Planning a visit to Georgia’s Black Sea coast? Consider spending a day or two in Kobuleti, an intriguing small city with a fascinating history. Here are the best things to do in Kobuleti, day trip ideas, where to eat, and other travel tips.
There’s something eerily beautiful about Georgia’s Black Sea coast in the off season. Empty cafes, shuttered ice cream shops and a long stretch of dark, empty beach look all the more melancholy when positioned next to abandoned sanatoriums, faded mosaics and half-finished hotels.
Despite being one of the largest cities on the coast, Kobuleti is in hibernation mode for much of the year. As the owner of my guesthouse explained it, ‘Winter is for rest…we are all waiting for July’.
Kobuleti was a hive of activity when I drove through last August – when I returned in April, there was barely a soul in sight.
As you might have guessed, that didn’t bother me one bit. I decided to go all in on the dystopian beach vibes and found some real gems in the process. And amidst the forgotten turn-of-the-century villa houses on the waterfront, I encountered an unexpected community project bringing new life and energy to Kobuleti.
If you’re looking for a guide to the best swimming spots and beach bars, sorry but this definitely isn’t it. This post is all about the ‘other side’ of Kobuleti, what makes it a unique place to visit in Georgia – and why you need to visit out of season to experience it.
Since this is the gateway to Kobuleti Managed Reserve, part of Georgia’s UNESCO World Heritage-listed Colchic Rainforests and Wetlands, it also covers the Ispani mires.
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Located 30 kilometres north of Batumi on Georgia’s Black Sea coast, Kobuleti is a small city with just over 18,500 full-time residents. In summer (July and August) the population swells massively as an estimated 100,000 tourists descend on the beaches and resorts.
This seasonal cycle has been repeated year after year since the days of the Russian Empire, when this slice of pine-clad, subtropical coastline was chosen as the site for an aristocratic midsummer retreat. Much like Abastumani, the location was primarily chosen for its clean air.
In the Soviet era, Kobuleti was designated a ‘climatic-balneological resort’ and utilised by families claiming their annual ‘right to rest’ and anyone seeking treatment for respiratory illnesses.
Of course the area’s history goes back much further – to at least the Bronze Age, when nearby Tsikhisdziri and Bobokvati (now both within Kobuleti Municipality) were part of the Kingdom of Colchis and settled by Greek colonies. Just 10 kilometres down the road from Kobuleti city, Petra Fortress survives as a relic of Ancient Lazica and one of Georgia’s most important Roman-era archaeological sites.
Kobuleti is associated with the noble Kobulashvili family, who lent the area their name. In the 13th century it was famed not for sun, sea and surf but for something altogether more sinister: its slave market. In the 17th century, the territory became part of the Gurian Principality (Guria is now Georgia’s smallest region and the heart of tea country) and was subsequently occupied by the Ottomans who baptised Kobuleti with a new Turkish name, Çürüksu, meaning ‘rotten water’ – surely a reference to the peat bogs and swampy marshes that run along the coast.
After the annexation of Western Georgia, Kobuleti became a frontier settlement at the boundary of two empires: Ottoman-controlled Adjara and Russian-controlled Guria. It was eventually folded into the Russian Empire in 1878 after the second-to-last Russo-Turkish War.
Kobuleti’s trajectory changed in the mid-18th century when it became a summer resort for the Russian nobility. Tsar Alexander II kick-started this process when he portioned up the seafront and gifted parcels of land to high-ranking military commanders as a thank-you for their role in the victory over the Turks. Elegant villas began popping up on the seafront amidst forests of pine trees, eucalypts, bamboo, cypress and date palms. Sadly, most houses of this vintage have been destroyed – obvious gaps in the vegetation reveal where they once stood.
These aristocratic villas were seized under Sovietisation, but Kobuleti’s designation of ‘resort status’ in 1923 ensured its continued prosperity as a wellness destination for tourists from the USSR. This ushered in a building boom and new hotels, boarding houses and sanatoriums (not dissimilar to the ones at Tskaltubo) were erected. From the 1950s, many of these sanatoria belonged to the Soviet Ministry of Defence.
After the War in Abkhazia (1992-3), a few thousand IDPs were temporarily resettled in the newly abandoned hotels. Kobuleti became an alternative beach destination to Sokhumi, Pitsura or Gagra and is still very popular among tourists from Georgia, Armenia and elsewhere.
Best time to visit Kobuleti
If you want to experience the ‘beach resort’ side of Kobuleti then you must visit in summer, from late June until the first weeks of September. Families live here year-round but outside of these months, many guesthouses and almost all non-essential businesses close down.
If you want to see a different side of Kobuleti, visit in the off season. I recommend either late spring or preferably autumn. It can be very wet and windy between March and May.
Things to do in Kobuleti
If you’re interested in Soviet history, mosaics, abandoned buildings, interesting architecture and local museums, you’ll find enough to keep you occupied for a full day in Kobuleti.
There are two main roads in the city, both running parallel to the beach. Even though it’s flat and very easy to navigate, be warned that things are quite spread out. It takes almost an hour to get from one end of the beach to the other on foot.
Local taxis are available near the market and the Bolt app works here too. Bus #1 runs up and down Agmashenebeli Avenue every 20 minutes or so and costs 40 tetri per ride, paid in coins to the driver as you exit the bus.
Here are 10 things to do in Kobuleti plus a few recommended side trips.
Wander the waterfront
Kobuleti has a sizable beachfront – 11 kilometres of shoreline give or take – all of it black pebbles and rocks. The curve of the coast is just right for views all the way down to Tsikhisdziri Cape, Mtsvane Kontskhi (‘Green Cape’, site of the Batumi Botanical Garden) and the city itself. Silhouettes of Batumi’s skyscrapers and the ferris wheel are clearly visible from Kobuleti Beach.
Kobuleti Boulevard starts from behind the city centre and runs along the water for almost the entire length of the beach. It’s brand new and very pleasant to walk on, with wide sidewalks, cycling paths, and sculptural seats, water fountains and bike racks. It’s especially nice in the evening when locals are out with their tricycle-toting kids and dogs. Sunsets on Georgia’s west-facing coast are majestic and Kobuleti is no exception.
Along the way, you’ll meet little upturned boats and photogenic tangles of fishing nets. Monumental staircases every few dozen metres provide access to the shore below. The only thing that stands between the city and the surf – which sometimes swells high enough to engulf the main street – is a long concrete sea wall. On the other side, tall bleachers serve as tiered seating for beachgoers.
Walking the boulevard brings you to the pier and Kobuleti Central Park, where the mosaic fountain is located (see #3). I would have loved to wander out onto the pier but it’s clearly missing a few large sections of flooring – probably washed away in this year’s winter storms.
Explore the abandoned hotels & sanatoria
Kobuleti’s waterfront is dotted with the skeletons of old hotels and sanatoriums – some abandoned and gutted, others never finished. The most notable of these is the old Hotel Kolkheti, which functioned under the state-owned Intourist. Up until a few years ago it was very well preserved, as you can see in these photos taken in 2015.
I was immensely disappointed to find a big crater in the earth where the Hotel Kolkheti should have been. Apparently it was torn down in 2019/2020 (a crane on the site toppled onto the boulevard and beach, causing a big stir). The site is now fenced off and a sign out front indicates that it will eventually be redeveloped.
A nearby abandoned leisure complex has also vanished without a trace – see photos of it from 2015.
As a consolation prize, I did manage to find two old buildings of a similar vintage that are still standing. The first is a 12-story hotel at the top of the beach. Reduced to a skeleton, it too is cordoned off but large parts of the fence are missing and the front gate is open, so I took this as an invitation to go inside. The building has an interesting external staircase on the main building and nearby, a covered pool complex.
GPS location: 41.872556, 41.776778
Back on the main part of the boulevard, this abandoned hotel has a similar external staircase.
GPS location: 41.850438, 41.777835
With new hotel developments going up, it’s only a matter of time before these two buildings are demolished too.
Hunt down Kobuleti’s Soviet-era mosaics
Anywhere you find sanatoriums, you’ll also find Soviet-style mosaics. There are three beauties in Kobuleti that are relatively well-preserved and worth seeking out. I actually stopped to photograph two of these last summer when I was passing through and was glad to see they’re still in-tact.
The first is this bus stop, which depicts a panorama of ocean swimmers.
GPS location: 41.851377, 41.779238
This subdued underwater mosaic marks the entrance to one of the old sanatoriums off the main street.
GPS location: 41.835068, 41.777398
The pièce de résistance is this fountain complex inside Kobuleti Central Park. Designed by Ilia Pesvianidze, it comprises a series of pools decorated with a dozen large, three-dimensional fish and an octopus. Each is clad in incredibly detailed, vivid mosaics.
I spotted a fourth mosaic on the grounds of the Marshal Resort. Just visible through the fence from the boulevard, it depicts two swimmers diving for a jellyfish surrounded by dolphins and other sea creatures.
This hotel is one of the originals – built in 1927, it apparently hosted a slew of esteemed guests including cosmonauts Yuri Gagarin and Gherman Titov.
Visit the wonderful Effendi Villa
The last thing I was expecting to find in Kobuleti is a vibrant community project. Luckily I stumbled across Effendi Villa online before I arrived, but I’m sure the house would have caught my eye anyway – it certainly stands out. During my visit to Kobuleti I organised to meet up with one of the co-founders, Lyubov Kuznetsova, who very graciously gave up her afternoon to show me around.
Effendi Villa is one of the oldest surviving houses in Kobuleti and has literally seen it all. Commissioned by Teodosi Ivanovi, an officer of the Russian Imperial Army, for his wife Lydia Vasilyevna Effendi, the house was built at the turn of the century by Italian architects. Tragically, after a few short years the family was forced to move to Leninakan (now Gyumri) where Ivanovi was charged with ‘counter-revolutionary’ acts and executed. The house lived on as a school, a warehouse and a summer camp before it eventually fell into disrepair.
Lyubov and her husband (who is a descendant of Ivanovi) inherited the villa and have dedicated their lives to rehabilitating it. Using photos and memories as reference, and with help from various experts and volunteers, they are piecing the decorative mouldings, carvings and ceramic fireplaces back together. It’s an ongoing project but what they’ve managed to achieve so far is remarkable.
This is far more than a simple DIY project, though. Inspired by the house’s history and the legacy of the family who built it, Effendi Villa is getting a new lease on life as a Cultural Heritage Monument and an asset for the entire Kobuleti community. Effendi Villa advocates for cultural preservation, the restoration of historic monuments and education around built heritage throughout the Autonomous Republic of Adjara.
There are visions to use the house for English classes and workshops for children from disadvantaged backgrounds (something they started in 2019 but have had to put on pause), and eventually to host artists in residence.
I can think of so many places in Georgia that are in desperate need of a project like this one. Effendi Villa is one of the very rare lucky ones who fortunately fell into the hands of the right people. I can’t wait to see how the project evolves in the years to come. If you’d like to visit the villa and support their work, reach out to Lyubov directly via their website or Facebook page.
Walk through the small Kobuleti Museum
If you’re searching for things to do in Kobuleti on a rainy day, the local history museum is located in the centre of town, close to city hall. The exhibition is small and a bit stuffy, but it’s worth a quick walk through if you’re in the area.
The collection contains archaeological objects, coins, clay amphora and locally made carpets. Information panels are in English.
The museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am-6pm. Entrance costs 5 GEL.
Climb the lookout tower at Kobuleti Managed Reserve
Back from the water’s edge, between the sea and the mountains, Kobuleti Managed Reserve is a strange and unexpected landscape of marshy wetlands.
This is probably Kobuleti’s biggest tourist attraction aside from the beach. Hugely important to the area’s biodiversity, the 770-hectare park has been protected under the Ramsar Treaty as a ‘wetland of international importance’ since 1971. In 2021 it was named as Georgia’s fourth UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the larger network of protected areas that make up the Colchic Rainforests and Wetlands, AKA the ‘Amazon of the Caucasus’.
Also known as the Ispani mires, the Reserve is dominated by a 1700-year-old clay bog fed by rainwater and lined with peat. This environment supports many unique types of vegetation including Sphagnum moss, a relic from the ice age. The dome-shaped Ispani II mire rises and falls up to 25 centimetres with heavy rain, sucking up the fresh water like a sponge. It serves as an important nesting ground for local and migratory birds, with egrets, bee-eaters and harriers inhabiting the mires during spring and autumn (the best times to visit for bird watching are April and October).
New elevated boardwalks, a lookout tower and three 500-metre marked hiking trails have been erected in the park along with signboards. Watch out if you’re visiting after heavy rain as the area gets very muddy – I took two steps on one of the hiking trails and had to turn back. The wooden bridges and grassy ridge at the start of the park are much easier to navigate.
Entrance to the Reserve is free and the area is open and accessible 24/7. To get there from the centre, take bus #1 up Agmashenebeli Avenue to the intersection of Bagrationi Street (marked here), then walk 300 metres to the end of the road. There is no information or ticket desk, but the main entrance to the park is clearly signposted. After you pass the last house, cross the bridge. You’ll see the information boards and marked paths leading towards the lookout tower.
For more information about the mires or to organise a local guide, drop into the visitor’s centre on the main street (open weekdays from 9am-6pm).
Browse Kobuleti Central Market
Back in the centre of town, Kobuleti’s sprawling central market features a separate Agrarian Market for local farm produce: Black tea flecked with slices of sun-dried tangerine, Adjarian regional cheeses, stacks of jams and sour plum sauces. It’s a touch touristy but worth a browse nonetheless.
The rest of the outdoor market is a cacophony of stalls selling fresh produce, loose leaf tobacco and fish.
Eat iakhni, a Kobuleti specialty
Adjara has a fabulous regional cuisine that’s rich in dairy and echoes the region’s Turkish-Ottoman influences. Kobuleti’s very own specialty dish, iakhni, is a rich beef stew made with ground walnuts, onion, garlic and spices. It’s a bit like Megrelian kharcho in texture but with a unique taste.
Iakhni is considered a wedding dish but you’ll find it on the menu at restaurants around Kobuleti and throughout Adjara. I first tried it at BatuMarani in Batumi, but the few I had in Kobuleti were even better. The version at Adjarian House is very, very tasty. It was one of the few restaurants open during my visit in spring.
Eat fresh fish at Taraghana
Taraghana restaurant is a Kobuleti institution. Like most fish restaurants it closes during winter, so you will have to visit Kobuleti during the warmer months for this one. I tried it when I was road tripping down the Black Sea coast last summer.
Much like the Fish Market in Batumi, you choose your desired fresh caught fish, pay by weight, then the chef will cook it up for you. They do a really yummy grilled fish with garlic sauce, and the salads and chips are also very good! If it’s not raining, sit on the upstairs deck for a water view.
Taraghana is located at the southern end of town, 20 minutes by foot or 5 minutes by taxi from the museum and market.
More things to do around Kobuleti
If you have more time or decide to use Kobuleti as a home base, here are more things to do nearby on this section of the Black Sea coast.
South of Kobuleti: Petra Fortress & Tsikhisdziri
Petra Fortress, Tsikhisdziri hidden beach and Seaside Shukura are just down the coast in Kobuleti Municipality and easy to get to by boarding a Batumi-bound bus. A little further on, Chavki village is home to some beautiful old architecture, including the ‘Tea House’ where tea specialist Lao Jin Jao lived with his family.
Petra Fortress recently reopened after extensive renovations and is definitely worth visiting. The castle sits high on a rocky outcrop over the sea, surrounded by terraced gardens with lush arbours, the remains of an old limonarium. Entrance costs 5 GEL.
North of Kobuleti: Shekvetili
Shekvetili is a much smaller beach town 15 kilometres north of Batumi. The swimming beaches in this area are quite good, especially around Ureki. Other things to do in Shekvetili include the Dendrological Park and Miniature Park. See my Guria guide for more information.
To get to Shekveteli from Kobuleti, simply jump on any of the north-bound buses travelling up the coast.
Inland from Kobuleti: Kintrishi Nature Reserve
Kintrishi State Reserve is a remote national park deep within the mountains of Adjara region, behind Kobuleti. It forms another part of the Colchic Rainforests and Wetlands and contains ancient Colchian boxwood and Utkhovari groves, lakes and waterfalls, and medieval arched ‘Tamari’ bridges.
The road from Kobuleti to the entrance through Chakhati is around 35 kilometres / 1.5 hours by car. The road is unpaved in parts and quite rough, so you need a 4WD or a car with high clearance. Hiking trails and camping areas are marked within the park.
Where to stay in Kobuleti
Every second house in Kobuleti is a guesthouse or small hotel – you’ll have no trouble finding a place to stay during the off season. Rooms book out in summer so I recommend reserving at least a few weeks in advance if you’re planning to travel between June and September.
Lia Guest House: I stayed at this simple family home on my recent trip to Kobuleti. Host Nana is extremely kind and the house is very quiet and comfortable. It’s located in the northern part of the city, close to the Reserve but a long walk from the centre of town. Check prices & availability here on Booking.com.
Marshal Resort: If I go back to Kobuleti, I’ll definitely stay in one of the refurbished suites at Marshal Resort. Rooms are tidy and spacious, the location on the seafront is ideal, and the place is dripping with history (a la Tskaltubo Spa Resort). Check prices & availability here on Booking.com.
Sunset Kobuleti: This simple self-contained apartment is located in the centre of town close to the museum and restaurants. Check prices & availability here on Booking.com.
How to get to Kobuleti
Kobuleti is well connected with other cities on the Black Sea coast. High-speed trains are available from Tbilisi, and most vans travelling to Batumi pass through Kobuleti.
Batumi to Kobuleti
From the old bus station near Batumi Plaza, take a direct van or any marshrutka van travelling north along the Black Sea coast to Poti, Shekvetili, Anaklia, etc. and ask the driver to drop you off in Kobuleti.
Travel time to Kobuleti is 40 minutes and the fare is 2.5 GEL.
Kutaisi to Kobuleti
From Kutaisi Central Bus station, take a Batumi-bound bus (every hour on the hour between 9am and 5pm) and ask the driver to drop you off in Kobuleti.
Travel time is just over 2 hours and the fare is 10 GEL.
Tbilisi to Kobuleti
The fast train from Tbilisi to Batumi stops at Kobuleti Railway Station. There are several departures daily and the fare is 25 GEL for a second-class ticket. See this travel guide for more information. The Railway Station in Kobuleti is located 1 kilometre (15 minutes by foot) from the museum and centre of town.
Alternatively, direct minivans to Kobuleti depart from Okriba (Didube Bus Station), but they might run on a pared-back schedule outside of summer. Vans travelling to Batumi take the E692 highway and pass through Kobuleti, so you can take a Batumi van and ask the driver to drop you off early. Travel time is 5.5-6 hours and the fare is 30 GEL.
If you’re continuing your Georgia itinerary in Batumi or elsewhere on the coast, you’ll find there are frequent van connections to other towns and cities in the area. Batumi vans can be flagged down on Kobuleti’s main street. Tickets cost 2.5 GEL. Daily fast trains to Batumi and Tbilisi depart from the railway station.
Marshrutka vans and shared taxis for Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Ozurgeti and elsewhere wait outside the Central Market and in front of the railway station. Visit Tourist Information (pinned on the Kobuleti Map linked above) for up-to-date information on timetables and fares.
Have you been to Kobuleti? What were your impressions? Do you have any other Kobuleti travel tips to share?
Here are some of the websites and services I use when I’m planning a trip to Georgia and the Caucasus. Remember to check out my full list of travel resources for more tips.
- Find affordable flights to Tbilisi, Batumi or Kutaisi on Skyscanner.
- Use iVisa to check if you need a tourist visa for Georgia and apply for an expedited visa online.
- Insure your trip with HeyMondo, my preferred provider for single-trip and annual travel insurance.
- Pre-book a private transfer from Tbilisi Airport to your hotel (from $16) or from Kutaisi Airport to Tbilisi (from $90) with my preferred partners at GoTrip.ge.
- Find a great deal on a rental car in Georgia – use the Local Rent website to book through a local agent (from $30/day).
- Buy your tickets for the Tbilisi to Baku or Yerevan sleeper train online in advance through my partners at Geotrend (get a discount when you use the code in this post).
- Find the best Georgia hotel deals on Booking.com, book a Georgia hostel, or find a unique Airbnb in Tbilisi.
- Find the best city tours and day excursions in Georgia on Get Your Guide.
- Compare mobile providers and pick up a local Georgian sim card.
- Order a copy of the latest Lonely Planet Caucasus guidebook (published February 2022).
You might also be interested in…
– The ultimate Georgia itinerary: Four detailed & custom designed itineraries
– Places to visit in Georgia: 35+ unique destinations around the country