10 Best Places To Visit In Ukraine

*This article was originally written for Travel & Destinations (www.travelanddestinations.com)

Under visited and less touristy than other parts of Europe, Ukraine stands as one of the largest countries in Europe. Ukraine is a vibrant and beautiful country perched on the Black Sea, full of beaches, ancient castles, wild forests, stunning countryside, and a welcoming attitude from its friendly people.

Ukraine offers several gorgeous attractions for tourists including its traditional villages and colourful modern cities, many of which feature UNESCO World Heritage Sites and well-kept historical artefacts. Its capital, Kiev, features the gold-domed St. Sophia’s Cathedral, with 11th-century mosaics and paintings is a highlight. Moreover, huge festivals celebrating its rich culture and history of folk traditions and diverse cultural influences take place yearly. Ukraine is also a very budget-friendly travel destination. All this together makes Ukraine a special destination, despite its political problems.

Below are 10 places that will make you fall in love with this eastern European gem. Here are the best and most beautiful places to visit in Ukraine.

Lviv

Established in 1240 and named after Leo, the oldest son of the King of Ruthenia, Lviv is the largest city in western Ukraine. This city is packed with monuments, galleries, and buildings with archaeological findings dating back to the 5th century.

Dubbed one of Ukraine’s most popular cultural cores, Lviv is home to some amazing operas, ballet performances, and art galleries, such as the Lviv National Art Gallery, home to over 60,000 works of art. In this city, you will discover all kinds of beautifully eccentric bars and knaipas (local pubs) hidden down narrow side streets.

Skyline view of Old Town Lviv
Photo 124964658 © Scanrail | Dreamstime.com

Kharkiv

Kharkiv was the first capital of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (December 1919-January 1934). It is now known as the city of students and youth with an average age of 35 years old.

The city offers many theatres, cinemas, museums, a variety of music and theatre festivals demonstrating its traditions.

Kharkiv is home to “Freedom Square”, the 8th largest city-centre square in Europe. A noteworthy landmark of the square is the Derzhprom building, which is one of the most prominent examples of constructivist architecture.

Kharkiv
Photo 53562317 © Volodymyr Silichev | Dreamstime.com

Odessa

Located on the north-western shore of the Black Sea, Odessa is commonly called the “Pearl of the Black Sea”. This city was first taken by the Greeks, then again by the Ottomans, and finally the Russians. This formulates the interesting history this city holds which can be told through its many museums and artefacts.

Odessa is now a modern city that offers a great collection of Art Nouveau architecture, theatres, underground catacombs, gorgeous beaches, great wineries, pretty cafes, and a prosperous nightlife scene.

Odessa Opera House in Ukraine
Photo 113712211 © Multipedia2014 | Dreamstime.com

Kiev (Kyiv)

Located in north-central Ukraine, its capital is of course the place to be. Kiev (also called Kyiv) is one of the oldest cities in Eastern Europe (482 AD). It is loaded with historic Soviet architecture, golden-domed churches, huge monasteries, and beautiful streets.

Kiev is for sure a fascinating cultural trip. Make sure to check its history-filled museums, like the Museum of Folk Architecture and Ethnography, which stands as one of the largest open-air museums in Europe. Do not forget to visit the oldest and the most popular monasteries in Ukraine, Kiev Pechersk Lavra (aka the Kiev Monastery of the Caves).

Make sure to check the theatre, opera, and musical performances which are immensely popular in Kiev. Later, head to one of the many city bars, sidewalk cafés, and enjoy a walk down Andriyivskyy Descent, a gorgeous cobblestone street lined with Art Nouveau-style houses and magnificent gargoyles.

St. Michael's Golden-Domed Monastery, Kiev
Photo 120971672 © Flydragonfly | Dreamstime.com

Chernobyl

If you are interested in dark tourism, then this place is suitable for you. Chernobyl guarantees a dark exploration into the notorious 1986 nuclear disaster that led to the mass killing of thousands of people.

Chernobyl now appears frozen in time. While vising it, you will observe the demolished buildings, supermarkets taken over by nature, dolls resting on top of corroded playground equipment, a ferris wheel that never took another spin and the abandoned possessions of the people who had to run for their lives. For the fear of radioactive contamination, the citizens were not allowed to bring with them almost any of their belongings, including their own pets. On the bright side, guided tours are available to learn about the tragedy first-hand.

Abandoned school in Chernobyl
Photo 25350097 © Oliver Sved | Dreamstime.com

Chernihiv

Chernihiv is one of the oldest cities in Ukraine and was first mentioned in the Rus’-Byzantine Treaty of 907. The treaty ranked Chernihiv as the second most vital Ukrainian center after Kiev.

Chernihiv is situated on the banks of the Desna River in northern Ukraine and features magnificent medieval architecture, especially the five-domed Transfiguration Cathedral and Catherine’s Church with its golden domes.

If you love beer, then you will be extra pleased: the city has a beer (Chernihivske) named after it. Chernihivske is the preferred beer for millions of Ukrainians. Do not forget to visit the two ancient cave monasteries (caves of the Eletsky Monastery), located on the outskirts of Chernihiv which were once used as the bishops’ residences and the 18th-century Kachanivka Palace with its beautiful neoclassical architecture, vast gardens, and gorgeous lake.

Transfiguration Cathedral, Chernihiv
Photo 196534754 © Ksya | Dreamstime.com

Kamianets-Podilskyi

Kamianets-Podilskyi is most famous for the Kamianets-Podilskyi Fortress and constitutes one of the major reasons tourists visit this dreamy city in the first place. This fortress towers over the Smotrych River and is truly one of the most charming fortresses in Eastern Europe.

Make sure to wander in the cobbled streets of this well-kept medieval town that is known for its beautiful pastel-coloured houses and amazing street art. Also, do not miss the opportunity to witness the amazing festival of hot air balloons in the springtime or the chance to ride one of these balloons.

Kamianets-Podilskyi fortress
Photo 83751183 © Scanrail | Dreamstime.com

Uman

Situated in central Ukraine, this city is situated on the banks of the Umanka River located between the famous cities of Odesa and Kiev. This place is well equipped for tourists and you will not face trouble finding your way around it.

The city of Uman is rich with historical and cultural heritage. Make sure to check the Shopping Rows, and the National Dendrological Park “Sofiyivka”. Also, make sure to check the Basilian Monastery (1764) which stands as the oldest building in the city.

Sofiyivka park and fountain in Uman
Photo 205933349 © Olya Solodenko | Dreamstime.com

Rakhiv

Rakhiv, the highest city in Ukraine, is a mountainous town enveloped within the rich Carpathian woodlands of western Ukraine. Rakhiv is perfect for nature lovers, adventure seekers and hiking enthusiasts.

Rakhiv offers fantastic scenery with picturesque slopes and swinging bridges leading across the Tysa River. If you are looking for a peaceful escape in the mountains, head to the calm Dilove village.

Do not miss the Hutsul Bryndza Festival that takes place in September and is held to honour the shepherds who return from the Carpathians every winter bringing with them delicious types of cheese (wurda and bryndza), folk songs, and lots and lots of traditional dancing.

Rakhiv and mountains
Photo 109765280 © Yuriy Brykaylo | Dreamstime.com

Bukovel

Surrounded by three huge mountains and the highest peaks of the Carpathians, Bukovel is a perfect winter holiday destination. This place constitutes Ukraine’s biggest skiing destination and is in fact one of the largest ski resorts in Eastern Europe!

When you are not enjoying the ski slopes, head to the bicycle park, snow park, or the ski school to learn some new tricks. From December to April is the best time to plan a winter holiday to Bukovel.

Bukovel ski resort
Photo 126155972 © Scanrail | Dreamstime.com

Summary

Ukraine is a rare gem in Eastern Europe that ought to be on everyone’s bucket list. From its beautiful and unique architecture, dreamy and scenic cities, vast green landscapes, gorgeous beaches, charming lakes to its historical museums, Ukraine has much to offer.

Ukraine being an exceptionally budget-friendly travel destination, you need not worry when visiting this remarkable place. Just pack your bags and head there; there is never a bad time to visit Ukraine.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Beaufort Castle: A Crusader Castle In Lebanon

I visited the Beaufort Castle this December when I was back home in Lebanon. Beaufort Castle is now one of Lebanon’s most famous landmarks.

Entrance Fee:

The entry fee is 7000 LBP.

Opening Hours:

Monday8AM–7:30PM
Tuesday8AM–7:30PM
Wednesday8AM–7:30PM
Thursday8AM–7:30PM
Friday8AM–7:30PM
Saturday8AM–7:30PM
Sunday8AM–7:30PM

Location:

Beaufort or Belfort Castle, known locally as Qal’at al-Shaqif or Shaqif Arnun, is a Crusader fortress in Nabatieh Governorate, Southern Lebanon, about 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) to the south-south-east of the village of Arnoun. It is a 1.30 hours drive from Beirut.

The Name:

Its Arabic name Qala’at al-Shaqif means “Castle of the High Rock”. The castle was named bel fort or beau fort (French for “beautiful fortress”) by the Crusaders who occupied the castle in the 12th century. Despite the external ruin, the inside of the castle is well preserved. 

Brief History:

There was a fortification on the site before it was captured by Fulk, King of Jerusalem, in 1139 and construction of the Crusader castle probably began soon after.

Saladin captured Beaufort in 1190, but 60 years later Crusaders re-took it. In 1268, Sultan Baibars finally captured the castle for the Islamic forces.

It passed once more into the hands of the Arabs and in 1610 prince Fakhredin II of Lebanon, strengthened its fortifications and made it a storehouse for his treasures. It was largely destroyed by Jarkass Pasha. In 1629, Emir Fakhredin II asked for its reconstruction and restoration from the Grand Duke of Florence.

Beaufort provides one of the few cases where a medieval castle proved of military value and utility also in modern warfare, as its late 20th-century history shows.


The Magical View

The Beaufort Castle overlooks the Litani River, which flows past it on the east. The castle offers amazing panoramic views of southern Lebanon and northern Palestine. 

View from the top


Free Museums In Rome: 8 Free Entry Museums

Visiting Rome on a budget but eager to have a cultural and artistic experience? Then this article is for you!
In Rome, there exists 8 city-run museums that are totally free and open all year round:

1. Villa di Massenzio (Maxentius)

The Villa of Maxentius is an imperial villa and now an open air museum in Rome. It was built by the Roman emperor Maxentius and is located between the second and third miles of the ancient Appian Way (Via Appia). It consists of three main buildings: the palace, the circus of Maxentius and the mausoleum, designed in an inseparable architectural unit to honor Maxentius.

Address: Via Appia Antica, 153, 00178 Roma RM

2. Museo Barracco

Museo Barracco is a museum in Rome, featuring a collection of Egyptian, Assyrian, and Phoenician art, as well as Greek sculptures of the classical period. This collection of art was acquired by Giovanni Barracco, who donated his collection to the City of Rome in 1902.

Address: Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, 168, 00186 Roma RM

Museo di Scultura Antica Giovanni Barracco (Roma): AGGIORNATO 2021 - tutto  quello che c'è da sapere - Tripadvisor

3. Museo delle Mura

The Museo delle Mura is an archaeological museum in Rome which is housed in the first and second floors of the Porta San Sebastiano at the beginning of the Appian Way. It provides an exhibition on the walls of Rome along with their building techniques and the opportunity to walk along the inside of one of the best-preserved stretches of the Aurelian Wall.

Address: Via di Porta San Sebastiano, 18, 00179 Roma RM

4. Museo Pietro Canonica

The Pietro Canonica Museum is the house/museum of the sculptor Pietro Canonica and is part of the system of Museums in the Municipality of Rome. It is located in the gorgeous Villa Borghese. The house, where the artist lived until his death, was donated by him to the municipality of Rome which now manages the museum.

Address: Viale Pietro Canonica, 2, 00197 Roma RM

5. Museo Napoleonico

The Napoleonic Museum of Rome is a historical museum dedicated to Napoleonic relics, mainly deriving from the collection of Count Giuseppe Primoli, donated to the city of Rome in 1927. It features family portraits, marble busts, rare artwork & gold plated furniture.

Address: Piazza di Ponte Umberto I, 1, 00186 Roma RM

Museo Napoleonico
turismoroma.it

6. Museo Carlo Bilotti

The Carlo Bilotti Museum is a contemporary art museum located in the “Orangery” of Villa Borghese in Rome. It contains paintings, watercolors and sculptures from the collection donated by Carlo Bilotti, an Italian-American businessman and collector. The collection includes works by Andy Warhol, Giorgio De Chirico, paintings by Gino Severini, and Larry Rivers and a sculpture by Giacomo Manzù.

Address: Viale Fiorello La Guardia, 6, 00197 Roma RM

Museo Carlo Bilotti | Turismo Roma

7. Museo di Casal de’ Pazzi

The Casal de’ Pazzi Museum is important for its archaeological, geological and paleontological value and has been transformed over time into a real museum. It is located in Rome, in the IV Municipio, between via Tiburtina and via Nomentana, not far from the Aniene river. The museum structure is part of a Pleistocene deposit and has been continuously open to the public since March 2015.

Address: Via Egidio Galbani, 6, 00156 Roma RM

Riflessi di Jerico, murale al Museo di Casal de' Pazzi a Roma - Lazio -  ANSA.it
ansa.it

8. Museo della Repubblica Romana e della memoria garibaldina

The Museum of the Roman Republic and of Garibaldi’s memory is part of the Joint Museums and is located off Porta San Pancrazio in the Trastevere district of Rome.

The exhibition winds along the four floors of the building, narrating, room by room, the historical events of the Roman Republic and the Garibaldi tradition. Busts, paintings, engravings and Garibaldi relics, as well as models and a very rich multimedia apparatus, guide the visitor to discover the places, the days and the main protagonists of the events of those years of great political ferment.

Address: Largo di Porta S. Pancrazio, 00153 Roma RM

Porta San Pancrazio Rome.JPG

Let me know in the comments if you visited any of these museums!

Calcata Vecchia: The Town Of Witches

According to an ancient legend, on days and nights when there is strong winds, in the narrow alleys of Calcata, it is possible to hear the singing of the old witches. Not only that: it is also said that this ancient village was in the past a place of ceremonial & ritual magic.

Calcata is best known for it being the home to a community of about 100 artists, bohemians, & aging hippies who started living in its abandoned houses and caves to live far from civilization and technology. The New York Times described it as what “may be the grooviest village in Italy”.

 Photo: Alamy

It is hard to believe that Calcata is only a few minutes drive from Rome:

Calcata (locally Cargata) is a village hanging onto a volcanic cliff in the province of Viterbo (region of Lazio), located 47 kilometres (29 mi) north of Rome, overlooking the valley of Treja river. Its history dates back to almost 3,000 years where the presence of human life in the area can go back to prehistoric times.

In the 1930s, the town was condemned by the government for the fear that the volcanic cliffs, the ancient town was built upon, would collapse. Then, in the 1960s, the artists and hippies saved the day and repopulated Calcata by purchasing the houses and restoring the ancient town. This lead the government to reverse its condemnation order.

There was a festival during our visit

How To Spend Your Day In Calcata?

1. Discover every nook and cranny 

Calcata’s medieval architecture is well visible on the churches and the civic buildings. Walk around to discover the artistic and colorful houses surrounding this town. Calcata is a place where time has definitely stood still!

2. Buy some homemade products

Calcata has a lot of little shops that sell homemade jams and chocolate spreads (they also do food tastings)! Make sure to check the bakeries and try their sugar/butter biscuits and desserts.

Also, this town is known for being a “Halloween attraction” and so you can find handmade masks stands that are to die for!

3. Lunch at my favorite: La Terrazza Sul Treja

This restaurant serves great traditional Italian cuisine with the most amazing view of the village! The portions were generous and the dishes extremely tasty.

Start your lunch by ordering the “tagliere di salumi e formaggi” with a local bottle of red wine! The Pappardelle al cinghiale seen in the picture below is recommended.

4. Check the Treja Valley Regional Park 

The Treja Valley Regional Park lies in the surroundings of Calcata. The park is a protected natural area in Lazio, established by the regional law in 1982 and makes a great place for hiking & horse-riding.

Spoleto: A Day In A Medieval Paradise

Spoleto is a “hidden-gem” in Umbria, Italy surrounded by vast green hills & rich vineyards. Spoleto became a Roman colony in 241 BC and has successfully repulsed an attack by the Carthaginian general, Hannibal, in 217 BC . It later became important because of its strategic location on the Roman artery Via Flaminia and its great role in the Gothic wars. 

Walking around Spoleto’s narrow streets and enjoying its landscapes is enough to make you feel you are back in the Medieval Era.

Below are the top sights and activities to check when visiting Spoleto:

1. Duomo di Spoleto (Spoleto Cathedral )

The church is an example of Romanesque architecture and was built from the second half of the 12th century after the city had been devastated by Frederick Barbarossa‘s army.

The most striking feature is this Byzantine-hieratic mosaic portraying Christ giving a Benediction by Doctor Solsternus (1207). The latter kept calling himself an outstanding modern artist with nothing else known about him and this being his only known work. It would take half a century before the mosaics in Roman churches would surpass his style.

2. Ponte delle Torri

Ponte delle Torri

Ponte delle Torri (Bridge of Towers) stands on 10 pillars built on the foundations of a Roman aqueduct at a height of 262 feet (80 meters) and offers a splendid panoramic view of the city.

3. Rocca Albornoziana (Castle of Spoleto)

After checking the Ponte, head to Rocca Albornoziana which is a fortress that stands on Colle Sant’Elia, towering over the vast Spoleto valley. Its construction started in 1359 and it belongs to a series of fortresses whose construction was ordered by Pope Innocent VI to re-affirm the Pope’s authority in central Italy.

4. Lunch Essentials

After the long walk up to Ponte delle Torri & Rocca Albornoziana, a lunch is a must. Enjoy a home-cooked meal at “Trattoria Del Festival” located in the center (Via Brignone, 8, 06049 Spoleto PG, Italy).

5. Teatro/Museo Romano di Spoleto

Teatro Romano (Roman Theater) located inside the monumental complex of Sant’Agata, is a theatrical building dating back to the 1st century BC. The theatre was damaged by a landslide caused by an earthquake and got restored in the ancient times.

The monastery of Sant’Agata now houses the National Archaeological Museum of Spoleto and the theater is used for concerts and shows.

6. Basilica of Sant’Eufemia

Sant’Eufemia is a Romanesque-style, Roman Catholic basilica church. The church is dedicated to Saint Euphemia of Chalcedon. It is a great place to take some artistic pictures.

7. Catch a movie at Sala Pegasus

This movie theatre/exhibit was the former church of San Lorenzo, currently called Sala Pegasus. In 1972, some restorations made it possible to transform it into how it looks today!

It was dedicated to Saint Lawrence, a Syrian monk, bishop and local martyr who died in 576. Saint Lawrence is said to be the “illuminator” for the miracles related to healings from blindness.

8. Have a walk & grab a coffee at Vincenzo Art Cafè 

Enjoy the end of the tour with a warm cup of coffee or tea. The art café looks great on the inside and has delicious sandwiches and snacks you can grab.

Then head to Piazza del Mercato and enjoy a great stroll around the piazza!

Summer Bucket list: Top 4 Lakes to Visit Near Rome

As much as I like going to the beach, I always appreciate the lakes around Rome due to the beautiful and lavish-green mountains surrounding it. If you feel like surviving a hot day and having a dip in refreshing waters, consider these lakes below which are all within reach from Rome.

1. Lago di Turano

Lago di Turano looks unrealistic. It is so gorgeous that it has been used several times as a film location during the filming of “The Patron” starring Lucio Dalla. All you need to do when you arrive is spread a picnic blanket and just enjoy the view while eating some fresh pizza prepared by the artisanal bakeries nearby.

2. Lago di Bracciano

Lago di Bracciano is a volcanic crater lake and is the eighth largest in Italy.The lake is surrounded with beautiful medieval towns where the medieval Castello Orsini-Odescalchi palace is actually famous for hosting the wedding of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. Other villages that lie along the lake are Anguillara Sabazia and Trevignano Romano. The lake is surrounded with cute aperitif places where you can have a drink with delicious local food.

3. Lago Albano

Lago Albano is the lake located in the Castelli Romani (Castel Gandolfo). The pope’s summer residence is actually located at Castel Gandolfo, a charming town with amazing views of the lake below. Nearby towns include Ariccia, a town famous for its porchetta and Marino, best known for its wine festival that takes place each October. For dinner, go to one of the restaurants with the view of the lake. I recommend Ristorante Pagnanelli (1882) which is one of the oldest restaurants I have been to (P.S. order the sparkling wine).

4. Lago di Nemi

This lake is a small and eventful lake which derives its name from Nemi, a town located above the lake and known for its wild strawberries; the town hosts a strawberry festival at the end of spring each year. Nearby lies Genzano di Roma which hosts a magnificent flower festival (the annual infiorata), a three-day flower festival in June that coincides with the religious holiday of Corpus Christi, 60 days after Easter.

The Famous Carnevale Festival: Genzano

Carnival (Carnevale) in Italy is a huge winter festival which entails people wearing masks and costumes, lively parades, music, sweets and local traditions.

Carnevale, also known as Carnival or Mardi Gras, is celebrated in Italy and many places around the world during the 40 days before Easter, and a final party before Ash Wednesday and Lent.  Carnevale events often last for two to three weeks before the actual carnival day. Many Italian towns celebrate Carnevale the weekend before the last day of carnival.

Usually the best parade spots take place in Venice,Cento,Viareggio and Putignano. However, I was not able to attend the parades in those locations but I did attend the one in Genzano di Roma. Genzano di Roma is a town in the in Lazio region of central Italy . It is one of the Castelli Romani, at a distance of 29 kilometres (18 mi) from Rome, in the Alban Hills.

Below I will be sharing a set of pictures taken at the Genzano di Roma Carnevale:

These lovely women posing for the picture 🙂

A Must-See: Tivoli in a Day!

Who knew that a 3 euro train ticket from Rome can take you to this little haven called Tivoli. Tivoli is a small town and comune in Lazio, central Italy, about 30 kilometres of Rome (1.25 hours by train), at the falls of the Aniene river where it issues from the Sabine hills. So what can you do in Tivoli for a day?

The Cathedral

1- Upon Arrival

On your way from the train station to the center of Tivoli, you can spot a huge bridge that you have to cross. Indulge in the beauty of the lake and the view right upon arrival.

2. Have Breakfast at Caffè Rêtro

Caffè Rêtro is an espresso bar that I always stumble upon while in Tivoli. This place has delicious desserts, great coffee, and lovely staff!

3. Visit the Villa d’Este Palace

The Villa d’Este is a 16th-century villa in Tivoli famous for its terraced hillside Italian Renaissance garden and especially for its profusion of fountains. It is now an Italian state museum, and is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site (in case you are into checking UNESCO heritage sites off your list as myself). This villa is one of the most beautiful villas I have visited yet.

A full visit ticket is for € 12,00 : they don’t take credits cards, so bring cash!

4. Via delle Cascatelle

This walkway allows you to see the amazing waterfalls that cascade in the northern part of Tivoli.

If you want to view the waterfalls from the top, there is a small path from Via Quintilio Varo – which heads to the edge of the falls where you can see the cascades.

5. The Temple of Vesta

Next to via Via delle Cascatelle stands the Temple of Vesta. This temple is a very important structure of the ancient acropolis of Tivoli and is next to the Temple of the Sibyl. Dating back to the first century BC, this temple is the most famous monument of ancient Tibur. Over the centuries, the Temple of Vesta has become the most painted subject by Italian and foreign artists, and by the rich aristocrats who used to come to Tivoli in the 19th century.

Access to the temple is through a gate and it is visible from the Ponte Gregoriano bridge and is free of charge.

6. Head to Rocca Pia: A Medieval Fortress

Rocca Pia is an ancient medieval fortress that was built during the 15th century and was built to strengthen the defense of Tivoli. This fortress is 500 years old and still looks anew.

Although entry is not always permitted inside the Rocca Pia, it is essential for you to go and take a look at it’s marvelous and unique architecture.

7. Enjoy the sunset while walking through Tivoli’s alleys

The vibes you get walking through these alleys and small streets is indescribable. Hopefully, my photographs gives them their worth!

8. Grab Dinner at Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi

This is the main piazza that has several restaurants that serve food at reasonable prices. Try the spinach and ricotta ravioli!