Ukraine — Overview
The center of Slavic culture, independent Ukraine is a burgeoning and alternative destination. With proud people that are definitely unlike Russians, its unique history stands head and shoulders above the rest of the region. Kiev is the glowing capital, but the expansive interior and Black Sea coast are other main draws.
Most people come to Ukraine for Kiev. It has most of the important sites and landmarks and is a place of incredible domed churches and vast squares. St Sophia Cathedral and the Caves Monastery are in all the glossy brochures, plus the city boasts great museums, an intriguing historic district, river tours, and beaches. Riding the cliffside Funicular railway is a must, and the best shopping for Soviet memorabilia and the latest fashions can be found here, as well.
Other highlights include the old town of Lviv, the Black Sea coast of Odessa, the intriguing peninsula of Crimea which has wineries, mineral spas, upscale resorts and a big countryside for hiking. The Carpathian Mountains are popular for trekking in summer and skiing in winter, while boating in Kiev and Vylkovo is fun anytime of the year.
While not a typical holiday destination Ukraine is a good alternative to the rest of the overpriced and overly built up world. It is a good value, even in the capital, with deals available on Kiev hotels and European dining. Visitors have the opportunity to relax at reasonably priced saunas, which have all the facilities of high end hotel spas. The cuisine is not everyone’s cup of tea and locals take some getting used to.
Ukraine is about the same size as Texas and while there is not a never-ending amount of things to do, there are always interesting side trips. The plains of the northcenter, the mountains of the west, forests in the north, and the coasts of the south beckon you when you run out of attractions in the big city. Crimea always makes a destination to see where the tsars holidayed, as does the lesser known Sea of Azov in the southeast.
Since it’s so large, it is best to fly whenever possible. Local airlines Ukrainian International and Aerosvit offer reasonably priced connections. Ukraine also has a surprisingly reliable and useful rail network, which is definitely preferred to bus travel as the roads aren’t in the best condition. Kiev, Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk all have metro stations, and every town has quick and cheap minibuses (known as marshrutka), along with metered and private taxis.
- Ogle at the St Sophia Cathedral and the Caves Monastery in Kiev
- Ride the breathtaking Kiev Funicular between the Upper and Lower towns
- Lazie on Arcadia Beach in Odessa and admire its boulevard of beauties
- Climb the slag heaps of the industrial town of Donetsk
- Take in the Renaissance and Baroque architecture of Lviv’s UNESCO World Heritage old town
- Check out where a WWII president, prime minister, and dictator met at the cliff-top Livadia Palace in Yalta
- Ski and hike in the Carpathian Mountains
- Celebrate with the locals in the capital on Kiev Day