- 14 May
- 16 July
- 12 May next year
- 14 July.
On the frontiers of Europe and Asia, Ukraine isn’t the obvious choice for a holiday destination. One of Europe’s least visited nations, it has languished in the Soviet shadow for decades, hidden from the rest of the world with the result that few are aware of its charms. This trip will astound travelers with the varied delights of this charming nation and make you wonder why you’ve never visited before.
Starting in Kiev we explore the rich cultural heritage and exquisite monuments of this important city, before heading to Lviv, one of the most elegant cities ion the old Soviet Union and a delight to explore. But you haven’t really experienced Ukraine until you’ve spent time in its glorious countryside. We stay in the Carpathian Mountains, a treasure house of traditional culture and spectacular scenery, with impressive wildlife and colorful customs.
Staying in a local home allows us to really gain an insight into rural life and is one of the highlights of this tour. We then travel to Odessa, rich in revolutionary history, and then on to the Crimea, a legendary land of cave cities, Tatar heritage and opulent palaces where we also have a chance to sample the excellent local wine. Ukraine has so much to offer that it is a wonder it has not been discovered by mass tourism. Until it is, enjoy the feeling of being a true travel pioneer in your discovery of this captivating country.
Day 1: Kiev. Arrive in Kiev and transfer to your hotel. Depending on when you arrive there may be time to explore the city. Overnight Rus Hotel or similar.
Kiev: Kiev is one of the oldest cities in the region, founded back ion the 5th century and becoming an important center of Slavic culture. Falling under the rule of the Varangians some time later it became the capital of Rus, benefiting from its position on the trade routes between Scandinavia and the Byzantine Empire and becoming infused with a wide variety of cultural influences which remain today. Over its time, Kiev has been sacked by the Mongols, incorporated within the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and then absorbed into Russia and the Soviet Union.
Straddling the banks of the Dnepr River, Kiev is Ukraine’s most cosmopolitan city, and a real mix of old and new. With a historic old quarter, the city is packed full of monuments, the most famous being the Lavra cave monastery, a collection of underground chambers and spectacular churches dating back to the 11th century. Kiev is a city with an enormous amount of churches and cathedrals, with a particular style that looks almost Russian but is unique to Ukraine, and in many areas these dominate the skyline, reminding visitors of the intense respect that ordinary Ukrainians have for religion. But perhaps one of Kiev’s greatest delights is simply walking around the city and seeing where you end up, discovering for yourself its corners, streets and cafes and immersing yourself in Ukrainian culture.
Day 2: Kiev. This morning we explore some of the key sights of Kiev, including the ancient ‘onion-domed’ St Sophia Cathedral, its bustling main boulevard Kreschatyk, and the Golden Gates, the only remaining section of ancient Kiev’s original fortifications. This afternoon we head the Lavra cave monastery complex, with its stunning churches and underground tunnels. This evening we may have the opportunity to visit the opera, if you wish (depending on availability and dates of performance). Overnight Hotel Rus or similar. Includes: (B).
Day 3: Kiev - Lviv. Morning visit to the Pyrohovo Museum of Folk Architecture, a recreated village which contains excellent examples of traditional Ukrainian buildings in an open air setting. Free afternoon to explore more of Kiev before we board the overnight train to Lviv. Includes: (B).
Day 4: Lviv. Early arrival into Lviv where we have a little time to freshen up before heading out to explore the city. Lviv is renowned as one of the prettiest towns in Ukraine and its historic center has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We take in some of its highlights including the Opera House, the Dominican Church and the fascinating Lykachivsky Cemetery, one of the oldest graveyards in Europe. Overnight Hotel Dnister or similar. Includes: (B).
Lviv: Lviv is a fantastically eclectic city with a wide variety of architectural styles combining to create a place with a split personality, but which somehow definitely works. Founded in the 13th century, Lviv is almost dripping with history, and walking around its wide boulevards and large squares you will see Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture among many other types.
Its medieval atmosphere harks back to days when Lviv was at the forefront of regional events, and it was once a wealthy trading center. Unlike many other cities in Ukraine, it mainly escaped the terrible destruction wrought by Nazi bombers in World War Two, and its charming streets make it one of the most exciting places in Ukraine to explore. Lviv has been named as the best place in Ukraine to live, and wandering around its historic center it is easy to see why.
Day 5: Kamyanets-Podilsky – Ivano-Frankovsk. Drive to Kamyanets-Podilsky, an attractive town dramatically situated on an island of rock and surrounded by a river. We visit the 11th century castle, one of Ukraine’s most impressive, as well as the old quarter with its colourful buildings. We then head to Ivano-Frankovsk to spend the night. (Overnight Auscoprut Hotel or similar. Includes: (B).
Day 6: Ivano-Frankovsk – Carpathian Mountains. This morning we take a brief tour around Ivano-Frankovsk, the economic center of the Carpathians before we head into the mountains. We stay on a local farmstead in Verkhovyna, a picturesque and very typical Carpathian village which is a superb base for exploring the mountains and the intriguing communities that live here. Includes: (B), (D).
The Carpathians: The Carpathian Mountains stretch across a wide part of Eastern Europe, encompassing parts of Romania, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary and Serbia. Rich in wildlife they are home to some of Europe’s last remaining populations of large mammals, with bears, wolves and lynx to be found prowling through the forests. The birdlife here is equally spectacular, with raptors such as eagles a frequent sighting. This is one of the most pristine environments to be found on the continent and excellent walking country, with superb views to be had from every angle and the possibility of seeing wildlife adding further excitement. The mountains are also home to isolated rural communities of Hutsul people, who use the region for pasture for their flocks.
Day 7: Carpathian Mountains. We spend today exploring this spectacular region. From our base we take walks in the surrounding countryside, hoping to see wildlife such as bears, and also explore the local Hutsul culture and villages. Staying here is like stepping back in time, to a rural idyll far from the stress of urban life, and we can see how age old traditions are still followed in this remote but beautiful corner of Ukraine. During our time here we enjoy typical home cooked Hutsul dinners in our cottage. This is an incredible way to experience a way of life that has long since disappeared from the rest of Europe. Overnight on local farmstead. Includes: (B), (D).
Hutsul people: The Hutsuls are a distinct ethnic group that live in Ukraine’s mountains. Their origins are shrouded in mystery and they speak a unique language found nowhere else and unintelligible to the rest of the population – in many ways they can be considered as following the most traditional lifestyle in Ukraine. Hutsul culture is centered around forestry and livestock, and is represented through their craftsmanship; weaving, pottery and woodworking are typical manifestations of Hutsul crafts. The Hutsul place importance on social customs including dancing and like their language many Hutsul musical instruments are also unique.
Day 8: Carpathian Mountains – Lviv - Odessa. Spend the morning exploring the area further before we transfer back to Lviv to take the overnight train to Odessa. Includes: (B).
Day 9: Odessa. Arrive in Odessa, and after breakfast explore this historic city. Odessa’s location on the Black Sea has meant that it has sat astride important trade routes and been a crossroads of cultures for centuries. We visit the legendary Potemkin Steps – pivotal in the 1905 Russian Revolution, as well as its Opera House, considered to be one of the most beautiful in Europe. The afternoon is free to explore this vibrant seaside city. Overnight Chernoye More New Hotel or similar. Includes: (B).
Odessa: Odessa was an incredibly important city in both pre-revolutionary and Soviet Russia, with its access to the Black Sea and beyond. Dating back to the 3rd century, it was only captured by Russia in 1789 – prior to that it had fallen under Tatar control. Its status as a free port meant that immense wealth passed through it, with the result that it underwent a huge and rather elegant period of construction back in the early 19th century. 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. Odessa is blessed with elegant palaces and graceful boulevards, making it a delightful place to stroll around and one of Ukraine’s most pleasant cities.
Day 10: Odessa - Simferopol. We take an excursion to the nearby catacombs at Nerubaiskoye, once used by wine merchants, smugglers and resistance groups in World War Two. After a free afternoon we then board the overnight train to Simferopol. Includes: (B).
Day 11: Simferopol – Bakhchisarai - Yalta. Arrive in Simferopol and transfer to Bakhchisarai, once the capital of the Crimean Tatar khanate. We visit the Khan’s Palace to wander around its courtyards and mosque and gain a glimpse of what life was once like for the rulers of this region. Afterward we travel to the ancient cave city of Chufut Kale, with its well preserved streets and ruins, before heading to Yalta on the coast to spend the night. Overnight Yalta Hotel or similar. Includes: (B).
Crimean khanate: The Crimean khanate was one of the foremost powers in Eastern Europe right up until the 18th century. It came into being following Mongol raids on the region in the 13th century – afterward some made this their permanent home and carved out an existence for an independent state which lasted until Russian expansion in the region led to it being absorbed in 1772.
The Tatars of the khanate proved to be a real thorn in the side for all those that lived in surrounding regions, launching raids on neighboring territories and enslaving their inhabitants – their incursions were the impetus of the founding of the Cossack movement that is still so revered in the Ukrainian psyche. Under Stalin’s rule, all Crimean Tatars were accused of collaboration with the Nazis and deported to Uzbekistan, resulting in the deaths of almost half of the population. It has only been since Ukraine’s independence that the Crimean Tatars have been allowed to return to their homeland.
Day 12: Yalta. Visit some of Yalta’s key sites of interest, including the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and the Livadia Palace, where Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin decided the fate of post-war Europe. We also take a boat trip out to the ‘Swallow’s Nest’ – a picturesque gothic building hanging over the water of the Black Sea. Overnight Yalta Hotel or similar. Includes: (B).
Day 13: Chatyr-Dag Caves. Take a trip to explore the remarkable Chatyr Dag Caves, a series of limestone caverns stretching deep into the earth which contain incredible stalagmites and rock crystals. On the way back to Yalta we stop at Massandra for a spot of wine tasting. Overnight Yalta Hotel or similar. Includes: (B).
Day 14: Simferopol. Drive back to Simferopol airport where you can connect with your onward flight. Tour ends. Includes: (B).
Also see tour packages in:
Europe Ukraine Local Culture Cultural Journey Archeology/History