I was planning to visit Kutaisi during my first trip to Georgia in October 2011. But I didn’t, for a very prosaic reason – Tbilisi sucked me in and this affection lasts till now.
Years have gone, I’ve been a frequent visitor to the Caucasus countries, often passing by Kutaisi airport, but I never really made it to the city. I was always rushing somewhere else, either to Tbilisi and further to Armenia or to Batumi and the Black Sea coast.
During my probably 5th trip to Georgia, I’ve decided to give the city finally a chance and to see if it is worth visiting Kutaisi. And I was pleasantly surprised with all the things to do in Kutaisi!
I’ve been to the city three times by now and I still discover new Kutaisi attractions. The city is also a perfect base for some amazing day trips from Kutaisi – Imereti region of Georgia offers so much but is often in the shadow of more popular destinations.
If you are wondering what to do in Kutaisi I’m here to help. I put together this Kutaisi travel guide with all the best things to do there and beyond as well as some travel tips so you can plan your own trip to Kutaisi.
Table of contents
- 1 Where is Kutaisi, Georgia?
- 2 A brief history of Kutaisi
- 3 Why you should visit Kutaisi
- 4 How to get to Kutaisi
- 5 How many days you need for visiting Kutaisi
- 6 Where to stay in Kutaisi
- 7 How to get around Kutaisi
- 8 Things to do in Kutaisi
- 8.1 Visit Bagrati Cathedral
- 8.2 See other temples of Kutaisi
- 8.3 Take the cable car to the amusement park
- 8.4 Enjoy street art
- 8.5 Wander around the center
- 8.6 Admire beautiful art-nouveau buildings
- 8.7 Visit the local market
- 8.8 Admire the beautiful Colchis Fountain
- 8.9 Stop at the Glory to Labour Monument
- 8.10 Enjoy the riverside
- 8.11 See the former Georgian Parliament Building
- 8.12 Visit the Botanical Garden
- 8.13 Enjoy Georgian food
- 8.14 Relax in Tea House Foe-Foe
- 8.15 Go for day trips from Kutaisi
- 9 Final thoughts on visiting Kutaisi
- 10 Further reading
Where is Kutaisi, Georgia?
Kutaisi, the second-largest city in Georgia (with a population of almost 180.000 inhabitants), is located in the western part of the country. The capital city Tbilisi is around 230 km away and the Black Sea resort Batumi is 150 km away.
A brief history of Kutaisi
The first mentions of Kutaisi date back to the 6th-3rd century BC when it was the capital of the Colchis (the territory that, together with the Kingdom of Iberia laid the foundation for the Georgian nation and state).
Between 1008 and 1122 the city was the seat of Georgian rulers and the capital of the Kingdom of Georgia, and from the 15th to the beginning of the 19th century, it was the capital of the Imeretian Kingdon. Kutaisi was also occupied by the Ottoman Empire and eventually incorporated into the Russian Empire in 1810.
During the Soviet times, Kutaisi was an important industrial center in the southern Caucasus but the economic situation drastically worsened when Georgia declared independence in 1991. In the last years, and especially after opening the local airport, Kutaisi developed and now is one of the best places to visit in Georgia, even if somehow underrated.
Why you should visit Kutaisi
Most of the tourists arriving in Georgia via Kutaisi airport skip the city and head to Tbilisi or Batumi right away. Well, if you have time in your Georgia itinerary you should definitely include Kutaisi sightseeing in your trip, you might be surprised how cool and interesting the city actually is.
Even if this is the second-largest city in Georgia, Kutaisi is laid-back and rather quiet and can be a great introduction to the country before you go to more hectic destinations. There are plenty of things to do in Kutaisi and the area around the city offers a whole variety of attractions too.
In and around Kutaisi you can see centuries-old monuments, amazing nature, and impressive Soviet architecture and solutions, you may also enjoy the delicious local cuisine and experience the famous Georgian hospitality.
Oh, and if you remember the epic Greek poem about the Argonauts and their quest to find the Golden Fleece you should know that some sources say Kutaisi (the capital of Colchis then) was their destination.
How to get to Kutaisi
Getting to Kutaisi is really easy, no matter if you arrive from abroad or from another destination in Georgia.
There are numerous minibusses (marshrutka) throughout the day that connect Kutaisi with Tbilisi, Batumi, and other destinations in Georgia. You can expect marshrutkas between Tbilisi or Batumi and Kutaisi running at least once an hour but sometimes, when there are more passengers, they depart even more often.
The bus station in Kutaisi is located a bit away from the center (you can get there by the city bus no 1), near the train station Kutaisi II.
There are also trains between Kutaisi and Tbilisi, however, there are only a few connections and the journey takes longer than marshrutka. The trains for Tbilisi depart from the Kutaisi I station, at Tamar the Queen street some 15 minutes walking from the center.
A few, faster connections, depart from Rioni station, located 7 km away from the city (you can get there by marshrutka no 3 or taxi).
If you fly to Georgia with low-cost airline Wizzair you will arrive at Kutaisi airport, 25 km away from the city. You don’t need to worry about getting to the city as there will be plenty of taxi drivers willing to take you there (it shouldn’t be more expensive than 20 lari) as well as the shuttle bus for 5 lari connected with the flight (you might need to wait a while for all the passengers though) that will take you to the main square in Kutaisi.
You will find both the taxi drivers and the shuttle bus points right after leaving the arrivals area. If you need the ATM there are on the left side, between arrivals and departures.
How many days you need for visiting Kutaisi
You can see all the Kutaisi must-see spots in a few hours since they all are located in the center, not far from each other. You might even visit Kutaisi as a day trip from Tbilisi and see all its highlights.
But I think it’s best to stay in Kutaisi for 2-3 days to see all the best places in the area too. You will need a few hours for Tskaltubo or Chiatura only (I spent 5-6 hours in each) and there are also the monasteries, canyons, or caves.
You can plan your time in Kutaisi as follows:
- Day 1 – Kutaisi and Tskaltubo
- Day 2 – Chiatura and remaining sights in Kutaisi
- Day 3 – monasteries and natural sites around Kutaisi
Where to stay in Kutaisi
Since Kutaisi is getting more and more popular among tourists the accommodation base is also improving. Here are recommended places to stay in Kutaisi:
- Guesthouse Litoros (9.7/10)
- Gala Boutique Hotel (9.2/10)
- Sanapiro Hotel (8.9/10)
- Excellent house (9.6/10)
- Best Western Kutaisi (9.0/10)
- Kutaisi Sunrise (9.9/10)
- and many more!
How to get around Kutaisi
Even if the city is large, all the Kutaisi tourist attractions are located in the central part and you can easily walk everywhere.
You might need to take a city bus no 1 to get to the bus station or near the Parliament building though. It departs frequently from the main square (the bus stop is near McDonald’s), you need to pay 0,50 lari to the driver.
Things to do in Kutaisi
And finally, here are the best things to do in Kutaisi!
Visit Bagrati Cathedral
Bagrati Cathedral, towering above the city, is probably the most important of all the places to visit in Kutaisi. It was ordered by King Bagrat (hence the name) and built at the beginning of the 11th century, during the “golden age of Georgia”.
For many, this is one of the most spectacular works of Georgian medieval architecture and the symbol of Georgian unity and prosperity. What we can admire now is a reconstructed and rebuilt version though – the cathedral was badly damaged during the Ottoman attack in the 17th century and by the Russian troops a century later.
In 1994 the Bagrati Cathedral was included on UNESCO World Heritage List (together with the nearby Gelati Monastery) however in 2017 it was removed from the list – during the conservational works too many modern elements (like steel and glass) were added to the construction.
Still, this is a great place to visit, if not for the cathedral itself than for the view – you can see the best panorama of the city from there.
The Bagrati Cathedral is located some 20 minutes away from the main square, part of the way is uphill but it’s not too difficult to get there.
See other temples of Kutaisi
In the past Kutaisi used to be a truly multicultural place – the majority of inhabitants were Georgians but there were also big Russian, Armenian and Jewish communities. Still today you can see the remnants of that mix in the numerous temples of different religions that you can find in the center and beyond.
The most beautiful one is the Baroque Khareba (Annunciation) church from the 19th century – originally it was an Orthodox church but converted into a Catholic one and eventually back to Orthodox. You can see it clearly when looking at the city from the Bagrati Cathedral as its elegant shape attracts attention right away.
Near the Khareba church, you can find the Armenian St. George church and the Great Synagogue from the end of the 19th century – one of the three remaining synagogues in the city and the second-largest one in Georgia, after the synagogue in Tbilisi. And these are only a few beautiful religious buildings in Kutaisi!
Take the cable car to the amusement park
Rusty cable cars are somehow a thing in the former Soviet countries and the one in Kutaisi also looks like it’s not for the faint of heart. Fortunately, it only looks bad, a quick ride up or down is actually really fine and is worth overcoming your fears to see some lovely views of Kutaisi.
At the upper station, you can find the local amusement park with the ferries wheel and other entertainment.
There is also a really nice restaurant – Dzirdzveli – serving delicious Georgian food, including khachapuri on the spade (I had it for the first time there and it was love at first bite).
You can find the cable car station next to the pedestrian White Bridge (that you should visit too, it’s the only pedestrian bridge in the city). It operates between 12:00 and 20:00, the single ride is 1 GEL.
Enjoy street art
One of the most pleasant surprises for me when visiting Kutaisi was the pretty good street art scene. I should have expected that after seeing some great street art in Tbilisi and Batumi yet I was really excited when I found the beautiful murals and other smaller works.
During my first trip to Kutaisi, I could even witness how one of the murals was created and the last time I checked it was still there.
The most impressive works are located in the passage between Tsisperi Kantselebi Street and Tsminda Nino Street, behind the art-nouveau gate. You can find there the cheerful mural by the French artist Vinie or the Georgian sentence “me shen mikvarkhar” (“I love you”) written over and over again.
These are only a few Kutaisi street art works you can enjoy, there are more of them all over the city and the new ones are constantly appearing on the walls.
Wander around the center
The center of Kutaisi is rather small but actually really pleasant. You can wander around and find some charming corners, old beautiful houses and random things (like the set of domino clearly used a while ago). Be sure to discover it without too much rush, pay attention to the details, and feel the vibe of Kutaisi.
Every time I was in Kutaisi I could see more and more houses being renovated to their former glory and the center of the city gets only prettier.
And once you want to sit down and relax, there is a nice park right next to the central square.
Admire beautiful art-nouveau buildings
Another thing that surprised me about the city and quickly became one of my favorite attractions in Kutaisi was the art nouveau architecture.
As I read more about this architecture style in Georgia it turned out that art-nouveau was popular not only in Tbilisi and Batumi but also in a few other cities, and one of them was Kutaisi. Both, buildings of public use and townhouses were built in this style at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century and they were a perfect example of European art-nouveau.
While many of the art-nouveau gems were destroyed, some of the grand buildings in the center still stand, being a great testimony of the former glory.
The best example of art-nouveau in Kutaisi is probably the gate at Tsminda Nino Street – the remnant of the former movie theater Mon Plaisir.
Visit the local market
The local market is one of the Kutaisi highlights. Even if you don’t like this kind of place (I’m not a big fan, to be honest), you still should stop there and see it yourself. It’s vibrant, loud, colorful and the variety of products and smells can geet you dizzy. But that’s all part of the experience!
Georgian food is the best, vegetables or cheese are to die for, and there is no better place to get fresh products than at the market.
The local market is also the best place to meet local people and, since Georgians are very friendly and hospitable, you can expect to chat a lot with them there, especially since most likely you will be offered food and drinks to try from the vendors. Learn a few basic phrases (like hello – “gamarjoba” or thank you – “madloba”), put a smile on your face, and enjoy the place.
While you are at the market don’t miss an amazing Soviet bas-relief on the sidewall. It’s really big, in very good shape and with so many details! This is one of the most beautiful bas-reliefs from Soviet times I’ve ever seen!
Admire the beautiful Colchis Fountain
The funky fountain in the middle of the central David Agmashenebeli square catches visitors’ eye right away and is one of the best things to see in Kutaisi. While it might seem like yet another crazy modern Georgian statue, there is actually a lot of meaning in the fountain and what it shows.
You can see there 30 golden statues of animals, as well as tamada – the traditional Georgian toast-maker. The statues are the enlarged copy of the small gold and bronze statues found during the archeological works all over the country. They date back to BC times, to the ancient kingdom of Colchis that used to exist in the current Georgian territory and was famous for the gold (the mythical Argonauts went on a quest to Colchis to find the Golden Fleece).
Today you can see the original statues in the National Museum in Tbilisi but you can admire them in Kutaisi too. In the evening the fountain is illuminated which makes it even prettier.
Stop at the Glory to Labour Monument
Located on the side of the street next to Kutaisi City Hall, the Glory to Labour Monument is a perfect example of Soviet art. It was designed by the Georgian architects Vakhtang Davitaya and Shota Bostanashvili and completed in 1981.
Today it seems like not many visitors pay attention to the monument but it is a wonderful piece of art, even if somehow weird. Be sure to stop by the monument and admire its many layers and details.
Enjoy the riverside
The Rioni River, one of the main rivers in Georgia, flows through Kutaisi and is such a nice addition to the city’s scenery. It’s very picturesque with the rocks in the middle and old houses built just above it.
The best place to admire the beauty of the Rioni River is from either the Red Bridge or the White Bridge. Both bridges are actually interesting.
The Red Bridge was constructed in France, in the Eiffel’s factory while the White one is the only pedestrian bridge in Kutaisi and some sources claim this is the border between Europe in Asia.
Near the White Bridge, you can find a few cafes and restaurants where you can sit down and enjoy the calming sound of the flowing river.
See the former Georgian Parliament Building
For seven years, between 2012 and 2019, the Georgian Parliament had its seat in Kutaisi, the second most important city in the country. The parliament was moved back to Tbilisi but you can still see its interesting modern building in the sleek shape and funky design.
It is located a bit away from the center but you can get a glimpse of it when going from the airport – it will be on the left side when you cross the railway tracks.
Unfortunately, a beautiful brutalism masterpiece – the Glory Memorial – had to be demolished (it is now rebuilt in Moscow).
Visit the Botanical Garden
The only place I still have to visit during my next trip to Kutaisi is the botanical garden, located across the Rioni River, not far from the Bagrati Cathedral (I never have enough time for all the Kutaisi things to do).
It was established in 1979 and is home to some 700 various floral species. I heard nothing but good things about the place so you should definitely add it to your Kutaisi itinerary if time allows.
Enjoy Georgian food
I’ve already mentioned it before but I will repeat myself – Georgian food is the best. The fresh, local products make all the dishes very delicious so don’t be surprised if the Georgian cuisine will quickly become your favorite one. Each region of Georgia has its own dishes and Imereti (that Kutaisi is the capital of) is no different. Besides, the typical Georgia dishes try some regional ones too!
Fortunately, the culinary scene in Kutaisi is only improving and new places are opening. During my first visit to Kutaisi, there were maybe three fine restaurants, now there are more of them, including some elegant or hipster ones. In most of them prices are fine and you can enjoy a tasty meal in a beautiful setting.
Here are some of the recommended restaurants serving Georgian food: Paolo (5 Shota Rustaveli Ave), Sisters (4 Shota Rustaveli Ave), Papavero (Tsisperi Kantselebi Street), Palaty (Pushkini Street II), Georgian Tower (6 Pushkini Street II).
Relax in Tea House Foe-Foe
There is no better place to relax than the Foe-Foe Tea House, located right in the center of Kutaisi, at the corner of Rustaveli Avenue and Tsminda Nino Street.
The interior is welcoming and cozy, with many books, marble stairs, and even a hammock if you really want to relax. Don’t miss the old murals on the ceiling too!
The selection of teas is really impressive, with both international and local teas to choose from. If you get hungry you can order delicious cakes, waffles, or even Georgian dishes.
The Foe-Foe Tea House is a perfect place to end your Kutaisi sightseeing and to gain energy before exploring the area near the city. If you score a seat next to the floor-to-ceiling window you can also enjoy people-watching while sipping hot tea.
Go for day trips from Kutaisi
One of the best things about visiting Kutaisi is that not only you can enjoy an interesting yet overlooked city, but you can also use it as a base to explore the area around. And there are so many great places you can see!
UNESCO listed monastery Gelati, abandoned spa town Tskaltubo, famous rusty cable-cars in Chiatura, or spectacular nature with caves and canyons and more! All of them are located a stone’s throw away from Kutaisi and can be easily visited. I recommend staying at least 3 days in Kutaisi so you can see everything.
Some of the places (like Tskaltubo or Chiatura) you can visit by public transport, others are better seen with the tour or the driver. I wrote the whole detailed article about day trips from Kutaisi that you can check here.
Here are some of the recommended tours from Kutaisi:
- BAGRATI, GELATI & MOTSAMETA Tour
- CANYONS & CAVE Tour from Kutaisi
- Martvili Canyon and Hanged Bridges of Okatse
- Trip to Martvili Canyon, Prometheus Cave and Kinchkha Waterfall from Kutaisi
- WINE & DINE Tour from Kutaisi
- Tskaltubo urbex tour | Off the beaten path adventure
- Frozen in Time Chiatura and Sky pillar Katskhi
Final thoughts on visiting Kutaisi
I really wish I didn’t wait that long to visit Kutaisi. When I finally got to the city (already after opening the local airport) I was really surprised by how nice and interesting Kutaisi really is.
Now, a few trips to Kutaisi later, I can honestly say I enjoy the city and its laid-back atmosphere, and I always like returning there to see how it is changing to enjoy the new places that have opened there. Besides, I really like visiting Tskaltubo and it’s best reachable from Kutaisi.
I can understand why Kutaisi is often overlooked in travelers’ agenda in Georgia in favor of more popular destinations. But you shouldn’t dismiss Kutaisi. As you can see above the city really has a lot to offer and can be a fine and enjoyable place to visit during your holidays in Georgia.
As you can guess Georgia is among my favorite countries to visit and I’m there at least once a year. I’ve already written many articles about the country that will hopefully help you plan your trip there. Here are some of them that you might find interesting or useful:
- 15 reasons to visit Georgia – the amazing emerging destination
- 49 Awesome Things to Do in Tbilisi, Georgia
- Tbilisi guide – 21 Tbilisi travel tips to make your trip easier
- Day trip to David Gareja monastery from Tbilisi
- 20 Cool Things to do in Batumi, Georgia
- Buying a SIM card in Georgia – all you need to know
- and more!
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