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.
Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission if you click through and make a qualifying purchase.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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 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.
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!
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.
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?
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.
PIN IT FOR LATER!