Kutaisi is Georgia’s second-largest city and former legislative capital (more on that later). Since the introduction of low-cost flights from all over Europe, Kutaisi has become a common first stop for many tourists traveling to Georgia. We believe the city is an attraction in itself, worth staying at least for a couple of days. Kutaisi has a couple of century-old monasteries, impressive temples, cool contemporary architecture and loads of old stone houses with wooden balconies. On top of that, beautiful nature surrounds the city. We arrived late at night and starving. Luckily for us, a couple of small restaurants were still open, so we tried Georgian food for the first time. It was love at first bite. Who would have thought that one of the best things to do in Kutaisi would be eating?
Things to Do in Kutaisi: Main sights
We woke up fully rested and went for a walk around the charming Old Town. Life in Kutaisi revolves around the pretty Main Square dominated by the unusual Colkhis Fountain, the Lado Meskhishvili State Drama Theatre and Kutaisi Park. From the square, we walked up north on cobbled Varlamishvili Street all the way to the neo-baroque Kharoba Church. Then we went back to the center to check the street market. Also known as the green market, they sell fresh produce, including sausages and our beloved khachapuri. Food lovers will be in heaven! Be sure to cross the bridge to get to the monumental, albeit heavily reconstructed, Bagrati Cathedral. It offers breathtaking views.
King Bagrati III unified Georgia back in the 10th Century. Not only that, but he is also a Saint. The King promoted Georgian Orthodox culture throughout his realm. That’s why in the 11th Century he built Bagrati Cathedral. Unfortunately, the Ottomans bombed it in 1692. Reconstruction began in 1950 and continued until 2012. Our friends from UNESCO included the church in its World Heritage Site back in 1994. Then in 2010 it included it in its World Endangered Heritage Sites, to finally exclude it in 2017 due to the extensive renovations. We disagree, the temple is absolutely gorgeous!
On the banks of the Roni River, you will find the Kutaisi Botanical Garden. The place holds over 700 plants brought from all over the country. Look for the chapel carved inside an old tree trunk. Walk on Boris Gasponov Street until you reach the Grand Synagogue. Built in 1885, it is a testament of the once thriving Jewish community in town. Stroll along Alexander Pushkin Street and admire the beautifully restored historical architecture. A great spot for pictures is the Tetri Bridge and its little boy sculpture. Regarding contemporary architecture, check out the Kutaisi Public Service Hall and the Parliament of Georgia.
Parliament of Georgia
If old traditional Georgian architecture is cool, wait till you see their new buildings. The Georgian Parliament Building in Kutaisi is a masterpiece. You will recognize its humongous 100m by 150m glass dome. Manicured gardens surround what looks like a giant eye. The inside is equally cool. It opened in 2012 and was the country’s parliament until January 2019, when they moved it back to Tbilisi. The building is now part of the Ministry of the Interior. Let’s hope they put it in good use. It would be a pity to see such beauty go into oblivion.
Great Day Trips from Kutaisi
As you can see, there are enough things to do in Kutaisi for a couple of days. Likewise, you can go on incredible day excursions. Gelati Monastery is, of course, a wonderful option. It is still a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Just 7 km of Kutaisi you will find Tskaltubo Spa Town. Built in the 1920’s it was where the Soviet elite went to rest. There is even a bath built for Joseph Stalin. Don’t miss nearby Prometheus Cave. This karst cave has 6 halls you can visit. Finally, for an extra dose of nature go search for the waterfalls of Martvili and Okatse Canyons. However, if you are short of time, you must hop on an authentic marshrutka and head up to the Svaneti Mountains.
Where to Stay in Kutaisi
A couple of years ago, there were only a handful of guesthouses in Kutaisi. Things are for sure changing. The Best Western Kutaisi is the best hotel in town. It’s in the middle of the city, has all modern-day conveniences, and a fantastic rooftop terrace with views over the entire city. Another great option is the Hotel King David, a couple of meters from Tetri Bridge. They’ve done a great job upgrading the old building. Ask for a top floor room to see the river from the privacy of your room. Finally, the Hotel Terrace Kutaisi, just like its name says, offers a roof terrace with the best views of Kutaisi. You can even see Bagrati Cathedral in all its glory.
Things to Do in Kutaisi: Food and Coffee
As we told you, we got our first taste of Georgian cuisine in Kutaisi. To us, it’s amongst the best food in the world. Though you can eat well almost anywhere, a couple of places stand out. The restaurant on top of the Best Western serves Georgian grill and offers brilliant views. We liked Kaskashi a lot. Located near Colchis Fountain, they serve traditional prime quality Georgian food. To eat surrounded by trees, go to Svenia, in the middle of Kutaisi Park. Their terrace is summer is very popular with the locals. For coffee and a cake try the fabulous Tea House Foe-Foe, across the Opera Theater.
How to Get to Kutaisi
First and foremost, you have to go to Georgia now. The country is still somehow under the radar, but we are sure that will change soon. Wizzair goes to Kutaisi from 11 European cities, including Athens, Barcelona, and Budapest. There are direct flights from Moscow and Kazakhstan too. Take note that Georgian Railways operates trains from Kutaisi to Batumi and Tbilisi. You can purchase your ticket here. You can also take buses. The journey to Batumi takes some 3 hours and to Tibilisi 5. To go to Svaneti take a traditional marshrutka. These vans zig-zag their way up to the mountains and, though you can get dizzy (Eitan did), the views are outstanding.