Kukushka train: the Borjomi to Bakuriani railway
The Kukushka train in Georgia is among the most scenic train journeys in the Caucasus region. The 37 kilometer narrow gauge railway runs through the forested Caucasus foothills offering sweeping panoramic views as it winds it way up the mountain.
The Kukushka train runs from the healthy spa town of Borjomi to the ski resort village of Bakuriani. On this train journey you get to see some of the nicest landscapes in the Samtskhe-Javakheti region. From the dense forests of thje Borjomi Kharagauli National park to the alpine meadows of the Meshketi mountain range.
The Kukushka train is so legendari in Georgia that there is even a children’s song about it. While popular in Geirgia itself. Few foreigners know about this beautiful train journey.
History of the Kukushka train
Besides the beautiful scenery, the Kukushka train is also interesting because of it’s history. Construction started in the late nineteenth century and due to the difficult mountainous terrain it took more than 4 years to build the Borjomi and Bakuriani railway.
At that time Georgia was part of the Russian empire and Borjomi was popular for its healing waters. One of its frequent visitors was the Russian aristocracy and the royal family. The Romanovs built their own summer palace and sulfur baths in the area. They were also the first to bottle the now famous Borjomi mineral water
The Borjomi to Bakuriani railway was an engineering marvel. One of the most difficult parts was the crossing of the Tsemistskali river. The Romanovs asked Gustaf Eiffel from the Eiffel tower to design the bridge that now stands in between Tsemi and Tsagveri village.
In 1902 the first Kukushka train travelled the Borjomi to Bakuriani railway. Kukushka is the Russian nickname for a steam engine train and the cuckoo bird, because the trains sound like the bird.
The first steam engine train came from England and it was used till 1966 when it was changed into an electric locomotive. This train became so legendary in Georgia that there is even a children’s song about it.
The Borjomi to Bakuriani railway
Like many places in Georgia, Borjomi suffered after the fall of the Soviet Union. Sanatoria closed down and unemployment soared. However, because of the natural beauty of the area local tourists kept coming and soon international tourists also discovered the town’s appeal.
The Kukushka train is now one of the most popular things to do in Borjomi. The trains are renovated and there are two daily services. The 2.5 hour journey is beautiful as you pass through dense forests and alpine meadows. At first, the views are a bit obscured by the trees, but the closer you get to Bakuriani, the more spectacular the landscape
It is a leisurely journey that people take for the nice scenery. There is also a bus that is actually much faster. Still, the train is also used as a passenger service by those living in the small mountain villages along the Borjomi to Bakuriani railway.
The Kukushka train stops at Tsaghveri, Tsemi, Libani and Sakochavi. The famous Eiffel bridge is in between Tsaghveri and Tsemi. At Libani the train stopped for a considerable amount of time allowing passengers to get out and explore the old station’s building.
Bakuriani is now a famous ski resort and a really nice place to be in winter. If you love skiing, snowboarding and other sports you might want to stay a couple of days. When there is no snow, there is honestly not much to do in Bakuriani. There are some hiking trails in the area, but the mountain scenery is not as spectacular as in Kazbegi or Svaneti.
The Kukushka train travel tips
Kukushka train schedule
The Kukushka train runs daily and has two departures from either side. From Borjomi there is an early train at 07:15 and a later one at 10:55. From Bakuriani there is a train at 10:00 and 14:15. The journey by train is 2.5 hours
Kukushka train vs the bus
There are also frequent buses between Borjomi and Bakuriani. The bus is actually much faster and only takes an hour. My advice therefore would be to take the Kukushka train to Bakuriani, explore the town a little bit and then take a bus back to Borjomi.
This is what I did as well. After the Kukushka train we walked to the center of Bakuriani. Had lunch and then took a bus back to Borjomi.
You could also do it the other way around. In the high season (winter and summer) the trains from Borjomi to Bakuriani can become crowded. Because most people take a bus or taxi back to Borjomi the trains from Bakuriani to Borjomi are more quiet.
Kukushka train on a day trip from Tbilisi
If you wish to do the Kukushka train as a day trip from Tbilisi, you will have to leave early from Tbilisi to reach Borjomi in time for the 10:55 train.
The early morning train from Tbilisi to Borjomi leaves at 06:45 arriving exactly at 10:55. Unfortunately this doesn’t really give you time to connect with the Kukushka train when there are any delays. It is therefore better to take a marshrutka to Borjomi. Again the journey by bus is much faster than the train and only takes 2 hours.
There are frequent buses from Tbilisi to Borjomi leaving from Tbilisi’s Didube bus station. My advice would be to leave around 7:00 AM to give you enough time to reach Borjomi and get to the Kukushka train station.
Alternatively you could also take a bus from Borjomi to Bakuriani and then take the 14:15 Kukushka train from Bakuriani back to Borjomi.
Kukushka train station
It is important to know Borjomi has two train stations. The centrally located Borjomi Parki railway station is where the trains from Tbilisi leave and arrive.
The Borjomi Kukushka railway station is 3 kilometers further away. From the Parki railway station it is a scenic walk along Rustaveli street next to the Mtkvari river. At Tori street you need to cross the bridge and then the train station is at your left.
You can of course also take a taxi for only 3 Lari.
Kukushka train tickets
Train tickets for the Kukushka train are only 2 Lari. You can buy tickets in the train itself. I was there in autumn and the train wasn’t full. However, in high season you may want to come a bit early to get yourself a window seat.
The train will be at the station and you can simply get in to reserve your seat. Just before the train leaves a conductor will come to sell the tickets.
What to expect
The train has two carriages with a simple toilet. When it is not too busy you can walk around. The carriages have a small balcony at the back where you can stand outside to take beautiful pictures.
You can bring some drinks and snacks for the journey. You can’t buy anything on the train. There is a super market at the train station in Borjomi where you can buy some things.
When to go
Bakuriani is now a famous ski resort in Georgia and therefore the Kukushka train is especially popular in winter. This is indeed one of the most scenic times as the landscape turns into a magical winter wonderland.
Where to sleep
Borjomi has lots of accomodation options. Although it doesn’t come cheap you can still stay at a spa and wellness resort such as the Likani Health and Spa Centre or the centrally located Crowne Plaza. You can also sleep at the historic Firuza building that is now the Golden Tulip.
There are lots of budget friendly options too. I stayed at Apartment Erekle and I can truly recommend this, because of the super friendly owner and the somewhat Soviet experience of staying in a Soviet flat apartment.
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