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Ukraine is one of the best countries in Eastern Europe when it comes to road trips. It is diverse, with miles of roads to drive, and plenty of points of interest. There are restored and abandoned castles, beautiful national parks, big cities and small cozy towns, seaside, and so much more!
During warm seasons — mid-April through mid-October — we spend every Sunday taking road trips from Kyiv and exploring. Some of them are short day rides from the capital and back. When the time allows, we also take small vacations and head to Lviv or Odesa regions to drive around and explore.
As locals, we can say for sure that there are so many great spots that the foreigners don’t know about simply because these destinations don’t pop up in standard Google searches. And it is a shame, really, because there is so much more to Ukraine than the 3 of its most popular cities and a day trip to Chornobyl.
For this post, we are focusing on some lovely short day trips by car that you can take from Kyiv, Lviv, or Odesa (depending on where you stay) to the lesser-known destinations. These will cover national parks, abandoned castles, beautiful canyons, villages, and towns. We also have a big road trip Ukraine travel itinerary in case you want to self-drive around the country on a big circular route.
How safe are the roads in Ukraine?
When getting ready to visit Ukraine and planning a trip, here are a few important things worth knowing about:
- In Ukraine, there are 3 types of road markers — “E” standing for European (these are usually marked with green color and are generally in a very good condition), “H” standing for national (marked with blue color and the condition may vary from good to hang-in-there-for-a-while), and territorial marked with “T”. This last type is a bit of a gamble because the T-marked roads can sometimes be quite ruined. But as we came to discover during our numerous summer road trips around Ukraine, they can also be very surprising in a good way. Oftentimes we got to drive through unique cute villages, forests, near lakes, and in other cozy spots. One definite advantage that these roads have is they are not overloaded with traffic.
- The speed limit is 50 km/h (31 miles per hour) in populated areas and 90 km (55 miles) to 110 km (70 miles) in unpopulated areas, depending on whether you are taking a regular road or a highway. Plus, Ukraine allows an extra 10 km/hr (6 miles) that you can always add on top in populated areas and 20 km/hr (12 miles) in nonpopulated areas that won’t qualify as driving over the speed limit.
- Road etiquette-wise, if the oncoming driver flashes with his/her headlights it means that there is a police car ahead and one should stick to the speed limit (you will very soon come to realize that on “E”-marked and “H”-marked roads, the speed limit is often disregarded by the local drivers).
- If the car behind you flashes headlights, the driver is asking to give him the way. Also, a bit of a heads-up here — these folks flashing and tailing you can be really annoying, and sometimes aggressive. Not the best thing to admit about the road etiquette in our home country but it is an important thing to know.
- If you rely on online maps, the best option would be to download the routes because the internet signal can be very low or non-existent on the roads outside of the big cities. There is, however, free wi-fi on almost all the gas stations along the way.
- We, Ukrainians, love eating. This is why you will see lots of restaurants, small cafes, and kolybas (the local name for a tavern) along the way. Keep in mind that in remote areas, cards won’t always be accepted, so it is best to always have some cash with you to pay for the meal.
Renting a Car in Ukraine
Unless you are headed to the remote areas of Zakarpattya, a 4WD is not necessarily needed. The best advice for renting a car for road trips in Ukraine would be to find a mid-sized vehicle with a high undercarriage clearance. You will appreciate it when driving the “T”-marked roads and (unfortunately) some of the “H”-marked roads (we are talking about you, H03 from Kyiv to Khmelnytskyi).
There should be no problem with renting a car in Ukraine even in high season, and the majority of the aggregators that you usually use will work just fine for Ukraine, pulling offers from the local vendors.
On average, renting a small car will cost around 35-37 USD per day. Prices for medium-sized cars start from 45 USD, and SUVs will cost between 60 to 70 USD per day. Discounts may apply to longer bookings or bookings made in advance. See the range and compare prices here on DiscoverCars.
How Much Does a Road Trip Cost?
As you probably already know, Ukraine is one of the most budget-friendly countries not only in Europe but overall. That being said, self-driving can be economical but if you are really really on the budget then skip car rentals and opt-in for trains, marshrutkas, and Bla-Bla cars instead.
If you decide to rent a car, here are some numbers that may help you plan the budget:
- Car hire for 1 day: 35 to 70 USD (depending on its size, add-ons, etc).
- Insurance: You can find cars with insurance included.
- Fuel: The price per liter of A95 (the usual type of petrol that we use) is around 1 USD.
- Parking: It is easy to find free parking in cities.
- Tolls: There are no tolls in Ukraine.
Recommended Road Trips from Kyiv, Ukraine
Kyiv offers plenty of great destinations for short and long-day trips. We’ve lived here for 10+ years and still did not cover all of the locations on our must-visit list:
- If you head North, towards Belarus, there are beautiful pine forests, small lakes, and a lovely town Chernihiv.
- The roads east of Kyiv lead to historic sites like Kachanivka (covered in our post about weekend escapes from Kyiv).
- Roads west of the capital lead to cute and lovely towns like Kamyanets-Podilsky with its epic castle, and Vinnitsya with its dancing fountains.
- Routes south of the city lead along the magnificent Dnipro river to many national parks and villages.
Should you choose Kyiv as a base while taking these road trips, we can assure you there are plenty of things to do in the capital for at least 3-4 days, and at least 10 various exciting road trips that will allow you to explore the area around the capital.
When planning a trip to Ukraine’s capital, you might also want to check the best time to visit Kyiv.
Booking-wise for Kyiv, we recommend choosing hotels, hostels, and apartments in the following areas: Podil, Pechersk, or the governmental quarters — these are close to the main attractions, great restaurants, and subways. See the range and compare prices here on Hotels.com.
The list of our favorite road trips from Kyiv includes (this list will be expanded as we create more posts):
- Road trip to Trakhtemyriv peninsula (covered in this post).
- Road trip to Oleshnya lakes via Beremytske and Chernihiv.
- Road trip to Korsun-Shevchenkivsky via Pustovity and Stebliv.
Road trip from Kyiv to Trakhtemyriv
Stops: This route includes 4 stops — Vytachiv, Staiki, Rzyshev, and Trakhtemyriv.
Length: All of these points of interest are along the Dnipro river and the distance one way is a total of 134 km (82 miles), which is approximately 2.3 hours of driving without stops.
Map of the route is available here.
This route is very saturated and it will keep you busy for the entire day. If you decide to complete all the stops on the route, keep in mind that you will probably be back ty Kyiv late in the evening. Also, each of the stops on the route except for Stayki is a location where you can spend an entire day — hiking, camping, and chilling by the river.
Enjoy the gorgeous panoramas of Vytachiv
The first stop on the way is Vytachiv 66 km (41 miles) away from Kyiv. This is a village atop a hill overlooking the Dnipro river, and it is also an ancient settlement that dates back to the year 949.
Not much is left of that settlement nowadays but the views are breathtaking! Right next to the spot on the map, there is huge parking, from where it is an easy hike to the old wooden church and then — further down into the forests. Depending on how many stops you’d like to cover along the way, your visit to Vytachiv can last anywhere between 1 hour to an entire day.
For a short stay, buy some cherries from one of the local grannies (she will also help you rinse them), and enjoy the treat while seating on a bench overlooking the river. For a longer stay, take a hike down to the bank of the river. You can also bring the camping equipment and enjoy an entire day by the river.
Swim in the lake at Stayki village
The main point of interest in Staiki — a small village along the route — is its lake atop the hill. The lake appeared where an old query once used to be. Underground waters paved their way through the blue clay, filling the lake with crystal clear waters.
Go on a short hike or simply take pictures — the views are lovely near the lake. You can also go for a swim if the weather allows. Keep in mind though that there are no changing cabinets, WCs, or anything else in the area. It is still somewhat wild but that’s what makes it good.
Note: Depending on the season, the lake can dry out from time to time but you can enjoy a hike in the area and marvel at the colorful hills.
Find the church on the water in Rzhyschev
What we love the most about the small town Rzhyschev is its closeness to the wild and powerful river Dnipro. Park a car on the town’s beach, hire a private boat, or hop on a public boat from the river station and enjoy a boat trip to the church on water, as well as to the Witche’s Island and the Bold Mountain.
Underneath the waters of the boat route lies a flooded village Gusincy. It was evacuated and flooded back in the days when the dam in Kaniv further down the river was built. To commemorate the past, the locals built a golden-domed church on a small island amidst the waters of Dnipro.
You can either take a self-guided tour or book a trip with the local guides via GetYourGuide.
Explore the gorgeous Trakthemyriv park
Trakhtemyriv is one of the former Cossak capitals, a peninsula on the Dnipro river, and a heart of the Trypillya culture. For the longest time in modern history, it was a secure compound for private visitors who came here to hunt. Luckily, as of recently, it is a park available to all travelers. Its serene nature is truly mesmerizing, and the place is perfect for hiking, meditating, camping, or renting a boat and exploring the river.
Spring is the season when everything in the area blossoms, and in summer, it is easy to find trees with ripe pears, apricots, and plums. Points of interest in the area include the old Cossak cemetery, old Scythian ruins, and a tree-shaped as Ukraine’s national emblem.
Recommended Road Trips from Odesa, Ukraine
What’s really good about this region is that it is the southern point of Ukraine and the weather here is generally warmer, which means that the travel season is longer than in Kyiv and Lviv areas. The season starts in April and lasts till the end of October. Summer will be the most challenging time to travel, though — it will be hot. Plus, July through August is the high season when lots of locals head to Odesa for their vacations.
As far as the road trips go, the region offers plenty of options:
- North of Odesa is where many hidden gems of nature are located, including the canyons of Aktiv and Arbuzin.
- The roads east of Odesa and along the coast lead to the pink lakes, the Kinburn Spit with its stunning nature and camping sites, and the Dzarylhach island.
- Roads west of the city lead to under-the-radar beaches by the Black Sea, as well as Vilkovo — the village on the water, and the Bilhorod-Dnister fortress.
Should you choose Odesa as a base while taking these road trips, reserve at least a couple of days to explore the city itself — Odesa offers many great things to do. See the range and compare prices for hotels and accommodations in Odesa on Hotels.com.
The list of our favorite road trips from Odesa includes (this list will be expanded as we create more posts):
- Road trip to the canyons (covered in this post).
- Road trip to Bilhorod-Dnistrovsky fortress via Sanjeyka cliffs.
- Road trip to the Oleshky desert via the pink lakes and Stanislav mountains.
Road trip from Odesa to the Moon…
…also known as the Arbuzin canyon.
Stops: This route includes 4 stops — Salt Flats of Tuzla, Mykolaiv, Aktov Canyon, and Arbyzin Canyon.
Length: All of these points of interest lie south of Odesa and the distance one way is a total of 338 km (210 miles), which is approximately 6 hours of driving without stops.
Map of the route is available here.
This route is very ambitious and is more of an outline about where to head to from Odesa. Unless shortened, you won’t make all the stops in one day. Or those will be very brief.
A piece of shortcut advice: skip Mykolaiv and Salt Flats of Tuzla and only head to the canyons if you are short on time. This will shave a couple of hours off driving one way of the route. Alternatively, you can add stops along the coast of the Black Sea, spend the night in Mykolaiv, and continue to the canyons, thus expanding the road trip across southern Ukraine.
Walk barefoot across the salt flats of Tuzla
Also known as Ukrainian Salar de Uyuni, the Salt Flats of Tuzla are located 98 km (60 miles) away from Odesa. In the times of the USSR, this used to be a place to harvest salt. Today, the locals head to the salt flats to walk barefoot across the dried salty land, enjoy epic sceneries, and gather healing muds.
In summer, Tuzla’s pond dries and turns into the futuristic white and salty scenery, whereas in spring, there is still water in the pond and this water is pink.
This place alone is the starting point for many other adventures in the area, so you can either keep exploring around by checking the tours, or continue the journey to Mykolaiv.
Stroll along the streets of Mykolaiv
This cozy town in southern Ukraine definitely deserves more attention than it gets. Less busy than Odesa, it has lovely beaches, a stunning bridge across Ingul, old cozy streets, and plenty of great cafes.
One of the oldest observatories in southwestern Europe is located in Mykolaiv. The town is also famous for its Naval boulevard with views of Ingul and the port of Mykolaiv. You can also include such points of interest as the island Berezan not far from the town (available by boat tours) and the Olbia Archaeological Site.
Should you decide to add more stops on the road trip prior to reaching Mykolaiv, it is worth stopping in town for the night. See the range and compare prices for hotels and accommodations in Mykolaiv on Hotels.com.
Also, there are plenty of exciting day trips from Mykolaiv to numerous points of interest in the area.
Find the Devil’s Valley — Aktiv Canyon
This place is truly unique. Located between the villages, Aktiv Canyon seems forgotten by the people. There are not that many tourists around and those who live nearby seem not to care all that much about the sceneries — you will find only a couple of camping sites in the area. No hotels, cafes, gift shops — nothing else.
The canyon is gorgeous, with the shallow but persistent river Mertvovod paving its way through the rocky cliffs. Legends has it that the people of Scythia sent their dead kings down this river on their final journey, hence the name Mertvovod (“Mertvo” refers to “dead”).
The canyon is equally beautiful at sunset and dawn. Hike the steppe above the canyon and then head down, towards the river. There is a lovely trail between the trees close to the water. At a certain point, you will reach a spot where you can even go for a swim.
The best time to visit Aktiv Canyon is in September to enjoy the fall foliage and the gentle sun.
Marvel at the Moon Landscapes in Arbuzin Canyon
Aktiv Canyon’s younger brother, Arbuzin Canyon is located only 40 km (24 miles) away and also has plenty of things to do in the area. First of all, don’t miss out on the viewpoints with the stunning panoramas of the area.
Then, climb to the rock called “Pup Zemli” to enjoy the view of the canyon, and head towards the Moon — White Rocks located on the other side of the Arbuzin River. This spot got its name due to the ribbed white chalk mountains that are climbable. The area also has lots of hiking trails.
It is also worth mentioning that close to both canyons, there is the Trikraty forest — an old park with ancient trees and lots of routes to explore.
Recommended Road Trips from Lviv, Ukraine
The western part of Ukraine has its own, very unique and authentic charm. The main city of the Prykarpattya region is Lviv. It is surrounded by many national parks and landmarks worthy of being explored. A lot friendlier to travelers who drive through the country by car, than Zakarpattya, Lviv on its own needs at least 3 weeks to be properly explored. Of course, rarely any tourist has that much free time on his or her hands to dedicate it to only one area. Therefore, we are offering some of the juiciest highlights of the region in this section.
As far as the road trips go, the region offers plenty of options:
- North of Lviv is the path to the popular lake area of Volyn, among other great sites.
- The roads east of Lviv lead to many ruined and renovated castles.
- Roads west of the city are the route to get to Poland.
- Finally, southern roads are the gates to Zakarpattya with its beautiful mountains, hidden waterfalls, cable car roads, and so many other natural landmarks
If you have some time on your hand while staying in the Lviv region, definitely secure a couple of days to explore the city. Lviv is beautiful, with its cobbled streets, ancient buildings, and a truly unique atmosphere. See the range and compare prices for hotels and accommodations in Lviv on Hotels.com.
The list of our favorite road trips from Lviv includes (this list will be expanded as we create more posts):
- Road trip to the Golden Horseshoe of castles (covered in this post).
- Road trip to the Lubart Castle via Jholkva and the Yavoriv National Park.
- Road trip to Tustan via Pryima Caves, Zadorozhne lake, and the Sopit Falls.
Road trip from Lviv to the Golden Horsehoe of Castles
Stops: This route includes 3 stops — Olesko, Pidhirtsy, and Zolochov castles.
Length: All of these points of interest east of Lviv and the distance one way is a total of 107 km (65 miles), which is approximately 2 hours of driving without stops.
Map of the route is available here.
The Golden Horseshoe is a trio of Castles in the Lviv region. These are Olesky Castle, Pidhirtsy Castle, and Zolochiv Castle. All three make a lovely day trip from Lviv by car, and it can both be self-guided and — if you decide you want — many local companies offer a day trip with transportation and a guided tour.
This route can easily be done in one day. Get started early in the morning and you’ll be back in Lviv by early evening. A couple of notes here — the castles close at 6 pm, so it is best to get to the last stop, Zolochiv at around 5 pm if you prefer a self-guided tour, or a 4 pm if you’d like a guided one.
While the Golden Horseshoe is very close to Lviv, some parts of the road are not in the best condition. It may seem like 11 miles between Pidhirtsy and Zolochiv is practically nothing, but it will take a while to get from one destination to another because you will drive at a very low speed to avoid all the bumps and holes on the road.
Leave Lviv and head east to the first stop 75 km (46 miles) away from the city — the Olesko Castle. This is a beautiful fortress that was once ruined to the ground and then rebuilt. It stands atop a hill, giving you a chance to enjoy the landscapes, and has a nice little park right next to it.
You can either explore the castle on your own or buy a guided tour on the premises. The location also has a nice little restaurant “Pid Zamkom” with Ukrainian cuisine. Not far from Olesko, there is an old monastery that dates back to the 18th century.
One of our most favorite locations in Ukraine — Pidhirtsy castle can barely be spotted from the main road. So, for the longest time, it remained under the radar even for the locals.
The castle is not renovated — you will get to marvel at its beautiful exterior, check out the panoramic views that open from its terraces, and wander the nearby forest. Plus, across from the castle stands a beautiful but also half-ruined cathedral. This ensemble, though it could’ve been in a better condition, still provides an unforgettable experience.
On workdays, there will be a bazaar with the locals selling magnets, artwork, and trinkets. It is marked on a map as “Suvenirnyy Rynol”.
Out of all the castles in the Golden Horseshoe, Zolochiv got the most renovation. The courtyard combines two majestic buildings — an older, Medieval fortress and a pink and perky castle built a while later.
Unlike Olesko and Pidhirtsy — the fortresses that stand in the middle of nowhere — Zolochiv is very close to the central area of a small town where it stands. This means that after a busy day, you’ll get to enjoy dinner in one of the local cafes.
Information about admission fees and opening hours per each of the castles is provided under dedicated links.
Images by Natalie Rezanova
I am a photographer based in Kyiv, Ukraine. I am lucky to be able to do what I love the most for a living. Photography is an endless source of inspiration for me. My mission on this blog is to inspire by sharing some of the favorite captions from my journeys. I also provide professional photography tips to help the readers bring home some beautiful photo memories.