Experiencing a Sulphur Bath in Tbilisi, Georgia

Sulphur baths are a thing in Tbilisi. Australian blogger, Emily Lush, who has made Georgia her home, lists having a sulphur bath as one of the “must do” activities when visiting the capital of the Georgian city.

Will I or won’t I have a Sulphur Bath?

A few years ago, after initially being challenged by a Russian Banya experience, I stepped out of my comfort zone and stripped off to embrace the banya followed by and an icy cold dip in Lake Baikal. Having conquered that memorable experience, I was keen to put a sulphur bath high on my list of things to do when I went to Georgia recently.

The Sulphur Baths in Tbilisi are in Abanotubani
Looking Across to Abanotubani

Tbilisi means “warm place’, a fitting name as there are numerous hot sulphur springs running beneath the city. The Sulphur bathhouses are in an area called Abanotubani, a short walk from our hotel in Old Tbilisi. Brick domes with little brick chimney-type vents crown the few bathhouses that remain of the 65 or so that operated during the days of the Silk Road.

As the time draws closer for me to book a sulphur bath experience, I almost chicken out. Do I really want to do this? Knowing that I will regret not going, and having an obliging if not completely on-board partner to join me, I decide to give it a go.

Public or Private?

We have a choice. To go public or to go private. For our ‘first time’, we choose to ease into the experience by going private. This means we have a sulphur bath to ourselves. The public baths may be more affordable, but they also mean stripping off in front of strangers. We can always try the public baths later if we have time.

Gulo’s Thermal Spa

Emily’s top choice for a private bathhouse is Gulo’s Thermal Spa, so that’s the one we settle on. Rather than booking via Facebook – I want to check the place out and talk to someone – we walk to Gulo’s as part of our morning walk. There are a few cars parked in the cobble-stoned courtyard A group of black clad men sit outside drinking tea. I wonder if they work at the bathhouse or are clients relaxing after their bath.

Have a sulphur bath experience at Gulo's Thermal Spa in Abanotubani, Tbilisi
Gulo’s Thermal Spa

The man behind the desk has almost no English. He shows us a beautiful private room decorated with mosaic murals in shades of blue. There are two plunge pools, hot and cold, beneath a dome ceiling decorated with more mosaics. We like the look of it and book for later in the day, asking to include towels, slippers, soap and the all-important kisi, an exfoliation scrub performed by a mekise.

Our Sulphur Bath Experience

When we arrive, the door to the room we’ve booked is firmly shut. It’s obviously in use. A woman shows us to a different bathroom, nicely decorated but not quite as ‘swish’. I try to stand my ground, but the woman, who has some English tells us that the room we booked has a sauna and “you don’t want a sauna do you?”

A sulphur bath in Tbilisi
Looking from the ‘Dry’ area to the bath area

What to wear?

You can go naked or wear bikini bottoms as Emily suggests. Men can make do with underpants. Not having a bikini, I have brought spare undies along, but in the end decide to strip right down. After all, I will never see the mekise again and s/he will have seen it all before anyway.

Couples or groups hire private rooms for sulphur baths.
The Shower and a Marble ‘Bed’

Leaving our clothes in the dry area, we shower before plunging into the larger hot bath behind which is an abstract mosaic of people in various stages of embrace. I decide not to think too much about what it’s supposed to be.

What is the water like?

The water is hot – somewhere between 38˚C and 40˚C. When the heat becomes uncomfortable, we climb across and into the smaller cold blue-tiled bath.

“Holy shit!” exclaims my partner, catching his breath, as he submerges himself in the cold water. Alternating between the hot and cold tubs, our bodies soon adjust and the extremes of temperature are no longer a bother.

The Mekisi

A woman enters the room. She’s dressed in sneakers, black pants and a black t-shirt with LEVIS emblazoned in bold white letters across her chest. After filling a bucket with warm water from the hot tub, and throwing the water across a long narrow red marble slab, she beckons for me to get onto the slab.

Alternate between the hot and cold tubs when having a sulphur bath.
Cold tub on right, Bigger Hot tub at the back

The Kisi Scrub

I climb onto the slippery surface and lay down on my stomach. Starting with my arms, the mekisi rubs a loofa-like glove all over me. It feels rough, but surprisingly good. She has sufficient English to give me the curt instructions needed to perform her role.  Finished with my back, she directs me to “Turn!”

I do and almost slide off the slippery marble slab, stopped only by her body. I’m like putty in her hands as she rubs and scrubs. When she’s finished, a weird thing happens. She dips a white pillow case decorated with little blue flowers into a bucket of warm water. It blows up like a balloon with foam billowing out through the fabric. She gently presses the pillow case onto my back and covers me in foam.

Another view of the dry area

Having been thoroughly soaped, the mekisi again fills her bucket with hot water which she throws over me. “Sit!” she orders. I do and she tips two more buckets of hot water over my head. She walks over to the cold tub and fills the bucket. I groan “Oh no!” as it dawns on me what is coming next. I brace myself and gasp as icy water flows through my hair, down my neck and shoulders down to my hips.

“Finish!” says the mekise and leaves the room. I gratefully plunge back into the warmth of the hot tub, feeling clean and invigorated.

My Partner’s Turn

A man wearing only long board shorts enters and it’s my partner’s turn. His experience is similar but different from mine. His mekise is rougher and kneels on the marble bench for more leverage to enable him to give a short deep calf massage which causes BK to gasp.

I watch the process while relaxing lying front down in the hot tub. I’m fascinated as the ‘pillow case’ billows with foam. When BK is covered from top to toe with fluffy white foam, I chuckle out loud. He looks like the abominable snowman.

After rinsing the foam off with hot water, the mekise looks to me. He’s asking permission to walk in front of me to the cold-water tub and fill the bucket with cold water. I readily agree. BK needs to have the same cold-water experience that I had!  

Our kisi over, we alternate between the hot and cold tubs until it’s time to leave. That’s when we get a pleasant surprise. The price we were quoted was for the room and not per person as we expected.

Will we have another Sulphur Bath?

Our skin is bright pink when we walk out feeling fresh and almost light and floaty. The sulphur bath and kisi scrub was an amazing experience, one we’ll both readily do again.

Don’t walk on the roofs

Read more about Bathhouse etiquette in Emily Lush’s post about the subject.


  1. How fabulous Joanne…! ????
    What an experience and very brave to go the full monte ????

    Really enjoyed reading about it


    1. Author

      Thanks, Chrissy. I can’t believe that I actually stripped off!

  2. Brought back wonderful memories of our sulphur bath in Tbilisi a few years ago. Would love to go back for another.

  3. Great read Jo. You are always “up” for something interesting!

    1. Author

      Thanks, Robyn. Saying ‘yes’ leads to some great adventures!

  4. What a fabulous experience Joanne. Can’t wait for one myself in the future!

  5. I love the way you described this experience. After reading your post, I would definitely sign up for the private one.

  6. Interesting read Jo did BK feel the same. I guess i can safely put it on my bucket list knowing it will never happen

  7. Very brave Joanne…..being naked, dunked in hot and cold water, scrubbed and foamed! What a great experience. The rooms look exquisite although the entrance to the facility looks foreboding. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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