When I first dropped in on Kiev, Ukraine back in early 2008, it wasn’t the easiest place to travel as a tourist who didn’t speak Russian.
Just thinking about the bus ride that got me there from Poland is still a bit of a shock.
And then, after arriving, I had my choice of about 4 different hostels in Kiev city — one of which was a room in a babushka’s flat outside of town, and two of which were run by the mob (so I was told).
Even when I returned in late 2008 to teach English for 5 months, the tourist industry was minimal, but you could tell that a few more foreign-focused endeavors were popping up.
Now, however, Ukraine is considered one of the more up-and-coming Eastern European destinations for travel (see this article), and a quick Hostelworld search showed 32 options in the capital city instead of 4.
So, for those that are curious about our former Soviet land on the border (thought to be the etymological meaning of Ukraine), here are some of the cities across the country that are worth a visit.
Kiev is the largest city in Ukraine, and also the capital. Its history is rich and vibrant, especially since it acted as capital of the Soviet Union for some time.
It is here that you can get glimpses of ornate architecture in bright golds, yellows and greens — those of which pop from the other concrete giants that line the streets.
Popular Attractions in Kiev:
- Pechersk Lavra (caves monastery)
- Chernobyl Museum
- St. Andrew’s Church
- St. Sophia’s Cathedral
- St. Michael’s Monastery
- Pirogovo (open air museum)
You can shop along the streets of Khreschatyk or in the Bessarabsky Markets, all while the giant Mother of the Motherland statue watches over the city.
Lviv, located in the Western corner of the country nearer to Krakow, has a European flair through its culture and architecture. In fact, the old city center is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Forget the giant concrete blocks. In Lviv, you can enjoy Victorian buildings that will have you feeling like you’re in Vienna and nowhere near Kiev, and rightfully so.
In the past, Lviv has been part of both Poland and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Popular Attractions in Lviv:
- Apteka Museum — the oldest pharmacy in Lviv dating back to 1735
- Museum of the History of Religion — chronicling both the history of Jewish and Christian religions
- Market Square — where you can climb a tower to get a view of the Old Town
If you’re feeling especially cultured, a night at the S. Krushelnytska Opera House gives you the opportunity to immerse yourself in the lovely surrounds.
When I taught English in Kiev, many of my students would talk about Odessa, always mentioning the people as being particularly funny.
I was glad that when I finally got to visit this Southern city on the Black Sea, they did not disappoint with their humorous street art and even a couple of friendly locals.
Like Lviv, Odessa has more of an Eastern European flair that will feel quaint and comfortable after a stint in the big city of Kiev.
Popular Attractions in Odessa:
- Visiting the beaches, like Arcadia and Malibu (it is a popular summer vacation destination)
- Walking along Primorvskiy Boulevard
- Museum of Western and Eastern Art
Yalta is also located in the south of Ukraine in the Crimea peninsula. It is a resort town, and has been for centuries given its location on the Black Sea.
The smooth pebble beaches are a pleasure to visit in the summer, but be aware that plenty of other people will be doing exactly the same.
Popular Attractions in Yalta:
- Livadia Palace — the location of the Yalta Conference in 1945
- Massandra Palace — located in the countryside
- The Nikita Botanical Gardens are a good place to spend the afternoon with some of your freshly bought, local Yalta honey
Kharkov is a bit of an outlier on this list, but it might have interest to the traveler that wants to get to know all sides of the Ukraine culture.
Kharkov is located way out on the Northeast side of the country, near the Russian border, but surprisingly it is the 2nd largest city, and one with a very strong educational and institutional backbone.
Popular Attractions in Kharkov:
- Explore the universities
- Blagoveshensky Cathedral
- Kid’s Rail Road