Mtatsminda, or Holy Mountain, is now still a revered place, being the home of the Georgian pantheon, but its also got a huge theme park on the top of it. From Tbilisi, you can only see the funicular and a large building that looks something like the Greek parthenon, but what you can’t see is the series of motley amusement park rides that are loosely to the theme of Georgian buildings and cartoons. I say only loosely because it seems to be clear that they tend to get distracted from the theme and things get random, from bumblebees to Roman esplanades.
A theme of sorts
The entrance to Mtatsminda has a nice avenue of Georgian oriented buildings, with the one exception of a giant Avatar figure guarding the entrance, but everything else has the faux traditional quality that has made Six Flags in the US famous.
Not sure of the theme, but it looks fun!
Some fun Georgian balconies
That’s where most of the theme detail is though, as the rest of the park spins out across the hillside in a seemingly random array, much in the same way Georgians seem to approach city planning. No big deal, sometimes theme parks can be a bit too much theme, and this is far from one that takes itself seriously.
There’s a reason for that too. It was started in the 1930s by the Soviet government as just some bland Commie amusement park, and soon became the third most popular park in the USSR (probably because of the cheap wine and great views).
the rides are a splash!
What to do there
As there is no entrance fee, the park is open to just wander around in and enjoy the sights. Cafes are dispersed all throughout, and some of the cafes have pristine gardens that offer tremendous views of the city or hills, depending on which side you’re facing.
fun fact: that Ferris wheel takes 12 minutes to go around
Most people seem to be just wandering around and enjoying the benches, often with their own bottles of wine.
The rides are a bit pricey for the local population. When we were there, the rollercoaster, for example, which was sitting on top of what appeared to be an unfinished construction site, was on sale for 15 lari a 30 second ride. The average salary of a Georgian is about 700 lari, so do the math on how many people are going to be lining up. That said, for the average Westerner, 15 laris is 7 dollars which… actually still sounds expensive for a rollercoaster ride. But then again, at a festival rather than a theme park, I guess it’s normal to drop that much on a ride. So imagine Mtatsminda as a permanent festival.
7 bucks and one loop? I can't even lose my lunch on that!
If you’ve got kids, it’s definitely one of the best spots to go to in Tbilisi. If you don’t have kids, it’s worth a visit for the view. Bring your own bottle of wine or sit back for an overpriced beer to get the most of your visit.
kids love giant bees
did I mention the views?
How to get to Mtatsminda
The best way up is via the funicular, but our lazy bums didn’t want to walk up the steep hill to Kakabadze St. to get there. At Freedom Square there’s a tourist desk, so we asked if there was an easier way to the funicular. “Bus 124 over at Leonidze Street” was the answer. So we crossed the square and waited on Leonidze street. At last our bus came: a decrepit old yellow bus packed full of people. It was a local route bus, meaning that most of the people on it probably couldn’t have cared less about going to the theme park, but rather were just trying to get to their homes and, as the truth is on that mountainous route, their dachas. Short story: the 124 does not go to the funicular, but to the entry of the park itself.
imagine the cliff you've got to scale for this view, now imagine a Tbilisi bus
Route 124 winds up and down, back and forth, ever-so-slowly snaking up its way on the mountainside. If you didn’t get the feeling that the bus would topple over the cliff at any moment, it would have been quite a pleasant ride, but as it was, it was far more thrilling than any of the rides offered at the park. And this for less than 50 cents! It’s certainly full of gorgeous views, but concerning the comfort and fear factor, and that the route takes nearly 45 minutes, it’s probably best to take the funicular, which has all the view and fear and only takes 5 minutes.
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The bus lets you out at the entrance, where there doesn't seem to be a parking lot. Most of the parking snakes down the side of the road, which itself is hanging off the cliff. The parking goes for about a mile and there's no sidewalk, so that must be a fun walk.
There are apparently no buses that go to the funicular. There are little suicide shuttles, called “marshrutkas”, that race up and down. From Freedom Square, you can flag down the 67, the 4, or the 131. Watch yourself on the GPS, and when you’re nearing the funicular, shout out, “Puniculartan gaucheret!”
what it looks like from the outside
Lastly, there are taxis. If you’re coming from Rustaveli, you’ll have to keep rejecting taxi offers until you find a guy willing to do 3 lari. You should pay no more than that. As you're a foreigner, they'll probably keep trying to charge you anywhere from 5 to 10 lari. Don't do it.
When you’re coming off the funicular, there are a queue of taxis that all want anywhere from 5 to 10 lari to get back down to Rustaveli street. Don’t do it! It takes about five minutes to walk down the hill.
Once you’re at the funicular, you’re going to have to pay for it. Find the “salaro”, or cash booth, and fork over 2 lari for a dedicated Mtatsminda card, and then another 3 lari for the ride itself. You can use the same card for the whole group, and the card is good for all the rides on Mtatsminda. I’m not sure if the money you charge on there is refundable, so if you’re planning on spending the day up there, you’d best ask at the cash desk before loading it up.
"funicular" is European for "cable car", by the way