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Odessa is one of those places that I’ve had a long-time fascination for. An exciting blend of Imperial Russia and cultural melting pot vibe that port cities generally have was the initial drawcard. And it lived up to my expectations.
I travelled to Ukraine solo but this list of things to do in Odessa is suitable for all kinds of travellers. Anything goes in relaxed and friendly Odessa.
Note: Odesa is the city’s Ukrainian spelling. The Russian spelling is Odessa and is how the city is referred to on major international travel sites. Odessa will be the version I’ll refer to here. Apologies in advance for any confusion caused.
For other Ukraine destinations and travel advice, check out my Ukraine Travel Tips post.
THINGS TO DO IN ODESSA
Odessa was founded by Catherine the Great in the 18th Century. The architecture reflects the history and so many buildings are works of art in their own right. The majority of sites are located within the square kilometre that has Lanzheronivska Street as its centre.
WALK THE POTEMKIN STAIRS:
You may not have heard of Grygory Potemkin, Catherine the Great’s lover who captured the area from the Ottomans in 18th Century. And you may not have heard of the 1905 mutiny on the Potemkin battleship. But you will certainly have seen a black and white film sequence of a baby’s pram hurtling down a series of steps.
The film was Sergey Einstein’s Battleship Potemkin and Odessa’s Potemkin Stairs was the scene. At the top of the steps lies a statue of Duc de Richelieu, the French aristocrat who became the city’s first governor. This is one of the main things to do in Odessa when visiting so should not be missed.
SPEND A NIGHT AT THE OPERA OR BALLET:
I was delighted to see that the stand-out piece of architecture in the city, the Odessa Opera and Ballet Theatre, was a shrine to culture. I was even more delighted to snap up a ticket to see Bizet’s opera Carmen for the bargain-basement sum of 200UAH (approx. €8!).
Being a solo traveller will not be an impediment to spending a night at the opera or ballet. But lack of Cyrillic alphabet knowledge will be.
Brush up on opera knowledge using my Famous Opera Songs post.
MEANDER ALONG PRYMORSKY BOULEVARD:
This street is a tree-lined promenade that is bisected by the Duc de Richelieu statue. At the north end lies the Vorontsov Palace and its corresponding Greek-style colonnade. The palace was closed during my visit.
A statue to writer Alexander Pushkin lies at the southern end of Prymorsky Boulevard along with Odessa City Hall, Odessa Archaeological Museum and Odessa Navy Museum.
ADMIRE THE 3-SIDED HOUSE:
Google Maps calls this the Witch House of Odessa. Located on the street parallel to the northern part of Prymorsky Boulevard, I think my description is more apt as the design is an optical illusion giving the impression of a house with no back wall. Judge for yourself.
PEOPLE-WATCH IN CITY GARDEN:
I absolutely adored hanging out here. With numerous cafes, restaurants, street performers and monuments, this public park was a microcosm of Odessa.
EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY ON DERYBASIVSKA STREET:
This happening street in Odessa is lined with cafes, bars, hotels and restaurants. Not only is it a great pit-stop but the architecture is exquisite. Given the lively but well-mannered clientele it attracts it may not be the quietest street on which to stay. At the east end of the street lies a statue to Jose de Ribas, a Spanish-Irish officer, who served in the Russian army and navy and who was a key figure in the capture of the area from the Ottoman’s.
SHOP AT PASSAGE:
This is a hotel and shopping centre complex dating back to the 19th Century. One of the entrances is on Derybasivska Street, the other is around the corner on Preobrazhenska Street.
CHECK OUT THE CITY’S FOUNDER:
Pay respects to Catherine the Great, the city’s founder, at her statue located on Katerynyns’ka Street.
PONDER THE STEVE JOBS CONNECTION:
I have no idea why there’s a monument to Steve Jobs in Odessa but it’s a very unique design. It is located on Novosel’s’koho Street.
EXPERIENCE THE BLACK SEA AT LANZHERON BEACH:
It was too cold for me to take a dip in the Black Sea. Instead I walked along the sandy shore, visualising a lively resort in the warmer summer months (I visited in Autumn). The walk to Lanzheron through Tarasa Shevchenka Park was a nice stroll.
I didn’t visit Arcadia beach but it’s known as the party beach with a wide selection and bars and nightclubs.
Tram Route 20 is for train buffs. Its unique selling point is that it travels through a reed bed.
ODESSA TRAVEL ESSENTIALS
The annexation of Crimea by Russia means Odessa is Ukraine’s main Black Sea holiday destination. It has a plentiful supply of accommodation but it will be busy during the summer months. Check out booking.com for some great deals.
If you stay in the square kilometre area east of Preobrazhens’ka Street and north of Troitska Street, you will be a couple of minutes walk from most of the sites mentioned above.
I found Odessa to be safe. People were quite helpful.
Odessa is located in Southern Ukraine on the Black Sea coast. It is approximately 470-480km (292-298 miles) from capital city Kyiv.
GETTING TO AND FROM ODESSA:
Given the long distance and the limited amount of time available, I choose to fly from Kyiv Boryspil Airport to Odessa with Ukrainian International Airlines. The flight time was approximately 1 hour. A trolleybus (costing 5UAH at the time of my visit) travelled between the airport and the train station. For the trolleybus stop, exit the airport terminal, run the gauntlet of taxi drivers, cross the road and turn right.
Although significantly cheaper, a bus/shared car journey between Kyiv and Odessa is estimated to be a minimum of 6 hours.