The Ultimate Gay Guide To Tbilisi, Georgia
Tbilisi, Georgia, is fast becoming a hot new digital nomad destination, but Georgia itself is also considered a fairly homophobic country. We wanted to see for ourselves what it’s like for LGBTQ travelers.
We ended up loving it, in part because it’s remarkably affordable by Western standards. But we also had very few problems regarding the “gay” issue. In fact, Tbilisi has a somewhat vibrant LGBTQ community.
In the following post, we’ll give you the pros and cons of living here as a LGBTQ person, as well as all of the practical information you’ll need if you decide you want to check out Tbilisi too.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
IS GEORGIA A GOOD CHOICE FOR LGBTQ TRAVELERS
Georgia definitely has some serious issues when it comes to how it treats its own LGBTQ citizens. Which isn’t surprising given that this corner of the world is seriously homophobic. To the east of Georgia is Azerbaijan, which rates as the least gay tolerant country in Europe. To the west is Turkey, the second least tolerant. To the south is Armenia, which ranks only slightly better than Azerbaijan. And just to the north is Russia. Indeed, less than 200 kilometers from where we are, lies Chechnya, where gay men were being tortured as recently as 2017.
That said, in terms of official legal protections in Europe, Georgia ranks near the middle of the pack in rankings done by ILGA-Europe, an LGBTQ rights organization.
However, when ranked by “Civil Society Space,” or how easy it is to be out as an LGBTQ person, Georgia plunges to near the bottom.
Why? It’s because of the very homophobic Eastern Orthodox Church, which holds a great deal of sway over a country where well over 80% of the population belongs to the church. In fact, the church has so much power the government is basically afraid to enforce its own laws.
When Tbilisi Pride tried to have a pride celebration in the summer of 2019, the backlash was so vitriolic that organizers eventually pulled the plug. And when activists later tried to hold a smaller rally, a homophobic Georgian businessman organized vigilante mobs that chased them around the city.
So, yeah, this isn’t San Francisco.
That said, we spoke to at least six gay men who were unanimous about gay life here: “It’s not hard to be gay. You just need to be discreet.” (They all acknowledged things were much worse for transgender and gender-nonconforming people.)
For foreigners, however, the situation is different..
For starters, as an outsider, you benefit from the what we call the Weird Foreigner Rule, which exists in almost every country: basically, as long as you are discreet, locals don’t apply the local mores to you. Especially if you’re spending much-needed tourist cash.
Second, things are changing here, especially for younger people. Thanks to the internet, movies, and television, younger LGBTQ Georgians are much more likely to be out, at least to close friends, and also feel much less shame about their sexual orientation. They can also easily and discreetly connect with others on dating apps.
Other signs of progress include a newly active Tbilisi Pride fighting for equality, a second gay bar opening, and an ever-expanding list of queer-friendly spaces. Once a month there is also Horoom Nights, an underground queer party that is rapidly becoming very well-known.
HOW TO GET TO TBILISI
Getting here by plane is difficult. Georgian Airways is the national airline, but it’s small: its fleet currently stands at nine airplanes serving twenty-two destinations. And they don’t even fly to each of those destinations every day.
We flew Georgian to the Tbilisi airport via … Bologna, Italy. (We happened to be in Grimentz, Switzerland; it was the closest direct flight.)
Ryan Air recently announced they’re going to start serving Tbilisi in November of this year. Hopefully, that will bring the cost down on some of the other airlines, since flights to here are expensive. Making matters worse, most flights to Tbilisi arrive well after midnight — and depart long before the crack of dawn.
So plan on arriving at 2 a.m. in the morning. (Keep in mind the governments of Russia and Georgia don’t like each other very much, and as of this writing, Vladimir Putin has banned all flights from Russia to Georgia.)
WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU LAND
Once you arrive in Tbilisi, things immediately start looking up. Why? Because not only do you not need to apply for a visa ahead of time, if you’re from one of these countries in green, then you’re going to get a visa for a year — yes, you read that correctly, a year — in about two minutes, with no cost and no paperwork to fill out. Clearing customs and immigration is a breeze: Georgia is currently making things very easy for digital nomads. Because you get a visa for a year, there is no requirement to have an onward ticket and no questions about how much you have in the way of funds to pay for your visit.
And don’t worry about arriving in the middle of the night. There are cash machines and open currency exchanges just outside of customs. Plus, an almost overwhelming crush of taxis (and very eager taxi drivers.
There is no Uber or Lyft in Georgia, but you can download the ride-sharing services Yandex or Bolt (formerly known as Taxify). If you do decide to take a cab from the airport, confirm a price beforehand — and write it down on your phone and show it to the driver, so you can refer to it later (airport cabs make a habit of gouging new arrivals). If you’re traveling into the city, don’t pay more than 45 GEL ($15 USD).
Away from the airport, Tbilisi does have a limited metro (very old, though currently being updated) and a bus system, as well as marshrutka system, which is a sort of taxi-share system that follows a specific route letting you get on only at certain stops, but off anywhere you want. Information on the bus schedules can be found here. Buses and subways are extremely cheap, you’ll also need a plastic, rechargeable Metromoney card (5 GEL or $2 USD)
We found the taxis to be so cheap by Western standards that we took them everywhere in the city, and it never cost us more than 7 GEL (or $3 USD). We preferred Yandex to Bolt, because Yandex has a minimum charge of 2 GEL (80 cents USD), whereas Bolt has a minimum of 4 GEL.
WHERE YOU SHOULD STAY
Business Insider says Tbilisi is the cheapest place in Europe to rent through Airbnb, with rooms costing an average of $26 USD/night, but honestly, that seems expensive to us, given what we and our friends paid.
If you’re staying for weeks at a time, consider booking a few days on Airbnb or Booking.com, then looking for a cheaper option once you’re here (paying in cash and in person will always be cheaper than booking online).
Check out this Facebook group for apartments to rent in Tbilisi. You can also find recommendations on the Tbilisi Digital Nomads page (which you should check out before coming anyway) or this one for expats living in Tbilisi. Another option is to use a local agent (most handle rentals).
If you’re on a budget, consider the great Fabrika Hostel.
In terms of area, long-term LGBTQ travelers should consider the Vake and Saburtalo neighborhoods.
Vake (Va-kay), an attractive tree-lined neighborhood, has a young and hip vibe. There are plenty of restaurants and coffee shops, and it’s not far from the “touristy” parts of town that you’ll probably want access to.
Many nomads also live in the residential neighborhoods around Old Town, which provides quick access to bars and nightlife, but avoids the higher prices of the tourist core. Vera is right next to Vake, and the Saburtalo neighborhood is generally quiet. But outside of these hipper areas, parts of Tbilisi may fit your image of what life was like in the Soviet era: lots of concrete apartment blocks, few shops, and not much to do.
WHERE YOU SHOULD WORK
If you’re a digital nomad or simply staying for a while, here are your coworking options:
Terminal has two locations in town. The larger location in Vake has great Wi-Fi, assigned desks with ergonomic chairs, tons of space, a coffee shop on-site, a nice outdoor area, a small kitchen with a microwave, and is open 24/7. Coffee/tea is not provided.
A month at Terminal costs around 30 GEL/day ($10 USD) , or 425 GEL/month ($142 USD).
The staff at Terminal is terrific, and it’s fantastic location and set-up, but it is very noisy. It’s also very much a spot for locals, as opposed to digital nomads. That means it has a pretty different vibe, since a lot of folks there are working on projects together — hence, a lot of impromptu meetings and phone calls taken at desks.
Terminal is working on creating quiet areas, which would help alleviate the noise issues.
Part of the global Impact Hub community, Impact Hub Tbilisi is located in an old Soviet-era sewing factory that is part of the Fabrika complex (which includes the aforementioned hostel). With one large light-filled space, Impact Hub has a very open feel to it.
Impact Hub has a bit more complicated price structure than Terminal, but unlimited access for a month will run about $120 USD. A reserved desk is $150 USD.
Rows of desks take up most of the space, several glassed-in meeting rooms filling up the remainder. In addition to the high-speed Wi-Fi, there is small kitchen with a refrigerator, microwave, and dishwasher. Private lockers are also available with the more expensive memberships (and unlike at Terminal, coffee/tea are provided). The desks are tables, but functional. The chairs are are okay, but definitely not as nice as the ones at Terminal.
Despite the open-air space, we found Impact Hub to be surprisingly quiet (but we only worked there one day since it was a long way from our apartment). One long-term member reported that it was mostly quiet, though the meeting rooms weren’t especially sound-proof.
WORK FROM GEORGIA
Work From Georgia is an innovative program connecting digital nomads with local companies that have available desk space. Better yet, it’s free. Work From Georgia has a platform that is very easy to use to reserve a spot. You can easily find which of the participating offices have desks available, what amenities are provided, hours of operation, and their location. With 31 companies participating, that means there’s a pretty good chance something will be near you.
For an even more in-depth dive into the three choices, check out our review covering all of Tbilisi’s coworking options.
And naturally, working in coffee shops and restaurants is always an option too.
Georgia uses a standard European 220 volt outlet; a universal adapter will also work.
The two largest grocery chains (called hypermarkets) are Carrefour and Goodwill. Both carry most everything you’ll need for day-to-day basics, though we recommend buying your fruits and veggies at one of the many stands located on almost every block (produce is much cheaper and fresher there). But if you do buy your fruit at the store be sure to get it weighed and tagged before going to the checkout! And be warned: Carrefour is usually understaffed and check-out lines long during busy times.
Spar is a smaller chain, more like a convenience store, and you’ll find one almost every other block. Also on almost every block are pharmacies (helpfully marked by glowing green crosses) where you can pick up things like aspirin, personal products, and, of course, prescription medications.
A note of warning for Americans: Over-the-counter products are much more expensive here than in the US. So if you take a lot of a certain medication — ibuprofen, for instance — stock up before you come.
Georgia isn’t a wealthy country, but there is still some high-end shopping. There are several malls, but the largest, nicest, and most western is Galleria Tbilisi, located right in the heart of the city. It’s got a food court, sit-down restaurants, a great cinema complex, a small bowling alley, as well as shops like North Face, H&M clothes, and plenty of others. It even has a metro stop.
And if you’re looking for hard-to-find Western items like American-style peanut butter, or healthier, organic options, check out the three Europroduct shops.
Tbilisi has plenty of gyms and health clubs. Snap has three locations and had top-notch facilities and equipment. If you belong to Terminal, you get a 10% discount off the 120 GEL/month cost ($40 USD). Aspira also has three locations. Tbilisi isn’t the best place for running, as drivers can be very aggressive and the sidewalks tend to be crowded, but there are a lot of local parks.
Most LGBTQ Georgians meet on dating or hookup apps, and that’s a good way for visitors to tap into the local LGBTQ community as well.
But one gay digital nomad friend reports that actual “dating” is difficult. “In every country I’ve visited,” he tells us, “I usually match with a handful of interesting guys. In Georgia, this has been a more difficult task. Georgia is a heavily Orthodox culture, and that unfortunately has a chilling effect on gay life. I’ve connected with various guys online who — when I’ve asked them out — have explained that they can’t be seen in public with strange foreign men.”
LGBTQ BARS AND NIGHTCLUBS
Location: 3 Vashlovani St, T'bilisi
Open every night at 10:30 PM except Mondays
This is a small space, and the interior is cramped — two small rooms, one with a bar and the dance floor, the other a place to just sit. But it’s a lively crowd, especially after midnight. Being one of Tbilisi’s only two bars, Success attracts a pretty eclectic crowd, and it’s nice to see folks mixing that might otherwise be going to their own separate clubs in a larger, more tolerant city.
Location: 22/35 Lado Asatiani St.
Open every night at 9 PM
This is Tbilisi’s only other official gay bar.
Location: 2, Akaki Tsereteli Ave.
Open dates and times vary
While Bassiani itself is undoubtedly queer-friendly, what makes this very famous bar of special note for LGBTQ visitors is a once-a-month queer party called Horoom Nights.
This event requires you to register online ahead of time where you have to supply your passport number and give them access to your Facebook page. This is so event organizers can vet everyone to keep out homophobic elements that might want to stir up trouble.
Check out our report on Horoom Nights. We found it to be a very interesting experience, well worth the effort to attend.
KIKI CLUB KHIDI
LOCATION: President Heydar Aliyev Embankment
OPEN: Friday/Saturday only 11 PM to 10 AM.
Another underground techno club that isn’t specifically gay, but definitely LGBTQ friendly.
Location: 11 Ioseb Grishashvili St,
Open: 7 AM to 10 PM
Please note: This is not a sex club. Tbilisi is known for its large complex of natural mineral spring bathhouses, and one of them is considered LGBTQ-friendly.
Information about which of the other baths are LGBTQ-friendly — and possibly cruisy — should be taken with a grain of salt. Be extremely cautious.
Location: 34 Alexander Griboedov St.
Open: Open seven days a week, but hours vary
Despite its name, Cafe Gallery is also a nightclub, as well as a cafe. And it’s queer-friendly. But the service is inconsistent.
Location: 7, Tamar Chovelidze St.
Open: 11 AM to 1 AM
A terrific restaurant with a young, hip vibe and great food. A great meeting spot that we highly recommend.
Location: 8 Egnate Ninoshvili St,
Open: 24 hours
Here you’ll not only find the hostel, but an entire collection of restaurants, bars, and coffee shops built around a fantastic central courtyard in what used to be an old Soviet sewing factory. Fabrika attracts a young, diverse, multicultural, LGBTQ and gay-friendly crowd.
Location: 11 Kote Afkhazi St.
This is one of our favorite places, with great food and a quirky charm. The stairs are off-kilter, and so is the vibe. The outdoor balconies are perfect for people-watching (and the handsome Georgian men are definitely worth watching).
Location: 3 Merab Kostava St,
An excellent and inventive vegetarian restaurant with delicious, Middle Eastern-inspired cuisine. The restaurant is run by a charming Israeli family. Don’t be put off by the dingy courtyard or the fact that you have to ring a bell to be admitted — it’s all just part of the adventure!
Location: 22, Pavle Ingorokva St,
We had a charming dining experience at this tiny Old Town restaurant that serves traditional Georgian food. The “gimmick” of the restaurant is that it’s in a family’s apartment, except it’s not really a gimmick: it really is their apartment. You can watch the (delicious) food being prepared right in front of you. If you’re lucky, Grandpa might pop down and play the piano for you.
Location: 1 Vasil Petriashvili Street
Excellent Georgian food, served in a redeveloped wine factory that also includes a Mexican and Italian restaurant. This is a hopping place at night, with a must-see, visually stunning wine bar located next door.
With locations in Vake, Saburtalo, and Dadiani, this take-out Asian restaurant was our go-to spot for fast, good, inexpensive Asian food (about 10 GEL, or $3.50 USD, for the most expensive dish). The portions are huge and can easily be split between people.
This local chain is a great choice for quick, healthy, and relatively inexpensive food. Sandwiches are around 7 GEL (or $3 USD), and chicken, beef, and vegetarian dishes are almost all under 15 GEL (or $5 USD). They also have beautiful pastries, as well as fresh bread baked right on location, and pretty great coffee.
Some of our favorite coffee shops include Chocolaterie Artisan & Specialty Coffee, Hurma, and the Althaus Tea Room.
Tbilisi has two food delivery services: Glovo and Wolt (customer service is much better on Wolt).. The restaurant selection is good, and the service was fast and affordable.
THE FUN TOURISTY STUFF
In a way, we’re saving the best for last. In addition to being remarkably affordable, there are a lot of fascinating things to do in this historic city located at the crossroads of the Silk Road. Here are a few highlights:
Tbilisi is famous for its public sulfur baths in the Abanotubani neighborhood. Each bathhouse has its own unique style, but we went to Chrela Abano and had a great time. We rented an entire suite for an hour — lounge area, changing room, showers, soaking tub, showers, and a massage room where we got the peel (more of a scrub) and the famous “soap massage” — for a total of 60 GEL (or $20) a person.
The labyrinth-like Old Town, which oozes charm, is definitely must-see. While wandering the streets, be sure to get some of the Georgian candy known as “churchkhela,” which looks likes colorful candles, but is actually walnuts threaded onto a string and then dipped in thickened fruit juice.
Mtatsminda Park, an amusement park on a bluff almost eight hundred meters above Tbilisi, gives you a great view of the city. The rides are cheesy, but are fascinating for their strangeness. Don’t worry — you don’t have to walk to the top. A funicular whisks you to the summit for just a few lari.
On another of the city’s hills, the ancient Narikala Fortress lies in fascinating ruins, dating back to the city’s founding in the 5th century A.D. Take the gondola up or, better yet, hike the tourist trail. While at the top, look up at the 20-meter-tall Kartlis Deda sculpture (a local variation on the Mother Georgia goddess); she guards the city, massive sword in hand. While at the top of the hill, you can also explore the Tbilisi Botanical Gardens, which wind backward into the valley.
Like any good European city, Tbilisi has plenty of parks and public space. Rike Park stands along the banks of the Kura River, which you can cross via the pedestrian-only Bridge of Peace. There’s also Vake Park, Turtle Lake, and Vera Park.
The Holy Trinity Cathedral of Tbilisi was built between 1995 and 2004 and is one of the largest religious buildings in the world by area. It was built to commemorate the 2000th birthday of Jesus. The outside is quite striking, but the inside is soulless and sterile, more like the lobby of a Hilton Hotel than Notre Dame.
Want to get a bit more insight to what Georgians think about their lives? Check out some Georgian stand-up. Seeing what another culture finds funny is a great way to learn about them.
Georgia has been producing wine since the Neolithic era, and they’re especially known for its white wines. There are several wine festivals each year and wine tours are plentiful.
Looking for a day-trip or overnight stay outside the city? The Kazbegi Mountains are your best bet. You can also visit Batumi on the coast of the Black Sea, or take a trip down to Armenia, and see Mt. Ararat from the Armenian side of the border with Turkey.
For a map of all of the locations mentioned above, just click here!
If you’re still looking for a reason to come to Tbilisi, consider the lovely climate. Lows rarely drop below 4C/40F or go higher than 32C/9oF, and rain is rare.
A WORD ABOUT GEORGIANS
English is widely spoken (almost universal among the young, and very common even among the old), and Georgians are famous for their hospitality. But it must be said: from a Western perspective, Georgians are somewhat reserved. And sometimes a bit odd. Customer service is spotty at best. Michael, who is naturally friendly, sometimes found Georgians a bit cold or socially awkward. But we found LGBTQ Georgians to be very friendly and welcoming, and definitely curious about foreign visitors. Once we tapped into the community, we soon found ourselves overwhelmed with invitations to social events.
We hope this guide has you excited about coming to Georgia. We absolutely loved it here and plan on coming back. If you have any questions or comments, please share them in the comments!
Casa Netural in Matera, Italy
Coworking Bansko in Bansko, Bulgaria
Ko Hub in Koh Lanta, Thailand
Hub Hoi An in Hoi An, Vietnam
Swiss Escape in Grimentz, Switzerland