Largely hidden from the rest of the world, Ukraine has remained famous as one of the enigmas in the modern day world. It is one of the few remaining frontiers and is full of unexplored experiences that offers a once-in-a-lifetime travel adventure.
The country boasts of a rich and historic past and is also home to all sorts of wonderful sceneries – from majestic mountain views to exotic marine landscapes, from enchanting national parks and reserves to fascinating architecture, authentic traditions and beautiful festivals. Ukraine is one of the top destinations for your next vacation, a country that is always full of culture, history, adventure, excitement, discovery and off-the-beaten-track tours. Here are some of the top things to do while in Ukraine.
In order to understand any country, you need to visit its capital. Kiev, the cradle of Slavic civilization, is one of the most fascinating cities on the planet and is totally worth those extra couple of days that you’d want to spend here. The city has a glorious history, lots of museums, theaters, famous monuments and beautiful parks, which won’t leave you feeling indifferent. Walk along the famous Khreschatyk street, visit Andrew’s Descent – “Kiev’s Montmartre”, and go to the open-air museum “Pirogovo” to learn more about Ukrainian architecture and culture. Pirogovo is home to more than 300 unique objects of great folk architecture, many of which date all the way back to the 16th century.
Get Inspired by Lviv
The moment you set foot in Lviv, you will feel yourself immersing into a real-life medieval city. The iconic Square Rynok (Market Square) has been declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it is an obvious highlight of any trip to Lviv. The place is also full of beautiful old-world buildings, exciting museums, cozy cafes and gourmet restaurants where you can feel the real taste of Galician cuisine. For something entirely unique, visit the High Castle and check out the fascinating views that its viewing platforms have to offer. The Italian courtyard located inside one of the Rynok Square buildings is also worth a watch. Other places you’d want to explore include the Bernardine monastery, a fortified medieval era monastery; the Dominican Church, the Palace of Potocki, one of the best examples of the French Neorenaissance style; and the Opera Theatre, a true architectural gem in Lviv.
Odessa popularly known as the “Pearl of the Black sea”, one of the largest cities in Ukraine as well as an important sea port. Odessa’s sunny beaches, pleasant climate and mild waters make it one of the best destinations in Ukraine, and this is why it attracts hundreds of tourists every year. Start your adventure at the Deribasovskaya Street – the most famous street of the city. It is always busy and is also teeming with all sorts of cafes, restaurants and shops. Don’t miss out the Primorskiy Boulevard, where you get to see the monument which once belonged to Duke de Richelieu, the very first governor of Odessa. Other highlights include City Hall, Vorontsov Palace and Potemkin Stairs. Potemkin Stairs are more popularly known as Giant Stairs, the name given to them by their most famous visitor, Mark Twain. Finally, don’t forget to enjoy an opera at the magnificent Opera Theatre, a breathtaking 19th century attraction that was built by Viennese architects Helmer and Felner.
Insider Tip – Always try to visit Odessa in the month of July to become a part of the International Film Festival that is held here each year. 2nd September is a popular time to be in the city as well, for it is the city’s birthday and is always full of various events and concerts.
Discover Majestic Castles
The castles of Lviv are one of its biggest tourist attractions. That beautiful architecture simply cannot be seen elsewhere and the mystical history and scenic landscapes make them even more enchanting. This is why places like the Olesko Castle, Pidhoretsky Castle and Zolochiv Castle have attracted travelers year after year. The Olesko Castle is the most famous castle in Lviv since it was the birthplace of the Polish King Jan III Sobieski, the hero of the Battle of Vienna. A number of artworks that belonged to the king have been displayed in the castle’s museum. Another popular Polish king, King Michał Korybut Wiśniowiecki, was also born here. The Zolochiv Castle had been the official residence of the Sobieski noble family for years. In the 19th century, this castle was also used as a hospital and a barrack. After 1985, the entire complex fell under the supervision of the Lviv Art Gallery, and is now famous for its stunning architecture.
Uncover Unique Wooden Churches
Ukrainian wooden church architecture of 16th and 17th centuries is unparalleled, for there is nothing like it in the entire world. These ancient churches are the best ways of understanding the rich history of the country and delight yourself in its rich architectural style. The churches can be found all over Western Ukraine, particularly in the Zakarpattya and Lviv regions. The St. Nicholas Church, an ancient wonder dating back to the year 1470, is located in the village of Kolodne, and is famous as one of the most unique churches on the planet. Other churches worth seeing include Zakarpattya, Church of the Most Holy Mother of God and Assumption Church. The Assumption Church in the village of Klit’sko, and is famous for its bell-tower and exotic architectural style.
Insider Tip – Another church that you should ever miss out on is the Saint Archangel Michael Church. It is located at a distance of 140 kms from Lviv, but is totally worth the effort. What makes it so special is its designs belong to a special school of architecture which was popular in the 17th century, a design that has very few living examples today. The main peculiarities of the construction style included monumental onion-like cupolas and the strapping of the pillars.
Do Your Bit for Nature by Undertaking Ecotourism Adventures
Ecotourism is becoming more and more popular with every passing year. Ukraine is considered to be one of the ecotourism hot spots in the world, and every year hundreds of people join various eco tours and get involved in different activities that are connected with environmental protection. The Carpathian Biosphere Reserve is one of the biggest and most interesting areas in Ukraine. You can find the largest beech forests in Europe here. It is home to more than 64 plant species and 72 animal species and exploring the area in May offers fascinating views and an extremely special experience because of all those blossoming daffodils. The Askania Nova Biosphere Reserve is another important ecotourism destination in the country. It works very closely with UNESCO and is perhaps the only area in Europe that wasn’t touched by a man-made plough. As a result, it is home to some of the rarest plants on the planet. Finally, don’t forget to explore the diverse Nizhnednestrovsky National Nature Park, located in the Dniester Delta. The park is very famous among bird lovers for it is an important nesting ground for wintering birds migrating between Eurasia and Africa. Of 254 bird species found here, 58 have been termed as endangered.
Insider Tip – Visit the Buksky Canyon, one of the hidden gems of Ukraine. It is a rocky canyon next to the Girsky Tikich River, and is famous for its picturesque landscape, steep cliffs and tumultuous rapids.
Enjoy Underground Tours
Immerse yourself into the underground life of Ukraine for an experience unlike any other. Considered to be one of the top things to do in Ukraine, these tours take you into the extensive labyrinths of underground catacombs located in many Ukrainian destinations. If you thought Rome was the only place with underground wonders, think again. These catacombs represent a network of underground tunnels and mazes that were once were used as stone quarries. From slave trading and smuggling to acting as Cold War bunkers and sheltering partisans, these catacombs have really seen it all. No wonder then that there’s always an interesting story to be heard at each and every step.
Insider Tip – Don’t miss out on the Ternopil region caves. The most famous caves in the area include Mlynky, Verteba, Ozerna, Optimistic and Kryshtaleva. The patterns that can be seen on the walls of these caves, unique stone shapes, beautiful stalactites and stalagmites and clusters of crystals leave behind unforgettable impression and also offer the perfect photos for your social media profiles.
Sail to the Khortytsia Island
The biggest island on the Dnipro River, Khortytsia Island is a natural and cultural reserve. Thanks to the high rocky cliffs on the north and the rough rapids of the Dnipro River, the islands are very difficult to reach, and therefore literally untouched by tourists. Khortytsia Island was once used as a Cossack base and also became a part of the Zaporizhyan Sich between the 16th-18th centuries. Today, it is mostly famous for its rich history which dates all the way back to the ancient times.
Go for a Stroll in Sofiyivka Park
If you love Mother Nature, natural landscapes and romantic atmospheres, you simply have to visit the Sofiyivka Park. This dendrological park is one of the most outstanding masterpieces of landscape architecture and has also been termed as one of the Seven Wonders of Ukraine. The park was laid out in the year 1796 by the Polish noble Stanislaw Potocki, and named after his wife, Sofiya. Sofiya was known for her exceptional beauty, and the park turned out to the perfect compliment for her flawless looks. It is believed that Sofiya herself designed some of the sections of the park and that it was she who introduced those ancient Greek and Roman mythological motifs.
Explore Ukrainian Fortresses
You might want to skip out on those fortresses after visiting the castles. After all, there’s so much to see and so little time. However, you simply cannot skip out on places like the Kamianets-Podilskyi Fortress. Termed as one of the Seven Wonders of Ukraine, the entire fortress was initially built using wood between the 10th and 13th century. It was later redesigned in stone in the 16th century, , then redesigned and rebuilt in stone by Italian military engineers in the 16th century, and as a result, boasts of different architectural styles spanning different eras. Another popular fortress in the country is the Khotyn Fortress. The fortress was immortalized in history during the Khotyn war of 1621, when it became a symbol of Cossack’s valor. Layers of different epochs and cultures are deeply intertwined in this old fortress thereby creating an inimitable mosaic of an original corner of Ukraine. The Bilhorod-Dnistrovsky, a symbol of Medieval defense architecture, is also worth a look.
Become a Part of the International Poetry Festival
Meridian Czernowitz, an international poetry festival, is held in Czernowitz every September (first week of the month). Some of the biggest highlights of the festival include poetry reading, discussions, lectures, exhibitions of photo-poetry, theatrical and musical performances, presentation of books, ska-punk and jazz-rock poetry. Participants of the festival are usually poets, musicians and artists from Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Moldova, Ukraine, Russia, Poland, Romania, Israel, France, UK and USA. The festival is also seen as a platform for budding poets and writers from all over the world, and is famous among travel circles for offering an entirely unique experience to its visitors.
Insider Tip – Chernivtsi is one of those rare cities in Ukraine which is famous for its ancient atmosphere. Popularly known as Little Vienna, this former Austrian city will attract you with its hidden cafes, ancient churches, breathtaking architecture and old world lifestyle. Don’t miss out on the University of Chernivtsi, an exceptional 19th century UNESCO World Heritage Site, while in the city.
Understand the Local Culture and Traditions
Festival tourism has become very popular today. Almost every region of Ukraine organizes interesting festivals that are open to visitors. Over 100 festivals are being held in Lviv alone. We recommend the Lviv Jazz Festival that takes place in the month of June, the Coffee Festival held in September, and the traditional Christmas fairs held during winter. Each festival is a super star in its own right, and one of the best ways to explore the local culture and heritage.
Insider Tip – Those interested in history and medieval era wonders cannot miss out on the Bilhorod-Dnistrovsky or the Forpost festivals. Famous for their jousting tournaments, historical recreations and knights, these festivals are the best way of transporting yourself back to old-world Europe and reliving the romantic era.