What to do in Odessa? 8 fun things to do + VIDEO
While I was in Moldova I made a spontaneous trip to Odessa in Ukraine. After all, it’s only a 3 hour train trip from Chisinau right? Just joking, it was worth the travel time. I absolutely loved Odessa! It’s a nice place to walk around with all the parks, it has the ocean – and a lot of beaches – and it’s way prettier than I expected a former Soviet city to be. It’s an elegant city with a raw edge. It’s also a popular and cheap beach destination. It’s a popular destination for Russians, Romanians and Ukrainian people, but for the rest of Europe this is still a hidden gem. It’s a great city for the summer, but when I visited the city in autumn I realized it’s a city that’s cool to visit all year round. I stayed in Odessa for 2 days and in this blog I share what to do in Odessa in Ukraine.
What to do in Odessa in Ukraine?
1. Explore the biggest catacombs in the world
More than 2000 kilometres of tunnels: that’s the catacombs of Odessa. Although nobody really knows how much kilometres there actually are. Maybe it’s many more. The catacombs were created in the nineteenth century, when stone mining was really popular in this area. The stone is actually shells that are millions of years old. Interesting fact: most of the buildings you see in Odessa are actually build with the stones they got from under the city.
So the catacombs of Odessa are a crazy big underground maze. Please don’t go inside by yourself, without a guide. Not only can you get lost in these catacombs, but with some bad luck you also run into bad people. Because there are some crazy maniacs that love to lurk in the catacombs (and no it’s not Gollem). My guide told me there are not as many as there were in the 80’s and 90’s, but you never know…
Visit the catacombs of Odessa with a guide
While we are walking and climbing through the catacombs we see some self made bongs. It’s funny how far people go to smoke some weed. And there’s a special tunnel where explorers come together when they want to fight each other. Because some people get obsessed over the catacombs (like there are not enough tunnels for everyone?). So some people become pretty possessive over some places. Probably the more time you spend underground, the more crazy you become. In the past some groups also met here in the catacombs for secret meetings, like neo nazi’s and satan worshippers. You probably don’t wanna meet them if you get lost in the catacombs.
I booked the Wild Odessa Catacombs Tour via Freetour. The tour goes to abandoned parts of the catacombs and lasts 4 hours (depends on traffic). It’s a 30 minute bus drive to the entrance of the catacombs (in a village next to Odessa) and of course back as well. Most of the entrances under Odessa are actually closed of collapsed, but in the villages around the city there are still many entrances. Your guide will also bring some flashlights. You definitely need those. During the tour we turn them off for a couple of minutes, right when our guide is telling a horror story about a dead explorer that is still haunting the catacombs. Brrr…
Price: €18 euros
Keep in mind!
This tour is not suitable for people who are claustrophobic. I think it’s a great and adventurous tour, but after a couple of hours under the ground it can be a bit scary for some people. If you do wanna visit the catacombs of Odessa in a more safe way you can go to the Museum of Partisan Glory, in the village Nerubais’ke. This is the same village where we went with the tour. In this museum you can see a small part of the catacombs.
2. Admire the beautiful architecture in the pearl of the Black Sea
Odessa that you visit and see nowadays is created in 1794. Catharine the Great (a Russian empress in the eighteenth century) changed the city of Chadzjibej into Odessa. She brought a lot of craftsmen from Western Europe to Odessa to make it a great city. Every now and then you will see an ugly Soviet building, but I was pleasantly surprised to see all that cool architecture in Odessa. There are a lot of baroque and neoclassical influences. So a lot of columns, curls and details, that give the city character. It almost feels like you’re in France or Italy while walking around. So I think it’s only fair to call Odessa the pearl of the Black Sea.
3. St. Panteleimon Monastery
Across the train station you will see a beautiful monastery: the St. Panteleimon Monastery. The front is amazing, but you should also walk inside to check out the mosaics. As a woman it’s smart to cover your hair with a scarf (in every monastery).
4. Enjoy a lovely ballet in the theater (for really cheap)
Once I’ve been to a ballet in the Kremlin Theater in Moscow and that one made a great impression. Another traveller told me I should definitely visit the theater of Odessa if I like ballet performances. I went to the show of The Sleeping Beauty and it was one of the highlights in Odessa.
Also read: Moscow on a budget
The shows are in the National Academic Theater of Opera and Ballet. The theater hall is already an experience. It’s so beautiful and people are constantly taking pictures on the stairs. The music is amazing, just like the costumes and the decor. And the dancers, they were simply incredible. I can’t imagine how much they have to train to move around so elegantly and be so agile for hours (the show was 3 hours). I can barely believe I saw this show for such a price!
Because there is no talking in ballet it’s really easy to follow for everyone. But it helps a bit if you already know the story (most of them are fairytales). Also important: bring some nice clothes to Odessa, so you look a bit fancy. I learnt from my experience in Moscow, where I visited the theater in jeans and an old sweater. But even here in Odessa, in my fancy jumpsuit, I felt a bit underdressed. Some women really go all the way and do their hair, make up and outfit when they go to the theater.
How do you score a good ticket for the theater in Odessa?
Via the website of the theater you can check out the programme. The shows are not every day, so keep that in mind when you plan your trip to Odessa. The website is in English as well, but ordering the ticket can only be in Russian. It’s a pretty easy process and you can use Google Translate to translate some stuff. You choose your chair and they send a code to your mail address to validate it. After that you can pay for the ticket(s) with your credit card. They will send the tickets to your mail address. You don’t have to print them: you can show the PDF to the staff at the theater.
When you book a ticket you will see a map of the theater hall. Every chair shows the prices. So you should get a pretty good impression of the good seats already. The prices vary for every show. The cheapest for my show were 40 grivnya (€1,50 euros), the most expensive one 450 grivnya (about €17 euros). I think the best places are on the first row on the balconies and on the ground floor in the middle. The other chairs on the balcony as not as good as you think they are, because you see only half of the show (and you will probably be annoyed by a lot of moving heads).
Price: it depends on the show. For most shows the average price is €10 – 15 euros. I bought a ticket for The Sleeping Beauty (3 hour show) for 300 grivnya (€11 euros) and I had a pretty good seat.
5. Walk from beach to beach in Odessa
Odessa is a harbour city at the Black Sea. Because of this location it’s also a great place for beach lovers. There are multiple beaches along the eastern shore. Lanzheron Beach is the one closest to the city center. If you walk a bit further via the boulevard you will arrive at the next beach; Otrada Beach. This beach is also a nice beach to chill. Some people are jamming and making music, some people are meditating or playing football. So I think this is a beach where there is more happening than just people sunbathing.
And then you can walk to one of my favourite beaches: Dog’s Beach. It’s a pretty small beach. There are no restaurants or beach clubs here, but because of that it’s also more quiet. Of course dogs are allowed here, so many people bring their pet here to walk around of relax on the beach. Furthermore Dolpin Beach is also a quiet beach where you can relax.
Do you love going out? Then you should head to Arkadia Beach. It’s one of the most popular beaches, in the southern part of Odessa. There are many beach clubs here, where you can party (day and night). Especially in the summer evenings it’s super busy here and it can be quite hectic with a lot of crazy people. It’s possible to walk to Arkadia Beach from the city center, but it’s quite far away. So it’s better to go by taxi.
By the way, I wouldn’t dive into the water that fast. Maybe it was the wrong season, but while I was there there were GIGANTIC jellyfish in the water. Like the-size-of-my-head-big. You don’t wanna see those while you’re swimming. But maybe you will only see those in autumn time.
6. Spotting cool statues in the streets of Odessa
If you pay some attention you will see a lot of cool pieces of art and statues in the streets of Odessa. For example, have you ever seen a monument for an… orange? The orange saved the city of Odessa. Paul I wasn’t a big fan of his mum’s work (Catherine the Great) and he wanted to stop the financial support for the harbour of Odessa. The people of Odessa brought him some nice Greek oranges that just arrived in the harbour to persuade him. He liked the oranges that much that he gave the money to finish the harbour of Odessa. You can find the Monument to an Orange on the Zhvanets’koho Boulevard.
Another interesting piece of art are the golden dolphins. You can find them on a little square between the train station and the bus station of Odessa. If you have more time you can also visit the Darth Vader Statue in Odessa, but it’s outside the city center.
7. The immense Potemkin Stairs
Stairs… are they really on the list of cool things to visit in Odessa? Yes they are. The Potemkin Stairs connect the harbour with the city center and have an optic illusion. It’s built in such a way that it looks much bigger if you stand in front of it. There are about 200 stairs to climb if you visit this place.
8. Chilling in the gardens and parks
One of the things that make Odessa such a relaxed city are the city gardens and parks. A central park is the City Garden at Derybasivska Street. Sometimes there are musicians performing, kids love to play football here and there are a lot of benches to chill. Another nice park is Park Tarasa Shevchenka. You will also find the Odessa Luna Park here, a great place if you visit Odessa with kids!
Hotspots in Odessa: where can you eat and drink?
1. Coffee and cake: Foundation Coffee Roasters
If you’re looking for a nice coffee place in Odessa where they also serve delicious pies Foundation Coffee Roasters is your place to be. It’s nicely decorated and a bit hipster (but I like that). They don’t have an English menu, but some staff speaks English and can help you make a choice. You can pay both with card or cash. They have good coffee (39 grivnya) and I had a delicious passionfruit cheesecake (83 grivnya).
2. Coffee and buddha bowls: Atelier. Design & Coffee
It’s a small coffeeshop that looks really cute. And if you’re into buddha bowls this is your place. I had a delicious bowl with avocado, broccoli, quinoa, lentils, mozzarella and bean sprouts (98 grivnya). Also the coffee (39 grivnya) is totally fine. The staff speaks English and they do have an English menu as well. There’s also WiFi, if you need to finish some work (digital nomads) or find some information about Odessa.
3. Traditional, local dishes in Odessa: Kompot
At Derybasivksa Street you will find lots of nice restaurants, like Kompot. It’s a pretty big restaurant and you can both sit inside and outside. The menu is in English and they have great opening times: from 8 in the morning until 11 in the evening. You can order traditional dishes at Kompot like borsch (it’s an Eastern European soup made of beetroot), dumplings and fish with potatoes. I took a vareniki: it looks like Russian ravioli that can be filled with mushrooms, cheese, meat or berries. I had the cherry dumplings (105 grivnya). And for everyone who always makes fun of me for eating desserts as a main dish: it was listed as a main course.
How do you get in Odessa in Ukraine?
From Chisinau (Moldova) to Odessa
I traveled from Chisinau in Moldova to Odessa by train. A ticket is 160 lei (€8,50 euros). The ride is not super comfortable, but fine for the trip that lasts 3,5 hours. Furthermore there are outlets and in some parts there was even WiFi. For me this was a great way to catch up with some work.
Make sure you have enough time to go to the train station. I was there 45 minutes before the train left and that was fine. You can buy the ticket to Odessa in the train station. The cash desk is at the right side of the station and will be open when you arrive. The train leaves from Chisinau at 7.09 in the morning. The train only goes in the weekend (Friday – Sunday).
Also read: 11 cool things to do in Chisinau, Moldova
The other days you can only travel from Chisinau to Odessa and back by bus. The bus trip is a bit longer: about 4 hours. My bus trip from Odessa to Chisinau was 365 grivnya (about €13 euros) and you pay the driver in cash once you arrive at the bus station. The bus doesn’t drive to the central bus station, but to the North Bus Station in Chisinau.
From Kiev or Lviv (Ukraine) to Odessa
Other travelers will probably come to Odessa from other Ukrainian cities like Kiev or Lviv. The trip by bus or by train is about 7 hours from Kiev to Odessa. If you want to travel more efficiently you can also take the night train from Kiev to Odessa. It takes a bit longer, but you can sleep along the trip. From Lviv it’s about 12 hours traveling by night train.
Travel Movie: Odessa, Ukraine
Now you know what to do in Odessa in Ukraine! I hope you find this blog useful or inspirational. If you have more tips for this cool city or any questions let me know in the comments or by email.