52 REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD START PLANNING YOUR TRIP TO UKRAINE:
Note: I’ll do my best where possible to include the Ukrainian spelling.
1. Ukrainian Prices are Outrageously Cheap
If you’re looking to travel Europe on a budget, book your flight to Ukraine. Kiev (Kyiv) as a travel destination is considered one of the cheapest among the European capitals. The rest of Ukrainian cities are even less expensive. Here are a few examples of the prices you might find (if you visit soon!). You can find hostels for less than $10 a night, an entire apartment on Airbnb for $30 a night, opera tickets for about $8, lunch for under $5, coffee for a buck or two, admission to attractions for $2-$3, and cocktails for about $3-$4.
2.Ukraine is Overlooked by Mainstream Travelers
Europe has thousands of hidden treasures. The lack of mass tourism in Ukraine has allowed it to retain a charm and authenticity often missing in more popular European destinations. Come to Urkraine to explore the vibrant cities, ancient castles, stunning countryside, and meet the friendly people.
Lviv is Ukraine’s largest western city and one of its historic cultural centers. The city is about 70 kilometers from the border with Poland. The center of Lviv is 14th century medieval. It’s here where you’ll find most of the hotels, restaurants and rich history.
3. Have a Drink at the Drunken Cherry
My first experience in Lviv, was meeting friends for a drink in the medieval city center. The Drunken Cherry serves one cocktail; a cherry infused homebrew (vodka) with marinated cherries. As we stood outside on the cobblestoned sidewalk enjoying our cocktails, a table of locals broke out into song. That experience was the anchor to the remainder of my time in Lviv and I will always remember the people as friendly and fun.
4. Visit the Ukrainian Insurgent Army Restaurant: Kryivka
It’s not an easy place to find as there are no signs for this secret bunker restaurant whose name means ‘clandestine shelter’. Look for #14 on Market Square (Rynok Square) and then enter the alcove and look for a wooden door and knock loudly.
An ‘armed’ guard will shout “Slava Ukraina”, to which you reply “Heroyam Slava!” – meaning “hail to our heroes” – and access will be granted to the red brick vaulted cellars (think Hogan’s Heroes).
5. Visit the Lviv Opera House (Львівська оперa)
The theater is in Svobody Square and opened in 1900. It was built in the Neo-Renaissance style and is beautiful and ornate inside and out. You’ll find both productions of Ukrainian operas and classical ballets at the theater.
6. Lviv Coffee Mine Tour
I can’t promise you’ll have the same tour guide or flame throwing coffee barista, but it’s worth a visit either way. This coffee house has created a tour with a far fetched story about how coffee is ‘mined’ in Ukraine. It’s fun and the best part is it ends with a delicious coffee that tastes similar to a creme brulee.
7. Enjoy an Ice Cream Sunday on the Roof of the Lviv Chocolate Shop
I’ll warn you now. It’s a lot of stairs to reach the roof of this chocolate shop. But, it’s worth it. The view and their dessert menu is amazing.
8. Beer Tasting at Lviv Beer Museum (Музейно-Культурний Комплекс Пивної Історії – Львіварня )
Learn about the history of Lviv and beer at this interactive museum. After a tour, head upstairs to check out their latest gallery art and for a beer tasting.
9. Pay homage to Shevchenko
A statue to Taras Shevchenko, a 19th-century poet is located in Svobody Square. Shevchenko is considered one of the fathers of modern Ukrainian literature. His literary heritage is regarded to be the foundation of modern Ukrainian literature and, to a large extent, the modern Ukrainian language. Not only will you find a statue in Lviv, but you also find one honoring him in every village or city in Ukraine. In fact there are over 350,000 statues of him in Ukraine alone.
10. Visit the 14th-century Armenian Cathedral
This Cathedral built between 1363–70 can be found in near the main market square on Virmenska Street. You don’t need to be religious to appreciate the beautiful architecture and fresco’s.
KIEV ALSO KNOWN AS KYIV (КИЇВ)
Kiev (Kyiv) is the capital and largest city of Ukraine. It’s located in the north central part of the country on the Dnieper River. Because of World War II bombings, the city has been rebuilt in mostly Soviet Style architecture. This offers a much different look that the Western part of the country. Kiev is the seat of the government and where the 2014 revolution took place. It’s a vibrant city with lots of cathedrals, churches, wonderful restaurants and art galleries.
11. Visit the Kiev Monastary of the Caves This 11th-century historic Orthodox Christian monastery also know as Pechersk Lavra (Kyiv Pechersk Lavra) is a city within itself. There are 25 gold-domed churches, 150 buildings and it’s known for the caves dug by monks in the 11th century that include the burial chambers of Orthodox monks, and a collection of gold objects from ancient Scythian times.
12. World War II Museum
Officially known as The National Museum of the History of Ukraine in the Second World War, this memorial complex covers more than 2700 acres and commemorates the German-Soviet War. The complex includes many sculptures, but the highlight is the Motherland Monument. The museum building has more than 17 thousand exhibits that reflect the greatest military conflict of the 20th century and emphasizes the contribution of the Ukrainian people in the achievement of the victory over Nazism.
13. Shop on St. Andrews Descent (Andriyivskyy Descent) Андріївський узвіз
One of the oldest and most popular streets in Kiev. It is considered one of the city’s most artistic streets, as it has many wonderful art galleries, you’ll also find it’s lined with merchants selling souvenirs. Look past the kitschy souvenirs for wonderful cafes, galleries and locally made shoe shops. You’ll also find the beautiful St. Andrews church as well.
14. Visit Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square)
This is the central square of Kiev and located on Khreshchatyk Street. It is also the location of the protests that occurred during the revolution of 2013-2014.
15. Pay Tribute to the Heavenly Hundred
The heavenly 100 were anti-government protesters who were killed during the revolution and protests that occurred from November 2013 until November of 2014. The massacre that took place in February 2014 triggered the collapse of Ukraine’s pro-Russian government, prompting Moscow to annex Crimea and sparking a separatist war in the east. Ukraine has a complicated history and this is just one piece. I encourage everyone who visits Kiev to visit the square and the street above that memorializes the citizens who were killed during the revolution.
16. Saint-Sophia Cathedral
The UNESCO heritage site encompasses cultural heritage monuments from the Middle Ages. Saint-Sophia is Kiev’s oldest standing church. While the exterior is beautiful, the interior is the most astounding aspect. Many of the mosaics and frescoes are original, dating back to 1017–31 and there is a strict no photography policy inside the cathedral.
17. St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral
St. Volodymyr’s Cathedral is a cathedral in the center of Kiev. It is one of the city’s major landmarks and the mother cathedral of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kiev Patriarchy, one of two major Ukrainian Orthodox Churches.
18. Enjoy the Food
Kiev offers more than 1,600 restaurants. The food culture is vibrant and you can find just about anything. But, when in Kiev (Kyiv), try a few local spots!
19. O’Panas (О’Панас, ресторан), located in Shevchenko Park is a great choice for traditional Ukrainian food. It looks like countryhome or even a hut in the middle of the woods. They offer live music and food that is sourced from local, private gardening. They also have their own brand of vodka.
20. Another great choice is Varenichnaya Katyusha (House of Perogies ( Varenyky))
The restaurant is decorated like a typical Soviet Style home from the 1980’s. The menu looks like a Soviet newspaper. They offer a huge choice of entrees, but as you might guess they have a wide variety of perogie choices.
Check back soon for my full list of 52 Things to do in Kiev!
CARPATHIAN MOUNTAINS (КАРПАТИ)
The Carpathian Mountains form a 1,500 km-long range in Central and Eastern Europe. They consist of a chain of mountain ranges that stretch in an arc from the Czech Republic in the northwest through Slovakia, Poland, Hungary and Ukraine to Romania and Serbia. They are second-longest mountain range in Europe.
21. Hike Mount Hoverla (Говерла)
This is the highest mountain in Ukraine (2,061 metres (6,762 ft)). The mountain is located in the Eastern Beskides, in the Chornohora region. This is a pilgrimage for many Ukrainians and considered a very proud accomplishment.
22. Ski Bukovel
Bukovel Ski Resort is the most popular place to ski and snowboard in Ukraine. Bukovel has well maintained and diverse ski slopes, for all levels, from beginner to advanced skiers.
23. Ride the Rollercoaster at Bukovel (Доза адреналіну наживо)
The Roller Coaster Zipline is ride through the forest featuring steep turns and drops. The course is located on the mountain at the top of the first chair lift.
24. Whitewater rafting on Black Cheremos River
The Cheremosh river is known for turbulent rapids. One, two and four day trips can be booked.
25. Sleighride in the Carpathian Mountains
26. Pick Mushrooms
There are many mushrooms in the Carpathian Mountains in autumn, especially after warm rains. More than 200 kinds of mushrooms grow in the Carpathians and on average you can find more than 300 mushrooms a day. Many of the hotels can arrange for guide for mushroom picking.
HUTSUL REGION (ГУЦУЛИ)
Hutsuls are an ethno-cultural group of Ukrainians, who for centuries have inhabited the south-easternmost Carpathian mountains, mainly in Ukraine and in the northern extremity of Romania. Traditional Hutsul culture is often represented by the colorful and intricate craftsmanship of their clothing, sculpture, architecture, woodworking, metalworking, rug weaving, pottery, and egg decorating.
27. Shop at the Food & Craft Bazaar in Kosiv
Kosiv is the biggest town in the region and has a daily open air food bazaar. In addition the main street offers many shops that sell handicrafts and folk art. Many of the items such as purses, jewelry, souvenirs are handmade.
28. Hutsul Grazhda Museum
The Grazhda was built in 1995 and represents a typical Hutsul home from the 1800’s. The museum is located in the village Kryvorivnia
29. Dovbusha Cave & Rocks
This cave once served as a refuge for the rebels and there are many legends about caves in Dovbush. The caves are named after a legendary rebel and located 11 km to the southwest of Bolekhiv, not far from the village of Bubnyshche.
Chernivtsi is a city in western Ukraine on the upper part of the River Prut. This 600-year-old city is about one hour from the border with Romania. During WWII the city was under Romanian occupation
30. Chernivtsi National University
It is said that not visiting the University in Chernivtsi is like not seeing the Eiffel Tour in Paris. This public university, which focuses on theology was founded in 1875 as an orthodox church. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011. The architecture is considered from the time of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
31. Chernivtsi Museum of Bukovinian Jewish History and Culture
The Jewish Museum is dedicated to the remarkable but little-known phenomenon of Jewish population of the Bukovinian area. The small museum chronicles the history from the end of eighteenth century to the 1940s. Before WWII there was a population of 45,000 (35%) in Chernivtsi and today there are no Bukovinian Jews.
32. Visit the Khotyn Fortress
This fortification complex is located in the province (Oblast) of Chervivisti and the town of Khotyn on right bank of the Dniester River. Construction of the medieval Moldavian style castle began in the 13th century. It’s the location of a major battle and what is known as the beginning of the fall of the Ottoman empire.
33. Visit Kamianets-Podilskyi Castle
A former Ruthenian-Lithuanian castle located in the Podolia Region. It was later a three-part Polish fortress and is located in the historic city of Kamianets-Podilskyi. The castle is located on the Smotrych River.
34. Hot air balloon at the Kamianets-Podilskyi
Odessa is known for its beaches and 19th-century architecture.
35. Swim in the Black Sea
There are many beaches all over the city, but the one closest to the center is Lanzheron. You can’t visit Odessa without dipping your toe in the Black Sea!
36. Odessa Catacombs
Underneath Odessa lies a huge network of tunnels known as the Odessa catacombs. They are a big part of the city’s history, having been a refuge for Soviet partisans during World War II and later smugglers. You can explore the tunnels on organized tours such as the Secrets of Underground Odessa. Do not attempt to visit these tunnels on your own or with an unregistered guide.
37. Derybasivska Street (ulitsa Deribasovskaya | Дерібасiвська)
A pedestrian walkway in the heart of Odessa where you’ll find restaurants, bars, cafes and shops. A great street for strolling, enjoying the views, and admiring the beauty and vibe of the city.
38. Take an Overnight Train.
You can catch the overnight train from Chernivisti to Kiev. It’s a great way to see the countryside and travel back in time.
A tour of Chernobyl can be planned with tour companies such as SoloEast, as you can’t visit without a licensed guide. The tour with SoloEast starts during the drive from Kiev, where they show documentaries and news footage of the most serious nuclear reactor disaster in history. There are 12 checkpoints within Chernobyl and many rules to be followed to stay safe from radiation, as some zones have more than others. The experience is sad, overwhelming and beautiful all at the same time. Note: Do not attempt to visit these tunnels on your own or with an unregistered guide.
40. Pysanka Easter Egg Museum
The museum is located in western Ukrainian city of Kolomyia in the Ivano-Frankivska Oblast (region). The museum possesses a collection of over 10,000 pysanky (Ukranian Easter eggs).
41. Hike the Caves of Podillya
Verteba Cave – the only museum in Ukraine cave, inside which there are dozens of archaeological excavations of ancient Tripoli culture. Unique of its kind, Verteba is not only the guardian of the priceless artifacts, which are more than a thousand years, but is considered one of the largest caves in Europe. The total length of underground tunnels and halls of more than 8 kilometers.
42. Attend a Live Music or Dance Show
The music of Ukraine differs from region to region. To get a great feel for the culture and history, there is no better way than to attend a live music or dance performance.
43. Unique Instruments and Music Culture
FOOD & DRINKS
Here are just a few of my favorite foods I discovered while in Ukraine. Overall the food was amazing and I could have lived off the variety of salads and borscht soup alone. But, if you are plenty of other delicacies you’ll find from hand made sausage, to Pirogi’s, stuffed cabbage rolls, potato dumplings and of course, chicken Kiev.
44. Borscht (борщ)
You’ll find variations of borscht throughout Ukraine, but if you want a truly memorable meal, make sure to visit Panska Huralna in Chernivtsi. Here they serve the soup in a housemade bread that looks like a crock.
45. Herbed fat (Salo) on bread
Salo is a white pork fat and a national Ukrainian dish. Ukrainian salo is served in slices and sometimes a puree with bread and garlic.
46. Banoosh (банош)
One of my favorite dishes. It’s a cornmeal that is cooked similar to polenta and served with crumbled cheese and mushroom sauce.
Also known as varenyky, these filled dumplings can be found throughout Central and Eastern Europe. Each country has their own unique take on these mouth-size bites.
48. Pototoe Pancakes
Also known latkes, these are made from grated potato, flour and egg, and often also have grated garlic or onion.
49. Enjoy Ukranian wine such as Colonial
50. Try Goldenroot Homebrew (Zolotyy Korin’ | Золотий корінь)
This is a homemade clear alcohol that is flavored with many roots, herbs or berries.
51. Indulge in Lviv Chocolate
52. EXPLORE THE COUNTRY (CITIES AND SMALL VILLAGES)
My last and final reason (although I think I could easily come up with another 52!) is to explore the countryside and small villages.
Note: In my posts about Ukraine I choose the spelling “Kiev” as that is what most travelers use when researching. However, the transliteration from Ukrainian is “Kyiv,” which is important to know.