One of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in the world, Kutaisi is an ancient city with a long and fascinating history. Elegant, tree-lined streets with 19th-century houses lead to an array of landmarks and historic monuments that make Kutaisi one of Georgia’s most interesting and beautiful cities.
THE HISTORY OF KUTAISI
Straddling both banks of the Rioni River, Kutaisi is bounded by the Imereti foothills to the north and the Colchis plain to the south. The second-largest city in the country, Kutaisi is the capital of the Imereti region of western Georgia.
Archaeological evidence shows that Kutaisi was the capital of the ancient Georgian kingdom of Colchis in the 6th to 5th centuries BC. According to the Greek epic poem “Argonautica”, Kutaisi was the final destination of Jason and the Argonauts on their journey to Colchis, as well as the residence of King Aeetes.
It was later capital of the kingdom of Lazica before being briefly occupied by the Arabs in 736. By 786, Leon II had won complete independence from the Byzantine Empire and moved his capital to Kutaisi, thus uniting Lazica and Abkhazia. This would lead to the unification of the medieval Georgian monarchy in the 11th century, with Kutaisi serving as the kingdom’s capital between 1008 and 1122.
In the 15th century, Kutaisi became the capital of the kingdom of Imereti but was conquered in 1508 by the Ottoman Empire. During the 17th century, the Imeretian kings made numerous appeals to the Russian Empire to aid them in their struggle for independence from the Turks. But the appeals were ignored as Russia did not wish to ruin relations with Turkey.
This was until 1768 when Catherine the Great sent Russian troops to help the forces of King Heraclius II of Georgia to take back southern Georgian lands held by the Turks. Two years later in 1770, the Russians helped King Solomon I of Imereti to recover Kutaisi.
The Russo-Turkish wars were concluded in 1810 with the annexation of the kingdom of Imereti by the Russian Empire. Kutaisi was made the capital of the Kutais Governorate, which included much of western Georgia.
During the Soviet times, Kutaisi enjoyed a great sports tradition. The city has since produced many famous Georgian sports clubs that have gone on to win both national and international championships in rugby, football, and basketball, among other sports.
By the time of Georgia’s independence in 1991, Kutaisi had become a major industrial center. But independence was followed by economic collapse, which led to many Kutaisi residents migrating abroad for work.
In 2011, the Georgian parliament was relocated to Kutaisi in an effort to decentralize power and shift some political control closer to the disputed region of Abkhazia. Other efforts in tourism development have helped secure Kutaisi’s place as one of Georgia’s most popular tourist destinations.
PLACES TO VISIT IN KUTAISI
Kutaisi has an ancient cultural tradition evident in its diversity of cultural centers. Visitors to the historical city can choose from museums, theaters and cinema, amongst a host of other tourist activities and attractions to enjoy.
Ranked among the best Georgian monuments of architecture, Bagrati Cathedral is a ruined church built by Bagrat III, the first king of the unified Georgian kingdom. Nestled on the high, rocky right bank of the Rioni River, the 10th-century church’s location offers stunning panoramas of Kutaisi.
Every Sunday there is divine worship at the cathedral during which visitors can listen to Georgian folk music and chants. The church is also the most popular wedding venue in Kutaisi and if you’re lucky you can witness the traditional Georgian wedding ritual on weekends.
Nearby is the ruined palace-citadel of Ukimerioni, a fortress that dates back to the 6th century. Although it is now somewhat overgrown, you can see the remains of wine cellars and a church, and sections of the medieval walls.
Kutaisi State Historical Museum
Established in 1912, the Kutaisi State Historical Museum holds over 200,000 Georgian artifacts of the country’s cultural heritage, that date from between the 9th and 7th centuries BC to the late medieval period.
Visitors can peruse Bronze Age and Antiquity period items including archaeological discoveries from western Georgia, rare samples of Byzantine, Roman, Oriental and Georgian artifacts, everyday life and rare cultural objects, a collection of the oldest epigraphs and Georgian manuscripts, among others.
Kutaisi State Opera and Ballet Theater
Following the renovation of the Royal District, Kutaisi’s historical center, new life was breathed into the city. Visitors to the Royal District can enjoy a serene walk through historic sites such as the Kutaisi State Opera and Ballet Theater.
The opera house has been renovated with rows of classical statues that adorn its rooftop. The splendid statues were inspired by the famous Vienna Opera house. Be sure to book tickets in advance if you want to catch an amazing opera or ballet performance here.
Lado Meskhishvili State Drama Theater
The Lado Meskhishvili State Drama Theater is one of the most beautiful architectural creations in the region. Visitors to the theater can enjoy performances of Georgian dance and folk music. There are also bars, restaurants and shopping malls where you can sit and have a rest.
Kutaisi Botanical Garden
Founded in the mid-19th century, the Kutaisi Botanical Garden contains over 700 species of plants. The gardens offer a quiet place to have a rest as you admire nature and take in the fresh air. In the summertime, locals come here to escape the heat, watch movies at the little outdoor cinema and enjoy Georgian folk music concerts.
The most interesting plant in the gardens is the 400,000-year-old giant oak tree. Measuring 45m high and 2m in diameter, almost a quarter of the tree has been hollowed out and transformed into a chapel that can comfortably fit three people. Amazingly, the hollow did not cause the tree to dry out, but it instead continued to blossom.
Rioni River is one of the best destinations in Georgia where you can enjoy rafting in Kutaisi. There are 2 rafting routes available that depart either from Tbilisi or Kutaisi: Oni-Ambrolauri is 30km long, while Tvishi Canyon is 8km long.
If you want to feel the city vibe in Kutaisi, be sure to visit one of its many parks. Located on top of the hill near Bagrati Cathedral, Gora Park has many family attractions and a restaurant where you can taste traditional Imeretian cuisine. You can get to Gora Park via ropeway.
Central City Park
Filled with fir trees, Central City Park in Kutaisi is a great spot for having a picnic, jogging or just enjoying the fresh air. During the summer, international circus acts hold performances at the park. Close by in central square is the Colchis Fountain, which is adorned with large copies of famous gold jewelry discovered at the archaeological site of Vani.
Okros Chardakhi is a former residence of the Imereti kings. The palace complex features several buildings including a throne known as the Golden Marquee, the palace church of St. George, a bell-tower and towers that served as the imperial treasury and defense posts.
The Golden Marquee is a 19th-century castle in which the king held meetings and hosted special guests. It is a rare monument of Georgian secular architecture of the medieval period. Within the courtyard of the Golden Marquee stands an 800-year-old plane tree.
Located on the left bank of Rioni River, Mtsvane Kvavila is a neighborhood with beautiful nature and historical monuments including three churches and a defensive tower. The oldest basilica is a stone-built monastery dating from 1117 which is beautifully perched on a hilltop overlooking the Kutaisi city center. The modest church is surrounded by a pantheon in which many notable citizens of Kutaisi are buried.
Known locally as Mtsvane Bazari, Green Market is one of the largest, liveliest and most colorful produce markets in the country. Here you can find almost every kind of food grown in Georgia including fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, beans, herbs, spices, Georgian wine, cheeses, sweets and plenty more.
Famous for its beautiful landscapes and spa towns, the Imereti region is also home to a wealth of historic monuments, including UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Beyond Kutaisi, Imereti’s other districts offer a host of attractions worth visiting.
Located in the Tkibuli district, Gelati Monastery is a medieval monastic complex comprising of three churches. Included in the UNESCO World Heritage List, Gelati has preserved a wide collection of mosaics, frescoes, and manuscripts dating back to between the 12th and 17th centuries.
Built during the Byzantine Empire, the monastery reflects the Byzantine architectural style. The monastery was founded in 1106 by King David IV of Georgia – David the Builder – who is also buried there. For centuries, the monastery served as an educational center in the region.
Also found in Tkibuli district, Motsameta Monastery is one of the famous churches of Georgia. The monastery is named after two saints, David and Constantine, the dukes of Margveti who were martyred in the 8th century by Arab invaders. The modern-day church dates back to the 11th century.
Sataplia Nature Reserve
Located in the Tskaltubo district, the Sataplia Nature Reserve includes the Sataplia Cave, a beautiful cave complex with many stalactites and stalagmites. Outside the cave is a park with preserved dinosaur footprints and replicas of the ancient animals.
The Sataplia caving tour also takes you to Sataplia Mountain from where you can enjoy stunning views of Kutaisi from a special glass walkway. Along the way, your tour guide will provide many interesting facts about the dinosaurs that lived millions of years ago.
Also found In Tskaltubo district, Prometheus Cave is a beautiful cave with unique forms of stalactites, stalagmites, petrified waterfalls, hanging curtains and underground rivers and lakes. A Prometheus caving tour can be enjoyed on a pleasant walk or a short boat trip through the underground lake.
According to legend, Prometheus stole fire from the gods, for which he was punished and chained to Khvamli Mountain which can be seen from Prometheus Cave. Both the Sataplia and Prometheus caves belong to the Imereti Protected Areas and are situated quite close such that you can visit both in a day.
One of the world’s oldest resorts, Tskaltubo Resort is located in the Tskaltubo district. The spa town is famous for its magnificent underground springs that contain waters believed to have curative powers. The resort also has a nice park with a small man-made lake and a bar with a terrace.
During Soviet times, Tskaltubo’s mineral water springs attracted thousands of tourists seeking a therapeutic retreat. Even Stalin would come here and had his own room which is today open for the public to see.
Okatse Canyon & Kinchkha Waterfall
Okatse River in Khoni district boasts two attractions. The first is Okatse Canyon which is certain to delight nature lovers. On the way to the canyon, visitors can enjoy scenic nature and beautiful views of Okatse River. The canyon is about 16km long, 10-15m wide and 50m deep.
From the canyon, walk through a gorgeous forest towards the Kinchkha waterfall, the second attraction. Standing at 70m high, Kinchkha is one of Georgia’s highest waterfalls. It is particularly beautiful in the springtime when water levels are high and nature is in full bloom. The waterfall then creates little oases inside the river valley as it flows downwards.
If you have time, go further to Lomina Lake which is worth the 2km walk from Kinchkha Waterfall. The lake is located in the heart of the forest, where you can swim and enjoy the sweet sounds of Georgian nature. It is also a nice spot for overnight camping.
Located in Chiatura district, Chiatura is a mining town with an industrial area that is famous for its still-functioning Soviet era tramway. Although it dates back to over 50 years, amazingly the tramway still works perfectly and guarantees riders a huge adrenaline rush.
The surrounding areas of Chiatura town are abandoned and look post-apocalyptic, which makes for a nice place to explore. Most of the factories nearby were abandoned and stripped following the collapse of the Soviet Union and Georgia’s civil war.
Also found in Chiatura district, Katskhi Pillar is a natural limestone monolith rising up 40m high. There is a small church and clergy house atop the pillar built in 2009 that overlook the surrounding river valley. Unfortunately, the church does not allow visitors, although the site is magnificent even from below.
Located in Baghdati district, Sairme Resort boasts the longest zip line in the country. Measuring 800m long, the zip-line features a steel rope cable hung with a pulley that allows people to have fun sliding between two remote points. Visitors can also enjoy the spa facilities at Sairme Resort.
Vani Archeological Museum
Located in Vani district, Vani Archeological Museum holds most of the archaeological discoveries from the site of Vani. A Gold Reserve preserves the unique pieces created by the ancient goldsmiths of Vani. The exhibition also displays architectural materials, along with unique bronze figurines and fragments.
Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park
The Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park stretches between the towns of Borjomi in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region, and Kharagauli, in the Imereti region of Georgia. One of the largest national parks in the country, it also includes 4 other municipalities: Akhaltsikhe, Adigeni, Baghdati and Khashuri.
The national park is unique for its diversity of landscapes, historical monuments, and rich flora and fauna. Visitors to the park can enjoy an array of outdoor activities including hiking, horse riding and bird-watching. The park is also famous for its mineral water springs found in Borjomi.
THE BEST TIME TO VISIT KUTAISI
Kutaisi weather is characterized by warm humid summers and cold wet winters, with the city experiencing both oceanic and continental climates. The best time to visit Kutaisi is between May and September when temperatures are warm and pleasant and there is little rainfall.
Spring in Kutaisi (March, April, May)
April is an ideal time to visit Kutaisi and enjoy some exploration. During this season, the weather is pleasantly warm. The month of May is even better as the weather is moderately humid and perfect for outdoor activities.
Festival Kutaisoba: 2 May
Celebrated on 2nd May each year, Kutaisoba is the most important holiday in Kutaisi. Locals gather in Central Park with family and friends, with many coming dressed in chokha, the traditional Georgian clothing. They barbecue, play games and participate in various martial arts contests such as Georgian wrestling. Many kinds of performances are held such as traditional Georgian music and dance.
Summer in Kutaisi (June, July, August)
The months of June through July are the best time to visit Kutaisi. At this time of year, the air is slightly humid making Kutaisi weather perfectly balmy. This is the best period for hot-weather activities such as taking a road trip, walking or cycling. This is also the high season for tourism in Kutaisi.
Autumn in Kutaisi (September, October, November)
The month of October is the peak season for tourism in Kutaisi. At this time of year, temperatures are high and humidity is low, creating the perfect climate for sightseeing. November is ideal for going on delightful afternoon explorations of Kutaisi.
Winter in Kutaisi (December, January, February)
December and January are cold with slight humidity, which makes Kutaisi weather feel even colder than usual. It is therefore recommended that you pack layered clothing. Kutaisi often experiences heavy snowfall in winter, although the snow cover does not typically last more than a week.
WHERE TO STAY IN KUTAISI
In recent years, accommodation options in Kutaisi have greatly expanded. Travelers can now enjoy an array of new hostels, guesthouses and hotels that keep popping up. Thanks to the fierce competition, prices at Kutaisi hotels and vacation rentals remain affordably low.
WHERE TO EAT IN KUTAISI
Historically, Kutaisi was located along the ancient Silk Road which resulted in the region developing its own distinct Georgian cuisine. The city center has a decent selection of pleasant cafes and small Kutaisi restaurants where travelers can try the delicious Imeretian cuisine.
Different regions of Georgia produce diverse types of wine, and Imereti produces the most delicate and unique types of grapes. In Imereti, Georgian wine is made using the ancient UNESCO-listed wine-making technique. The most popular Imeretian wines are Tsitska, Tsolikouri or Otskhanuri Sapere.
HOW TO GET TO KUTAISI
Most travelers who come to Georgia begin their trip in Tbilisi, moving around the country from its capital. However, because Tbilisi is located a few hours’ drive from attractions in the west of the country, Kutaisi is a more convenient location from which to begin your trip around Georgia.
Located 14km west of Kutaisi, David the Builder Kutaisi International Airport is the main airport in the region. Kutaisi airport is one of Georgia’s three international airports. It is the country’s main hub for low-cost airlines with flights to Tbilisi, Batumi and other major cities in Europe and beyond.
The cradle of ancient civilization in Georgia, Kutaisi is today a beautiful and charming town. In addition to its own array of worthwhile attractions, it provides the perfect base for exploring the Imereti region. With so many fantastic things to see and do, you may very well end up staying much longer in Kutaisi than planned.
Accommodation in Kutaisi hotels fills up fast, so be sure to book in advance with our tour company. If you prefer to drive around Kutaisi, we have a modern fleet of rental cars available for hire. We also offer Georgia tour packages from Kutaisi that include private transfers to and from Kutaisi airport.
Even better, create your very own custom vacation package that includes the specific places you want to see and things you want to do in Kutaisi. Fancy a vacation in an ancient Georgian town? Order your custom tour package to Kutaisi today and be dazzled by one of Europe’s oldest cities!