Vast, varied and very underrated, Ukraine is a mystery to many outsiders despite being one of Europe’s largest countries. From the soaring Carpathian Mountains of its western border to the Black Sea coastline of the south, this patchwork nation, whose name means ‘bordered’, is slowly but surely changing. Public debate and a sense of openness is flourishing and Ukraine’s fascinating melting pot of Russian Cossacks, Carpathian Hutsul and Crimean Tatars makes for an unforgettable - and unique - holiday experience.
The national dish of Ukraine is borscht.
At 105 metres below ground, Arsenalnaya Metro Station in Kiev is the deepest in the world.
The oldest map known to scientists, as well as the most ancient settlement of homo sapiens were found in the village of Mezhireche.
Khreshchatyk Street in Kiev is the shortest yet widest main city street in the world.
Rahiv, in the Carpathian Mountains, is considered to be the geographic centre of Europe.
What to see
Kiev is a difficult city to pin down. With its gold topped buildings, churches and significance in Orthodox Christianity, it is at once cosmopolitan and contemporary, medieval and Soviet. Key sights include the Caves Monastery Complex, Saint Sophia’s Cathedral, with its golden and green domes, and the dazzling Saint Michael’s Monastery. A stroll down the main shopping street to Maidan Nezalezhnosti, the site of the Orange Revolution of 2004, and a wander down the pretty, famous pavements of Andriyevsk Uzviz are absolute musts.
Odessa is a popular cruise ship stop-off point and offers a wonderful insight into Ukraine’s turbulent history. Its impressive architecture includes the Uspensky Cathedral and some spectacular palaces. Odessa is also home to the 192 steps made famous in Sergei Eisenstein’s movie Battleship Potemkin.
Perched delicately atop a tall rock, Kamyanets-Podilsky is a medieval city located in western Ukraine on a tight loop of the Smotrych River. It serves as stunning example of over 1000 years of craftsmanship and the potential harmony between architecture and landscape.
Yalta is a Crimean city in southern Ukraine that nestles in a deep bay facing the Black Sea and is surrounded by lush vineyards and orchards. Its highlights include the recently renovated promenade and the nearby Livadia Palace, where the 1945 Crimean Conference, which reshaped the map of modern Europe, was attended by Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin.
Top experiences / sites of particular interest
One of the darkest and most unforgettable Ukrainian experiences has to be a visit to Chernobyl. You can arrange a guided tour of the scene of this infamous nuclear disaster - the area is safe for short-duration visits.
Caves Monastery Complex
This ancient institution in Kiev is considered to be one of the most significant in the early Orthodox Church. Explore its creepy catacombs, which are home to many holy relics including the preserved remains of monks.
With its beautiful cobbled streets and magnificently preserved old town, Lviv is unsurprisingly ranked as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its spectacular Market Square is filled with gothic, renaissance, rococo and baroque architecture and an evening at the spectacular Ivan Franko Opera House is an evening spent at one of the most celebrated theatres in Europe.
St Sofia Cathedral
Perhaps Ukraine’s most iconic and well known sights, the 11th-century Saint Sofia Cathedral is an outstanding architectural triumph of Kievan Rus. It’s famed green and golden domed exterior houses world-class icons and frescoes.
When to go
Weather and Seasons: Winters are cold and snowy and summers are pleasantly warm. City breaks and beach holidays on the Crimean Peninsula are best taken during the summer, which lasts from June to September, although beaches can get cramped during July and August. The Carpathian Mountains see a lot of rain during late autumn and winter, and the prime trekking period lasts from May to October.
Important Dates and Festivals: This summer Ukraine is playing co-host with Poland to the 2012 European Championships, which will see an influx of tourism to the country. Important annual events also include the Kiev Summer Music Festival in May, Kraina Mryi folk festival in July and the International Biennale of Contemporary Art, held at the Mystetskvi Arsenal gallery in Kiev during May.
Getting there / around
Flights: Most international flights land at Kiev’s Boryspil International Airport, which is 3h 20m from London Heathrow. Odessa International Airport is also a popular gateway, at around 3h flying time from the UK.
Rail: If you’re not in a hurry, taking a few days to reach Ukraine by train is an unforgettable experience. Take the Eurostar to Brussels from Saint Pancras International Station, before boarding an ICE high-speed train to Cologne. From Cologne you can take an overnight sleeper to Warsaw, and then the Kiev Express direct to Kiev.
Flights: Taking an internal flight instead of boarding an overnight sleeper train when travelling between the far flung cities of Kiev, Lviv and Odessa will save valuable journey time during your holiday. Advance booking is recommended.
Bus: Autolux and Gunsel provide luxury bus services on most major routes. There’s also an extensive network serving small towns and villages. These buses are less luxe and timetabling is a relaxed affair along these routes - you shouldn’t rely on Soviet-era maps always being accurate.
Short Trips: Ukraine makes an ideal city break destination. You can also easily fill a week with a dual-destination holiday to the capital followed by a few days on the Black Sea coastline.
Longer Trips: Ukraine shares its borders with several other countries, including Russia, Slovakia, Poland, Belarus, Hungary and Romania. This makes it an excellent destination to include in an extended tour of Europe. Kiev is ideally situated for exploring Belarus to the north, while Lviv is a good starting place if you plan on continuing your journey to Poland.
Slovak cuisine has been heavily influenced by Russia and its signature dishes are hearty and filling fare. Popular ingredients include potatoes, sour cream, peppers, cabbage and tomatoes. You’re also bound to come across a fair few dumpling-based dishes during your travels. Ukrainian specialities include borscht (beetroot soup), Varenniki (potato, cheese or meat filled dumplings), along with excellent local wines such as Krasny Kamen dessert wine and Miskhaki cabernet.
Ukrainian nightlife often revolves around music, and the majority of cities offer ample opportunity to catch a concert – rock, pop or classical. Theatre is another popular activity, and Ukraine boasts some of the plushest and most imposing theatres found in Europe, with tickets a far cry from West End tariffs. Nightclubs and bars are found in most major cities; Kiev has a particularly vibrant nightclub and disco culture.
Ukrainian and Russian.
Hryvnia (₴), is made up of one 100 kopiyok.
Three-month visa-free stays are available to EU citizens.
No particular vaccinations are recommended.
Safety, FO travel advice
Useful Telephone Numbers
Ukrainian country representatives can be found
in the UK at60, Holland Park, Kensington, London.W11 3SJ. Tel:- 0207 727 6312
and in the US at3350 M Street, NW, Washington DC20007 Tel:- 202 349 2920.
For more information visit: www.mfa.gov.ua/uk, www.mfa.gov.ua/usa.
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