Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Top 30 Places to Visit in Ukraine

Ukraine can be a challenging destination to travel in for the independent foreign tourist, especially outside the cities. Language skills are essential, and an understanding of marshrutka etiquette will go a long way towards easing the hassles of your journey. Overnight train travel in Ukraine is one of my favourite experiences, I love the camaraderie which develops among the passengers as they share out items of food, swap stories and jokes, and then prepare the bunks for the night. Ukraine is a huge and fascinating country, and these are my favourite destinations it has to offer. I still need to visit a few more of the places on this list, I'm looking forward to the next trip!

1. Lviv - A grand old central European city with charm, character and architectural splendours galore. Certainly one of the most beautiful European cities that most foreign tourists have never heard of. In addition to the jaw-droppingly lovely old town, the city features a first-rate outdoor folk architecture museum and the romantic grounds of the Lychakivske Cemetery.

2. Kiev (Kyiv) - The capital and beating heart of modern Ukraine, yet simultaneously the most historic city in the country as well. Few relics remain from ancient Kyivan Rus, but the Pecherska Lavra cave monastery strongly evokes the power of ancient orthodox traditions. A trip by candle-light down into the narrow tunnels to view the mummified bodies of monks is a spooky experience to remember. The steep and winding cobbled lane of Andriyivsky Uzviz forms an impressive backbone to the old town. Just outside the city, the Pyrohovo outdoor folk museum is one of the best in Europe, with several complete villages of historic wooden cottages, churches and farm buildings.

3. Kamyanets Podilsky - A small medieval town perched on a tall pillar of rock and encircled by a deep river canyon. A massive fortress guards the narrow strip of land that connects the town to the mainland. Looking across at the town and castle from the surrounding cliffs is spectacular; the town offers some of the most picturesque views in the country.

4. The Carpathian Mountains National Park - A superb environment for hiking, biking, and getting in touch with traditional village life. Mount Hoverla is the highest peak in Ukraine at 2061 metres, making it a very popular climb with local tourists.

5. Odesa - A hedonistic playground with great nightlife and seaside attractions, along with historical sites to match. The Potemkin steps are what many people come to see, but there's much more to the city than film history.

6. Khotyn Castle - A large fortress which stands in a grassy clearing overlooking the Dnistr river. This is probably the finest castle in Ukraine, even upstaging the one in Kamyanets Podilsky.

7. Yalta - A palm-studded beach resort playground for Russian and Ukrainian holidaymakers, with the added attractions of nearby palaces and museums. The Lividia Palace where the Yalta conference was held in 1945 is nearby, as is the impressive Swallow's Nest castle.

8. Kolomyya - A small town at the edge of the Carpathian mountains with a museum of Hutsul folk culture, and another museum shaped like a giant egg - the Pysanky Easter Egg Museum is dedicated to the traditional art of egg painting, with many thousands of different designs on display.

9. Bakhchysaray - The centre of Tatar culture in Crimea, and home to the former Khan's palace. The nearby cave city of Chufut-Kale is one of the main highlights of the region.

10. Pochayiv Monastery - A more authentically devout experience than Pechersk Monastery in Kiev, this is the place to get in touch with the Orthodox soul. The golden domes and bell tower are a stunning sight on the horizon, particularly with fresh snow on the ground in winter.

11. The Wooden Churches of Transcarpathia - In tiny hillside villages across the region of Transcarpathia sit dozens of beautiful churches constructed of wood. Many of these historic structures are in need of urgent repair, with little funding available for their upkeep. Some of the finest examples of the different building styles can be seen in the villages of Uzhok, Yasniya, Rohatyn, Danylovo and Chornoholova.

12. Chernivtsi - A major city of western Ukraine with classical architecture dating from the time of the Habsburg Austrian empire. The highlight is the University, with a bizarre mix of Moorish and Byzantine styles designed by Czech architect Josef Hlavka.

13. Sudak Castle - A 14th-century Genoese castle perched on a cliff, with great views out over the sea and the surrounding Crimean landscape.

14. Yaremcha - A Carpathian mountain resort town, with plenty of traditional Hutsul folk culture to experience. This is the best base for making a climb to the top of Mt. Hoverla.

15. Kara Dag Crimean Nature Reserve - Take a guided walk in a volcanic landscape full of bizarre lava-formed rock features such as the Golden Gate arch just off shore in the sea.

16. The Nuclear Missile Silo Museum near Pervomaysk - Take a tour through the corridors and control room of a Soviet-era Nuclear Missile base, featuring four huge decommissioned ICBM missiles.

17. Sevastopol - A major Russian naval port and a place of great controversy in Russian-Ukrainian relations, but also a beautiful seaside city of white-painted buildings and historic forts around the bay.

18. Kremenets Castle - A picturesque hilltop ruin overlooking a town of rustic houses and orthodox churches. An ideal place to experience small-town life in Ukraine.

19. Balaklava - A beautiful coastal town overlooked by a 15th-century Genoese fortress on a hilltop. You can tour a Soviet-era submarine base built inside a sea cave.

20. Vylkovo - The so-called "Ukrainian Venice", a small fishing village in the Danube delta area with a series of canals originally built by Russian old-believers. The nearby Danube Delta Nature Reserve is a unique aquatic environment with plentiful bird-watching opportunities.

21. Chornobyl and Pripyat tour - A tour to the former nuclear reactor complex and the nearby town that was destroyed in the disaster. Chilling and unforgettable; you can see the reactor number 4 and the sarcophagus that now covers it, and wander the streets of Pripyat, frozen in time from the moment it was evacuated in 1986. The guide carries a Geiger counter to let you know how high the radiation levels are around you.

22. Ivano-Frankivsk - A charming city close to the Carpathian mountains with cobblestone streets and some impressive neoclassical architecture. It makes a pleasant place to stay while exploring the mountain region to the south.

23. Chernihiv - A city full of orthodox church spires in northern Ukraine with great historical significance, as it was once a major settlement of 11th-century Kyivan Rus. Today you can visit the Antoniy caves that lie beneath the Illinsky church to get a taste of what the city was once like.

24. Zhovkva - A pretty small town in Lviv region featuring several impressive orthodox churches and a monastery, as well as a synagogue and a castle. This was also the birthplace of Cossack hero Bohdan Khmelnytsky.

25. The Cossack Fort Museum in Zaporizhzhya - This was once the most important settlement of the Ukrainian Cossacks, built on an island in the Dnipro river. The site holds great importance in the development of the modern Ukrainian nation. In 1775 Russian ruler Catherine the Great had the fort destroyed, but today you can visit a replica version with several wooden churches and many traditional homes. Nearby is a museum dedicated to the history of the Cossacks.

26. Lutsk - A city in the north-west of the country with an impressive old town core of 17th-century buildings that line cobblestone streets. It's not in the same league as a city such as Lviv, but is still a beautiful and thoroughly un-touristed place to visit.

27. Kharkiv - Ukraine's second-largest city after the capital, featuring several vast public squares such as Ploshcha Svobody, one of the largest in the world. It is a major centre of learning with a large university student population, and also has an impressive art museum to visit.

28. Korolyov Cosmonaut museum in Zhytomyr - A space museum named for a local Soviet rocket engineer, with displays on the Soviet space program including a number of satellites and a Soyuz rocket.

29. Drohobych - A small town south of Lviv, with Austrian empire-era architecture and several stunning wooden orthodox churches.

30. Sofiyivka Park in Uman - A romantic landscaped park featuring a series of waterfalls, fountains and statues, built by a Polish count as a gift for his wife.


  1. My friend has visited Ukraine several times already, and every time she shared her awesome pictures to us, I can see that Ukraine is a great place to see. It appears to me that it’s a country that boasts of a rich history and culture. I would also love to go there and visit some of the places mentioned above. I’m sure they are worth exploring! :)

  2. Hi Cami,
    Ukraine, especially western Ukraine, is one of my favourite places to visit. I hope to return soon! Happy travels,

  3. I’ve been to Ukraine twice but it was always because of business. I haven’t been able to travel then and see at least one of these attractions. Haha! Seriously, right? Even so, I’m still looking forward to visit these awesome places one day. :)) The next time I’d go back to Ukraine, my main purpose is to travel. That’s a promise! :D

    Danny Riddell