Ukraine City Guide: Poltava For Foreigners
Poltava couldn’t be more underrated. Yes, it is well-known, it gets visitors, and yet it somehow remains on the sidelines. With so much history, architecture, art, nature (plus some seriously fun nightlife options), Poltava is your ultimate Ukrainian destination.
Here is everything you need for a good time:
Know Your History
The Battle of Poltava is key. You might have heard of it in historyclass. But unless you’re a bit of a geek (no shame in it, I know I am), here is a memory refresher on what happened there.
On June 27 1709, Swedish forces faced the Russian army in a field near Poltava. The Russians, led by Peter the Great won a decisive victory.
The Tsar himself fought the battlefield and in less than 10 hours the battle was over. It forced Charles XII of Sweden to flee to the Ottoman Empire. A fun fact about Charles: he spent five years in exile before returning. At one point, he was plotting to ransom the Russian crown jewels as a payment to the grand vizier for his freedom. I am pretty sure this part of his life deserves a couple of historical fiction novels.
Why was the battle of Poltava so key? Quite a few reasons, actually:
- This is where Sweden began to lose power and Russia established itself as a leading power in the North-East.
- Cossack Hetmanate autonomy (which was an independent Ukrainian territory) was lost. They had chosen to side with the Swedes. Bad move.
- The Carolean (Swedish) army was destroyed and they never quite recovered.
The victory was important for the city of Poltava, too.
Needless to say, this became one of the Russian’s favourite places. Over the next couple of decades, Poltava became a centre of industry, trade, and culture. A lot of what you see on the streets of old Poltava today dates back to that period.
This is when they constructed the Round Square, which is a scaled-down version of St Petersburg’s Palace Square. The Glory Monument that you can see right in the centre was build to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Russia’s victory. Since there is a lot more to explore in the city, let’s get into the actual guide.
How To Get To Poltava
Trains and buses cost pretty much the same.
There are two railway stations that connect the city with Kyiv, Kharkiv and the rest of Ukraine, Poltava-Kyivs’ka and Poltava-Pivdenna. During the day, you could easily get a bus to the centre. At night, go for a taxi but make sure you hail a registered one. Railway stations are like a magnet for scammy taxi drivers.
Buses arrive at the Avtovokzal station from most major Ukrainian cities. Since there is a bus almost every hour, they never get fully booked. You could easily buy your ticket the day of (and it saves fuss, since you wouldn’t have much explaining to do in Ukrainian).
If you are in a group, consider renting a car. It would definitely be cheaper and there is no discussion as to whether it’s more convenient.
We suggest using the Ukrainian Railways website.
Starting with the basics, what are some nice hotel options in Poltava?
- Premier Hotel Palazzo is a beautiful mid to upper-mid range hotel in the centre. If you appreciate luxury but still don’t want to break the bank, this is the place for you.
- Hotel Atmosphere is your budget option. It still has a perfect location, the service is friendly, and rooms are clean and recently renovated. At a price point so low, could you really ask for more?
- Verholy Relax Park is an upscale accommodation option with everything you need for a relaxing, care-free trip. They have a mini SPA centre, the design is gorgeous, and the staff are beyond nice.
Of course, your other option would be an apartment rental. There are tons of great options on Agoda and other websites, make sure you shop around for the best deal. As usual, you want to be extra picky about your rental to really get a smooth experience free of any problems.
My personal number one criterion for accommodation is location. I strongly advise you to stick to the centre. The time and money you will spend on transportation if you’re in a distant area are simply not worth it.
Must-See Historical Sights In Poltava
Poltava is famous for it’s history, so go ahead and visit the battlefield. It’s a cultural and historical reserve with a museum on-site. There is a decent audio guide in English, too, so it will be educational. The only downside is it’s not in the centre but there is public transport to take you there (and even taxis are not that expensive).
Take a walk through the Korpusky park to see the Monument of Glory (or the Monument of the Eagle, as locals like to call it). Legend has it, the eagle is covered in a thin layer of gold. When the Nazis reached Poltava, they say they tried to take it down but eventually failed and the eagle remains strong.
See the beautiful baroque Exaltation of the Cross Cathedral, too. It’s one of the most beautiful examples of Cossack Baroque in the world.
Take a quick detour to the Saviour church. It’s not large or magnificent but it dates back to the 18th century and has been preserved almost unchanged. This tiny wooden shrine is where Peter the Great celebrated his victory. The church is considered to be one of the holiest places in the city.
The Friendship Rotunda
If the weather is nice, hike up the hill to the White Rotunda (a.k.a. the Friendship Rotunda) on one of the city’s hills.
It is the perfect viewpoint to see the Poltava skyline. Bring snacks and you have yourself a great lazy Sunday afternoon.
And If It Rains…
If the weather doesn’t treat you too well, you could always pop into the art gallery. It may be small but I promise you’d come out surprised by the cool works on display. Ukrainian artists are seriously underrated.
Eating Out, Poltava Style
Ukraine is cheap, that much is for sure. You could easily eat out with your girl for 30$ (including wine). Don’t shy away from the national dishes. There are are some truly mouth-watering options, even if they sound slightly disgusting at first. Borsch and Ukrainian-style dumplings are the bare minimum!
Kozachka is your one-stop destination for Ukrainian cuisine. It’s a large and busy restaurant so make sure you make a reservation in advance. Once you’re there, though, you’d be surprised at how quick and efficient the staff are. They are super friendly, too!
For a bit of an artsier touch, try Meat World. They are fairly new but already have a cult following. Don’t be fooled by the trendy dishes (they were among the first to offer black burgers in Poltava), Meat World does simple food just as well. And no, their prices are not outrageous!
If you want to impress, take them to Pasteryya. I wouldn’t go there as a solo traveller because it’s Italian food (and you’re in Ukraine, eat Ukrainian) but it’s a wonderful date location. The interior, the food, the wine choice, this place was made for wining and dining Ukrainian beauties.
And How About The Nightlife?
Surprisingly enough, there are tons of exciting options for a small town like this. The trendiest place right now is Podium. It’s a 24-hour venue that includes a restaurant, a café, a bar, and of course, a nightclub. They serve hookahs, which are all the rage at Poltava nightclubs and their drinks are delicious, too.
The Versal Concert Hall at the heart of Poltava is another glitzier spot. It’s large and spacious and it attracts the city’s show-offy (but also most attractive), crowd.
And if you are not head over heels for top 40 style music, the ‘Villa Crocodile’ Rock’n’roll Cafe offers a fun alternative. They do theme parties fairly often and there are also lots of live performances. The most surprising thing about Villa Crocodile is they have a shooting gallery on site. I can’t say guns and alcohol go together well but maybe before the cocktails?
Expat Community And Making Friends (+ More Than Friends)
There isn’t a very large expat community in Poltava but you wouldn’t get lonely, either. If you’re planning on relocating, I suggest checking out local MeetUps plus any Facebook events targeted at foreigners. These are usually fun places to meet other expats.
As for the short-term solo traveler, Irish pubs are about to become your best friend.
For dating, try Tinder (do you even need to hear that tip) but also consider niche dating platforms like Ukraine Date.
They are a bit pricier and require more effort but ultimately, this is where the best Ukrainian girls are at.
It’s not a hook-up culture in Poltava (usually)—girls are looking for actual relationships.