Our hearts go out to all Ukrainians and those affected by the war. Please note that this article was written in 2019, before Putin’s full invasion of Ukraine. It’s not safe to visit Odessa at this time. You can check the U.S. Department of State’s website for the most up-to-date travel recommendations.
Located on the Black Sea, Odessa has become a popular tourist attraction in recent years as people seek new beach destinations due to the conflict in Crimea. However, Odessa offers so much more than beaches.
I’ll show you all the wonderful things to do in Odessa – both those that are the must-sees and those that no one knows about.
Accessible Travel Note: If you’re a wheelchair user, head over to our post on Wheelchair Accessible Things to do in Odessa, Ukraine.
1. Visit the Opera and Ballet Theater
The Opera and Ballet Theater is Odessa’s iconic landmark. Even if you aren’t into theater, don’t be surprised if you find yourself lining up at the ticket office, if only to see the inside of the building.
Performances are held frequently and you can view a list of upcoming shows on the Odessa Opera’s website. Prices are reasonable, starting at around 15 Euro for the most economical seats.
If you don’t attend a performance, make sure to walk around the perimeter of the theater from the outside. The architecture will leave you in awe.
On the backside of the theater, there’s a garden with some restaurants scattered about. The restaurants are expensive, for Ukrainian standards, but the ambiance makes it a great dining option.
2. Get some exercise on the Potemkin Stairs
The Potemkin Stairs are famous in Ukraine and hordes of tourists visit to see the optical illusion. It’s best to get there by 8:00am if you’re traveling during the high season (summer).
When you stand at the top of the stairs and look out over the port, it appears that there are only a few sets of stairs on a mild incline.
There are actually 192 steps built into a steep hill!
My favorite view of the stairs is from the bottom, looking up. From there, you can take in the immensity of the stairs and the incredible engineering that went into building them.
The stairs are more than manageable for anyone of average fitness. Wide platforms between each set of stairs offer a break from the uphill climb. About halfway up, you can detour to a park for a rest on the benches.
If taking the stairs isn’t feasible for you, there’s a funicular that you can take for a mere 5 UAH.
3. Go inside the post office
I promised you off-the-beaten-path things to do in Odessa and the post office is one of them.
The post office is pretty from the outside but absolutely stunning from the inside. When I went, there were about three times the number of employees as customers. A welcome change from the dreaded post office lines in the U.S.
Nonetheless, only a small portion of the counters were operating, representing both how many people used the post office back in the day and how few need it in our modern world.
There’s a place at the entrance of the post office where you can purchase a card to mail home to your loved ones from Ukraine. Buying Ukrainian stamps make for great souvenirs!
Travel Tip: Try going inside one of the buildings across from the post office. Formerly private mansions, these buildings were turned into tenant housing during the Soviet Union.
4. Visit the Transfiguration Orthodox Cathedral
Transfiguration Orthodox Cathedral was the first church built in Odessa and is the largest in the city.
Unfortunately, the cathedral isn’t in its original state. It was destroyed by the Soviet Union and the Soviets built a school from the limestone rubble, which is located across the street and still functions today.
In 2003, Ukrainians finished rebuilding the cathedral. Make sure to go inside because it’s even more stunning than the outside.
Ladies: Technically, you should wear something on your head since this is an orthodox church, although as you can see in the photo above, not all women do so. Covering your head doesn’t have to be fancy- a baseball hat will do.
5. Visit the Lutheran Church
While we’re on the church theme, let’s touch on another church as one of the things to do in Odessa. The Lutheran Church is located in the German district of Odessa and is the tallest building in the city.
If you take a boat ride on the Black Sea, you’ll be able to spot its steeple. Sailors continue to use the Lutheran Church steeple as a guide for when they’re on the water.
The Lutheran Church was closed every time I went. However, it’s still a functioning church. Therefore, if you’re itching to see the inside of it, aim to visit during mass.
6. Derybasivska Street
A stroll down Derybasivska Street is a must-do when visiting Odessa. This cobblestone pedestrian street runs through the heart of downtown Odessa.
Filled with restaurants and shops, it’s a great place to try local (and international) cuisine. It’s also a great place for nightlife. Prices are more expensive along this street than other parts of Odessa but are still reasonable for those coming from Western countries.
Ukrainian food is flavorful and diverse. They use a lot of sour cream, grains and root vegetables in their dishes.
Some of my favorites were vareniki (dumplings), okroshka soup and deruny (potato pancakes).
Make sure to leave room for dessert. A popular breakfast dish, which tastes like dessert, is syrniki. This is a sweet cheese dish topped with fruit, honey, and sugar. Yum!
If you’re looking for an ultra-authentic restaurant experience, look no further than the restaurant near the Transfiguration Orthodox Cathedral. Since the restaurant’s name is in Cyrillic, so you have a reference, the address is Koblevska Street 46. This is what you’re looking for:
For around $3 USD, you’ll be able to order a full meal. However, just as good as their meals are their “snacks.” Order a few of these snacks to share with your friends and you’ll get to try an array of Ukrainian food that’ll leave you fuller than a meal.
The restaurant will be able to dust off an English menu for you if you point to a menu and say “English.” You’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone that speaks English there.
8. Explore the Privoz Market
When I first saw Odessa’s market, I thought for a split second that I landed in Florida. The brightly colored, ornate exterior of the Privoz Market is an attraction in and of itself.
But once you go inside, you’ll be surrounded by the chaotic hustle and bustle of any good market. A small section of the market is indoors, which sells meat and fish. However, the majority is outdoors, with sheets and other items hanging between stalls for shade.
This is a great place to stock up on produce. You can also purchase clothing and other knickknacks.
The market is located about 10 minutes by foot from the orthodox cathedral. In fact, if you’re at the cathedral and walk to the market, you’ll pass by the local restaurant mentioned in point #7.
9. Visit the beaches
Odessa is a port city on the Black Sea. While the downtown area is located right around the port, head out about 20 – 30 minutes by foot away from the center and you’ll encounter a variety of beaches.
I won’t beat around the bush here- the beaches aren’t stunning.
In summer, they’re packed to the brim with people, plus, knowing that the port isn’t far, I had a hard time believing the water was clean enough for swimming.
Nonetheless, beach life is an important part of Odessa, so you should pay a visit to the beach. You’ll have a plethora of restaurants and bars to choose from. Nightlife is especially active around Arcadia Beach, so it’s a fun place to feel the pulse of the city in the evening.
Travel Tip: If you’re looking for a quieter beach experience, drive to the many beaches past Arcadia, or to the beaches on the opposite side of Odessa.
10. Steve Jobs Monument
If you’re an Apple lover, make sure to pay the Steve Jobs Monument a visit. The monument is tucked back on a side street, off the beaten tourist path. It’s a great opportunity to enjoy the sights of Odessa’s beautiful, and in some cases unkempt, architecture.
The monument was built by university students from a tech school after Steve Jobs passed away. The monument has a simple “Thanks, Steve” written on it.
At first glance, the building behind the monument looks abandoned. However, it is, in fact, university housing for tech students.
Address: Novosel’s’koho St, 74
11. Drunk Cherry
If you’re coming from Lviv, you should already be familiar with the Drunk Cherry. Cherry liquor originated in Lviv, Ukraine, and the chain Drunk Cherry has spread its wings into Odessa.
The Drunk Cherry is small, and for good reason…they only sell cherry liquor!
The liquor makes for great souvenirs, but if you’re dying to try some on the spot, there’s a bar inside the store. There are also some outdoor tables and the place gets packed at night, especially during the summer.
Address: Havanna St, 12
12. One Wall House
While there are plenty of buildings in Odessa, and other parts of Europe, that appear to have only one wall, depending on the angle you’re looking at, there’s a building in Odessa that’s particularly famous.
There are two theories for why the building was designed in a triangular shape, giving it the appearance of having one wall. The first is that money ran out, so they decided to build three walls instead of four. The second is that there was a lack of land, due to the nature of the surrounding streets.
Either way, the One Wall House is a frequent tourist stop, so be on the lookout for photo-taking crowds, if you’re having trouble finding it.
Address: Vorontsovsky Lane, 4
13. The House with Atlantes
The House with Atlantes is an iconic architectural gem in Odessa. It’s a residential apartment but is famous for two statues of Atlantes holding the heavens on their backs.
The apartment is located in the city center but on a quieter street near the One Wall House. While it was nice to see the House with Atlantes, I found wandering the side streets near the building to be just as impressive. Odessa is full of beautiful buildings for the architecture buff.
Address: Gogolya Str., 5
Fun Fact: When wandering the streets of Odessa, you’re bound to notice countless beautiful trees lining the streets. There used to be a law that there had to be a tree in front of every apartment window. That’s why many sidewalks are lined with two rows of trees.
14. Walk through Odessa’s Passage
It’s easy to miss the Passage Mall in Odessa, which is an old, covered shopping mall. However, step inside and the glass-covered ceilings and ornately decorated walls will make you feel that you’ve gone back in time.
The Passage Mall is very much the local’s secret- you won’t find the crowds of tourists here like around the opera theater. It circles around, with entrances on two separate streets.
It won’t take you more than a minute or two to walk through the passage, but since it’s located right in downtown, I highly recommend taking the time to do so.
Addresses: Preobrazhenska Street, 34 and Derybasivska Street, 33
So there you have it, fourteen things to do in Odessa that will have you seeing the most popular and unique parts of the city.
Have you visited Odessa? What are your favorite things to do there? Are you planning a trip to Odessa? Share any questions you have in the comments section.
P.S.- Traveling to Kyiv? Don’t miss my guide on the Best Things to do in Kyiv (that aren’t only churches).