Yalta is a kitschy 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. Yalta is twinned with Margate in England.
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 Aerosvit 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, Tanin, 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 about a day.
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 3 hours and is very slow and uncomfortable, but you get wonderful views of the mountains). Please note that these trolley busses are very old so it might be better to take a mini bus, which is faster, more comfortable but a bit more expensive (2 Euro). The quickest, but most expensive way to get to Yalta (10 to 20 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.
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.
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. Best though to only eat HOT food, for safety's sake.
Try shopping in the many markets for local produce. There are great bargains to be had on meat and vegetables. You might have to overlook some of the health standards, but as long as you wash and cook the food well - you should not have a problem.
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.
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.
Take a trip to Balaklava (about 1 1/2 hours from Yalta). This beautiful harbor town overlooked by a Genoese fortress towers and walls, was hidden from visitors up to 1996 because of the Soviet submarine base that was buried in the hillside across the bay. The base was operational until 1991 and the last submarine left in 1996. This relic of the Cold War now contains a small museum which is worth a visit. Balaklava is best known for the ill fated British - Russian war of the 1850's and the famous "Charge of the Light Brigade" which took place in the valley about 4kms from the town. Balaklava is just waking up to its tourist potential with some new hotels and some great restaurants.
There are some 50 monuments in Balaklava to the heroic exploits of its soldiers, worth searching for if you can find them all!
Sevastopol is another place worth a visit. It is a busy bustling city of over a half a million people, famous for its many war monuments of the Second World War when the occupants held out against overwhelming Nazi troops to gain the name "City of Russian Glory". Home to the Ukrainian and Russian Black Sea fleets (a nice collection of rusting hulks). Make sure you visit the large markets for fantastic bargins on just about anything you can think of!
Simferopol the gateway to the Crimea Region. Not a lot to see except the wonderful Railway Station. Nice shopping areas, great bargins and plenty of places to eat.
Vorontsovsky Palace and park in Alupka is about 30 mins away by mini bus from Yalta and was home to Prince Mikhail Semyonovich Vorontsov, Russian Field Marshal known for his exploits during the Napoleonic Wars. The Palace is a mixture of Middle-Age and Moorish design which actually works really well. The Palace is overlooked by Ai-Petri.
Yalta Zoo - Well worth a trip out to see the animals. The Zoo is actually quite large and spread out with various types of animals from Lions to Bears to Monkeys. Some of the cages are a bit small, but the animals appear to be well looked after.
There is a small aquarium opposite the Zoo. Do not waste your time; you can be in and out of it in a blink of an eye, and not worth the entrance fee.