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The city of Odessa, Ukraine, is often referred to as the "pearl of the black sea". Founded by decree of Catherine the Great with the intention of being a seaside paradise, it is nothing like you would expect of a city that was once a trade hub in the mighty Russian Empire, in a country that was one of the original republics of the USSR. Instead of being all concrete and straight lines, it emits a distinctly Mediterranean aura, with Baroque-esque buildings, leafy streets and busy beaches. 

What to do

  • Visit the Odessa National Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre - Dust off your glad-rags and spend an evening at the opera. This theatre is not only unbelievably beautiful with incredible acoustics, but also cheap to attend.

  • Take an underground city tour - You've probably heard of tours around nuclear bunkers, catacombs or smugglers caverns, but this one combines all of these and more. Tracing the history of the city through the labyrinth of tunnels that run underneath it, it covers everything from prehistory to the Cold War.

  • Wander around the Old Town - Full of intricately decorated buildings that were left to fade during USSR years, this is an insight into the Odessa of old. The pedestrianised Deribasovskaya Street, the main drag, is surrounded by amazing architecture including The Passage, which is itself full of sculptures.

  • Climb the Potemkin Steps - A formal entry to the city from the direction of the sea and a purposeful optical illusion, the steps are one of Odessa's best known features. When you look from the bottom only the stairs can be seen, from the top only the extended rest points. 

A Ukrainian beach break

Occupying a prime spot on the country's Black Sea coast, Odessa manages to be an industrial seaport and holiday destination at the same time, and is a go-to getaway for many city-based Ukrainians. During the summer months the beaches here get busy, although admittedly not all of them are actually all that sandy. However, prices for sunbeds and in the surrounding restaurants are cheaper than other European resorts, and if you pick your beaches carefully you shouldn't be disappointed. Among the better ones is Golden Shore Beach, a 30 minute car ride from the city centre, which has clean water and plenty of cafes to grab refreshments in.

How to get to Odessa

Ukraine is a bigger country than most people think it is. A seven hour high speed train links Odessa to Kiev, and there are also direct trains to other Ukrainian cities including Lviv (12 hours), Dnipro (11 hours) and Kharkiv (15 hours). 

Trains to international destinations take considerably longer; the journey to Moscow takes 24 hours and to Minsk takes 22 hours. With this in mind, it may be a better option to fly. Odessa International Airport serves destinations including Warsaw, Istanbul, Riga, Prague, and flights from cities such as Moscow will change at one of these locations.  

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