Fresh from 2004’s controversial Orange Revolution, Ukraine is an exciting, dynamic country with drinking and merriment aplenty and beautiful, awe-inspiring sights galore. Steeped in history, the breathtaking architecture coupled with the ever changing urban landscape make Ukraine a top travel destination.
Why You Should Go
What’s Cool: Sinking a few vodkas or sampling the wonderful arts and culture attractions in bright and bustling Kiev, taking a stroll around the beautiful old town of Odessa, seeing the site of the Charge of the Light Brigade in history-rich Sevastapol, hoisting your claxon horn aloft and blasting it with all your might at one of the wonderfully chaotic football matches.
What’s Not: Getting mercilessly ripped off in the street, toothless locals smoking in your face, getting unfeasibly drunk on vodka and losing your room key, sitting down to dine on a feast of fizzing fat on a plate and freezing to death in the savage winter.
When to Go
The best time to go is undoubtedly summer (June to August), when it’s blisteringly hot and sunny. Spring (March to May) gets warm and breezy as winter thaws, and autumn (September to November) is more of the same but the other way round as the big chill sets in. If you want to go home with your toes, don’t go in winter (December to February), when temperatures can plummet to -4°F.
Getting There & Away
The best and cheapest way to get to Ukraine is to fly into Kiev. Several flights arrive from all over Europe every day. You can also happily enter by train or car from any of the neighboring countries. The quickest way to get around the big cities is in a marshrutka, minibuses which follow routes much like the regular buses do. Each city has an inter-city bus station from where you can go pretty much anywhere, and there is also a pretty cheap and efficient national rail network.
Health & Safety
Following the usual travel rules such as not wearing flashy clothes or wielding a wad of cash should mean you’ll be okay. However, a lot of petty theft goes on and tourists are a pretty rare sight outside the major cities so keep your valuables close to you. It’s also a good idea to steer clear of bouts of drinking with the locals, as heated debates over whose round it is and when the night is going to finish can quickly arise. The local vodka is not for the faint-hearted and should be treated with extreme care.
Food & Hospitality
Ukrainian food is hearty and tasty, but it can be bulging with fat. Lard is high on the list of ingredients of most local dishes, which can add significantly to the flavor and your waistline. Having said that, the soups are fantastic (especially the borshch, made with red beets), and the bread is delicious when straight from the oven. Restaurant staff are, in general, very friendly, whereas the hotel proprietors (particularly outside Kiev) can be a little brusque to say the least. The beer is high quality and very tasty, and the vodka is obviously top-notch.
Two weeks in Ukraine should give you ample time to take in the delights of the capital and some other choice attractions.
Spend a leisurely week taking in the sights and sounds of dynamic Kiev.
Check out the ‘City of Lions’ and cultural capital of Ukraine, Lviv, for a couple of days.
Take two days to enjoy the superb views of the Black Sea, delightful parks and outstanding beer in Odessa.
Two days in Sevastopol will give you a fascinating insight into the history of the Crimean War.
Checking out the wildlife and mountains in Carpathian National Natural Park is well worth it for a day or two.
Kiev: oozing with history and beautiful buildings, Kiev is one of the most exciting places to be in Europe right now.
Odessa: great beer, great food, great views, great place.
Lviv: within the city’s narrow walls lies the heart and soul of the country and the centre of Ukraine’s cultural heritage.
Yalta: sample the delights of the Crimea and see the room where Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt carved up Europe in 1945.
Sevastopol: enjoy the rich history of this cornerstone of the Crimean War.
Cultural sightseeing: as the cradle of Russian civilization, Kiev and the other major cities are bursting with beautiful buildings and palaces.
Shopping: the clothes may not be the height of fashion, but works of art including paintings, ceramics and jewellery can be picked up for great prices.
Skiing: the Carpathian Mountains in the west offer fabulous skiing opportunities, particularly the resort of Bukovel.
Cycling: cycle in the mountains or in one of the numerous national parks around Kiev.
Partying: is compulsory in Ukraine, where a hard day’s work is usually followed by a hard night at the bar.
Festivals & Events
Ukrainians will gleefully grasp any opportunity to down tools, crank up the folk music and tuck into the vodka.
January: Ukrainian Day held on January 22 commemorates the proclamation of the free Ukrainian Republic in 1918.
March: Taras Shevchenko Day on March 9 is a public holiday honoring the birthday of the Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko.
August: Ukrainian Independence Day onAugust 24 is the anniversary of the 1991 Declaration of Independence.
September: Odessa’s annual Jazz Carnival is a treat.
December: Christmas is big in Ukraine, particularly Christmas Eve, as St Nick does his thing.