Visiting Tbilisi’s mineral sulfur baths is one of the most pleasant and memorable experiences you can have in Georgia’s capital city. “Tbilisi” directly translates to “warm place,” and the widely taught myth of the city’s founding involves these natural hot springs.
The myth 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, several different sulfur bathhouses are clustered together. They are all below ground level with 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 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.
When you check in to one of the baths, the front desk will ask if you want a massage or kisa for an additional 20 GEL per person. If you say yes, 15 minutes after your bath time starts the masseuse enters 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 and beating branches and total nudity, but it is not exactly relaxing. After a rather vigorous full-body scrub, the masseuse 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.