Despite a protracted conflict gripping the East, much of Ukraine remains a stunning and adventurous escape for European travelers who want to get off the beaten path.
Want to learn more about Ukraine?
Where is Ukraine?
Ukraine is the largest country located entirely in Europe (Russia is larger but extends into Asia). It is found in the eastern part of the continent and shares borders with Russia to the east, Belarus to the northwest, Poland and Slovakia to the west, as well as Hungary, Romania, and Moldova to the southwest. In addition the country enjoys a coastline along the Black Sea and Sea of Azov. The Crimean Peninsula (in the south) has been annexed by Russia and is now a de facto part of the larger neighbour.
When is the best time to visit Ukraine?
Late spring to early fall (May to September) is the best time to visit Ukraine. Late summer (July and August) isn’t ideal for large cities – like Kiev – as many residents flee to the coastal resorts, leaving the major cities empty.
How do I get around Ukraine?
Ukraine has a good train network with fast express trains between Kiev and other major cities. Outside of these routes, there is regular and cheap service throughout the country – though it can be slow. Buses are cheap and plentiful but can be crowded (especially during the summer). Finally, driving is an option though the road quality is pretty poor.
Language in Ukraine
While Ukrainian is spoken throughout the country, there are many minority languages – particularly Russian which you’ll hear in the south and east. Some English might be spoken in the cities but you will want to learn Ukrainian phrases to get by.
The capital of an embattled nation, Kiev has mercifully been spared the effects of war; and is a fun, thriving, and beautiful city that should be near the top of anyone’s travel itinerary. The city has been revitalized since the Cold War era (though many remnants of the old Soviet Union remain) and is a lively, ‘new’ metropolis full of great places to eat, drink, and party all night. The architecture transcends centuries, transporting visitors to the long past Ukrainian Golden Age (Kievan Rus’) while the friendly residents are sure to make a trip here even more enjoyable.
Without a doubt the most aesthetically pleasing city in Ukraine, the western city of Lviv dazzles with a fairytale market, colorful buildings, serene parks, cozy hideaways, and more. There’s an elegance here that isn’t always prevalent throughout the former Soviet Union. It doesn’t hurt that Lviv is home to some of the best food in Ukraine. On top of that, Lviv is one of the most culturally diverse places in the country. Overall, it is the preeminent tourist destination in Ukraine and a must-see.
Known as the ‘Pearl of the Black Sea’, Odessa earns its name thanks to a gorgeous seaside location that welcomes both domestic and international visitors aplenty throughout the year. All the positives (and the drawbacks) that come with seaside resorts are here, including good food, a whole lot of bars, and, in some cases, way too many people. Overall though, it’s worth fighting your way through the crowds if you’re really just looking to let loose or relax on sandy beaches for a bit. Try to make time to climb the renowned Potemkin Steps while you’re here.
Located on the shores of the winding Smotrych River, Kamyanets-Podilsky is a charming city that measures up to some of the best classical locations in Europe – without the crowds. First and foremost, the eponymous castle is an impressive and imposing sight while the island based Old Town stands apart from the more standard New Town. Still, the Old Town offers more than enough to occupy any visitor while the nearby landscape (including a picturesque river canyon) is worthy of an excursion any time of the year.
Covering a large portion of southwest Ukraine, the second-longest mountain range in all of Europe gives us undoubtedly the country’s most impressive natural splendor. While the majority of Ukraine is an idyllic yet flat countryside, in the Carpathians the endless fields give way to a rugged landscape of dense forests, impressive mountains, and rushing rivers.
Humanity has made its mark on the land, with traditional wooden churches and even horse-drawn carriages still in use throughout the region. Between the hiking (as well as other outdoor tourism options) and the unique folk culture, the Carpathians may just be the most memorable part of your Eastern European getaway – except perhaps…
What better way to end a Ukrainian voyage than with a trip back in time to the abandoned town of Pripyat and the nearby Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. Known for the 1986 disaster that resulted in the world’s most famous ghost town, brave visitors can join up with a tour that takes you past the checkpoints into what was once a thriving industrial complex. While radiation remains, it has subsided to what is considered a safe level for short visits. It’s somewhat morbid but is truly a one-of-a-kind experience (and we don’t use that term lightly).
Flights to Ukraine
Flights between Toronto and Ukraine aren’t too bad price-wise, with round trips available for less than $1000 Canadian (especially to Kiev). Depending on where you want to go (e.g. Lviv or other large cities), you can play around with different options and not have to pay too much more.
Prices in Ukraine ($)*
One of the best parts of visiting Ukraine are the local prices. On a mid range budget, you can expect to spend about $38 Canadian a day which includes $24 for accommodation and $9 for food. Budget travellers could push costs all the way down to $15 a day while the higher end will run you about $99 a day. Overall, these are among the cheapest prices in Europe.
Staying safe in Ukraine
Obviously much of the news coming out of Ukraine in the last few years is related to the ongoing conflict. As a result, all travel should be avoided to the eastern Oblasts of Donetsk and Luhansk. The advisory also includes the Russian annexed region of Crimea – where Canada does not recognize the annexation and is unable to provide much, if any assistance to travellers.
Beyond this, there is no nationwide advisory although a high degree of caution is recommended due to crimes of opportunity. Crime (both petty and armed) occurs – especially in cities – so all necessary precautions should be undertaken. In addition, be wary of fraud or scams. Demonstrations should also be avoided and road travel can be dangerous due to poor road conditions. Finally, there is a prevailing threat of terror attacks throughout Europe at this time – so be sure to follow the advice of local authorities if such a situation should arise.
For much more in-depth information, check out the Canadian Travel Advisory for Ukraine.
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