Travelling to underrated places are some of my favourite. While I have a deep love for popular places like Paris and Dublin, I find Eastern European countries are waiting for travellers to discover their hidden beauties. The Ukraine is no exception.
How did we end up going to Ukraine? Quite simple, compromise. Part of being a travelling couple is that we try to plan trips that make both of us happy. When my husband expressed a desire to see the Ukraine as part of our 2 week Spring break, I thought “sure! If we can also go to Turkey!”. I had actually been to the Ukraine before. My mother grew up there, and when I was 11 we travelled from Canada to Kharkov so I could meet her side of the family for the first time.
I thought my parents would be excited, especially for Wayne, to be visiting Ukraine. Instead we got a resounding “Oh…make sure you’re safe!” I had forgotten about the ‘war’ going on between Ukraine and Russia. I quickly did some research, and nothing alarming came up, so we went ahead and booked away!
BEST TIME TO GO TO UKRAINE
We live in Egypt. It’s already getting relatively hot, so we thought Spring break in Eastern Europe would be refreshing. Turns out it is very much like a Winnipeg spring. Very chilly wind, sometimes rainy, and then suddenly spikes to a very warm heat so you sweat under your 3 layers of clothes.
Other than the varying weather that has you taking off and putting on your jacket over and over again, the only other main downside to coming in the spring is construction and renovations.
Now, maybe it just happens to be a year when the Ukraine planned to renovate many of it’s popular attractions, but double check online if anything you wish to see during your visit might be closed due to renovations! We unfortunately met up with 3 during our trip.
Summertime, (late April-Mid September) is a great time to come because that’s when so many places are available to see and enjoy. The Love Tunnel, the Black Sea beaches, and the Carpathian mountains are all best enjoyed in the summer. If you love winter, are dressed appropriately, then it’s not a bad choice to come here for Christmas time either! Ukrainians have such a rich culture, it would be quite the treat to see how they celebrate Christmas!
WHERE WE WENT IN UKRAINE
We decided to only spend 10 days in Ukraine, and decided to split the time evenly between Kiev and Odessa. In hindsight, we would have done things differently, such as added Lviv or simply cut it a few days shorter (this is mostly due to the weather and construction!)
The vibrant capital city! The historic center! I would recommend a good 3 days in the capital as there are endless museums, cathedrals, historical buildings, restaurants and events to choose from! While there is a metro system, the monuments and attractions are relatively spread across and the metro stops are not as frequent
as in some cities. Also, you can add an extra day if you want to do a day trip to either Chernobyl, or maybe to see the Love Tunnel.
My top suggestions:
- Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti)
- St. Michael’s Golden Dome Monastery
- St Andrew’s Basilica and surrounding area – bit of a hike! But super gorgeous church!
- Walking down Khreschatyk Street – numerous shops, great for people-watching, pedestrian friendly on weekends.
- Mariyinsky Palace and surrounding garden
Read more for 39 other things to see and do in Kiev!
The mini Paris of Ukraine! We definitely spent one too many days in this gorgeous city. If it was summer time, then 4 days is perfect. Most of the attractions are in the center of town and towards the port. It is a very walk-able part of town, which is good since there is no metro, only buses and trams. But not only was it still a cool spring, one of the main attractions was under renovation, once again! We did not have the best of luck, as you can see.
My top suggestions:
- Odessa Opera House – a real beauty and cheap, cheap tickets for STUNNING shows! We saw Swan Lake and it was absolutely breathtaking!
- Cathedral Square – Ukraine is not short on Orthodox churches!
- Derybasivska Street – there are plenty of shops and restaurants, and it will lead you to the city garden which is very quaint.
- Potemkin Stairs – perfect photo op and view of the sea!
- Open Air Markets – Odessa is known to have quite a few, if you want to catch a bus, you can go the largest one in Eastern Europe!
WHAT TO EAT IN UKRAINE
Believe me when I say that we had some amazing Ukrainian food! And that’s coming from someone blessed with a Ukrainian babushka! If you are unfamiliar with the comforting wonders of Ukrainian food, allow me to enlighten you to a very popular cuisine.
Vareniki – In Canada, for some reason, we call these ‘perogies’, but don’t go around asking for perogies. Or you will get something breaded with meat or mashed potatoes. What makes vareniki so popular is their dumpling-like shell that compliments both savoury and sweet filling options. The most popular are cabbage,mashed potato and meat.
Pelmeni – my absolute childhood (and adulthood) favourite! This is similar to vareniki, but inside is a meatball with specific spices that gives it a very specific flavor. Slop on some creamy sour cream and a bit of butter and, mmmmm, you have heaven in the form of a dumpling.
Sirniki– cottage cheese-filled pancakes. These are simply to die for! I have a deep love for cottage cheese, and these babies are amazing with some strawberry jam and sour cream! Man, I’m hungry…
Pashtet– liver pate. If you like liver, you will like this pate. It is usually mixed with hard-boiled eggs that are finely chopped up, so the liver taste is softer. Very filling on a nice piece of toast!
Holopsi– Cabbage rolls! Yum, yum! A very common dish that is full of flavour, but surprisingly not very heavy on the stomach.
Compote – You cannot go to Ukraine and not have compote. What is this? Fruit that has been sitting in hot water, then cooled. Kind of like cucumber water. There is a huge variety of compotes! We had strawberry with apple, and red berries. My babushka makes these too, and they’re perfect as a refreshing drink on a warm day!
Ukrainian Beer – Not only did we find that Ukrainian beer is quite good and with a large variety of blond, dark and unfiltered, it was also ridiculously cheap! Having a couple of beers with your meal won’t hurt your pocket when you dine in Ukraine!
OUR EXPERIENCE – Things the Surprised Us
# 1 – The People:
One of the first things I worried about was the people. We had visited Russia the year before and found the people distant and hesitant or unwilling to help. That was not the case in Ukraine. Both in Kiev and Odessa, I’m proud to say that basically all of our interactions with people was kind and pleasant.
Maybe it’s because I can speak the language (basic, not fluent), but I was actually more worried about how Ukrainians would react to someone speaking in Russian. Turns out they all speak Russian too! And as far as I could tell, no one seemed offended or upset. Most people were patient with us and did their best to communicate and help us. Sometimes you have to have faith in people!
#2 – The Obvious Economic Struggle
With all the beauty Ukraine has, you can see that there is a struggle to get back to glory days. Many buildings are in disarray and unkempt. For some buildings, it adds an old charm, but for many the deterioration is a bit heart-breaking. But Ukrainians are a proud people, and especially in a large city like Kiev, we saw countless people who maintained the pristine look of their street, park or shop.
Don’t let their lack of prosperity deter you from visiting, though! Like I said before, they are doing a lot of renovations to major attractions, so you will see an even more beautiful Ukraine than we did!
#3 – The Colourful Beauties
I never imagined a northern European country to be almost more colourful than a hot country like Sprain or Portugal! I was blown away by the colour pallet of both Kiev and Odessa. If you were following along on Instagram, you have seen the lovely bright coloured buildings that grace the streets of Kiev. Soft pinks, bright mints and turquoise, periwinkle blue, and sky-blue are the most popular.
Overall, we had a lovely time in Ukraine! There was no shortage of beautiful sights, quaint streets, unique restaurants and good food and drink! So, not only is there so much culture and fun experiences to be had, Ukraine is also ridiculously budget-friendly when it comes to accommodation and food!
Have you had a chance to visit the Ukraine? What is your favourite Ukrainian dish? Do you plan to visit in the future? Let me know in the comments below!