Odessa is a warm water port, but militarily it is of limited value. Turkey's control of the Dardanelles and Bosphorus has enabled NATO to control water traffic between Odessa and the Mediterranean Sea. The city of Odessa hosts two important ports: Odessa itself and Yuzhne (also an internationally important oil terminal), situated in the city's suburbs. Another important port, Illichivs'k, is located in the same oblast, to the south-west of Odessa. Together they represent a major transport hub integrating with railways. Odessa's oil and chemical processing facilities are connected to Russia's and EU's respective networks by strategic pipelines.
Odessa or Odesa (Ukrainian: Одеса; Russian: Одесса;) is the administrative centre of the Odessa Oblast (province) located in southern Ukraine. The city is a major seaport located on the shore of the Black Sea and the fourth largest city in Ukraine with a population of 1,029,000 (2001 census).
The predecessor of Odessa, a small Tatar settlement, was founded by Hacı I Giray, the Khan of Crimea, in 1240 and originally named after him as "Hacıbey". After a period of Lithuanian control, it passed into the domain of the Ottoman Sultan in 1529 and remained in Ottoman hands until the Ottoman Empire's defeat in the Russo-Turkish War of 1792. The city of Odessa was founded by a decree of the Empress Catherine the Great in 1794. From 1819–1858 Odessa was a free port. During the Soviet period it was the most important port of trade in the Soviet Union and a Soviet naval base. On January 1, 2000 the Quarantine Pier of Odessa trade sea port was declared a free port and free economic zone for a term of 25 years.
In the 19th century it was the fourth largest city of Imperial Russia, after Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Warsaw. Its historical architecture has a style more Mediterranean than Russian, having been heavily influenced by French and Italian styles. Some buildings are built in a mixture of different styles, including Art Nouveau, Renaissance and Classicist.
Four foreigners' in Russian service met by chance on a Russian military vessel in 1870s - Jose de Ribas, Duc de Richelieu, Count of Langeron and Franz de Volan. Later on, those four became instrumental in the city's success: the first one convinced the Russian Empress to found Odessa, the second made it the fourth largest city in Russia in just eleven years, the third one made it free economic zone and the fourth one created the city plan, used to build Odessa, which was considered the most advanced city plan in Russia at that time!
Ukrainian is the country's only official language, but the native language of most of the population in Odessa is Russian, although the majority of the people also understand Ukrainian. Young people tend to know English, although not many people can speak it fluently.
The best restaurants will have a menu in English if you ask them, but many cafes and bars might not have them.
Almost every one of the city's numerous colleges and universities have a ”Russian as foreign language” teaching department.
Odessa International Airport (IATA: ODS) has daily direct connections from and to Kyiv, Vienna, Istanbul, Warsaw, Budapest, Prague and Moscow. Several days a week there are also scheduled flights to Athens, Milan and St. Petersburg. You can also fly to Riga 3 days per week in summer via AirBaltic, which offers low-cost connections from many European cities through Riga. Be careful when you will wait for the luggage because it doesn't come in a classical baggage carousel but you have to wait on the STREET in front of the airport for the airport truck similar to the tractor.
The airport is easily reachable from city centre, as well as other districts by a number of minibuses. Bus № 129 links an airport with the railway station making stops in the Cherjomushki district. Mashrutka № 117 also connects with city centre. To find the minibuses exit the airport through the main entrance and turn right, then walk 50 metres and you will see the minibus stop.
Caution must be exercised through the airport and customs. Do not take photos of the airport - you will be told not to. Stand behind the line. Travel with little or no cash. You will be asked how much cash you have in your possession and your purpose in Ukraine. If your purpose is a romantic interest, you may be charged USD100 per present for your loved one.
As soon as you exit the customs, there will be lots of taxi drivers asking you if you need a taxi. Their prices are VERY high and they basically rip tourists off, so do not agree, or at least negotiate as fiercely as you can. The normal ride to the city center should not cost more than UAH50 (USD6.5). It's better to call one of the taxis listed below in our #Get around section.
All direct sleeper trains from central Europe have now been discontinued, a change in Kiev is necessary. However there are still services from Minsk (22h) and Grodno (26½h) on irregular dates. There is a daily train from Chişinău taking five hours too (but it passes by Transnistria which involves some risk - a bus is safer). Connections with Russia is still plenty though with trains from Moscow (26h) and Saint Petersburg (34h) 3-4 times each week. Chelyabinsk (67h) in the Urals and Sochi (33h) at the Black Sea both have services a few times a week while the train from Baku (77h) in Azerbaijan leaves once a week, on Wednesdays. Domestic train services is available from all major cities in Ukraine. Also notice that additional trains are added during the summer months. Trains run from Lvov very regularly and take around 12 hours.
Odessa has several stations but all international and long-distance domestic services arrive at Odessa Glavnaya, located in the central part of the city and easily reached by bus and tram. Be aware that the station is rather chaotic, has no signs in English nor is there a help, tourist, or information desk. As well, be aware that purchasing tickets you need to be in the right lane on the right floor! Keep in mind, Ukrainians think little of jumping in front in lines, the uniforms at the station will do little to nothing for you.
Buses provide connection to Moldova, either through Transnistria or directly to the right-bank part of Moldova. An average trip to Chişinău takes about 5 hours and costs around €6 one-way. Domestic buses are plenty and usually cheap.
Tickets for coaches to travel to Ukraine, you can buy online.
Autolux offers comfortable bus connections from Kyiv to Odessa and back 6 times per day. You will arrive at the bus station and the ticket now costs UAH150 or UAH200 one way (20 or 25 US dollars). You may also use this bus to get to Odessa directly from Kyiv Boryspil airport, in that case it will cost UAH190 or UAH240. Some of the buses are extra-comfortable, hence the difference in price. You may check the schedule on their website, it's in Russian, Ukrainian and English. In any case you'll get air conditioning, comfortable seats and some hot tea or water if you'll ask. Unfortunately, they like to turn on some loud Russian movies which are impossible to turn off, so bring an mp3-player and some headphones.
Touring Eurolines offers bus connections from Germany to Odessa (€120). The trip from Berlin takes approximately one and a half days.
A regular ferry sails to Illichevsk, the harbour of Odessa, from Batumi and Poti in Georgia, about 42 hours of sailing across the Black Sea. The Morvokzal marine terminal is located just underneath Primorsky Parkway. The famous Potemkin Steps are leading to it from the monument of the Duke De Richelieu. It is reachable by several buses and jitneys, as well as trolleybus № 10.
Hitchhiking is also an option, especially on the road from Kiev which is one of the best in the country.
The public transport in Odessa consists of trams, trolleybuses and mini-buses (called marshrutkas), running throughout the city. Trams and trolley-buses are the cheapest, they cost UAH1.50 (USD0.20), but may get very crowded, especially in the tourist peak season. There is no schedule that you may find on the marked stops, so you will just have to stand and wait for the next tram or trolley. In most of trams and trolleys there is a person who's "patrolling" the tram/trolley and collecting the money. Just give him/her the money, you'll instead receive a ticket and the change if necessary. There is no need to validate the ticket, unlike the other big Ukrainian cities like Kyiv and Lviv, you just have to buy the ticket on board, and there are no inspectors checking your tickets and issuing fines.
In some of the trolleybuses (definitely in numbers 1 and 2) there is no one going and collecting the money from you, so you have to exit through the front door and pay the driver. In such a case you may get onto the trolleybus through any of the doors, but exit only through the front.
Tip: you may try to avoid tram number 5 in the summer, it gets VERY crowded, as it takes all the tourists to and from the beaches, and it goes also through the main city market. It might be a good idea to use this tram in the colder times of the year.
Mini-buses called "marshrutkas" are the main source of transportation in the city, as they cover a lot more ground than the system of public transportation. They are all private and nowadays most of them cost 2.50 UAH (0.30 USD), you pay the money to the driver when you exit the marshrutka. There is also no schedule for marshrutkas and they also do not stop only on the marked stops. Basically, you can stop a marshrutka anywhere, provided it is not illegal to stop in that area, by waving your hand in front of the driver. You can also exit by saying where you need for the marshrutka to stop. Thus it requires some knowledge of Russian or active engagement of other passenegers into the solution of your problem. You may try to find the suitable marshrutka, tram or trolley on the website, which is unfortunately only in Russian. If you know the name of your street in Cyrillic and can use Google Translate, you may just manage that.
It is somewhat difficult to get around Odessa by car, because there is a lack of signs. You will see some "Kyiv" or "Airport" signs, but just from time to time. Buy a map before you get in. Nevertheless, you can drive your own car in the whole city, including the city centre. There are no restrictions in the driving areas and parking places can be found even in the centre. There are no parking machines and sometimes you may wonder whether the place is free to park. Don't worry, you may park you car unless there is a sign that prohibits it. If the parking area is not free, you will be approached by a guy demanding some UAH5-10 from you. You may try negotiating a lower price, but usually not lower than UAH5, if you indicate you will be parked for a short time, like 30-60 minutes for example.
Taxis are exceptionally dishonest in Odessa, even by former USSR standards, but the rest of the public transportation is so poor and so confusing they may be your only option sometimes.
Most taxis in Odessa are operated as "car-calling services". So you have to call the number and the car will come for you. Some of the numbers for the taxi are:
The phone operators might not at all speak English, so try at your own risk or ask your Ukrainian friends to call a taxi for you. The usual price for the taxi is UAH25-50, sometimes up to UAH80-100 if you travel to the outskirts of the city.
The alternative taxi option is to raise your hand on the crowded street and wait for a taxi to stop. You need to understand the majority of taxis in Odessa are not marked in any taxi colours. There is also a long-time tradition of "carpooling" for money, you raise and wave your hand on the street and any car can stop and ask you where you want to go and how much are you willing to pay. Many drivers thus can save some money on their way to work, or even earn some extra money in their free time. It is usually quite safe, although, as always, exercise caution, always negotiate the fee beforehand and remember that people may try to rip you off because you are foreigners and do not speak the local language.
The most interesting thing to see in Odessa is the old town itself. The city was once the center for trade for the Russian Empire as well as an intellectual and artistic centre prior to the revolution and during the Soviet Union. Much of the grandeur of the city dates from the period before the Soviet takeover and subsequently Odessa shows its age.
The economic hardships that befell the city falling the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992 have left vast portions of what was a magnificently wealthy old city in a state of total disrepair. The old city though is quite clean and feels very safe so it makes for a good two days worth of casual unguided wandering particularly with the wide tree lined avenues and large open parks.
In the much smaller and better kept part of the old town there is a large and beautiful Opera house and some very nice parks. There is also one main street leading through the centre that is vibrant with people selling street goods to tourists.
If you're looking for a nice route in a city center, try go from Grecheskaya square through Gavannaya st., then onto Gogolya street, in the end of which turn right and you will see Tyoschin bridge (Mother-in-law bridge). Walk through the bridge and take a stroll along the Primorskiy boulevard. In the end of the boulevard you'll see the city hall. Turn right and go up to the Opera House, from where you can get to Deribasovskaya street. It's especially beautiful in the evening.
Also there are many interesting museums in Odessa.
Most of the city waterfront, except the port territory, forms a beach zone. All of the beaches are located at the eastern edge of Odessa. The most popular beaches are the following: listed according to their distance from city center.
Go to the Privoz market by the station - one of the biggest in the ex-USSR. Lots of cheap vegetables and fruits. Try the pakhlava - the Ukrainian version of baklava.
There are lots of cafes and restaurants in Odessa, with more and more opening each year. The prices are quite affordable, if you come from the west. Expect to pay 70-100 UAH for a lunch in a cafe and around 200 UAH in a restaurant. Some restaurants can be of course very expensive, so take a look at the menu before ordering. In the warmer times of the year you can find lots of outdoor sitting areas in the cafes, with blankets usually available to keep you warm in the evening.
The 'fast food' on the street is tasty and if you don't speak Russian or read Cyrillic is much more accessible as you can just point at what it is you want. Menus are usually only in Russian, but you may try to ask for an English menu for you (ask in Russian for "menu po angliyski"). If they don't have one, either have an idea of what you want before you sit down or be prepared to randomly pick something from the menu. It's possible that waitresses can also speak basic English, try to ask for recommendations.
Food from street vendors, especially at the open air markets, should be approached with the same caution as you would display anywhere. It can be fantastic, or not. There are many supermarkets in Odessa that have high quality foods that you can buy as an alternative. There are several McDonald's restaurants in the city (str. Deribasovskaya 23, Privokzalnaya square 1a).
Generally, if you're looking for a place to eat, try to pick one in the city center that looks nice but not too expensive. There are lots of places for what could be called "middle class" with enjoyable atmosphere and good food, but random picking can of course lead to bad food and bad service.
The beer served in the south of Ukraine is outstanding and goes excellently with the hearty food. In the words of one not so impartial citizen of Central Europe who visited the country, 'Hey, this is as good as Czech beer!?!' A beer in a restaurant will usually cost around 2-3 USD for local beers and 4-6 USD for imported brands. There are several breweries in the area nearby Odessa, but they are usually not very popular in the restaurants. However, there is a small restaurant-brewery right in the "City Garden" near Deribasovskya, their beer is rather good and they have an English menu. Just look for a sign that says Hausbrauerei (German for Home Brewery) and tell them you just want to have a drink at the bar unless you want to have dinner there of course.
Long-lasting traditions of wine production in neighbouring Moldova and Crimea make Odessa an excellent place for wine lovers. Must taste: Negro de Purcari, Pino and famous sweet Kagor from Moldova, Massandra Portwine and Muscat from Crimea.
In the big supermarkets and in shops with alcoholic drink specialization you can find a full assortment of alcoholic drinks from beer to absinthe and from local brands to world famous brands.
In non-alcoholic drinks here is a large quantity of various brands (foreign: Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Fanta, Sprite, BonAqua etc.; national: Obolon', Bon-Boisson, Prem'era, Kuyal'nik, etc.; local: Kristall, Green Star, Dana, etc.).
The nightlife of Odessa is concentrated in the 'Arcadia' district, some 8 km away from the city center. In Odessa you have to pay to enter a club, the rates are around 70-80 UAH as of June 2011, but can be higher in particular clubs. A taxi to Arkadia should cost 30-40 UAH; beware of the taxi drivers who are waiting for you when you leave Arkadia at night, their tariffs are super-high and they can be rude and intimidating. Call a taxi or walk 500 meters further where you can negotiate a much lower price. To get from Arkadia at night to the central part of the city would be 30-40 UAH, to Tairovo or Cheremushki - 50 UAH.
Accommodation is plentiful in Odessa and ranges from renting a small room from a local resident to registered hostels, to the more expensive hotels.
Beware of filthy conditions and bedbugs in some of the homestay budget accommodation in Odessa. If you enter by train you will be immediately approached by one of the many locals in an attempt to get you to rent a room from them. This may end up being a small not so well constructed (but basically clean) one room structure located in their garden. It may also not come with a shower with running water, instead consisting of a small outdoor cabinet with a tank located above it that your host will fill with hot water upon request. Additionally the local accommodation will most likely have a squat toilet. For those uncomfortable with using a squat toilet the facilities at the McDonald's near the train station make for a good substitute. Note that nobody speaks English or German (even the most basic talk). This makes the negotiations very difficult! In July/August most budget hotels are fully booked. The total price for your garden residency will usually not exceed 10 USD and in the summer it is more than sufficient. The hostels in the city can be booked online or try your luck and just drop in.
Avoid International Hostel-Apartment Kovalevsky (24 Kovalevskaja Str), as the owner may fail to be there when you arrive and you may be stuck without accomodation!
Always carry your passport (or a good colour photocopy) with you. The police in Odessa, as in all of Ukraine, are notoriously corrupt and constantly on the look out for tourists to harass with the aim of fining them for breaking some imagined rule or law. Use common sense and caution around rowdy groups and drunks in the city, unless you speak good Russian.
Be very careful in the Arkadia district at night, as it might be not safe in the darker areas. Try to be with someone who knows the clubs and the places and speaks Russian.