Odesa Ukraine is a port city on the Black Sea, founded in 1794 (relatively young compared to Kiev or Lviv) by the Russian Empress Catherine the Great. Its reputation as the summer capital of Ukraine draws in visitors who are eager to stroll around the city’s tree-lined “Old Town” taking in the pastel neoclassical architecture, historical monuments, delicious cuisine, and seaside resorts.
The city is currently enjoying a boom as travelers are staying away from the political unrest in Crimea and heading to Odesa instead.
Locals speak either Russian or Ukrainian – English is not widely spoken. For worry-free access to the best things to suit your interests, JayWay Travel will customize a tour for you.
In the center of town is a wide, tree-lined pedestrian boulevard cradled on each side by opulent European-style buildings, landmarks, sidewalk cafés, shops, and music. It’s a festive and vibrant spot populated by tourists and locals, a veritable ground zero for people watching.
2. The Opera House and the Passage
In a city filled with exquisite decadent 19th-century architecture, two buildings really stand out. Featured at the top, Odessa’s sumptuous National Opera and Ballet House was designed by the same architects as the Vienna State Opera and is the heart of the city. The splendid Baroque building is adorned with sculptures of mythical figures and is considered one of the most beautiful in Europe. If there’s a concert featuring the music of Russian composers Tchaikovsky or Stravinsky, or a ballet, make room in your schedule – you won’t be disappointed.
The Odessa Passage is another ornate building, built at the end of the 19th century and decorated with sculptures. The first floor is lined with boutique shops and cafes, and the upper floors are hotel rooms. The stunning skylight ceiling alone makes it worth a visit. The Passage was known as the best hotel in Ukraine until the Bristol Hotel was opened.
3. Potemkin Stairs
If you’ve seen the movie Battleship Potemkin, you’ll remember Odessa’s iconic landmark. The steps were built in the 19th century as a means to access the harbor. The fun fact about the stairs is that they form an optical illusion – if they are viewed from below, only a steep staircase is visible. However, the staircase is only 192 steps, 150 yards long and has a series of landings. At the top, there is a monument to Duke de Richelieu, the founder of Odessa, along with a panoramic view of the harbor.
4. Underground Catacombs
Odessa is home to the world’s largest network of tunnels, running underneath the city. It’s a dark labyrinth of over 1000 miles that have been discovered to-date. The catacombs are significant in that it’s where the insurgent Partisan army resisted and hid from the Nazis during World War II. Guided tours through the mysterious underground are available and should not be missed.
5. Akkerman Fortress
The 13th century Akkerman Fortress, built by Alexander the Kind, is one of Ukraine’s largest and best-preserved castles. The fortress was enlarged in 1440 under Stephen II of Moldavia and subsequently fell the Ottomans. The Turks named it “Akkerman,” which means “White Fortress.” The grounds are extensive with ruins, walls, and turrets that can be climbed for vistas of the area.
6. City Garden, Chair Monument, and Crafts Market
Founded in 1803, City Garden it is the oldest park in the city. It’s located in the city center at Vulytsia Deribasivska , and has paved paths and sprays of flowers everywhere you look.
In the park, you’ll find a colorful craft market, and the 12th Chair Monument, from the 1970 movie The Twelve Chairs, an iconic symbol of Odessa. The movie depicts 1920 Soviet Russia in which a priest, a fallen aristocrat, and a con artist search for jewels hidden inside one of twelve dining chairs that had been lost during the revolution. Rumor has it that if you make a wish while sitting on the chair, it will come true. It is one of the most popular places for a photo, so be prepared to wait in a long queue.
7. Varenyky in Odesa Ukraine
Varenyky (also called pierogies in some regions of Western Ukraine) are traditional dough dumplings filled with mashed potatoes and fried onions, minced meat, or pickled cabbage. They can also be filled with fruit such as cherries and served with sour cream and honey as a dessert.
8. Arcadia Beach
You can’t ignore the siren’s lure of the Black Sea. Arcadia, about a 15-minute drive from the city center, is the most popular beach resort and nightlife area, not just in Odesa, but in all Ukraine. Prepare to be mesmerized by the brilliant emerald green waves crashing onto a sandy-but-windy beach. The main thoroughfare is lined with restaurants, souvenir shops, nightclubs, children’s amusements, and kiosks with Ukrainian street food.
9. Shabo Winery
Wine Culture Center Shabo is not your ordinary winery – it’s a 2.5-hour comprehensive tourist experience unto itself. A tour of the slick operation starts with a walk past the vineyards, onto the wine-making and storing process, past modern sculptures and fountains, underground exhibits, a historical “walk-through-time” museum with mannequins depicting their 200-year-old Swiss heritage from the first grape harvest in the area to current times, to a company film, an opportunity to taste their various types of wines, and lastly to the ubiquitous company store where one can purchase wine and souvenirs.
If you prefer a quieter beach than Acadia, head to the white sand beach of Zatoka, also on the Black Sea. Even though it can get crowded in the summer, the atmosphere is very relaxed. There’s a 2-story restaurant at the end of the boulevard that leads to the beach, with nice sea views, and to-die-for Black Sea mussels cooked in either a savory cream sauce or spicy tomato sauce. In August, Zatoka hosts a jazz festival.
Odesa has a reputation for having the best nightlife in Ukraine, particularly in the summertime. Pulsating dance clubs with neon lights entice walkers to enter. Directly on the beach in Arcadia, Ibiza nightclub ushers guests down the stairs to a mammoth party area with bars, an elevated stage hosting a live band, and hundreds of shoulder-to-shoulder cocktail-drinking patrons. The atmosphere is frenetic and friendly.
There’s so much to do in Odesa Ukraine — a place of diversity, exquisite architecture, and rich history. It’s safe, uncrowded, and friendly.
For more info, see this Mini Guidebook to Ukraine.
Want more Baby Boomer inspiration? Check out these Baby Boomer Travel Trends!
CLICK ON IMAGE BELOW TO PIN
Disclosure: The author was honored to be the guest of JayWay Travel during her stay in Odessa, but as always, the opinions, reviews, and experiences are her own.
About the Author
Patti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning blog Luggage and Lipstick. TripAdvisor called her one of “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials.” Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal.
Read more about Patti Morrow.