Ukraine, a country so vast and diverse, filled with the most beautiful cities and the most beautiful scenery, a country that quickly became one of our favourite destinations in Europe. We were warmly welcomed by the friendly people with hearty and carb loaded dishes and we awed at some of the most beautiful architecture we had seen during our travels, travelling through Ukraine is a real treat for those who decide to explore this beautiful country. However, it seems that many people still have doubts about travelling Ukraine, mainly as many people are not sure what there is to do and to see in the country, or actually how to travel around Ukraine. And while travelling Ukraine can be a bit more challenging then travelling other Western European countries (mainly due to the use of a different alphabet) we found that travelling Ukraine was comfortable, affordable and rather straight forward. So to make it as easy for you as it was for us, or perhaps even easier, we have created a list of 44 things you need to know before going to Ukraine so once you arrive you know you will be well prepared and can simply enjoy your travels stress free!
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General Info & Safety in Ukraine
1. It is Ukraine, not the Ukraine. In the English language you will hear many people refer to this country as The Ukraine, however, it is important the “the” is dropped, and this country is simply referred to as Ukraine. You see, back in the day, when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union the official name of the country was The Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR). However, in 1991 Ukraine declared independence, and in their official Declaration of Independence and Constitution the name of the country was stated to be: Ukraine.
2. The main languages spoken in Ukraine are Ukrainian and Russian. On the Western side of the country (around Lviv) you will find the majority of the people speaking Ukrainian, while if you head to the Eastern side of the country (around Kharkiv) you will find the more people speaking Russian.
3. It doesn’t hurt to learn the Cyrillic alphabet. Both Ukrainian and Russian use the Cyrillic alphabet, making it hard to read signs, menus, streets and so much more. Getting a basic understanding of the Cyrillic language will help a lot during your travels in Ukraine, even if it just to read the city names on your train tickets.
4. That said, in many larger cities you will find many people being able to speak English. We had no problems getting around in Lviv, Kiev or Odessa as we would often find menus in English, signs in English, and general people speaking English. However, in less touristic destinations such as Kharkiv and Rivne less people seem to speak English and we wouldn’t be able to find any signs, menus or anything else in English. Nonetheless, everyone was always willing to help us out, from getting metro cards to helping us with our order.
5. For those places it doesn’t hurt to have a translation app. We personally love Google Translate and the live translate option. Simply point at what you want to translate and Google Translate will do the work for you. While not always 100% it did help us figure out what to order from the menu or to simply ask a question! Fun fact, you can actually download a language pack offline so you can use the app wherever you are!
6. Internet is widely available. As a couple who relies on the internet for work we never had any issues finding a steady and fast internet connection. Our hostels and hotels had great internet, and we found wifi widely available in shopping malls, cafes and restaurants.
7. However, it is easy to get a sim card. We simply walked into a Kyivstar shop in Lviv and within 5 minutes the guy had installed and activated the sim cards in both our phones. The total: 250 UAH (10$) for two sim cards with unlimited internet for a month!
8. The best time to visit Ukraine would be from May to October in our opinion. You will get to enjoy the warmer months from spring to fall and get to avoid the cold winter months. We traveled Ukraine in August, and have to admit it did get a bit warm and humid, we even had some heavy thunder storms from time to time, if we would go to Ukraine again I would personally go for the shoulder season (May & June, September & October) to avoid the warmest months.
9. Now you might be wondering, is it safe to travel Ukraine? We never felt unsafe in Ukraine, neither in the touristic nor the less touristic destinations we visited. As with any destination you got to be on guard, use common sense, and do your research before traveling there. There are, however, areas where you should not travel to due to the ongoing armed conflict with Russia (Crimea and Donetsk & Luhansk), for that reason you will find almost all countries giving a negative travel advisory to these regions (for example the US travel advisory, UK travel advisory and Canada travel advisory).
Budget & Money in Ukraine
10. The local currency is Ukrainian Hryvnia, UAH, and in August 2019 you could get roughly 25 UAH for 1 USD.
11. ATMs are widely available in Ukraine, so no need to bring cash to Ukraine. However, when we visited Ukraine we sometimes ran into ATMs that would only be able to give us 200 UAH (±8$), so sometimes it might be a bit of looking for an ATM that will dispense a higher amount.
12. But be sure to avoid Euronet ATMs. Just like in the rest of Europe you can find Euronet ATMs almost everywhere in Ukraine, but it is one of those ATMs you don’t want to use with a foreign card. It will only allow you to take out money if they do the exchange rate conversion for you (instead of your own bank), almost always giving you a horrible exchange rate, plus, charging you a fee for your withdrawal. Using Euronet ATMs will make you loose out on a lot of money compared to other ATMs in Ukraine.
13. Visa and master cards, both debit and credit, can be used almost everywhere in the larger cities and more touristic destinations. From supermarkets to restaurants, and in Kiev even in the metro system, visa and master cards are being more and more widely accepted.
14. However, in smaller cities you might want to take some cash with. In Rivne we had to pay almost everywhere with cash, including the supermarkets, so it is good to have some cash on hand.
15. That said, be sure to have some small change for buses, trams and metros. While in Kiev you can simply “tap and go” with your credit card in many metro stations, in Kharkiv it was only possible to buy a ticket with small bills (1o and lower), and there was no change machine available at many metro stations. In the marshrutkas it was often also more convenient to have small cash handy to pay the driver.
16. Not all hostels accept card payments. Not sure how this works for hotels, but in two out of the five cities we visited hostels were not able to accept card payments, only cash, so be sure to check your booking confirmation before heading there and having to look for an ATM at 10pm!
17. Ukraine is a lot more affordable then countries in Western Europe. Ukraine is a great destination for those who are travelling on a budget, as it is a lot more affordable then many of the countries in Western Europe.
18. Entry fees for sights in the cities often cost between 20 to 100 UAH, and of course you can roam the beautiful streets of the cities of Ukraine for free.
19. Expect to pay roughly 50 to 150 UAH for a meal in a regular restaurant. Eating out is quite affordable in Ukraine, especially if you know where to go, but more on that down below!
20. Public transport within the cities can be as affordable as 8 UAH a ride. In many cities the cost for a bus, metro or tram ride within the city was around 8 UAH (±0.30$), making it easy to make your way around the city, but we have more info on taking marshrutkas and trams down below!
21. However, if you are planning on doing excursions these costs might add up. Taking day trips or seeing sights such as Chernobyl will increase the cost of your trip significantly. A day trip to Chernobyl will easily set you back $100, so be sure to take that into account when setting your Ukraine travel budget.
Transport in Ukraine
22. Public transport is widely available. Between cities, within cities, you will have no problems finding public transport in Ukraine! From trolley buses to trams and trains, they truly have it all.
23. The easiest way to travel between cities is by train. Ukraine has an extensive train network connecting the cities, and while the trains often only go once or twice a day, it still makes one of the most convenient and most affordable ways to make your way around the country. We used train solely for traveling between the cities!
24. Trains can be easily booked online. No need to stand in line at the train station trying to translate your destinations and dates to make sure you are booking the right train, just book online! You can either use the train website to book your tickets, which you can find here, but as this did not always work with our foreign credit cards we have booked a large part of our trains with Omio (formerly known as GoEuro) instead.
25. When taking the train sometimes there are two tracks on a platform. Something we had to get a bit used to, as this means that you have to double check you are getting on the right train as there are often no signs at the platform at which track which train is arriving. Luckily almost all trains will have the route of the train displayed on the front and on a sign next to the entrance of the wagon.
26. Be sure to know how your destination is spelled in Cyrillic. Many buses and trains will not display the name in English, but solely in Ukrainian, so it will help to know what sign to look for when trying to catch a marshrutska or train!
27. Use Google Maps to plan your journey within a city! While the time might not be as accurate, Google Maps will almost always be able to tell you which metro line or bus line to take, often even giving an estimation of the price.
28. However, not all info is on Google Maps. While we had no problem finding bus schedules and metro schedules within cities on Google Maps, buses between cities would not pop up. For example, when we went to the Tunnel of Love from Rivne, we would simply have to go to the bus station to find a marshrutska, the schedule and prices were not available on Google Maps.
29. Sometimes you pay when you leave the bus, sometimes when you enter. Taking marshrutkas in Ukraine can be quite confusing, as we never knew when we had to pay. Sometimes we had to pay when we left the bus, sometimes when we entered, in the end we always just looked at what our fellow passengers did, and simply did the same. If anyone knows what the golden rule is be sure to share it with us in the comment section down below!
30. You might have to pay extra for luggage. If you are taking public transport and carry a suitcase or bigger backpack with you, don’t be surprised when you have to pay extra for luggage. We had to pay extra in the tram in Lviv and when we took a bus to Moldova.
31. Taking the bus? Expect a bumpy ride. While the roads within the city are often of pretty good quality, don’t expect the same out of the city. We saw our driver driving left, right, left, just to avoid the potholes in the road. It sure is an adventure taking a marshrutka in Ukraine!
32. Don’t like public transport? Don’t worry, Uber is available in the larger and more touristic cities! We took Ubers in Lviv, Kiev and Odessa, and our rides were always between 2 – 5$, a perfectly affordable option for those who are traveling with big luggage, or perhaps a larger group of people.
Sightseeing in Ukraine
33. Visit some of Ukraine’s most beautiful cities. Ukraine is filled with the most beautiful cities, from the beautiful capital of Kiev to the pearl of the black sea Odessa, Ukraine truly has it all. Stunning architecture, delicious drinks and coffee and so much more!
34. However, you might want to go a bit beyond the touristic destinations. While Lviv, Kiev and Odessa are some of our favourite destinations in Ukraine, there is actually so much more to see and to do. With the little time we had we decided to explore the city of Rivne and Kharkiv as well, twi cities that many tourist leave of their itinerary, which is a shame as it truly has so much to offer!
35. Ukraine is filled with the most beautiful architecture, including the most stunning orthodox churches. You will see them everywhere, the beautiful golden domes and the most colourful churches and cathedrals, even if you are not a fan of religious sights you might want to reconsider visiting some of Ukraine’s most beautiful cathedrals!
36. But be sure to be respectful when entering them and to dress appropriately. No shorts, no tank tops or stringers, no short skirts, just make sure your knees and shoulders are covered basically, which applies to both genders. In almost all orthodox churches and cathedrals it is also mandatory for women to cover their hair with a head scarf, and in some (less touristic) destinations we even saw women putting a skirt over their pants which could often be borrowed on location. Some churches and cathedrals seem to be more strict, so if you are not sure simply have a look at what everybody else around you is doing to be on the safe side!
37. Besides dressing respectfully, make sure to be respectful once inside the orthodox cathedral or church. There is a reason that there are no photos of the inside of the cathedrals in Ukraine, it was almost never allowed, and if it was allowed it was for a small fee, so leave your camera off and simply admire the beautiful architecture from the inside!
38. Get up early to avoid the crowds, but not too early. As with any destination the best thing to do is to get up early if you want to avoid the crowds (and the summer heat in our case). However, be aware that many sights don’t open till 9 or 10am, especially in Kiev! From museums to cathedrals, we rarely found anything opening before 9am.
Food & Drinks in Ukraine
39. Don’t drink the tap water. In general tap water in Ukraine is not safe to drink so either find filtered water, drink bottled water or bring a reusable water bottle with a filter!
40. Dishes are often meat based, and are quite carb-heavy. The Ukrainian cuisine, in our opinion, is delicious, but can be a bit heavy. Expect a lot of starchy meals that include potatoes and meat, and while less then meat based dishes, vegetarian options were often available on the menu!
41. Some of our favourite dishes in Ukraine included vareniki (dumplings stuffed with all sorts of things), deruny (potato pancakes), nalisniki (thin pancakes) and syrniki (a thick cottage cheese based sweet breakfast dish)!
42. Looking to eat on a budget? Try Puzata Hata. You can find Puzata Hata in almost every city, and it was one of our favourite places to eat. The dishes are served buffet style, you simply grab a tray and pick and choose! As there weren’t any signs in English available it was sometimes a bit of a guessing game, but in the end we were always happy with our choices. We often ended up paying around 4 – 6$ per person for a full tray of food including veggies, a drink and some protein.
43. Love coffee? You’re in luck, Ukraine has an amazing coffee culture. There is no shortage of cafes and coffee stalls in Ukraine, you will literally find them every couple of hundred meters, something we absolutely loved about our time in Ukraine.
44. And last, but not least, enjoy the pastry and cakes. Every cafe, bakery and restaurant seemed to have a large option of desserts available, including the most delicious pastry and cakes. Our personal favourite was the cheesecake, which we seemed to find on almost every menu (lucky us!).
Ukraine Travel Tips
And there you have it, everything you need to know before you go to Ukraine. From transport tips to tips on food & drinks in Ukraine, we have tried to list everything we could possibly think of that you must know before traveling to Ukraine so you can enjoy your travels completely stress free. Have you been to Ukraine as well? Any tips that should be on this list? Be sure to tell us in the comments down below!