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

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Serviced by cheap Wizz Air flights from the UK and Europe, but often bypassed 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 my top things to do in Kutaisi, organised into a handy 3-day itinerary.

 


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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 ended up visiting twice—first for four nights, then for another two nights—as we crisscrossed our way through Georgia. 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. 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’s my recommended three-day itinerary for Kutaisi—including things to do in Kutaisi, day trips from Kutaisi, plus transport and accommodation advice.

 


 

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.

 


 

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. 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.

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.

 

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

 

10.30 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 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 Soviet bas-relief on the market’s facade.

 

Bas-relief at the entrance of the Green Bazaar. Photo credit: Michal Zygmanski/Flickr (changes made). Used here under Creative Commons.

 

12.00 If you’re interested in seeing the futuristic Georgian Parliament Building (location) in person, jump in a taxi and head over (it’s only a 10 minute ride from the market). If not, spend another half hour at the market or grab a bench and relax in the park.

 

Old building in Tskaltubo. Photo credit: Orientalizing/Flickr (changes made). Used here under Creative Commons.

 

13.00 Take a 20-minute taxi ride to the nearby town of Tskaltubo. 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 19 sanatoriums, most of which now lay in ruins.

13.30 There are a couple of options for lunch in Tskaltubo. Cafe Nektari (location) serves Georgian fare and is located in the main part of town. Lake Side (location), which overlooks Tsivi Lake, is also popular.

14.30 Spend your afternoon wandering around Tskaltubo. If you’re into churches, highlights include the 14th-century Derchi Church, the 8th-century Gegtui Castle Hall, and the 12th-century Zarati Church.

For something different, try exploring some of Tskaltubo’s abandoned Soviet Sanatoriums. Dating back to the 1920s, the spas flourished under a state-funded program called putevki, which mandated all citizens of the Union to take spa vacations for at least two weeks each year. Many of the once-grand buildings are now falling apart. If you’re curious, here’s a look inside one of the old sanatoriums in Tskaltubo. [Important note: I do not advocate trespassing on private property! Enter at your own risk!]

 

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.

 

19.00 Return to Kutaisi by marshrutka (1 GEL; departing every 20 minutes) or taxi 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.

20.00 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. Organise a car and driver through your guesthouse (from 60-90 GEL per person—the more people you travel with, the cheaper it is). 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.

10.00–17.00

 

Bagrati Cathedral (bottom). Thanks to Ross’s parents for this photo!

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.

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). Build 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 is a touch more modest than Gelati, but commands stunning views of Imereti from its cliff-side location 6km outside of Kutaisi. If you have time, it’s possible to do a half-day 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

 

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.

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.

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. 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) prepared by Toma’s mother. Dinner is accompanied by wine from the family vineyard and chacha, which Toma serves in a 100-year-old glass bottle his grandfather owned.

Dinner costs 35 GEL per person (inclusive of a half-litre of house wine and two shots of chacha), and advance bookings are essential. I couldn’t think of a better way to end your time in Kutaisi!

 


See more: My photos from Chiatura, Georgia.

 

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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Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning I may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase (at no extra cost to you).

Photo credits: 7/ Michał Zygmański 8/ orientalizing. All other photos by me.

12 Comments

  1. 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

    • That’s great to hear, Ellis! There are so many places we had to skip over as well—we’re heading back next year for the same reason. Enjoy!

  2. Sarah - Borders & Bucket Lists

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

  3. 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. 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. This looks amazing. I keep seeing things about Georgia, looks like I should visit.

    • Oh yes, Georgia is very ‘in’ right now. And I’m glad to see more people visiting! It’s a very special part of the world. Hope you get there soon 🙂

  6. 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!

    • 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!

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