The port city of Batumi in western Georgia, on the shores of the Black Sea, capital of the autonomous region of Adjara, has been on the Israeli tourism map for quite a while now, thanks to its beautiful beaches, impressive skyline, glittering casinos, and the famous khachapuri.
But one thing that sets this ancient city apart is the fascinating combination between the highly touristic coastline and pristine mountains, between the bustling town and some beautiful countryside, just a short drive from the city center. No wonder the city was chosen to host the prestigious World Travel Awards ceremony in 2023. Here are some must-see attractions in Batumi and its surroundings.
A gorgeous promenade
Five miles of manicured promenade stretch along the shores of the Black Sea, from the airport to the famous kinetic sculpture of Ali and Nino, forever almost touching each other. And those five miles are filled with beautiful statues and fountains, intriguing architecture such as the upside-down house (White Restaurant; currently under renovation) and many more cafes and restaurants, a petting zoo and playgrounds, a chess board, and ping pong tables. It’s fun to come here in the morning for a run, bike ride, or sit on a bench with a good book.
Lovely squares and hidden courtyards
The old city of Batumi has undergone countless incarnations since the days of Colchis, as Western Georgia was called in Greek Mythology. You’ve probably heard of Jason and the Argonauts. Well, in Europe Square, in the heart of the old city, you’ll find the statue of the Golden Fleece held by Medea, the princess who fell in love with Jason, betrayed her father to help her lover, and finally took her revenge on the lover who abandoned her.
Europe Square, the nearby Theater Square with its golden Neptune Fountain, and the Italianate Piazza, paved with mosaics and surrounded by bars, are a testament to the European incarnation of Batumi in the nineteenth century. Stroll between these and the Black Sea on one side and the beautiful 6 May Park on the opposite side (with a lake where you can sail boats), and you can while away a few hours of window shopping or bar and restaurant hopping. On the way, check out the beautiful street art and peek at the inner courtyards for a glimpse into the daily life in the city.
Gorgeous skyline views
There are two vantage points for the best view of Batumi’s fabulous skyline. First, in the small marina, right under the statue of Ali and Nino, you can board a small or large boat for a short cruise in the Black Sea. Make sure to get here before sunset, when the sun paints the sea in bright colors, and the lights come on in the city’s high rises and on the Ferris wheel.
Walk along the waterfront towards Batumi’s harbor, and you’ll reach the Argo cable car station. You can zip over the city’s rooftops on the longest cable car I’ve ever experienced to a beautiful observation deck boasting a café and some superb panoramic views of Batumi (especially on a clear day).
An open museum
A short taxi ride from the city center will bring you to the Ethnographic Museum Borjgalo. It is located in the most unexpected place, in the middle of a somewhat dilapidated neighborhood, but visiting here is an experience not to be missed. The private museum, the only one of its kind in Georgia, was built by one man, Kemal Turmanidze, a wood carver who greeted us in the museum shop, introducing his beautiful artwork.
The informative museum tour was conducted in English, giving us an inside look into rural life in Georgia, from the interior of a bourgeoise or a country house to the handicrafts and other folk traditions of this proud nation. We didn’t know what to expect, but we were captivated.
Georgian food at its best
There are countless restaurants in Batumi, from fast food in Europe Square to traditional Georgian food. But, of course, you cannot visit Batumi without eating the local Adjaruli khachapuri, and at the Askaneli Terrassa Wine Club on the promenade, you can see how khachapuri is prepared on the spot.
For more traditional Georgian food, don’t miss Bern restaurant, located in the oldest building in Batumi, and the Old Boulevard restaurant in front of the Sheraton Hotel. And if you wish to diversify a little with some seafood, come to the fish market on the way to the botanical garden, and take a seat in the very local Taverna Balagan. The service was excellent, and the food was fresh and delicious.
Nature, history & wine
As mentioned above, Batumi is also an excellent base for a rural vacation – from nature reserves to wineries, from birding tours to agrotourism. Here are some other important sites to visit within a few minutes or up to an hour’s drive from the center of Batumi.
One of the city’s must-see attractions is the impressive botanical garden, sitting above the Black Sea and boasting incredible views, pleasant walking paths (there are also guided tours in small buses), and lots of peace and quiet amid the greenery. The garden is considered the second largest in the world and is divided into geographical areas such as East Asia, New Zealand, South America, and the Mediterranean basin.
A bit east of the botanical garden, you will reach the most famous national park in Ajara, Mtirala National Park. This beautiful area is rich in waterfalls and impressive views, with many hiking trails, fast-flowing rivers for rafting or ziplining, a few cafés, and some rather dilapidated wooden bridges. Try to get here on a beautiful, sunny day to enjoy nature in all its glory.
South of the ethnographic museum, very close to the border with Turkey, you can visit the Gonio fortress. The earliest settlement on the site was founded in the eighth century BC as part of the kingdom of Colchis, and in the first century AD, there was already a fortified Roman city here. Today it is a walled archaeological site with a tiny archaeological museum. Still, apart from that, there is not much to see or do here, so I would recommend this coming here if you’re passing through or if you’re an amateur archaeologist slash historian.
Deeper in the mountainous Adjara, a host of other exciting experiences await you, including historic bridges and numerous waterfalls. Makhuntseti Bridge from the tenth century, for example, is also known as Queen Tamar’s Bridge after she visited the area in the twelfth century. On my previous visit to Adjara, there was nothing here except for a few picnic tables, but today you will find an extensive wine shop and souvenir stands as well as rafting, ziplining, and ATV riding options. And don’t forget to cross the road to the small village, where you’ll pass through many souvenir stalls to discover a tall and impressive waterfall — quite a surprise.
And if you are a wine connoisseur, there are also many wineries in the area. For example, a truly authentic experience awaits at Shervashidze Wine Cellar, just a short drive from the bridge and the waterfall. The small family winery overlooks a spectacular view of the mountains. You will enjoy a warm Georgian welcome, some typical Adjarian food, and a wine tasting (not the best I’ve tasted in Georgia, but that did not detract from the experience itself). And if you wish to spend the night here, the owner has four typical barns on stilts that have been converted into guest rooms for a couple or a small family. The rooms are elementary, but all are en suite, with an air conditioner and even a TV, and the price is 80 GEL per person per night).
So, if you’re planning a visit to Batumi, don’t be content with the beach or spending time in the casinos. Instead, discover this beautiful, ever-developing city’s hidden corners, and venture out into rural, mountainous, and hidden Adjara.
The writer was a guest of the Department of Tourism and Resorts of Adjara.