Ukraine has many large Cities with a proud heritage – some are industrialized and many are remote but for now we just focus on the key, which may be the most popular for foreigners – either for their sightseeing value or for status of business centres. Kiev, Lviv, Kharkov and Odessa are the most popular destinations in Ukraine to stay even just for weekend there.
When travelling to Ukrainian towns – or considering moving to a new region – keep in mind which language is spoken there. The official language of Ukraine is Ukrainian, and it is spoken as a first language across the western half of the country. But people in the eastern half tend to speak Russian as a mother tongue. Practically, almost all Ukrainians speak both Ukrainian and Russian fluently – so if you speak one of them you will have no trouble being understood wherever you are. But Ukrainian will go down better in Lviv, and Russian is more useful in Kharkov and Dnepropetrovsk.. For Kyiv, either language will do.
The languages are very similar (they have as much in common as, for example, Dutch and Afrikaans or Spanish and Italian), so if you learn one you will be able to understand much of the other.
Just as many foreigners think that London is Britain so many can be excused for thinking that Kyiv is Ukraine. How wrong they are for the country has many fantastic Cities and some great countryside in between. That said, Capital Cities have a certain aura – almost bordering on arrogance – and Kyiv is no exception. Here you will see opulence alongside poverty and are more likely to be run down by a two-tone bespoke Bentley driving on the pavement than you will crossing Khreschatyk (the main City street) at the weekend (as it is conveniently shut off from traffic allowing pedestrians to walk, admire each other and possibly get further acquainted).
Despite a woeful lack of investment by the City and absent oligarch landlords, Kyiv has a wonderful heritage and visitors cannot fail to be impressed by the architecture – mainly the golden domed churches – and beautifully maintained parks. Home to more than 4 million people, it is Ukraine’s administrative centre, and the city with the highest number of foreign businesses, so it is where the majority of expats tend to settle. The City has a wealth of restaurants, shopping centres and, for the culturally-inclined, theatre, ballet and opera which all combine to make this a fascinating and entertaining place to visit.
The capital has regular transport connection with all the regions of the country. While planning your trip cost, don’t forget that is the most expensive city of Ukraine. If you drive there, visiting Kyiv on the weekend is a better idea due to the city permanently suffering traffic jams during the working week.
Lviv is located in the Western part of the country and because of its rich historical background and unique architecture it is widely recognized as one of the most beautiful places in Eastern Europe. Because of its location – immediately on the Polish border – the City has a European feel to it and the service culture here is much better than elsewhere in Ukraine where the former USSR mentality can sometimes still be dominant.
Lviv is a recognized capital of coffee and chocolate. So it’s worth to track the event calendar of the city – it made a go significantly to attract and entertain its guests by numerous festivals and folk-fairs – cheese, wine etc.
The city is surrounded with the noble castles (maintained to different conditions) that are great for days out.
Lviv has better developed accommodation industry than any other Ukrainian touristic destinations, so you can easily choose an appropriate hotel, hostel or apartment up to your taste.
Kharkov, the first capital of Ukraininian SSR, nowadays is the second largest city after Kyiv and to the uninitiated can appear large, impersonal and, to be honest, a little grey. Come here in Spring and Summer though and you will quickly realize that it has one of the greatest “greenspace: people ratios” in Europe and despite a lingering soviet heritage is gradually becoming more people-friendly. Full of students and with a robust industrial background the City has a very dynamic but different lifestyle to that of the capital. There is money here – but it is less about bling and more about the substance so there are less Hummers per square kilometre than Kiev. However, if you are desperately seeking a flashback to the Eighties, we recommend “Bolero”, a nightclub just outside of the city centre that should be declared a National treasure.
At long last, many of the roads have been completely renovated and broadened and attention has been made to make sure that the pedestrian has an easier time – before a person could easily fall down a pothole and be unnoticed for days. Finally, the City has undertaken a complete renovation of the Metallist soccer stadium and replaced the outdated airport with a modern contemporary structure that would not look out of place in Paris or Berlin.
If you like romantic seaside towns – Odessa is the place to be. It is a bustling seaport and has all the pros and cons associated with such a unique location – cosmopolitan on the one hand but with an air of transience on the other. If you live elsewhere in Ukraine at times it is difficult to remember that you are still in the same country but a glimpse at the crumbling infrastructure is all you need to bring you back to reality. In the meantime the City is a mix of Mediterranean and Slavic cuisine, haut couture and decadence, stray cats, sea breezes and a wedding cake opera house.
For the Ukrainians and even Ukrainian emigrants Odessa is a symbol of ‘L'art de vivre’. Many of those try to spend week end in the city, enjoying that frivolous atmosphere as well as excellent cuisine, night life and shopping. It takes just about 5-6 hours of the car driving on the intercity highway from Kiev. You can also use train, airline or intercity bus connection. A number of international low-cost airlines operate direct flights from some European and Asian hubs to Odessa.
More expats' impressions – on our Forum!