Living Nomads continues to amaze tourists with its “must-see” list for summer exploration in 2017. This time Living Nomads highlights Ukraine, a fresh destination imbued with magnificent landscapes and rich cultural traditions. Here a freelance Ukrainian journalist presents the country’s top ten “must-see” summer attractions. Let’s discover 9 best places to visit in Ukraine in this summer in the below.
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Ukraine is the biggest country, situated in the very heart of Europe, and, so far, is the most undiscovered one. Rich on the picturesque traditions and hospitable people, Ukraine offers a great diverse of unique experiences: climbing the pristine Carpathian Mountains, tasting flavored coffee in Lviv, observing the knights festival in Kamianetsk-Podilskyi, enjoying one of the world`s most beautiful music fountain, or partying the night away on the magnificent Arcadia beach.
1. Tunnel of Love
Without a doubt, it is the most romantic, incredibly beautiful, fairy tale-like place in the whole of Ukraine!
Surprisingly, it’s a part of an old abandoned railway running through the forest to an old wood factory. During the years, the trees and bushes, lining the rails, grew up, and regularly passing trains cut their branches, helping to get into a shape of an arch. This arch stretches for up to six km (some small areas happen to be without trees) and looks like a green tunnel. Tourists mostly embark on the first km and then turn back, so in case you keep going further, you are more likely to have the whole wild slice of nature for yourself.
+ Location: Tunnel of Love is a botanical phenomenon which can be found in the West of Ukraine, 7 km from Klevan, a little town around 350 km from Kyiv, the capital.
+ Activities: The Tunnel of Love is a perfect spot for a romantic date, making a proposal, organizing an unbelievable wedding photo shoot, or even… having a quick wedding ceremony! It is said that if lovers, walking hand in hand through the tunnel make a wish, it will come true, but only if they are sincerely in love.
+ Events: This magical place inspired Japanese movie director Akiyoshi Imazeki, and he filmed a drama “Klevani: Ai no Tunnel” which was first released, by the way, at Hanoi International Film Festival in 2014.
2. Synevir Lake — The “Pearl of the Carpathian Mountains”
“Pearl of the Carpathian Mountains”, “Sea Eye”, “Ukrainian Wonder”,Synevir Lake has lots of names yet none of them fully describe its picturesque beauty. It is the largest lake of the Carpathians (situated at 989 meters above sea level) and surrounded by hundred years old trees. Scientists estimate that the lake was formed over 10,000 years ago!
Its water is absolutely clear, transparent, and slightly mineralized, and the lake rich in rare species of fish such as trout and rainbow – hundreds of them pop up as soon as you start giving them food. Fishing, camping and swimming is prohibited, but there are not many who would dare to swim in 11-degree water (even in midst of summer).
A small island, related to a romantic legend, is right in the middle of the lake. It is said that a rich Count had a daughter named Syn who fell in love with a simple shepherd Vir. When the Count had found out about it he ordered his servants to kill Vir and they threw a big stone at him from a cliff. When Syn found out that her beloved was dead, she sat near the stone and began to cry. Soon a marvelous blue lake appeared from her tears around that stone. Hence forth it was named after these two lovers — Syn and Vir.
Now only two wooden 13-meter high sculptures of young lovers remind us about that myth. It is also believed if people meet and fall in love near the lake, their love will last forever, unsurprisingly making ita popular spot among locals to celebrate weddings.
+ Activities: There is a wide range of activities such as: picking berries and mushrooms, riding horses, mountain-hiking you name it. Also you can visit the conservation center for brown bears, which is considered one of the biggest in Europe.
+ Accomodation: It is easy to find a homestay for a decent price between$10-25/night.
3. Odessa city — The Sleepless City
Beautiful classical architecture, delightful food, sandy beaches, bustling nightlife, and dozens of festivals throughout summer – it is all about Odessa, the main Ukrainian city on the Black Sea.
However, the major Odessa “pearl” is actually its citizens, who are extremely friendly, hospitable and famous for their great sense of humor. Asking a simple question – “How can I get to the city center?” – you might hear: “Why do you need to go to the city center? No, you don`t need to go there. Better visit our Privoz! You go straight, after turn right…” – locals are known for their habit to answer a question with a question.
Walking, perhaps, is activity №1 in Odessa, especially during the summer time. All the major sights are concentrated in the city center. You find yourself in front of the gorgeous Opera House which is considered as one of the most beautiful in the world, then walk along Primorsky Boulevard linen with acacias, reaching Odessa’s most iconic symbol, the Potemkin Steps (Stairs), having a length of 142 m.
There is a place in Odessa known as Ukrainian Ibiza. It`s Arcadia – a beach area full of discos and night clubs, cozy restaurants and cafes. It is a paradise for night life lovers and those who seek to dance into the night!
Those who prefer the more quiet “beach life” might check out sea resorts Zatoka and Karolino-Bugaz with pleasing white sand beaches (situated around 60 km from Odessa and are easily reachable by electric train or minibus). Usually they are full of tourists in summer.
In summer, the atmosphere in the whole city is so relaxed, and the city itself is really sunny and welcoming, that it is no surprise why locals call Odessa “God’s smile”.
+ Events: Odessa celebrates April Fool’s Day festival. Each August the sea resort Zatoka hosts Jazz Festival.
+ Activities: Discovering Odessa’s catacombs might be a great choice for adventure seekers. Stretching to length of 2,500 km (!), they are perhaps the largest network of tunnels anywhere in the world.
4. Sofiyivsky Park (Sofiyivka) – “Ukraine’s Versaille”
Sofiyivka situated in the heart of Ukraine, is one of the world’s famous garden-park art creations, people compare it with France`s Versaille. It is not just a park, but a standard of landscape architecture. There are numerous waterfalls, fountains and cascades, grottoes and rocks, historical buildings and antique sculptures, lakes and blue-water ponds, pavilions and stone gardens, thousands of rare trees and plants. And even an underground river Acheron that you can explore by boat!
It all covers almost 180 hectares at the outskirts of the ancient town Uman. It is one of the most famous examples of late 18th and early 19th century European landscape garden design preserved to our time.
There is a main entrance decorated with a crown of the Roman goddess Vesta (goddess of the hearth, home, and family). It is said that a couple who pass under her crown aregoing to live happily and is one of the reasons why many newlyweds come to Sofiyivka. The park is decorated with the statues of Hermes, Venus, Cupid, Apollo, etc.
+ Discovery: There is an interesting legend and hidden meaning behind each element, so a tour guide- is highly recommended (they speak several languages).
+ Sightseeing: It can often get pretty crowded at the weekends, so you’d better take a one day trip from Kyiv or Odessa during weekdays. The entrance fee is around $1.
5. Lviv – The Mysterious City
Once you appear in mysterious Lviv with its narrow charming cobble streets and fairytale atmosphere, it will capture your heart forever. Many tourists from all over the world keep coming back again and again, settling for months, and thanking heavens for the quite cheap life here (compare to western standards).
Average bill at a restaurant – $10, a night at a hostel – $20. So far, the hardest choice you are going to have to make in Lviv is which restaurant to choose to fit as many of them as possible during your stay. There is no just “a restaurant”, absolutely each one has its own concept. For example, “Dim Legend” is a bar, restaurant, and souvenir shop spread over five floors with a vintage car on the roof. Every floor has a different urban legend as a theme. Restaurant “Baczewski” – its interior looks like early 20th-century, with vintage furniture and an old piano. The trick of “Pid zolotoyu rozoyu” is menu without prices, so after getting a bill people try all their best to negotiate what they should pay.
The historic Lviv city center is a UNESCO heritage site. Rynok Square is in the very heart of the center. The Square has the traditional City Town Hall (“ratusha”), built in 19th century, and is surrounded by 44 houses, reflecting art and architecture from previous centuries (16th – 20th century). Many of the houses became museums, art galleries, hostels, restaurants, and coffee shops. There is nothing more interesting than climbing up Town Hall counting numerous stairs and at the top you are going to be awarded with the best city views!
Besides, Lviv is known as the best spot for coffee lovers. There are dozens of nice coffee shops at every corner. It is hard to find “take away” as having a cup of coffee is the whole ritual for the locals. They take their time and enjoy, chatting and reading newspapers.
+ Ranking: “Lonely Planet” ranked Lviv at the top-5 Best European destinations together with Dordogne region in France and Italian Venice.
6. Sorochyntsi Fair — Traditional Colours
This is not just a fair, but a one-week picturesque holiday starting this year on 22th August. It is like a journey through time, back to hundred-years-ago Ukraine – all the sellers are wearing national costumes, men are joking, laughing, occasionally drinking gorilka (Ukrainian vodka), and fighting to find out who is the strongest one; whilst women are discussing last news and singing.
Nowadays, producers, vendors, and simply gawkers from all over Ukraine flock to a village Velyki Sorochynci (Poltava region) for theater performances and insane shopping. They trade and advertise home-made products such as honey, jam, wooden and mud goods, clothes and all kinds of food. Have you heard of Ukrainian traditional dumplings (varenyky) and soup with beetroots (borsch)? At Sorochyntsi Fair they are going to be made just in front of you, and everyone is welcome to try these famous national dishes.
+ Highlights: There are dozens of workshops such as embroidery, pottery, forging; you can learn how to make candles, and traditional Ukrainian dolls (motanka).
More and more countries participate in this unique fair each year. Last year, Vietnam was among those who presented its own national goods for the first time.
7. Kamianets-Podilskyi Castle — One of Ukraine’s Seven Wonders
In the early 17th century, as a legend says, when Turkish Khan Osman approached Kamianets-Podilskyi city and saw the fortifications, he asked admiringly, who built those mighty walls, and was given an answer: “God Himself”. After, being unable to conquer the city, he said: “So let God Himself capture it”, and turned his troops away from the fortress. Throughout its long and violent history, despite dozens of attempts, the stronghold was captured only twice.
Kamianets-Podilskyi fortress (situated in the same city in the West of Ukraine) is a rock with twelve towers that are linked by a wall. It was first built of wood in the 10th to 13th centuries, then, rebuilt in stone.
There is a large courtyard in the middle where a fantastic museum with quite interesting exhibits displays the history of Ukraine over the last century. Luckily most of the towers are open for tourists, and many offer attractive views of the town and the surroundings. But the most breathtaking panorama is from the Turkish Bridge leading to the fortress.
+ Events: Walking around the castle brings a distinguishing feeling of appearing in the Middle Ages. Especially during the festivals that take place here like the Knight International Festival “Outpost” which starts 29th of April with participants from different countries wearing knight armor, carrying swords, riding horses and jousting.
8. Vylkove — Ukrainian Venice
Vylkove is a unique little village on the border with Romania covered with many water channels. It is the only village in Ukraine, where boats are used by locals as well as cars, similar to the western part of southern Vietnam.
Although it is called Ukrainian Venice, the main tourist attraction in Vylkove is not waterways, but Danube, the biggest river in Europe (3000 km). Rather, the Danube Bio Reserve which covers up to 50 thousand hectares and is the biggest swampland reserve in Europe! The Romanian part of the reserve is protected by UNESCO.
Vilkove is located at the scenic confluence of the Danube and the Black Sea.
Tourists are taken to visit “zero kilometer”, where the river flows into the sea. Bird-watching is the main activity of the one-day cruise tour – you may see gorgeous white pelicans, geese, and white-tailed sea eagles. Not to mention the spectacular views and some astoundingly beautiful scenery you are going to be awarded with. Besides, there are other available activities such as fishing and wine tasting!
Although, the way to get to Vilkove may be a bit challenging (it takes up to 4 hours from Odessa), pristine nature without a doubtis a great reward in a rapidly globalizing world.
+ Food and beverage: Vylkove is also known as a town of winemakers. A special type of grape called “novak” is grown exclusively in this town, and the home-made eponymous wine has a gentle delicate taste.
9. Kyiv City — the Heart of Ukraine
Kyiv is an outstanding city, and at the same time is the most underestimated European capital, according to numerous tourist guides. There are not just a couple of “must see” sights that usually attract tourists in many other cities, but hundreds of precious hidden treasures, which are displayed in architecture and art. It is hard to expect less from more than 1000-year-old city!
Let`s start with the Monastery of Caves, Kyivo-Pechers’ka Lavra, set on hills above the Dnipro River in 11th century – with its gold-domed churches and the underground tunnels lined with mummified monks. Sounds a bit mysterious… In fact, it is the holiest land for the millions of Orthodox Christians.
Next – St. Sophia Cathedral is the oldest church in the city, which has spectacular millennial mosaics and frescoes. Kyivo-Pechers’ka Lavra and St. Sophia Cathedral, both, included to the UNESCO World Heritage List. Entrance fee is around $4.
One of favorite tourist places is Andriyivsky Descent (called by locals Andriyivsky Uzviz), very often compared to Monmartre in Paris. It is a narrow down-hill street full of historical landmarks like, for example, the house of Mikhail Bulgakov, who wrote the enigmatic novel “Master and Margarita”. There are a lot of cozy restaurants, art-galleries, and shops, selling hand-made Ukrainian handicraft and old soviet relics.
The Landscape Alley is within walking distance of Andriyivsky Descent. Perhaps, the funniest place in the capital consists of hilarious contemporary art sculptures, covered with bright colorful mosaics. Imagine, you appear in Alice in Wonderland’s world… This is it!
Pirogovo Open-Air, covering around 150 hectares near Kyiv, is the largest outdoor museum in the world. It is a №1 place to visit while being in Kiev in summer. There are over 320 museum constructions like houses, cowshed, windmills, churches that represent rural life, traditions and culture of Ukrainians living in the different parts of the country hundreds of years ago.
+ Location: Kyiv is Ukraine’s capital as well as the country’s largest city. It is located in Northern Central Ukraine along the banks of the Dnepr River, which runs south to the Black Sea.
By Iryna Kokota, 31 years
Ukrainian freelance journalist and blogger.
In 2014, she had been traveling for a year through South-East Asia until she discovered Vietnam. She found it to be a fascinating country and decided to settle here for “some months” to know more about its traditions and culture. So far, it`s been two years she has been living here. During this time she wrote many articles about Vietnam, but none about her own country. At the same time she has noticed that many Vietnamese know so little about Ukraine, despite the fact that it is located right in the heart of Europe and has many interesting things to offer. That is the reason why she writes this article for Living Nomads. Of the main treasures of her country, the most precious one, in her opinion, is its people, warm-hearted and helpful.