The Russian invasion of Ukraine involves attacks agains a number of major cities and many areas of the country are extremely dangerous. Foreign nationals who have not left the country should register their presence with their home government. For those internationally wishing to offer aid, we believe supporting local organizations that are already on the ground is the best way to quickly get help to people in need.
Big, diverse and largely undiscovered, Ukraine is one of Europe’s last genuine travel frontiers, a nation rich in colourful tradition, warm-hearted people and off-the-map experiences.
Big & Diverse
Ukraine is big. In fact it's Europe’s biggest country (not counting Russia, which isn’t entirely in Europe) and packs a lot of diversity into its borders. You can be clambering around the Carpathians in search of Hutsul festivities, sipping Eastern Europe’s best coffee in sophisticated Lviv and partying on the beach in Odesa all in a few days. Ukrainians are also a diverse crowd: from the wired sophisticates of Kyiv’s business quarters to the Gogolesque farmers in Poltava, the Hungarian-speaking bus drivers of Uzhhorod to the Crimean Tatar cafe owners just about everywhere, few countries boast such a mixed population.
Despite their often glum reticence and initial distrust of strangers, travellers to the country quickly find out that Ukrainians are, when given the chance, one of Europe’s most open and hospitable people. Break down that reserve and you’ll soon be slurping borshch in someone’s Soviet-era kitchen, listening to a fellow train passenger’s life story or being taken on an impromptu tour of a town’s sights by the guy you asked for directions. Much social interaction takes place around Ukraine’s hearty food, always brought out in belt-stretching quantities. Learn a bit of Ukrainian and you double the effect.
A diverse landscape obviously throws up a whole bunch of outdoorsy activities – from mountain biking and hill walking in the Carpathians to bird spotting in the Danube Delta, from cycling along the Dnipro in Kyiv to water sports in the Black Sea. But if the idea of burning calories on hill and wave has you fleeing for the sofa, rest assured that most Ukrainians have never tried any of the above, but love nothing more than wandering their country’s vast forests, foraging for berries and mushrooms or picnicking by a meandering river.
As we have now all sadly realised, history didn't end around 1989, and that's doubly true in Ukraine. Having only appeared on the map in 1991, the country has managed two revolutions and a Russian invasion already, and fighting in the Donbas is ongoing. History ancient and recent is all around you in this vast land, whether it be among the Gothic churches of Lviv, the Stalinist facades of Kyiv, the remnants of the once-animated Jewish culture of west Ukraine or the ubiquitous Soviet high-rises.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Ukraine.
The interior is the most astounding aspect of Kyiv's oldest standing church. Many of the mosaics and frescoes are original, dating back to 1017–31, when the cathedral was built to celebrate Prince Yaroslav's victory in protecting Kyiv from the Pechenegs (tribal raiders). While equally attractive, the building's gold domes and 76m-tall wedding-cake bell tower are 18th-century baroque additions. It's well worth climbing the bell tower for a bird's-eye view of the cathedral and 360-degree panoramas of Kyiv.
Tourists and Orthodox pilgrims alike flock to the Lavra, set on 28 hectares of grassy hills above the Dnipro River in Pechersk. It's easy to see why tourists come: the monastery's cluster of gold-domed churches is a feast for the eyes, the hoard of Scythian gold rivals that of the Hermitage, and the underground labyrinths lined with mummified monks are exotic and intriguing. For pilgrims, the rationale is much simpler: to them, this is the holiest ground in the country.
Built of wood in the 10th to 13th centuries, then redesigned and rebuilt in stone by Italian military engineers in the 16th century, K-P's fortress is a mishmash of styles. But the overall impression is breathtaking and the view from the Turkish Bridge leading to the fortress would certainly make a short list of Ukraine's most iconic front-page vistas. The fortress is filled with museums and cafes, and in the summer concerts frequently take place in its vast courtyard.
Odesa's elegant facade, this tree-lined, clifftop promenade was designed to enchant the passengers of arriving boats with the neoclassical opulence of its architecture and civility, unexpected in these parts at the time of construction in the early 19th century. Imperial architects also transformed the cliff face into terraced gardens descending to the port, divided by the famous Potemkin Steps – the Istanbul Park lies east of the steps and the Greek Park west of them.
Its ornate golden domes rising up from the surrounding plain, Pochayiv Monastery is a beacon of Ukrainian Orthodoxy (Moscow Patriarchate) on the edge of a largely Ukrainian Catholic region. Indeed, it’s the country’s second largest Orthodox complex after Kyiv’s Kyevo-Pecherska Lavra and was founded by monks fleeing that mother ship when the Mongols sacked Kyiv in 1240.
As you journey into Kyiv from the airport, at some point this giant statue of a female warrior will loom up on the horizon and make you wonder, 'What the hell is that?' Well, it's Rodina Mat – literally 'Nation's Mother'. Inaugurated by Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev in 1981, it was the second and last Nation's Mother monument erected in the USSR. Today it houses the excellent Great Patriotic War Museum in its base, and has a pair of viewing platforms.
University buildings are often called 'dreaming spires', but Chernivtsi's is more like an acid trip. This fantastic, Unesco-listed red-brick ensemble, with coloured tiles decorating its pseudo-Byzantine, pseudo-Moorish and pseudo-Hanseatic wings, is the last thing you'd expect here. The architect responsible was Czech Josef Hlavka, who was also behind Chernivtsi's Former Armenian Cathedral, as well as large chunks of Vienna. He completed the university in 1882 for the Metropolitans (Orthodox Church leaders) of Bukovyna as their official residence. The Soviets moved the university here.
Don't leave town until you've seen this amazing 42-hectare cemetery, only a short ride on tram 7 from the centre. This is the Père Lachaise of Eastern Europe, with the same sort of overgrown grounds and Gothic aura as the famous Parisian necropolis (but containing less-well-known people). Laid out in the late 18th century, it's packed full of western Ukraine's great and good. Pride of place goes to the grave of revered nationalist poet Ivan Franko.
Be it celebration or revolution, whenever Ukrainians want to get together – and they often do – 'Maidan' is the nation's meeting point. The square saw pro-independence protests in the 1990s and the Orange Revolution in 2004. But all of that was eclipsed by the Euromaidan Revolution in 2013–14, when it was transformed into an urban guerrilla camp besieged by government forces. In peaceful times, Maidan is more about festiveness than feistiness, with weekend concerts and a popular nightly fountain show.