The Guide to Nikolaev, Ukraine For Visitors
Nikolaev is a city in the South of Ukraine, known as The City of Brides and Ships. While we can’t promise you will meet the future mother of your children there, there would definitely be lots of ships. Here is everything you need to know before you visit!
What’s Up With The Name?
Let’s get one thing straight. Nikolaev is known as Микола́їв in Ukrainian. You will see it transcribed as either Nikolaev or Mykolaiv or Nikolayev. Why? It’s about Russia against Ukraine (as always, right?)
To quote Wikipedia on it:
The Ukrainian name of the city is Микола́їв, transliterated as Mykolaiv, or (officially) Mykolayiv. The Russian name, Никола́ев, transliterates as Nikolaev or as Nikolayev.
There is another Mykolaiv in Ukraine, it’s a small town in the Lviv area. To distinguish the two, Mykolaiv is sometimes called “Mykolaiv on Bug” after the large river that runs close to it.
Nikolaev is the country’s main shipbuilding centre. Scratch that. It is the shipbuilding centre of the entire Black Sea. As such, it’s mostly an industrial city and a transport hub.
If you are feeling adventurous, why not go rafting as a way of boosting your adrenaline? It’s not a ship, alright, but you’ve got to start somewhere.
Getting To Nikolaev
Since Nikolaev is a transportation hub, it’s not particularly hard to reach it. It will take you around 2.5 hours from Odessa by car or around 3 to 4 hours by bus. You could also get to Nikolaev directly from Kiev. There is an overnight bus every night of the week operated by either Gyunsel or Avtoluks.
The Mykolaiv Airport is mainly used for air freight with a few flights from Odessa arriving here (but they will not be exactly affordable). Other than that, passenger flights to the South of Ukraine go through Odessa.
As for trains, there are plenty of connections available. The overnight train from Kiev is fairly comfortable (and cheaper than the bus), Lviv and Odessa are also available. There is only one railway station in the city (well, just one passenger railway station), the Mykolaiv – Passenger.
During the day, you can easily get public transportation from the bus or train station to the city centre. If you arrive at night or early in the morning, you would have to get a cab. Which brings me to:
First, on taxis. While there are plenty of safe and affordable cab companies, the occasional scammer could seriously harm your budget. They prey on tourists who are perceived to be wealthy 100% of the time and are particularly common at bus and train stations.
Uber now operates in Ukraine but it’s not very common. Still, try Uber first, it is the safest option.
You could also ask one of your fellow passengers to call a cab for you (from your phone, of course, the prices of phone calls are still somewhat high in Ukraine) or to show which company is safe.
As for public transport, there is really no reason not to use it. Nikolaev has a very decent network of buses and trams. Fun fact: the trams were once pulled by horses. Though they may not be as cool today, trams are still the nicest and cheapest way to get around. Most are new and comfortable and they arrive in 5-6 minute intervals. Buses are also an option, of course, but they tend to get crowded and some are definitely older than the current Ukrainian state.
Finally, Nikolaev is very walkable if the weather is nice and you have decent shoes. Bring a wind-resistant jacket, it tends to get breezy.
Where To Stay
Nikolaev might not have a lot of hotel and rental options but there are still some nice ones:
- The Reikartz Continent Hotel on the riverbank is simple and stylish (it has some wonderful room views, too). It comes with one of the best buffet breakfasts in town. Most rooms come with jacuzzi-style baths so that is also a perk.
- Astoria is another great option. It has a luxe feel to it but still won’t break the bank. You have a well-equipped gym inside the hotel and the staff are super friendly (plus they actually speak decent English).
- Mark Plaza might not have the prettiest building but it does offer all the amenities you need. The location is perfect, too!
Apartment rentals are your best bet if you want actual luxury. Consider the Karl Heine house if you want gorgeous (and slightly over the top)!
Culture In Nikolaev
Nikolaev is not necessarily historical destination but there are still a couple of sights worth checking out. Here are a few to include in your walk around the city:
- The Cathedral of Our Lady Mother Kasperovskaya is actually not as old as it seems. It was only built in the 19th-20th century but it emulates the Old Russian style very nicely. It makes for a great backdrop for your Instagrams.
- The Cathedral of the Nativity of the Virgin dates back to the early 19th century but it’s still the oldest one preserved in Nikolaev. Built in a Classical style with a couple of Baroque elements, the Cathedral is one of the prettiest in the city.
- The Museum of Shipbuilding is located in what was once the headquarters of the Nikolaev fleet. Even if you’re not a shipbuilding aficionado, the museum gives you an interesting perspective on the city and the most important aspect of its’ industry.
- The Regional Art Gallery was named after the city’s famous artist V. Vereshchagin and holds a lot of his work. Though it doesn’t exhibit any internationally important paintings, the gallery has an impressive collection of local art. Look up to appreciate the building, one of the most beautiful ones in Nikolaev.
- The Nikolaev Observatory is the oldest observatory in Ukraine, once used by the fleet to train their navigation officers. The observatory is now a museum with a fascinating collection of astronomical instruments, antique clocks, books, photographs, paintings, maps and more. The place definitely feels like a pirate’s secret lair. Or maybe that is just me.
Why You Must Go To The Zoo In Nikolaev
You have probably been to better zoos (even though the one in Nikolaev is the best in Ukraine). The cool thing to see in the zoo are not the lions, although, damn, big cats are awesome. It is actually the so-called “Grandpa’s Hut”. It is a rural house within the zoo. It is a fun place to learn more about rural life in South Ukraine.
The City Of The Brides?
We had to talk about it, ok? Nikolaev is a nice city, there are a couple of cool things to see here yet most people come for the girls. I don’t have any statistics to quote but I am fairly sure this is the city with the most marriage agencies per capita in Ukraine (and possibly in Russia). Guys flock here to meet their future Ukrainian bride… Why do so many leave without one?
Well, it depends on the girl. Marriage agencies are notorious for scamming people and having them come all the way to Ukraine for nothing more than an illusion. Even with that aside, not all of the women who sign up for these agencies are actually willing to get married. A lot of them are students looking to have some fun, to be wined and dined by a foreigner, to test out their options. Older women (think late 20’s to early 30’s) are more marriage-minded. Ukrainian culture says if you’re over 30 and unmarried, you are essentially a spinster, which is why as girls get older they face a lot more pressure.
Our take on all of this?
Well, we do love Ukrainian women. They are beautiful and loyal and they’re willing to put their future husband and family first. Still, I can’t help but get a little suspicious of these marriage agencies. Leaving it all at the hands of an organization halfway across the world seems a bit excessive.
We have a few dating platforms we do recommend, including Ukraine Date.
These are niche dating sites but they still function like basic ones (OK Cupid style) so you have a lot more control over who you meet. You’re still not 100% safe against scams, the thing is this time, if they do happen, it’s usually because you forgot to use your common sense. On that note…
Stop Being So Damn Gullible And Enjoy Nikolaev
While people do meet the future mothers of their children in Nikolaev, it’s best to go without any expectations. Enjoy your vacation, eat all the delicious Ukrainian food, explore the nature and the culture, and yes, go dating. Just don’t let the girl’s stunning looks make you naive. Date with an open mind, not an open wallet (does that pun work, though?)
Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below. I am super curious to learn if Nikolaev has brought any couples that read Ukraine Living together. Adorable first meeting stories welcome!