The ancient Georgian city of Kutaisi is emerging as a destination to rival the nation’s capital, Tbilisi, offering travelers an eclectic mix of culture, history, and natural attractions alongside the best of Georgia’s famed wine and welcoming hospitality.
Tracing its origins back as far as the 13th century BC, Kutaisi was the capital of many early Georgian kingdoms. Today, centuries-old cathedrals stand above Soviet-style marketplaces, while chic cafes and trendy wine bars line charming cobbled streets. Keep reading for our complete guide to Kutaisi, Georgia.
The Best Things to Do in Kutaisi
From historic cathedrals and museums to rickety cable cars and local markets, there’s a lot to do in Kutaisi (and that’s before you start eating and drinking!). The city is a great base for exploring the wider Imereti region, where you’ll find legendary caves, deep canyons, ancient monasteries, and a famous Soviet-era spa town. Here are the best things to see and do in Kutaisi, Georgia.
Bagrati Cathedral: Dating back to the early 11th century AD, Bagrati Cathedral has stood overlooking Kutaisi for almost a thousand years. The cathedral is a masterpiece of Georgian architectural design, and was heavily restored and remastered throughout the 20th century. It’s a steep walk up to the cathedral, but from the gardens, you’ll be able to enjoy uninterrupted views over Kutaisi below.
Gelati Monastery: Kutaisi’s most iconic monastery is found just outside the city, a short 20-minute drive from Bagrati Cathedral. This UNESCO World Heritage site is one of the largest Orthodox monasteries in the world and dates back to the 12th century AD. Gelati Monastery was founded by David the Builder, a famed 12th-century Georgian king who inspired the golden age of Georgian architecture
Kutaisi State Historical Museum: Learn more about the city’s far-reaching history by taking a step back in time at the Kutaisi State Historical Museum. It’s a lot more exciting inside than the name and nondescript exterior would suggest, and you can delve deep into the past of the Imereti region as you browse through archeological finds, medieval religious artifacts, and much more.
Kutaisi Cable Car: Kutaisi’s Cable Car might look like it’s in need of a good revamp, but the rickety Soviet-era cable can dependably take you on a nostalgic trip above the Rioni River to the top of Besik Gabashvili Park. The park is home to a Soviet-style amusement park that’s as old as the cable car, while you’ll also be able to enjoy the best panorama of Kutaisi from the viewing area.
Kutaisi Parliament Building: Kutaisi was the capital of many kingdoms over the centuries and in 2012, the city looked set to retake its position as Georgia’s number one city when a brand new parliament building was constructed here. The Georgian government briefly made the move over from Tbilisi, but strangely, they moved back again in 2019. Now, Kutaisi has a fabulous parliament building that’s a wonderful example of the modern architectural style (the tall glass dome is designed to represent a totally transparent government), but that’s totally empty (at least for the time being).
Tskaltubo: The unpronounceable town of Tskaltubo will be an unusual addition to your Kutaisi itinerary because the vast majority of the town is abandoned. Just a quick Marshrutka ride away from Kutaisi, Tskaltubo was once one of the Soviet Union’s premier spa towns, where the elite would escape to enjoy saunas, spas, and relaxation. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the big state-funded hotels fell into ruin and now offer urban explorers an exciting day out from Kutaisi.
Prometheus Cave: Legend has it that the Greek hero Prometheus, who deceived the gods to create humanity out of clay, was chained to a mountain in the Caucasus as punishment for his actions. The Prometheus Cave was only uncovered in the 1980s, but locals quickly claimed that a large rock inside the labyrinthine of tunnels was the rock where Prometheus met his fate. It’s good marketing, but the sheer beauty of Prometheus Cave can speak for itself. This is one of Georgia’s top natural sights, and you’ll be amazed by the size of the underground caverns and the intricacy of the millennia-old stalactites, stalagmites, and rock formations found here.
Martvili Canyon: Tall, rocky walls and verdant green scenery await you in the Martvili Canyon, just one hour outside of the city center. This spectacular natural attraction is quickly becoming one of Georgia’s best-known outdoor spots, and the blue-turquoise waters of the canyon are attracting a steadier stream of visitors throughout the year. Make sure you take to the water and explore the canyon by raft!
Okatse Canyon: Not far from Martvili Canyon, you can find another of Georgia’s best natural sights, the Okatse Canyon. Reaching depths of up to 100 meters, a daring, dizzying skywalk runs along the edge of the canyon, offering death-defying views of the canyon floor far below.
Where to Stay in Kutaisi
Kutaisi hasn’t seen as much development in comparison to Tbilisi or Batumi when it comes to hotels. There are, however, lots of rustic family-run guesthouses to stay at, often located in historic houses.
You’ll find these low-priced yet authentic guesthouses all over Kutaisi. Several in the city center have been turned into even cheaper hostels, for those on a budget.
What to Eat and Drink in Kutaisi
For local eats, such as takeaway Khachapuri (bread stuffed with cheese and savory fillings) or sizzling shashlik kebabs, head to Kutaisi’s large central market. You’ll see a colorful Soviet mural at the entrance and quickly be lost amongst the fresh food sellers that trade here through the day.
In the area around Kutaisi’s elegant White Bridge (next to the lower cable car station by the river), you’ll find the city’s trendiest bars, cafes, and restaurants. White Bridge Restaurant offers great views from the terrace, Satsnakheli Wine Bar offers a fantastic range of Georgian wines (including the wine that Stalin used to drink), while Foe-Foe Teahouse (complete with antique Georgian furniture) is the best place for a tea or coffee break.
For a taste of the Georgian countryside, book a tour of Baia’s Vineyard. This local winery only produces a few hundred bottles a year using local grapes, but the young team are starting to make a name for themselves in international wine circles. You’ll learn about Georgian wine and its long history before enjoying a delicious, home-cooked meal at the vineyard.
How to Get to Kutaisi
Georgia’s development as one of Europe’s best-emerging destinations was given a real boost when Kutaisi’s modern and extravagantly named David the Builder International Airport was redeveloped and reopened in 2012. Since then, it’s become the hub for budget airlines such as Wizz Air and FlyDubai, connecting Georgia on the cheap to Europe and the Middle East.
From the airport, it’s a quick half-hour drive to the city center. For just 5 Georgian Lari, the Georgian Bus Company will take you directly to/from your accommodation in the city, using fast minibuses. Private taxis will cost 30 Georgian Lari per trip, and travelers can download a local ride-hailing app before they arrive, such as Yandex or Bolt, for convenience.
From the airport or from Kutaisi’s central bus station, you can catch modern buses directly to Batumi on the Black Sea Coast (approx 2 hours) or Tbilisi, the capital (approximately four hours). Less comfortable but quicker minibuses, known as Marshrutkas, depart constantly from the bus station besides Kutaisi’s railway station to major Georgian destinations including Batumi, Tbilisi, Borjomi, and Svaneti. There are several trains per day between Batumi, Kutaisi, and Tbilisi (a mixture of express trains and slower, local trains).