More often than not, I see people leaving Kutaisi out of their travel plans when coming to Georgia. Maybe half a day after the arrival or half a day before the departure, because people don't know what to do in Kutaisi.
It is true that Kutaisi is not a typical tourist hotspot and it's challenging to stay in competition with Tbilisi, seaside, wine regions, mountains and everything else you have in Georgia. But after calling Kutaisi my second home for nearly 2 years, I have started to appreciate the place more and more - its people, its slow and relaxed beat...So, if you want to sense the true authentic Georgia, but are not into hiking boots or giving up your wifi access, then Kutaisi is the place you should come
What is Kutaisi like?
So, when you are planning your visit to Georgia, reserve a few days for Kutaisi and chances are that you will not regret that decision. From my personal experience, I can provide a few observations and tips, that might be useful for the first-time visitor:
Cable car in Kutaisi
Kutaisi is a very safe city, and people are friendly and willing to engage in interactions. The language barrier is a bigger issue here than in Tbilisi or Batumi though. In restaurants, you do fine with English, but in many shops, pharmacies and smaller family hotels/guesthouses Russian is often the only foreign language spoken. Though, you shouldn't worry - the positivity and hospitality of locals will make sure that you find the common language one way or the other and it will almost certainly not ruin your stay :)
Kutaisi is also a quite conservative city, where religion is in high regards and traditional social norms are more prevailing than in Tbilisi. In restaurants, you can often see celebrations with only men or only women at the table. Most likely you also notice older ladies dressed in black or people making a cross sign when they spot a nearby church (and there are many of them), but in reality, it's very easygoing place and there are no strict rules or codes you have to follow.
What to do in Kutaisi?
Kutaisi itself is not a typical sightseeing hotspot, but there are things to do to fill your schedule for 2-3 days. The experiences that I have enjoyed myself include:
1. Bagrati Cathedral - UNESCO heritage site with its origins in the 11th century. In addition to the church itself, you can enjoy magnificent views of the whole city, and there is also a nice restaurant just next to it.
2. Center of the city between the Colchis Fountain and Rioni river is always a good idea to stroll in the evening as it is the main area for restaurants and shops. You can also cross the pedestrian White Bridge to go to the left bank of the River. You can find there some good restaurants as well, starting with a rooftop bar at the Best Western hotel and finishing with a German-style Hacker-Pschorr a bit further.
View from Kutaisi Best Western
3. Kutaisi markets/bazaars. Interesting places where you can buy almost everything from tools to clothes to fruits. There is a smaller central market right at the centre of the city, between Shota Rustaveli and Michael Lermontov streets. There is another and a much bigger one on the Ilja Chavchavadze Street, next to the Grand Mall shopping centre (not really a typical shopping centre in the western terms) and bus station.
Watermelon truck in Kutaisi
4. Besik Gabashvili Park is a green area on the left riverbank, right next to the centre of the town. It also includes a small theme park with its roots in the Soviet era. There are few attractions for kids, a restaurant that serves one of the best meat in town and an old-school Ferris wheel, offering great views on the city and nearby mountains. You can get up there either by climbing the stairs or with a cable car. I prefer the retro cable car - takes just 2 minutes and costs 0.3 EUR (unfortunately on working days it runs only from 17:00 until 22:00).
Retro theme park
Kutaisi is an ideal place also to make daytrips - tea plantation, abandoned spa city, beautiful canyons you name it. Read more from here.
Read more about how it is to live in Kutaisi as an expat from here.
Written by Hannes