After weeks of hiking and seeing the fun and exciting things that Tbilisi, Georgia has to offer, it was finally my last day in Tbilisi and for that matter, Georgia. So I wanted to do something more relaxing. We decided to go around the bathhouse district of Tbilisi called the Abanotubani area and walk around. This is also one of the Instagram spots in Tbilisi. A sulfur bath sounds like such a great idea for a day of relaxation. We’ve been in this area before just exploring and doing photoshoots but we’ve never actually experienced a sulfur bath before.
But before going in it’s important to know a few things about the sulfur baths of Tbilisi. It won’t be a pleasant experience going into it blind.
- 1 What is A Sulfur Bath?
- 2 Where Does the Water Come From?
- 3 Benefits of A Sulfur Bath
- 4 What to Expect from a Tbilisi Sulphur Baths?
- 5 What to Bring in a Sulfur Bath House?
- 6 Tbilisi Bath Houses
- 7 How Much Do Sulphur Baths in Tbilisi Cost?
- 8 Treatments in a Bath House
- 9 My Experience at Gulo’s Thermal Spa
- 10 How to Experience A Sulfur Bath
- 11 Orbellani’s Bath House
- 12 To Prebook or not?
What is A Sulfur Bath?
Let’s start at the very beginning. Legend has it that a long time ago the city was founded by King Vakhtang Gorgasali, King of Iberia, on the natural hot springs he found inside a heavily wooded area when he went hunting with his falcon. The falcon caught a pheasant and they both fell on the natural hot springs nearby where, on different retelling, the birds either both died or were healed by the hot springs.
Impressed by the potential healing properties of the warm sulfur springs, King Vakhtang decided to build a new capital city on top of it and named it Tbilisi, meaning ‘warm’ in old Georgian.
To experience a sulfur bath, you have to take a soak in the sulfuric pool waters of the historic Abonotubani area in Tbilisi. It’s said that the sulfur makes people feel squeaky clean and can heal some ailments. It’s historically a popular stopover on the silk road for people to relax after a long day’s travel. Nowadays, people can experience their upgraded version of a sulfur bath where they can dip in the hot sulfuric pool, get a thorough scrub or massage, go in a sauna, and shower. It turned into a whole fun process to experience.
Where Does the Water Come From?
The water of the sulfur baths come from sulfuric underground springs and can reach temperatures of around 50 to 60 degree Celcius.
Benefits of A Sulfur Bath
Other than being squeaky clean, feeling relaxed, and getting warm on a cold day, the sulfur baths of Tbilisi is said to have some healing properties. Taking a sulfur bath is believed to treat eczema, a dry scalp, and other skin problems such as acne. It’s also believed that the baths can relieve problems of arthritic joints, digestive problems, and insomnia.
What to Expect from a Tbilisi Sulphur Baths?
Among the bathhouses in Tbilisi’s Abonotunabi area, the range of prices goes from cheap to luxurious which says a lot of the different experiences from each bathhouse. The cheaper ones are the public bathhouses where locals most frequent. They’re only about 5 to 10 GEL per person for about an hour in the baths. The baths or more like showers, where locals can take community showers and shave, are separated by gender.
If you’re brave enough to share the communal baths with naked strangers and go naked yourself, it’s a great and authentic way to experience the sulfur baths the way locals do it. I heard that it’s where you can get the hot local gossip but if showering naked with strangers is not your cup of tea then you opt to go for the more expensive private baths.
The private baths are offered by the more luxurious bathhouses are aimed at tourists and is a much more private and relaxing experience that’s ideal for solo travelers, a small group, or couples. And depending on the type of room and services you’ve booked for the hour, the costs can be even a lot more expensive than the public ones. Private rooms can cost around 50 to 500 GEL depending on how luxurious or simple the bathhouses you’ve booked.
It’s better to split the cost with friends as bathhouses allow a maximum of six people in a group to rent their private rooms. You can also pay extra for a body scrub or a massage that’s provided by the bathhouse.
What to Bring in a Sulfur Bath House?
Make sure to bring an ID with a picture or a copy of your passport if you’ve booked online for a sulfur bath. And unless you want to be in the nude, bring a swimsuit to the baths. Men can opt to just use their underwear in the baths as well but be sure to bring an extra pair of dry underpants to change into when your hour’s done.
I highly recommend to bring your own water bottle or just buy a disposable water bottle when you enter the baths because the temperature can get really hot in there. You don’t want to get dehydrated, especially in an environment that’s supposed to be for relaxing.
You should opt to leave your valuables back at the place you’re staying at because, although the baths don’t have a reputation of pickpockets, it’s better to be safe than sorry as many people go in and out of the baths. Though if you really want to bring your valuables, it’s much safer have it with you if you’re renting for a private bath.
You can also bring your waterproof camera or a waterproof phone casing as photography is allowed in the private baths. Not in the public ones, of course.
If you want to save some money, bring your own towel, soap, shampoo, and slippers to the bath. These extra items only cost a few GEL though so it’s not really required. And don’t forget to bring a plastic bag for your wet clothes or a bathing suit after your hour is done in the baths.
Tbilisi Bath Houses
It’s not hard to find the Abonotunabi area of Tbilisi where the bathhouses are located, just use your nose to follow the smell of rotten eggs emanating from the sulfur of the bathhouses and it’s very easy to recognize the historic domed brick roofs of the bathhouses in Abonotunabi. It sits just below the imposing Narikala fortress. There are also some bathhouses in public houses outside of the Abonotunabi area such as Lisi Bath at Lisi lake and Kieve’s Bathhouse at Kieve Street.
On the height of its popularity, there are around 60 bathhouses in Tbilisi where people going in and out of Tbilisi visit to take sulfur baths. Now, there are only around ten bathhouses remaining.
Here are the common ones that attract the most travelers:
- Gulo’s Thermal Spa
- Orbeliani Baths
- Bath House No. 5
- Royal Bath House
- Queen’s Sulfur Baths
How Much Do Sulphur Baths in Tbilisi Cost?
The Bathhouses vary in costs and the private rooms vary as well according to their size and facilities inside. The more expensive rooms are much more spacious and comfortable with complete facilities such as a sauna, hot and cold baths, stone massage table, and a shower. The more basic rooms are a bit more rundown and don’t normally have a dry seating area.
Below is the amount you need to pay to rent each type of room for one hour. Remember you can bring more people to make it much cheaper per person by splitting the cost.
- Luxury Room: 100-120 GEL
- Mid-range Room: 60-80 GEL
- Budget Room: 30-35 GEL
- Massage and Scrub: 10-20 GEL
- Other items (towel, shampoo, soap, etc.): 1-3 GEL each
Treatments in a Bath House
As already stated above, you’ll initially pay for a sulfur bath in a private room for which you can use for an hour but you also have the option to pay extra GELs for other treatments such as the scrub and massage.
- Sulfur Bath – bathing in the sulfuric hot pools is a process that helps treat the skin, improve circulation, and the immune system. You have to soak in the hot sulfur pools then dip into the cold pool nearby. It’s a must-do when visiting Tbilisi’s bathhouses.
- Exfoliation (kisa) or scrub massage – I highly recommend you experience this scrub massage. It can be weird for first-timers but give it a try. It’ll take about 10-15 minutes long where a professional staff of the bathhouse will give you an exfoliating scrub massage using a textured mitt that gets rid of dead skin. You’ll also get a wash with a foamy towel.
- Massage – some bathhouses also offer a massage. Usually, traditional Turkish massages are commonly offered but you can also ask for remedial massage, relaxing massage, and facial massage.
My Experience at Gulo’s Thermal Spa
After a week full of hiking and experiences the exhilarating sites has nd attractions that Tbilisi and Georgia have to offer, I want my last day in Georgia to be relaxing. What better way to relax in Tbilisi than to have a sulfur bath.
Rich and I went to Gulo’s Thermal Spa cause it has the best private room available in the Abonotunabi area at the time we were there. We got a private room for 100 GEL with all the amenities complete. They actually got a smaller room for 40 GEL that’s only missing a sauna but I wanted something extra nice and relaxing for my last day. We also paid roughly 2 extra GEL for towels, soap, and shampoo because we didn’t bring our own.
The private room that we rented was absolutely lovely. There were probably thousands of tiny tiles on the ceiling that resembles eggshells and makes the ambiance of the room very relaxing. We have complete facilities, both hot and cold pools, a sauna, a stone massage table, a shower, and a dry sitting area separated by a glass door where we can leave the things that we want to stay dry. It was just what I was looking for.
How to Experience A Sulfur Bath
We didn’t have any formal instructions once we were left in the baths but I heard that it was customary to get thoroughly showered first before dipping in the pools. Once we have thoroughly showered, we went to the hot sulfuric pool and completely submerged ourselves. A huge wave of water was displaced on the tiled floor! It was quite funny to watch but let that be a warning that inside the baths, everything will get wet.
Be sure to have a steady footing once out of the hot bath. And the bath is really hot so it’s recommended to only submerge in it for 4-5 minutes or you might get lightheaded. After the sulfuric hot water dip, it’s time to take a dib in the cold pool in which another wave of water will displace on the tiled floor.
They say that switching between the hot and cold pools is usually the best way to do the sulfur baths with some minutes spent in the sauna in between. The first thirty minutes of the in the baths are the ideal time to take photos.
After 20-30 minutes in the baths, a staff knocked for the scrub massage. They usually massage the men first but Rich didn’t want a massage so a lady walked in to give me a scrub massage instead.
She asked me to lay on the stone massage on my stomach with my top bare. Which I thought was fine since they won’t be able to see my chest. I was wearing a one-piece swimsuit but I think the massage would have been more comfortable if I were to have worn something like a bikini or be full-on naked but since Rich and I weren’t a couple so there’s no way that I’ll go on naked. The lady was completely professional though.
She scrubbed me all over my body using what looks like a mitten that was abrasive enough to take a layer of dead skin off. Then she washed me with hot water and soaped me up with a soapy towel. It felt like an extended bath. Honestly, it was quite awkward partly because I couldn’t understand what she was saying. It lasted about 10 minutes which I guess for 10 GEL, I got what I paid for but I honestly wanted more.
Once the massage was done I was instructed to shower and I was free to resume bathing in the pools.
I was quite relaxed afterward the entire hour so no complaints here. The staff at Gulo’s are very lovely and nice to us and I definitely would like to have another experience at their sulfur baths again.
Orbellani’s Bath House
So I did mention that I did a sulfur bath on my last day in Tbilisi. That was my experience in Gulo’s Thermal Springs. But somehow, I found myself back in Georgia after leaving for 3 weeks, I decided to go back. Yes, I loved it that much. This time around, I decided to try Orbellani’s Bath House. This one is slightly more expensive than Gulo’s thermal but it comes with prettier rooms and better service too. Also, I met two germans and we decided to share the room, making this room very affordable. The Kisi scrub here costs 20 gel compared to the 10 gel I paid in Gulo’s.
Orbellani’s Bathhouse gets booked really fast though so it’s best that you pre-book ahead of time. You can do so online or just walk in ahead of time.
To Prebook or not?
The first time I tried a bathhouse, it was mid-day on a Tuesday and I had no problems just walking in the bathhouses and ask for an available room. I honestly thought it was that easy ( but wait, sometimes, you are in luck and it is easy). We were able to book a room on the spot the first time. However, the second time we wanted to try the bath, it was a weekend. We had good luck the first time that we didn’t think it was that busy but this time around we weren’t able to find any available rooms. It was only 5PM and there was no room available until 10 PM or the next day. At this point, we knew we weren’t going to be able to get a room that night so we decided to book for the next day. My friend definitely wanted to try Orbellani’s as he tried Gulo’s and Bathhouse no.5 in the past. We did try to get a booking, but even if we were booking for the next day, the schedule was tight already. So I guess, although you can sometimes be lucky and find a room when you walk-in. It doesnt hurt to book so you can be sure that you have a room.
I hope this article helped you with choosing your bathhouse as well as what to expect from a sulphur bath in Tbilisi.