I’ve been planning to visit Odessa, Ukraine for years yet always something went wrong. I’ve had tickets for a long weekend at the Black Sea and two days before departure I got sick and had to cancel the trip.
Then I again had tickets to visit Odessa but the revolution tension in Ukraine was really big back then and the airline has suspended the flights – I could rebook for the later date which I did and guess what – I got sick again!
Third time’s a charm – I finally managed to visit Odessa in the summer time two years ago. I took the train from Chisinau, Moldova via Transnistria. It was a tiring journey – 5 hours on the wooden benches – but as soon as the train pulled into the station I felt a huge wave of excitement. This is it, one of my travel dreams comes true, I’m finally visiting Odessa!
I really didn’t know what to expect from the city, had no expectations at all. The only things I knew were the Black Sea harbor, Potemkin Steps my mother kept raving about and some random facts about the multicultural Odessa and its criminal past.
But I fall for the place very quick, from the moment I arrived and saw the magnificent building of the train station. With each passing minute Odessa fascinated me more and more and I can’t even say why. It was city like no other I’ve visited before, didn’t look like other major Ukraine cities – Kiev, Lviv or Ivano-Frankivsk – at all! At times it reminded me of Old Tbilisi with its charming yards but soon it felt like a completely different, one of a kind place.
I’ve spent 2 summer days in Odessa but I felt it was not enough so exactly a year later I returned to the city. Spending time in Odessa was a pure pleasure, it was a big joy for me just to be there, walk around the old town and relax at the beach.
I can’t really put into words why I’ve enjoyed Odessa so much (hence this post is so belated). I just clicked with the city and felt really good there. If I have a chance to visit Odessa again I wouldn’t need to think twice! And here is why it’s worth to go there.
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The old part of Odessa is so pretty! The city used to be the cultural and intellectual center prior the Soviet Russia and the majority of the most amazing buildings comes from that period. The architecture resembles more of the Mediterranean or French influence than Russian and that already gives the unique look and style to the city.
You will find the most spectacular buildings around pedestrian Deribasovskaya street (which itself isn’t all that great) and Potemkin Steps.
For me there are two absolute highlights of the architecture in Odessa: The Opera house – second biggest opera in the world after La Scala in Milan – and the Passage (it used to be the best hotel in Southern Russia). Both take my breath away every time I see them.
But the architecture in this part of the city really is amazing and random walks around the enshadowed, cobbled streets are the best thing you can do in Odessa! Unfortunately most of the places are in a poor condition but when you look carefully you will see its true, faded-out beauty. Odessa really can be a treat for the eye!
There is one architectonic masterpiece in Odessa that deserves a special attention – Potemkin Steps. Opened in 1841 those 192 steps are the peculiar entrance to the city, the most known image of Odessa and the symbol of the place. They were design to give the optical illusion – when you look from the top you can’t really see the stairs itself but when you look from the bottom you only see stairs.
If you’re too lazy to climb to the top there’s a funicular riding on the left side. During my visit in 2016 it was closed for renovation, now (April 2017) I’ve read that also the steps are going through the renovation process, hopefully it will be over soon!
I definitely recommend visiting the highlights of Odessa with the guide as there are so many details and gems it’s good to have someone to explain it all. There is a great walking tour you can join to learn all about Odessa. Check more details and prices here!
The backyards are my absolutely favorite thing in Odessa. Kind of like in Old Tbilisi you enter a random gate and you are transformed into a completely different, magical world. As soon as I found out what is hidden from the street view I was peeking inside every single gate!
Unfortunately most of them were closed but those I’ve entered were amazing and sometimes surreal. I even found a statue of Ludwik Zamenhof (a founder of Esperanto language, originally from Poland) in one of the yards!
I’ve only seen those in the old town as I didn’t dare to do any solo wandering in the backstreets of the (in)famous Moldavanka district – I still regret not being brave enough as apparently that’s where the best yards are!
Still I can’t complain as those I’ve seen were pretty amazing! I literally could spend at least few days only exploring Odessa backyards and that’s already a very solid reason that make me want to visit Odessa again!
If you find yourself in Odessa you can go for the courtyards tour which I wish I had done too! Click here for more details and prices!
Odessa – a perfect summer getaway
Odessa makes a perfect and really affordable summer destination! I’ve been there twice in August and it was just perfect! The weather was really warm and sunny, the sea was bearable and the prices were so cheap you had to pinch yourself!
I spent half of the day just relaxing at the beach – I was ready to spend some money on the sun bed and the umbrella but I couldn’t believe when I heard the price, 80 hryvnas, for everything, for the whole day! That’s not even 3$/3€!!!
The beach was wide and sandy yet I was in the second row from the shore so every time I wanted to go to the water I didn’t need to worry about my belongings as I could see everything. There are local vendors cruising the beach with drinks and snacks so you basically has everything you might need.
I was at Bali Beach, not far from the dolphinarium. It was a perfect place to relax, not too crowded and not too loud.
If you’re interested in more of a party place there is the whole seaside district for you – Arcadia! The place is full of clubs, discos, all kinds of entertainment and young vibe. If I were 10 years younger I’d definitely stay there and it seemed like a great place to have fun!
Odessa is the biggest harbor at the Black Sea and you simply can’t escape the maritime vibe there. Right at the bottom of Potemkin Steps you have the sea station where local as well as long distance ferries from Batumi and Poti, Georgia arrive.
The view of shipyards is very much present in the Odessa skyline. Young sailors are casually strolling the streets of the city. Even the majority of souvenirs are with the maritime theme. It all somehow fits perfectly to the city. I can’t imagine Odessa without its maritime accents, it gives the city an extra twist.
The craziest cable car and other Soviet remnants
You might know by now I like crazy Soviet things: playgrounds, amusement parks, cable cars, metro – you name it. The more crazy, the better! The moment when I read about the cable car in Odessa I knew I have to ride it.
It was the whole expedition to find the cable car as back then it was really difficult to find any info online but I succeeded! It’s hard to describe my joy, I was bouncing around like a kid and I almost fell down when leaving the cable car in the lower station – that’s how excited I was!
The ride is a little bit frightening but the views of the vast green spaces and the Black Sea are definitely worth it! The cable car is painted with the children heroes, with “Nu, pogodi!” being my favorite one (I still find it hillarious we’ve had cartoons like this when I grew up).
Cable car isn’t the only remnant of the Soviet past in Odessa. In Shevchenko Park you can find the Monument to an Unknown Sailor, dedicated to those who died during the siege of Odessa in 1941. Like in many post-Soviet countries not only there is an eternal flame at the site but the war songs from that period are played there too. My Russian is too poor to understand them but they sound very dark to me, made me feel uncomfortable…
If you’re after Soviet architecture in Odessa you definitely should check Odessa Academic Theatre of Musical Comedy and the building in the middle of the park at Kulykove pole, next to the main train station. That’s where the clashes in 2014 took place, with almost 50 casualties – now you barely can see such a tragic event occurred in this very place.
Is it worth to visit Odessa
For me Odessa has (almost) everything I enjoy – beautiful architecture, hidden gems, quirky places, fascinating history and a strong multicultural past. Even if I’m not much of a beach person both times I happened to be in Odessa towards to end of my trip and as little as those few hours of relax were much needed – Odessa turned out to be perfect for this.
I can only recommend visiting Odessa! The city has so much to offer, so many layers to discover that everyone will find something for themselves there with plenty of culture, history or fun to immerse into. You shouldn’t be afraid of traveling to Ukraine and once you go there don’t miss Odessa!
And if you wish to learn more about Odessa and its multicultural, Jewish or criminal past there are numerous affordable tours that you can join! Check all the details and availability here!
And to show you how beautiful the city is below you have few more Odessa pictures!
If you think of visiting Ukraine or just want to read more about the country take a look what else I wrote about it:
- Best places to visit in Ukraine
- Stunning Chernivtsi, Ukraine – my best discovery in 2015
- Kamyanets-Podilsky – an underrated gem of Ukraine
- and many more!
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