A complete guide to travel in Kutaisi, Georgia. Includes information on what to do and where to stay in the laidback city of Kutaisi.
Like the city of Batumi, Kutaisi has some backstory to it. It served as the capital of various significant kingdoms within Georgia throughout history. Unlike Batumi, much of its charm remains.
When arriving in Kutaisi, it’s hard to miss Bagrati Cathedral, perched on a hilltop overlooking the city, but the city has much more to offer than first meets the eye.
Below you can find a quick travel guide to Kutaisi. This guide to travel in Kutaisi includes some background information on the city, things to do, where to sleep in Kutaisi, things to do around Kutaisi, and how to get to Kutaisi by public transport.
An introduction to Kutaisi
Kutaisi has been a historically significant city throughout the ages, even housing the parliament of Georgia at some point. Kutaisi was the capital of the Kingdom of Georgia in the 11th century. It also served as the capital of the Kingdom of Imereti.
Now it is the capital of the Imereti region and is the second-largest city in Georgia, after Tbilisi. There is evidence that the city has been inhabited since around the 6th century BC.
Surprisingly, not that many people make the effort to visit Kutaisi. Most people opt to visit Tbilisi and then head to either the wine region of Kakheti and Sighnagi or go further into the mountains of Mestia or towards the Russian border at Kazbegi. However, Kutaisi has plenty of things to offer for a few days of exploring, while at the same time offering plenty of options for some rest and relaxation. Below you can find a list of the best things to do in and around Kutaisi.
Things to do in Kutaisi
There are plenty of things to do in Kutaisi. From your standard (and not so standard) cathedrals and monasteries to beautiful nature reserves, interesting day trips, and a lively bazaar, Kutaisi packs a punch.
Kvavila Monastery is beautifully perched on a hilltop overlooking the center of Kutaisi. It’s a modest church surrounded by a cemetery filled with all kinds of tombstones. Some are beautiful, and some are straight-up bizarre: we saw one with a full-body portrait of a guy flashing his Nike Airs, with a cigarette in hand. We almost fell asleep by the ruins at the edge of the cemetery–they overlook the river and were cloaked with sunshine just so.
Obviously, there are more churches–have we told you that Georgia is very religious yet? What is the difference between these and the churches in Batumi, you ask? One of the churches in Kutaisi is UNESCO World Heritage-listed. Other differences include the lack of ugly skyscrapers as a backdrop, and we only saw one casino in Kutaisi.
Kutaisi is also perfect for those who wish to mingle with the locals. It has two universities, so there are many young people to talk to.
This Cathedral dominates the skyline of Kutaisi. Originally built in the 11th century, the cathedral was destroyed during the Ottoman campaign in what is now Georgia. The building has been completely renovated. Bagrati used to be on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list but has been removed from the list in 2017, as UNESCO considered its major reconstruction detrimental to its integrity and authenticity
The main attraction in Kutaisi, besides its relaxed atmosphere and beautiful surroundings, is Gelati Monastery. The monastery, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, is beautifully perched on a hilltop. The interior isn’t too shabby either, with beautiful frescoes all around,
Gelati Monastery is about 10 kilometers out of town, so you have to take a marshrutka to get there. They leave every two hours or so, starting around 8:00. Ask your guesthouse for directions to the marshrutka stop. It’s located on a side street behind the opera house. The driver will likely see you wandering around, and yell at you to see if you’re looking for the marshrutka to Gelati.
To get back to Kutaisi from the monastery, either wait for a new marshrutka or hitch a ride back to town. Walking is also an option if you have the time and energy.
Mingle with the locals at the Green Bazaar
The Green Bazaar is Kutaisi’s main bazaar, and what a lively affair it is. Stroll around and chat up with the locals, or haggle for some fresh produce or some souvenirs. Don’t miss the gorgeous bass relief on its facade.
Other things to do in Kutaisi
There are several historical buildings in Kutaisi’s city center. This includes the Opera House, Kutaisi City Hall, the White Bridge crossing the Rioni River, and the Golden Marquee. Just stroll around leisurely and you’ll pump into any of these buildings at one point or another.
If you’re feeling giddy, you can also visit the Besik Gabashvili Amusement Park and have a ride in the Ferris wheel or take a photo with a faux Eiffel Tower.
Things to do outside Kutaisi
But wait, there’s more. The Imereti region is great for nature lovers, and Kutaisi is a great place from which to explore it.
There are the Okatse or Martvili Canyons, the Prometheus Cave, the Kinchka Waterall, and the Sataplia Nature Reserve.
To visit all of these, you’ll probably need a day and a half. It’s best to hire a car with a driver to do this, as it can be tricky with public transport. Expect to pay around 50 GEL for the trip, depending on the time of year and tour bargaining skills. You can also book a tour online to visit some of these sights.
You can also visit Chiatura and the Katskhi Pillar from Kutaisi. Chiatura is an old Soviet mining town, home to the (in)famous) “iron coffins” (craggy cable cars). The Katskhi Pillar is a limestone monolith, and a sight to behold.
You can visit Chiatura and the Katskhi Pillar as a day trip from Kutaisi by public transport. There are marshrutkas from Kutaisi to Chiatura (check out the schedule here). The pillar is about halfway between these two, so you can tell the driver you want to visit and he’ll drop you off on the highway. From there it’s a 1km walk on a marked trail.
Where to sleep in Kutaisi
To relax you need a good place to sleep, and we couldn’t recommend Sun Hostel (Guesthouse) more. The place beautifully overlooks the river, it’s five minutes walking from Bagrati Cathedral, ten minutes from the city center, and has a very homely atmosphere.
The rooms are extremely spacious, the owner and his son (who speaks English very well) are friendly and the wine flows freely. Oh yeah, we also only paid 25 GEL a night. I almost felt bad paying so little and getting so much. Book Sun Hostel here.
Other recommendations in Kutaisi include:
- Art House Hostel: Cheap hostel with a caring host. Not much English is spoken, but the willingness to help more than makes up for this – Book Art House Hostel here.
- Hostel Mandaria: Not actually a hostel but this lovely place offers clean and cheap double and triple rooms – Book Hostel Mandaria here.
- Old District: Mid-range option with a classic feel. Comfortable beds and a caring host make this a great option for travelers who wish a little privacy – Book Old District here.
Transport to and from Kutaisi
It’s easy to get to Kutaisi by marshrutka. They arrive a bit out of town, either at the bus station behind a McDonalds or about 100m up the road (pictured below). Take bus 1 from across the street where you are dropped off, and get out once you are on a big bridge over a river to get to the city center. Lots of other people will likely be getting off here as well. The bus costs 0.30 GEL. The city itself is completely walkable.
So there you have it, a quick guide to things to do in Kutaisi, Georgia. If you have any questions, or if things have changed since the time this article was published, please leave a comment.