Located on the black sea in southern Ukraine, Odessa is a popular tourist destination and party hot spot during the summer months. With one million people, it is the third most populous city in Ukraine behind Kiev, Ukraine and Kharkiv.
It is said to be the only city in Ukraine with a planned ‘grid’ layout, and while large, Odessa is easy to navigate.
Most of the buildings in Odessa were designed by French and Italian architects, giving the city a much different feel from Kiev and Lviv.
The most famous building in Odessa is the Odessa Opera and Ballet Theatre. Originally constructed in 1810 by an architect from St.Petersburg, the building was destroyed in a fire 63 years later.
Re-opened in 1887, the new opera was designed by Austrian architects and followed the Viennese style.
Seemingly cursed, the opera was again burned in 1925 only to be remodelled for a second time in 1960. Today, the opera sits upon shifting ground and is in danger of collapsing. SO…. don’t get too comfy if you decide to attend a performance…
Along with the Opera, the Potemkin Stairs are another one of Odessa’s famous landmarks.
With a nice view of the Black Sea from the top, the Potemkin Stairs contain 192 steps in total, including 5 landings. Interestingly (as you can see above), from the top of the staircase, you can only the landings (no stairs).
However, when looking up from the bottom, one can only see the stairs without the landings!
The Potemkin Stairs lead down to the water and you’re able to checkout the most important port during the times of the Soviet Union.
The port has 7 harbours and is still one of the most important ones along the Black Sea. There is an adjoining railway station allowing for products to be transferred throughout Ukraine with ease.
As you walk further along the coast, you’ll eventually join up with crowds of tourists heading down to the beach.
While not the cleanest water, the Black Sea is quite warm and inviting. There are plenty of small restaurants along the beach and if you continue, you’ll get to the main bar area of Odessa…
.. where you can expect to stay out until sunrise!
Although many Ukrainians mentioned that Odessa is a ‘dying city’, it can’t be ignored that it is a happening place in the summer. The streets are bustling and the downtown area is lit up late into the night.
Despite finding locals extremely unfriendly (and downright rude at times), I can’t deny that Odessa is an attractive city that has quite a bit to offer visitors.
… including street bins full of watermelons..
.. and Darth Vader statues..
This used to be a statue of Vladimir Lenin but the Ukrainian government decided to do away with old communist monuments in 2015. I’m not really sure why Darth Vader was chosen to replace him though…
* The statue is located about 20 minutes from the centre by marshuka (local bus) in the courtyard behind an office building. Be aware that guards have started charging visitors to enter. In my case, the guard told my friend and I that it would be 25 UKH, before changing his mind to 50 before we left. Unfortunately, this type of practice happened far too often during my time in Ukraine*
The last and most interesting thing to see in Odessa is an underground network of tunnels that venture down to 60 meters below sea level!
Originally a mining shaft used to extract limestone and sea shell rocks for the buildings of Odessa, the catacombs were later used by smugglers. During WWll, the underground tunnels were used as a hiding place for Soviet troops trying to resist the German’s who had occupied Odessa.
Relatively spacious (although you will have to crouch about 60% of the time), the tunnels are fascinating to explore. *HOWEVER* It is absolutely essential to hire someone to guide you through the tunnels as it would be impossible to find your way out!
Although there are over 1000 entrances, the underground labyrinth of tunnels is super confusing to navigate, with rooms branching off in every direction. There have been a few reported deaths and if you want to freak yourself out before heading down, be sure to read up on those articles.
The guide will take you to a small, relatively unseen entrance, provide a headlamp and lead you into the unknown!
Quite cool underground, the catacombs have an average temperature between 12-14°C year round.
Our guide showed us around for 3 hours, explaining about the history and telling stories. Apparently these catacombs are one of the largest underground systems in the world, totalling up to 2,500 kilometers. Hard to believe!
After the Soviet’s regained Odessa, the Baptist church was forbidden. Priests used to risk their lives to sneak down and pray, writing scriptures on the walls.
Occasionally, we came upon beer bottles and rubbish, and there are quite a few markings on the walls. Apparently the catacombs used to be a popular party spot… I’m not sure I’d want to be navigating myself out of this maze after a few drinks!
Most Ukrainian’s will list Odessa and Lviv as the two ‘must visit’ cities in Ukraine. While a lack of friendliness (even amongst locals) was a little off putting, it is tough to deny that Odessa is a beautiful city.
As with the rest of Ukraine, Odessa is super cheap (hostels are 7$ cad) and you can get good value for your money. As long as you’re cool with (most, not all!) unsmiling locals, definitely add Odessa to your list of places to visit in Ukraine!
Pah Kah! (goodbye in russian – most people still speak Russian rather than Ukrainian in Odessa)