Crimea

Crimea is a beautiful region on the Black Sea that has long entranced visitors. The Crimean Peninsula is connected to mainland Ukraine by two narrow necks of land, making it more like an island with a couple of natural land bridges than simply a bit of land jutting out into the sea.

Crimea is a disputed region claimed by both Ukraine and Russia as part of either southern Ukraine or southwestern Russia. Although most of the international community doesn’t recognize Crimea as part of Russia, it is de facto controlled by Russia.

The peninsula was the site of the Crimean War, between 1854 and 1856, and gave rise to modern nursinglive war reporting, the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade and the Balaclava (woollen head garment).

Quick facts

This little diamond features many landscapes: Crimean steppe or prairie in the East and North, Feodosia’s sandy beaches, undulating hills of vineyards and fruit trees, castles reminiscent of Bavaria cling to cliffs plunging into the warm sea and there are forested mountain ranges with fabled cave cities to the West.

On 30 March 2014 at 03:00, when it would normally have changed to Eastern European Summer Time, Crimea advanced the clocks even more to be in the same time zone as Moscow.

History

The Crimean Oblast was transferred from Russia to Ukraine in Feb 1954 while both countries were constituent parts of the former Soviet Union.

Media
  • Ruth Maclennan’s film Theodosia is a good introduction to the place of Crimea in the Russian psyche.

When you get to Crimea you can buy the local guide book “TIME to COME to CRIMEA!” (in both English, Russian and Ukrainian) at many of the small booths on the street. For your reading entertainment here are some quotes from the book:

The attitude of the population to lesbians is curious and benevolent; to gays it is hostile, except for the famous ones.

The modern military tourism including, for example, shooting from grenade launchers and flights by supersonic fighters, is developing at numerous polygons and air stations that used to be secret ones.

Get in

All roads coming to Crimea leads to Simferopol, it is the undisputed transport hub of the region.

Regardless of your position on Crimean independence and the peninsula’s annexation by Russia, for all intents and purposes of trying to get into Crimea will require you to go through Russian authorities, so please look at the Russia page for visa information and other customs information.

Unless you are not a Ukrainian citizen, entering Crimea from mainland Ukraine will also require you to get a special permission from the national migration service. There is a limited number of reasons to get the permission which includes having close relatives or property there, being a human rights activist or being a member of some international organisations.

If you don’t have any of the reasons above, it’s typically easier to enter the peninsula from mainland Russia by plane or Kerch ferry. However, note that most countries consider such visits as an illegal crossing of Ukraine border and support for the Russian occupation; all such visitors risk getting a long-term ban from Ukraine.

By plane

Simferopol International Airport is a major hub and had both domestic connections with Ukraine and several international flights. Flights from Kyiv, Lviv, and many western European cities, including FrankfurtTallinn and Riga have been suspended but flights to MoscowAnapaVolgogradSt PetersburgOrenburgNovokuznetskNovosibirsk and many other Russian cities continue.

By train

Since December 2014 there are no trains from Ukraine to Crimea. The only train from Russia crosses by Kerch ferry. The train departs daily from Moscow to Simferopol.

By bus

All bus services from Ukraine are officially disrupted, but there is a number of illegal bus services. Taking one to Simferopol costs around 1000 RUB (∼18 €). Most of these services accept payments in both rubles and hryvnias.

Buses from Russia reach Crimea via Kerch ferry. All passengers are leaving their buses on the Russian side and boarding the ferry to Crimea where an another bus is waiting for them. Such combination helps the ferry line to work normally with high passenger traffic and prevent the 2014 style traffic jams. If you buy a bus ticket from the mainland Russia to Crimea, the ferry ticket is included in the bus ticket price. The bus services are operating from Sochi, Gelendzhik, Novorossiysk, Krasnodar, Anapa (the closest city to the Kerch ferry), Rostov-on-Don, Voronezh and even Moscow. Here you can find the E-tickets. https://e-traffic.ru/

List of Crimea bus stations and bus schedule.

By car

Crimea is reachable by car from Ukraine and Russia (via Kerch ferry).

By ferry

Kerch ferry became the most important transport connection after the Crimean crisis. It connects Crimea with Russia via Kerch strait. Most of the tourists from Russia had to use it after the Crimean crisis because of problems on the Russian-Ukrainian border on the highway M2 which was more popular. Thats why a very big traffic jams on the entrance of the Russian port Kavkaz were grown but you can leave your car on the parking or use a public transport which have a “green line”. Passengers without a car can board the ferry out of turn. The single passenger ticket costs 150 RUB (∼2.5 €).

Weather and water

The weather in Crimea during the summer season is very much Mediterranean. Expect relatively hot weather and lots of thunderstorms that come and go. Hot and very humid at night. In the winter snow can cover the mountains and make the roads almost impassable. However it almost never snows on the southern coast of Crimea.

The water is fairly warm, although not as warm as the Adriatic. The water is clean and clear, although also a bit less clear than the Adriatic, and its mostly warm June through September.

Weather Averages

January Hi 47*F (7*C) Lo 38*F (6*C)

February Hi 47*F (7*C) Lo 38*F (5*C)

March Hi 54*F (11*C) Lo 44*F (6*C)

April Hi 60*F (15*C) Lo 49*F (10*C)

May Hi 72*F (22*C) Lo 55*F (12*C)

June Hi 77*F (26*C) Lo 60*F (15*C)

July Hi 81*F (28*C) Lo 66*F (19*C)

August Hi 90*F (32*C) Lo 70*F (21*C)

September Hi 79*F (26*C) Lo 64*F (18*C)

October Hi 70*F (21*C) Lo 58*F (14*C)

November Hi 56*F (13*C) Lo 48*F (9*C)

December Hi 47*F (8*C) Lo 37*F (3*C)

Regions

  • Dawn in the Ai-Petri mountainsThe Coastal Beach Cities — The coastal beach cities are very hospitable to tourists (if you speak Russian). Accommodation is plentiful and prices range widely, depending on location and accommodation type (minimum cost for a one night stay no less than $20, but can easily reach a few hundred and up). Houses advertising accommodation will usually have a large white sign stuck on the door that has about three words written in Cyrillic. During the tourist season expect the beaches to be quite packed, with mostly Russian tourists. The whole coast line is dominated by the mountains that tower above them, sometimes reaching up to 1500m.
  • The Coastal Mountains — The mountain area that stretches from the coast to about 70km inland contains some very pristine untouched nature. The mountains are formed by ragged limestone that has been shaped into high peaks with canyons, cliffs and valleys transecting them in all directions. Expect a great adventure if you want to go hiking here, but also expect to rough it. Camping sites are few and far between so you’ll probably have to just find one of the many secluded fields to camp in. The area has numerous caves as well as small lakes. There are almost no marked trails.
  • The Sea of Azov and Kerch —
  • The Inland Plains — A lot of really nice farm land. Looks nice while passing through it by train.

Cities

  • Simferopol — The capital. The train station is very clean and beautiful. For the most part this is a place of transit to the coast or to the mountains. It is famous for having the world’s longest trolley bus service 56km.
  • Alupka — Rocky beaches, home to a number of dacha’s and the magnificent Vorontsov palace, where Churchill stayed during the Yalta Conference in 1945.
  • Bakhchisaray — Located in a canyon between Simferopol and Sevastopol, this town has a wealth of interesting sites to see including the Crimean Tatar Khan’s palace, the cave city and the Armenian monastery that is built in a cave.
  • Balaklava – famous for the Crimea war of the 1850s, the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade and home to a former secret Soviet submarine base.
The abandoned Jewish cemetery in Feodosiya
  • Feodosiya — Feodosiya is located 100km to the east of Simferopol. From the outskirts it looks like an urban industrial disaster but once past the factories it has a very nice old town. Very similar to Odessa in architecture but just on a smaller scale. Home to the Ayvazovsky Picture Gallery.
  • Kherson – While not part of Crimea, Crimea’s Ukranian presidential representative moved Kherson, and Kherson now serves as the de jure administrative center for the Autonomous Republic of Crimea.
  • Koktebel — Located between Feodosiya and Sudak, this small town has a great beach area that has a carnival type environment. It sits below a spectacular wilderness area to the west that regrettably you can only visit on a guided tour.
  • Sevastopol — A major port for the Russian Black sea fleet and the Ukrainian navy. Given the title ‘Hero City’ for its resistance to the Nazis during WWII. Numerous monuments to the past’s military exploits. Nice shops. Currently right now annexed/joined to Russia as a result of the 2014 separation. It’s currently a proposed Federal City in Russia.
  • Yalta — A very beautiful city containing many of the Russian Czar’s palaces and other great monuments. Twinned with Margate in England amongst other places. Yalta is a tourist hotspot, which contains a mixture of Soviet hotels and modern high rise apartments. Yalta was once the main holiday destination for many Russians before they were allowed to travel outside the Soviet Bloc.
Other destinations
  • The Bolshoi (grand) Canyon

Talk

The Crimean parliament have ordained that there are three official languages in the region:

Russian is the universal language of communication.

Crimean Tatar (a Turkic language, closely related to Turkish) is also widely spoken by the Crimean Tatars.

Ukrainian. In decidedly and staunchly pro-Moscow Crimea, you might be met with a degree of hostility if you speak Ukrainian.

Few people speak or understand English.

Spoken English in the Crimea is of a low standard. Few people have more than a passing knowledge of English. A lack of exposure to the language and the relatively low number of foreign tourists, coupled with a continued Soviet-style education means that the population is decidedly monolingual.

Be prepared to memorize words in Russian and to become familiar with the Cyrillic alphabet. A few select older people have some familiarity with German, which may be of some use. Those proficient or familiar with Turkish will have a great deal of success in communicating with Tatar speakers.

Some of the street signs in Yalta are in English from the time of the Yalta Conference in 1945.

Get around

  • You can get anywhere in Crimea and some major Ukrainian and Russian cities by bus. Online booking can be done using state-operated electronic ticket system.
  • The Crimean Trolleybus connects Simferopol to the cities of Alushta and Yalta on Crimean Black Sea coast. The line is the longest trolleybus line in the world with a total length of 94 km. The trolleybus line’s route departs from Simferopol Airport and passes through the Crimean Mountains across the Angarskyi Pass, reaching 752m at the road’s highest point, then descends down to the resort town of Alushta on the coast. The remaining distance to Yalta is 41 kilometres and winds around the mountains above the sea, providing breathtaking views. Furthermore, it is the cheapest way to get to these cities: Simferopol-Alushta UAH9 (1.5h), Simferopol-Yalta UAH15 (2.5h).
  • You can also go by taxi. Prices vary; be prepared to haggle a fare as you will always find someone to do a deal with. Many private citizens also work as pseudo taxi drivers; sometimes it is difficult to tell. Taxis range from modern comfortable cars to 1950s gas powered Soviet cars!
  • Frequently while travelling in the country if you look like a foreigner (for example with a backpack) and you are standing on what passes as a ‘major’ road people will stop and ask if you want a ride… for a price. Fortunately that price usually amounts to only a few US dollars to go some very long distances.
  • Crimean railroads operates by several suburb trains from Simferopol to Sevastopol, Dzhankoy, Kerch, Solyanoye Ozero, Feodosia, Evpatoria, Armyansk. There is also one train to Moscow via Kerch ferry.

See

The Khan's palace

  • The Khan’s Palace — The Khan’s palace is in the small mountain village of Bahkchisaray a halfway between Simferopol and Sevastapol. The Khan’s palace was the seat of the Tatar rulers of Crimea dating back to 1443. With the Ottoman conquest of Crimea in 1475 the Khan’s became a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire but were left as the rulers. After the Crimean war with the victory of Russia all of the Khan’s were made Russian nobility but the capital of Crimea was moved to Simferopol. The palace grounds include impressive gardens, several old mosques including cemeteries, a harem and of course the palace itself. You can take a guided tour of the palace but only in Russian.
  • Chufut Kale Cave City — An hour and a half walk up a beautiful canyon from the town of Bahkchisaray you will find the Chufut Kale cave town dating back to the 6th century. It is located high up in the cliffs so the walk is a bit strenuous but not overwhelming. It is a city of what appears to have been several thousand people who built/dug their homes into the limestone rock. The city was abandoned in the 19th century. There are some other Cave cities (about 14), completely different as far as size and picturesqueness concerned
  • The Bolshoi (Big) Canyon — The Bolshoi Canyon is on the opposite side of the mountain range that Yalta sits below. It will take about an hour and a half to get there by automobile from Yalta. It can also be reached from Bahkchisaray by hitch hiking or minibusBolshoi means ‘Grand or Large’ in Russian. After reaching the entrance to the park you will have to pay a small fee (2 USD) to start down the trail. From there it is about an hour hike into the canyon along a small mountain stream. You never actually end up getting a perfect view of the canyon as you are also down in the middle of it surrounded by lush vegetation but it is impressive all the same. The trail ends at a small picnic area where a local man is selling awful wine and really good fried food. There is a small waterfall and a pool where you can do some minor diving/jumping. You can continue further up the stream without the trail but it is a bit more rough going.
  • Caves There are three caves equipped for easy access: Krasnaya, Mramornaya, Emine-Bayır-Hosar. And there are some more caves which are not equipped and might be attractive for speleologists.
  • The Swallow’s Nest a folly, now an Italian restaurant.
  • Livadia Palace – former summer palace to the Tsars and famous setting for the Yalta Conference.
  • Massandra Palace – another former Tsarist palace, which looks a bit like a French Chataeu, once visted by Stalin who declined to stay there as he did not feel very safe.
  • GurzufOne of the best places in Crimea. Small city between Alushta and Partenit. Climate is very similar to French Riviera. Gorgeous views and clean warm sea.
  • Vorontsov’s Palace in Alupka, Dvorzovoe Shosse, 10, Alupka, Crimea (0654) 72-22-81
  • Genoese fortress in Sudak (Fortess in Sudak). Discovering the fortress should start from the main gate and then go to the east. Inside – the eyes diverge: the picturesque ruins, exotic buildings. Everywhere is clearly felt the breath of time. Attention, of course, immediately engage the towers.

Do

  • Hiking in Crimea is wonderful. There are very few other backpackers and almost no clearly marked trails (as in posted signs) so you’re going to be roughing it. The trails themselves though appear to be well used. In the mountainous region though you can pretty much pick any two small towns and hike between them and be assured of an adventure. Campsites are few and far between but there is lots of open space for camping, be environmentally sensitive of course about the place you choose to camp. For a brief description of a hike see Bahkchisaray.

If you intend to go hiking in Crimea it might be worth writing down phones of Mountain Rescue Service of Crimea (Контрольно-спасательная служба Крыма) 380 652 253158, 380 67 7041319, 380 67 5550001. If the hike is difficult and/or dangerous you need to register with them. They also hire out hiking gear and can provide instructor (guide) for multiple-day hiking or speleological trips.

  • Diving off the coast of Crimea may seem boring and not very interesting for experienced divers. The flora and fauna of the Black sea is not so rich, beautiful coral reefs and swarms of colourful fish here not to meet. But local diving centres more accessible to their foreign colleagues, and the professionalism and responsibility of instructors are marked by many experienced travellers. Thus, in Crimea is well to learn to dive, learn first steps and to obtain the necessary certificates to support form or even “pumped” to higher levels. Trial dives for beginners starts from 1500 RUB (∼25 €), the initial training will cost 10 000-20 000 RUB (∼180-360 €).

However, the diving centers in Crimea have something to surprise and professionals – an extreme dive in an underground cave waters. Finally, do not forget that until the 19th century the Black sea coast plied the pirates of all stripes, so if you want you can make a real underwater archaeological expedition finding the coveted treasures.

  • Koktebel Jazz FestivalTakes place each year in August/September, with some of the acts performing on the nude beach. Day ticket around 12 USD.

Buy

Crimea uses the Russian ruble (RUB).

Eat

Street food can be delicious in Crimea, if you are not prone to gastritis. Once your system is acclimated, definitely try some local Tatar specialities such as chebureki (Russian: чебуреки), from an outdoor stand or a cheburechnaya (Russian: Чебуречная, chebureki joint). These are succulent half-moon shaped meat pies, usually filled with lamb or beef (Crimean Tatars, being Muslim, do not eat pork), and deep-fried in aromatic sunflower oil. Samsa are also good, hot pastries filled with mince meat and chopped onions.

Try manti (Russian: манты), which are steamed lamb-filled dumplings, often served with adjika (Russian: аджика), which is a very hot red chili pepper paste.

Try lyulya-kebab and shashlik (Russian: люля-кебаб and шашлык), which are shish-kebabs, especially if you can find ones cooked over a wood fire. If you can find pork shashlik, definitely try them. You will have more success with this in a Russian-run restaurant, as pork is not served in Tatar restaurants.

Find a good Tatar restaurant and try the lagman (Russian: лагман). It’s an incredibly rich, thick lamb soup with vegetables and long homemade noodles that is absolutely to die for.

The ice cream sold at the beach includes a simple one called molochnoye (Russian: молочное, “made of milk”). It’s white, but it’s not vanilla-flavoured. It tastes like sweet milk.

If you see women walking up the beach selling something from buckets, it’s probably paklava (Russian: паклава, baklava). This paklava is like nothing you have ever had before. It’s thin layers of homemade dough, put together to resemble big flowers, deep-fried and covered with nuts and honey. It’s absolutely heavenly.

Find a pastry shop and try the trubochki (Russian: трубочки, “little trumpets”). A trubochka is a cornucopia shape of short pastry filled with meringue and sometimes dipped in nuts. Delicious with chai (Russian: чай, tea).

Drink

The beer in Crimea is outstanding and cheap.

Crimea is a wine-producing region. Most of the wine produced here, at the famous Massandra Palace winery and in Koktebel’, is dessert wine in the style of Port or Madeira. Unwary foreigners might buy a bottle of what looks like red or white wine in a kiosk and find it undrinkably sweet. That’s because it’s meant to be sipped, in very small quantities, not drunk like a Merlot. If it’s regular wine you’re looking for, avoid anything labeled Портвейн (Portwine), Мадейра (Madeira), Мускат (Muscat), Токай (Tokay). For table wines, ask for “sukhOye vinO” (dry wine) or look for labels such as Совиньон (Sauvignon), Каберне (Cabernet), and Ркацетели (Rkatseteli), or look for Georgian wines, which are delicious and plentiful.

Try the regional sparkling wine, produced at Noviy Svet (Russian: Новый Свет, “New Light”), near Sudak. It’s labelled “Шампанское” (“Shampanskoye”, champagne). It’s very good. Try to buy it somewhere reputable, though, because there are knock-offs. Noviy Svet is a very beautiful spot; you can tour the caverns where the wine is aged.

If you’re not going anywhere else in Russia and Ukraine, try kvass (Russian: квас).

It’s a very refreshing non-alcoholic drink made of fermented wheat, the traditional drink of farmworkers in the bread-basket of Ukraine, prized for its restorative properties.

Try the local kefir (Russian: кефир), a cultured-milk beverage. When ice-cold, it’s extremely refreshing on a hot day.

If you’re feeling adventuresome, you might look for “kumys” (Russian: кумыс or кымыз), which is fermented mare’s milk, a traditional drink of the Tatars and nomadic peoples of Central Asia.

Beware, some of the local mineral waters taste very salty. Look for a Western European brand, especially if you’re going to be exercising.

Vodka is cheap and plentiful, some of the supermarkets have the best prices and the widest choices.

Sleep

Before you proceed to the choice of housing in Crimea, we offer to define the main priorities of the holiday. If the main goal is a beach holiday, then do not be lazy to read the reviews of real travelers and meticulously explore the maps of the area: the hotel is not always 10 minutes to the beach as declared, although meant it was a taxi ride. Are you going to carefully explore the drive arounds and the whole neighborhood? Give away the edge housing in favor of the hotel close to the city center with its terminals and stations.

In any case, there is a house in Crimea for every budget and for every need: from 500-1000 RUB (∼8 €) per night in guesthouses and small hotels to luxury options for 80 000 – 100 000 RUB (∼150 €) with  full board on the secluded protected cordon. Standard and decent 3 “stars” in the high season will cost about 2000-3200 RUB (∼40 €).

Booking.com

Booking Sites account for up to 2 thousand. accommodation options in the main resort city of the country, in fact, more of them. There is a reason to come to the selection carefully and meticulously.
If there is a desire not only to unwind but also improve your health, the study offers boarding houses and sanatoria of Crimea, as well as resorts and resort towns of Yalta.

Hotels map of Crimean Peninsula


Stay safe

Travel Warning WARNING: Due to the relative recency of the Crimean crisis, practice care when speaking on the subject. Try to avoid all rallies and protests.

Vehicles will be the biggest hazard to your safety in Crimea. Drivers tend to stick to speed limits as there are many police cars but the road surfaces are poor which leads to some unsafe overtaking, even on the curvy coast and mountain roads. Pedestrians cross roads at their own peril. Be particularly careful if a car has stopped for you at a marked crosswalk; check around the car before you venture past it farther into the crosswalk, because another very well may swing around it and go right through… right where you would be walking. Most cars ignore pedestrians!

There is a very strict zero tolerance policy to drinking and driving. Police patrols are frequent as well as roadside checks for documents.

Crimea does not have a major problem with crime. However, foreigners are at risk of being robbed if they are not careful about flashing wealth, except in Yalta during the summer which is filled with Russians. Foreigners should not hitchhike or take unmarked cabs unless they are travelling in a group. The safest way for a foreigner to travel alone is to take a bus or a marshrutka (a microbus that follows the regular bus routes). Moreover, beware of drunk men at night, especially if your skin is coloured. Beware also of the police, who may be corrupt and ask you for “presents”, i.e. bribes.

The countryside, which is extremely poor, is very safe. You are more likely to get kicked by a wandering horse than robbed. Crimeans on the whole are very polite, except when lining up for a bus or service at a shop when pushing to the front has been perfected into an art form. Standing in line is not an option!

There are plenty of ATMs, however none of them at the moment service western bank cards. As a foreigner, the only way for you to pay for things is with cash, which you will need to bring with you from outside of the Crimea. Do not make the mistake of relying on cards while in Crimea. At night avoid lonely places where the numerous drunks hang out; they are not really a danger except they might fall on top of you.

Get out

Leaving Crimea can be hard on the Ukrainian border but not so hard via the Kerch ferry or by plane. The checkpoints and borders of Ukraine and Crimea are tightly packed by Russian and Ukrainian officers, and you may face problems in trying to leave. But most of the tourists successfully passed the border after checking their documents. The problems are Crimeans who changed their passports and have a Crimean registration (formally they are still Ukrainian citizens and they can be sent as a conscripts to Ukrainian Army) but these problems can be easily solved after giving a bribe to Ukrainian officer. Leaving Crimea via the Kerch ferry is not so difficult. Police officers check you in port Krym and port Kavkaz. The easiest way leave the Crimea is by boarding the plane to Russia. Standard airport checking will be done before the boarding a plane.


5 thoughts on “Crimea

  • 04/03/2017 at 19:57
    Permalink

    As I know the Crimean Please Peninsula was always Russian, but last 60 years Ukrainian…

    Reply
    • 09/03/2017 at 16:46
      Permalink

      всегда, это когда? Было время и россия Крымскому ханству дань платила. Иль запамятовала?

      Reply
      • 10/03/2017 at 18:59
        Permalink

        Hi Valerii, where is now the Crimean Khaganat to dispute that? One time Crimea was Greece or Byzantium empire, and what? Where are them? 🙂

        Reply
  • 04/03/2017 at 19:55
    Permalink

    Wow, amazing! Now I understand the dispute between Russia and Ukraine..

    Reply

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