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Ukraine

  1. Big, diverse and largely undiscovered,
  2. Ukraine is one of Europe’s last genuine travel frontiers, 
  3. a nation rich in colourful tradition, warm-hearted people and off-the-map experiences.
  4.  it’s Europe’s biggest country (not counting Russia, which isn’t entirely in Europe) 
  5. 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
  6. 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.
  7. Ukrainians are, when given the chance, one of Europe’s most open and hospitable people.
  8. social interaction with locals
  9. A diverse landscape obviously throws up a whole bunch of outdoorsy activities
  10. 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
  11. 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. 
  12. 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.
  13. Ukraine’s population is reducing because of low birth rate, increased mortality (especially among males), low immigration and high emigration.
  14. Ukrainian is the official language, Young people are more likely to speak a little English
  15. Kyiv – capital
    • In the beginning there was Kyiv. Long before Ukraine and Russia existed,
    •  From here, East Slavic civilisation spread all the way to Alaska.
    • A creative wave has swept over the city, embodied by urban art, vintage cafes and 24-hour parties
    • It’s also cheap. You can eat at superb restaurants and drink at hidden cocktail bars for a fraction of what they would cost in the West
    • Kyevo-Pecherska Lavra –
      • Tourists and Orthodox pilgrims alike flock to the Lavra, set on 28 hectares of grassy hills above the Dnipro River in Pechersk
      • 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, this is the holiest ground in the country.
    • Maidan Nezalezhnosti 
      • 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.
    • Andriyivsky Uzviz –
      • a steep cobbled street that winds its way up from Kontraktova pl to vul Volodymyrska, with a vaguely Montparnasse feel.
      • Along the length of ‘the uzviz’ you’ll find cafes, art galleries and vendors selling all manner of souvenirs and kitsch.
      • The street’s highlight, near the top of the hill, is the stunning gold and blue St Andrew’s Church, a five-domed, cross-shaped baroque masterpiece that celebrates the apostle legend.
    • Khreshchatyk –
      • Kyiv’s main drag is named after a river, which these days runs underneath
      • Getting gussied up and strolling Khreshchatyk is Kyivans’ number one pastime. 
    • St Sophia’s Cathedral –
      • 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
      •  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.
    • St Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery –
      • Looking from St Sophia’s past the Bohdan Khmelnytsky statue, it’s impossible to ignore the gold-domed blue church at the other end of proyizd Volodymyrsky. This is St Michael’s, named after Kyiv’s patron saint
      • As the impossibly shiny cupolas imply, this is a fresh (2001) copy of the original (1108), which was torn down by the Soviets in 1937.
      • The church’s fascinating history is explained in great detail (in Ukrainian and English placards) in a museum in the monastery’s bell tower.
    • Rodina Mat –
      • 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.
    • Mezhyhirya –
      • Kyiv’s newest tourist attraction is Mezhyhirya, the estate that once ‘belonged’ to ex-president and wannabe Ukrainian dictator, Viktor Yanukovych, famously ousted in the Euromaidan Revolution of 2014. 
      • A wander through the opulent grounds – totalling 137 hectares and costing hundreds of millions of dollars to create – gives visitors an idea of just how corrupt the Yanukovych regime had become
      • Other shocking highlights include a zoo, horse stables, tennis courts, a golf course, a rare-breed dog kennel and a museum of exotic cars. 
    • Musuems  –
      • Pyrohiv Museum of Folk Architecture, PinchukArtCentre
  16. Lviv –
    • Mysterious and architecturally lovely, this Unesco-listed city is the country’s least Soviet and exudes the same authentic Central European charm as pretourism Prague or Kraków once did
    • Its quaint cobbles, bean-perfumed coffeehouses and rattling trams are a continent away from the Soviet brutalism of the east. 
    • Lviv has the best range of hotels in the country, plus hostels, tour agencies, guides and English-language information abound, making this Ukraine’s premier destination by a long way.
    • Lychakivsky Cemetery –
      • 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
    • Ploshcha Rynok –
      • Lviv was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1998, and this old market square lies at its heart
      • The square was progressively rebuilt after a major fire in the early 16th century destroyed the original. 
    • Ratusha –
      • The city fathers have occupied this location since the 14th century, but the present-day Italianate look dates to 1835.
      •  In a sign of openness and transparency, visitors are allowed to roam the corridors of power, but most of them do so on the arduous climb (305 steps from the 4th-floor ticket office) of the 65m-tall tower that looms over the Rynok.
    • High Castle Hill –
      • Around a 2km walk from pl Rynok, visiting the High Castle (Vysoky Zamok) on Castle Hill (Zamkova Hora) is a quintessential Lviv experience.
      •  There’s little evidence of the 14th-century ruined stone fort that was Lviv’s birthplace, but the summit mound sporting a mammoth Ukrainian flag thwacking in the wind offers 360-degree views of the city and the wooded hills between which it nestles.
    • Musuems –
      • Lviv History Museum – Rynok 24, Apteka Museum, National Museum and Memorial to the Victims of Occupation, Lvivarnya
  17. Chornobyl –
    • The world’s most unlikely tourist attraction
    • one of dark tourism’s most sinister day’s out, a moving journey back to the days of the Soviet Union and the most thought-provoking nine hours you’ll spend in Ukraine
    • few fail to be stirred, scared and/or angered by a tour to Chornobyl
    • apocalyptic site of the world’s worst nuclear accident.
  18. Kamyanets-Podilsky –
    • Kamyanets-Podilsky is the sort of place that has writers lunging for their thesauruses in search of superlatives. Even words like ‘dramatic’, ‘stunning’ and ‘breathtaking’ just will not do.
    • The town is located where a sharp loop in a river has formed a natural moat
    • The wide tree-lined Smotrych River canyon is 40m to 50m deep, leaving the 11th-century Old Town standing clearly apart on a tall, sheer-walled rock ‘island’, connected by a narrow isthmus to its impossibly picturesque fortress.
    • Kamyanets-Podilsky Fortress –
      • Built of wood in the 10th to 13th centuries, then redesigned and rebuilt in stone by Italian military engineers in the 16th century
    • Cathedral of Saints Peter & Paul –
      • The Old Town’s most prominent church perfectly illustrates how the Polish and Turkish empires collided in Kamyanets-Podilsky.
    • Church of St George –
      • The historic Polish section is dominated by the 19th-century Orthodox Church of St George, with its five spires painted a brilliant azure.
    • Ratusha –
      • Polish Market Sq is lorded over by the tall 14th-century Ratusha (Town Hall). 
      •  The renovated peach-hued building now houses three modest museums
      • Most interesting is the medieval justice museum in the basement,
  19. Odesa –
    • Odesa is a city straight from literature – an energetic, decadent boom town.
    • Its famous Potemkin Steps sweep down to the Black Sea and Ukraine’s biggest commercial port
    • Behind them, a cosmopolitan cast of characters makes merry among neoclassical pastel buildings lining a geometric grid of leafy streets
    • Top sights –
      • Potemkin Steps
      • Odesa Opera & Ballet Theatre
      • Prymorsky Boulevard
      • Falz-Fein House
      • Musuems-
        • History of Odesa Jews Museum, Museum of Odesa Modern Art
  20. Sofiyivka Park –
    • Sofia Pototsky was a legendary beauty, and Uman’s stunning park is her husband Count Felix’s monument to her physical perfection
    • The park is about a 10-minute walk from central Uman
    • this 150-hectare site with grottoes, lakes, waterfalls, fountains, pavilions and 500 species of tree
  21. Wehrwolf –
    • Between May 1942 and July 1943, Adolf Hitler paid several visits (accounts vary) to his regional military headquarters in a vast bunker 8km north Vinnytsya. Code-named Wehrwolf, it was a top-secret facility under the protection of the Fuhrer’s personal escort battalion. The Germans blew the whole place up on their retreat in 1944,
    • Now it has been turned into a fantastic walking museum, where informative sign-boards guide you through this disturbing period of history.
  22. Chernivtsi –
    • energetic Chernivtsi displays the hallmarks of a more elegant past, most obviously in the shape of its star attraction, the phantasmagorical university building.
    • Shabby, leafy and slightly chaotic, this Ukrainian city has a somewhat non-Slavic flavour, possibly the residue of centuries of Romanian/Moldovan influence
  23. The Carpathians
    • Clipping the country’s southwest corner, the Carpathian arc has endowed Ukraine with a crinkled region of forested hills and fast-flowing rivers that feel a continent away from the flatness of the steppe.
    • This is the land of the Hutsuls, whose colourful folk culture is laced through thin villages stretching languidly along wide valley floors
    • It’s also rural Ukraine at its best, where tiered wooden churches dot hillsides, horse-drawn carts clip-clop along potholed roads, babushkas shoo geese, and marshrutka passengers cross themselves as they whizz past roadside chapels.
    • Kolomyya –
      • Despite being more than 50km east of the main part of the Chornohora range, pretty Kolomyya is one of the best bases for foreigners looking to discover the Carpathians
      • English-speaking assistance and relatively good transport links to the rest of the region make getting out into the forested peaks straightforward. 
      • It’s also a centre of Hutsul culture, meaning lots of authentic souvenir material for low prices.
    • Bukovel –
      • However, as the country’s first fully planned ski area, Bukovel
      • sensible network of lifts and trails, printed trail maps, orderly queues, snowmaking machines and after-dark skiing sessions.
    •  Carpathian National Nature Park –
      • Ukraine’s largest national park, Carpathian National Nature Park is the heart of the Carpathians
      • However, it’s a very different sort of national park – industrial logging occurs here, for example. Only about a quarter of the area is completely protected, but that hasn’t detracted too much from the natural beauty of the place.

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