What To Do in Kutaisi, Georgia: Ultimate Guide for First-Time Visitors

What To Do in Kutaisi, Georgia: Ultimate Guide for First-Time Visitors

So, you’re thinking of visiting Kutaisi? Are you looking for some insider tips and a helpful guide of the best things to do in Kutaisi? Chances are none of your friends have been there to share recommendations, most might not have even heard of it. ‘Georgia, the country, not the state… it’s east of Turkey’ you’ll find yourself explaining over and over! Well, then you’re in luck because this ultimate guide will cover everything a first-time visitor needs to know, including transport options, visas, the best attractions and restaurants, and an honest opinion on all of it.

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Where is Kutaisi?

Kutaisi is the third-largest city in Georgia. A country sandwiched between Russia to the north, Turkey & Armenia to the south and Azerbaijan to the east. These countries (the southern part of Russia only) form the Caucasus region, which bridges Europe and Asia.

Georgia was a republic of the Soviet Union between 1921 and 1991, at which point it became an independent state. And while the world has changed greatly in the 30 years since independence, the influence of the Soviet Union can still be felt in Kutaisi today.

What is Kutaisi famous for?

Kutaisi is one of the oldest cities in the world. In fact, it has been continuously inhabited for around 4000 years. Today, Kutaisi has a population of around 140,000 people.

Kutaisi also sits on relatively flat land between mountains to both the north and south. These mountains protect Kutaisi from the harsh winter weather coming south from Russia and from the extreme heat of the summer from Turkey. As such, Kutaisi enjoys relatively mild weather all year round. But, is still near to ski resorts that make it popular in the winter months.

The view of Kutaisi from Bagrati Cathedral. A dark metal cross is in the forefront of the image overlooking the city.

How to get to Kutaisi

Georgia is growing increasingly popular as a tourist destination. Between 2015 and 2019 the number of international visitors grew by 50% from 6 million to 9 million annually. And most of those visitors arrived either by air or through the land borders.

Fly into David the Builder airport

Kutaisi’s international airport – named after King David IV of Georgia – is located just less than 10 miles outside the city. The airport was completely renovated in 2012 and is modern, clean and comfortable, albeit small. The departures lounge contains a sizeable duty-free shop and some food outlets. My favourite of which was Dunkin’ Donuts – perfect for flight snacks!

Wizz Air and Georgian Bus both operate transfers between Kutaisi Airport and Kutaisi city centre. When booking Wizz Air flights, return transfers can be booked in the same transaction for £6. You can book Georgian Bus tickets online as well. These transfer bus services are timed to leave after Wizz Air flights arrive.

Who flys to Kutaisi?

Wizz Air operate the only international flights in and out of Kutaisi Airport at the time of writing. However, this does include routes from many eastern and western European cities as well as Dubai. Wizz Air flights from London Luton to Kutaisi are currently suspended, but previously a twice-weekly service operated.

Overland travel options to Kutaisi

Kutaisi is a 2.5-hour drive from Batumi, Georgia’s second city that sits on the Black Sea. Similarly, it takes around 3.5 hours to drive between Tbilisi and Kutaisi.

Travel by local minibus (marshrutkas) will be the most cost- and time-efficient. And you should expect to pay 10 GEL (£2.25/3 USD) for both Batumi-Kutaisi and Tbilisi-Kutaisi. The marshrutkas depart regularly when they are full from each city’s bus station. You pay the driver as you get in the minibus.

Trains also run from both Batumi and Tbilisi to Kutaisi. However, these only run once per day and take longer than the drive.

Looking south from Kutaisi towards the snowy mountains at sunset. The sun has just dipped below the mountains and the sky has a yellow tint. In the foreground the 1970s style buildings of Kutaisi can be seen

Do I need a visa to visit Kutaisi/Georgia?

Passport holders of 98 countries can enter Georgia and reside, work and/or study for up to one year without a visa. The full list can be found on the Georgian Government website but includes the UK, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. However, with the current situation, and as of December 2020, only citizens of Germany, France, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia can enter Georgia for tourism.

But, Georgia has recently introduced the ‘Remotely from Georgia‘ visa for digital nomads and remote workers. The visa is open to individuals from 95 countries who earn more than 2,000 USD per month and who want to spend at least 180 days in Georgia. And, unlike the similar visa for The Bahamas, the Georgian remote work visa is free.

But the golden nugget is that holders of this remote work visa can enter Georgia now. Of course, this is subject to an 8-day quarantine period with PCR tests being done every 72 hours plus on the 8th and 12th days after landing. The quarantine period must be spent in one of the approved hotels, which are mostly in Tbilisi.

How many days to spend in Kutaisi?

Kutaisi is a small city with most attractions near to each other. In all honesty, you can probably see all the attractions in Kutaisi in one day without too much rushing. But, to really get a feel for Kutaisi I’d recommend a minimum of two full days, ideally three.

If you’re wanting to explore the towns and places surrounding Kutaisi then up to 5 to 6 days would be good. Although all these estimations are based on full days of exploring and sightseeing. So, if you want to take things a bit slower then adjust to suit your needs.

Looking across a busy market. Traders sit behind their stalls and many types of fruit and vegetable are visible and piled high. The warm glow of the lights in this sheltered part of the market adds to the intimate feel

Best things to do in Kutaisi

There are quite a lot of things to do in Kutaisi and the surrounding areas. And most, if not all, can be enjoyed all year round. Even on the shortest day of the year, Kutaisi has 9 hours of daylight so you can pack in the activities.

Kutaisi Market

Also known as Kutaisi Green Bazaar, this city-centre market provides an up-close and personal insight into Kutaisi culture. Mingle with the shoppers and traders as you browse hundreds of stalls selling everything from linen to fruit and vegetables.

Try the local sweets called Churchkhela, which look like hanging candles and are made from grapes and nuts. Churchkhela are usually homemade and you’ll find plenty of stalls selling different types. Another local delicacy is Chacha, a type of brandy usually between 40 and 60% proof alcohol. Affectionately known as wine vodka, chacha is made from the residue of grapes leftover during wine production and is a must-try if you’re in Kutaisi.

Don’t forget to check out the huge and intricately detailed façade on the outside of the market building before you leave!

Kutaisi Park

I’m not sure ‘park’ is the best description, given that Kutaisi Park is a little over 50 metres wide and barely 100 metres long. But, it is a good place to sit and people watch. There’s no vast fields, or even sizeable green patches, rather a collection of benches and a few statues and fountains.

Somehow, this place seems to feature on many a Kutaisi guide, but to be honest, I wouldn’t go out of your way to visit. However, you’re more than likely to walk through as you move around Kutaisi city centre so will get to see it either way. It’s a thing to do in Kutaisi for sure, but not one of the top things to do in Kutaisi by any stretch of the imagination!

The Colchis Fountain is basically a very equisite roundabout in central Kutaisi! The fountain/roundabout is in the middle of the picture, and many cars drive round. The road is wide and cars often drive up to four abreast!

Colchis Fountain

Again, Kutaisi guides love to feature the Colchis Fountain. And whilst it is an impressive fountain, most, if not all, fail to mention the fact that it is on a roundabout!

Driving in Georgia is most akin to that you see in many parts of Asia: erratic. This roundabout has about 4 connecting roads and is wide, meaning cars often drive round up to 4 or 5 cars abreast! To make it even more haphazard, the outer part of the roundabout road is also used as a car park!

The photo above was taken at around midday in late December and at the typical rush hour periods the roads in Kutaisi do get quite busy. Trying to get across the roundabout to the Colchis Fountain is risky business. Cross at your own risk! This is another not really a thing to do in Kutaisi!

Enjoy views of the river from the many bridges

White Bridge is the most famous in Kutaisi, featuring views over the iconic white stones in the path of the river below. The bridge itself features glass panes to see directly below and a cool hat-holding statue, which is great for a photo. This is also the only pedestrian-only bridge in Kutaisi.

Rustaveli Bridge is just upstream from White Bridge. And here you can go down to river level using the steps near the Tourist Information Centre on the eastern side of the bridge.

On the northern side of Kutaisi is the Chain Bridge, which you’ll likely cross on the way to Bagrati Cathedral. From Chain Bridge, you’ll be able to see many of the riverside houses that are propped up by stilts!

Zoe sits in a sculpture of a horse-drawn cart (no horses!), smiling at the camera. Although it is winter and many trees are bare, bright red flowers surround the carriage

Kutaisi Botanical Garden

Located just north of Kutaisi city centre, Kutaisi Botanical Garden provides welcome calm from the hustle and bustle of the city. The gardens are full of many different types and species of flowers, plants and trees that you can wander around for hours.

Kutaisi Botanical Garden is a world away from the, at times, harshness of the Soviet-style of central Kutaisi. Entry is just 1 GEL (23p), an absolute bargain! Plus, there are some great photo spots like the carriage above and even in the winter (when I visited), it is still beautiful! It’s absolutely one of the best things to do in Kutaisi for visitors old and young.

Check out this comprehensive guide and review of everything you need to know for visiting Kutaisi Botanical Garden.

Cable Cars

Cable cars dating back to the Soviet Era run in Kutaisi, operating between central Kutaisi and the Besik Gabashvili Amusement Park. This short ride takes you up over the river and to the top of the hill on which the amusement park sits. This is definitely one of the more unique things to do in Kutaisi!

Costing just 2 GEL (45p) for a round trip, this will save you a walk up the hill and give you great views of the city. You can find the cable car station in central Kutaisi by searching for ‘Cable Car Bottom Station’ on Google Maps.

Besik Gabashvili Amusement Park

If you’re wondering what to do in Kutaisi that is cool and different, then look no further! This amusement park contains a small funfair and a few places to get food. There’s a carousel, Ferris wheel and dropper, as well as a small number of children’s rides. Most of the rides are dated and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time to the Soviet Union.

The rides cost a few GEL for each person so bring some cash, and in particular coins or small notes. This is no theme park, but it’s quirky and is another unique thing to do in Kutaisi.

Bagrati Cathedral with it's sandy colour exterior and teal green roof.

Bagrati Cathedral

Bagrati Cathedral is perhaps the most famous landmark in Kutaisi, sitting at the top of a hill overlooking the city. And it is an absolute must-visit in Kutaisi!

Originally built way back in the 11th Century, Bagrati Cathedral underwent substantial restoration work in the last few decades. Back in the 1950s, the cathedral was little more than ruins, with most of the structure destroyed. Even as recent as 2005 the cathedral had no roof. And, the amount of controversial restoration led to its removal from the UNESCO World Heritage Site listings!

Despite this, Bagrati Cathedral is still a magnificent church to visit. You can explore the grounds, take photos of the city skyline and visit the inside of the cathedral too. Bagrati Cathedral is still an active church, so try to avoid your visit clashing with services.

Bagrati Cathedral is free to visit. As you enter through the gate you may see people with a collecting tin, however, they are not part of the church and are just trying their luck with getting money from tourists. Walk straight past and into the Bagrati Cathedral grounds.

The Motsameta monastery: an old stone building set into the side of a hill surrounded by lush green land. The winter sky is clear and crisp blue.

Motsameta Monastery and Gelati Monastery

Located less than a 20-minute drive to the east of Kutaisi, both these monasteries date back almost 1000 years! You can, via hotel staff, for a reasonably cheap fee book a taxi to take you to both sites and the taxi driver will wait for you to explore each. Both monasteries are free to enter, however, you should ensure you have dressed appropriately for entering religious buildings (i.e. shoulders and legs covered, head coverings not necessary).

Motsameta Monastery contains the holy remains of David and Constantine, who were captured and tortured back in the 8th century trying to keep the region Christian. During the early Soviet era, the Bolshevik secret police removed the remains to much outcry. They were, however, swiftly returned, and still today, the remains are safely kept in the monastery.

Gelati Monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage site that is undergoing conservation work to maintain it for many more years. Despite the ongoing works, many parts of the site are accessible. And, its location offers fantastic views out over the Caucasian countryside.

Places to visit outside of Kutaisi

One of the best things to do in Kutaisi is to take a day trip or two out of Kutaisi! Here are my top picks…

Chiatura and Katskhi column

The town of Chiatura is located around a 90-minute drive east of Kutaisi, with the unique Katskhi Column about 10 km closer to Kutaisi. Chiatura is home to 60-year-old, Stalin-era, rickety cable cars, which are free to ride if you dare! Katskhi Column, a 40-metre high limestone rock, comes complete with a monastery perched on top!

Both Chiatura and the Katskhi Column can be reached by bus from Kutaisi, although you’ll need to flag one down to travel between the column and Chiatura.

Martvili Canyon

To the north-west of Kutaisi, lies Martvili Canyon – a natural spectacle of a large canyon and waterfall. Boat and walking tours operate within the canyon. Although, watch out for tour guides trying to make a fast buck from unwitting tourists by quoting high prices. Entrance to the canyon is around 20 GEL (£4.50) and there’s a further 20 GEL fee for the optional boat tour, or take the walking route for free.

Okatse Canyon

Just an hour outside of Kutaisi, the stunning Okatse Canyon is made all the more wonderful by suspended walkways and viewpoints from the top of the canyon! These walkways offer fantastic views into the canyon including the waterfalls and dense greenery.

There’s a 2 km walk from the visitor entrance to the canyon, and the entrance fee is around 17 GEL (£3.80) for non-Georgians. Okatse Canyon is just 5 km from Kinchkha Waterfall, so it is well worth combining the two in your trip out of Kutaisi.

Kinchkha Waterfall

Stunningly located high up in the Imereti hills, Kinchkha Waterfall offers spectacular views of the Georgian countryside from its base. Kinchkha Waterfall drops totally almost 90 metres and has a good network of paths for visitors.

An adult ticket costs 17.50 GEL (£4) for non-Georgians with entrance between 9 am and 6pm.

Prometheus Cave

Just 30 minutes outside of Kutaisi is the large limestone Prometheus Cave. Inside, the cave is illuminated with multi-coloured LED lights and boat tours run through the humid cave. Admission to the cave is 23 GEL (£5.20), whilst the boat tour costs another 17 GEL (£3.80).

A selection of Georgian cuisine on a table including a jug of amber wine, a bowl of salad, cream-cheese-like substance on crackers and a bowl of bread in the background

Where to eat in Kutaisi

If the first question on every traveller’s lips is ‘what are the best things to do in Kutaisi’ then the second will definitely be ‘what’s the food like in Kutaisi?’ The cost of food in Georgia is cheaper than in the Western world. So you can eat out at quite affordable prices. Western options naturally cost more than eating locally but are still great value.

Georgian food

Georgian food is generally wholesome and based on available produce from the land. As a result of the Silk Road, Georgian food has also been influenced by both European and Persian cuisines. My favourite is khachapuri – cheese-filled bread – no explanation needed!

My absolute top recommendation would be for Toma’s Wine Cellar. This is literally a restaurant and wine cellar in Toma’s house. And it is amazing. There is a set menu for 40 GEL (£9) per adult, with large portions and a selection of tasty Georgian dishes. And, all the food is home cooked upstairs. Included in the price is half a litre of traditional amber wine from the cellar. Plus, additional amber wine can be purchased for 30 GEL (£6.80) per litre. Toma also speaks perfect English so will be on hand to explain all of the dishes and provide amazing hospitality.

A second option is Hacker-Pschorr, which also serves Georgian food but also has a few more Western options such as burgers and pizzas. The place is cheap, cheerful and has a few beer options too. So it’s great for a more chilled dining experience.

Western Food

There are a small number of Western restaurants in Kutaisi, most notably McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Dunkin’ Donuts. In McDonald’s, you can order via the touchscreen self-service kiosks that have an English option and pay by card. Plus Georgian McDonald’s is funky. Think chicken wings, prawns and cheesy jalapeno fries! Lovin’ it!

Looking down on the city of Kutaisi from the hotel roof terrace. At the front of the picture the river is visible with it's famous white rocks and bridge that even has glass panes to see below. In the background the city is full of Soviet-style tall buildings and apartments rising into the hills behind

Where to stay in Kutaisi

For such a small city, Kutaisi has a lot of hotels, hostels and guesthouses. Including those that suit even the smallest of budgets.

Since the cost of living is low in Kutaisi, even the highest-end hotels are still fairly cheap by Western standards. Plus, when you consider how cheap food, transport and activities are in Kutaisi, you can easily find room in your budget to splash out on nicer accommodations.

During my time in Kutaisi, I stayed in the Best Western Kutaisi. This 4-star rated hotel costs about £40 per night for two people sharing (including breakfast). And it’s just a 2-minute walk from the city centre! The hotel was beautiful, the room was spacious and warm, and the hotel has a rooftop terrace and bar! What more could you want? Oh yeah, and it had sports TV channels in the rooms and bars so I didn’t have to miss the Premier League Christmas fixtures! The staff spoke perfect English and helped me plan what I wanted to do in Kutaisi in a short amount of time.

For a more mid-range consider the Hotel Ponte. A double room costs around £20 per night for two adults sharing and including breakfast. This hotel is also centrally located and perfect for coming and going when exploring the city.

For those with smaller budgets, consider staying in one of the many guesthouses in Kutaisi. There are many that charge £10 or less per night for two people sharing. Two of the highest-rated guesthouses in Kutaisi are Guesthouse Medea, which includes both wi-fi and breakfast, or Guesthouse Gegi.

Zoe stood on a 30-centimetre wide metal plank that is acting as a bridge over a stream! Whilst she is smiling for the camera, she is totally scared of falling in. To make things worse, the plank is on an angle!

Currency and cash in Kutaisi, Georgia

Georgian Lari, abbreviated to GEL, is the currency in Georgia. Although exchange rates are constantly changing, in recent years the pound and US dollars have been growing against GEL. As of December 2020, £1 will get you around 4.50 GEL and 1 USD equates to 3.30 GEL.

Kutaisi operates as a predominantly cash-based city. You will definitely need cash for taxis, small/independent shops and most tourist attractions. However, there are plenty of banks in Kutaisi for you to safely withdraw cash. To avoid unexpected charges, consider getting a transaction-fee free withdrawals card such as Monzo or Revolut.

Importantly, on the streets of Kutaisi there are many machines that look like cash machines – but aren’t. You can recognise these non-cash machines as they are surrounded by a yellow framing. Most banks have their cash machines inside, once you insert your card there is an option to change to English.

Initial impressions of Kutaisi as a first-time visitor

Whilst I totally loved the short amount of time I spent in Kutaisi, it is one of a small number of places that I found completely overwhelming on the first day.

From underestimating the effects of a 3-hour time difference and having a complete inability to communicate with anyone in Georgian, the first morning was a shock to the system. A language I couldn’t read, I couldn’t even work out words or try to pronounce them. And whilst younger people in Kutaisi may speak some English, most do not.

The difference between Georgia and other places in Europe I’d visited also took me by complete surprise. The cost of living is low, but so is the standard of living. And there were stray dogs everywhere. I’d also overestimated how much there was to do in the city centre. I’d planned to spend the first day exploring it, and within two hours I’d walked around everywhere. You can’t spend much time in places if you can’t communicate with anyone. And without EU roaming data I couldn’t just Google ‘best things to do in Kutaisi’ on the go.

But, after taking myself back to the hotel room for an early afternoon nap, I pulled myself together. Maybe Kutaisi wasn’t what I’d been expecting, but that was on me. Kutaisi was Kutaisi – I needed to see it for what it was. With a new lease of life, I set about making a plan for what else I wanted to see and do in Kutaisi. And with the help of the reception staff who were more than willing to call taxis and find out information that was only Georgian, I salvaged my weekend in Kutaisi.

Kutaisi isn’t picturesque or stereotypically beautiful. Hidden gems and architectural wonders aren’t around every corner. But it’s an industrial, heavily Soviet-influenced, working city with a long history and doesn’t try to be anything else.

Is Kutaisi safe?

While Kutaisi can be like a trip back to Soviet times, I never felt unsafe there. Although, I think it’s important to clarify that there is a difference between feeling uncomfortable and feeling unsafe.

For example, seeing some of the more deprived and impoverished areas of Kutaisi made me feel uncomfortable. As did, groups of old men standing around on the street or being in a taxi and not speaking the same language as the driver. But in none of these situations were there any risks to my safety.

Is Kutaisi worth visiting?

Absolutely! I visited for three nights coming to and from London, and even with the flight times and time zone changes, it was still a great long weekend.

Kutaisi is like nowhere else I’ve ever visited – it truly is like stepping back in time to Soviet times. As such, it’s important to consider your expectations when planning a trip to Kutaisi. This is not a big European city where people speak English, you go on nights out and hop around on the metro. This is a small city for which tourism is not the main industry. A place to truly embrace the culture and history.

How do you pronounce Kutaisi?

coo-TAY-zee.

Gelati Monastery shown with scaffolding around the bottom of the building. A small group of visitors stand in front of the church admiring it's stunning medieval architecture.

For a small city that is off the beaten path for most tourists, Kutaisi has a lot to offer. It’s cheap, cheerful and is sure to grow in popularity in the coming years. If you’re planning a trip and wondering what the best things to do in Kutaisi are, I hope this guide was a useful tool. And if you’re not yet planning to visit Kutaisi, it should definitely be on your list for the future!

If you have any questions or want any more information drop a comment below and I’ll get back to you!

Currency conversions and offerings mentioned are correct as of December 2020 but are subject to change in future. Please remember to travel safely and responsibly.


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29 thoughts on “What To Do in Kutaisi, Georgia: Ultimate Guide for First-Time Visitors”

  • This is the first time I’m seeing a post written about Kutaisi. I’ve never heard of the city and it seems like a great lesser-known place. I was surprised that during normal circumstances the country welcomes tourists from around the world to stay longer than 3 months without a visa. It’s funny how the Colchis Fountain is mentioned so much, yet it’s pretty much impossible to get to since it’s at a roundabout.

    • Yeah, I think Georgia is quite a welcoming place and even before their new ‘Work from Georgia’ visa it was quite popular with people who work online for that reason (plus the cheaper living costs)!

  • I’ll be honest, I had no idea that Georgia the country existed! I was wondering how much there is to actually do there, but you’ve shared so many great things that I reckon 3 days would be the perfect amount of time to explore all the highlights that jump out to me. In particular I’d love to see the church and the monastery as I really love ancient buildings. The cable cars would also be a cool way to see the area from a different vantage point.

    • It’s definitely not well-known at all! I always love walking to the top of a monument or hill to see a city, and the cable cars definitely save my legs!

  • I understand what you are saying about a place not necessarily being b beautiful but worth seeing. Last year I went to Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost spot in the US. It was actually a bit ugly, but it was the most different place I have ever been which made it one of my family’s favorite.

    • Wow! I’ve always wanted to visit those tiny settlements up in the Artic Circle! And yeah they never look the most pretty on Google streetview but still such unique places!

  • Excellent post and appreciate your honest assessment of the city and its attractions. Georgia has been on my “must-visit” list for a while now; Kutaisi is now on there as well. Thx! Pinned for future travel.

  • ‘Georgia, the country, not the state’ gave me a chuckle since that’s exactly what I was wondering when I read the title! Loved your post! I really enjoy reading about lesser-known places and Kutaisi sounds very interesting. Thank you for the pronunciation guide – though having it near the top would be more helpful as I realized I had been pronouncing Kutaisi wrong the whole time I was reading! 😛 Also refreshing to read an honest take and setting the right expectations!

    • Haha! I’ve had to clarify it sooo many times, even though from Europe going on a weekend break to Georgia, USA would make no sense whatsoever!

  • Georgia is so exotic but was not aware of the charms of Kutaisi. I knew only about Tbilisi. Indeed Kutaisi is nothing short of a revelation with its vintage, old-world charm. There is really so much to see and experience here. The Bagrati Cathedral and the monasteries look so surreal and seem to have jumped out of a fairytale book. You have covered everything a first-time visitor to the city would need to know. This will surely be of great help when we plan to visit this amazing destination.

    • Yes, Kutaisi seems to lag behind Batumi and Tbilisi in terms of recent developments of the city but that allows it to keep it’s 20th century charm. There’s no high rise buildings or fancy architecture! Thank you for reading!

  • Hey, I never heard about Kutaisi before. I love to travel and to get to know more places. Georgia is definitely on my travel bucket list but I’m not sure which city I would like to see. Can’t wait to travel again after the pandemic!

    • You can travel around Georgia quite easily! You can enter via Turkey or Azerbaijan if you’re visiting as part of longer travels, or there’s international flights from a few airports in the countries.

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