Where: Batumi is a sea-side resort on the Black Sea Coast in the west of Georgia. It is just north of the Turkish border.
When: July 2018
Why: We wanted to go to the sea-side on our Caucus holiday – so we came to Batumi.
We started our Caucus trip in Sofia (our stepping stone to the Caucus), then we went to Baku, Azerbaijan, Tbilisi and Borjomi in Georgia, we went to Armenia for a few days, then we ended our trip in western Georgia, at Batumi on the Black Sea coast and Kutaisi, which we flew out of.
Batumi is a strange place and I’m not quite sure how to describe it. It’s a bit like a Soviet Las Vegas. Some areas of the city are rather crazy and some unique attractions have been built here to try to attract the tourists – including some very weird and wonderful buildings, such as the upside-down White House, the tower with a ferris wheel coming out the side and the double helix tower.
Batumi is a port city, beach resort and university town on Georgia’s Black Sea coast. In the centre, Batumi has a classical, well-preserved old town; built around this are hundreds of modern sky-scrapers and condos.
The beach is rocky. In fact, it’s more than rocky – in some places it looks like an actual quarry and there is grass growing up under the stones and gravel. Yet it has all the infrastructure of a European beach resort, with beach side bars and clubs.
Overall I think I liked Batumi. I liked the well-maintained town centre, with it’s great cafes and restaurants; I liked the sea-front promenade, with it’s statues and parks; I loved the lush location – the town is surrounded by green mountains; I liked the quirky buildings; I liked the useful tourist infrastructure, such as the useful tourist centres and bike hires; and most of all I loved the weather – it rained! After the 41 degree heat of Tbilisi and Armenia, 26 degree rainy Batumi was heaven. Although there were still areas of deprivation and dilapidation in Batumi, particularly to the back of the resort and by the port, I felt comfortable here and like I was on holiday.
We had a long-weekend in Batumi. We arrived on Thursday morning and left on Sunday and that was enough time for us to see everything we wanted to see. Had we had access to a car I would have loved to have gone to explore the lush countryside and mountains, to go explore the valleys. As it was, we had a nice time based in the resort, we pottered about, rested and ate great food. Batumi is well set-up for tourists and I think that’s why I liked it. Being here was almost like being on holiday.
Getting there and getting around
Sleeper train Yerevan to Batumi
We travelled on the sleeper train from Yerevan to Batumi. This train also stops in Tbilisi around midnight for those just wanting to get it across the country.
On this journey we travelled in a shared, four person cabin – though ours was actually four people, a friendly dog and a toddler. We would have loved to have booked the private cabin for two, but these were sold out. Luckily, our bunk mates were lovely, the tiny dog (mimi) was a sweetheart, the toddler was very well-behaved and he and his family got their own cabin after Tbilisi.
The cabin was the same style as we had got down to Yerevan (see the Armenia page for more information about this) but in this cabin there were two additional bunks above the bench seats. Although there were four beds in our cabin it didn’t feel claustrophobic. We were able to sit comfortably on the lower seats with the upper bunks down and we kept the door open for most of the time (it was so painfully hot we had to).
All of our luggage was able to be stashed under the lower seat. We were given a mattress roll, sheets, pillow and pillow cover – which we had to put on the bed and take off ourselves. There were no refreshments on the train, so we’d made sure to visit a supermarket before our trip. The toilets were pretty clean and had toilet paper and the coach attendant was a brisk but friendly lady.
What I loved about this journey was that so much of the Armenia leg was done in daylight, so I spent a lot of time in the coach corridor, leaning out of the window, watching the craggy hills and mountains go by. The train left Yerevan at about 15.30, we got to the first border around nineish, it took about two hours to cross the two borders and then we were in Tbilisi by midnight. (Just a quick note, they lock the toilets while going through the borders so make sure you have a pee before the train stops otherwise you have to wait awhile). After Tbilisi I slept – but it was very fitful sleep and I didn’t feel rested when we arrived in Batumi.
How to book the Yerevan to Batumi sleeper train
J booked our train tickets online at the Southern Caucus Railway Website. Here’s some instructions on how to do this.
- If you have problems with their website then use Microsoft Explorer/Edge. I had problems in that it kept not accepting the security code that I’d typed in. As soon as I used Edge, this problem stopped.
- To look up trains and book you first have to register and make a log-in.
- On the registration form it asks you for information, including document series for your passport. This means the letters from your passport number. If you don’t have letter in your passport number, just put in your country.
- Completing this form will give you a username (the one you have chosen). You can use this to look at the booking system.
- To make an enquiry or book you need to log in.
- To make an enquiry or book a ticket go to ‘book ticket’.
- Fill in the information for your enquiry.
- ‘Mode to and back‘ means return.
- In ‘coach category’ select non-modernised.
- In ‘coach class’, soft seated carriage is first class (two person private carriage); compartment carriage is a shared compartment for four; carriage with numbered seats is the shared open carriage.
- You have to select the exact thing or it will say there is nothing available.
- Tickets can be booked 30 days in advance.
- They seemed to only accept Mastercard for payment.
- They will email you a confirmation email which you can print off and use as a ticket.
You can find out more about this service and how to book at stations at The Man at Seat 61 website.
Batumi Train Station to the Town Centre
The area around Batumi was lush, green and wet – such a contrast to the dry heat that we had come from in Armenia. It was wonderful waking up and it not being supremely hot and looking out at the rainy-landscape running by.
Batumi has two train stations. We got off at Batumi Central Station, which is the end of the line for this train. Both train stations are to the north of the city. Batumi Central Station is about five kilometers from the centre.
Batumi Central Station is a nice train station with a cafe, shops, clean toilets which you have to pay for and an information centre. The lady in the information centre was really helpful and gave us useful maps of Batumi.
The bad side of Batumi Central was that from the moment we got off the train we were hassled by taxi drivers. Most of them weren’t too bad: we’d say ‘no, we’re not interested’ and they would leave us alone; but one of them was particularly persistent and he really upset me. He followed us, particularly me, and kept saying ‘so are we going then?; come on, let’s go’ even though we had told him no, no, no.
I went off and hid in the tourist office and J and I discussed doing our trick of hiding in the cafe for a little while until all of the taxi drivers had dispersed, but we decided that we’d just keep moving as we wanted to get to town.
We walked out of the train station and were crossing the car park to go to the bus stop on the other side of the road when this idiot taxi driver (the same one) pulls across the car-park, nearly running me over – trying to get us to get in. We ignored him, carried on to the other side of the highway and sat ourselves down on the sea-wall by the bus stop.
Again, he came over in his car, parked it on the highway and got out and tried to take our bags to put them in the car. By this time I was really angry: I had had no sleep, I hate being hassled because it makes me feel really claustrophobic and this idiot man would just.not.listen. I shouted at him to f off and leave us alone and he just laughed; so J shouted at him too and he did not like that. He started squaring up to J and getting really aggressive. Luckily, at that point a police car came past, flashing its light and siren, and he ran back to his car before the police moved all of the taxis on. But it really upset us both and really affected the start of our holiday. We were scared that he’d come back and kick-off again.
We waited ages for our bus to arrive, but we didn’t mind as it gave us some time to calm down, we were sat on a wall by the sea and there were some really cute, feral puppies who made us smile. It started drizzling but after our experience we were determined to get a bus rather than a taxi. Anyway, we were secretly enjoying the rain after the heat of the last two weeks.
Bus 10 runs along the sea-front, past the train station and then along the sea-front in Batumi. There is a bus stop right opposite the train station. However, if you walk up the highway a little, (about three minutes) away from Batumi, there is a better bus stop which has a shelter and a timer to show you how long buses are going to be. Also, I suspect there is less taxi hassle here too.
We must have waited at least half an hour before a bus 10 pulled up and when it did arrive it was packed! Somehow we managed to squeeze on though, people made way for us and found somewhere for our backpacks, and although we got very up close and personal with the other Batumi commuters, we did make it safely to the downtown.
Batumi buses have a ticket seller and usually they make their way to you to collect your money and give you your ticket.
We left Batumi quite early on a Sunday morning when there were no buses running and we did have to get a taxi at this time. I think the one we found in town charged us 8 GEL (about £2.50/€3). He drove super-dangerously (all Georgian drivers did) and he nearly crashed by genuflecting next to a church and taking his hands off the wheel to do so, whilst going very fast.
Most of the things we went to see in Batumi we were able to walk to, but we did get the bus along the sea-front/boulevard to the south of the resort and to the train station. The bus service for this was bus 10. The buses were often quite crowded but the service was good and the bus stops had timers, which was good. There was usually a ticket seller on the bus who we paid for our tickets. The tourist offices have good maps with bus routes marked on them.
Batumi has bikes. The city has one of those bike schemes where you can pick up and drop off bikes at different stations. I think this bike hire is about 2GEL per hour (less than £1/€1). To do this you have to get a Velo card from the tourist office next to the theatre and the boulevard. Wikitravel has more information about the scheme, including prices.
What we did on our holiday
We arrived in Bautumi quite early on a Thursday morning, so the first order of business was to find cash and breakfast. Luckily for us, our hotel was on the edge of the old town, close to the harbour area – so we were able to drop our backpacks off first before we went for an explore.
Old town Batumi is really pretty. There are lots of colourful, traditional buildings, nice shops cafes and restaurants. Most of the downtown area is built in a grid pattern and it’s easy to navigate and a nice place to potter about and window shop. There is a really nice, Venetian-style square called La Piazza, which is often featured in publicity photos. This square looks like an Italian square, with a great clock tower and lots of outdoor restaurants. We popped by one night and there was also a stage and dancing here, which was nice.
The boardwalk in Batumi is wonderful: it runs for six kilometers around the coast. It’s a big strip of parks and paths at the back of the beach. There were lots of interesting things to see in the park and paths for strolling and playing. They had a bike path running the whole length of the boulevard and there were lots of places which hired out fun transport options, such as electronic bikes, four person bike-cars, golf-carts etc.
In the boulevard area close to the harbour there is the Alphabetic Tower, a double-helix tower with a big ball on top. In the big ball there is a restaurant and an observation deck. It’s called the Alphabetic Tower because it has Georgian letters running up the outside. I can’t find a visitors website for the tower but according to a current review on TripAdvisor entry is 10 Lari (about £3/€3.50) and you can find out more about it on Atlas Obscura.
Also in this area is the wonderful Ali & Nino statue. The statue is named after the romance book Ali and Nino, which tells the story of a Muslim Azerbaijani boy falling for a Christian Georgian girl, around the end of the first world war. The Ali & Nino statue is two figures, made of metal coils that move on platforms. The statue lovers slowly move: occasionally they have their backs to each other, sometimes they are face to face, every now and then they even pass straight through each other and become one figure. I loved this statue and would have loved to have spent more time looking at it. I was so excited when I actually saw them pass through each other.
Close to Ali & Nino is the harbour where you can go on pleasure boat tours. Here there are also a large ferris wheel, a clock tower and the old lighthouse.
At the time of our visit there were also a lot of external bars in this area and a huge screen set up for people to watch the world cup.
Also in this area is the wonderful Batumi Tower, a sky-scraper with a gold ferris wheel sticking out the side. This was originally built as a university but the building is now going to become a hotel. Apparently the building has been brought by Le Meridian and is currently being renovated. It wasn’t finished when we were in Batumi and we were really sad to find out the ferris wheel wasn’t working. It is supposed to open in November 2019. You can find out more about the hotel and when it is opening at the Le Meridian website.
Running along the beach side there were lots of funky beach bars and restaurants, the type that you find in European party resorts. We didn’t go in any of these but I think if we had come to Batumi to party, we would have had a great time exploring these. Some of them had big name DJs performing.
Further around the boulevard there are dancing fountains in a lake, lots of interesting restaurants, a Colosseum (Colosseum Marina Hotel) and a restaurant (Yiramala) with an upside-down White House leaning on it.
Batumi Beach looks like a quarry. It is rocky and gravelly and even has grass growing on it in some areas. However, for all that, the sea is calm and you can hire sun-loungers if you’d like to lounge in the sun. To be honest, although it’s a sea-side resort I wouldn’t describe Batumi as a beach resort. Don’t come here for this.
Apparently there are some nicer beaches around the coast.
We did have a great sunset sat on the beach. I had to go for a paddle in the Black Sea, just so I could say I’ve done it – so on our last evening J and I went to the beach by the harbour area, so I could have a dip. The only problem was, the scree here was really steep and it was quite tricky to get out of the water. He had to drag me out. What was lovely though, was that the sunset was phenomenal – at one point the sun was glowing through the clouds in the shape of a boat and that was really freaky. We also saw a dolphin swim past – which was a lovely, delightful surprise.
Tried to sort out onward travel
On our second day our first focus was sorting out our travel from Batumi to Kutaisi. Sadly this was pretty hard to do. You’d think it would be easy to find out information about how to get from Georgia’s second biggest city to it’s third biggest city, both located in the same region – but it was really hard to find out any concrete information online, so we decided to get this sorted before we did anything else. It pretty much took us a whole day.
We decided to walk from our hotel to Adjara Travel, who we had read online could book us buses or train tickets to Kutaisi. To get to their offices we first strolled down Abashidzis qucha. Abashidzis qucha is quite a funky street and there were lots of interesting things to see, such as cool art-work, a cinema and a great bookshop (Books in Batumi).
Half way along was the pretty Evropas Moedani Sqaure (Europe Square), a lovely park/square surrounded by impressive buildings, with dancing fountains, an astronomical clock and the Medea Monument: a column statue of Medea, the enchantress who helped Jason and the Argonauts to get the golden fleece, which is supposed to have happened in this area.
At the end of Abashidzis qucha was 6 Maisi Park, a large park with a lake in it. At the entrance to the park is a statue of Fadiko Gogitidze, the first Ajarian female pilot, who died during World War II at the age of 24. I was really happy to see a female pilot being commemorated as my mum is a female pilot and part of the British Women Pilots Association.
In 6 Maisi Park you can hire boats to have a row about on the lake or visit the zoo or the dolphinarium (dolphinarium.ge).
From 6 May Park we walked to Adjara Travel to see if they could help us book train or bus tickets, as that’s what their website advertises. But as soon as we asked the lady about this she said ‘no – we don’t do that’. So that was a wasted trip. She didn’t give us any more information about how we could get to Kutaisi, or try to sell us a service there – she just said no. (In the end J ended up going all the way out to the station to ask about the trains to Kutaisi and found out that as this was considered a local train there was very little information about it online and you could only buy tickets for it on the morning of travel. It shouldn’t have taken us a whole day to find out how to get from Georgia’s second biggest city to its third biggest city, but it did – and this is one of the reasons that I found Georgia such hard work!)
Argo cable-car goes from by the harbour up to a viewing point, high over the city. The journey takes about 10 minutes and the views from the upper station are wonderful. There was a cafe, a shop and a viewing platform at the top.
I really enjoyed this cable car journey, looking down at all the interesting houses and buildings, in the foothills on the edge of the city. It was also really refreshing being up in the winds, high over the resort.
15 Lari (£4.50/€5). argocablecar.ge
What we didn’t do on our holiday
There’re quite a few museums and churches in Batumi, though none of them were that enticing to us whilst on this trip. If we were here for a while though I think I might go to check these out as some of them contain ancient antiquities from the region. Wikitravel has a pretty comprehensive list of museums and churches.
The Botanic Gardens are located to the lush north of the city. I’m pretty certain our train to Kutaisi stopped there and our driver got out to fill up his water bottles at a spring on the platform. It looks like a very pretty, relaxing place to spend a few hours. It also has a good website, which is a nice surprise. bbg.ge.
Roman fort (Gonio-Apsarosi castle)
Huge Roman fort built in the 1st century AD, located 11km south of Batumi. The fort was later occupied by the Byzantiums (6th century) and the Ottomans (16th century). Bus 15 goes to the fort. www.georgianmuseums.ge.
I really wanted to explore the regions around Batumi more. From the city the rolling hills and lush countryside looked really inviting.
Apparently, rural inland Ajara is full of pretty valleys, great hiking, rafting rivers and picturesque villages and forts. It didn’t look easy to access by public transport but a couple of companies in Butami ran tours into the interior and if you hired a car you could go explore further. The tourist office in Batumi offered a great guide to hikes in the Adjara region.
Many people use Batumi as a jumping off point for the Svaneti region, a wild, rural region, up in the high Caucus, in northern Georgia. This is a unique and isolated region, albeit one that is becoming increasingly popular with tourists. Again, a couple of companies offered tours of the Svaneti region from Batumi and I know this is a region that J is very keen to explore. Again, navigating the region independently looks quite difficult, which is why it might be best to join up with a tour.
The capital of the region is Mestia. There is a road to Mestia from Zugdigi or you can fly to Mestia from Tbilisi with Vanilla Sky airline.
In 2014 J and I originally planned to travel the whole Silk Road, from Hong Kong to London. This is when Batumi first appeared on our radar as we were going to use it as a stepping stone to go from Georgia into Turkey. Sadly for us the trip didn’t happen (we went to Oz, East Timor, Bali, Java and Vietnam instead) – but as I said, Batumi was now on our radar as somewhere we wanted to go.
The Turkish border is located at Sarpi, 17km south of Batumi. It has a really cool, modern-art border crossing – like a big, white squiggle.
There’re a couple of ways to get to and across the border and the websites in the useful links section explain how to do this. However, possibly the best way to get across the border is to travel with Metro, a bus company who I travelled with extensively in Turkey and who I can highly recommend. They run services from Tblisi, via Gori, Kutaisi airport and Batumi to places in Turkey, including Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir. metrogeorgia.ge/en/home.
Where we ate and drank
Luca Polare is a chain of ice-cream shops. They also serve coffee and breakfast items. The one in Batumi is in the centre of the old town, next to a small park. We went here after we arrived really early. They were one of the few places that were actually open in town at 9 a.m.ish. I was glad we came here as being in a chain coffee-shop, with free wifi and local English newspapers, was very relaxing.
We promised ourselves that we would go back here for ice cream but sadly never made it. You can actually watch them making the ice cream in the kitchen.
At the end of our street, visible from our bedroom, was Restaurant Ukraine – a Ukrainian restaurant. I’d never had Ukrainian food before so I really wanted to give this place a try. Also, the restaurant had a really nice terrace and looked very inviting. The food was fresh, rich and delicious, they had quite a few vegetarian options and the staff were really friendly. There were soups, salads, stroganoff, roast meat, dumplings, potato based foods and kievs. You can find out more on their Facebook page.
We went to Conte Bar for breakfast. We had walked past this funky cafe the day before and we were intrigued by the art-work and the lovely coffee menu. I had a set breakfast of toast, eggs, jam etc; J had a cheese sandwich; both of us had coffees. The breakfasts weren’t that great; the next day I had a breakfast at BKs which was only a few Laris more expensive but which was ten times better.
However, what I discovered when I went inside to pay is that Conte Bar is actually more of an art-gallery than a coffee shop, and as an art-space it’s actually pretty good. So I’d recommend popping by here for a drink, just not for breakfast.
Nice little cafe located opposite MacDonalds, to the south of the resort. We went in here to get away from the rain but then ended up staying for lunch. They serve good lunch foods: sarnies, salads, pizzas etc. I made the mistake of ordering a club sandwich and a portion of chips, not realising the sarnie came with chips – so I was double chipped!
You can see pictures of their menu (in English) on their Facebook page.
A great website for finding vegetarian of vegan restaurants is Happy Cow. We often use this when travelling to find somewhere for J to eat. Uncle Feng’s came up as the only vegetarian option in Batumi and as I was a bit fed up of Georgian food by this point, when J suggested we go eat some healthy Chinese I jumped at the chance.
Uncle Feng’s is a small, sweet, bar-like cafeteria located in the old town, between the centre and the harbour. The size of the restaurant was actually a slight problem as when we arrived there were no spare tables, but a very sweet girl offered to share hers as she was just finishing her green tea and relaxing with her book. We saw a few people being turned away as there was no space.
They told us when we arrived that it would be a long time before we got food; perhaps forty minutes to an hour, but the World Cup was on and we so wanted noodles that we said we didn’t mind and we settled in for a long wait.
We had fried rice, stir fried vegetables with garlic and a whole fried onion with sweet chili sauce. The food was properly spicy-hot, which we loved, and the food portions were enormous! It did take an hour to arrive, but we felt it was worth the wait. Most of the dishes were about 10 Lari each (£3/€3.30).
The cafe was pretty, well-cared for and well-decorated and the staff were really friendly.
BK is a lovely restaurant located on Evropas Moedani Sqaure. It’s quite a classy place, that looks like it is going to be pretty pricey but which is actually very affordable. We walked past on the Friday and were very impressed that people were eating pizzas before noon – so on the Saturday we decided to go here for brunch. I had the breakfast platter and it was delicious: bacon, boiled eggs, salads, toasts, jams and porridge. It was a proper good feed that my pregnant tummy loved. J had pizza. I saw some of the cakes they were serving and these looked scrumptious too.
I highly recommend this place. By Western standards it’s not expensive but the food and the service are tip-top.
The Public House Cafe Restaurant and Bar
One thing that I liked about Batumi is that they had pubs. Proper pubs. I wanted to go to The Quiet Woman, an Irish pub, because I loved the name. I used to spend a lot of times in pubs reading; so it seemed so apt to me. (www.piazza.ge/the-quiet-woman-pub). Munich also looked good. I fancied going here to eat sausages. (www.facebook.com/munichinbatumi).
Anyhow, we went to The Public House Cafe and Restaurant, which was located on the main road by the harbour, as it looked like a proper British pub – with lovely frosted glass, brass pumps and railings and a dark wood bar. It looked great and I was really hoping that we could have some proper pub grub.
I really wanted to sit downstairs, in the pub area, but they took us upstairs to the unfinished dining room and gave us a table on the flower-bedecked balcony, which was actually very pretty. We enjoyed sitting up here, counting the number of cars driving past with the whole of the front of their bumper area ripped off (the things you do for kicks in Georgia).
Anyhow, the menu was actually mostly Italian and typically Georgian, rather than European. It wasn’t what we wanted but as we didn’t want to faff about with finding somewhere else to eat we both had spaghetti and shared a Greek salad. It was okay, it just wasn’t very special and not what we were hoping for.
So this place was a bit of a mish-mash really: British pub, Italian food, unfinished dining room. I’m not sure what they are trying to be. I wish we’d gone to Munich for sausages and chips instead.
There’s not much information on there but these guys do have a Facebook page.
Where we stayed
My Warm Guest House
Booking accommodation in Batumi was a nightmare because so many people seem to have set themselves up as air b-and b’s or be offering private apartments to rent. It’s is really hard to sort through these unofficial accommodations to find genuine hotels and hostels. We spent ages trying to find somewhere that looked okay, was central but not too expensive but kept getting overwhelmed with options. In the end we followed the recommendation of our Yerevan room-mate and just booked the place that she had stayed, which turned out to be a good call.
My Warm Guest House doesn’t look like much from outside (they even say this on their advertising) but it is very central and very good value for money. Their hostel apartment is located on the upper floors of a run-down, tenement like building, but inside the rooms are fine.
We booked a private, en-suite double room and it cost us 195 Lari for three nights (£58/€64).
Our room was up in the attic. The room was pleasant, it had a TV, air-conditioning, a fridge with free wine and cha-cha (sadly neither of us could indulge), a nice view of the sea and a huge bathroom with a great shower and a hair-dryer. The downsides were that the curtains didn’t cover the window properly and the bed wasn’t very comfy, but overall it was fine. There was a kitchen just outside our room, which unfortunately got a little noisy on two of the nights and disturbed J.
The best thing about the accommodation was the location, on the edge of the old town and the sea-front, surrounded by good cafes and restaurants, close to the Ali & Nino statue.
It wasn’t a luxurious place to stay and I wish we’d stayed somewhere a little more upmarket, but it did the job.
Please note, some, if not much of this information may not be correct, or may be out of date. All these articles show is how we found these places when we visited and what we personally thought of each place. Where possible I will include links to site which will contain more up-to-date info. All of this is our own work and any opinion expressed is that of the author only.
All photos copyright of J Clemo-Halpenny, unless otherwise stated. If you would like to copy or reproduce any of these images, please email me to ask permission.