Things to do in Odessa, Ukraine [updated for 2020]
Odessa is a port city in the South of Ukraine, on the Black Sea. It’s a really popular holiday resort for Ukrainians, and is becoming more popular with tourists from abroad too. For two years from 2014 – 2016 we lived and taught English in Odessa. After our two years there, we had explored a lot of the city. In 2017, we returned to Ukraine, to live in Kyiv. Since then, we’ve visited Odessa around once a year, to explore all the new Odessa attractions. While it’s quite a small city in the centre, there are some interesting sights, as well as great beaches in Odessa. We already published a post on what we liked about the city, so here are our suggestions for things to do in Odessa, Ukraine.
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Things to do in Odessa, Ukraine
Watch a performance in the opera house
One of the most beautiful opera houses in Europe, the 19th-century Odessa opera house at the end of Deribasavskaya Street is stunning inside and out. One of the great things to do in Odessa is to visit a performance there. It’s well-worth catching an opera or ballet so that you can experience the inside, and it’s incredibly cheap. For a few dollars, you can get a seat in one of the boxes.
You can now book your tickets online using the English website.
Look at the optical illusion of the Potemkin Steps
One of the most famous Odessa attractions is to see the Potemkin Steps. Connecting the main boulevards of the city with the sea, the stairs are apparently an optical illusion – looking wider from the bottom than the top, and from the top, you only see the landings, and from the bottom only the steps. Honestly, for us, it was a massive anticlimax. It’s just a long, wide staircase. Plus, the bottom of the steps is the docks and a very ugly hotel.
It’s worth seeing, of course. You can walk down and if you are feeling tired, you get take the funicular railway back up. Be careful of the blokes holding eagles, monkeys and doves around the top. They will put them on you and take photos, and then charge you ridiculous amounts.
Apparently, it was made ‘famous’ from the film Battleship Potemkin. We’d never seen it either, but you can check out the clip on Youtube.
Admire the ornate gold decoration in the Transfiguration Cathedral in Saborna Square
The orthodox cathedral is also pretty lovely from the outside and amazing inside. I thought Catholic cathedrals were ornate until I started visiting Orthodox ones. Interestingly, there are no pews in Orthodox churches, because people stand during services. Men need to take their hats off to go inside, while women should cover their heads really.
Stroll on Deribasavaskaya Street
While not so much one of the Odessa sights, the main street is a must-do in Odessa. Locals like to promenade up and down the street in the evening, dressed in their best clothes and often walking a toy dog like a pug or Pomeranian.
Wander up and down the street and watch the various buskers and street performers. Check out the small ponies dressed in clothes. Stop and have a coffee or drink in one of the many cafes and restaurants along the street. Oh and also have a look at McDonald’s. Seriously, we have never seen such a busy McDonalds’. People have to sit outside, even in winter, because there aren’t enough seats for everyone inside.
Do an electric bus tour
You can’t miss the electric buses in Odessa. A short walk down Deribasavska Street and you’ll see lots parked around waiting for passengers. Sit on the open air bus and get a guided tour in your language of the city. The one hour tour takes in about 40 Odessa attractions and costs about 300 UAH. There’s another that takes you to Langeron Beach and one that drives the health road (see below).
Admire the stunning passage
At one end of Deribasavska, opposite City Garden, is Passage. If you are just walking past, it’s easy to miss it, but don’t. If you go inside, you’ll see increadibly ornate architecture with statues of Greek gods and a glass ceiling. Apparently, it was built as a hotel, with shops on the ground floor and hotel rooms above. I’m not sure if it’s still a hotel, but there are always lots of small boutique style shops inside.
Also inside is an Irish pub, the Fox and Pipe, which has made the most of narrow alleyways next to Passage and built a bar and beer garden inside. It’s also worth a look and a pint.
Check out the weird House with One Wall
Another of the Odessa sights that’s an optical illusion is the House of One Wall on Vorontovsky Lane. The front wall is flat, but the adjacent ones are at an angle, so from the side, it looks like it’s just one thin wall.
If you are coming to Ukraine, our Ukraine Travel Tips post will be useful for you.
Have a drink and watch the world go by at the Yarmarka
Every winter people visit Christmas markets all over Europe, with wooden huts selling mulled wine, gingerbread, sausages and handmade crafts. Odessa has one of these all year round. The yarmarka on Derebasavskaya has rows of wooden huts, with tables and chairs outside, where you can sit and enjoy food and drink.
The huts seem to change all the time, but generally, you can buy mulled wine – known as glintwein, draft and bottled beers, shasklik (kebabs), burgers and all sorts of other cuisines.
There are often events and festivals in the Yarmarka including live music, competitions and DJs. You can find out more on their Facebook page.
If you are heading to Odessa from Kyiv, you could stop off in Uman and visit the only nuclear missile base museum in the world. Read how to visit the Strategic Missile Forces Museum.
Meet the founder of Odessa
In Ekaterinskaya Square you can find a statue to the founder of Odessa, the Russian Empress Catherine the Great, surrounded by others who helped create the city – the Duke de Ribas, of whom Deribasavskaya Street is named, Gregory Potemkin, lover of Catherine the Great and Count Zubov.
Relax on one of the many beaches in Odessa
Odessa is a popular beach resort on the Black Sea and has a row of beaches. You have to walk a bit out of the city to find them, as the city looks over the docks. To find the first, walk through Shevchenko Park, named after the Poet Taras Shevchenko, of whom you will see a lot of in Ukraine.
The first beach in Odessa you arrive at is Langeron Beach, next to the Nemo Dolphinarium. Since we don’t agree with keeping dolphins in captivity, we wouldn’t suggest you visit, but it’s a good landmark. The first of the beaches at Langeron is a public beach, so open to everyone for free. It used to be pretty sparse of facilities with a couple of kiosks and derelict buildings. Now there are some lovely restaurants – a branch of Maman, and the beautiful looking Terrace.
A bit further around Langeron, there are more restaurants, including Veranda, which has a great view and a big terrace overlooking the beach.
In the summer, this beach has areas of beach clubs, where you can pay a small fee to rent a sunbed. We spent a lot of time at Prichal No 1, a big restaurant and bar with sunbeds. It’s actually open all year, but the outside terrace etc. is only put up in about May.
The next beach in Odessa you reach is Otrada, which you can
Along the health road (see below) you come to Dolphin Beach. There are a couple of beach clubs here that you can pay to use, including Taboo, where you can chill out in the day and party at night. This beach is also home to Trueman Hot Boat – the beach version of the Trueman Club in the city. The open-air bar and club has live bands playing at the weekends.
At the end of the Health Road is Arkadia Beach, Odessa’s version of Ibiza. In fact, there is actually a club here called Ibiza, although they pronounce it ‘I bits a’. Arcadia has had a lot of investment into it recently. There are several huge superclubs, including Itaka, which have swimming pools so one of the very popular things to do in Odessa is chill out during the day and then party till dawn. There’s also an aquapark and various shops, bars and restaurants.
Take a boat trip
In the summer, boats make the one hour trip from the Seaport to Arkadia and back. It’s lovely to be on the sea on a sunny day, which most Odessan summer days are. If you head to the seaport, at the bottom of the Potemkin Steps, you’ll see a couple of companies selling tickets for different boats. It’s around 120 UAH for the trip.
Walk the health road
From Langeron Beach to Arkadia there is the Health Road, a 7km path where people cycle, rollerblade, run and walk. It’s surrounded by trees, and at times you can look over the beach, and take other paths down to smaller beaches. If you don’t want to walk back, you can take an electric bus for 50 grivna.
Try Shustov cognac in the Shustov Cognac Museum, Odessa
Shustov cognac is quite famous and has won prizes in France for its quality. Apparently, it was drunk by Tsar Nikolas of Russia, by Churchill and other famous people and is exported all over the world. Allegedly it’s also the only brandy outside of France that’s allowed to be called cognac.
Another of the fun and slightly alcohol related things to do in Odessa is
The Shustov Cognac Museum is towards the airport. We got an Uklon taxi there for less than 90 grivna. You need to book the tour in advance, but the details are on the website and it’s in English.
Go wine tasting at the Shabo winery
Another one of the alcohol-related Odessa attractions is the Shabo Winery. You might not associate Ukraine with wine, but there are several wineries around Ukraine. Shabo is one such wine, and the winery is outside of Odessa, about a 90 minute drive away. At the winery, there’s an interesting museum with the history of the winery, you can learn about the wine making process and, of course, do a tasting.
The tours are not in English, but you can organise a private tour with a translator. We did the tour and tasting in Russian, and we got the basics. It is 280 UAH for the tour with tasting, or 750 UAH if you want the private tour. If you want a hassle-free visit, you can book a tour from Odessa from Green Tours Ukraine. You could also hire a car and drive there, but that’s going to limit your wine tasting, isn’t it?
Take a day trip to Bilgorod-Dnistrovky Fortress
We actually never visited this place while we lived there, and only went during the summer of 2020. About 1 – 1 1/2 hours south of Odessa is a really impressive fortress. Also known as Akkerman Fortress, it sits on the site of the ancient Greek city of Tyras and through history, was occupied by the Ottomans, Genoese and Moldovians. The fortress looks like something out of Game of Thrones! It’s an imposing building looking out over the sea.
You can go inside the castle and explore the grounds, where there are also stalls from various artisans, like a blacksmith making weapons, another making chain mail. You can try and fire a bow and arrow or crossbow and try on Medieval costumes. In typical Ukrainian attraction style, there is not one, but several places where you can buy a beer.
You can visit Bilgorod-Dnistrovsky from Odessa by public bus from Privoz bus station. However, an easier way to do it would be to take an organised tour from Odessa such as the one from Green Tours.
A good idea is to combine Shabo with Bilgorod-Dnistrovsky on a day trip. They are close to each other so it makes sense. Several tour companies offer this tour from Odessa.
Going to Kyiv too? Read our blog on unusual things to do in Kyiv.
Sit on one of the 12 chairs in City Garden
Another unusual of the Odessa sights is the statue of one of the 12 chairs. A famous novel by Odessan writers Ilif and Petrov, describes a family’s attempt to find the 12 chairs of their matriarch. The family’s jewels had been hidden in one of the chairs to protect it from the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution, and the chairs confiscated. Well, that’s what I think it’s about. I haven’t read it.
Anyway, there is a statue of one of the chairs in City Garden, at the end of Deribasavskaya. You can sit on it and have your photo taken.
Look at the beautiful buildings on Primorsky Boulevard
This short street overlooks the sea and includes some beautiful 19th-century architecture, including the huge London hotel. It stretches from the top of the Potemkin Steps
The boulevard is lined with trees, with lights linking them together so it’s lovely at night.
In the centre, you can see some remains of the old Greek settlement that was uncovered during an archaeological dig, covered in a glass roof.
The Boulevard is home to another of the interesting sites in Odessa, Vorontsov Palace, built for a former governor of Odessa. There is an interesting looking building with columns in the front, as well as an almost Greek looking collonade looking over the sea, and stone lions.
See the range of local produce at Privoz market
A good place to see life in Odessa and the range of produce that’s for sale is Privoz market. At the bottom of Katerinskaya street, the huge area includes both indoor areas and outdoor stalls, with everything for sale, from clothes and shoes, to cheese and meats. There are stalls selling spices from the Middle East and pomegranate juice, and shops with Georgian breads and pies.
Browse at the book market
I don’t think I’ve heard of book markets outside of Ukraine, but they exist in several cities here. The Odessa book market is on Alexander Avenue, which is a wide boulevard with a large walking around in the middle. If you’re looking for old literature, this is where to look. As well as books, it’s the place to buy various imported products, from Italian olive oil to Scottish whisky.
Look for the Odessa street art
Kyiv is huge for street art, with massive pieces all over the city. Odessa has it’s own version. Rather than big artistic expressions, Odessa like to paint pictures of Odessa, around Odessa. The normal utility street objects, like electricity boxes, are decorated with pictures of Odessa scenes e.g. the port, the statues of famous people and Odessa street scenes. It’s quite odd but cool.
There are a few pieces of more traditional street art as well though. There are some examples of Hamlet’s work, the famous street artist from Kharkiv.
Kharkiv has lots of these political pieces of street art by Hamlet. It’s also a cool place to visit. Read our post on the unusual things to do in Kharkiv.
Weird Odessa attractions: decorated electric boxes
On the subject of street art in Odessa, around the city on random streets, people have decorated what I think are electric boxes with different designs. There’s a red phone box, Doctor Who’s tardis, a water bottle…..We definitely haven’t found all of them yet. You can find more examples on our Instagram page.
Explore the Odessa catacombs
One of the really cool things to do in Odessa is visiting the catacombs. Odessa sits on top of up to 3000 km of tunnels, formed from the mining of limestone but also used for smuggling, and for partisans to hide during the occupation of Odessa in the 2nd World War.
You can visit the Odessa catacombs in several different ways. You can visit the Museum of Partisan Glory in a village outside Odessa, see a stretch in the city, visit the wild catacombs with various independent guides and go on the Secrets of Underground Odessa tour. While it’s now the number 1 tour on Tripadvisor, we did the Secrest of Underground Odessa tour in its early days. You can read about it in our post: Exploring underground Odessa.
Another interesting museum of Ukrainian history is the space museum in Zhytomyr, named after the scientist who put sputnik in space.
Try the local cuisine
There are numerous great restaurants in Odessa. It’s lovely to sit in the summer in the gardens of the Opera House and eat dinner. Maman Restaurant and Salieri are both lovely. We were once sitting outside there and ballet dancers from the opera house came out to entertain us. In city garden there is Klarabara.
Being a seaport, typical Odessa cuisine involves fish. Forschmak is a fish pate, black sea gobies are ugly fish but tasty, and of course, there is lots of caviar. You should also try other Ukrainian food – borsh (beetroot soup) and vareniki (dumplings).
Drink craft beer in Odessa
Craft beer in Odessa took off like it did in many places while we lived there. The company that owns Troubadour restaurant, Buffalo 99 sports pub and Friends and Beer pub started to brew the own beers and set up the Troubadour brewery. We first started drinking its Michigan Ale in Buffalo 99, and then the Soviet-style Friends and Beer had a refurbishment and became a specialist craft beer pub.
Read our blog post on craft beer bars in Odessa for inspiration on where to go
Friends and Beer on the corner of Deribaskavskaya and Rishelievska Street has a whole range of local Odessa craft beers to try. Be careful of the strength, some of them are rather strong!
We’ve got a post on other places to drink in Odessa city centre: Nightlife in Odessa
If you’re heading to other places in Ukraine on your trip, we’ve got other posts including what to do in Lviv.
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