Things to do In Kutaisi (Imereti Attractions Part 1). Emily from wander-lush.org joins Tom to discuss the best things to do in Kutaisi, the capital of Imereti Georgia.
Links: 25 hidden gems, quirky attractions and non-touristy experiences – Wanderlush
Best Things To Do In Kutaisi – Wanderlush
Things to do In Kutaisi - Imereti Attractions Part 1
Tom: Today, we are talking about Imereti and the capital of Imereti Kutaisi. And all the different attractions and other things that you might be interested to see if you're in that part of West Georgia. And I am joined today by Emily Lush from Wanda Lush. Travel writer and blogger. And one of the biggest bloggers, probably the biggest blogger in Georgia right now.A lot of her content if you research Google, you're probably gonna find articles by her whenever you're looking up various tourism topics about Georgia. So Emily, welcome to the show.
Emily: Thank you, Tom, for having me. It's great to be here.
Tom: No worries. So we're talking about Kutaisi. Now in another episode, which may or may not be out at this point, we discussed actually moving to Kutaisi as an expat. In this episode, we're gonna be talking about the sort of the cool things to do if you're a tourist or even if you're living there as an expat, maybe you haven't done quite a few of these. Things around that area that are really interesting and stuff that you definitely wanna put on your list if you are coming to Georgia.So we know you live there. We know you're a Georgia expert. So we know this list is gonna be pretty good. I'm guessing you got some cool things on here. So I'm gonna hand it over to you to get started.Maybe, should we start with, your number one thing? If you're if you're absolutely going to Kutaisi and you're only there for half a day, let's say, and you don't wanna miss this one thing. What's the top of your list? Is there a top of the list? Maybe there's five things at the top of the list and it's impossible to decide.
Emily: Look, top of my list is the city center. Kutaisi is a small enough city that you can kind of see the historical center in just a couple of hours, and it's a really nice city to walk on foot. I think, top of my list is to kind of do your own little self guided walking tour of the city. Taking the architecture, the Little Park in the center, the amazing green bazaar, which is the main agricultural market, and it's right in the center as well.And that's a really nice way to spend a couple of hours, a really nice introduction to Kutaisi. And you'll see, kind of the main landmark in the center is the Colchis fountain, which is very bizarre if you don't know the story behind it, but it's a it's a fountain that's made up of these gold ornaments and these are from burial sites near Vani, which is a very small town near Kutaisi, and these go back, thousands of years to the Kingdom of Cholchis, and these based on ornaments found at that burial site. So this is like a reference to the age and the history of the city, and it's a really beautiful kind of landmark in the center of the city. But the other thing is Bagrati Cathedral and that kind of overlooks the center of Kutaisi and you can walk up there. It's actually a really nice place for sunset.So in the city in the afternoon, definitely head up there to watch the sunset. And then around Kutaisi, I'll talk about all the wonderful things you can do around the city, but There are two monasteries, Gelati and Motsameta. Gelati is UNESCO listed, one of Georgia's four UNESCO sites, and fifteen/ twenty minutes from the center of the city. That's definitely a must see as well.
Tom: Nice. Alright. So before we get under some more specific descriptions about some of these cool things, we've tantalized our listeners with some interesting stuff to do. But let's just do a quick summary of sort of what is Kutaisi? Where is Kutaisi?What is what is it like? What's the weather like? Like, just the basics. Let's do a quick rundown on that.
Emily: So Kutsai is in the region of Imerati, and it's the second largest city in Georgia, behind Tbilisi, of course. But having said that, the population's about a hundred and eighty thousand max from the estimates that I can find. And with Tbilisi being over a million people, it's sizably very very much smaller than the capitals.
Tom: It's a small city feel. It's a city just about...
Emily: Definitely. Definitely. Definitely got that big big village, big town feel about it. And, yeah, it's very peaceful, very laid back, very relaxed. You definitely get this vibe.It's very sort of I always describe it as kind of like vintage y omer's. You know, it does beautiful old architect in the city center, a lot of history, as I've mentioned, a lot of history to do with literature and poetry, so it's got that kind of romance about it. But in terms of the location, it's about three and a half to four hours west of Tbilisi, and it's in Western Georgia. So you cross through the Zekari Pass and west of Georgia is very different to the east. You know, it's a different climate.We're getting towards the black sea coast, so it's a lot more humid. A little bit wetter, and the climate is pretty good, actually. The summers can be hot, but it's pretty mild all year round. We definitely have winter, but spring kind of arrives early in this part of the country and autumn is absolutely divine, and that's probably the nicest time to travel to Kutsai.
Tom: Yeah. Summer, it's super humid when I was there in August, and, was like wow. Okay. Then home at Tbilisi, it's really hot, but it's really dry hot, so it's sort of bearable. But yeah. Other times of the year, definitely good to visit. And it's really green as well. I found whenever I go there, I'm like, it's so green here because Tbilisi is a bit arid and the areas around Tbilisi are quite arid and the grass goes all yellow in the summer. Whereas, it always feels like Kutaisi is quite green.
Emily: Is very green. Even in the city center, there is a lot of green space and you're kind of surrounded by green hills and mountains and Some of these I'll talk about in a moment, but we have, tea fields and, amazing flora and fauna right on Kutaisi's doorsteps. So I definitely agree that it's a very green green city. Of course, the other thing is that during the Soviet period, Kutaisi became very industrialized. So you also have this kind of different landscape contrasting with the historical center and the beautiful green landscape around the city.You have this kind of Soviet factory side of the city. Is also very interesting. So you have these three elements kind of interacting, and this provides, some great opportunities for travelers of all types.
Tom: And part of that greenery is is lots of vines as well. Plenty of winemakers out there.
Emily: Lots and lots of wine.
Tom: we were getting onto that somewhere in your list, perhaps But if not, we'll we'll talk about that later as well. Okay. So yeah, that's Kutaisi in a nutshell. So tell me then, what is sort of your favorite attractions? You mentioned a few.Maybe a little bit more detail on each one and and what people can expect to see and do if they're gonna go and explore these attractions that you have
Emily: So I think in a day, you can see sort of all of Kutaisi, basically. If you're interested in seeing sort of the more traditional tourist attractions, a day is a good amount of time. And like I said, it's really nice to explore on foot. So I definitely always recommend starting at the market. I recommend this for any city in Georgia, but especially in Kutaisi, whose market is fantastic.Everyone is very friendly and you really get a good insight into Imeretian cuisine by going to the market, of course, and It's called the Green Bazaar, and it is absolutely chock full of herbs and greenery. This is a huge part of local food, culture. And the market is kind of a really good place to see this and kind of get an idea of what you're gonna be eating later in qutai see. So I always recommend starting there. It's a really cool Soviet era sculpture on the front of the market that a lot of people go and see.And that's a really cool one of many kinds of elements from Kutaisi's Soviet period that if you're interested in Mosaic's and this kind of thing, you can definitely find a lot of that in Kutaisi.
Tom: It's massive. This mural. I remember when I tried to take a photo of it, I had to get a wider lens. I was like, oh, wow. This thing is just crazy.And it's it's right in the middle of the city. So you're sort of surrounded by other buildings and and roads a little bit as well.
Emily: Yeah. As with a lot of market here, the market kind of spills out into the surrounding streets, and there are some laneways that have stalls on them as well. And, yes, this very epic I guess it's a best relief. And it's made of stone or, some material, but it depicts Jason and the Golden Fleece and this kind of Greek mythology that is tied to Kutaisi city and the city's history. So that's a really, a really interesting kind of place to start your adventure in the city.
Tom: This is the story that the the fleece was here, and Jason and the Argonauts came and stole it from the Georgians effectively. I mean, they weren't Georgians in those days. It was a kingdom of Colchise, I believe?
Tom: So yeah. This is where it all happened. If you've seen the the movies or whatever, this is where it's been going on.
Emily: Yeah. They do think that Kutaisi was potentially the capital. So that Jason and the Argonauts came up the Rioni River from the Black Sea from Potti and ended up in Kutaisi city. So, yeah, there's that really interesting history.
Tom: Okay. So what else have we got?
Emily: So all around the market, I mean, the market's kind of very central. You can just walk those back streets and find really interesting - not just food, Imeretian cheese, which is there, there are products from Kutaisi from Imereti that are all around Georgia. One of them is cheese. So if you're into cheese, this is amazing to go through those back streets behind the market and see the ladies selling these big wheels of white Imeretian cheese. You can also go into these buildings and a lot of these houses are old mansions or old doctors houses, really beautiful architecture and A lot of them have been sort of repurposed as hardware stores.So there's this particular street behind the market that you can go in and see these beautiful architectural elements of these houses. And yeah, that whole area is just a hive of activity, especially in the morning. So it's a really nice place for a stroll. And then if you go the opposite way, So turn around and go back to the center of the city, you come to the sort of central park. And it has a couple of different names, but this is kind of the main Green space in the city, there's some really interesting statues in the parks or a last place for a little break, a little wall.And then there's beautiful buildings all around the park as well, and then you have the fountain on the park as also. So behind the fountain, there's a beautiful theater building that dates back to Soviet times. If there's something playing at the theater, I definitely recommend buying a ticket so that you can see the interior. It's pretty spectacular. Nothing like Tbilisi's theater, but still is very nice.You know, in a Soviet, more of a Soviet style.
Tom: Alright. No. I've never actually been inside that one, so I might be interested next time I'm there. Try and get a performance. Yes.
Emily: It's always something nice to do. There's also an opera theater which has performances as well. And this theatre, it was reconstructed, but it's much older. So it's also, got a lot of history. As I mentioned, a lot of authors and poets came from Kutaisi in, I guess, early twentieth century, and they're also a big theater scene in Kutaisi.So Kote Marjanishvili really who had a theater here in Tbilisi. His theater started in Kutaisi City. So there's a really rich history of data and performance in the city, so that's definitely something fun to do.
Tom: So anything in English or you're expecting it to be Georgian performances mainly?
Emily: It's gonna be Georgian. Yeah. But, you can follow along and see what you can see how much you can of the story you can pick up.
Tom: Nice. Alright. So and anything else to do sort of around the center? And maybe how long would you sort of spend if you wanted to see that center properly? How many hours do you think you need?
Emily: I mean, there are a few other points of interest as So Kutaisi the Rioni river runs right through the center. So there's a few bridges. If you're interested in this kind of thing, each bridge is a little bit different and there's a chain bridge that's kind of the oldest bridge that crosses from behind the market to go up to Bagrati, which I'll talk about in a moment. But there's also the white bridge. There's the red bridge.There are these Yeah.....
Tom: Keeping the naming simple.
Emily: Exactly. Exactly. It's very easy to navigate.
Tom: Although the white bridge was sort of not that white when I was there. I don't know if they've painted it recently, but it seems sort of just metal.
Emily: Yeah. It doesn't need a little touch up I will say that. But the thing about the White Bridge is that point in the river. There are these amazing white stones in the river. So
Tom: -- ahh.
Emily: -- part of the bridge is made of perspex you can look down over the river and it's, I always say the roaring Rioni because this river is so fast that some times of year. And it's pretty amazing these rock formations that you see in the river. There's a nice little cafe on the side of the bridge that was a meeting place for poets back in the day. You can have a cup of coffee there. Then there's also a Royal Palace in the center of the city that you can sort of walk the grounds there's a really beautiful tree in the garden, then there's a old cable car that you can use to get up to.We have our own sort of version of Mtatsminda, but it's a very small amusement park.
Tom: Which is, for those listeners who don't know it's an area in Tbilisi that's a very steep sort of one side of the city that leads up to this very big park on the top of the hill and a ferris wheel that you'll see. If you come to Tbilisi, you can't miss the ferris wheel. That sort of, yeah, that park at the top is called Mtatsminda, and then there's a district below that as well where lots of people stay in Airbnb's and things, and it's quite a nice inner city area.
Emily: Exactly. And same as in Tbilisi, in Kutaisi, it's very popular for families to go up there in the evening, and it's a nice kind of place to chill out. And in summer, it's nice and cool up there.
Tom: and is the cable car one of these ones where you think the bottom's gonna drop out and you're gonna die like in Chiatura? Or which is I think they're all closed in Chiatura now, but they are rusty and dangerous or used to be.
Emily: Yeah. It's definitely a relic of the Soviet past. But, you go over the river, but it's not it's not a long trip. So, yeah, you'll be fine.
Tom: We hope. Disclaimer: It's nothing to do with us if the bottom falls out of the cable car.
Emily: Okay. Another great thing about Kutaisi is, I've mentioned there's a rich history, so there's an archaeology museum, but there are also these really cute small museums. So we have a museum of sports. We have a war museum and something called the Photo Chronicle Museum.So these are very small museums. Nothing is in English of course, but the people who run these museums are really dedicated to the institution. They've been doing this for many, many years. I really love these small museums that are very quirky and the museum of sports. In particular is very interesting.Kutaisi has a long history of sportsmanship as well.
Tom: What are the sports that they have, I think they like doing rugby here a lot. What else are they featuring here?
Emily: Rugby, wrestling, basketball. And any sport, Georgians have a go at it.
Tom: They do love basketball in Georgia. Everyone's always talking about basketball.
Emily: Absolutely. And a lot of sportsmen have come from Kutaisi see. So there's this museum dedicated to local athletes throughout history, and it's very very interesting. I'll also talk about two districts of Kutaisi that are very interesting.So they're right by each other. One is the Jewish district or the old Jewish quarter. So there are three synagogues in Kutaisi. There's one big one that's more active and they do have services there from time to time, then there are two smaller ones. One is adjacent and one is a bit further down the street.But this whole area, which is kind of Behind the Colchis fountain down on the Bank of the Reony River was kind of the Jewish quarter where Jewish families lived. And Kutaisi did have a big Jewish community for many years. So there's some really interesting architecture in this area. A lot of history, the street is called Gapanov Street, after Boris Gapanov who is very famous resident of Kutaisi, and his biggest claim was translating the night in the Panther's Skin, which is an epic poem, by Shota Rustaveli. He translated that into Hebrew.So he was from Kutaisi. So the street is named after him. And then, the other one is the Catholic quarter. So there's a beautiful Catholic church The Church of the Assumption, I believe. And it's a beautiful now an Orthodox Church, but it was built for French community who in KutaisiSo Kutaisi also has a French connection from its history. And so these two parts of the city are very interesting in terms of architecture and history.
Tom: Nice. And of course, we've thrown lots of names out here, but you do have a couple of articles or at least one big article that's related to these topics. Right? So people can find this quite easily on your blog as well?
Emily: Do. I have a couple. One is a sort of a guide to Kutaisi, which is kind of the things you must see, and then I also have hidden gems, which is kind of, that's a bit of a gimmick, but there are a couple of, lesser-visited spots that are kind of my favorite spots in the city.
Tom: Alright. So, yeah, we've done a few hours of walking around in Kutaisi so far and I think you probably have a couple more places to visit before we then start looking at some places outside of the city.
Emily: Are you hungry yet?
Tom: I'm mostly hungry all the time. So yeah.
Emily: You know, one of the good things about because I see is the food scene, of course, food and wine is a big part of life in Imereti as it is in all of Georgia, but Kutaisi has a really unique cuisine that comes from the region. So if you're hungry, there are some great restaurants in the city center. Probably the most famous is Sisters. And that's located right in the center. It's a great place to have lunch if you're exploring the city on foot.It's right on the park and it's recently, well, about a year ago relocated to a beautiful historic building. And so it's run by a family and they have done up the restaurant with beautiful antique furniture from their village in Lechkhumi, which is in the mountains north of Kutaisi. And they specialize in Imeretian cuisine. And they do a lot of seasonal stuff so you can, visit at different times of the year and find something new on the menu. It's just a beautiful ambiance that I think perfectly captures the essence of Kutaisi, very charming and sweet.There's often piano music playing, which just makes it that much better.
Tom: No. I love that. That would be my top pick as well. for sure.
Emily: There are some others, there's a part of Kutaisi called the Royal District Twitch is where a lot of the old architecture is. And there's a restaurant in there called Palati, which has been around for a long time.
Tom: Owned by the same people as Sisters as I believe.
Emily: I'm not sure about that.....
Tom: Well someone's gonna have to fact check that
Emily: Let's fact check that. I know for sure that they have just opened a branch in Tbilisi. I I would suggest trying them in Kutaisi. going to the original. because they also do a lot of Imeretian cuisine and it's really nice to, have the local food when you're in Kutaisi.And they do (a bunch of restaurants do this) they do a tasting board where you can taste a bunch of local delicacies from the region. Palati does a really nice version of this. Sorry if you're hungry, these boards are big, there's often a whole chicken on there. So you have to come hungry.
Tom: It's not just your usual charcuterie board. This is everything. Massive selection of food all in one big board. Right?
Emily: Yes. And big propper portions of everything as well. So a whole we're talking a whole khachapuri on the board.
Tom: Bring some friends with you if you're gonna order one of these.
Emily: Definitely. Bring a friend. Definitely. Another restaurant is Lilestan, which is another a newer restaurant that's opened. Maybe been open for about a year, and they do really nice. I really love their salads. They do these, very creative salads with local herbs and tarragon and all these wonderful things that grow in Imereti and really nice wine list as well. So a lot of wineries that are close to the city, you can find these wines, also cider and beer, a couple of wine producers do these as well and you can taste them in these restaurants in the city.
Tom: Nice. Yeah, cider has been such a difficult thing to find for so many years but a few people are now making it. So that's great to hear that there's someone over in Kutaisi doing it as well. Yes. Do you have any tips about who it is?
Emily: Yeah. It's in Tskaltubo.
Tom: We'll talk about Tskaltubo later as well because that's quite important.
Emily: We will definitely be going to Tskaltubo. One more little eatery that I'll mention before I tell you a few more things to do is called Bikentia’s, and this is a very different food experience, but also very interesting. So this place it's been around for a long time. It's definitely a very Soviet vibe, but basically, it's a little canteen-type thing. They only really do one dish which is kebab.And you get two pieces of kebab with this really nice kind of spicy tomato satsebeli sauce. You get like basically a half loaf of bread, trim off of the sauce, and you get a glass of tap beer. And there's no seats, you go in, you order, you grab your food, and you stand at a little table. And you'll see everyone else in there is, working class, kind of Kutaisi, salt of the earth people, and this is very much a local dining experience. So if you want something quick and on the go, this is definitely a fun thing to do.
Tom: They are actually pretty tasty kebabs as well. So whether you're on a budget or not, it's still worth giving them a go, I think. And it's like a local tradition, that dish as well.
Emily: Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah.
Emily: So after that, if you want to venture to the other side of the river, which not all people do, I must admit first few times, I visited Kutaisi, I never even knew there was another side of the river, but a lot of people live on the other side of the river. This area is more residential. It's newer. It was, probably developed in the eighties and nineties, in the late Soviet period.So there's a lot more apartments. But you'll find some really interesting things over the other side of the river. So I definitely recommend if you have, longer than maybe a morning you have a second day in the city, you can head over the river and see some of these other more offbeat attractions, I would say. To this. And there's a really fantastic agricultural market, which is different from the grain bazaar and that It's more local.It's a lot more chaotic. There's a lot more kind of....
Tom: Is it more sort of like outdoors with canopies and stuff rather than an actual building. I haven't been to this one.
Emily: It's a bit of a mix. There's an outdoor section for sure that sprawls kind of all along the side of the train tracks. But there's also some undercover pavilions. And these are really strange. You know, I wish I knew more about the history of these covered sections, but I think they're from the 2000's, and they've made this meat hall that is like a work of art. Actually, in fact, there are stalls at the bottom, and then above, you can see these, like, original artworks hanging inside the market. It's really strange. There's also lots of sculptures and Pirosmani he's the famous Georgian painter. Lots of, like, little panels of his work.And then these, like, very opulent fountains -- Mhmm. -- and marble columns, and it's a crazy market. So I definitely recommend having you walk through that.
Tom: Nice. Very cool.
Emily: Outside of the market, there are mosaics, if you're interested in Soviet era mosaics, there are a couple of very large-scale and reasonably well-preserved mosaics in Kutaisi. There's also a lot of old factories so you can kinda walk around some of these streets like Gugunava Street is a famous one where there are old factories and kind of these relics of the past that are mostly abandoned, I know this isn't for everyone, but if you're interested in that kind of thing, it is very fascinating and you can see the skeletons of these old factories and bas-reliefs and mosaics around the place as well.
Tom: Well, yeah, so a bit of offtrack tourism. There's actually some people interested in that for sure. So we've covered most of the sort of, there's so many things to do, but, none of these are, big internationally recognized attractions. All of these really cool things to do whilst you're there. But of course, there is one more that is very close to the city that is a Unesco site. And so I guess, we didn't really talk about it.We mentioned at the start of the episode, I think, or we mentioned the monasteries at the start of the episode, but not the cathedral.
Emily: Yes. You definitely have to make time to do, It's not a day trip, It's only sort of a twenty minute drive, but Gelati, which is a very famous monastery. It was also an academy. They had a scriptorium and various other things happening on this site.And it's very close to Kutaisi And as you said, it's one of Georgia's four UNESCO World Heritage sites. So this is definitely something to do when you're in Kutaisi. There's another monastery nearby called Motsameta which is also very beautiful. It's in a very picturesque location. And you can actually walk between the monasteries or you can even walk the whole way up from Kutaisi city or ideally, you would go because they're kind of on a hill,so you take a taxi up to Gelati first and then you can walk back down to the city on the old train tracks, which is a really nice way to spend an afternoon.
Tom: Nice. And yeah. So Gelati, of course, has these incredible frescoes, which are some of the best preserved because as any sort of Soviet history, people will know, they whitewashed so many of these amazing frescoes in the cathedrals whilst they were sort of banning religion. So many of them were destroyed or damaged to a point where they couldn't be restored. Whereas these ones are in really good shape and they're it's very high like the actual building itself is very high and the frescoes go all the way up the wall and it's really quite impressive.
Emily: They are stunning and there's been work recently to restore both the outside of the building, the roof and also to preserve these frescoes. So they are, of course, being a UNESCO site. They do put some work into preserving these. So, yeah, it's they're definitely worth seeing a very important, probably the most important cultural religious site in the west of the country definitely worth seeing.
Tom: And as you said, Motsameta. It's really funny we talk about Georgia a lot. Of course, this is a Tbilisi podcast, but one of the things people always say to me is do there have to be so many churches? We're done with churches.And like, well, when you come to Georgia, it's not always about the church. It's about the scenic location that each of these churches are in, and everyone's different. And so yeah, with Gelati, it's all about the interior. It's amazing, but then with Motsameta that you mentioned? We're probably underselling how beautiful the little area that this thing is perched on top of is.There's a river that runs all the way around like a horseshoe around this monastery.
Emily: Yeah. There's almost like a little drawbridge kind of vibe as you enter. It's very medieval feeling and the whole place is just surrounded by forests. So if you're there in summer or even late spring, it's just beautiful and green, and then in autumn there's a small window, but if you're lucky enough to see the fall colours, it really, really stunning.
Tom: Yeah. So we're worth taking a look at both of those. And then, yeah, I think the one that we missed perhaps that we mentioned at the start was Bagrati Cathedral as well.
Tom: It is a bit easier to walk to.
Emily: Yes. You can walk to Bagrati from the center. So you cross one of these bridges that I mentioned, the chain bridge is the oldest bridge in the city. And you cross over there, there's a little set of stairs to take you up the hill, and Bagrati is perched right on the top of the hill. It literally overlooks the whole city.It's a beautiful location. There's a great big yard in front of the church, and there's also some old ruins of a castle that you can kind of climb on and have a look around. But from this yard, which is a beautiful green space, it looks, directly over the city, and it's just a fabulous place to watch the sunset. You don't see the actual sun, but the colors from the haze and the sun sort of setting off in the distance is is just really stunning.
Tom: Yeah. Yeah. We're worth a walk up there. Now I think we're gonna probably move on to some things outside the city that are maybe lesser known and some things that maybe you think people should definitely go and see. Okay.
So we are splitting this into a double episode, so we're gonna wrap up this first part right here. We've been talking about lots of things to do in Kutaisi and very close to Kutaisi. And in the next part, we are gonna be talking about heading out of the city. And taking some day trips to some other areas nearby wine regions and tea plantations maybe over to the Black Sea coast. And, find us some other interesting cool stuff that maybe regular tourists don't find very easily. So some secret tips in this next episode as well. So do join us for that will be the next episode coming out and that's it for this one. Thanks again to Emily who joined us on the show today and she'll be joining us again for the second part.
For pretty much any of the things that we were talking about in this episode, you can hop on Emily's blog, WanderLush. And she's got a couple articles on there that talk about most the places. So if some of the names were a bit hard to understand, Georgian Language is pretty tricky as from listening to our other episodes, then you can find those exact places by taking a look at her blog. So join us next time for more information about Kutaisi and Imereti.