Ukraine Holiday Planning Guide
As the largest country entirely within Europe, Ukraine is a hugely diverse nation. But despite its varied and vibrant tourist attractions, the country represents a relatively under-visited part of the world. Those who do choose a Ukraine vacation are set to enjoy an authentic and unusual experience, including sipping coffee in city cafes, hiking the Carpathians, unwinding by the beach, and exploring picturesque forests. Architecture delights locals and tourists alike here, with an array of sites like grand Gothic towers, wooden churches, and looming Stalinist constructions.
Places to Visit in Ukraine
Regions of UkraineLviv Oblast
: Home to forested mountains, ancient monasteries, imposing castles, and what is arguably Ukraine's most charming city, Lviv Oblast offers a wealth of varied and beautiful places to visit on your Ukraine tour.Donetsk Oblast
: Largely industrial in character, Donetsk Oblast represents one of the country's major coal-mining regions and serves as the Ukraine's most populated oblast known for its towering communist blocks that dominate urban skylines. Odessa Oblast
: Odessa Oblast, with its dramatic Black Sea coast, vast orchards, and a smattering of impressive historical sites, boasts bustling boardwalks lined with neoclassical buildings, a vibrant cafe culture, and ample sandy beaches.Crimea
: The diamond-shaped Crimean Peninsula clings to the mainland by two small strips of land that support towering mountains, lush forest, picturesque beaches, curious cave cities, and vast vineyards in an area entirely surrounded by sea, providing plenty of things to do on a Ukraine vacation.
Cities in UkraineKiev
: The center of East Slavic culture and the Ukraine capital, Kiev boasts centuries of eclectic art, architecture, and history, offering its visitors a vast collection of significant churches, museums, theaters, statues, and ruins to include in a Ukraine itinerary. Lviv
: Instead of Soviet buildings typical of Ukraine, Lviv (also known as the city of lions), boasts a charming Central European-style Old Town with World Heritage Site status.Odessa
: Though most famous for the Potemkin Steps leading down the Black Sea coast, Odessa, Ukraine's fourth-largest city and the country's biggest commercial port, welcomes visitors with Ukraine tourist attractions, including beaches and an ornate opera house. Sevastopol
: Situated between Ukraine and Russia, Sevastopol is most popular as a seaside resort, but its archeological ruins, military sites, and museums make it popular among history buffs year-round.Yalta
: A popular resort town on the Crimean Peninsula boasting forested mountains, Black Sea shorelines, and an optimal climate, Yalta reveals a striking Neo-Gothic châteaux nestled high atop a steep sea cliff. Kharkiv
: The country's second-largest city, Kharkiv hosts numerous Soviet monuments from its stint as the capital in the 1920s, attracting tourists with its museum, cathedral, and Freedom Square.
Things to Do in Ukraine
Popular Ukraine Tourist AttractionsKiev-Pechersk Lavra - Caves Monastery
: One of the region's most important epicenters for Eastern Orthodoxy and a World Heritage Site, Kiev-Pechersk Lavra (Caves Monastery) offers an array of historical fortifications, churches, tombs, and ornate buildings.Khreshchatyk Street
: Lined with Stalinist buildings and a host of shops, Khreshchatyk Street serves as Kiev's main thoroughfare and connects several of its primary squares.Bell tower of Saint Sophia's Cathedral
: Boasting an array of cupolas and a richly decorated interior, Saint Sophia Cathedral stands as Kiev's premier and oldest church that's also viewed as a famous symbol of the city.The Ukrainian State Museum of the Great Patriotic War
: One of Ukraine's most extensive exhibitions, the Ukrainian State Museum of the Great Patriotic War memorializes the Soviet Union's battle against Nazi Germany during World War II and displays a host of military artifacts.Old Town
: Listed as a World Heritage Site, Old Town serves as a showcase for the city's rich mixture of architectural styles and cultural influences.Andriyivski Uzviz
: Paved with cobblestones and lined with notable buildings, Andriyivski Uzviz connects two of Kiev's main neighborhoods.Rodina Mat (Motherland)
: With sword and shield raised triumphantly in the air, Rodina Mat (Motherland) commemorates the Soviet Union's defense of the homeland against Nazi Germany's invasion during World War II.Deribasovskaya Street
: Deribasovskaya Street serves as the city's main pedestrian thoroughfare and features an array of parks, shops, and cafes.Vorontsov Palace and Park complex
: Once the home of a wealthy Russian prince, Vorontsov Palace remains one of Crimea's most popular landmarks, which features a mix of architectural influences.St. Michael's Cathedral
: Although Soviet authorities demolished the medieval-era original church before World War II, St. Michael's Cathedrale stands today with its golden domes and sky-blue paint reflecting much of its former glory.
Planning a Ukraine Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Ukraine with Kids
While Ukraine may not be the safest country to travel to with kids, there are certainly some amusing and informative places to include in your Ukraine itinerary if you take children with you. Major Ukrainian cities like Kiev
, and Kharkiv
feature green parks, amusement parks, sandy beaches, zoos, water parks, and dolphinariums. Apart from the opportunity to swim with bottlenose dolphins, Kharkov Dolphinarium
provides therapy sessions for children with special needs. At Dream Island
, the whole family can raft through exotic lands and experience water rollercoasters. For more educational sites, visit Kharkiv Planetarium
, The Odessa Port
with its maritime museums, or learn how candles are made at Lviv Candles Manufactory
. Brightly painted tanks from World War II and Cold War-era jets at The Ukrainian State Museum of the Great Patriotic War
may encourage kids to inquire about the history of Ukraine.
Things to Do in Ukraine with Kids
Although the provisions of larger cities will definitely make traveling with kids more comfortable, don't shy away from the Ukrainian countryside. Villages practically serve as huge petting zoos, with farm animals like horses, donkeys, cows, geese, ducks, and chickens roaming around freely. Even if you do not want to leave the city, you can still enjoy nature at green parks, gardens, and zoos, such as Kharkov Zoo
, Nikita Botanical Gardens
, and Gorky Central Park of Culture and Leisure
, where you can also catch a movie at the park's cinema. At Pirogovo Open-Air Museum
the whole family can get a glimpse of traditional Ukrainian village life.
Tips for a Family Vacation in Ukraine
The first thing you should think about when planning your Ukraine trip is the comfort and the safety of your children. Keep in mind that you get what you pay for. For better service, stay in one of the major cities at hotels with four and five stars. Don't plan to stay more than a few days in the northeast of the country near Chernobyl to avoid radiation contamination from the 1986 nuclear accident. Buy bottled water in Ukraine, as tap water has high levels of chlorine and tastes bad. Keep in mind that Ukrainian hospitals are below Western medical standards and that Ukrainian roads can be risky for drivers as well as for pedestrians. If travelling with babies and toddlers, note that the international airport in Kiev and most railway stations in bigger cities have mother-baby rooms. Large shopping malls are equipped with changing facilities and most fast-food chains have tall chairs.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Ukraine
Cuisine of Ukraine
Ukrainian cuisine has its origins in peasant dishes prepared from local grains and vegetables, but it has also been influenced by neighboring countries of Poland, Turkey, and Hungary. A traditional Ukrainian meal is hearty and very tasty--the most popular and internationally recognized dishes are borshch and chicken Kiev. Your Ukrainian holiday won't be complete without tasting specialties you can hardly find elsewhere, such as "salo" (salted lard), a delicious side dish that is served with soup. Vegetarians should try "holubtsi" (stuffed cabbage), "deruny" (potato pancakes), "kartoplia solimkoi" ("straw potatoes"), and "varenyky" (dumplings) filled with vegetables or fruits. A sure way to choose a restaurant in Ukraine is to follow your nose--if you smell the smoke of traditional wood ovens, you are on the right track. The menu boards by the entrances will also serve to help you make up your mind.
Shopping in Ukraine
The local currency of Ukraine is the hryvnia, but you can often make person-to-person payments in euros or U.S. dollars (many people do so, but be warned that this practice is illegal). It is wise to always have some cash on you, since only a few stores, restaurants, and hotels accept credit cards. The best bargain in Ukraine is artwork, including paintings, woodwork, jewelry, and ceramics. It does not matter whether you buy them at art galleries or on the street directly from artists. On the cobbled road of Deribasovskaya Street
, you can do some old-style shopping. Large shopping malls like Opera Passage
keep variety of European brands of clothing, shoes, and accessories.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Ukraine
History of Ukraine
For centuries, Ukrainian territories were divided among its more powerful neighbors--the Golden Horde, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, the Kingdom of Poland, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Tsarist Russia. After a brief episode of independence at the end of the tsarist regime, Ukraine became part of the Soviet Union. Despite that, Ukrainians have proudly preserved their ethnic identity by keeping their own customs and traditions.
The capital of Ukraine, Kiev
is one of the oldest cities in Eastern Europe and is the center of East Slavic culture. The city's many churches, museums, and monuments like Kiev-Pechersk Lavra - Caves Monastery
and The Ukrainian State Museum of the Great Patriotic War
, testify to its turbulent history. Poland and Austria-Hungary ruled the Western parts of Ukraine from the 14th to the 18th centuries. To see evidence of Central European cultural influences, visit Lviv
with its Old Town
and Lviv High Castle
, the city's most important defensive structure.
In the 18th century, the Russian Empire took over much of Ukraine, leaving a great stamp on Ukrainian culture and identity. About that time, Catherine the Great founded Odessa
as a Russian naval fortress, which became the site of the historic Russian Revolution in 1905. History buffs will want to put Sevastopol
, with its archeological ruins, military sites, and Panorama Museum on the Siege of Sevastopol
, on their Ukraine itinerary. At Pirogovo Open-Air Museum
, visitors can explore how common Ukrainians lived in a traditional village.
After World War I, Poland took over Western Ukraine and tried to break the national spirit by forcing Polish culture, language, and customs upon its people. Eastern Ukraine was incorporated into the new Soviet State after the Russian Civil War in 1922. Kharkiv
, which became the new capital in the 1920s, boasts many Soviet monuments.
Following the results of 1991 referendum, Ukraine's parliament declared its independence. In the same year, the Soviet Union officially ceased to exist, and Ukraine was recognized as a sovereign state.
Customs of Ukraine
Ukrainians are family-oriented people who are honest with their emotions to the point of bluntness. They like to express their hospitality by inviting people to their homes as soon as they get to know them. In more traditional homes, hosts will kiss you three times on the cheeks and greet you with bread and salt as symbols of hospitality and friendship. Ukrainians have peculiar drinking habits. They have great admiration for persons who are able to drink heavily without passing out, so if your tolerance to alcohol is low, do not try to keep up with Ukrainians.
Although Ukrainian people share their customs and traditions with other Slavs, and even some Cossacks and Turkic peoples of Central Asia, you should always respect their independence and never mix them with Russians. Be careful how you speak about the Soviet Union and the Crimea conflict to avoid unpleasant and potentially hostile situations. Also, note that having a darker skin can be a source of bias mostly in smaller towns and rural areas.
Holidays & Festivals in Ukraine
The most joyful holidays in Ukraine are New Year's Day and Saint Christmas week, which starts on Orthodox Christmas on the January 7. During this week, you can see people dressed in folk costumes walking from door to door singing songs. Another colorful tradition typical for Ukraine is gathering around "The Eternal Fire," on the Victory Day, which commemorates the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II. The major holiday celebrated all across the country with fireworks and music events is Independence Day. Note that on state holidays banks are closed.
Most of music and film festivals take place in Kiev. Several major cities, such as Kiev and Lviv celebrate their city days with fireworks, concerts, and street celebrations.
Ukraine Travel Tips
Climate of Ukraine
The country boasts a mild continental climate, and sunny days are characteristic of Ukraine. Winters are coldest in the northeast, and summers are warmest along the Crimean Peninsula, which has Mediterranean-type weather. You'll find the most precipitation in the Crimean and Carpathian Mountains; if you plan to go trekking, do it in May or October. The best time to visit Ukraine is between May and September. Many hotels do not have air-conditioning, so you may want to avoid visiting in July and August.
Transportation in Ukraine
Standard coach buses will get you almost anywhere in Ukraine. For longer distances trains are more comfortable, and though they are slow, they are also cheaper and reliable. You can buy both bus and train tickets online. Cheap flights by Ukraine International Airlines and WizzAir are the best option if you're pressed for time, particularly if you are traveling from Odessa to Kiev. If you decide to drive, keep in mind that the quality of the roads is average to poor and that there are few road signs that feature the Latin alphabet. Also, Ukrainian drivers can be reckless by American standards. In small towns and villages, you may run across animals and horse-drawn carts. To get around in big cities, you can ride trams, trolleybuses, buses, the subway, and the popular marshrutka, which operates similar to a bus that follows a usual route but with no set schedule, so it's free to stop anywhere on the route upon your request. To avoid fines, always keep your passport or a photocopy of it with you, especially if you travel outside your base city.
Languages of Ukraine
Ukrainian is the official language of Ukraine, but Russian is just as commonly spoken in most regions (except its Western part). With hotel staff as well as with young Ukrainians you will be able to communicate in English most of the time. However, to save time and avoid confusion it's helpful to learn the Cyrillic alphabet and memorize a few phrases in Ukrainian or Russian (or bring a pocket dictionary). Note that police officers, bus drivers, and personnel at information desks and at train and bus stations typically only speak Ukrainian and Russian.
Tipping in Ukraine
Tipping is not part of Ukrainian etiquette, and most locals do not tip. However, since Ukraine is becoming more popular among Western travellers, it is not uncommon for visitors to tip. Before tipping in hotels and restaurants, check to see if there's a service charge included in the bill. If not, tip 10 percent when satisfied with the service. This applies to spa therapists, also. Taxi drivers do not expect to be tipped, but you can round-up the bill if you wish. An appropriate tip for a tour guide is equivalent to 15 or 20 U.S. dollars per day.