Travel, Currency and Money saving tips for Ukraine
Ukraine is big. In fact it's Europe’s biggest country (not counting Russia, which isn’t entirely in Europe) and packs a lot of diversity into its borders. You can be clambering around the Carpathians in search of Hutsul festivities, sipping Eastern Europe’s best coffee in sophisticated Lviv and partying on the beach in Odesa all in a few days. Ukrainians are also a diverse crowd: from the wired sophisticates of Kyiv’s business quarters to the Gogolesque farmers in Poltava, the Hungarian-speaking bus drivers of Uzhhorod to the Crimean Tatar cafe owners just about everywhere, few countries boast such a mixed population.
Despite their often glum reticence and initial distrust of strangers, travellers to the country quickly find out that Ukrainians are, when given the chance, one of Europe’s most open and hospitable people. Break down that reserve and you’ll soon be slurping borshch in someone’s Soviet-era kitchen, listening to a fellow train passenger’s life story or being taken on an impromptu tour of a town’s sights by the guy you asked for directions.
What currency to use in Ukraine?
First thing which you should do after arriving in Ukraine is to exchange money to local the currency. Official currency in Ukraine is hryvnia (UAH), and you can pay for things only in the local currency. Do a money exchange in the airport, and outside cities you should make sure you have sufficient cash in local currency. US dollars and Euros are the easiest currency to exchange in Ukraine.
Visa and Mastercard are the most widely accepted networks in Ukraine. Amex cards aren’t accepted in many places - and there are only a handful of ATMs which accept Amex in the whole country.³ Check out the locator tool below to find the nearest ATM to you that’ll work on the Amex network.
If your bank doesn’t know you’ll be travelling then you might encounter problems, as bank fraud departments monitor transactions and tend to be wary about sudden card usage overseas. In the case of Ukraine, because there have been issues involving fraud and card scams in the past, you could find your bank’s fraud department are especially concerned by a sudden spike of spending in Ukraine. The bank could block or limit your account if there’s any suggestion that your card has been stolen or fraudulently used abroad - leaving you without cash or any means of payment.
Getting around in Ukraine.
The air network is very centralised, so more often than not you need to change flights in Kyiv when travelling between the southeast and the west. The number of domestic flights and carriers has fallen considerably in recent years.
Although you have to keep an eye out for crazy drivers and keep to the road's shoulder, cycling is a great way to see the real Ukraine. The Carpathians are particularly pleasant cycling country.
Contact Chervona Ruta if you're interested in Dnipro River and Black Sea cruises. The standard cruise is one week along the Kyiv–Odesa route calling at seven cities along the way. Some cruises go into the Danube Delta.
Buses serve every city and small town, but they're best for short trips (three hours or less), as vehicles can often be small, old and overcrowded. However, luxury bus services run by big companies provide a good alternative to trains. Some bus stations have become quite orderly, others remain chaotic. For the uninitiated, Ukrainian bus travel can be a bemusing and uncomfortable ordeal. For example, 'Bus' can mean anything from a lumbering 60-seater to a 1980s Hungarian coach to a luxury Mercedes minibus.
On-board toilets are uncommon even on luxury services. Your ticket has a seat number printed on it, but on small buses passengers generally just sit where they like.
Bus stations are called avtovokzal or avtostantsiya. Some of Ukraine's larger cities have several stations – a main one for long-distance routes and smaller stations that serve local destinations. Stations are real traveller hubs with lots of services available, such as food, toilets, news-stands, waiting rooms and even dorm beds. You'll save yourself a lot of hassle at crowded terminals if you check timetables online before coming to the station.
Travelling by taxi anywhere in the ex-USSR can be a decidedly unpleasant experience for foreigners, so if there's a bus or tram going to your destination, take it. Uber is available in major cities, but service quality is patchy. An indigenous equivalent is called Uklon.
For long journeys, train is the preferred method of travel in Ukraine. The most useful and comfortable are the daytime Intercity+ trains. Many overnight trains have old, Soviet-era carriages. Services are mostly punctual.
Travel tips for Ukraine.
A diverse landscape obviously throws up a whole bunch of outdoorsy activities – from mountain biking and hill walking in the Carpathians to bird spotting in the Danube Delta, from cycling along the Dnipro in Kyiv to water sports in the Black Sea. But if the idea of burning calories on hill and wave has you fleeing for the sofa, rest assured that most Ukrainians have never tried any of the above, but love nothing more than wandering their country’s vast forests, foraging for berries and mushrooms or picnicking by a meandering river.
At time of writing, the Ukrainian government considers Crimea illegally occupied by Russia. As a result, it has put restrictions on visiting the peninsula. First of all, foreigners and Ukrainians alike must have legitimate reason to visit. Ukrainians can cross by land if they have family or property there. Foreigners can only visit Crimea through Ukraine if they are journalists and have applied for special permission.