If you’ve ever wanted to ‘party like a Russian,' (cue Robbie Williams’ song), then Odessa in Eastern Europe is the place to do it.
Founded in 1974 by a Russian Empress called Catherine the Great, Odessa served as an important port. Being strategically close to Russia meant that the city was able to provide protection from foreign invaders.
Nowadays this Ukrainian resort on the Black Sea coast is where you’ll find the party. Both Russians and Ukrainians come from all over the country for a summer break but Odessa has so much more to offer than vodka shots, DJs and the best clubs. If you are travelling to Odessa, here are my recommendations of what to do in Odessa as a solo.
1. Odessa Opera
One of most important attractions is the Opera House. Once called “the best opera in the world,” this beautiful building is in a true Vienna style, and was designed by Austrian architects. The interior oozes luxury with red velvet decor, sculptures, and antique columns and is worth a tour but if you are in Odessa on a Friday or Saturday, instead of taking a tour buy a ticket for a performance instead. It’s cheaper and as well as seeing inside its beautiful interior you get to watch an amazing performance. Plus it’s a great activity to do when you are solo.
2. Potemkin Steps
As one of the city’s icons, this giant stairway is a monument to the battle that took place here in 1905. It’s even starred in a movie in the early 20th century called Battleship Potemkin. The steps are also a symbol of the city’s philosophy. When you look up you see only stairs to climb which represents the ‘hard way.’ Looking down you see platforms symbolising the ‘easier way.’
If you prefer company to explore the city you can take a city centre walking tour through Odessa or a private Odesa city walking tour instead.
Whichever way you look at it, the stairs are definitely a must-see in Odessa and offer a great view of the harbour from the top. If you don’t want to climb them you can take the funicular instead which leaves from the bottom of the steps on the left-hand side.
3. Catherine The Great
As you reach the top of Potemkin Steps you’ll enter Catherine Square. Named after Catherine the Great, the monument that sits in the centre is the Monument to the Founders of Odessa – Catherine herself and her associates who helped build the city and the port. The monument was constructed in 1900 but the granite statue is controversial.
A police car is parked close to the square to prevent anti-Russian haters from destroying the statue. The square itself is quite small but it is surrounded by stunning architecture with nice restaurants and bars nearby.
4. The 12 Chairs
Walk around Odessa and you’ll see plenty of quirky sculptures and monuments. The monument to the 12th chair is one of the most well known. It is based on the novel The 12 Chairs, a famous story of two writers from Odessa. The story is set back in the days when Ukraine was part of the USSR and although its location is in an imaginary town, it is believed to be Odessa.
Then there’s the monument to the Sailor’s Wife which stands at the city’s waterfront. The bronze child waving her father off on the ship whilst her mother holds her on the rails. It’s a poignant statue.
My favourite one is the one dedicated to Steve Jobs, founder of Apple. This two metre hand was created by scrap metal on the first anniversary of his death. and the sign on it simply says “Thanks, Steve.”
5. Admire the Architecture
What I love about Odessa is that it is a really nice city to walk around. From the port area to the train station, you can wander through calming parks, stroll past squares, and just admire the different buildings. Even the dilapidated buildings and walls have been spruced up with silhouettes of Victorian people peering out of windows or riding a tandem.
The Flat House is definitely an unusual piece of architecture. From its side, it looks completely flat and as though it only has one wall. Also known as the Witch’s House, you’ll find the house with one wall at Vorontsovsky Lane. Stand on the circle opposite to see the illusion.
From the Russian Orthodox church of St. Panteleimon, to the Venetian-style Odessa Philharmonic Theatre there are so many photo opportunities here. Even the main post office which was built at the end of the 19th century is beautiful to look at inside.
One of the city’s features is its courtyards and you can take a walking tour of the secret corners and spiral staircases of the courtyards of Old Odessa.
6. Go Shopping
If you are travelling in Ukraine and not able to make it all the way to Lviv, a city in western Ukraine known for its chocolate, you can bring Lviv to you at the Lviv Chocolate Shop. This handmade shop has everything from lavender chocolate to homemade chocolate gift sets – perfect for taking home as presents.
If you are watching your figure, then maybe you’ll prefer some of the local artwork instead. You’ll often find local artists at the fountain displaying their landscape and other artwork for sale. Or join the street art walking tour to learn more about the new street art movements and how it’s made the city more picturesque.
For souvenirs head to the underground passages near the train station to find cheap gifts amongst the labyrinth of stalls. The most expensive shops here are at Passage, where you’ll find the luxury brands on the first floor – a nice place to window shop.
Although it is a cheap country, if you decide to shop, the clothes and shoes aren’t that cheap in comparison to everything else but it’s worth looking around the malls such as Europa.
7. Listen to Music
From accordion players in the park to DJ sets in the bar. There’s plenty of music to listen to in Odessa. If you prefer to be outside for some tunes, you’ll often find musicians playing within the city centre at night. Central Park hold concerts in the summer so if you visit during this time check the listings to see whats on.
But… if you do want to ‘party like a Russian', there really is no better spot to do it. Get yourself down to Arcadia which is right on the water for Ukraine’s very own Vegas.
Cue Robbie Williams…
Other Things To Do in Odessa
You can’t miss the Catacombs off your Odessa itinerary. I didn’t get to see them unfortunately but this abandoned underground world that is on the outskirts of Odessa is meant to be worth a look. You can explore the mazes and corridors of the catacombs whilst finding out more about their interesting history.
I did enjoy a glass of wine at a bar with a newfound friend from the hostel but if you don’t find anyone to explore the nightlife with, you can always join the pub walk tour where you learn the story of beer making in Odessa. You learn about the history of a neighbourhood and its drinking and eating traditions before moving on to the next one.
If you prefer company to dine with, there are also food tours where you explore the city’s historic quarter, enjoying some Ukrainian dumplings and desserts along the way.
If you like to try the wine in a destination, you can visit the Tairov winery in Tairovo village, where the oldest winemaking research organisation in Ukraine is located. (This is on the itinerary for next time!)
Where To Stay in Odessa
There are plenty of types of accommodations in Odessa from hotels to guest houses, hostels, apartments, holiday homes, inns and villas. And it’s really affordable too. If you are backpacking alone in Ukraine you may prefer to stay in a hostel in either a dorm room or upgrade to a private room for your own space.
Plus there’s Airbnb which offers rental accommodation in Odessa on a short-term basis and rooms with a local. You can stay in a private room in a local's house or rent their whole apartment. Save $20 off your first stay with this Airbnb link.
If you are searching for the best hostels in Odesa Ukraine, all of the accommodations below have been recommended by solo female travellers from our Girls about the Globe community and come with a Solo Female Friendly endorsement.
I stayed at Friday Hostel Odessa which was one of the best hostels that I have stayed in. It was walking distance from the train station and really sociable. I met some people to explore the nightlife with and even met someone else who was taking the same overnight train to Kiev. The common area is great and the Wifi is good. The whole place is so clean and there are plenty of showers and toilets. The staff also speak a bit of English so you don’t need to speak Russian. It cost me £18 for 3 nights in a 7 bed dorm which I had to myself for the first night. Choose from a bed in a 4 to 8 bed mixed dormitory room, or an 8-bed female-only dorm. You can also upgrade to a double room for the total of £18 a night.
- Prices from £6 / €7 per night for a 7 bed dormitory room
- To book, check prices or availability for Friday Hostel
Wine&Pillow Hotel – ££
This 4-star hotel is in a great location in the city near to restaurants and cafes. It has a gorgeous design and is clean and modern. There’s the option to include breakfast which is served in the beautiful lobby. The front desk is open 24 hours and they also offer room service and airport transfers. Because of it’s location, it can be a bit noisy so if you are a light-sleeper you may want to pack some ear plugs. Choose from a budget double or twin room without a window, a standard double with attic window or a superior double or twin with a city view.
- Prices from £29 / €34 per night for a budget double without a window
- To book, check prices or availability for Wine&Pillow Hotel
For those who prefer somewhere more comfortable, the Grand Otrada Hotel Resort & Spa will make you feel welcome. The staff are friendly and many speak English. Located near Otrada Beach, you have free access to the cable way and taxis are cheap into the city. A continental breakfast is included and you can pamper yourself in the spa and the sauna and relax at the indoor pool. Choose from a standard or superior double room, a king studio or a king suite.
- Prices from £58 / €68 per night for a standard double room
- To book, check prices or availability for Grand Otrada Hotel Resort & Spa
Getting To and From Odessa
I travelled from Tiraspol in Transnistria to Odessa on an old Soviet train. The train left Tiraspol at 09.44 and arrived in Odessa at 12.25. The train cost £6.00 one way and I booked my ticket through Tutu.Travel.
If you’re not able to travel to Transnistria, you can experience it on a virtual tour instead. Anton takes you on a tour of his city and an unforgettable journey through lost Soviet places and beautiful panoramas. His tour takes approximately 2.5 hours and he even takes you to abandoned USSR places that even his real tours haven't been to.
From Odessa I travelled to Kiev on the night train. Again this was an old Soviet train. The train left Odessa at 22.25 and arrived in Kiev at 07.10 the next morning. It cost £12 and I booked it through Booking.uz.gov.ua.
If you want to take a walking tour to get your bearings – Odessa by Locals is a free walking tour where you pay a donation at the end. I took this tour and found it really informative. You can find other day tours here.
How good is Odessa for solos? I spent 4 days in Odessa and loved it. I walked around freely in the day solo but went out at night with others. You do need to be careful crossing the roads so use the underpasses instead. There are pickpockets at the railway station at night so keep an eye on your belongings. Taxis don’t have the safest reputation so download Uber to get around the city to be safer.
- Remembering My Time in Ukraine
- Visiting Kiev Solo
- Taking a Chernobyl Tour
- Solo Travel in Europe
- Solo Travel in Moldova
- Moldova Transnistria – The Last Part of The USSR
- Why Take a Russian Tour