There is no shortage of amazing places to visit in Ukraine. Most of us that have travelled the country extensively know this. Unfortunately, not everyone has had the opportunity to visit Ukraine beyond Kyiv and Lviv and I think that they absolutely should! So, I asked a group of travellers where they want you to visit beyond the main two touristic cities in Ukraine and this post shows what we came up with.
AWESOME 10 places to visit in Ukraine
Ivano frankivsk does not seem like the most obvious destination for travellers visiting Ukraine. The city serves as a getaway to the beautiful Carpathian Mountains but not many people decide to actually stay there. Ivano-Frankivsk (formerly known under its Polish name “Stanisłów”) used to be a grand place connected to noble Potocki family – these days there are only remnants of the great past strewn around the city. But Ivano Frankivsk is still a great place to visit! It might not be as beautiful as nearby Lviv or Chernivtsi but it has its moments like the only town hall in Ukraine built in modernist style or pedestrian “one hundred meters street”. What I liked the most about Ivano-Frankivsk was the amazing cafe scene! I literally spent the whole day visiting as many of them as possible as they were so great and so crazy cheap! Ivano-Frankivsk is a fun and laid-back city and I wouldn’t mind returning there to spend some more time simply relaxing in this cool place.
Odessa seems to be on a lot of local tourists maps but gets overlooked by international tourists. I don’t know why. It’s a cosmopolitan city with some beautiful architecture, not to mention the beaches on the Black Sea. Ukraine isn’t the first beach destination I think of, but it’s hot in summer and the beaches are good. Arcadia would rival some of the big clubbing areas of Western Europe. You can dance all night in a superclub like Ibiza or Itaka and then sit on the beach and watch the sun come up. In the city, the people watching is great if you sit in a cafe on the main street of Deribasavkaya or in City Garden and watch the locals promenading. The atmosphere seems different to the rest of Ukraine somehow. If you want something a bit different, Odessa has thousands of kilometers of catacombs underneath that you can tour or you can head to the Shustov winery and do some brandy tasting.
We were in Ukraine in May and Kharkiv was an unexpected highlight. Kharkiv has been incredibly important in Ukrainian history – particularly under Soviet rule when it was an industrial and academic powerhouse. More recently, it’s noted as the closest major city to the ongoing war in the Donbass. Despite all this, the city feels optimistic, and there is a wealth of things to do.
Exploring the UNESCO-shortlisted Derzhprom building was a thrill, as it is such a foundational piece of the Soviet architecture vernacular. Another highlight was the city’s metro stations, each with captivating futuristic designs (or what futuristic was back in the mid-1970s, when it was first opened). Top off your day by riding the impossibly long cable car over Gorky Park, but maybe skip the food court at the amusement park adjacent to it. I’m no coffee expert like Megan, but one of our favorite things in the city where the trucks parked everywhere pouring fresh shots of coffee for around 50 cents a cup!.
Mukachevo has many things to offer. I really liked that the city felt both really authentic and real but at the same time. It also had some of the picturesque elements that many tourists will enjoy such as beautiful old buildings and even a big castle on the top of a hill. The Carpathian mountains are just a stone’s throw away and through the city runs the charismatic Latorica River where people fish swim and even some wash clothes in. The size of the city is nice and people are warm and welcoming but don’t necessarily expect that they will be able to have long and advanced conversations with you in English. Great city to visit for adventures and to see everyday Ukrainian life unfold. I rented a house there spontaneously as I was passing through on a bike trip but there are also cheap hotels and hostels available.
The city of Zhovkva lies about 30 km from its closest hub, Lviv, and that makes it an ideal day trip. The town is small and walkable with places to eat from coffee and cakes to Ukraine borscht. The first step should be its small, but well-stocked, Tourist Info center where you can get a map and climb the tower for the panorama. The town was founded by the nobleman and statesman, Stanislaw Zholkovsky, and inherited his surname. He employed an Italian architect, Paolo di Ducato Clemensi, to lay the town as an ideal town: the castle as the head, the market as the lungs, the town hall as the stomach, the city gates as the arms and legs, the churches as the heart. Today it is the only such surviving town in Ukraine (for your interest, Versailles was also laid out as the ideal town). Zholkovsky died during a military campaign against the Turks and his head was put on a pole in Istanbul to warn the Sultan’s enemies. Zholkovsky’s widow later ransomed it to bury it in one of the Zhovkva churches. The town boasts a castle (do visit it!), a few churches of brick-and-mortar and a few wooden churches, a closed former synagogue and a lovely town square.
Zolochiv is located 1.5 hours via a bone-rattling bus ride from its closest hub, Lviv, but it is best visited on a scheduled bus tour (known as the Golden Horseshoe) from Lviv as part of three castles in the area as its tourist potential is underdeveloped. Zolochiv is famous for its castle but one would struggle to waste 3 hours of a bus ride to spend about 1 hour at the site. Zolochiv castle was a favorite of King Jan Sobieski and his sweetheart, Queen Marie Casimiera. She came as a lady-in-waiting to another Polish queen and Jan Sobieski noticed Marie Casimiera then, but his mother was against this match. Marie Casimiera married another nobleman, Ian Zamoiski, but soon became a widow. Jan Sobieski’s mother died too, and the couple could finally marry. The new Queen was unpopular due to her lower social background and ambitions to reign over the King and the country. She started to withdraw to Zolochiv and during her time, the castle was splendid. After Jan Sobieski’s death, she left the country. Her heart was interred in Paris and was lost during the French Revolution. Out of her eighteen children from both marriages, only four reached adulthood. The Zolochiv castle is a tribute to the Queen Marie Casimiera and her time (but they don’t even seem to have a portrait of her for some unknown reason).
Lutsk is an ancient Slavic town in northwestern Ukraine, the first reference of which goes back to 1085. As many places in Western Ukraine, its history was influenced by a few major powers. From serving as the capital of Halych-Volynia, the Lithuanian Kingdom, Kingdom of Poland, Tatars and Russian Empire to independent Ukraine– this little town has seen it all. This, of course, makes for an interesting exploration!
While there is a mix of architecture inspired by its complex history (which I very much encourage you to enjoy, strolling through the old town especially), the must-see for everyone finding him/herself in Lutsk is the Lubart’s Castle. It is the pride of towns’ residents, dating back to the mid-14th century. If you are particularly observant, you will notice that it is that exact castle illustrated on the 200 hryvnia bill (I challenge you to take a picture of both halves!). If you are flexible with your travels, I highly recommend visiting in summer, particularly the end of June- beginning of July. Why? There is an annual event called “A night in the Lutsk castle” that will enchant you with its programme, typically featuring medieval duke fights, street theatre, fire shows, traditional artisan crafts, food and drinks (such as homemade honey for example, or medovukha that is very popular in this region) and a symphonic orchestra!