Ukraine Travel Guide
🗝️ Key Facts
💶Currency: Ukrainian hryvnia (₴) (UAH)
🕙Time Zone: +2 GMT
📞Phone Code: +380
✈️Best time to visit: April-September
🍴Eat: Vareniki dumplings
🗺️Don't miss: Tour visit to Chernobyl
🗺 Menu of Contents:
Ukraine's vast and mysterious land is long-associated with its colossal neighbour Russia. It's a country that stands out in its own right for its varied landscapes and surprising cultural diversity. Situated along the coast of the Black Sea, Ukraine is one of the largest countries in Eastern Europe.
In recent years, it has become a more popular holiday destination for tourists from surrounding countries. But is also becoming increasingly attractive to citizens of Western Europe and North America.
One of the main attractions for visitors to the Ukraine is the country's rich history, with more than 500 cities dating back over 900 years and a fascinating assortment of architecture influenced by its diverse neighbours.
Most travellers begin in the historical capital city of Kiev, arguably one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. Ancient streets, striking architecture, lovely scenery, and a wealth of historical and religious sites ensure a culturally enriching holiday.
Yet, also it has to be mentioned that part of the history of Ukraine now, is this sad tragedy at the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant which still remains the world’s worst nuclear accident when it exploded on the night of the 25 of April 1986. Now no one lives there. It's a ghost town, which buildings are now slowing falling down due to the neglect and harsh weather conditions. Now the town is home to around 1.500 people, most of them working directly or indirectly close to the plant still. The area has seen a very heavy demand in tourism and daily tours depart Kiev for Chernobyl. It's a chilling experience and not suitable for sensitive travellers, but one you will not forget!
On the other side, the other major attraction for Ukraine tourists is the natural beauty of the country, with areas like the Carpathian and Crimean mountain ranges; the Black Sea and Sea of Asov; and the Crimean Peninsula, a popular tourist haven with its warm climate, famous resorts, history, and old cities such as Sevastopol and Yalta.
The city of Lviv is a good place from which to access the mountains. It's one of the main cultural centres of the country and a delight to explore with its medieval old town and distinctive architecture.
The harbour city of Odessa, known as the 'Pearl of the Black Sea', is an established tourist destination that also serves as the gateway to many of the famous Black Sea resorts. It is an intriguing city with a wonderful mixture of cultures and historical architecture.
Formerly part of the Soviet Union, the country experienced revolutions in 2004 and 2014 and remains torn between the East and the West. Many visitors find this identity crisis interesting in itself, but Ukraine is primarily a worthy tourist destination because of its history and culture, as well as some thriving resorts.
Cruises on Europe's longest river, the Dnieper River, from Kiev to the Black Sea coast, is one of the most popular ways to tour the Ukraine, along the 2,205 km stretch of river.
So coming to the Ukraine, might be one of the most interesting and revealing visits, not everybody expects that the Ukraine can offer so much.
Come and see it for yourself and learn more about it with our guide!
To show the size of the country, Ukraine borders with seven countries: Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Moldova, Russia, and Belarus. This makes for very good access routes from many sides of Europe, The Middle East and the CIS States.
The Ukraine is a very well developed nation when it comes to transport connections, and specially by air, you can fly direct from cities like New York, London, Paris, Beijing, Bangkok, Madrid, Dubai... etc. As well Kiev, the capital, is a very good transit hub where you can also reach to many other destinations, mostly in Europe. The main airline is Ukraine International Airlines, which serves most routes and is the national airline. Other airlines like Lufthansa, Ryanair or Turkish Airlines offer frequent flights around Europe.
Other ways of travelling to the Ukraine are by train, however there is only major connections to Poland, with daily trains departing from central Warsaw station. Cheaper options like travelling by bus are available via Eurolines.
Once in the country, Ukraine offers frequent transport options to the major cities via rail and busses which travel to smaller towns as well. Its easy to reserve at the time of travel when you travel domestically. Always buy tickets from a ticket counter first before boarding the bus and be ready for limited english service. However with younger population being more involved with technology it's easier to get around when asking for help to younger people than the older generations when travelling.
❗Attention: Due to the political tensions between Russia and Ukraine, over the border of the Crimea region, all direct flights between the countries are suspended until further notice. However you are able to travel from/to Moscow/Kiev via Belavia Airlines (Belarus) and other airlines via a transit stop. Train and bus connections remain unaffected.
The climate of the Ukraine can be described as dry and continental one with warm, dry summers and severe winters. January is the coldest month with daytime temperatures usually around 0°C, but in some cases winter months can be quite colder with temperatures far below zero, about -20°C or lower and strong, cold northeasterly winds, called Bora. Heavy snowfall or even snowstorms are also possible on some days.
In summer, which is the most recommend time of the year to visit for more pleasant temperatures, they can reach up to 25-30°C, but sometimes higher, to 35°C or more, especially in the inland areas. The summer months enjoy dry weather with sunny spells most of the time. July is the warmest month. During the Spring and Autumn, there is a big chance you get either mild temperatures and clear skies or on the other side cloudy days, with some rain and wind.
Due to the proximity and the history associated with Ukraine and Russia, It's not a surprise that the Traditional Ukrainian food, has a heavy emphasis on dumplings, potatoes and sour cream. But not only there is Russian influence, Ukrainians like their Pizza, with many places popular to eat any time, specially located in the larger towns. Additionally (especially Kiev) visitors have a wide choice of cuisines that includes French, Indian, Italian and Turkish. Asian restaurants can also be found in the larger urban centres.
Specialities of the Ukraine include: Borscht (beetroot soup made with meat broth). Vareniki (dumplings containing potatoes, cheese, meat or fruit). Deruny (potato pancakes). Pelmeni (meat-lled ravioli originally from Siberia). Chicken Kiev exists but is better known in the West.
As for drinks, Kvass is a big favourite. Not just a regular drink, but a whole tradition. It is so delightful to get a glass of this refreshing beverage during the boiling hot weather in summer. It has useful properties of increasing activity and boosting strength for work. Kvass is made of rye bread and malt, sometimes adding fragrant herbs and honey. It is also used as a base for a cold soup called Okroshka.
Regional Crimean wines are excellent, especially dessert wines such as Krasny Kamen ('Red Stone'). Abrauand Miskhako are excellent brands of cabernet. Other local drinks include Artyomov champagne (bottled in eastern Ukraine), and fortified wines from Massandra, particularly one named 'Black Doctor'. There are plenty of beers as well, a common favourite for the locals. There are local and international brands sold at restaurants and bars. Of course, the national spirit favourite, Vodka, is widely available!
For many the Ukraine, is an undiscovered country which has not much appeal perhaps because it once had close ties to Russia, and now currently in some areas of the country there is rising political conflict with its neighbour over territory. However the country is still safe to visit as a tourist, and many of its cities are in fact very recommend as jewels of culture, history and architecture.
My visit to Kiev, went smoothly without a hitch! The capital is safe to travel around. It's transport is effective, despite it being a little modest and it's people are humble and hard working. There is much to see in the city, but it can be done easily in walking distance with a few hills and slopes. This is because the city is purged upon a hill and this makes for beautiful shots and panoramic views, as an added attraction.
The highlight for any western visitor, is how cheap it can be for transport, eating out and drinking. Good restaurants are easily accessible and the city centre has lots of nice places where to hang out and unwind after a long day of exploring.
Another important highlight to come to Kiev, was to visit Chernobyl. Not the ideal holiday destination for many people, but if you are interested in the disaster which struck the area in April 1986, then the whole day tour will not disappoint you. Seeing a ghost city and the remains of what was once a growing city was very intriguing but also nostalgic and sad at the same time. However the amount of information learnt and facts were very rewarding and makes one appreciate what life is all about.
Coming to the Ukraine, might not be for everybody, but truly the city of Kiev and the tour of Chernobyl was enough to give me a good impression about the country and to explore further other cities and it's countryside.
Kiev Tourism Information Guide
Kiev is the Capital of the Ukraine, however its barely known to outsiders, because of very limited publicity and a lack of English Speaking population means its much more difficult to get around. However you should not be put of by this and travelling to Kiev will definitely surprise you fondly. The locals at first can be seen as extremely dry and unfriendly at first, hard to smile and customer service doesn't really shine here. But once you have broken the ice, they can be actually quite hospitable in their owns homes. Before long they'll be showing you round the sights and inviting you to their home for a steaming borscht, the country's iconic beetroot soup.
Kiev, was founded in the eighth century, displays a mix of architecture with former soviet influences once capital of Kievan Rus, the precursor of the modern Russian state.
A wealth of baroque and Renaissance architecture can be seen in Kiev, together also in other cities like Lviv. Up to a few years ago, Ukraine has been in the news for the wrong reasons due to Russian separatism on the border. Despite this, most of the country is completely safe for visitors now.
Kiev's climate is continental, with hot summers and cold winters. July to August is the hottest period, with temperatures ranging from about 15°C to 28°C, whereas December to February is the coldest period, with temperatures averaging between -5°C and 10°C at the highest. In winter, the city's rivers tend to freeze over, creating a winter wonderland and allowing for ice-skating and ice fishing. Snow cover is common from December to March.
Kiev boosts an impressive public transport system from the very moment you arrive to the city, which can take you all over the city conveniently by metro, trams, trolleybuses, busses and rail. When arriving to the city's by air, the city has two major airports:
- Boryspil International Airport (KBP), is the main international gateway to Kiev by national airlines and the country's flag carrier Ukraine International Airlines. From the airport you can get the express train to the Main Railway Station. The time of the one way train ride is around 38 minutes, being perfect if you want to traffic jams from the left bank of Dnieper river in the morning and from the right bank, in the evening on the way back to KBP airport. Trains depart every 30-60 minutes with more services at peak times. Fares are 80 UAH (€3) one way. There is also a frequent Skybus service, bus 322, which goes to the Main Railway Station for 100 UAH or Kharkivska metro station in the east of the city for 60 UAH. Busses are more frequent passing every 15 minutes daytime and 30 min at night, taking around 40-55 min to complete the trip,depending on traffic.
- Igor Sikorsky Kyiv International Airport (Zhuliany) (IEV) is the city airport of Kiev and is located only 9 Km away from the city centre. You can transfer by trolleybus or minibus depending on where you want to go. Prices are very cheap to access the centre, at 8 UAH. Trolleybus number 9 for 1.50 UAH brings you to Tereschenkivska street nearby Ploscha Lva Tolstoho metro station (blue line). Trolleybus 22 goes to Dorohozhychi metro station (green line). Another option is take minibus Marshrutka number 213 for 2.50 UAH, it shuttles passengers to Dorohozhychi (green line) and Petrivka (blue line) metro stations.
Once in the city, Kiev public's system is cheap and easy to ride. Each single ride cost 8 UAH (€0.25). In Kiev it's still possible to buy single tickets once onboard the busses or the trams but for the metro you need to pay in advance and get a green token (8 UAH) or use the Kyiv Smart Card, the prepaid card which can be recharged to the amount of required number of trips. To get the card it costs 50 UAH (around €1.6). Alternatively you can also pay with contactless cards on the Metro only.
❗Attention: Kiev's transport is effective and runs smoothly, however it can be very hot inside carriages, busses and trams when the temperatures rise. The carriages don't have working air conditioning and at peak times metros and other transport get very crowded. It's advised to take bottle of water. Also note that traffic levels in Kiev are very high at peak times and is slow to move around in the city centre. Avoid taxis and busses at peak times.
Below you can find the transport map for Kiev available to download:
The undiscovered capital of the Ukraine has many treasures and highlights that are worth discovering. Any visitor will be fascinated to walk around its great majestic streets and view some of the most important monuments and buildings of the city.The highlight to walk around the city centre, is that you don't really need to take many metro's or transport to move around, as many important sights are within 30 minutes walking. When you are done with walking around and visiting the culture, take advantage to dine out, enjoy a nice cafe place to relax and view the city's atmosphere. Places to eat are very cheap compared to Western Europe, as well as for local shops and museums entrance fees.
Below you will find some of the city's highlights not to miss:
- Saint Sophia’s Cathedral is one of the oldest religious buildings in Kiev, with work starting on it dating back to 1037 and lasted for just three years. As the architectural monument has had only a few reconstructions, you can marvel at the Byzantine cathedral in close to its original form. In addition, as it is located at the intersection of the four leading roads in Kiev. You can climb to the cathedral’s bell tower for 60 UAH and you’ll be rewarded with a magnificent view from the top. To visit only the grounds it costs 20 UAH. You can also access the Metropolitan's House and the Temple of Holy Blessed Prince Yaroslav the Wise for an extra charge. To get there take the metro to Zoloti vorota (green line) and walk about 10 min.
- St Michael’s Monastery, built in the early 12th century dedicated to the patron saint of Kiev, Archangel Michael. It is one of the oldest monasteries in Kiev, which includes the church of Archangel Michael destroyed in 30’s of the last century and rebuilt in the middle 90’s, and the refectory church of St. Ioan Bogoslov. The temple was built in the Ukrainian Baroque style. In the courtyard of St. Michael’s Monastery you will find the famous Wish Fountain. To get there, take the metro to Poshtova ploshcha station (blue line) and then take the Funicular to the top of the hill, which is also an attraction in itself for 8 AUH.
- St. Andrew’s Church is one of the most striking Baroque buildings in Kiev. Its architecture and location are genuinely unique. The church is built on an artificial hill, overlooking one of Kiev’s oldest neighbourhoods, and the foundation for it is the terrace of a two-story building, with a cast-iron staircase. It has been twice hit by lightning, but still the church is is flourishing and is open to the public for services and sightseeing tours.
✔️Tip: After passing the church walk along Andriyivskyy descent street, where you will find lots of antique shops, Ukrainian restaurants, souvenir and gift shops and the Cherbonly Tour office.
- Independence Square, also known as ‘Maidan Nezalezhnosti’ is the central square of Kiev and the place for the Orange Revolution (2004). It is located on Khreshchatyk Street in the Shevchenko Raion. It’s a huge open space with fountains, the Independence Column, the famous Hotel Ukraina and across the Khreshchatyk street, benches and some stalls together with Lyadski Gate. To get there take metro to Maidan Nezalezhnosti station (blue line).
- Mother of the Fatherland, is one of the biggest monuments in Kiev at 62 meter tall. It is part of the Museum of the Great Patriotic War, built to commemorate the German-Soviet War. This museum was opened on May 9, 1981 in honor of the Soviet victory in World War II. Around the area you will find many military artefacts, including many vehicles, mainly USSR tanks of the type T-34-85, IS-a, ISU-152, tanks, missile launch trucks, cargo trucks, and one DC-3 plane on display. Also there are many other monuments dedicated to the victims of the war, historical wars and victories of the country. To get there take bus 24 from Arsenalna metro station (red line).
- Ukrainian National Chornobyl Museum: dedicated to the 26 April 1986 Chernobyl disaster and its consequences. It houses an extensive collection of visual media, artifacts, scale models and other representational items designed to educate the public about many aspects of the disaster. Several exhibits depict the technical progression of the accident, and there are also many areas dedicated to the loss of life and cultural ramifications of the disaster. Due to the nature of the subject material, the museum provides a very visually engaging experience. The museum occupies an early 20th-century building which formerly housed a fire brigade and was donated in 1992 by the State Fire Protection Guard. The museum has limited english translations but an audio guide is available to rent. Basic entry to the museum costs 24 UAH. Closest metro station is Kontraktova ploshcha (blue line).
- Kiev Parks: The capital is no doubt a green capital, and has dozens of beautiful parks for short walks. Mariyinsky and Taras Shevchenko Park are among the nicest parks. Not only they are located right next to Kyiv’s majestic Dnieper River and the historical city respectively, they also have wonderful architectural landmarks, like Mariyinsky Palace, gorgeous building of Kyiv Academic Puppet Theater, and Lover’s Bridge, popular among newly-weds. At Taras Shevchenko Park, relax on the many benches provides, have a nice coffee drink and see the statue of Taras Shevchenko, a famous Ukrainian poet and writer. Also nearby is the Faculty of Law, with its distinctive red facade.
- Khreshchatyk Street, is one of the main streets of Kiev, it extends from the European Square to the Bessarabska Square, which is home to the Besarabsky Market. There are many places on this street to shop as well as cafes, and restaurants. During the weekend they close the street for traffic and it fills with performers, artists, markets and events of all sorts.
- National Opera House of Ukraine, established in 1867, the National Opera House of Ukraine is an ornate, romantic theatre with a 200 year history, this opera house is currently home to the Kiev Opera Company. Known for drawing world class talent, this facility is one of the most prestigious in the country.
- State Aviation Museum: Even if you’re not into aircraft and all other things aeronautical, the State Aviation Museum is an interesting place to spend a couple of hours, visiting old soviet era planes, helicopter and fighter jets. The aircraft on display are all fantastic-looking flying machines. It is the largest historical and technical museum of its kind in not only Ukraine but all of Eastern Europe. The museum opened in 2003 with 33 aircraft and helicopters but now has in the region of 90 machines on display. The museum’s location, next to Kiev’s second (and smaller) Zhuliany airport, is an added bonus for proper plane-spotters. There is a high perimeter wall surrounding the entire complex but the authorities have left a section where you can see through to the runway and watch aircraft take off and land. To access the museum, take bus 220 from Demiivska Metro station (blue line) and get off at the last stop, which is in front of the museum.
Part of the history of Ukraine now, is this sad accident, an unprecedented tragedy at the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant which still remains the world’s worst nuclear accident when it exploded on the night of the 25 of April 1986. Pripyat, the town closest to the reactor (2 km distance), was home to 49,000 residents before the disaster, mostly the families of the plant workers, who averaged an age of only 26! Now no one lives there. It's a ghost town, which buildings are now slowing falling down due to the neglect and harsh weather conditions.
The city of Chernobyl, after which the Nuclear Plant was named after, is only 14 km to the south of the reactor. High radiation levels forced the evacuation of more than 100,000 people from the region surrounding Chernobyl, making a 30 Km exclusion zone. After the accident, and years of cleaning the zone, some people decided to come back, named self-settlers. Now the town is home to around 1.500 people, most of them working directly or indirectly close to the plant still. The ghost of this tragedy still feels that it hunts Ukrainian people for a long time to come.
In order to understand and experience more in depth the sequence of events which unfolded during the disaster, its recommended to take a tour to the restricted zone, only accessible by tour. There are many tour options, even staying overnight, however the most popular tour is the one day tour to the abandoned nuclear plant and surroundings organised by Chornobyl-tour.ua. Tours are conducted by professional and knowledgeable tour guides which prepare you for what you will see and things to take into account like clothing and behaviour. Early start is required to join the tour which beginnings a short walk from the South Entrance of the main railway station at Kiev, leaving at 8am. The trip includes the visit of the abandoned town of Zalissya, the Radar Duga-1, quick stop at the Power Plant, tour of the ghost city of Prypiat and the city of Chernobyl. A 1986's period lunch can also be included for $5 dollars more. The tours prices start at $99 per person online. Visit Chornobyl-tour.ua to find out more information about the tour and other tours available.
❗Attention: Radiation is what makes the zone particularly interesting to visitors. Although levels have decreased substantially, of course the zone has certain hot spots, with elevated radiation. Always listen to the advice and precautions to be taken by the tour guides and don't pick up any soil or ground objects from the restricted zone.
Your visit to the Chernobyl zone will be absolutely radiation-safe. During 1-day tour to the Chernobyl zone you will receive a radiation dose equal to approximately 1-hour jet flight or 160 times less than the dose received during a single chest x-ray.
✔️Tip: If you don’t have a chance to go for a tour of Chernobyl site itself, (or have any other medical reasons not to) you can learn more about the catastrophe in Kiev’s most interesting and engaging museum called the Ukrainian National Chornobyl Museum, detailing the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, with audio-visual exhibits, photos & documents.
Most of Kiev's bars and clubs are open well into the early morning, so prepare to be out and about until day-break. Locals, expats and tourists alike mix and mingle in the nightlife establishments and their variety will offer something for all age groups and wallet sizes. Jazz and techno dance clubs, casinos, cocktail lounges, cafes and late night restaurants are all in hand whatever is your type!
There is also a lot of cultural entertainment like theatre plays and classical music concerts, however in getting tickets and performances are all in the native language.
Looking at the variety of shops and department stores in the streets of Kiev makes it hard to believe that just a couple of decades ago, shopping was practically non-existent. Today, you can find anything and everything in the fashion-conscious Ukrainian capital: TsUM department store is known as "Kiev’s Harrods". Dream Town is more down to earth with more commercial shops and stores.
Markets, bookstores and wine boutiques fill the bustling Ukrainian capital with an interesting mix of local and foreign shops, which each time you travel to Kiev, it seems to "westernise" a little more.
Kiev is an affordable location for a budget traveller, because prices are not generally expensive in the city. You can find easily Hotels and single rooms in Hostels for around less than €20 per night. Nice locations in the city centre will be much higher. but if you locate places near to the metro or tram lines and like to travel by public transport you can also find cheap places in the outskirts of the city. Private accommodation like Airbnb is getting more and more popular and a good choice to meet locals.
❗Attention: Things to consider in Ukraine whilst staying; not everything might work and you need to be prepared for meeting Hotel staff who might not be able to speak much english. Always read reviews if possible from previous guests to avoid surprises.
Some places, work with limited hot water, poor Wifi access, poor cleaning standards or places can be infected by insects or rodents.
The capital of the Ukraine is a very practical place where to start your trip to the country. Visiting Kiev doesn't take long, even by foot. Two days to see the city and its highlights is enough and visit a couple of museums. If you are also visiting and taking the tour to Chernobyl then, stay 3 to 4 nights.