If you were asked to put together a list of popular countries to visit on a cruise, the chances are Ukraine wouldn’t be on it. The truth is, it enjoys a very warm summer and a pleasant late spring and early autumn climate and if you book a Black Sea or Eastern Mediterranean cruise, there’s a good chance you’ll call at one of Ukraine’s true coastal gems, Odessa.
Ukraine’s third largest city has a long history, dating back to the time of the ancient Greeks who established a colony in the area. Throughout the Middle Ages, the site was in the hands of a number of nomadic tribes, the Golden Horde and the Ottoman Empire but it wasn’t until 1794 that Odessa was established as a city. Founded by Catherine the Great, then leader of the Russian Empire, it was chosen because of ice-free and strategically located port and since then has been the site of battles and revolutionary clashes, meaning there’s a fascinating history to explore.
As such a historic city, Odessa’s attractions are mainly cultural, though there’s plenty to keep you occupied and a number of iconic landmarks to see.
The Potemkin Steps, as they are now commonly known, are perhaps the city’s most popular tourist attraction, thanks to their starring role in one of cinema’s most influential classics, Battleship Potemkin. The 1925 silent film dramatises the Battleship Potemkin uprising of 1905, when the ship’s crew supported a worker’s revolt which resulted in the murder of thousands of Odessa’s citizens and though in reality, the murders didn’t take place on the steps, they do in the film, which is why they’ve become such a popular attraction. The Duke de Richelieu monument is another famous landmark, and conveniently, it can be found at the top of the Potemkin Steps. Dedicated to the French Statesman who served as an officer in the Russian Army and who became Governor of Odessa thanks to a close friendship with Tsar Alexander I, it’s a great place from which to look down and view the harbour. One of the city’s key architectural landmarks is its fully-functioning railway station which is also serves as a monument to the city’s history. Examine the main entrance and you’ll see statues of those who fought and worked in the name of Odessa.
Odessa’s State Academical Opera and Ballet Theatre is perhaps its most popular cultural attraction and a great place to visit whether or not you’re into opera or ballet. It’s a re-build, dating back to 1887 after the original theatre was destroyed by fire and has since been extensively renovated. There’s some great architecture to appreciate but if you do happen to be a fan and have more time in the city, ticket prices are very reasonable. A stroll through Odessa’s streets will take you to many areas of cultural interest, but one of the city’s most popular attractions lies beneath them the catacombs. There are a number of tours available which explore this historic area which is one of the world’s most extensive catacomb systems. Originally dug for limestone, they were developed in the Second World War as the base of the resistance movement and it’s mostly this part of their history you’ll learn all about during a tour. Above ground, be sure to head to Deribasovskaya Street for a taste of contemporary Odessa. This is the main pedestrian area, a cobbled street lined with street-side cafes, shops and great places to eat. Picturesque tree-lined Primorsky Boulevard meanwhile, is the best place to take in the air and the panoramic views of the Black Sea below.
By Simon Brotherton