In recent years, Ukraine has evolved into a popular budget travel destination. While it might not have the polish and attractions you’ll find in Western Europe, it more than makes up for that with cheap prices, beautiful landscapes, historic buildings, and fewer crowds.
I didn’t have many expectations for the country but I absolutely loved my time there. It was different, affordable, and a ton of fun. The people are really welcoming, the country is inexpensive, and there’s a real sense of stepping back in time as you explore the cities and countryside. I can’t praise it enough.
This travel guide to Ukraine can help you plan your trip there while helping you stay on budget.
Table of Contents
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Top 5 Things to See and Do in Ukraine
1. Visit the Tunnel of Love in Klevan
2. Go skiing
3. Explore Chernobyl
4. Visit Kyiv
5. Hike the Carpathian Mountains
Other Things to See and Do in Ukraine
1. Visit Chernivsti University
Founded in 1875, this university is the most fascinating piece of architecture in Chernivtsi, a city in western Ukraine. It’s constructed from beautifully-laid red bricks and decorated with thousands of colored tiles. The design of the building was influenced by a pseudo-Byzantine-Hanseatic-Moorish style. You can book guided tours from the university for 80 UAH ($3 USD).
2. Relax at Arcadia Beach
This is the country’s most famous beach. Located in Odessa, it was created to be the country’s main summer getaway spot so there’s a multitude of bars, clubs, resorts, and cafes here, making it a popular place to visit during the warmer summer months (May-September). The main beach has a waterslide and plenty of space to swim and lounge. Just be sure to arrive early to get a good spot as it does get crowded in the summer.
3. Wander the Odessa catacombs
This is the largest catacomb system in the world. There are over 2,500 kilometers of catacombs under the city! They were created in the 17th century and expanded when the city mined for limestone in the early 19th century (the limestone was used to build the city). The catacombs were used by Soviet rebels during World War II after the Germans forced them to retreat. While dangerous to explore alone (people still get lost and die down here), you can hire a guide for 250 UAH ($10 USD) to show you around. Go Catacombs offers a few different tours starting at 330 UAH ($11. 75 USD).
4. See the Bohdan & Varvara Khanenko Arts Museum
Located in Kyiv, this museum hosts an impressive collection of European art. The interior is decadently coated in frescoes, intricately-carved woodwork, priceless antique furniture, and boasts an array of masterful art. Expect to see paintings from Western Europe (including works by Peter Paul Rubens, Gentile Bellini, Jacob Jordaens, and Luis de Morales), artifacts, and works from Egyptian and Greek antiquity, Persian Ceramics, Chinese paintings, and much more! Admission is 30 UAH ($1.10 USD).
5. Hang out in Ploshcha Svobody
Located in Kharkiv in northeastern Ukraine, this massive city square is one of the largest in the world. At the western end stands the first Soviet skyscraper, complete with geometrically-set concrete and glass blocks and bridges. Renamed Freedom Square after Ukrainian independence, it spans a massive 30 acres. Don’t miss the empty pedestal where the statue of Lenin used to be (it was toppled during protests in 2014).
6. Spot wildlife at Askania-Nova Reserve
Established in 1898, this vast reserve spans over 333 square kilometers and is home to a plethora of animal life like buffalo, deer, antelope, horses, zebras, camels, gnus, the rare Central Asian Saiga antelope, and a huge array of birds. Within the reserve, there are a few small villages and one town which you can reach by bus. From April to November you can take a 2.5-hour safari for just 166 UAH ($6 USD).
7. See Lutsk Castle
This fortress is located in Lutsk’s old quarter and dates back to the 14th century. The castle walls stand 13 meters high and are between 1-3 meters thick. It’s topped with three broad towers that have repelled several sieges, including attacks by Casimir the Great (1349), Jogaila (1431), and Sigismund K?stutaitis (1436). During the Nazi occupation, over 1,000 Jews were murdered here (though there sadly is no monument or marker to commemorate the tragedy). Today, there are archeological remains dating back to the 12th century preserved and on display. The castle is featured on the 200 UAH bill and you can walk the ramparts and tour the three towers that make up the main defensive fortifications. Admission is 10 UAH ($0.40 USD).
8. Visit the National Chernobyl Museum
Located in Kyiv, this small museum is a good prelude to a trip to Chernobyl. There are three exhibits on display that highlight the accident, the aftermath, and the lessons we need to learn to avoid this happening again. it’s equally sobering and educational. Admission is 10 UAH ($0.40 USD) or 60 UAH ($2.15 USD) with an audio guide.
10. Visit the Museum of the Great Patriotic War
This is one of the largest museums in Ukraine and highlights the story of the German-Soviet conflict during World War II. Located in Kyiv, the museum contains over 300,000 exhibits as well as several monuments and memorials spanning over 25 acres overlooking the Dnieper River (including the 62m-tall Motherland statue). This museum offers a sobering and unique look at the war’s Eastern conflict. Admission is 20 UAH ($0.75 USD).
11. Tour St. Sophia’s Cathedral
Built in the 11th century in Kyiv, this UNESCO World Heritage Site has an elaborate Baroque exterior with 13 golden domes. Inside the cathedral, you’ll find beautiful murals, mosaics, and centuries-old frescoes. The cathedral was used as a burial place for Kyivan rulers during the Middle Ages. Named after Hagia Sophia in Turkey, the cathedral offers some stunning views over Kyiv from the bell tower. Admission to see the cathedral’s museum is 50 UAH ($1.75 USD) while access to the bell tower is 10 UAH ($0.35 USD).
13. Visit Lviv
Lviv is the cultural capital of Ukraine. Located 540km west of Kyiv, it has a Central European vibe and is full of history and incredible architecture. Don’t miss wandering the Old Town, visiting the Lviv Historical Museum, and enjoying the view from High Castle. For a glimpse at the city’s past, visit the Museum of Folk Architecture and Rural Life (it’s an outdoor museum with all kinds of traditional wooden buildings). As a university town, it’s a youthful city and hosts many of the country’s foreign students from around Europe!
Ukraine Travel Costs
Accommodation – Hostels start at 170-340 UAH ($6-12 USD) for a bed in a 6-10-bed dorm. Free Wi-Fi is standard and most hostels also have a kitchen. For a private room, prices start at 560 UAH ($20 USD).
Budget hotels start at 560 UAH ($20) per night. You can find cheaper options but they tend to be pretty gross places. Most budget hotels are a little outdated when it comes to decor. Don’t expect many amenities either.
Airbnb is available in the larger cities throughout the country. Private rooms start at 391 UAH ($14 USD) per night while an entire home/apartment costs at least 700 UAH ($25 USD).
Wild camping is allowed in Ukraine, as long as you aren’t in nature preserves or near highways. There are also plenty of campgrounds around the country with a basic plot (without electricity) costing around 150 UAH ($5 USD).
Food – Food in Ukraine is similar to that in neighboring Eastern Europe and Russia. Borsh (beetroot soup), varenyky (pierogies), holubtsi (stuffed cabbage rolls), kovbasa (sausage), and deruny (potato pancakes) are some of the most popular and most common dishes.
For a meal of traditional cuisine, expect to pay no more than 145 UAH ($5 USD). Portions are filling and hearty too. Fast food (like McDonald’s) can be found in the larger cities around the country and costs around 100 UAH ($4 USD) for a meal. For ethnic food like Thai or Indian, expect to pay around 130 UAH ($4.75 UAH). Expect to pay around 125 UAH ($4.50 USD) for a large pizza.
For a three-course meal of traditional cuisine, expect to pay 300 UAH ($11 USD), including a drink. Beer can be found for just 25 UAH ($0.90 USD) while a latte or cappuccino costs around 30 UAH ($1.10 USD).
For a week of groceries that includes pasta, vegetables, chicken, and seasonal produce, expect to pay around 550 UAH ($20 USD).
Backpacking Ukraine Suggested Budgets
If you are backpacking Ukraine, my suggested budget is 980 UAH ($35 USD) per day. This assumes you’re staying in a hostel dorm, cooking most of your meals, eating the odd cheap traditional meal at a restaurant, doing free activities like walking tours and hiking, limiting your drinking, visiting some cheap attractions like museums or galleries, and using local transportation to get around.
On a mid-range budget of 3,100-5,000 UAH ($110-180 USD) per day, you can stay in a budget hotel or Airbnb, eat out for all your meals at budget-friendly restaurants serving traditional cuisine, go out for some drinks, take some guided tours, rent a car, and take a tour of Chernobyl.
On a luxury budget of 7,800 UAH ($280 USD) per day, you can stay in a four-star hotel, eat out at any restaurant you want, rent a car or take taxis everywhere, take higher-end guided tours, drink as much as you want, go skiing, take domestic flights, and see as many castles and museums as you can handle!
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Prices are in USD.
Ukraine Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
Ukraine is an affordable country to visit. You’re going to be hard pressed to spend a lot of money unless you go out of your way to do so. That said, it’s always good to make sure you get the best deals so here are some money-saving tips for Ukraine:
- Eat local – By eating at restaurants serving traditional cuisine, you’ll keep your food expenses low. A typical meal here cost me about 145 UAH ($5 USD).
- Buy beer at the supermarkets – If you plan on drinking, buy your beer at the supermarket. Beer at the bar is cheap, but this is even cheaper!
- Couchsurf – Meet awesome people, get a local perspective, and get a place to stay for free. I used it while I was in the country and met a lot of great people through it. The community here is pretty small so be sure to make your requests in advance.
- Book overnight trains – Take advantage of the slow and cheap trains in Ukraine by taking overnight trains. You’ll save one night’s accommodation by doing this.
- Save money on rideshares – Uber is way cheaper than taxis and is the best way to get around a city if you don’t want to wait for a bus or pay for a taxi. Currently, Uber is available in Kyiv, Odessa, Lviv, Kharkiv, Vinnytsia, Zaporizhia, and Dnipro. You can save $15 off your first Uber ride with this code: jlx6v.
- Bring a reusable water bottle – The tap water in Ukraine is not safe to drink. Avoid single-use plastic by bringing a reusable water bottle with a filter with you. LifeStraw makes reusable bottles that also filter your water so it’s safe and clean to drink — no matter where you are in the world!
- Take a free walking tour – Kyiv Walking Tours offers a free tour around the city. It’s the best way to see the main sights on a budget. Just be sure to tip your guide!
Where to Stay in Ukraine
Ukraine has a growing hostel scene and you can now find hostels in most of the larger cities. Here are my favorite places to stay around the country:
How to Get Around Ukraine
Bus – Ukraine has a mix of small, crowded, and outdated buses as well as larger, more modern coaches. Flixbus is your best choice here, as their buses are clean, reliable, and cheap.
You can take a bus pretty much anywhere in the country for under 400 UAH ($14 USD).
Trains – Trains are perfect for longer journeys around the country. Many of the trains have an old, Soviet feel to them but they are safe, reliable, and cheap. And, because there are lots of overnight options, you can usually take an overnight train to save yourself a night of accommodation.
First-class couchettes, private and shared sleepers, and regular seats are all available. Most clerks do not speak English so buy your ticket online or have your hostel/hotel write down what you need/where you’re going.
The 7-hour trip from Kyiv to Odessa can cost as little as 320 UAH ($12 USD). The 5-hour trip from Kyiv to Lviv costs about the same while the 12-hour journey from Kyiv to Loskutivka (near Luhansk) costs 480 UAH ($17 USD).
Air – Ukraine International Airlines is the main domestic carrier here. Flights are relatively affordable, with most domestic flights costing as little as 2,800 UAH ($100 USD).
Car Rental – Car rentals in Ukraine can be found for as little as 840 UAH ($30 USD) per day (double that if you book for just one or two days though). The roads here are in rough shape, however, so drive carefully. Additionally, you will need an International Driving Permit (IDP) to rent a vehicle here.
Hitchhiking – While hitchhiking here has become more difficult since the Crimean conflict with Russia, it’s still possible though I wouldn’t really recommend it based on my experience but you might be more adventurous than I am. Hitchwiki is the best resource for additional information.
When to Go to Ukraine
The summer is the most popular time to visit Ukraine. June, July, and August all offer plenty of warm, sunny days with temperatures ranging from 18-24°C (64-75°F). This is also the busiest time of year as well. However, the country only sees around 14 million tourists each year (that’s a fraction of the 90 million visitors a popular destination like France receive) so don’t expect massive crowds.
If you want to avoid the peak summer season, consider visiting in May or September/October. It won’t be as warm, but you can see the flowers blossom in the Carpathians or watch the leaves change in the autumn. It will be chilly at night, but the days are still perfect for sightseeing and hiking.
The winters in Ukraine are cold, with temperatures well below 0°C (32°F). Unless you’re here to ski or do winter sports, I’d avoid visiting in the winter.
How to Stay Safe in Ukraine
Crime and petty theft in Ukraine are on par with much of Europe. Most crimes are crimes of opportunity so as long as you keep your valuables out of reach when in crowded areas and on public transportation, you’ll avoid the most common issues. Don’t flash your valuables when out and about and avoid walking alone at night in the larger cities.
Credit card fraud is a concern in Ukraine so stick to using ATMs in banks (and not random ATMs on the street).
The roads here are pretty terrible, so be extra careful if renting a car. Follow all the rules of the road, obey the speed limits, and wear a seatbelt. Drivers here are aggressive so be prepared.
With the rise of the far-right and Russian interference, attacks against people of color have been on the rise. Travelers of color will want to take extra precautions and avoid traveling alone at night.
The war with Russia in Crimea is localized to the region so as long as you avoid visiting Crimea (which you need a special permit for) you won’t have to worry. While it is possible to visit Crimea (and there is a lot to see there), most governments have issued warnings and will not provide assistance should an issue arise. In short, avoid visiting Crimea for now.
Always trust your gut instinct. If a taxi driver seems shady, stop the cab and get out. If your hotel is seedier than you thought, move. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID. Forward your itinerary along to loved ones so they’ll know where you are.
Remember if you wouldn’t do it at home, don’t do it in Ukraine!
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Ukraine Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Ukraine. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the ones I use the most and are always the starting points in my search for travel deals.
- Momondo – This is my favorite booking site. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engine which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Rail Europe – If you are going to Europe and taking a lot of high speed or long distance trains, get a rail pass. I’ve used a rail pass three times and saved hundreds of dollars each time. The math just works.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Europe, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- The Man in Seat 61 – This website is the ultimate guide to train travel anywhere in the world. They have the most comprehensive information on routes, times, prices, and train conditions. If you are planning a long train journey or some epic train trip, consult this site.
- Rome 2 Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. It will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- FlixBus – German based Flixbus has routes between 20 European countries with prices starting as low 5 EUR ($6 USD)! Their buses include WiFi, electrical outlets, and up to three 3 free bags.
- BlaBlaCar – BlaBlaCar is a ridesharing website that lets you share rides with vetted local drivers by pitching in for gas. You simply request a seat, they approve, and off you go! It’s a cheaper and more interesting way travel than by bus or train!
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat home cooked meal with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) but this is a great way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.
Ukraine Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Ukraine Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
Borderland: A Journey Through The History Of Ukraine, by Anna Reid
Ukraine has had a chaotic history, its location at the crossroads of east and west thrusting it into numerous conflicts. From Kievan Rus, the first great Slavic civilization, to the Mongol invasions to the occupations by the Nazis and Soviets, Ukraine has been through it all. This book highlights the country’s historic
narrative in a clear and accessible way, using historical texts and personal interviews to bring Ukraine’s vibrant and complex history to life.
Everything Is Illuminated, by Jonathan Safran Foer
A young man is given a picture of his grandfather, launching him into a quixotic journey around Ukraine in search of the person who may or may not have saved his grandfather from the Holocaust. The writing in this novel is absolutely superb, capturing both the landscape and culture of Ukraine and the heartbreaking tragedy that has mauled the nation’s past.
The White Guard, by Mikhail Bulgakov
This novel takes place in 1918, as the Bolsheviks, Socialists, and Germans all battle for control of Kyiv. The Turbins, a once-wealthy Russian family, are enveloped in the chaos and are forced to come to terms with the revolution knocking at their door. While a work of fiction, the book is firmly situated in history, providing a glimpse at life in Ukraine in the early 20th century.
Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster, by Svetlana Alexievich
Alexievich, a Ukrainian journalist, collected stories and testimonies from survivors of the Chernobyl meltdown in 1986 (she developed an immune deficiency researching this book due to her exposure to radiation). Her collection of evidence, stories, and recollections was used for HBO’s hit Chernobyl miniseries and is one of the best collections of first-hand information about the accident. If you loved the HBO series or are planning to visit the Chernobyl site, be sure to read this book.
Ukraine Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on backpacking/traveling Europe and continue planning your trip: