Georgia, nestled in the Caucasus Mountains, is well known for its strong traditions and the vintage appeal of its capital, Tbilisi. Until recently the country was and mostly frequented by tourists from neighbouring Russia, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Increasingly the country is becoming popular with tourists from western Europe too. While many people head to Tbilisi – which you can find out more about with our Rough Guide to 2020. – the charming Black Sea resort of Batumi is worth exploring too. Batumi, nicknamed the Las Vegas of Eurasia, offers a mix of fading grandeur and modern amenities. With almost every 5* chain hotel sporting a casino, it’s little wonder how the resort gained its reputation as the gambling capital of the Near East. Here are our top things to do in Batumi, Georgia and why the city should definitely be on your Georgia itinerary.
In the centre of the cobbled streets of the Old Town, where boutique hotels are adorned with ornate balconies, the 170-year-old statue of Medea – Greek sorceress – is a symbol of Georgia's connections to the world of Ancient European world. Soak in the atmosphere then stroll past the elaborate astronomical clock that tells the time plus gives the position of sun, moon and planets, to lively Piazza Square. The Piazza is distinctly Italian in its design and in the summer the square often plays host to concerts by international artists.
Originally constructed in 1884, Batumi Boulevard runs for 7km along the waterfront and is lined with cafés, restaurants and cycle paths. From here you can take a trip out to sea to see the ‘Symbol of Batumi’ – the Black Sea dolphins. It’s a pleasant stroll any time of the day and a great place for families to hang out.
Stop by the 130-metre high Alphabetic Tower, built in 2012 to celebrate the uniqueness of the Georgian alphabet. The 33 letters of the Georgian alphabet scroll around the outside. There's a revolving restaurant and viewing platform built into a dome at the top of the tower.
It’s impossible to miss the Ferris Wheel on the harbour, especially as it’s gaudily lit at night – thus confirming Batumi the Las Vegas comparison. Take a ride if you fancy, but make sure you check out the nearby Statue of Love. The moving 8-metre steel structure by Georgian sculptor Tamara Kvesitadze Ali and Nino from the famous 1937 novel of the same name by Azerbaijani author Kurban Said.
Once the business office of the Swedish Nobel brothers – when they started their own business transporting oil from Baku to Batumi via the Black Sea – the Nobel Brothers Batumi Technological Museum (to use its official name) is packed with early inventions and machines dating from the late 19th century to the present day. You’ll find out all about the history of the Black Sea itself, the brothers’ historical link to the region and Batumi as an oil trading city.
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10km north of Batumi on the “Green Cape” of Mtsvane Kontskhi overlooking the Black Sea you’ll find to the Botanical Gardens. Opened in 1912, the gardens travel bring to life nine geographical areas with over 5,000 different species of plants over 274 acres. Various paths travel through the grounds which you can stroll at your leisure – or hop on one of the electric carts doing the rounds if you prefer.
14km south of Batumi, at the mouth of the Chorokhi river and only 3km north of the Turkish border, sits the 1st Century AD Gonio Apsaros Fortress. The fortress is now a ruin but the walls and gate are still intact and it’s worth a visit. Legend has it that St. Matthew – one of the Twelve Apostles – was buried here. If you're here in warm weather make time to visit one of the several clean beaches in the small village of Gonio itself.
Possibly one of the most well-known sites in Georgia, adorning many a tourist brochure, Makhuntseti Bridge is a stone arch that extends 20 meters over the Ajaristskali river in Makhuntseti village. Stroll across to enjoy spectacular views of the tree-covered Lesser Caucasus mountains. During autumn the leaf colours are stunning.
In Makhuntseti village you'll find locals peddling their wares, such as Churchkhela – a Georgian sweet made of a long string of nuts repeatedly dipped in various juices such as pomegranate or grape and then dried. A healthier version of a Snickers bar, it's delicious!
The 29km car journey to Makhuntseti will take you through gorgeous Georgian scenery and past the Adjarian Wine House where you can stop to learn how the centuries-old Georgian wine is produced.
To get from Tbilisi to Batumi you can travel by train, plane or car. The five-hour train journey passes through some spectacular countryside and trains are clean and modern. From the UK, Kutaisi is closer to hand, just 2 hours from Batumi. There are direct flights to Kutaisi from Stansted Airport with Wizz air.