Kutaisi, the second-largest city in Georgia after Tbilisi, is located in the mid-west of the country in the Imereti Region. Georgia and its neighbouring countries – Russia to the north, Armenia and Turkey to the south and Azerbaijan to the east are part of the Caucasus region, which links Europe with Asia.
Many visitors arriving in Georgia on low-cost airline WizzAir will land at Kutaisi, then immediately make the three to four hour journey to Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital or head to the main beach resort of Batumi.
As my flight from Milan landed just after midnight, and it was raining quite heavily, I was glad that I had decided to stay in Kutaisi for a few nights.
And after seeing all the taxi drivers clamouring for customers in the arrivals hall, I was also pleased that my guest house had sent me a driver. And I was even more delighted when I arrived at my guest house to be greeted at the door with a big smile and a glass of wine!
Top Tips For Visiting Kutaisi (and other parts of Georgia)
Wear Comfy Shoes
Home to around 180,000 people, Kutaisi is a reasonably compact city, and it’s effortless to get around. Most places are within walking distance of each other, but there is also a public bus network for getting around town. Bus 1 will take you from the central market to the main bus station.
Download the Bolt App
If you don’t fancy working out how the local buses work, download the Bolt app. Bolt taxis are so cheap in Georgia, easy to use, you know the fare in advance, and there are no language problems trying to explain where you’re going.
To use the Bolt app, you will need access to Wi-Fi. Most cafes and restaurants have free Wi-Fi. But I recommend buying a SIM card.
Buy A Local SIM Card
I bought a SIM card at the Magti Shop in the centre of Kutaisi, just by the park. They spoke excellent English in there and had me set up with unlimited data for 7 GEL (just over $2/ 2€) a week in no time. You just need to show your passport.
Very Important – Eat Lots Of Khinkali
Khinkali are delicious stuffed pasta dumplings that are a must-eat when visiting Georgia. They are similar to Chinese Soup Dumplings but are much larger.
There are several different kinds of Khinkali. The most popular ones come with a meaty stuffing made from pork and beef. Delicious! But there are also ones with cheese, mushrooms, lamb or potato.
There’s a knack to eating them. First, you hold the ‘crown’ (usually not eaten) of the Khinkali with your right hand. Slowly and carefully (I guess that’s where I went wrong), bite a small hole in the Khinkali and drink the delicious juice inside. Then eat and enjoy the rest!
My khinkali stained t-shirts are happy reminders of my time in Georgia.
Learn A Few Words Of Georgian
These four words got me around Georgia :
Hello – Gamarjoba
Thank You – Mahloba
Delicious – Gemrieli
Cheers – Gaumarjos
Interested in learning a few more phrases, then take a look here. Useful reading for your flight.
But don’t worry, nearly everyone I met spoke excellent English, but they really appreciate it when you try their language, even if it’s just a simple ‘Gamarjoba.”
Is A Visa Required To Enter Georgia?
Passport holders of 98 countries, including the UK, EU States, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, can enter Georgia and live, work and/or study for up to one year without a visa. The complete list can be found on the Georgian Government Website.
So What Is There To Do In And Around Kutaisi
Take A Free Walking Tour
I do love a walking tour whenever I visit a new town, and this one came highly recommended. But alas, it was cancelled at the last minute; however, the guide still gave me lots of tips on places to see.
Foe Foe Tea House
Foe Foe Tea House is perfect for when it rains. And it certainly rained on my first day in Georgia. Located opposite the Opera House and housed in a beautiful historic building, it’s a lovely cutesy retro-themed cafe with a fabulously long menu of loose-leaf teas.
Breakfast waffles are one of their specialities, and they certainly looked good, but my guest house owner had plied me with so much breakfast that I wouldn’t be eating again for a very long time.
Wander Aimlessly Around Town
Take a stroll around Kutaisi Park. It’s not a huge park, but observing everyday life was fun. Wander the streets and admire the surrounding old buildings.
The main sites in Kutaisi include the City Hall, the Meskhishvili Theatre, the Opera Theatre, and the Colchis Fountain in Tsentraluri Moedani Square. The Colchis Fountain reminded me of Skopje, another town fond of kitschy statues.
But I enjoyed exploring the local neighbourhoods on the other side of the river. And, of course, drinking plenty of cups of tea at Foe Foe Tea House every time it rained.
The Green Bazaar
I love strolling around local markets, and wandering around Kutaisi’s bazaar was a great way to observe local life. While there, I wanted to order some of the local fruits and bread.
However, my Georgian, as you know, is extremely limited – just four words! The English of the market holders was also limited. I could have pointed to what I wanted, but it was more fun to use google apps and try and ask in the local language.
This then turned into a fun language exchange between the sellers and me. I hope they were laughing with me and not at me!
Overlooking Kutaisi is the 11th-century turquoise-domed Bagrati Cathedral that sits on top of Ukimerioni Hill.
It’s a leisurely and pleasant 15-minute stroll through cute neighbourhoods to reach the church. Once you’ve crossed the Chain Bridge and then the road on the other side, you’ll see a staircase.
There’s no sign to the cathedral, but if you walk up these steps – it’s a shortcut. Don’t be spooked when some of Kutaisi’s street dogs come tearing toward you – they only want to say hello and walk with you up to the church.
The UNESCO-listed Christian Orthodox Gelati Monastery is located 11 kilometres outside Kutaisi.
Founded in 1106 by King David IV, AKA David the Builder ( no relation to Bob, the builder), the Gelati Monastery is beautifully decorated with arches, frescoes, mosaics, and triptychs.
Minivans (marshrutka) depart from Kutaisi every other hour.
Having just missed a marshrutka, I took a Bolt taxi instead for just a few dollars. The driver instinctively knew I’d want to visit Motsameta Monastery next, so he waited for me and then dropped me off back in town. Cost 20 Gel (about $6), including tip and waiting time.
Motsameta Monastery, just six kilometres outside Kutaisi, may not be as fancy as Gelati Monastery but has stunning views of Imereti from its cliff-side location.
Like walking? It’s possible to do a short hike between Gelati and Motsameta which I would have done if my Bolt driver had driven off!
Take A Day Trip From Kutaisi
If you’re interested in taking a day tour from Kutaisi, there are plenty to choose from.
It was a very long day out, but I really wanted to visit Vardzia, the cave city, and this was the easiest way for me to do it. It was a very enjoyable day – just me, a lovely couple from the Emirates and seven guides – that’s right, seven guides! They were being trained, and as our group was small, they came along to practice on us.
The first stop was Borjomi, a popular spa town famous for its mineral water. On my travels through Georgia, I became totally addicted to Borjomi mineral water and was looking forward to drinking it from its source. Guess what? From the source, it’s vile – it tastes like sulphur!
The next stop is Rabati Castle, a castle with an ottoman mosque inside. It is a little bit over-restored and has a slight Disney feel, but it’s definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area.
Just before entering Vardzia, we had a group lunch by the river. This lunch was one of the day’s highlights as the Georgian guides were keen to introduce their cuisine, wine, and culture.
Vardzia Cave City
But the highlight of the day was Vardzia – this was incredible.
Located close to the Armenian border, these caves have been inhabited since the Bronze Age. Between the 11th and 13th centuries, Vardzia had become a sophisticated monastic and defensive site with more than 6000 rooms on 19 levels, 2000 resident monks and at least 25 wine cellars.
An earthquake in 1283 destroyed most of the complex, and it was completely abandoned during the 16th century and left untouched until excavations began during the Soviet era. In 1988, monks returned to live there. Today, Vardzia is an active monastery and a popular Orthodox pilgrimage site.
As you explore the caves, note that some of the ceilings are quite low and a tad claustrophobic, and the passageways are narrow.
Other Tours On Offer From Kutaisi
I spent three days in Kutaisi, but two would have been enough. One full day to see Kutaisi and the nearby monasteries and one more for a day trip somewhere and use Kutaisi as a base.
Where To Stay In Kutaisi
How To Get To Kutaisi
A taxi from the airport to Kutaisi City will cost around 20-30 GEL, or you can pre-book a private transfer for $10.
Kutaisi is accessible from almost everywhere in Georgia, with minivan (marshrutka) and train connections.
Moving on – How to get to Tbilisi from Kutaisi
By Minivan (Marshrutka)
Take bus number one or a Bolt taxi to the central bus station. The marshrutka minivans for Tbilisi are all waiting out front. The sign for Tbilisi is written on the dashboard in English.
The journey from Kutaisi to Tbilisi is about three to four hours and costs 20 GEL. You will arrive at Didube Bus Station in Tbilisi, and then take the subway or taxi to the city centre.
It’s also possible to travel by train. It’s supposed to be a beautiful journey but takes around six hours. For details on train schedules and prices, check the Georgian Railway Website.
By Private Transfer
It’s possible to book a private transfer between Kutaisi and Tbilisi.
For More Posts On Georgia, Check These Out
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