The Foreigner’s Guide to Yalta, Ukraine
Yalta is a popular beach destination. It’s also a part of the recently annexed Crimea. With international attention come the questions:
- Is Yalta still safe to visit?
- Even if it’s safe, is it still worth it?
- Does it have it’s former glory?
I don’t claim to have the definitive answers but I do have some. Read on to learn more about the city, it’s history, sights, do’s and don’ts!
Yalta: Is It Safe?
That is the question on everyone’s minds. Yalta is gorgeous alright but will you get murdered going there. Short answer: no.
Longer answer: it’s still not completely breezy out there.
Why Entering Crimea Is Illegal
Crimea’s history is basically one occupation after the other. Most recently, Russia annexed the region in 2014. Ukraine, as well as most countries around the world, do not accept that.
Ukrainian citizens can only cross the border with a special permit.
You can only get a permit if:
- You have close relatives in Crimea
- You’re a journalist
- You’ll be going for religious reasons
- Or you participate in the work of the Crimean Tatar Majlis
Tourists don’t fall under either of those groups. Thus, your only option for going to Yalta is through Russia. That is not hard at all. The only thing you do is get a plane there. No special visas or permits are required, and reaching Crimea (and Yalta) doesn’t feel any different than travel to another Russian city.
Technically, though, going into Crimea from Russia is an illegal border crossing. Nobody has been arrested for that and there are no mechanisms for this to happen. Still, the fact that by simply entering a territory you are breaking international law is a bit disturbing.
Safety In Yalta
Just because Yalta (and Crimea) have been annexed, it doesn’t mean it’s full-blown war there. In fact, there has been very little violence from the beginning and essentially no issues recently.
Yalta is a vacation hotspot for Russian families. People come here with their children or even send their children to camp in Yalta. It’s calm enough for families to feel comfortable with that.
Still, as of 2018, the US Department of State, as well as UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel to Crimea. What is more, US commercial aircraft are forbidden from flying to or over Crimea. Hardly any other airlines operate flights to Crimea. Thus, you have just two viable options for even getting to Yalta:
- With a Russian airline (usually from Moscow or St Petersburg)
- On a cruise ship
The latter may be a fun option and not a lot of people consider it. The Black Sea is largely unknown by Western travelers. Look into cruise options, you will be surprised at how affordable and exciting they can be!
Beach Life In Yalta
People go to Yalta for the beach.
Yes, there is more to the city but the sea is the main thing. In fact, the sea and the forests. Back in the days of the Russian Empire, the wealthy would flock here for a breath of fresh air. It was the only recommendation doctors could give for pulmonary issues. That’s what brought famous short story author Anton Chekhov to Yalta. You can still visit his former home and museum.
Today, Yalta is still as popular as it was over a century ago. It gets very crowded in summer as families flock to the beach for their annual vacation. Some travelers have gone as far as saying that Yalta is no good in summer. In truth, the place does have it’s charm throughout the year…
That being said, I recommend going slightly offseason.
The best time is early fall, around September. The prices will be a bit lower, the weather is just as nice (well, if you’re not too lucky it might rain, though usually it doesn’t) and the seawater is warm enough to swim in. May and June are also nice choices, though you might not be able to enjoy the water.
The History Of Yalta
Other than the beach, there are some interesting historical sites throughout the city. But to understand Yalta a little better, let’s go back to Imperial Russia.
Back then, you didn’t have antibiotics. If you contracted tuberculosis, you could die (actually, you still can). Pneumonia killed, too. Respiratory diseases were a true danger. If you were wealthy enough, going to a resort with “good air” was thought to help the body recover. In all truth, it did help. The combination of sun, sea breeze (the air around the sea is rich in iodine), and relaxation undoubtedly saved a lot of lives.
Little by little, Yalta started turning into a beloved summer destination. The beaches of Yalta are covered in cobbles, much like the beaches of the French Riviera. That added an extra layer of appeal, though some aristocrats still complained that Yalta was not up to level with the Riviera.
Soon, everyone who was someone in society had to have a summer house (dacha) in Yalta. That also included the royal family, who built not one, but two palaces. All three are 100% worth the visit:
- The Livadia Palace was the last Tsar’s official summer residence. The gardens on the grounds here are actually much older than the palace. Bring good shoes to explore them comfortably and to enjoy the view over the Black Sea. The palace also hosted the Yalta Conference in 1945. This is where Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt planned the division of Europe after World War II. The rooms are still arranged the same way they were when the meetings took place. The Tsar’s private chapel is also worth a visit.
- The Massandra Palace is in the hills outside of Yalta. It was built exclusively for picnics and afternoon parties. The architects designed it to resemble a French chateau. The bad news is, you will have to walk uphill to get here. That means bring appropriate footwear (and perhaps some food for a picnic).
Eating And Drinking In Yalta
If you are a foodie, Yalta will not disappoint. Let’s start with the wine cellars at the Massandra Palace. The Massandra Wine Plant offers guided tours through the plant and the cellars. You’ll get to taste some of the wines, accompanied by some local mezze’s (though this is not what they are called in Ukraine/Russia). The cellars have one of the largest collections of wine in the world. If you want to impress your date, try not to look at the prices. At over 100 years old, wines tend to get pricey.
For some traditional local food, Khutorok Lya Mer is a beautiful spot on the seashore. Make sure you try their borsch and their cocktails. Another great thing about Lya Mer is their kitchen works late. It’s the perfect “dinner after dinner” place.
Roppongi is another casual restaurant for tasty food, great views, and very decent prices. It’s close to the heart of the city – which happens to be at the Lenin statue by the sea. Yes, that is ironic.
Drinking Like A Ukrainian (Or A Russian)
The people of Eastern Europe know how to drink, there is no denying that. You should definitely bring some vodka back home. There is no need to buy it at a gift shop.
Supermarkets have an amazing selection and the prices are surprisingly low. Yes, good vodka can really cost so little.
Sleep Like A Royal
The royal palace is not available for rental but there are still awesome accommodation options. If you’re going in high season, book as much in advance as you can. Places get filled up quickly and the prices go up. There is no such thing as too early (unless you’re booking for two years from now, that might be too early).
Here are some of our favourite hotels in Yalta:
- Oreanda Hotel dates back to 1907 and offers much more than luxury, it’s history. Overlooking the coast and the mountains, Oreanda has over 100 rooms decorated in traditional style. The art deco building, the old-fashioned formality of the staff, the complete comfort, and the beauty of the views all make for a true trip back in time.
- Slavonic Alliance is just 2 minutes away from the beach, and you have a beautiful patio to relax in. Try to get a room with a balcony, it’s worth it for the view. There are Wi-Fi and a flat-screen TV in all rooms.
- Anna Hotel is an affordable and comfortable option for budget travellers. It is a mere 15-minute walk away from the promenade and has all the amenities you need – air conditioning, wireless internet throughout the property, and cable TV.
Yalta: Your Thoughts?
These were our best tips for your trip to Yalta. But we don’t really know it all. Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.
We’d love to hear about your take on the current situation, too.
Do you think the official warnings are an overestimation or are you still cautious and unsure of whether to travel?
Tell us down below!
PS: It’s definitely a good idea to get your language skills down pat if you’re going to Yalta.
We suggest you start with this program.