See the title? That’s the question I was asked the most when I rattled off the different countries Courtny and I would be visiting in 2019. And after spending 10 days there, I can honestly say it was one of the most rewarding travel experiences of my life. Before I get into all this beautiful country has to offer, I’m going to take care of the most common question I get about Ukraine:
Is It Safe?
YES! Now, there are certain parts of the country that are off-limits right now. In general, due to their ongoing conflict with Russia, you’ll need to stay more toward the middle and western portions of the country. Specifically, stay away from Donetsk and Luhansk. Crimea, once one of the more popular regions of the country, is now under Russian control, meaning you would have to enter through Russia to even get there.
So what about Kiev? Is it safe? Absolutely! Courtny and I stayed in Kiev for seven nights, and there wasn’t a single moment we felt like we were in danger. Even crimes such as pickpocketing were not nearly as much of a concern as they are in, say, Prague or Barcelona. In my experience, Kiev is as safe a city as any. Of course, it is important to still take the usual precautions you always do while traveling. Ok, enough with the boring stuff; let’s get into the top five reasons why Ukraine should be on your itinerary!
1. Unique Sites
Every country has beautiful tourist destinations, but Ukraine certainly has some of the most fascinating. The obvious one that sticks out is the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. You might get a few weird looks when you tell people you’re going on vacation to the site of the worst nuclear accident in history, but it is 100% worth it. We booked our tour with SoloEast, and when we come back to Ukraine, we will be booking with them again. You can read more about our experience here, but the bottom line is that it’s an absolute must-visit.
But Ukraine is much more than Chernobyl. Kiev, its bustling capital, is a stunning city with one of my favorite squares in Europe (Independence Square). The Tunnel of Love, a now Instagram-famous spot just outside of Rivne, is one of the few social media sensations that you can still visit without a crowd. Speaking of avoiding crowds, VISIT TARAKANIV FORT, which is somehow still flying under the tourist radar. Imagine being able to walk through an 18th-century fortress, hidden by the forest, with no more than 15 other people in the entire complex. Read about it more here.
All in all, Ukraine’s road-less-traveled reputation means that it has some of the most unique, untouched, and undiscovered sites in all of Europe.
2. It’s Authentic
If I had to describe Ukraine in one word, it would be “Authentic”. From the moment we went through customs and were met with a cheerful “Welcome to Ukraine”, we were blown away by the genuine hospitality of this country. Our guide for the Chernobyl tour, Alex, was the most passionate and understanding guide we’ve ever had. Two days later, our private driver, Mikola, spent the day taking us to the Tunnel of Love and Tarakaniv Fort. He was hired as a driver, but he turned into the best guide we could have asked for.
Kiev itself oozes authenticity. Even its tourist areas have very few people trying to get you to buy their items. You can easily sit down at a restaurant for hours and not have someone try to sell you flowers. I can honestly say that Kiev is one of the most relaxed capitals in Europe. And on the weekends, Independence Square is the place to be!
3. It Has a Fascinating History
When it comes to historic European countries, people tend to think of places like Italy and Greece. But Ukraine has its own fascinating history, especially when you research the many wars it’s been involved in. That’s one of the draws to Eastern Europe in general, and Ukraine is no different. Its bloody 20th century is saddening, intriguing, and gives you a whole new appreciation for its resilience. If you have any interest in the Soviet Union, the Cold War, or World War II, you owe it to yourself to visit Ukraine.
If you are already planning a trip to Europe, then you can afford to go to Ukraine. Courtny and I visited during peak season and stayed in an awesome AirBnB apartment in Kiev for less than $50/night.
On top of that, the food is delicious, filling, and affordable. Even the touristy restaurants will rarely cost more than $15 per person. And if you go outside of the main squares, it gets even better! Think dinner for two, including drinks, for less than $15 total.
Even the transportation is cheap. Two first-class train tickets for the 7-hour ride from Kiev to Lviv will cost $90 total. When you’re in the cities, it’s easy to Uber anywhere you need to go, oftentimes for less than $5.
5. Its Varied Culture
Last, but certainly not least, is the unique culture of Ukraine. Its bloody history has led to great variety in terms of the lifestyle and architecture of Ukraine. Lviv, close to the Polish border, has a distinctly European feel to it. The farther east you travel, the more that will change. By the time you reach Kiev, you’ll notice it looks nothing like Lviv. Instead of the elegant combination of Renaissance and Baroque styles, Kiev greets you with harsh, rigid, Soviet-era buildings. Of course, the culture changes with the buildings, as well. Considering Ukraine is the largest European country besides Russia, it should come as no surprise that it has some of the most variety of any European country.
Admittedly, Ukraine was never at the top of my European bucket list when I was younger. But the more I looked into going, the more excited I got for our trip. Now, after spending nearly two weeks there, I can’t wait to go back. So, if you’re planning a trip to Europe and want to visit somewhere off the beaten trail, why not Ukraine?