Visiting Tbilisi’s mineral sulfur baths is one of the most pleasant and memorable experiences you can have in Georgia’s capital city. The name “Tbilisi” comes from the word for “warm place,” and the widely taught myth of the city’s founding involves these natural hot springs.
The legend states that in medieval times, King Vakhtang went hunting with his falcon (or hawk in some versions of the story) in a heavily wooded region in central Georgia. The falcon caught a pheasant and during the struggle, both birds fell into the hot spring and died from their injuries. The king was so impressed with the hot water that he decided to clear the forest and build a city around this natural wonder.
In the Abanotubani neighborhood in Old Tbilisi, a dozen different sulfur bathhouses are clustered together. They are all below ground level and some have semi-circular domed ceilings that allow natural light to stream through. The ceilings also function like little chimneys, for sulfur steam and fresh air circulation in the baths. The sulfuric water is not only gloriously warm (38-40 degrees Celsius on average), it is also supposedly therapeutic. Aside from simply being a relaxing experience, they are also thought to help with various skin ailments like acne and eczema, as well as digestion, insomnia, and arthritis.
Visitors can choose between the public baths (communal sex-segregated pools where everyone bathes together) or private rooms. Both are charged by the hour. Prices range from 5 GEL for entry to the public baths right up to 200 GEL for a luxe room with a private sauna.
When you check in, the front desk will ask if you want a massage or kisi (kisa) for an additional 10-20 GEL per person. If you say yes, 15 minutes after your bath starts a Mekise will enter your room with a special coarse glove for exfoliating and massaging your body. It’s not a full-on banya experience with the suffocating steam, beating branches and total nudity, but it is not exactly relaxing either.
After a rather vigorous full-body scrub, the Mekise will rinse the soap off your body with hot sulfur water. The entire experience lasts about 15 minutes and returning to the sulfur bath afterward feels amazing.
Know Before You Go
The map coordinates point to Royal Bath House, one of the most popular baths in Abanotubani. Private rooms cost 140 GEL. In the room, you'll find a changing area, private sauna and plunge pool, and private sulfur bath. Bring with you: swimsuit, flip flops, towel, waterproof bag to hold your suit after use, a bottle of fresh water, shampoo/conditioner/soap, hairdryer, and any other toiletries you need to freshen up after your soak. There are plenty of restaurant options within walking distance for lunch or dinner after your trip to the baths.