Earth : Europe : Ukraine : Southern Ukraine : Odesa
Odesa is a city of regional significance, one of the biggest in Ukraine, a country in Eastern Europe. It used to be the most populous city in Ukraine in the second half of 19th century until it was beaten by Kyiv.
Odesa is a warm water port that is usually regarded as tourist destination among Ukrainians for summer trips. Militarily it has a limited value. Turkey's control of the Dardanelles and Bosphorus has enabled NATO to control water traffic between Odesa and the Mediterranean Sea.
The city of Odesa hosts two important ports: Odesa itself and Pivdennyi (also an internationally important oil terminal), situated in the city's suburbs. Another important port, Illichivs'k, is located in the same region, to the south-west of Odesa. Together they represent a major transport hub integrating with the Ukrainian railway system. Odesa's oil and chemical processing facilities are connected to Russia's and EU's respective networks by pipelines.
Odesa (Ukrainian: Одеса) is the administrative centre of the Odesa Oblast (province/region) located in southern part of 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 Odesa, 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 Odesa was founded by a decree of the Empress Catherine the Great in 1794. From 1819–1858 Odesa was a free port. During the Soviet occupation 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 Odesa 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, 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 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 Empress to found Odesa, 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 Odesa, which was considered the most advanced city plan at that time.
Most locals understand Ukrainian: Ukrainian is the country's only official language. However, the native language of most of Odesa is Russian. Almost every one of the city's numerous colleges and universities has a ”Russian as foreign language” teaching department.
Young people probably know some English, although not many can speak it fluently. Although most cafes and bars will not have a menu in English, the best restaurants will: you might need to ask.
Odesa International Airport (IATA: ODS) has daily direct connections from and to Kyiv, Vienna, Istanbul, Warsaw, Budapest, Minsk, Munich and Prague. Several days a week there are also scheduled flights to Athens, Dubai, Milan, St.Petersburg and Tel-Aviv. You can also fly to Riga. Besides the flights accessible trough the ticket search engines, there's also the Bravo airways, selling the tickets from Kyiv (IEV) to Odesa and back for 1485 ₴ ($53) one way.
The airport is easily reachable from city centre, as well as other districts by minibus. Bus 129 links the airport with the railway station making stops in the Cheriomushky district. Minibus 117 (UAH 5) also connects with the city centre, going up Katerynynska Street at least as far as Burina Street. 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. Trolleybus 14 is an efficient and cheap (UAH 3, $0,107) way to reach the main railway station from the airport and vice versa. The stop is on the right hand side as you exit the airport gate. Note that the tram may or may not come, and as you wait you'll notice more than one minibus 117 arriving and departing nearby during the time you wait. The tram also doesn't go into the the center but instead goes around it.
As soon as you exit the customs, there will be lots of taxi drivers asking you if you need a taxi. Their prices may be 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 UAH 100 ($3.55 as of Jan 2018). It's better to call one of the taxis listed below in our #Get around section.
Caution must be exercised through the airport and customs. Do not take photos of the airport. 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. Maximum duty-free amount of cash you may take to Ukraine is EUR 10 000 or less.
There is a daily High Speed train to Kyiv from Odesa (called "Inter-city", 7 hours). All direct sleeper trains from central Europe have now been discontinued, a change in Kyiv 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 are 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 are available from all major cities in Ukraine. Also notice that additional trains are added during the summer months. Trains run from Lviv regularly and take around 12 hours.
Odesa has several stations but all international and long-distance domestic services arrive at Odesa-Main, 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.
Frequent 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 along the best roads in Moldova and costs around €5.50-7.50 one-way. Domestic buses are plenty and usually cheap.
Central bus station routs. Odesa, st. Kolontaevska, 58, tel. +380 (48) 732-56-93, +380 (48) 732-56-90
Tickets for coaches to Ukraine may be bought online.
Comfortable bus connections from Kyiv to Odesa and back 6 times per day. You will arrive at the bus station and the ticket now costs UAH350 (EUR 10.50 as of Jan 2018) one way. You may also use this bus to get to Odesa directly from Kyiv Boryspil airport . Air conditioning, comfortable seats and some hot tea or water if you'll ask. Unfortunately, they like to turn on some loud movies which are impossible to turn off, so bring an mp3-player and some headphones.
A regular ferry sails to Illichivsk, the harbour of Odesa, from Batumi and Poti in Georgia, about 42 hours of sailing across the Black Sea. The Sea Port marine terminal is located just underneath Prymorskyi 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 Kyiv which is one of the best in the country.
The public transport in Odesa consists of trams, trolleybuses and mini-buses (called marshrutkas), running throughout the city. Trams and trolley-buses are the cheapest, they cost UAH3 ($0.107, as of Jan 2018), 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 "marshrutka" in Ukrainian language and 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 5.00 UAH (0.15 EUR, Jan 2018), you pay the money to the driver when you exit the the minibus. There is also no schedule for minibuses and they also do not stop only on the marked stops. Basically, you can ask to stop a minibus 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 minibus to stop. Thus it requires some knowledge of Ukrainian. Other passengers will usually help you. You may try to find the suitable minibus, tram or trolley on the  (also available in English). If you know the name of your street in Cyrillic and can use Google Translate, you may just manage that. Google maps is also a good option for routes search.
It is somewhat difficult to get around Odesa by car, because there is a lack of signs other than in Ukrainian. 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 Odesa, but the rest of the public transportation is so poor and so confusing they may be your only option sometimes. However Uber drivers are available in the whole city.
Most taxis in Odesa are operated as "car-calling services". So you have to call the number and the car will come for you. Some taxis 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 UAH50-100 (€1.5-2.95 as of Jan 2018), sometimes up to UAH150 (€4.45 as of Apr 2017) 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 Odesa 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 Odesa 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 occupation. Much of the grandeur of the city dates from the period before the Soviet takeover and subsequently Odesa shows its age.
The economic hardships that befell the city falling the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 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 Greek square through Gavannaya st., then onto Gogol' street, in the end of which turn right and you will see the "Mother-in-law bridge". Walk through the bridge and take a stroll along the Prymorskyi 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 Derybasivska street. It's especially beautiful in the evening.
Also there are many interesting museums in Odesa.
Most of the city waterfront, except the port territory, forms a beach zone. All of the beaches are located at the eastern edge of Odesa. The most popular beaches are the following: listed according to their distance from city center.
Go to the Pryviz 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.
Or you can visit a 7 mile market - one of the biggest in Ukraine.
There are lots of cafes and restaurants in Odesa, 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 per person. 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 Ukrainian or read Cyrillic is much more accessible as you can just point at what it is you want. Menus are usually only in Russian and Ukrainian, but you may try to ask for an English menu for you (ask for "menu anhliiskoiu"). 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 Odesa that have high quality foods that you can buy as an alternative. There are several McDonald's restaurants in the city (str. Derybasivska 23, Pryvokzalna 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 Odesa, but they are usually not very popular in the restaurants. However, there is a small restaurant-brewery right in the "City Garden" near Derybasivska, 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 Odesa 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'nyk, etc.; local: Krystall, Green Star, Dana, etc.).
The nightlife of Odesa is concentrated in the 'Arcadia' district, some 8 km away from the city center. In Odesa you have to pay to enter a club, the rates are around 120-150 UAH as of June 2019, 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 Odesa 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 Odesa. 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 Kovalevskyi (24 Kovalevska Str), as the owner may fail to be there when you arrive and you may be stuck without accomodation!
Street crime (pickpocketing and scamming) can be seen, particularly in crowded places, in tourist areas, in bars and nightclubs and on public transportation, especially after nightfall. This includes muggings. Armed robbery can also occur, especially in the peripherial neighbourhoods.
Always carry your passport (or a good colour photocopy) with you. The police in Odesa, as in all of Ukraine, can check your documents any time. Also in case if something happens you will be more protected with your documents. Police in Ukraine has been improved recently, there are a lot of young policemen and they are usually friendly and try to help if you ask then something. Don't be afraid to ask them directions or help.
Be careful in the Arkadia district at night, as it might be not safe in the darker areas. It is advised to be with someone who knows the clubs and the places and speaks Russian or Ukrainian.