Batumi is an excellent place to begin or finish any trip to Georgia. The city stretches from the Black sea up to the mountains, thus its beautiful natural setting. Regarding architecture, Batumi offers plenty of attractions: a charming Old Town, interesting ‘fin de siècle’ buildings, futuristic skyscrapers and parks. Batumi is especially popular in summer when masses of tourists invade its numerous beaches. On the other hand, we visited in winter and had a great time exploring this unique town in a quiet atmosphere. I don’t know why, but we expected Batumi to be terribly kitschy. It turned out to be pretty cool!
- 1 Batumi Attractions
- 2 What to Do in Batumi
- 3 Where to stay in Batumi
- 4 Where to Eat and Have Coffee
- 5 When to Visit Batumi
- 6 Day Trips from Batumi
- 7 How to Get to Batumi
The first thing you notice in Batumi is the plethora of beautiful architecture of different styles, many of them indefinable. Batumi rose into prominence at the end of the 19th Century when a railroad from Tbilisi and a pipeline from Baku made it Russia’s main oil port in the Black Sea. Hence, the many lavish neoclassical and art nouveau buildings from that period. At the beginning of the 21st century, after the so called ‘rose revolution’, Batumi boomed again, but this time it grew in height. Since then, dozens of ultramodern and ‘novelty’ buildings mushroomed along the coast line. It’s all somehow a bit bizarre.
Batumi’s Old Town houses five interesting historical temples built at the end of the 19th century and a brand new Catholic Church. The Virgin Nativity Cathedral is Batumi’s main Orthodox Church. This tall neo-gothic structure originally served as a catholic church but was later consecrated by a Georgian orthodox patriarch. Take note that orthodox churches built in gothic style are almost inexistent. On the other hand, the Greek Orthodox St. Nicolas Church is a typical neo-byzantine temple, while the Armenian Apostolic Church bears a distinctive Armenian touch. Finally, there is also a nice Mosque (Ortajame) and a Synagogue.
The last 15 years have changed Batumi’s skyline considerably. The still ongoing real estate boom can be seen everywhere. We biked all along the coast admiring the impressive buildings. Three skyscrapers deserve special mention. The 130 meter tall Alphabetic Tower is the most easily recognizable. The tower represents the 33 letters of the Georgian alphabet in the shape of a DNA helix. Then we have the tallest building in Georgia famous for its massive Ferris wheel: Batumi Tower. Finally, we have to mention the best hotel in town: The Sheraton Hotel. The building is a postmodern interpretation of the Great Lighthouse of Alexandria.
Weird Novelty Buildings
Other than several colorful towers, what struck us the most were what we call Novelty buildings. These line Rustaveli Avenue all the way to its continuation as the Seafront promenade. The first one to immediately grab our attention was the so called Face House that looks like a giant person under a roof. Across the street, stands erect a building that combines the architecture of traditional Georgian lace balconies with different historical styles. Continuing with the weirdness, walking along the seaside you’ll spot an array of world imitations. There’s a Venetian style tower followed by a small Acropolis and a giant Coliseum. What else could be missing? A copy of the White House.
The interesting and varied architecture in Batumi never ends. In fact, the city is packed with cool buildings. There are so many that it’s impossible to visit them all. Therefore, it’s better to focus on three cool squares around the Old Town. Most of Batumi attractions are there. The Theater Square is home to the shining Batumi Drama Theater and the Neptune Fountain. Next to it, Europe Square houses incredibly varied architecture, such as the Astronomical Clock and the Medea Statue. Finally Batumi Piazza surrounded by one building is a completely new project inspired by the famous Piazza di San Marco in Venice.
Just like other Georgian cities, Batumi hosts numerous sculptures. The largest one is the contemporary sculpture Ali & Nino located at the end of the Miracle Park. This impressive sculpture represents a Muslim boy and a Christian girl in love, moving next to each other until they merge. The Ilia Chavchavadze Monument in front of the Batumi Sate Theater is dedicated to the father of the nation. The more recent Medea Monument on Europe Square is dedicated to the granddaughter of the sun God Helios. Another monument we liked was the Engagement Statue on the beach promenade.
Parks and Gardens
Batumi’s recent grandiose urban reconstruction reached its peak with the embellishment of its coast. Beautiful green areas with interesting buildings, sculptures and fountains line the coast. Right in the city center, where the Alphabetic Tower is you’ll find the Miracle Park. The historical Lighthouse, the Chacha Clock Tower which is not operating anymore, and the Ferris Wheel are there. City’s largest park, Batumi Boulevard, is a long green area between the center and the beach. The small Collonades and the Dancing Fountains next to the sea are some of its highlights. Further along the coast you’ll find the 6 of May Park with a lake.
The main reason why most tourists visit Batumi is for its long beaches. After all, Batumi is Georgia’s main summer resort. The pebbled Batumi Beach is pretty long and full of nice cafes and restaurants. It starts in the city center next to the Ali & Nino Statue, north of Batumi Marina. The first stretch of the beach is packed with deck chairs and small lounges and has a more private feel. The beach then turns westwards right after the Alphabet Tower. From there it continues straight for 15 kilometers until it reaches the Chorokhi River. If you are looking for something more intimate, head over to the Mtsvane Kontskhi Beach in the north.
What to Do in Batumi
Walk about the Old Town
Happy Frog is in love with architecture, so we advise you to spend your time walking about Batumi’s Old Town. Look for historical buildings and modern graffiti. You can start your walk at the Alphabet Tower and walk to the Theater Square and then to the Europe Square. Continue along the Konstantine Gamsakhurdia Street, pass by the Armenian Apostolic Church and walk all the way to the Batumi Piazza. Visit the square and the St. Nicholas Church and walk towards the Batumi Mosque. From there turn right and walk to the Holy Mother Virgin Nativity Cathedral. Turn right again at Vaja Pshavela Street, pass by the Synagogue and end your walk at the Sheraton Hotel. Some of the weirdest novelty buildings are along the park in front.
Bike along the Coast
We also loved the green area along the coast and all of the bizarre buildings further away. You can walk all the way, but with pleasant weather in Batumi even in winter it makes much more sense to rent a bike. There is a bike lane and it’s pretty safe. Since 2011 Batumi has a bike sharing system Batumvelo. Though there are 20 stations, some of them might be out of order and bikes can be unreliable too. Therefore we advise visiting the Batumi Tourist Information Center in a kiosk next to the Batumi Boulevard Fountain. They sell Batumivelo cards and have information about other bike rentals.
Take the Cable Car
If you are dying for some breathtaking views of the city, catch the Argo cable car to the hill and prepare to be blown away. Actually, we believe it’s one of the obligatory things to do in Batumi. The cable car station is south of Batumi Marina, where the Chavchavadze Street reaches the sea. The cable car runs from 11 AM till 10PM and it takes about 10 minutes to reach the top. We went there during sunset, and with the thick clouds above the whole city was wrapped in an unusual blue color. Oustanding! There is a nice restaurant on the top and a small church.
Where to stay in Batumi
Batumi is packed with new fancy hotels with interesting architecture, most of them located near the three squares. From Sheraton, to Radisson, Hilton and Wyndham, you’ll find all the luxury you want. Likewise, Batumi offers plenty of boutique hotels and guesthouses for those into more intimate places. We stayed at the wonderful family owned My Warm Guest House, perfectly located between Europe Square and the Chacha Clock Tower. Our lovely host Nino spoke perfect English and gave us an insight into the life in Batumi. Had we stayed a little longer, we would have definitely booked a room at the Sheraton Batumi to stay within a totally Batumi building.
Where to Eat and Have Coffee
We visited Batumi in winter and most bars and restaurants were closed. Fortunately Café Gardens in the park in front of the Sheraton opens year-around and serves great coffee and desserts. Our favorite place in Batumi! Another place that is open year round is the Heart of Batumi. They serve delicious Georgian food with great options for both vegetarians and meat lovers. If you want to have dinner with a view, head over to Sheraton’s 360 Sky Bar & Restaurant. Finally, if you are into traditional spirits try the Georgian one at the Chacha Time.
When to Visit Batumi
Batumi is in ideal ‘year round’ destination because of its mild subtropical climate. Since most tourists come to Batumi for its long beaches, summer gets to be really crowded. Though most locals don’t recommend spending winter in Batumi we absolutely loved it. Yes, many shops and restaurants are closed, but there are still plenty of things to see and do and there are almost no tourists on site. We felt like we had the whole city to ourselves! Naturally, spring and fall (autumn) are great periods to visit for its balance of nice weather and not too many tourists.
Day Trips from Batumi
As you can see the abundance of things to see and do in Batumi will make you busy for a couple of days. But if you have an extra day to spend, get out of the city and explore its beautiful surroundings. Actually, two of the most important Batumi attractions are located outside of the city. The hundred years old Botanical Gardens of Batumi, north of the city, feature unique collection of subtropical and Mediterranean flora with more than 2000 units. It’s a very large garden, so you should reserve at least half a day for it. South of the city, by the main road leading to Turkey, you’ll find the Roman Gonio Apsarosi Fortress.
How to Get to Batumi
Batumi is well connected with the rest of Georgia and the neighboring Turkey. From Tbilisi and Kutaisi you can take a minibus (marshrutka) or a train. We always prefer trains, and those covering the route are quite new and have wi-fi onboard. To Tbilisi there is a slow overnight train with beds in private cars and seats in shared ones and two express daily trains that cover the route in about 5 hours. If you are coming from Svaneti you have to change minibuses in Zugdidi. If you are coming from Turkey, you can take one of the daily minibuses from Trabzon. We took one and loved the scenery along the way. You can also fly to Batumi from Tbilisi and several international destinations.