Whether you’re a seasoned traveller or are just getting started, there’s nothing quite like having some insider knowledge up your sleeve before you land. If Ukraine is next on your list of must-see destinations, check out our round-up of what to visit, where to eat and how to pretend to be local.
There are three must-visit cities in Ukraine that really show off the country to the best of its advantage. Kiev (the capital of Ukraine) is a thriving tourist destination – it is the mother of Russian cities and the place of origin of ancient Kievan Rus. Lviv is the unofficial capital of Western Ukraine, that skillfully combines antiquity and modernity, and carries the historical codes of Polish, Romanian, Austro-Hungarian and, finally, Ukrainian rule. Odessa is the southern gem of the country, with round-the-clock parties and beach holidays aplenty.
Unlike most European countries, where Sundays tend to mean that shops are shut, Ukraine is ideal for weekend shopping. In Ukraine’s largest cities, shopping malls and markets are open every day from approximately 10am-10pm – Saturdays and Sundays are not an exception. Be aware though that Mondays are sometimes when people take their holidays, due to the intense work pattern across other days. When Ukrainians travel to other countries in Europe, they get sincerely taken aback by the fact that most venues are closed on a Sunday.
The local currency in Ukraine is called hryvnia (UAH) – 2,500 UAH equals approximately US$100, which here is enough to have a luxury holiday. However, you can end up in a tricky situation if you use a credit card. Each bank in Ukraine has a different internal conversion rate, which can mean you end up spending more money than you intended to. It is also quite hard to find international ATMs, so be sure to exchange cash beforehand.
Be careful when travelling to Ukraine (+2 hours from GMT) in autumn and spring, because time here shifts twice a year. This tradition dates back to 1981, when under Soviet rule a transition to summer and winter time was put in place to ensure even distribution of electricity during daylight hours. The tradition has remained, meaning that locals change their clocks in spring for summertime, and on the last Sunday of October for wintertime.
Having arrived in Ukraine, the first thing you have to do is to try Ukrainian cuisine. Traditional food is very diverse – for cheap, but hearty meals, try the popular chain of venues called Puzata Khata all over Ukraine. It serves local dishes and beverages, starting with salo (pork fat) and borscht with fritters, through to banush (corn grits). For dessert try syrniki (cottage cheese pancakes) with smetana (sour cream) and berry kysil (thick compote), as a drink.
Another advice to consider is tap water, which you shouldn’t drink in Ukraine, as the high concentration of chlorine here makes water suitable solely for washing or other domestic use. In cafes and restaurants, ask waiters for bottled still or sparkling water. Some places offer filtered water for free, while in Kiev, for example, there are public well-rooms with artesian water where you can fill your bottle.
It is a well-known fact that the favourite and the most common alcoholic beverage in Ukraine is vodka. Ukrainians have a dozen different types of it. The popular ones are the traditional horilka (a solution of water and purified alcohol), spotykach (vodka infused with berries) and medovukha (vodka with fermented honey). These drinks can be found in almost every venue, especially in the west of the country, from where they originate.