbilisi has a humid subtropical with considerable continental influences. The city experiences very warm summers and moderately cold winters. Like other regions of Georgia, Tbilisi receives significant rainfall throughout the year with no distinct dry period. The city’s climate is influenced both by dry air masses from the east and oceanic air masses from the west. Because the city is bounded on most sides by mountain ranges, the close proximity to large bodies of water and the fact that the Greater Caucasus Mountains Range blocks the intrusion of cold air masses from Russia, Tbilisi has a relatively mild microclimate compared to other cities that possess a similar climate along the same latitudes.
Georgians speak Georgian, English (which is becoming 2nd most-common spoken language) and Russian. Older people speak Russian and Georigan only, while the younger generation mostly speaks English and Georgian, but nowadays you can communicate with people there in the English language.
Tbilisi is very safe after the Rose Revolution. The police system was reformed completely and the recent polls show that public’s trust in police shifted from nearly 10% to 88%. The police are usually quick to respond, though usually only Georgian and Russian are spoken.
While walking is generally fine, even for solo women, it makes sense to take a bus or taxi home at night. Use common sense and big-city awareness. Night time at the clubs and bars are safe, and taxi service is safe as long as it’s a company taxi like “009” or others. The public bus is also a good, safe option for 0.50 lari.
With a GDP at basic prices of 12,147 Million Georgian lari in 2014, Tbilisi is the economic center of the country, generating almost 50 percent of Georgia’s GDP. The service sector, including government services, is dominating and contributes 88 percent to GDP. Its GDP per capita of 10,336 Georgian Lari is exceeding the national average by more than 50 percent. The service sector itself is dominated by the wholesale and retail trade sector, reflecting the role of Tbilisi as transit and logistics hub for the country and the South Caucasus. The manufacturing sector contributes only 12 percent to Tbilisi’s GDP, but is much larger, by employment and total value added, than the manufacturing sectors in any other region of Georgia. The unemployment rate in Tbilisi is – with 22.5 percent – significantly higher in Tbilisi than in the regions.
Tbilisi has a two-line metro system, which operates 06:00-23:59. All signs inside the metro are in Georgian and English. Station names are announced in both English and Georgian as well. There are a few system maps in carriages, usually located above one of the carriage doors. It will be hard to find English speakers riding the Metro; Russian, however, is widely spoken. Take a bilingual map with you if you are not proficient with the local alphabet/pronunciation.
City buses are yellow, and come in various sizes. The bus number and a description of the route are usually listed on signs in the bus windows, but only in Georgian. The city recently installed electronic arrival boards, with reasonably accurate estimated arrival times, at bus stops on major roads. The signs are in English and Georgian, and display the bus number, minutes to arrival, and destination. Board through any door you like, usually the double doors in the middle are easiest. A journey costs GEL0.50, and exact change is required if you don’t have a touch card. If you have a Metromani card, touch it on the top of the card machines and make sure you wait for a paper ticket to be issued. Hold onto the ticket you receive on the bus; you will need to present it to the yellow-shirted ticket checkers.
Taxis in Tbilisi are typically privately owned vehicles, and don’t run on a meter. If you’re going anywhere other than the nearest metro station, major hotels, or tourist destinations, or if you don’t speak Georgian or Russian, it’s likely that your driver will stop multiple times and ask pedestrians for directions. Even then, he may not know how to get to your destination. If the driver has difficulty finding your destination, he will charge you for his trouble. ALWAYS negotiate a price beforehand, and insist on paying before departing. A trip anywhere in the city should never cost more than 15 lari, unless you’re going to the airport. Getting a receipt is also really difficult if not impossible!