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Visit Kutaisi: Discover the Secrets of the Second City of Georgia

Kutaisi is the second city in terms of size in Georgia and throughout its history, it has been the capital of the western half of the country. It was also the capital of all of Georgia during part of the Middle Ages.

Today, it hosts the nation’s Parliament, which occupies an avant-garde building inaugurated in May 2012, and the administrative center of the Imereti region. It has about 200,000 inhabitants and it is well connected by road and railway.

Its airport offers international connections to Ukraine, Russia, and Poland. The river Rioni divides it into two and the old town, which offers good walks between noble buildings, is settled into its east bank. It is a city full of history and the Bagrati Cathedral is one of its jewels. The cathedral stands on top of a hill and it is visible from different points in the city.

History

Kutaisi shows off a glorious past. It is believed that it was inhabited almost 4,000 years ago and that the Greeks established a colony here in the seventh century B.C. Some experts point out that even the legendary king who hid the Golden Fleece, Eetes de Qutaea, was actually Eetes de Kutaisi and that Jason and his Argonauts could get here by climbing the Rioni River with their ship.

Putting assumptions aside, it became the administrative center of Colchis in the third century B.C. In addition, it was the capital of Georgia until 1122 during the process of unification of the country. Due to its strategic location, it was in the spotlight of the great empires, such as the Mongol and the Ottoman, who invaded it on several occasions.

Until the creation of the State of Israel, it hosted a large Jewish community. The result was the creation of the Jewish quarter and its synagogues. The largest of them could hold up to 500 worshipers. During the Soviet period, it became the second industrial pole of the country and it is still very important today.

What to See in Kutaisi?

Bagrati Cathedral

Opening Hours: from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

The Cathedral of Bagrati is the icon of the city. It is a World Heritage Site together with Gelati Monastery and you can see it from various points when in the downtown of Kutaisi, as it is standing on the Ukimerioni hill.

King Bagrati III built it and the works were completed in 1003. Since then it has become a masterpiece of Georgian religious architecture of the Middle Ages.

In 1692 an explosion, caused by the Ottoman troops during a siege, led to the collapse of the dome and the roof. Recently, the authorities have subjected it to a controversial reconstruction process that led UNESCO to incorporate it into its list of endangered heritage.

The ruins of the palace are right next to it and the citadel standing next to it is dated from the 6th century. It remained in that state after the intense bombing of the joint army of Georgians and Russians to recover the city from the hand of the Turks.

Parliament of Kutaisi

In May 2012, the nation’s Parliament moved from Tbilisi to Kutaisi and it occupied a spectacular avant-garde building created by the Spanish Alberto Domingo Cabo. It is an impressive glass dome of 100x150 meters that has seven floors and a snail shape. It is two miles from the downtown of Kutaisi and you can see it from the mountains surrounding the city.

The building was constructed as a symbol of the rebirth of a new Georgia and to give greater visibility to the second city of the country. However, many people criticized that decision for the waste of money that it entailed and the inefficiency of having the heart of sovereignty in one city, when the rest of the country’s institutions are in another.

If you are a modern architecture lover, there are guided tours on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays at 12:00, 3:00 and 5:00 p.m. If you want to book a spot on the tour with an English guide, you should do it a couple of days in advance. You can call +995 32 228 16 90 or send an email to tours@parliament.ge. For more information, you can check out http://parliament.ge/ge/

Museums

History Museum of Kutaisi

Address: 18 Pushkin Street

Phone: +995 431 24 56 91

Summertime: Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Price: 3 GEL

You have to visit this when in Kutaisi. It has a collection of 200,000 works and objects, of which only 5% are exposed. Most of them have been found in the western part of Georgia. They have an interesting exhibition of archaeological objects, jewels, deities, weapons of the Bronze Age, Christian icons of the Middle Ages, manuscripts, musical instruments, and traditional costumes. It is one of the most complete museums in the country.

Kutaisi Market

Address: the intersection of Paliashvili with Lermontov Street

The Kutaisi food market is one of the largest and best stocked in the country. It is a building full of fruit stalls, vegetables, meat, cheese, spices, and more. It is a good place to walk and absorb the colors and aromas of Georgian cuisine. You are better off buying fruit here than in a supermarket.

Practical Information

Kutaisi Tourist Office

Address: 9A Rustaveli Avenue

Opening Hours: from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. (winter), from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. (summer).

Phone: +995 431 24 11 03

E-mail: tickutaisi@gmail.com

Very professional and efficient staff. They are very helpful and they give you all kinds of information. It is provisionally located within the Town Hall.

Activities

Rafting in Kutaisi

Phone:+995595411547

E-mail: raftinginkutaisi@gmail.com

Festivals

Kutaisi Fair (Gviriloba)

This is held every May 2nd. It is the biggest festival in Kutaisi, the second most important city in Georgia. It is also known as the Chamomile Festival. There are concerts on the street, competitions, floral exhibitions, and craft stalls. Culinary specialties from the province of Imereti are served in the nearby forest of Mukhnari.

Transportation

Marshrutkas leaving from the bus station (67 Chavchavadze Street)

  • Kutaisi-Tbilisi. Every hour from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. (10 GEL).
  • Kutaisi-Akhaltsikhe. 8:20, 9:30, 11:30, 1:00 p.m. (13 GEL).
  • Kutaisi-Zugdidi. They leave practically every hour from 6:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (7 GEL).
  • Kutaisi-Gori. There are no direct marshrutkas. If you want to go to Gori, you have to take the marshrutka to Tbilisi. It will drop you off on the highway, 5 km (3 miles) away from the downtown of Gori. You can walk or take a taxi from there.
  • Kutaisi-Batumi. Every hour from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. (10 GEL).
  • Kutaisi-Mestia. At 9:00 a.m. although if there are enough passengers, they keep on leaving more and more. (25 GEL)

Train

  • Kutaisi-Tbilisi. There are three trains a day.
  • Kutaisi-Batumi. There is a daily train.
  • Kutaisi-Zugdidi: there is a train at noon.

Accommodation

Cheap Lodging

Giorgi Giorgadze Homestay

Address: 14 Chanchibadze Street

Phone: +995 595 591 511

E-mail: giorgihomestay14@yahoo.com

It is a large house with a garden full of fruit trees and six double, triple, quadruple, and sextuple rooms with a shared bathroom (20 GEL per person without breakfast, 30 with breakfast). It is in a very quiet neighborhood and just a few minutes of walking from the Bagrati Cathedral. Giorgi speaks English and he will teach you how to play Georgian dominoes if you want.

Star Hostel

Address: 37 Tamar Mepe Street

Phone: +995 599 9888 04

E-mail: starhostel.ge@gmail.com

It is a hostel on the other side of the river with double rooms with private bathroom (40 GEL), triple (60 GEL), and shared rooms with bunk beds (20 GEL/person). It is fifteen minutes of walking distance from the tourist office.

Medium Price Lodging

Max Confort Hotel

Address: 2 Jiuli Shartava Street

Phone: +995 431 27 19 00

E-mail: info@maxcomfort.com.ge

It opened in 2012. The furniture is modern and the rooms are clean, large, and bright. It has a plasma TV and showers in the form of a capsule. It is a good option in terms of quality-price balance. There are single, double, and superior rooms (70-90-120 GEL with breakfast). It is 300 meters (984 feet) away from the bus station. There are double rooms, suites, triple, and superior doubles.

Edemi Hotel

Address: 31 I Solomon Street

Phone: +995 599 56 38 25

Do not confuse it with the other Edemi hotel in the city (9 Brosse Street). It is a three-star hotel that occupies an old historic building. The rooms are large and bright. It has a unique decoration (a mix of rococo and classic styles) but comfortable.

They have air conditioning, a flat-screen TV, a minibar and an electric kettle. The private bathroom includes free toiletries, slippers, bathrobes and a hairdryer. There are double rooms, junior suites, and suites. The last two types of rooms have a seating area.

Expensive Lodging

Bagrati 1003 Hotel

Address: 2 Tseretti Street

Phone: +995 431 25 55 55/ +995 591 22 93 93

It is a business hotel with different types of rooms (double, superior, suites) and various prices (140-330 GEL). Modern decor and quality standards of a four-star hotel. It is a good option in the downtown of Kutaisi.

Restaurants

Cheap Restaurant

El Depo Restaurant

Address: 30 Galaktion Tabidze Street

This is a Georgian restaurant frequented by locals with very good value for money. They say they put the best Kinkais of Kutaisi. The staff does not speak English but part of the menu is in English. It is 200 meters (656 feet) from the tourist office, heading towards the river.

Medium Price Restaurant

Bar-Restaurant Palaty

Address: 2 Pushkin Street

One of the favorite hangout spots among young people. It is a casual restaurant-bar with kind of a pseudo-bohemian atmosphere. There are often live performances, usually rock, jazz, or folk. The atmosphere begins to warm up from 8:00 p.m. Georgian and European food are available. It is a typical place to go out to dinner or have a couple of beers with colleagues.

Amirani Restaurant

It is probably the most elegant restaurant in the city. Classic decoration, with chandeliers, French-style chairs and plenty of splendor inside. However, the prices are modest. Typical Georgian cuisine. It is on the outskirts of the city, three kilometers (1.8 miles) from the bus station on the road to Batumi. A taxi costs 6 GEL.

Kutaisi Surroundings

The Cave of Prometheus

Hours: Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Entry: 20 GEL. Boat trip: 15 GEL.

To visit the Cave of Prometheus is to enter a surreal world where the silence and the whimsical shapes that nature has created over thousands of years make your imagination run free. If we add to this the creativity of the man who, through a spectacle of light and color, has enhanced the strange silhouettes of each stalactite and stalagmite – the result is a work of art of almost 1.2 miles long.

The crowning glory is marked by walking through the subterranean lake of the cave, which is 400 meters (1312 feet tall). Although you can only visit a small part of the cavity, the Prometheus is one of the deepest caves in Europe (12 and 18 miles). It was discovered in 1984 and it has not yet been fully explored.

How do you get there? It is in the village of Kumistavi (13 miles.). If you want to get there, you have to take the minibus heading towards Tskaltubo that leaves from the top of the red bridge of Kutaisi. Once at the Tskaltubo station, you have to change to the marshrutka 42 that leaves around 11:00, 2:00, and 3:30 p.m. You should confirm these schedules at the tourist office.

The same vehicle will take you back to Tskaltubo, where there is quite frequent transportation to Kutaisi. The other option is to negotiate the price with a taxi driver.

Sataplia Nature Reserve

Opening Hours: Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Price: 15 GEL.

It covers an area of 354 hectares and is part of a forest of the old Colchis on the outskirts of Kutaisi. It has less spectacular caves than Prometheus. There are dozens of dinosaur tracks over 120 million years old, adorned with reproductions of these animals.

To get there, there are marshrutkas from Kutaisi leaving on weekdays from Lermontov Street but they are not very reliable since they only leave if they are full of people. Therefore, the best option is to take a round trip taxi. Ask the driver to wait for you for one hour or so (15 GEL per hour).

Gelati Monastery

The monastery is one of the greatest products of the Golden Age of medieval Georgia (1089-1213), the period in which the country shined with its own light. And it was considered a power of the Middle East.

UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site not only because of its mosaics, murals or architecture but because it was one of the greatest cultural centers of its time.

King David IV built it and the works were completed in 1106. In 1510, the Turks set fire to it. Restoration work began in the same century and lasted until the 18th century.

It became the residence of the Catholics of the west of the country and here is you will find the tomb of one of the greatest monarchs of Georgia – the protagonist of the unification of the country and promoter of Gelati: David IV, The Builder. 

The complex is made up of the cathedral dedicated to the Virgin, Saint George, and Saint Nicholas Church, the Academy Building, the bell tower, and the walls. It is located on a wooded hill, 6 miles from Kutaisi. If you want to get there, there are minibusses leaving from the back of the Kutaisi Theater at 8:00, 11:00, 2:00, 4:00 and 6:00 p.m. Then, the same transport returns to Kutaisi, although people usually take advantage to visit the Motsameta Monastery on the way back.

Motsameta Monastery

This monastery is 3 miles from Gelati. The chosen place for its construction gives it a lot of peace. It is surrounded by forests and the site rises on a cliff overlooking the Skaltsitela River.

The structure is dedicated to Saints David and Konstantine, two feudal lords who were captured by the Arab army of Murwan the Deaf in 735. The two holy men were tortured to death to abdicate their faith.

Their bodies were thrown into the Rioni River. But according to the stories, during the night of that event, a miracle happened: the bodies of the saints appeared to their servants and a voice from Heaven told them to bury them in this place. Every October 2, the people of the Imereti region spend the night in Motsameta to see the rays of the sun at dawn reflected in the river and they make a wish.

It is barely six kilometers from the Gelati monastery and many people walk the path. If you want to go back to Kutaisi from here, you can share a taxi (7GEL) or you can go to the main road and wait for some marshrutka passing by and going to the city.