Yalta is a place, with memories from 19th century VIPs who came to cure their illnesses, as well as from communist-era citizens who got the privilege to go there and take it easy. Today it's a tourist trap in beautiful surroundings.
In the summer months it can get very crowded, but in the autumn the weather can still be warm and pleasant. In October for example, the temperature can still get to the high 20s. Winters are not as cold in Yalta as the rest of Ukraine. Protected from the North by the mountains and warmed by the Black Sea, there is never a lot of snow in the winter, but beware of the winds as they can be bitingly cold.
English is not widely spoken in the Crimea, but it is understood by most young people. Russian is the main language spoken in the Crimea, as well as Ukrainian and Tatar. The people are very friendly and crime in this city of over 80,000 people is low. Tourists are safe as long as they follow sensible rules: don't flash your cash, avoid unlit pathways at night (if only to avoid the drunks), and don't let strangers buy you drinks in places you do not know.
Kiev airport (Boryspil) is usually the first stop on the way to Yalta. Please note this airport is not very big (more the size of a regional airport) - it is always crowded and some staff do not understand English. If you want to transfer from Kiev to Simferopol, you need to turn left out of Terminal B's (the International Terminal) doors and walk about 200 metres to Terminal A (internal connections). Terminal A is small, cold in the winter and boiling hot in the summer.
You can fly to Simferopol from Kiev on low-cost Air Onix or Ukraine Airlines(there not many flights a day 3 at the most - so be prepared for a long wait in Terminal A. There are a number of airlines that fly directly to Simferopol (from Frankfurt, Talin, Istanbul etc). You can also take a train from Kiev to Simferopol. It is much cheaper than flying if you are on a tight budget and have a lot of time on your hands. Take the usual precautions if you go by train: lock your cabin doors at night, keep all your valuables with you, and don't invite strangers into your cabin. The train journey takes slightly more than half a day.
By bus/trolley bus
From Simferopol Airport in the north of the city (Simferopol is the capital of the Region of Crimea) you can go the scenic way on the trolley bus to Yalta - this is the longest trolley bus route in the world (it takes about 2.5 hours and is very slow and a bit uncomfortable, but you get wonderful views of the mountains). Please note that some of these trolley buses are very old. However, more and more trolley buses are being replaced by newer models, which are quite comfortable.
Or take a mini bus, which is faster, more comfortable but a bit more expensive (3 Euro).
The quickest, but most expensive way to get to Yalta (30 to 40 Euro is a typical one way fare)) is by taxi, it takes just over an hour depending on the age of the taxi or the skill of the taxi driver in avoiding the potholes in the roads.
WARNING: Unless you are a native of Istanbul or a similar town with EXTREMELY narrow, unmarked and blind one way and 1.5 way streets with steep hills, do not attempt to drive into this city. Google/Apple maps are no match for this town and should not be trusted beyond the highways and major roads.
Most people use the local mini buses, very cheap and lots of them. Some you pay for when you get on board and some when you get off, which is slightly confusing at times! Taxis are everywhere; some are genuine, and some are just people offering you a ride for a fare. Speaking English means the fare goes up, but it is still very reasonable, so learn to haggle - if the price is too high walk away as there will always be someone else to barter with.
Yalta is a city that is spread out over a large area (Greater Yalta). The centre and harbor is a great place to walk around, but just beware of the local drivers as they tend not to give way for pedestrians. Traffic in the city in the summer months is heavy and you can be stuck in a jam if you go by a motor vehicle. Sometimes you may find it is much quicker to walk. The locals always dress up and walk around the harbor front at night - it's a great way to pass the evening away, or you can watch the people go by by enjoying a drink at one of many cafes. The waterfront is well over a mile long - from McDonald's on the East end to the Hotel Oreanda on the West. Walk the length to choose your beach, which will be somewhat "rocky".
You can also use the ferries to visit better beaches or Swallows Nest (famous folly perched on a cliff and now an Italian restaurant). Luxury cruise ships visit Yalta during the summer, on their way around the Black Sea, which is certainly a nice way to travel.
Learn some Russian before you visit, even simple phrases will be very useful. Make sure you visit Ai-Petri (St Peter) the peak that overlooks Yalta. Take the cable car to the top of the mountain (one of the longest cable car rides in Europe). The views are great.
Understand that this is a developing country, not long out of Soviet control, so many of the services etc are not up to Western standards. Banks and ATMs are plentiful and exchange rates are pretty good.
Explore the region around Yalta - it is steeped in history and there are many interesting places to visit within an hour's mini bus ride from the city.
Do be aware in the summer months Yalta is one of the main destinations for Russian and Ukrainians to take their holidays, so it becomes very crowded.
All areas of Crimea are famous for their red onions. It is said that they used to be much sweeter than they are now, but they are still a delicacy that are quite expensive elsewhere in Ukraine.
Vodka is very cheap and plentiful - you will be amazed at the many varieties available. Take a trip down to the souvenir shops located on the far side of the harbor (the other side from McDonalds), for numerous trinkets and other interesting reminders of Yalta. Beware if you speak English that the prices tend to go up!
Honey It is the best honey from Ukraine! in this region you can buy almost everywhere fresh honey from apiary the best prices during the summer time.
Crimean Wine The entire region of Crimea is famous for it's unique wines which it owes to it's coastal sub-tropical micro-climates. Well known brands such as Massandra wine make an excellent drink and gift to bring back home. With the typical red wines being similar in flavor to Port, but slightly less strong in alcohol and more fruity and the white wines having a sweet, honey like desert wine taste and a strong whiskey like kick. Highly recommended!
Souvenirs The embankment area of Yalta is filled with all manner of market stalls selling everything from Crimea and Yalta souvenirs to beautiful hand crafted paintings, carvings and other art pieces.
Clothes If you have a grasp of Russian or a local companion, why not explore the immense clothes markets of Yalta,where you can purchase top quality clothing, fabrics and foot ware imported from places like Turkey, at prices that you would seldom find in the west.
There are several very nice little cafes at the main market (Ovoshnoi Rynok). They are not expensive, and are cleaner and serve fresher food than many in other areas. They have quite a good selection of food and it is well prepared. Food hygiene is rarely an issue in Crimea as they are a meticulously clean people. As long as you use commons sense you should have no issues.Try shopping in the many markets for local produce. There are great bargains to be had on meat and vegetables. Ukraine also has a wide variety of unique sweets, cakes and bakery which cost little and taste great!
There's a nice cafe located just over the little bridge at the McDonalds (at the port). You need to enter a building and go to the highest floor to reach it. It's not something most people dare, but if you do it you're rewarded with a great view of the town, and nice cocktails.
To get the best Vodka, take a visit to one or two of the supermarkets outside the city centre and you will find a great selection at prices you will not believe.
There is more to Yalta, and Crimea than just a wide variety of Vodka! Why not try the Crimean wines! The entire region of Crimea is famous for it's unique wines which it owes to it's coastal sub-tropical micro-climates. Well known brands such as Massandra wine make an excellent drink and gift to bring back home. With the typical red wines being similar in flavor to Port, but slightly less strong in alcohol and more fruity and the white wines having a sweet, honey like desert wine taste and a strong whiskey like kick. Highly recommended!
If you prefer beer then you will find a wide variety of Russian, Polish and Ukrainian beer which is usually very cheap by Western standards. Tasty too!
In Yalta during the summer the city is packed with tourists, mainly from Russia or other parts of the Ukraine. You will find a lot of Germans and Italians too. This means there are lots of apartments for rent, and some very nice hotels too. Apartments come in all shapes and sizes. Do not expect Western standards a lot of the time.
You will often find some of the best apartments are housed in buildings which look pretty shabby from the outside but inside are well furnished, and with air conditioning, this is must for the summer when it can become very hot and humid.
A word of warning if you rent an apartment in the summer, make sure you always put out the garbage (in one of the street garbage collection points) or you will attract giant roaches! Trust me they are big and persistent!
Prices vary from $50 a night up to $200+ per night for apartments with all the mod cons. The closer you are to the beach the more expensive prices become. Apartments further away from the centre might also have their water turned off at night - its a common thing in the Ukraine, be warned! You might also suffer power cuts, but this all adds to the local flavour.
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