Although the site of present Odessa (sometimes with a single "s") was once occupied by an ancient Greek colony, the modern city was founded by José de Ribas, an important Russian admiral of Spanish heritage (and a favorite of Catherine the Great), in 1794. Odessa is often called the Pearl of the Black Sea, with as many as 240 sunny days a year. As one of the sea's largest port cities, Odessa has always harbored a mix of cultures. Named a free port in 1819, Odessa became much more of a melting pot than any other Ukrainian city. When it was part of Russia, it was the fourth most important city in the kingdom (after Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Warsaw). Architecturally, its influences are much less Russian or Ukrainian than Mediterranean (particularly French and Italian). Several important historical and literary figures have lived in Odessa over the years, including Aleksandr Pushkin, Armand-Emmanuel du Plessis duc de Richelieu, Prince Mikhail Semyonovich Vorontsov, and many others. And more than most of the cities of the former USSR, Odessa has managed to salvage both its freedom and its good humor. Odessa's shipping port has always attracted attention and continues to do so now. A reconstructed historical building is now the cruise terminal; it and the adjacent, brand-new Odessa Kempinski hotel warmly welcome people from all over.
For Odessa's most fashionable shopping, head to Deribasovskaya Street in the City Center; it's the equivalent of New York's Fifth Avenue or Chicago's Michigan Avenue for shops and cafés. The Passage mall on Sobornaya square offers a great mix of shops in an elegant building, the best example of late 19th-century Russian Imperial style. Another popular shopping center on the street is Europe; Afina shopping mall is rather expensive by Ukrainian standards.
Deribasovskaya Street also has a popular Souvenir Market with a crowd of artists and craftsmen demonstrating their works; prices at the market are very low, and some items are gorgeous, while bargains are common.
Privoz ("Supply Place" in Russian) is an enormous indoor-outdoor market. During the days of Communism, Privoz was the only market that was assured a generous supply of every food type imaginable. It is fair to say that anything can be found here, though you might have to look several hours to find it. Privoz is in Odessa's center, just a short walk away the main train station.
This upscale restaurant was designed to resemble a 19th-century village. The menu features traditional country dishes such as borscht and varenyky (dumplings), as well as a selection of fish and seafood. The place is busy and sometimes may dictate some patience before your order arrives (you do get a snack and a shot of local vodka while you are waiting, though).
Perhaps the most popular seafood restaurant in Odessa well deserves its popularity, and it's nothing like the "red" lobster back home. The interior is elegant, with seating also available in the open-air courtyard. Live piano music enhances the pleasant ambiance. The selection of seafood is impressive and you can pick your own lobster.
Cellar of the Massandra Winery
Cellar of the Massandra Winery was founded more than 100 years ago as the winery and vineyards of the Czar. The specialties are sweet wines, which are inexpensive by European standards.
Fortuna has more than 100 kinds of hand-rolled cigars, cigarillas, pipes, and tobacco as well as accessories from the leading manufacturers. It's the largest tobacconist in Ukraine.
Button is one of best firm perfume shops in Odessa, where you can buy niche brands like M. Micallef and Jivago. The store's hand-made glass bottles are legendary. You can also create your own fragrance at the in-store perfume bar.
Sobornaya Square and Passage
The impressive Spaso- Preobrazhenskiy Cathedral is the crown on this street, the square where it is located a pleasant spot to take in the scenery on one of the benches. People-watching is popular here, and many come to shop in the Passage shopping mall. With its elegant architecture and sculpted decorations, the Passage between Deribasovskaya and Preobrazhenskaya is one of the most striking sights in Odessa.
This famous street has been featured in thousands of books, films, and songs and remains one of the most celebrated in Ukraine. Odessites are passionate about Deribasovskaya, and a trip downtown cannot be complete without spending at least an hour strolling or people-watching from one of its many cafés. Each year, Deribasovksaya gets more beautiful and, of course, more crowded with tourists as the secret gets out.
Statue of Armand-Emanuel du Plessis duc de Richelieu
The statue of Duc de Richelieu, who was a relative of the famous 17th-century French Cardinal, is the first thing you see on the top of the Potyomkin Steps. After fleeing to Russia in 1803, Richelieu was named mayor of Odessa by Czar Alexander III. He ruled for 11 years, turning the small Black Sea village into a modern city, before returning to France. After cleaning up a corrupt administration, Richelieu transformed the Black Sea village of Odessa into a modern city.
No trip around the city is complete without a visit to Arkadia, the heart of Odessa's nightlife and beach scene in the summer months. Above the beach, the patios of dozens of themed restaurant, bars, and clubs provide shady spots from which to people-watch and take in the scenery. This is a good place to go if you want to try local seafood.
The World War II memorial called "Alley of Glory" was constructed here in 1961. This is where you'll find the graves of the fighters who liberated Odessa from the Nazis and a monument to the Unknown Sailor with its eternal flame, not to mention a monument to Taras Shevchenko, the poet after whom the park was named. The large park covers 225 acres overlooking the Black Sea. It dates to the 19th century and was once an artillery battery.
About 200 meters south on Primorskiy Boulevard from the Potyomkin Steps will bring you to a historic building, which is currently Odessa's City Hall (a former Stock Exchange). It is in front of a monument to Alexander Pushkin, who is considered by many to be Russia's greatest poet, who spent 13 months in Odessa. Every hour, the clock above the entrance plays the melody "Odessa, My Town".
At the top of the Potyomkin Steps this boulevard was used as a backdrop for numerous Soviet-era films. And why not? The wide cobblestone street is framed by tall trees in a tableau that rivals Paris. Because of the numerous magnificent buildings, this boulevard is one of the most picturesque areas in Odessa.
The Odessa Catacombs are a vast, multilevel network of tunnels, the result of stone mining for the construction of Odessa city. To explore the underground part of Odessan history, you'll have to make the trip to the Catacomb Museum (a.k.a. "the Museum of Partisan Glory") in Nerubayskoye, and do so on a guided tour. Just outside the city, the museum tells how during World War II the Ukrainian partisans used these tunnels as a base from which to attack the occupying Nazi troops. Fagot Agency (Rishelievska 4,) offers a guided excursion to the catacombs, which should be booked a day in advance. The Museum shows only a fragment of the underground maze. Many "wild" sections have become a destination for adventure tourists. Touring of the catacombs on your own can be very dangerous.
The Opera and Ballet House
One of the greatest Ukrainian architectural monuments is also one of the most beautiful theaters in the world. It was constructed by the famous Viennese achitectural partners Helmer & Fellner in 1884 with an Italian baroque facade, a Renaissance-style entrance, and decorative stone figures depicting scenes from Aristophanes and Euripides. The architects, remembering a fire in a Viennese theater, provided the foyer with 24 exits. The auditorium is in the style of Louis XVI, with a chandelier that weights almost 21/2 tons, surrounded on the ceiling by frescoes depicting scenes from Shakespeare's Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Odessa's Archeological Museum is one of the oldest in Ukraine, founded in 1825. Its purpose was to carry out excavations in the northern Black Sea region and preserve its history. More than 160,000 exhibits make up one of the largest collections related to the Black Sea. Some exhibits have information in English.
Constructed as the main entry to the city center, the legendary staircase once led directly to the sea. The stairs were the site of a 1905 battle between mutinying sailors and forces loyal to the Czar; the actual events sparking the clash remain uncertain but have been overshadowed by the version presented in the famous Sergei Eisenstein silent film The Battleship Potemkin (the massacre depicted in that film never happened). An optical illusion prevents you from seeing the actual steps when you stand at the top—all you can see are a few landings; from below, all you can see are the steps, making the staircase seem much longer than it actually is. Designed by the French architect Boffo, who lived in Odessa and designed many buildings here, the steps took four years to build and were completed in 1841. In all there are 192 steps at a length of 142 meters. To get up to the main boulevard, you can use the staircase or a funicular.
Odessa State Literary Museum
Founded in 1977, the museum was opened to the public in 1984. It occupies a 19th century palace built by the architect Ludwig Otton. The collections located in 24 halls utilize real historical objects to trace the history of literary Odessa. More than 300 writers are represented.