Most travelers prefer big cities like Paris and Amsterdam when visiting Europe. Apparently, there is an underrated country in Caucasus with beautiful scenery and outstanding architecture. And that is the country of Georgia.
If you ever heard of Georgia, the cosmopolitan capital Tbilisi would surely first come into your mind. However, there is another city that is equally gorgeous as the capital. Kutaisi has magnificent natural sites and historical landmarks nearby. Most tourists skip this city and head to the capital Tbilisi or to the mountainous regions like Kazbegi or to Batumi on the coast.
Kutaisi is one of the oldest cities in Georgia and in the world with a population of 150,000. As the capital of West Imereti Region, Kutaisi is the roasting pot of sites that depicts the Georgian culture.
Kutaisi was once a major industrial center of Georgia until Georgia’s declaration of independence in 1991. Things started fall apart for the city as the economy collapsed and people of Kutaisi were forced to work abroad. Nonetheless, the city still holds its old-world charm from its sites and landmarks. Aside from the fantastic places you can visit in Kutaisi, the city offers savoury Georgian cuisine from guesthouses and restaurants. You should definitely try the local delicacies such as kachapuri (Georgian cheese bread), churchkhela, Imeretian cheese, and tkemali (tangy plum sauce).
If you happen to plan a trip to Tbilisi, a stop in Kutaisi for a day is worth a try.
How to Get to Kutaisi
There are direct, cheap flights from other European countries and UAE to Kutaisi. David the Builder Kutaisi International Airport, or also called Kopitnari Airport, is situated about 20 kms from Kutaisi. People opt to fly to Kutaisi going to Tbilisi because of the cheap flights. Wizzair and flydubai are two of the airlines in the Kutaisi airport. There are taxis and marshrutkas (minibus) that could take you to the city center. You have to use the Maxim app to get a taxi or the Bolt app (similar to Uber). To use the Maxim app, you need to purchase a sim card in the airport since the app requires a local number.
From other towns of Georgia
There are available train connections from different towns of Georgia that connects to Kutaisi. However, marshrutkas are the common means of transportation around Georgia. If you want to take a marshrutka to Kutaisi, you don’t have to purchase a ticket in advance. If you are from Tbilisi, the ticket costs around 15-20 GEL and takes 4 hours to reach Kutaisi. The terminal operates at 7-8 a.m and 6-7 p.m. If you are from Batumi, there are marshrutkas to Kutaisi for 10 GEL that takes 3 hours.
If you are from Borjomi, take a Batumi-bound marshrutka since there is no direct marshrutka trip from Borjomi to Kutaisi. The ride costs around 8-10 GEL. However, the marshrutka leaves early in the morning and there is only one available. In case you couldn’t get in time for the marshrutka bound to Natumi, you can take the Khaskuri-bound marshrutka that costs 2 GEL per person. From Khaskuri, ride marshrutka heading to Kutaisi. The ticket costs around 5-10 GEL.
Getting around Kutaisi
In the city itself, sights and other establishments are just a walking distance from your accommodation. However, if you don’t feel like walking, bolt is readily available too. You can also catch a Marshrutka to various parts of the city like #1 will take you to the main bus station.
When to visit Kutaisi
Kutaisi has a humid, subtropical climate- the coldest month is January and the hottest month is August. If you decide to visit in winter, the cafes and restaurants nearby will be your go to places to keep you warm. There’s a low number of tourists during winter so booking a guesthouse won’t be a problem. However, winter is not the ideal time to visit natural sites in Kutaisi.
Summer, on the other hand, is hot and dry and the time when tourists are at its peak. Summer is the ideal time for outdoor sightseeing, kayaking, and trekking the canyons nearby Kutaisi. You have to book in advance for accommodations and reservations in restaurants. Probably the best time to visit Kutaisi is around March to May and September to November for milder temperatures and tourist crowds are not at its peak.
Kutaisi celebrates their most important holiday “kutaisoba” every 2nd of May so if you want to join the merry crowd, book your trip in around that time. People gather around the city center and watch people perform traditional Georgian dances and folk music. People also wear traditional clothes, choxa, during these times it’s like you jump off from a time travel machine. Children sell chamomiles during the holiday to collect money for the poor. Traditionally, ladies collected money instead of the children.
Where To Stay in Kutaisi
There are budget hotels, family-run guesthouses, and hotels you can stay for the night in Kutaisi. The houses are just nearby the sights and restaurants in the city. Family-run guesthouses are the most common accommodation for tourists because they are affordable, safe, and clean. The guesthouses are literally homestays since you share the house with the family. Nonetheless, this isn’t much of a problem. The hosts are friendly and warm. Most hosts would even offer you a ride or tours and suggest places to visit.
Most people actually stay in guesthouses in Georgia because of the home-cooked meals. Some guesthouses include complimentary breakfasts in the room rate. However, some guesthouses make breakfast and dinner for an extra cost and upon request. Breakfast in guesthouses usually cost around 10-15 GEL consists with khachapuri, sulguni cheese, khinkali, fresh tomatoes, bread, and other dishes. Dinner usually costs around 15-20 GEL. This arrangement actually reminds me of homestays and hiking in Tusheti.
Where to eat in Kutaisi
There are several restaurants in the city center that offer the best tasting Georgian food. Local delicacies like khachapuri, tkemali, and sulguni cheese are common in most of these restaurants but there are also some restaurants that serve European dishes.
If you ever crave for pasta or pizza or any other European dishes, Papavero is the place to go. Located inside the old, open-air cinema complex under the Mon Plasir arch in Kutaisi, Papavero serves Georgian cuisines and European-Italian dishes. If you happen to visit Kutaisi in summer, make sure to dine in the lovely front courtyard of the fancy restaurant. The restaurant becomes lively at night with live music, cocktails, and Georgian wine. It is open daily from 10 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.
We just bumped into this restaurant by chance. Honestly, the live band draw my attention plus the garden set up, I immediately asked Rich if we could eat here instead. It was a good decision to do so.
Tea House Foe-Foe
This cute two-level café is housed in an old theatre building with artsy interior and pastel colors. The café is tastefully decorated with murals on the ceiling, mismatched tables and chairs, and bookshelves lining the wall. The place is famous for its loose-leaf teas and their breakfast menu but there’s a full lunch and dinner menu in the café which are mainly European dishes. The place is open from 10 a.m. until midnight.
Rich and I actually worked here twice. They have really good tea, food and a fast wifi complete with a comfortable couch. For those needing a break or for digital nomads to get work done, this is a good spot.
B12 is a hidden gem – it’s an underground KTV! The place isn’t as famous as other bars around the city but the place is as gorgeous. The accommodating staff just made things even better. We happened to bump into some Canadians while we were at a wine bar and they who are also in the mood for KTV.
This one is a 24/ 7 restaurant where obviously most people go to get authentic Georgian food for cheap prices. This is more like comfort food. We saw families ordering loads of Khinkalis and we were wondering why, we first started with ordering the minimum of 5 but it was so good so we decided to get more. This is a good after drinking place or perhaps a way to just have comfort Georgian food.
Now that you know the basics, it’s now time to take a trip to the majestic sights in Kutaisi. From canyons, cathedrals, monasteries, and cable cars, Kutaisi is a beautiful travel destination that offers fun and relaxing activities.
Day 1 – Tour in Kutaisi and Baia’s Wine Tour
In Tsentraluri Moedani Square lies a fountain with two golden horses perched on top and other animal statues just below the horses, adorning the historical fountain. Colchis Fountain is a tribute to commemorate the ancient Kingdom of Colchis.
The statues are the replicas of the figures found during the archaeological excavations in different parts of the country to find evidence that the ancient Kingdom of Colchis do exist. Amazing, isn’t it? When you look closer, you’ll notice the figure of tamada, the main character and toast maker at a traditional Georgian feast with a wine vessel in his hand.
White Bridge and Cable Car
Walk a little further to the White Bridge over the Rioni River. There are three other bridges (Red Bridge, Chain Bridge, and Rustaveli Bridge) in Kutaisi but White bridge is solely the bridge that is a main attraction in the city. It is wonderful to see the river just below you, thanks to a few glass tiles. You’ll notice a few quotes written in Georgian on the bridge. When you walk to the city side of the bridge, you’ll find a small yellow cable car that will take you to Besik Gabashvili Park.The cable car is open from 12 – 20:00 and costs 1 GEL per person so it’s best to take it after lunch or in the afternoon. There is also a bar at the edge of the bridge which is said to be visited by Georgian poets in 19th century. However, the bar looks modern that no old-world charm is left. The location is overlooking the White Bridge and the stones.
Kutaisi State History Museum
Established around 1921-1922, the museum keeps more than 150,000 Georgian cultural items dating from 4th to 6th BC up to late medieval times including collection of oldest epigraphs and Georgian manuscripts and archaeological evidence of antiquity in Western Georgia. The items are displayed inside glass containers with descriptions written in both Georgian and English. The exhibit takes up 10 spaces on two floors. The museum is open from 10 am to 6 pm with an entrance fee of 3 GEL per person. A guided tour around the museum costs 10 GEL per person
Green Bazaar is the main marketplace of Kutaisi. You’ll know you are near Green Bazaar when you see a building’s façade of bas-relief. The market is clean and organized, stalls lining the aisles with their products neatly displayed for the customers. The market features a wide array of different local produce including spices, fruits and vegetables, and Georgian delicacies such as churchkhela. Churchkhela are assorted nuts on a string dipped in fruit juices that dries. The delicacy looks like candle wax but it really tastes good. The market is the roast pot of local cuisines that you won’t find in the restaurants. A wide selection of cheese is also sold in the stalls in the market. This actually reminds me of the food tour in Tbilisi that we attended, it gives the same feel of the Dezerter’s Bazaar. We found some stalls selling secondhand clothes like the ukay-ukay in the Philippines but much cheaper. I saw a jacket that costs around 5 GEL (2 USD). Such a good find but some clothes were too big for me.
Kutaisi’s Vienna-inspired opera house is located near the Colchis Fountain. The location of the opera house used to be Kutaisi Theater. Founded in 1969, the opera house is adorned with classical statues. As you’ll notice, a sitting lion holing out its paw on a globe perches on top of each roof. Statues of tall warriors holding a spear also sit on top of the columns in the building.
Not far from the Green Bazaar is the Kutaisi Synagogue, the grandest and biggest synagogue in Kutaisi. It is located in the historic Jewish Quarter built around 1885. At the entrance, a plaque narrates the history of the building in Georgian and English. The synagogue opens at 8 am – 10 am and 8 pm – 10 pm on weekdays and 9 am – 12 pm on Saturdays.
Cross the White Bridge and ride the small cable car and head to Besik Gabashvili Amusement Park. This can be a nice stop especially when you are traveling with kids. From here ride a taxi or walk 1 km to Bagrati Cathedral. Cross the Chain Bridge and look for the staircase (which I call the Stairway to Heaven because it’s like a never-ending stair-climbing) on the left side of the street. The cathedral is visible at any point of the city so it is less likely to get lost when you walk there.
Bagrati Cathedral, one of the two UNESCO’s world heritage sites in Kutaisi, overlooks the city on top of Ukimerioni Hill, built in 11th century by Bagrati III, the first king of unified Georgia in 1003. The cathedral holds a divine worship every Sunday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Traditional Georgian weddings are also held here. Since it is an orthodox cathedral, women should cover the hair with scarf before entering. When you get inside the cathedral, massive and amazing frescoes will welcome you.The cathedral’s location offers a great view of Kutaisi and the sunset. The entrance is free of charge.
A short walk from the Cathedral is a Botanical Garden. It costs 1 gel to go inside. It’s a good place to just hang out. They even have an altar inside a tree which was good. I just kinda strolled and walked around this area. It would be a good place to just relax, reflect and enjoy a park.
Baia’s Wine Vineyard+ Dinner
Baia’s Wine is located at Obcha Village, in a 5-hectare vineyard. It is not uncommon to have family-run wineries in Georgia as most Georgian families are engaged with wine-making. This award-winning winery serves home-cooked food and gives you a tour around the vineyard and an introduction to the wine making process. Our lovely guide during our visit there is accommodating. The guests can enjoy wine-tasting and sit-down dinner prepared by Baia’s mom. I just wished for a more experiential tour like trying a step in the wine-making process. When we went there, there is a group who requested for a cooking class and they happily obliged.
Day 2: Tskaltubo, Bathhouse No. 6, and Satsnakheli Wine Gallery
It’s time to head a little further from the city to visit abandoned resorts and explore the beauty of this once fantastic place.
It’s time to head a little further from the city to visit abandoned resorts and explore the beauty of this once fantastic place. Tskaltubo is a famous town because of its healing water that can cure up to six diseases. You’ll find several abandoned sanatoriums and bathhouses as you tour around and see a glimpse of once a majestic place. Only three bathhouses are operating out of 20 including Bathhouse Number 6 where Stalin private bath once been. Today, some bathhouses are occupied by Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
Read more about a day trip to Tskaltubo
Heading back to the city, I would recommend to try the Georgian local wine in one of the wine bars. One of the most popular is Satsnakheli Wine Gallery that is located underground with dim lights and wine bottles neatly organized on the wall. Satsnakheli offers wine by glass or bottle but at the time of our visit, they gave us chacha for free. They also serve light lunch/dinner menu including kebabs and shashlik (BBQ) that go well with the wine. The place is open from 12 p.m. to 11:30 pm.
Day 3: Canyons
Of course, you shouldn’t miss the natural sites for an adventure. After sightseeing around the city and visiting abandoned resorts, it’s time to put on our trusty shoes and discover the natural beauty of the Imereti region.
40 kilometers from Kutaisi is the Prometheus Cave, the largest cave in Georgia, boasting with a spectacular view of stalactites and stalagmites, waterfalls, cave pearls, and underground rivers and lakes. In the village of Gordi lies Okatse canyon with a 1.5 km suspension bridge for a magnificent, bird’s-eye view of the Imereti region. If you’re up for kayaking, the green and blue hues of water in Martvili canyon will surely satisfy your crave for adventure. Read more here for more details.
Read more about Canyons and Caves from Kutaisi
Day 4: Chiatura and Khtaski Pillar
When visiting Kutaisi, I suggest you visit the old mining town of Chiatura and ride the 1954 cable cars. 30 minutes from Chiatura is the Khatski Pillar, a limestone pillar with a monastery perched on top. There are several vantage points at the base of the pillar where you can see and take photos in each angle of the pillar. Next stop is the old mining town of Chiatura, which famous for its old cable cars built from the orders of Stalin. Though the cable cars haven’t been renovated since its opening in 1954, it is still safe to ride.
Do you think West Imereti’s capital worth a visit? Would you ever plan a trip in Kutaisi?