How To: Ride the Tbilisi Metro
Tbilisi straddles the Mtkvari River and basically runs (for the purposes of most visitors) from the northwest to the southeast, and for me, getting around using the Metro was the best option. not only do you not have to deal with the overcrowded buses (which are admittedly intimidating), but even though i pretty much traveled within a 3-4 stop area, even taking it for one stop was an easy choice because rides are only 50 tetri (=.50 lari, = 21 US cents) no matter how far you go, and allow unlimited transfers within 90 minutes (even getting back on the subway). making it even easier is that subway and bus (…good luck?) transit options are available in Google Maps when selecting public transit navigation.
my airbnb is located about a block from the Rustaveli stop, which made it super convenient to get down to the Old Town (although the walk along Rustaveli Ave. is a great option for when you’re not in a rush and not tired).
there are two lines, the Red (unfortunately shown as Blue in the diagram above) and Green which meet at Station Square I station. i pretty much used the following stops:
- Marjanishvili — a nice shopping square
- Rustaveli — the top end of the main thoroughfare (Rustaveli Ave.) and where my Airbnb is
- Tavisuplebis Square (aka Freedom Square aka Liberty Square on signs) — the top end of Old Town
- Avlabari — closest to the southeast part of the city center and the bottom end of Old Town, as well as the touristy spots on the east side of the river
unfortunately there aren’t signs on the streets that i saw that point you to the stations; you’ll likely have to refer to a map (printed or Google or otherwise). they are identified by the big M:
all fares are processed via the contactless Metromani (also known as Metromoney) card. a card costs a refundable 2 lari ($0.84) on which you load however much you think you’ll need (there’s no minimum so theoretically you can just load every time, but that’s a pain since you have to deal with a human [yes, i said it]). at the station, go to the window with the “al+ms” (well, it looks like those letters at least) logo on it (many stations also have a bank branch; don’t go to that window):
indicate that you need a card (in my experience, the agents didn’t understand English too well, but you can easily get by) and how much you want to load on it. i tried to ask for a card and 3 rides (2 lari + 1.5 lari, since each ride is .5), but she gave me a card and 3 lari worth of rides, which was fine since i ended up using that many anyways. if you plan on returning the card to get your 2 lari back, save your receipt as you will need to show it. once you get the card, proceed to the turnstiles. place the card on the plastic area on the top of a turnstile and the red light will change to a green light and a chime will sound. pass through and voila!
to return the card, go to any ticket window and indicate you want to return it (i gave the card to the lady with my receipt and she made a horizontal chopping motion with her arms and i nodded). you will need to also present your passport and sign a form that they will fill out for you.
riding the rails
the stations are very Soviet in design and layout (which makes sense since the system was built when Georgia was part of the USSR) so you will have a loooong escalator ride ahead of you.
i’ve heard reports that they are starting to renovate stations but the ones i was in were pretty dismal and bleak. unlike their brethren in Moscow, St. Petersburg, or even Kiev, the stations were quite dull (and dim) in terms of interiors. when you get to the bottom of the escalator you will see a large overhead sign that indicates which platform you will need to wait at.
it’s a little confusing but you are at the station that’s colored in; the stations with the circle are the ones on the other line that you can connect to at Station Square I (which has a little bar that connects the two columns). some stations have wifi service (“Tbilisi Loves You” network name) and you may be able to get cell phone service down there as well depending on where you are. once you’re at the platform, locate the digital clock at one of the ends (that end indicates the direction of travel) — the leftmost section is the current time, the center section is the time until the next train, and the right section is the time since the last train. the middle countdown is pretty accurate although it may jump around a bit. (all of this is typically Soviet, from my experience.)
when the train arrives, get on in. the trains are nothing fancy. at all. on the bright side, there are station announcements in English. you will not need your card to exit the station, just head out and explore!
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