Caucasus Georgia

Canyons, Cathedrals & Cable Cars: A 3-Day Itinerary for Kutaisi, Georgia

Serviced by cheap Wizz Air flights from the UK and Europe but often skipped by tourists, Kutaisi is one of Georgia’s most charming cities. It’s also a jumping-off point for Imereti—a region rich in natural beauty and historical landmarks. Here are the top things to do in Kutaisi, organised into a handy 3-day itinerary.

Kutaisi, Georgia’s third-largest city, is one of the oldest settlements in Europe. It also serves as the country’s legislative capital and the seat of Georgian parliament.

Petite, pretty and wrapped in a constant autumnal glow, Kutaisi has a totally different vibe to Tbilisi. It’s as if the phrase ‘old-world charm’ was coined to describe it: Kutaisi looks and feels as if it’s of another era.

Many travellers skip Kutaisi, but we’ve visited three times—on two separate occasions when we crisscrossed our way across Georgia in 2017, and again on our return trip in 2019.

Colchis Fountain, Kutaisi’s most recognisable landmark.

We spent hours in Kutaisi’s Green Bazaar—one of the most vibrant marketplaces in the Caucasus—ate wonderful food (including plenty of Imeretian khachapuri), and fell in love with Kutaisi’s charming cafes. Just outside Kutaisi in Chiatura, we had the once-in-a-lifetime experience of riding a 1950s-era cable car built on the orders of Stalin himself.

We laid eyes on Katskhi Pillar, one of the most incredible houses of worship I’ve ever seen. Just 15km from Kutaisi is the old spa resort at Tskaltubo—another window onto Georgia’s Soviet past. South of the city, Imeretian wine country is home to dozens of family run vineyards such as the award-winning Baia’s Wine.

And the day trip we took around Imereti to visit the region’s canyons, caves and cathedrals ended up being one of our most memorable travel days—largely thanks to our homestay host-cum-guide, Georgi, who really showed us a good time.

Speaking of people, the locals we met in Kutaisi and Chiatura were among the friendliest and most welcoming people in all of Georgia.

Kutaisi, Republic of Georgia | Serviced by cheap Wizz Air flights from Europe but often overlooked by tourists, Kutaisi is one of Georgia's most charming destinations. It's also a jumping-off point for Imereti—a region rich in natural beauty and historical landmarks. Here are my top things to do in Kutaisi, organised into a handy 3-day itinerary.
One of many friendly faces at the Green Bazaar in Kutaisi, Georgia.

All in all, I think Kutaisi is a wonderful place to base yourself for a few days. It’s a good spot to break up the east-west journey between Tbilisi and Svaneti or Batumi.

For those arriving in Georgia at Kutaisi’s international airport on budget airlines flydubai or Wizz Air, I highly recommend staying a few days and seeing what Kutaisi and Imereti have to offer!

Here is my recommended three-day itinerary for Kutaisi—including things to do in Kutaisi, day trips from Kutaisi, plus transport and accommodation advice.

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Transparency: We were guests of Budget Georgia during our trip to Kutaisi in July 2019. As always, all opinions and recommendations are 100% my own.


How to get to Kutaisi

Overland

Kutaisi is easily accessible from almost everywhere else in Georgia, with both minivan (marshrukta) and train connections available. The first time we arrived in Kutaisi, we came by train from Gori (4 hours travel time; 1 GEL per person). The main train station is Kutaisi I Railway Station. The smaller Kutaisi II Railway services Tskaltubo.

Kutaisi’s main bus station is located on the opposite side of the Rioni River from the main part of town, next to the McDonald’s restaurant and Kutaisi II Railway (see the location here on Google Maps). A marshrutka ride to Kutaisi from Tbilisi takes about 4 hours and costs between 15 and 20 GEL (we did this too, but travelling in the opposite direction). When we travelled from Batumi to Kutaisi by marshrutka, a ticket cost us 10 GEL, and the ride took about 3 hours. Finally, Mestia (Svaneti) to Kutaisi cost 24 GEL and took about 5 hours at the time of our trip.

Visit Kutaisi publishes a full marshrutka timetable on their website—although it’s unclear how often its updated or how true buses run to schedule. If you have questions about transport or anything else, I highly recommend visiting the Kutaisi Tourist Information Centre.

By air

Budget airlines Wizz Air and flydubai both operate direct flights to Kutaisi from the UAE and a range of cities in Eastern and Western Europe (see here for route details). If you’re arriving by air, you’ll end up at David the Builder Kutaisi International Airport, which is about 20km or a 30-minute drive southwest of downtown. It’s a small, low-key airport (on one of our day trips, our driver casually stopped off and ran into the terminal to pick up a map for us!). A taxi from the airport to your accommodation should cost between 20 and 30 GEL. Alternatively, you can walk across the highway and jump on the Batumi to Tbilisi marshrutka to Kutaisi for 3-5 GEL. Wizz Air also operates a Kutaisi shuttle bus, as well as a shuttle to Tbilisi. See here for more details.

Transport in Kutaisi city

Home to less than 150,000 people, Kutaisi is a pretty compact city. Once you’re in Kutaisi, it’s easy to get around. We walked to most places, but also relied on the public bus network to get around town. The number 1 bus is particularly handy, because it stops at both the Central Market and the main bus station. A bus ride costs 40 tetri.

Taxis are very affordable in Georgia. We used the taxi app Maxim to get around in Kutaisi. You’ll need a local number to use the app – buy a sim card either at Kutaisi airport or at the Magti shop just off Kutaisi Park. Data packages start from 10 GEL.


Where to stay in Kutaisi

No matter your budget, you’ll find plenty of accommodation options to choose from in Kutaisi. Family-run guesthouses are especially popular and my top choice.

Budget hostels in Kutaisi

There are at least three hostels in Kutaisi—but if I were you, I would pay the extra few dollars and upgrade to a family-run guesthouse.

Family-run guesthouses in Kutaisi

We stayed at two guesthouses in Kutaisi: Guest House Smile, and Kutaisi Hotel California. Both were clean, comfortable, and managed by kind-hearted Georgian women. If neither of those take your fancy, here are plenty more guesthouse recommendations for Kutaisi.

Hotels in Kutaisi

When my boyfriend’s parents visited Kutaisi not long after us, they stayed at Hotel Ponte. From what they’ve said, it’s a family-run hotel with an excellent location in the central part of town. They loved it so much, they’re heading back to stay again later this year! View more Kutaisi hotels here on Agoda.com.


Read next: 29 fabulous family-run guesthouses in Georgia.


Things to do in Kutaisi: Recommended 3-day Kutaisi itinerary

Here’s how you should spend three days in Kutaisi, Georgia—including top things to do in Kutaisi city, and the best day trips around Imereti.

Day 1: Kutaisi city & Tskaltubo

9.00 Start your first day in Kutaisi the right way with coffee and breakfast at one of the cute cafes on Shota Rustaveli Avenue. Kutaisi has a serious vintage vibe—I seem to remember that all the ladies in town were dressed in florals, lace and leather shoes.

Essential reading: The best Kutaisi cafes, wine bars and restaurants.

Cute artsy and retro-themed cafes are in no short supply, and Tea House Foe-Foe (location, reviews) is a favourite among them. Housed in a beautiful historic building, mismatched chairs and tables are set over two levels connected by a shallow marble staircase (it almost looks like an old theatre).

The ceiling is covered in original murals and bookshelves line every wall. The breakfast specialty at Foe-Foe is waffles. They also offer a very long menu of loose-leaf teas.

Kutaisi’s State Drama Theatre.

10.00 After breakfast, take a quick walk around Kutaisi Park and admire the old-town architecture. Highlights include Meskhishvili Theatre, the Opera Theatre, Kutaisi City Hall and of course, the ornamental Colchis Fountain in Tsentraluri Moedani Square. The fountain is a tribute to the ancient Kingdom of Colchis, which dates back to the second millennium BC and had Kutaisi as its capital.

Cross the White Bridge and take a look at the Golden Marquee, all that remains of a 17th century palace erected in Kutaisi for the Imeretian royal family.

Flying Wizz Air to Republic of Georgia? Don't skip Kutaisi! Here are my top things to do in Kutaisi, organised into a handy 3-day itinerary. | © Emily Lush 2018

11.00 Cross Kutaisi Park and wander over to the Green Bazaar (location), Kutaisi’s main marketplace. There’s an incredible array of brightly coloured produce on display, including chillis, spices, fresh fruit and veg, churchkhela and other Georgian delicacies.

The monumental sculpture outside Kutaisi Green Bazaar.

The Green Bazaar was one of the most vibrant marketplaces we visited in the Caucasus and I think it’s one of the best things to do in Kutaisi. Don’t miss the imposing bas-relief on the market’s facade.

If you prefer some narration and local tips, I highly recommend joining a free walking tour of Kutaisi with Budget Georgia. Tours depart daily at 10am from their office on Kantselebi St, and cover all the city centre’s major points of interest, including the fountain, bazaar, White Bridge, and more.

A plate full of colourful food.
Pikhali at Sisters.

12.00 Grab lunch at one of the Georgian restaurants in the centre of Kutaisi. Sisters opened in 2019 and is my new favourite sit-down cafe. Make sure you try the pikhali! If you’re on a budget, join the locals for a feed at Bikentia’s Kebabery.

13.00 After lunch, travel to the nearby town of Tskaltubo, just north of Kutaisi. Known for its radon-carbonate mineral springs, Tskaltubo served as a popular retreat during Georgia’s years as a Soviet Republic. At its peak, Tskaltubo had no fewer than 20 sanatoriums, many of which are now abandoned.

There are marshrutky vans travelling from Kutaisi to Tskaltubo every 20 minutes or so. From the market, cross the Red Bridge and look for vans parked on the left-hand side of the road. One of these will have a sign for Tskaltubo in the windscreen. The ride takes 20 minutes and costs 1.20 GEL. Pay the driver directly when you get out.

When you arrive in Tskaltubo, you’ll get dropped off outside a supermarket. Just behind you is a large green space. There are many abandoned and still-functioning bathhouses scattered around the park, plus some larger sanatoriums on the main road.

Inside Sanatorium Iveria.

Dating back to the 1920s, the spas flourished under a state-funded program called putevki, which mandated all citizens of the Soviet Union to take spa vacations for at least two weeks every year.

Bath House Number 5 and Sanatorium Iveria are both easy to explore and boast the most impressive architecture. For more information about visiting Tskaltubo, check out this detailed guide. I followed Kami’s recommendations when I visited Tskaltubo in 2019.

Important note: Some sanatoriums are occupied by families who were resettled in Tskaltubo following the conflict in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.Out of courtesy for the residents, I do not recommend visiting these buildings.

Flying Wizz Air to Republic of Georgia? Don't skip Kutaisi! Here are my top things to do in Kutaisi, organised into a handy 3-day itinerary. | © Emily Lush 2018
Live music at Bar-Restaurant Palaty in Kutaisi, Georgia.

18.00 Return to Kutaisi by marshrutka (1.20 GEL; departing every 20 minutes from outside the supermarket) in time for dinner at Bar-Restaurant Palaty (location, reviews). Located in the heart of the old town, Palaty is one of Kutaisi’s most atmospheric eateries. Evening violin and piano recitals add to the ambiance.

View of Kutaisi from the cablecar.

20.00 After dinner, it’s time to get a view of the city. Cross the roundabout to reach Kutaisi’s cablecar station (open from 12 midday until 10pm in summer). The short ride up to the theme park that overlooks Kutaisi costs just 1 GEL. For an even better view, spend another 2 GEL on a ferris wheel ride.

21.00 Kutaisi doesn’t have much of a nightlife, so I suggest finishing your day with a glass or two of local red at Satsnakheli Wine Gallery (location, reviews) on Pushkin Street.


Day 2: Imereti’s canyons & cathedrals

Spend a full day outside Kutaisi in the uber-lush Imereti region.

There are a few different options for getting around. You can organise a car and driver through your guesthouse (from 60-90 GEL per person—the more people you travel with, the cheaper it is), or join an organised day tour with Budget Georgia. This itinerary covers Kutaisi’s three most important religious sites in 2 hours, while this full-day tour includes all the major nature spots.

It’s also possible to DIY it and get from place to place by marshrutka—although this will be more time consuming and you’ll see less.

Things to do in Kutaisi: Monasteries and churches

The turquoise-domed Bagrati Cathedral overlooks Kutaisi city from the top of Ukimerioni Hill. Built in the 11th century, the church has gone through many phases of decay and reconstruction. Next to the church is a palace-citadel. Remnants of a wine cellar can be seen strewn around the gardens.

Gelati Monastery.

The UNESCO-listed Gelati Monastery is located 10km outside of Kutaisi and is an excellent example of a Christian Orthodox house of worship (it was actually one of the first to be constructed in a freshly-converted Georgia).

Built during the Byzantine Empire, Gelati is lavishly decorated with arches, mosaics, triptychs and frescoes. King David IV, AKA David the Builder, is buried near the monastery’s south gate.

Motsameta Monastery.

Motsameta Monastery is a touch more modest than Gelati, but commands stunning views of Imereti from its cliff-side location 6km outside of Kutaisi. There is also an old school building and observatory on the property. If you have time, it’s possible to do a short hike between Gelati and Motsameta.

Located in town, Kutaisi Church of Annunciation is also worth a visit. The Gothic-Baroque church is a scaled-down copy of an Orthodox church in Saint Petersburg, Russia, and was built in the 19th century on the orders of the Russian Emperor.

Flying Wizz Air to Republic of Georgia? Don't skip Kutaisi! Here are my top things to do in Kutaisi, organised into a handy 3-day itinerary. | © Emily Lush 2018
Martvili Canyon and Okatse Canyon in Imereti, Georgia.

Things to do in Kutaisi: The great outdoors

Kutaisi Botanical Garden is located behind Bagrati Cathedral on the banks of the Rioni River. Entry costs just 1 GEL; you can see everything the garden has to offer in a couple of hours. Don’t miss the Virgin Mary Chapel—a tiny church that’s set in the hollow of a 400-year-old Oak Tree!

Okatse Canyon is very popular among tourists thanks to the 1.5km suspension bridge that runs through the centre. It’s usually busy, yes, but the views are really gorgeous. Entrance costs 7 GEL. Kayaking is the activity of choice at the lesser-visited but equally gorgeous Martvili Canyon.

The canyon used to be a favourite swimming hole among Georgian aristocracy and it’s easy to see why—the green and blue hues of the water, trees and mossy rocks are pretty phenomenal. Entry to the canyon costs 13 GEL plus an additional 15 GEL if you want to kayak.

Flying Wizz Air to Republic of Georgia? Don't skip Kutaisi! Here are my top things to do in Kutaisi, organised into a handy 3-day itinerary. | © Emily Lush 2018
Kinchkha Waterfall outside of Kutaisi, Georgia.

It takes about an hour to walk around Sataplia Nature Reserve, an ancient primary forest outside of Kutaisi. A set of 120-million-year-old dinosaur print fossils unearthed in the area are displayed in a special building inside the park.

Further north, Kinchkha Waterfall is one of the highest in Georgia and a local favourite. If you’ve seen lots of waterfalls, it probably won’t impress—but the walk through the forest from the road down to the waterfall is very pleasant.

Illuminated by neon lights, Prometheus Cave is also very touristy but worth a visit if you like your stalactites. Entry costs 7 GEL plus an extra 7 GEL for a boat ride inside the cave.

Flying Wizz Air to Republic of Georgia? Don't skip Kutaisi! Here are my top things to do in Kutaisi, organised into a handy 3-day itinerary. | © Emily Lush 2018
Making churchkhela outside of Kutaisi.

If you’re travelling by car, see if you can convince your driver to stop off at Gorduli (info) on the way back to Kutaisi. This family-run production facility sells churchkhela wholesale, turning out thousands upon thousands of the iconic snack everyday.

If you’re lucky, the owner will treat you to a demonstration of the churchkhela-making process and let you sample the hot roux (and the finished product). We ended up leaving with a few bags of churchkhelas and tea. Without a doubt, the churchkhela from Gorduli were the best we ate in all of Georgia.

Colchis Fountain with the toastmaster, Tamada, at its centre.

19.00 When you arrive back in Kutaisi, head to the centre of town to see the Colchis Fountain lit up at night before grabbing an easy dinner at one of the restaurants dotted around the park. Baraqa (location, reviews), adjacent to the fountain, has outdoor seating and decent fare. Paolo (location, reviews), opposite the Opera House, serves some Asian dishes as well as Georgian cuisine. Papavero (location, reviews) has an exquisitely decorated dining room and offers vegetarian and vegan options.


Read more: How to make churchkhela, Georgia’s favourite snack.


Day 3: Day trip to Chiatura & Katskhi Pillar

8.30 Get an early start to make the most of your full-day trip north. Head to the Green Market to grab an Imeretian khachapuri (bread stuffed with cheese) before taking the number 1 bus from the front of the market to Kutaisi bus station.

9.20 The first marshrutka to Chiatura departs at 8am—but since you’ll be visiting Katskhi Pillar first and the cloister doesn’t open until 10.30am, I recommend catching the second bus at 9.20am. That way, you should arrive at Katskhi Pillar by 11am. For full instructions, ticket prices, travel times and directions for the bus driver, please refer to the link below.


Essential reading: Detailed instructions on how to reach Katskhi Pillar from Kutaisi.


Flying Wizz Air to Republic of Georgia? Don't skip Kutaisi! Here are my top things to do in Kutaisi, organised into a handy 3-day itinerary.

11.00 Katskhi Pillar is one of Europe’s great geological wonders and a monastery with a twist if ever there was one. Father Maxim lives in the monastery and you need special permission from him to ascend the limestone column.

There are lots of different vantage points to see and photograph Katskhi Pillar from afar—my directions will take you to a signposted viewing point, from where you can continue walking to the base of the pillar. As you can probably tell from the photos above, we didn’t have the best weather on the day we visited and so didn’t stay long.

Flying Wizz Air to Republic of Georgia? Don't skip Kutaisi! Here are my top things to do in Kutaisi, organised into a handy 3-day itinerary.
Friendly faces in Chiatura, Georgia.

12.30 When you’re ready to leave Katskhi, return to the main road, flag a marshrutka from the same place you got dropped off and continue another 10km to Chiatura. In Soviet times, Chiatura was a hotbed of industry thanks to its natural resources (manganese and iron oar mines were set in the cliffs around the city).

To improve productivity in the mines, Stalin ordered a network of cables cars to be built in Chiatura in the 1950s. At one time, there were 17 cable cars crisscrossing the valley—just a few are still running today. It’s free to ride the cable cars (if you dare). We tried it—it was a remarkable experience! You can read more about Chiatura here.

Apart from the cable cars, other points of interest in Chiatura include the abandoned Young Pioneers Palace (see more here). The town is actually quite sweet—with lots of pastel-coloured civic buildings and inclined streets.

Chiatura sees relatively few tourists so locals will surely take an interest in you. I recommend spending at least an hour walking up and down the main streets and noting the different concrete cable car station buildings. Grab some bread for lunch from one of the bakeries on the main drag, or pop into one of the local restaurants.

Flying Wizz Air to Republic of Georgia? Don't skip Kutaisi! Here are my top things to do in Kutaisi, organised into a handy 3-day itinerary.

17.00 The last marshrutka back to Kutaisi departs Chiatura at 5pm. It should get you back by 7pm. If you’re too late, jump on a Batumi-bound bus instead like we did and ask to be dropped off in Kutaisi.

See more: My photos from Chiatura, Georgia.

Dinner at Toma’s Wine Cellar in Kutaisi.

19.00 Back in Kutaisi, Toma’s Wine Cellar (location, reviews) is located between the bus station and downtown, making it the perfect place for dinner on your last night. A taxi to Toma’s from the centre of Kutaisi or from the bus station costs 3 or 4 GEL.

Tucked away in a residential neighbourhood, the family-run restaurant specialises in home-cooked Georgian food (think chicken in walnut sauce, sausage with sour plum sauce and Imeretian khachapuri) prepared by Toma’s mother and wife. Dinner is accompanied by wine from the family vineyard and delicious compote prepared from seasonal fruit.

Dinner costs 40 GEL per person (inclusive of a half-litre of house wine and two shots of chacha), and advance bookings are recommended. I couldn’t think of a better way to end your time in Kutaisi!


Over to you! Have you been to Kutaisi? What did you think of Georgia’s third-largest city? Alternatively, if you decided to skip it, I’d love to know why. If you’re yet to visit Georgia, do you think you would include Kutaisi in your itinerary?


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14 Comments Add New Comment

  1. Ellis says:

    In my two month trip to the Caucasus I couldn’t include everything and did not visit Kutaisi, but it seems its definetly one of the reasons that I should come back for. I am already planning a new trip there and this post convinced me that this time Kutaisi is on the itinerary

  2. Sarah - Borders & Bucket Lists says:

    I’ve been hearing so much about Georgia lately! I need to go! Waterfalls, and colors and food – I’m all about it.

  3. Josy A says:

    This all looks amaaazing. You have SUCH a good eye for photography. I love peeking at your photos so much! You really transport us all along with you around Kutaisi.

  4. Mayuri says:

    Such an amazing post. I didn’t know of this place, thanks for introducing me to Kutaisi- I will be putting this on my bucket list – looks like an amazing place to visit.

  5. Jamie says:

    Looks amazing! I’m flying to Kutaisi for seven nights at the end of October, and still can’t work out an itinerary. We would probably stay in Kutaisi for two nights. We’re young and like walking, but the Greater Caucasus might be too cold/unpredictable at this time. Is there an itinerary you could suggest? Any advice appreciated, thanks!

    1. Emily Lush says:

      Hi Jamie! I do have an itinerary post that you might find helpful (it’s featured on my home page). I would definitely recommend going to Mestia (Svaneti) from Kutaisi. It’s wonderful!

  6. Tara says:

    Hey – just wanted to say this is an awesome article! I lived in Kutaisi for just under a year and it’s very impressive you managed to discover and research so well all of this in such a short space of time. There’s a few places I didn’t know about or certainly didn’t even discover until much later in my time there!
    One great restaurant I don’t think you mentioned is Sapere – it’s a wine bar which does what I think One would class as “Georgian haute cuisine”. If you’re back in Kutaisi I would thoroughly recommend it.
    But damn this article gave me some nostalgia to be back in Kutaisi and Georgia in general 🙁

    1. Emily Lush says:

      Hey Tara! Thanks for the kind words. We spent about 2 months in Georgia and visited Kutaisi twice. I love it there.

      My favourite country for sure! Looking forward to heading back this summer. Sapere sounds wonderful! Thanks for the recommendation.

      Hope you make it back one day soon! I’d love to hear more about your experience living there—I’m going to check out your blog 🙂

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