UKRAINE TRAVEL GUIDE
Ukraine is a large country in Eastern Europe known for its Orthodox churches, Black Sea coastline, and forested mountains. Its capital, Kyiv, features the gold-domed St. Sophia's Cathedral, with 11th-century mosaics and frescoes. Overlooking the Dnieper River is the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra monastery complex, a Christian pilgrimage site housing Scythian tomb relics and catacombs containing mummified Orthodox monks.
This is a country dotted with names familiar to any student of history: Odesa, Sevastopol, Kyiv, Yalta, and Chernobyl. A country which has weathered many storms, from nuclear disaster to forced communism- a country which is now on the upswing, opening its doors to tourists flocking to Kyiv’s St Sophia Cathedral, to the beaches of Crimea, the national parks of the Western Carpathians.
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UKRAINE QUICK FACTS
Capital: Kyiv (Kiev)
Currency: ₴ UAH (Hryvnia)
Area: 603,550 km2
Population: 41,98 million (2019)
Language: Ukrainian (official), Russian, Romanian, Polish, Hungarian, Crimean Tatar
Electricity: 220V/50Hz (Europlug & German Schuko plug)
Kyiv or Kiev? These are the two most common ways of writing the name of Ukraine’s capital.
“Kyiv” is an official Latin transliteration of the city’s name in the Ukrainian language. Although not the only language is spoken in the country - it is the only official one. Ukraine has adopted standards of rendering its toponymic names from Cyrillic into Latin using Ukrainian transcription and hopes the international community will use it too.
“Kiev” comes from the Russian way of pronouncing Ukraine’s capital name. This spelling and transcription became the most common internationally during the 20th century. For many Ukrainians today it is associated with the so-called “Russification” era - banning the use of Ukrainian language in print and other actions by the Russian Empire and then Soviet State to strengthen Russian linguistic and political positions in Ukraine.
That being said, some Ukrainians themselves don't pay much attention to the Kyiv/Kiev dilemma. They use Kiev either because they're Russian speakers or simply have continued to use it out of habit - sometimes you can still see “Kiev” on the streets of Kyiv.
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UKRAINE PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
- 7 January, Orthodox Christmas
- 8 January, Orthodox Christmas (second day)
- 8 March, Women’s Day
- 1-2 May, Labor Day
- 9 May, Victory Day/Mother’s Day
- 28 June, Constitution Day
- 24-26 August, Independence Day
Also, Orthodox Easter Monday, Orthodox Pentecost Monday, Eid al-Fitr, and Eid al-Adha.
BEST TIME TO VISIT UKRAINE
Ukraine has a mostly temperate climate, with the exception of the Southern Coast of Crimea which has a subtropical Mediterranean climate. The country enjoys a sufficient amount of sunshine and year-round rainfall, highly concentrated during the summer months (May to August). Rainfall is highly varied depending upon the area of the country and seasonal variation patterns.
January - Party on New Year's Eve then repent at an Orthodox Christmas service a week later.
May - A great time to visit Kyiv when its countless horse chestnut trees are in blossom.
August - Sip Ukraine's best coffee in one of Lviv's many outdoor cafes.
The summer is the most popular time to visit Ukraine. June, July, and August all offer plenty of warm, sunny days with temperatures ranging from 18-24°C. This is also the busiest time of year as well - but keep in mind that Ukraine is not a massive destination for tourists.
If you want to avoid the peak summer season, the most pleasant time to visit Ukraine is late spring (from mid-April to May) and early autumn (September to mid-October). It won’t be as warm, but you can see the flowers blossom in the Carpathians or watch the leaves change in the autumn. It will be chilly at night, but the days are still perfect for sightseeing and hiking.
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
SNOW SPORT IN UKRAINE
The snow sports season in Ukraine can stretch all the way from November and last until April. Some trails are even illuminated so that you can ski in the evening!
HIKING & CYCLING IN UKRAINE
The best time for outdoor activities in Ukraine is from May to October, when the weather is moderate.
BEACH OPTIONS IN UKRAINE
Ukraine may not be a very hot beach destination, but it does have some lovely beaches such as Odessa, Arcadia, Langeron, Koblevo, Berdyansk and Kyrylivka. Beach season is from May to September with June, July and August being the warmer and busier months.
SURFING IN UKRAINE
Although not a prime surfing destination, you can find the odd surfable wave in Ukraine. Check out Crimea, Arcadia Beach, Kometa and the Sea of Azov.
KITESURF IN UKRAINE
Ukraine has some great conditions for both kitesurfing and windsurfing from March to November. Be sure to check out Odessa, Rybakovka, Mykolaiv, Kiev oblasts and Crimea.
UKRAINE TRAVEL TIPS
The quickest way to get around big cities is the minibusses or subway (only in Kharkiv, Kyiv, Dnipro, and Kryvyi Rih): the minibusses follow routes like regular buses do and you can generally flag them down or ask them to stop at places other than the specified bus stops. The fare is paid as soon as you get in and is fixed no matter how far you want to go. This is the same for the conventional buses, tram, trolley-buses, and the Metro. Tell the driver that you want to get off when you are approaching the destination or press the designed button to give a signal.
Each city has an intercity bus station from which you can go pretty much anywhere in Ukraine. Fares and quality of service vary widely, depending on the provider. There are two or three buses per day to Kamyanets-Podilsky from Lviv (7 hours) and three-day buses plus several overnighters from Kyiv (7-11 hours).
The express train from Kyiv is the quickest way to reach Kamyanets-Podilsky. It departs Kyiv at 4.48 pm (7 hours) and arrives just before midnight. Check schedules here. There's also at least one overnight sleeper service to and from Kyiv (8 hours). Generally, for long-distance travel, the train is preferred over the bus as to its higher comfort and because often they are even cheaper and probably safer. The "Lux" sleeping cars have a two-berth cabin. The second class has cabins with four berths. The third class has six berths through which the aisle passes.
SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF UKRAINE
Inspect Kyiv's collection of mummified monks by candlelight at Kyevo-Pecherska Lavra.
Make an ascent of Andriyivsky Uzviz, Kyiv's most atmospheric street.
Do a spot of cobble-surfing in Lviv's historical center packed with churches, museums, and eccentric restaurants.
Take a stroll through the island town of Kamyanets-Podilsky to its photogenic fortress.
A couple of days are just enough to ‘do’ Kyiv, starting at its stellar attraction, the Kyevo-Pecherska Lavra (aka the Caves Monastery). Follow this with a hike up artsy Andriyivsky Uzviz for a taste of pre-war Ukraine, before plunging into the beeswax-perfumed Byzantine interior of Unesco-listed St Sophia's Cathedral.
Having seen the sights in Kyiv, hop aboard a slow night train to Lviv, Ukraine's most central European city – complete with bean-scented coffee houses, Gothic and Baroque churches, and quaintly rattling trams.
Sometimes chaotic central Asia, other times quaint central Europe, Kyiv is the former USSR's most pleasant metropolis. A pretty spot amid the wooded hills hemming the wide River Dnipro, this eclectic capital has preserved the legacy of its former possessors, from Viking chieftains to post-Soviet dictators. Despite its starring role in the 2014 Maidan Revolution which toppled the last of those rulers, only the very center around Maidan Nezalezhnosti bears any scars, the rest of the city untouched by the tumultuous events that put the geopolitical spotlight firmly on Ukraine.
If you've done time in any other Ukrainian region, Lviv will come as a shock. Mysterious and architecturally lovely, this UNESCO World Heritage-listed city is the country's least Soviet and exudes the same Central European charm as pre-tourism Prague or Kraków once did. Its quaint cobbles, aromatic coffeehouses, and rattling trams feel a continent away from the war-torn badlands of Ukraine's east. It's also a place where the candle of Ukrainian national identity burns brightest.
Lviv was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998, and the old market square of Ploshcha Rynok lies at its heart. The square was progressively rebuilt after a major fire in the early 16th century destroyed the original.
The unique town of Kamyanets-Podilsky (K-P) stands out for its gorgeous castle backed by dramatic natural beauty. The name Kamyanets refers to the massive stone island created by a sharp bend in the river Smotrych, and the resulting verdant canyon rings a charming old town, Ukraine's best-preserved.
Arcadia Beach is the country’s most famous beach. Located in Odessa, it was created to be the country’s main summer getaway spot so there’s a multitude of bars, clubs, resorts, and cafes here, making it a popular place to visit during the warmer summer months (May-September).
Located in Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine, the massive city square (Ploshcha Svobody)is one of the largest in the world. At the western end stands the first Soviet skyscraper, complete with geometrically-set concrete and glass blocks and bridges. Renamed Freedom Square after Ukrainian independence, it spans a massive 30 acres.
WHAT TO EAT IN UKRAINE
‘Borshch and bread – that's our food.’ With this national saying, Ukrainians admit that theirs is a cuisine of comfort, full of hearty, mild dishes designed for fierce winters rather than one of gastronomic zing. Here are some of the Ukrainian staples you are certain to find on restaurant menus:
Borsch -The national soup made with beetroot, pork fat, and herbs.
Salo - Basically raw pig fat, cut into slices and eaten with bread.
Varenyky - Pasta pockets filled with everything from mashed potato to sour cherries.
Kasha - Buckwheat swimming in milk and served for breakfast.