15 Best things to do in Odessa (Ukraine)

Established by imperial decree at the end of the 18th century, Odessa quickly became an important port on the Black Sea. In the 19th century, Odessa was the most populous city in the future Ukraine, inhabited by giants of the era like writer Alexander Pushkin and Field Marshal Vorontsov, who made his name during the Napoleonic Wars.

Today, Odessa is the most popular holiday destination in Ukraine due to its culture, mild climate and beaches. Many Golden Age buildings are preserved in palaces, cultural parks, boulevards, ceremonial staircases and a fascinating opera house, considered one of the best in Europe.

Let’s explore the best things to do in Odessa:

1. Odessa Opera and Ballet Theatre

Odessa Opera and Ballet Theater

The magnificent Opera House is a masterpiece of Odessa, conceived in the 1880s by the Viennese partners Fellner & Helmer.

Fellner & Helmer contributed dozens of opera houses in Central and Eastern Europe, but they consider the opera house in Odessa as their masterpiece.

If you want more details on its academic architecture and technical specifications, you can take a daytime tour, but there’s nothing quite like an opera or ballet performance.

They are very reasonably priced by Western European standards, just 15 euros for booths and seats in the front of the balcony. So if you’ve brought a stylish outfit, watching Carmen, Swan Lake or Iolanta at night might be an impulse.

2. Potemkin Staircase

Potemkin Staircase, Odessa

This grand staircase is a very grand way of entering Odessa from the port.

The staircase is paved with granite, a gift ordered by Prince Vorontsov to his wife and built in the early 1840s.

There are 192 steps in total, with a total length of 142 meters and a height difference of 27 meters.

The stairs have some interesting quirks: one is that the bottom (21.7 meters) is much wider than the top (12.5 meters). This is intentional, and it’s done to create a false perspective that makes the stairs appear larger when you’re looking at them from below.

It’s also interesting that when you’re standing on the top, you can only see the platform, and from the bottom you can only see the steps.

3. Deribasfska Street

Deribasivska Street, Odessa

Deribasivska Street, which traverses the city for nearly a kilometer, is the beating heart of Odessa.

Whether you’re shopping, dining or sightseeing, you’ll keep finding yourself on this vibrant main road.

Deribasivska Street is named after one of Odessa’s founders, José de Ribas of Naples, whose statue you can find at the eastern end of the street.

The western half, which became a pedestrian street in 1984, features rows of 19th and early 20th century mansions.

In summer, this half street is a blur of sightseers, street performers and other street artists, as well as a long terrace of cafés and restaurants where you can enjoy yourself.

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4. City Garden

City Garden, Odessa

Odessa’s oldest park was landscaped in 1803 by José de Ribas’ brothers and was originally private property.

It opens onto Bassivska Street in Delhi, with paved paths, iron lanterns and flower beds with small iron fences.

These are centered around the beautiful pavilion, fountain and summer theater of the Odessa Philharmonic.

Recitals are held throughout most of the summer, adding more sophistication to the place.

The city garden is also home to several monuments commemorating figures of Odessa culture: the Twelve Chairs Monument is a tribute to the famous Russian satirical novel of the same name by brothers Ilf and Petrov.

5. Primorsky Krai

Primorsky Avenue, Odessa

Primorsky Boulevard, perpendicular to the upper platform of the Potemkin Staircase, is a cultural street and sidewalk next to Istanbul Park.

On the city side there is a row of tall mansions, now hotels and museums, while the four-lane walkway is divided by lawns and surrounded by small wrought iron railings, as seen from the harbour.

At the top of the Potemkin Stairs, you can take the cable car downhill.

There is also a statue of Duke Richelieu, the first governor of Odessa, in Roman attire.

Another monument, on the east side of the boulevard, pays tribute to Alexander Pushkin, who lived in Odessa for over a year until 1824.

6. Odessa Passage

Odessa Passage, Odessa

Just off Deribasivska Street, there is a luxury shopping thoroughfare of the late 19th century covered with a metal and glass canopy.

Odessa Passage is part of a sizable development that includes a hotel on the upper three floors.

It’s all in a luxurious academic style: at the entrance you’ll encounter statues of Mercury and Fortuna, with stucco moldings and rows of exuberant sculptures on the ground floor.

All this attests to the luxury of the last years of Tsarist Russia.

This passage has boutiques, souvenir shops and cafés to browse through, as well as a plaque commemorating the location of the Carl Fabergé Odessa branch.

7. Odessa Founders Monument

Odessa founder monument

Walk along Katerynyns’ka Street from the upper platform of the Potemkin Staircase and you will soon come to the foot of a magnificent monument with many clues about Odessa’s past.

On the pedestal stands Catherine the Great, who decreed in 1794 to build a port and a city here.

At the base were Catherine’s advisor, Count Gregory Potemkin, officer José Deribas, another Catherine’s favorite, Platten Zuboff, and finally François Saint-Devolante, a Flemish engineer.

Built in 1900, the monument was demolished in the 1920s during the Soviet era and finally restored in 2007 at the initiative of local businessmen.

8. Transform into a Cathedral

Transfiguration Cathedral, Odessa

Look at this church without knowing its story and you’ll never believe it’s probably less than 20 years old.

The original Neoclassical Transfiguration Cathedral was built in 1827 and demolished by the Soviet Union in 1936. It wasn’t until 1999 that the building was rebuilt according to the same plan.

The work took less than four years, and when it reopened, some of the outstanding tombs were moved back 80 years ago after they were excavated and buried elsewhere.

The most famous of these is Prince Mikhail Semenovich Vorontsov, Governor of New Russia, whose mausoleum now occupies an important place inside.

9. Archaeological Museum

Archaeological Museum, Odessa

As the oldest museum institution in Ukraine, the origin of this attraction dates back to 1825. The museum houses up to 170,000 exhibits, all related to the region and the ancient history of Greece, Italy, Egypt and Cyprus.

The palace that houses the attraction was built in 1883 and stands out for its large neoclassical portico.

The sarcophagi, papyrus and hieroglyphs in Egyptian galleries are always flattering.

There are a large number of 50,000 coins from ancient Greece to the era of the Russian Empire.

The museum also hosts an exhibition under the glass canopy on Primorksy Avenue, where you can see the foundations of Bronze Age settlements from the 5th to 3rd centuries BC.

10. Vorontsov Palace

Odessa Vorontsov Palace

Completed in 1830, this fabulous palace is located at the western end of Primorsky Krai.

It was ordered by Prince Mikhail Semenovich Vorontsov, who hired Sardinian architect Francesco Beaufort to design it.

Vorontsov was so pleased with Boffo’s work that he quickly commissioned him to design the Potemkin Staircase.

It’s a landmark from the outside, but there’s a lot to admire.

Standing above the port is a crescent-shaped colonnade, and guarding the palace are a pair of lions imitating Roman Medici lions.

During the bombing of the Crimean War, the palace and grounds were littered with hundreds of shells, one of which is still stuck on the walls of the palace’s ground floor.

11. Longgren Beach

Odessa Langeron Beach

Around from the port to the coast is the first of a series of beaches extending several kilometers to the south.

Langeron is the easiest place to get to and is always packed in July and August, although it’s a bit cramped and sand free.

If you think Langeron is a little rough, you just have to keep scrolling down to find one you like.

TABU is wider, cleaner overall, and if you want waiter service and a quieter environment, there are also affordable private beach clubs like Bono and Ibiza in Arcadia.

12. Port of Odessa

Port of Odessa

At the foot of the Potemkin Stairs, you can spend a few minutes wandering around the passenger terminal and watching the Black Sea.

The city’s success in the 19th century was attributed to its being a warm water port, so it did not freeze in winter, an important feature of that period.

Over the past 200 years, the waterfront has witnessed some dramatic moments in the Crimean War, as well as the mass exodus of Jews during a series of Holocausts at the end of the 19th century.

On the pier behind the terminal, there is a statue of a fisherman’s wife holding a child looking out to sea, as well as a small maritime museum and several seafood restaurants.

13. Odessa Museum of Eastern and Western Art

Odessa Museum of Eastern and Western Art

A few steps down from the Opera House, on Pushkinska Street, a striking art museum was built in a noble sky-blue mansion in 1858. The museum was established in 1923 with art from private collections and by the University of Odessa.

The name is a bit misleading because, with the exception of some china, weapons and furniture, almost all of the artwork comes from Western Europe, mainly the Netherlands and Italy.

There are paintings by Caravaggio, Rubens, Francesco Guardi, Gerard David and Abraham Blomar.

Perhaps the most prominent are the two “electrons” of the evangelist Saint Luke and Saint Matthew by Dutch Baroque master Frans Hals.

14. Shevchenko Park

Shevchenko Park Ferris Wheel

Long before Odessa existed, there was an Ottoman fortress on the site of this park above the harbour.

When it was occupied in the 18th century, it was replaced by a Russian stronghold that quickly became obsolete as the frontier shifted southwest.

So from the beginning of the 19th century, this area became the isolation area of ​​the port, and from this period, there is still an arcade with a view of the container port.

It was all turned into a park in 1875, originally named after Tsar Alexander II, then changed to Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko in the 1950s.

At the entrance there is a monument to Shevchenko, as well as a monument to Tsar Alexander II that has been restored since Soviet times.

15. Odessa Catacombs

Odessa Catacombs

The Odessa Catacombs in the village of Nerubayskoye are a huge labyrinth beneath the city (and its surroundings).

The catacombs are the longest in the world.

Guided tours are a great way to learn more about their uses (it involves robbers, smugglers, and hiding in WWII).

Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Odessa, Ukraine
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