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Planning a trip to Ukraine and don’t know what to expect? I promise that it won’t disappoint you to visit Ukraine for the first time. And don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. Here I share with you some travel tips about Ukraine that will make your journey simpler, more comfortable and definitely more enjoyable.
I found that there isn’t sufficient first-hand information about Ukraine that will prepare you for your first trip. On the other hand, the fact that Ukraine is still an underrated European country is to your advantage. Since many areas remain unexplored, that means you can still visit great and authentic places, unspoiled by mass tourism. Ukraine is one of the most magical countries with countless wonders, history, amazing architecture, UNESCO world heritage sites and tons of attractions. The main highlight of this country is the people and how they keep their traditions intact. Believe me, you will love visiting Ukraine!
Table of Contents (skip directly to the info you're looking for)
- 1 Why visit Ukraine? What is so special about it?
- 2 Visiting The Ukraine or Ukraine?
- 3 Best time of year to visit Ukraine
- 4 How to best prepare for your trip to Ukraine
- 4.1 How to get a visa for Ukraine
- 4.2 How to get a SIM card
- 4.3 The Language
- 4.4 Learning how to read the Cyrillic alphabet and basic Ukranian Language phrases before visiting Ukraine
- 4.5 Getting around Ukraine – Transportation
- 4.6 Airports in Ukraine
- 4.7 Bus Travel
- 4.8 Train Travel
- 4.9 Bla bla cars
- 4.10 Car sharing apps
- 4.11 Rental car options
- 4.12 Useful apps for Ukraine
- 4.13 Currency
- 4.14 Paying by card or cash
- 4.15 Embassies in Ukraine
- 4.16 Electricity – Travel Adaptor for Ukraine
- 4.17 Accommodations type
- 4.18 Estimate Cost for food and drinks
- 4.19 Tipping is not a must, but is really appreciated
- 4.20 Read a bit about Ukraine’s history before you go
- 4.21 Ukrainians are very proud of their roots and heritage
- 4.22 Travel guide for Ukraine
Why visit Ukraine? What is so special about it?
First, because Ukraine is very different by region, there are a lot of different types of experiences to enjoy there. For example, cities in the Western side of the country, such as Lviv or Chernivtsi, have the look and feel of Austria (and they still have signs, plaques and other things written in German, from the time of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which adds to this ambiance).
You can also find some trace of its Jewish Heritage more prominently in Chernivtsi where they have a Jewish Museum and many synagogues. But in the Carpathian Mountains you can find adventure, hiking and even big ski resorts, such as, Bukovel.
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Or explore an ancient culture first-hand by discovering the Hutsul traditions, when connecting with the Hutsul people, while visiting their villages around the Carpathians Mountains. In addition, due to Ukraine’s history, depending on the area, there’s a mix of European architecture, Soviet style and beyond. Basically, you will find this country is quite distinctive and each building has a story, even though sometimes it’s not the happiest one.
It’s also such an interesting country because of its amazing music, dances, fashion, food and drink. There is no shortage of good cheese, coffee, chocolate, craft beer and even wine or, if you want something stronger, homemade liquor (Warning: You might not be able to take a step after drinking it). You gotta love the Ukranian culture and all that it has to offer to you as a visitor. They are truly hospitable and will make you feel at home.
Got you excited about your visit to Ukraine? Let me help you to plan with some insider Ukraine travel advice from me, an expat who lives part of the time in Lviv, someone who loves to learn from the locals in the area and explore everything.
Visiting The Ukraine or Ukraine?
One of the first mistakes people make when visiting Ukraine is calling the country ‘The Ukraine’ and not just ‘Ukraine.’ Ukraine is the legitimate name stated in the Ukranian Declaration of Independence and Constitution since 1991. Not sure if you remember that Ukraine is a former SSR (Soviet Socialist Republics) and, back then, their official name was The Ukranian Soviet Socialist Republic, a name that is in the past now, and that Ukrainians do not like to be reminded of. Practice dropping the ‘the’ and it’ll mean so much to its citizens.
Best time of year to visit Ukraine
If you are planning a trip to Ukraine, I would suggest that you consider visiting from mid-May to September, since the weather is quite nice. June through September is considered Summer and you can get plenty of sunny days, but sometimes it will sporadically rain a bit, depending the area. July and August can be quite hot, but overall, the weather usually gets hot during the day and a little cooler in the evening, which usually feels refreshing and is perfect for walking around exploring Ukraine.
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October is another pleasant month since it is more off season, and there tons of cool festivals, so I truly prefer Ukraine in the fall. Sometimes it might be rainy, but usually does not get that cold. Of course, this varies from year to year, but I would say that, starting in November, it starts getting colder. Winter in Ukraine also has its own magical feeling, even though it is colder. Christmas in Lviv can be quite special if you decide to travel during the holidays.
How to best prepare for your trip to Ukraine
How to get a visa for Ukraine
For most people, Ukraine is visa free for 90 days. I specifically can speak about this as an American in Ukraine, but the same applies for Europeans, Canadians, Australians, etc. You may want to check your own government’s page to confirm before booking your trip.
How to get a SIM card
It is quite easy to get a SIM card at the airport or in one of the main cities. Most likely you will arrive in Kyiv (Kiev), in Lviv, or Odessa. To get a SIM card, you do not need an ID and the options are amazingly, budget friendly. Most popular carriers in Ukraine would be Kyivstar, Vodafone and Lifecell. I personally love and have Kyivstar. Since I need it for my work, I pay for unlimited Internet (around 10 dollars a month) but I even got a deal for the first month half off.
TIP: I also own a portable wifi device named Tep Wireless, which keeps up to 5 of my devices connected at a time. I used it when I was on a road trip around the Carpathian Mountains since, in certain remote areas, the phone signal wasn’t the best, but this device somehow worked well there. I especially like using it when I’m traveling for work and I need to connect to multiple devices. It’s a beautiful thing!
In the biggest cities, most people speak English, like in Kyiv (Kiev), or Lviv, especially the younger generation. Just in the last few years, Lviv has changed a lot from when I first came here. Now that there are more tourists, more people speak English than before. But, no need to worry. Ukrainians are super helpful and, even when they do not speak your language, they do try to assist you when approached. I find travel angels all of the time in this country. I did notice that, in places like the Carpathian Mountains, it was harder to find people who spoke English outside of major cities. My partner has met many more German speaking people before meeting an English-speaking one. The same can apply for places like Chernivtsi; I’ve found less people who speak English, but many more who spoke German. Luckily, the menus are mostly in both English and Ukrainian. From my experience, most young people speak English, as the language is being widely taught in school.
Learning how to read the Cyrillic alphabet and basic Ukranian Language phrases before visiting Ukraine
Ukrainian language is definitely not the easiest language, but it is possible to learn. If you are dedicated and have people to practice with, you increase your chances of successfully picking it up. Another variable in the ease of learning depends on your native language. For someone whom already speaks a Slavic language, it is much easier to learn than for someone, like me, who only speaks English and Spanish fluently.
So far, I only know basic Ukrainian words and phrases, but I feel that one of the most important things to first learn is how to read Ukrainian. The use of the Cyrillic alphabet (there are so many free mobile apps and resources online) will come in handy at least to be able to read the signs and the menus when they are not available in English, and it’s helped me a ton. You can learn the alphabet in a few hours. Note: In bigger cities, you can find signs translated into English.
My plan is, in the future, to take some Ukrainian classes in Lviv, at least to learn a little more than the basics. But, in the meantime, I rely on using the website and app of Duolingo to build upon the basics and I also ask Ukranian friends to teach me words and useful phrases.
As a visitor, I would prioritize familiarizing myself with the Cyrillic alphabet, and learning some key Ukranian words and phrases.
TIP: An essential to getting prepared for your visit to Ukraine is getting a phrasebook. I truly love the Lonely Planet one; it is a life saver.
Check out here some basic Ukrainian phrases I think you should familiarized yourself with before your Ukraine trip.
Remember that locals will appreciate if you are trying to say any word in their language and might be even more open to helping you.
Getting around Ukraine – Transportation
In Ukraine, you will find different types of transportation available, but the time and frequency is not always reliable. It really varies by region or city. Sometimes just allowing for a little extra time, and pre-arranging as much as you can, will save you headaches down the road.
Airports in Ukraine
There are several international airports in Ukraine that are functional. If you are coming from US, most likely you will arrive at the Boryspil International Airport in Kyiv Oblast.
From Europe, you can fly with low-cost companies such as Ryan Air or Wizz Air either to Kyiv, Lviv, Odessa, or Kharkiv among others. Of course, you can also go to Ukraine by car, train or bus. For example, I’ve traveled by both train and bus from Krakow to Lviv. It’s great having options.
There are local yellow buses around most cities that run past most train stations, or the airport, that even go to the Carpathians. The only issue is that ‘published’ times are not always reliable. Also, you need to really know where to get off, or ask for help, and sometimes that can be difficult due to the language barrier. Make sure to ask the driver or a passenger for help.
Moving between closer cities, I’ve taken buses by booking the tickets in advance at infobuses.eu. You can check there for the connections too.
For train travel, I usually use this website, since the infrastructure is quite clear and easy to book. I would suggest that you consider booking sleepers for longer train rides, since usually the price difference is not that much, and the sleeper cars are more comfortable. Make sure to always double check the train commuting time, since there can be express trains and local trains.
Bla bla cars
When you go online to book a train, most of the time, you will see the option for booking bla bla cars. In my experience, bla bla cars have been super unreliable. I’ve booked with someone, and then they cancel; then you book another and they cancel again. I’ve found it to not be as reliable as when I used the service in Germany. So, if you have a tight schedule, I wouldn’t recommend this option.
Car sharing apps
In Lviv or Kyiv, for example, you can use Uber, or even download the local app called Uklon.
In Chernivtsi, Uber is not available so a local suggested that I download an app, that is only available on android, called taxi 579. The only downside is that you need to type the addresses using their alphabet. If you are not familiar, you can always get the help of a local. I even installed the Ukrainian keyboard on my mobile phone to make it easier, but sometimes even I have had to ask a local to call a taxi for me. Luckily, Ukrainians are very helpful.
Rental car options
You can rent a car for visiting the countryside since it provides you with more flexibility. Renting a car in Ukraine is not difficult; there are many options online and also in person. The trick is more about driving in Ukraine, since not all of the roads are the best ones. Plus, you also need to understand the signs, obey traffic laws, and more. It is totally doable to do so, but you need to be a cautious driver, have patience, a good GPS and great Internet, at the very least.
Useful apps for Ukraine
I’ve already mentioned a few previously, but I would suggest Uber, Bolt, Uklon Taxi 7070 and maybe Taxi 579 (only on android) for a moment of need. Local providers (Uklon, Taxi 579, Taxi 7070) are usually cheaper for the same service.
You should also download the app and offline versions of Maps.me and Google translate. Google translate saves me all of the time. I especially love to use their camera option which helps you to read menus, labels, etc. Keep in mind, you’ll need data for using this feature of the Google translate app, but the SIM cards here are so inexpensive, this is not a drawback.
I travel so much that also like to keep a currency convertor app on my phone, so that I am aware of how much I am paying in my own currency.
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The Ukranian currency is called Ukrainian Hryvnia (UAH). US dollars and Euros are the easiest currency to exchange in Ukraine, but usually I just take out money from the ATM.
Paying by card or cash
I would suggest that, when outside major cities, you should carry cash with you in the local currency since some businesses will not always accept credit cards. But honestly, this is changing. I’m finding that more and more places accept credit cards, including most supermarkets and many stores. I even attended a festival in the countryside recently and they accepted credit cars at the Kasa (ticketing office in Ukranian).
Embassies in Ukraine
Here you can find a list of Embassies and consulates in Ukraine. It is always important to know where to go in case of any emergency.
Electricity – Travel Adaptor for Ukraine
In Ukraine, the power plugs and sockets are of type C and F. The standard voltage is 220 V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz, so plan accordingly.
Ukraine offers all kinds of accommodations and, for the most part, they are quite affordable. Anything from hostels, to homestays in villages, to renting a room or full apartment via AirBnb, or you can also find great boutique hotels and apartments on booking.com. I’ve booked full apartments for under $30 a night. You can also find luxury hotels and big name hotel chains in bigger cities. Just depends on your taste and needs.
Estimate Cost for food and drinks
For the most part, food and drink prices in Ukraine are quite low. In many places, you can find a Cappuccino for $1.20 or less than 2 dollars. You can also find a little more fancy places, but usually prices are quite low especially if you are converting the amount from euros or dollars. I would say you could eat very good food (including big portions), and have great drinks at a lower price than you are accustomed to at home. I’ve had paid for a big bottle of water anywhere from 0.19 cents to 0.59 cents. Of course, you can also get fancy water for $1.50. But, overall, the prices are quite inexpensive here, so a little can go a long way.
Note: When paying with a credit card in most restaurants and stores in Ukraine, they will charge your card twice: Once for the food and then for the drinks. This is a normal protocol in Ukraine, so do not be concerned.
Tipping is not a must, but is really appreciated
When you visit Ukraine, as most places in Europe, nobody expects a tip, but you can leave a tip in Ukraine if you are satisfied with the service and the food. The service is not calculated separately, but definitely a tip is always welcome. You can just leave it on the table after you’ve paid.
Read a bit about Ukraine’s history before you go
Before visiting Ukraine, read a bit about its history. It is the best way to understand about the places and its people. You will also better understand most of the cultural differences that you will inevitably encounter along the way, as you travel around Ukraine.
Another Favorite: Insider Travel Guide for Ukraine
Ukrainians are very proud of their roots and heritage
You may be surprised how proud and fond Ukrainians are of their country and traditions. Everywhere you go, you’ll find handcrafted souvenirs, traditional style restaurants with Ukrainian music and dancing, and, if you happen to be in Ukraine on one of their major holidays, do not miss their traditional celebrations, such as Vyshyvanka Day (Embroidery Shirt Day), Ukrainian Independence Day and more.
When I travel, I always buy a travel guide beforehand for the country I will be visiting. I can’t stress enough on how important and essential this is. You’ll be surprised at the wealth of information you will then have at your fingertips.
Here is my pick for you:
In summary, get ready to fall in love with Ukraine. This is definitely a country that deserves more attention, not only because of the recent HBO series show about Chernobyl, but because of its people, the wonders, and all that it has to offer to you as a guest. Enjoy!
Have you ever been to Ukraine? Share your experience with me in the comments. If you still have questions about your upcoming visit to Ukraine, leave it on the comments and I will answer them to the best of my ability, including the best tips I can find.
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