Ukraine is the largest country that is entirely within Europe. Many countries that were once part of the Soviet Empire are quickly turning into hotspots for Western travelers, but things are moving more slowly here. There is fascinating history and culture in Ukraine and the good news is many citizens are bilingual. The bad news is those languages are always Ukrainian and usually Russian. English is spoken by many young people, but traveling in Ukraine on English only can be challenging.

What To Do

Kiev (Kyiv) is the largest city and usual focal point. With around 3 million residents, Kiev has all the big city trappings combined with a history dating back to the 5th Century A.D. The city center is jammed with life and street performers as well as bars, restaurants and shopping opportunities. There is an interesting museum dedicated to Chernobyl, but you have to pre-arrange for an English-speaking guide because no signs are in English. There is also a cave monastery dating back to the 11th Century, which includes a subterranean church.

Odessa (Odesa) is the second big draw in Ukraine. This historic port city on the Black Sea is both a holiday resort and an industrial shipping center. The old town is the nicest and most interesting part of the city. The outskirts of town are in a state of disrepair, but the historic center is in better shape with a scenic highlight in its old opera house.

Getting There

Overland travel is possible, but most visitors will want to book a flight into Kiev’s Boryspil International Airport (code: KBP). There are direct flights from most major European cities and a couple of discount carriers have begun serving Kiev. The airport is not near the center and bus service is available if you want to avoid a fairly pricey and confusing taxi negiotiation and ride.

Where To Stay

Ukraine has a surprising amount of hostels available for a country that hasn’t had a long history of tourism. There are many hostels in Kiev to choose from as well as many hotels in Kiev. There are hostels and hotels in Odessa too, but the better and cheaper ones tend to book up early so plan ahead.